Thursday, April 26, 2012

New York Yankees - Looking at the Rotation

Alright, time to wrap up the AL East. It’s time to look at the Yankees rotation. Truth be told, I was dragging my feet about this one, hoping against hope that the rotation would go through one stellar turn before I wrote this, and in the end... didn’t happen. So here we are: a staff that was expected to be anchored by CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda has been the exception to the rule that good pitching wins ball games. The defending AL East champs have gotten almost no value out of their starting rotation so far and if it weren’t for a stellar bullpen it’d be easy to see the Yanks doing no better than the dumpster fire that has been the Boston Red Sox so far.

Sabathia has been ugly over his first 4 starts, though his WHIP, walk rate, and strikeout rates have all been solid, he’s giving up home runs at about twice his normal pace. Despite being 31 years old Sabathia is in his 12th big league season. With all of his peripherals looking pretty good, his ERA will likely start to follow. As is the case for all of the Yankees pitchers, his BABIP is exceedingly high, and if last season is any indication, it could well stay that way.

Kuroda is going to experience some rough starts as he adjusts to a much more potent division and away from the very pitcher friendly parks of the NL West. Kuroda has been up and down in his 4 starts, pitching very well against the Angels, and pitching well enough to get a win almost any other day of the week against the Rangers and their new phenom Yu Darvish. He has however also had two very rough starts. As Kuroda settles in he should make adjustments to the AL. Expecting his numbers from last season would be unrealistic, but expecting to see some balance of the two pitchers he’s been so far is very plausable.

Phil Hughes has not looked good so far, going less than 3 innings in his most recent start, and compiling an ugly (7.88) ERA so far. Hughes’ fastball has been moving well, but his changeup isn’t very far along, and he’s been leaving his curveball up and very hittable so far. Unfortunately for Hughes as noted at River Ave Blues, a starting pitcher can not survive on one pitch. His BABIP is very high, more so than the team average by a fair bit but Hughes seems to give up hits to the outfield in droves. He needs to work on getting the ball down in the zone  if he expects to still be in the rotation at mid-season.

Ivan Nova has been the most consistent Yankee starter so far, and that is due in large part to what appears to be absolutely pinpoint control so far. He’s walking less than 1 batter per game, and striking out more than 1 per inning. He’s giving up a lot of hits, but his BABIP is sitting at a very robust .389, and that likely will fall if he is willing to relinquish some of the flashy stats for more ground balls.Nova’s giving up more fly balls and more line drives than last year, which are likely coming from a more strikeout friendly pitching approach. Nova hasn’t been unhittable, but he’s been very good so far, so it’s hard to say he needs to start looking to induce more ground balls, though it appears he can certainly turn that on if he has to.

Freddy Garcia has been worse than Hughes so far, and a lot of that looks to be his command failing him. Garcia isn’t a fireballer, he lives on the corners of the plate with nothing but smoke and mirrors. If Garcia can find his control there’s no reason he can’t perform as well as he did last year. Garcia’s BABIP is extraordinarily high sitting at .419 which spells disaster for a contact pitcher. Asking for him to return to last season’s 3.62 ERA might be a bit hopeful, but he can certainly pitch better than he has so far, and for his own sake he’ll have to with Andy Pettite likely to make his big league return in about two weeks. Garcia’s control is the X factor here, if he can start locating pitches he’ll start seeing much better results but at the moment his command is terrifyingly inconsistent.

As a bonus: Andy Pettite has been pitching pretty well in his minor league appearances trying to ramp up to 100 pitches. He has been locating balls very well keeping near a 3:1 strike to ball ratio so far. Pettite is not going to inject any youth into the rotation, but there is very little to say about decline over his 16 major league seasons, there may be some rust but Pettite’s return might be just what the Yankees need to start reversing their rotation woes.

As I said in the opening, the Yankees are the exception that proves the rule, for about 5 innings per game, they’ve received the worst pitching in the league, but have been able to overcome that and currently hold a 10 - 8 record. Jeter’s strong start has helped mask an otherwise unspectacular start for most of the lineup, and without major contributions from the bullpen, the Yanks would not be in a position to compete right now. I’d look for the rotation to turn it around, or for Cashman and Girardi to start shaking things up.

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