Starting rotation will still prove to be a strength for the Yankees 29

Any other team would be in trouble right now. The Yankees had exactly one pitcher they could rely on the first month of the season, and even he started slow out of the gate. One pitcher suffered a torn labrum. Another, an aging veteran one year rental, couldn’t get an out. Another more expensive veteran wasn’t living up to his $11 million billing. The young starter who surpassed expectations last year had done the opposite so far. Finally, the guy who was supposed to be a changed man coming out of Spring Training was didn’t follow through in April. Somehow they managed to still sport a decent record that wasn’t too far off the teams at the top of the AL East.

Brian Cashman and the front office did not panic. They moved Garcia to the pen and gave David Phelps a shot to start while reinforcements in the form of a certain cagy lefty veteran were on their way. In the meantime, they gave Phil Hughes a few more outings to see if he could right the ship.

As it turned out, Phelps gave the team a better chance to win than Garcia, and sure enough Phil Hughes has began to turn it around. Pettitte made his return looking like the same guy that retired after the 2010 season. Kuroda brought his ERA down to 3.96 despite some inconsistent performances, an uncharacteristically high WHIP (1.37) and an uncharacteristically low strike out rate (5.4 per nine IP). His most recent outing was a stellar eight shutout inning performance against the admittedly light hitting A’s. The biggest remaining question mark is whether Ivan Nova can turn things around.

After a horrific April performance, the team ERA is down to 4.09, which is better than it was in 2009 (4.27) when they won the world series, and not that far off from last year’s paltry 3.73 ERA. In April, the team ERA was 4.33, but this month the team ERA through May 28th is 3.87.  Unfortunately this has not translated to consistent winning, but that has been more of a result of the lack of hitting, which appears to be improving recently.

Let’s go through the rotation and see specifically why the team is in good shape with it’s current staff.

First you have the unquestionable ace of the staff, CC Sabathia. Very few people would argue that Sabathia isn’t going to continue to do what he’s done for his past few starts. It is well known that Sabathia starts slow, and this season has been no exception. He’s hitting his stride and there’s not much to worry about on the number one starter front.

Then it gets a bit blurrier. It appears that Andy Pettitte is the second best starter on the team right now. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to keep up what he’s done for the first three starts, but I can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t. His stuff is the same as before, and he’s still able to hit all of his spots at this stage in his career. His mechanics are perfect and that cutter is still a difficult pitch to hit. I don’t know if I’m ready to anoint Andy the number two starter for the playoffs, but he could force himself into that role.

So far you have to give the number three slot to Hiroki Kuroda. Although he has been disappointing to many, and most certainly inconsistent, he has managed to keep his ERA under 4.0. This is actually not much worse than what was expected of him. Given that he came from the Dodgers and the NL, there was bound to be a regression from the 3.07 ERA he put together last season. If Hiroki can develop some consistency then he will be an excellent number two or three pitcher come playoff time. If not, he’s on a relatively inexpensive one year deal and he’s still going to win this team some games.

Phil Hughes has clearly had one of the most dichotomous seasons of any Yankees pitcher so far in 2012. His April ERA of 7.88 was almost double his 4.66 ERA thus far in May. His peripheral statistics in April were actually pretty good, so there was bound to be a regression to the mean, but he also started attacking hitters and hasn’t made as many mistakes. Take away his most recent start and his ERA was 3.56 in May. His stuff is still much better than last season. He should be able to continue this success, and if he does he will be one of the best fourth starters in the league, and might even squeeze himself into the playoff rotation.

Finally there’s Ivan Nova. Nova still has an inflated 5.4 ERA. He has not been particularly impressive in any of his recent starts save the most recent against the A’s. Even then he let up three runs which was actually a lot considering how the A’s have hit recently. I’m not sure what exactly is wrong with Nova. He seems to have lost his greatest asset from last season, which is his control. Nova has been leaving balls up in the zone left and right, and opposing hitters have consistently made him pay for it. He’s letting up too many homeruns, and he’s simply missing spots. It could be mental or mechanical. Knowing Nova he will not let it rattle him, and he will find a solution. I only say this because he’s done it before, and I couldn’t think of a better coach to help him than Larry Rothschild. The talent is there, he just has to make his pitches.

Aside from the starting five, it is remarkable that the Yankees have still maintained a fair amount of depth. Garcia can make a spot start at any time, and Phelps has already shown that he can hold his own against major league lineups. D.J. Mitchell is ready to fill in if needed. Adam Warren is currently struggling, but if he is able to turn it around in Tripe-A he represents a ninth option.

The one thing that has plagued Yankees teams in the post 2000 era is a lack of pitching. Even last season, when the team had the best ERA in years, they still seemed to be thin on pitching in the playoffs. This year it was hard to watch this staff pitch in April. They put worry into the hearts of many Yankees fans after the pitching staff was supposed to be a strength. There were injuries and ineffectiveness, and just about everything that could go wrong did.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, and pitchers have regressed to their mean while Pettitte’s return has stabilized the rotation, things are looking significantly better. Many fans are still not confident in the starters Girardi is putting out there, but they will start to turn the corner as this starting rotation continues to solidify itself.

