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

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.

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

  1. hotdog says:

    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

  2. mlblogsaugustine says:

    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.

    • cmclark says:

      Completely agree with you. I'm still a little worried that, while we have a possible nine starters, I think about 3 would be good options on other teams. As long as we hit, I think we're going to be okay moving forward but I don't see this rotation doing much in the postseason. Can you honestly say that you trust Hiroki/Phil/Nova with the ball in game three of a postseason series? A critical game? I trust AJ Burnett more than any of those guys.

      • Greg Corcoran says:

        It will be interesting to revisit this article in two months, when larger sample sizes prevail