29 thoughts on “Starting rotation will still prove to be a strength for the Yankees

  • hotdog

    The Yankees have too many back of the rotations starters…Pettite looks good but Kuroda, Hughes and Nova look more like #4 or #5 starters…i'd like to think that Hughes just had a bad outing but it sent a chill up my spine…Kuroda is hit or miss and we're all waiting for Nova to pitch better…Ortiz and Figueroa are doing well enough at AAA and they may get a shot at the rotation a lot faster than Phelps, Mitchell or Warren if things go south…Cashman likes to go for big league experience over rookies…still, our rotation isn't horrible but it needs more consistency in the right direction…thanks for another well written article Greg…hd

  • mlblogsaugustine

    Good summary here Greg but I just don't see us being able to go deep into the playoffs with this type of pitching unless we get some turn arounds. CC is the only given to make the potential post-season rotation. Pettitte may also be a shoe-in because of his playoff pedigree as long as he doesn't blow out long before then.

  • Joe

    With all due respect Greg, I honestly can't disagree more here. I think the Yankee rotation, while capable, is their main weakness and that once Gardner and Robertson rejoin the team come mid-June it will solidify what are already strong DEFENSE/lineups and bullpens. I just don't like our chances to much in a game #1 match-up with CC against say a Verlander, Haren, Wilson, Strasburg, Shields, or Hamels. As far as Kuroda? He will be lucky to win 12 games and finish the season with an ERA under 5.00 probably high 4's( mark it down ). Without a doubt the key to NY's starting success relies heavily on Nova and Pettitte. I think Nova will eventually be a legitimate frontline starter in this league and the question is just a matter of when. IMO I think he's going to get rolling soon and Andy will be, well, you know, Andy. ( one solid start after another ) But back to the point at hand, I honestly wouldn't be shocked to see the Yanks make a move for another starter at the deadline as it's the one place they could use some help. Their bullpen, bench, and lineup are definitely all set.

  • Tanned Tom

    Starting pitching has been terrible, and is clearly the weakest part of this team. How weak? Just think where we'd be without Andy. Kuroda and Nova are #5 starters, and Hughes just doesn't belong in the rotation. For this team to have a chance in the post season, Sabathia has to win (he has looked bad since 2009), Andy has to win (40 years old) and we have to catch a break with Kuroda or Nova. What a crappy strategy. Clearly Cashman is trying to buy time until Banuelos and Betances are ready, but c'mon. This year might be catch as catch can, but for 2013 we need to: 1) not re-sign Garcia. 2) not re-sign Kuroda. 3) trade Hughes. His career ERA as a starter is right around 5.00, over 5 years as a starter. In other words, he bites. Why they love this guy escapes me.
    A rotation of Sabathia, Pettitte, Pineda, Nova and Phelps seems far more promising to me.

  • David K.

    "if Kuroda can develop some consistency then he will be an excellent number two or three come playoff time". HA HA HA, that kills me!!! You must be one of those people who are in love with this guy. He is not even a number 5 starter on a playoff team. Every once in a while, he uncorks a good game. Big deal. I just don't think he is a winning pitcher, certainly not a playoff pitcher. We had an easy chance to improve the starting staff during the winter by putting up a potentially winning bid for Yu Darvish and Cashman dropped the ball. Kuroda was the stupidest signing since Jaret Wright.

  • @LadyLovesPins

    Greg – your paragraph defending Hughes is really pathetic.

    "Take away his most recent start " – you cannot just eliminate Hughes crappy start vs. Angels as those are the teams the Yankees will have to beat to make the playoffs.

    "His stuff is still much better than last season." – you are referring to Hughes' 2011 season??? Just to refresh your memory, Hughes made 14 starts b/c he was on the DL after showing up to camp out-of-shape and over weight. He went 5-5 with an ERA just shy of 6. Hughes gave up 9 homers and 48 earned runs.

    Hughes has given up 46 homers in the last 3 seasons, which is not good considering he pitches in the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.
    Hughes should be in the bullpen as I do not know what "success" you are talking about….unless it is the kind that gets 3 wins of of worst teams in baseball, and gets needs so much run support, 19 to be exact in his those 3 wins.

    I am kind of shocked that you think Hughes could squeeze into the playoff rotation??? He is the reason the Yankees will miss the playoffs…..and Hughes is their third starter according of Girardi.
    How can you actually defend his performance???? Phelps is better option and one I would rather watch develop, as he has 5 pitches and made more progress than Hughes has ever made in his 5 years in the majors.
    Please tell me you are nto serious???

  • Marc

    LadyLoves I couldn't agree with you more on your analysis of Hughes. He was good in the bull pen and had one good year but since he's been awful and doesn't show much improvement. Yankee brass was fooled by that one season. Time for them to open their eyes and cut this guy loose at the end of the season. But all this said, while pitching this season hasn't been great the offensive deserves some blame to especially Tex, Arod and a couple others. Let's hope that last nights hitting with RISP will continue.

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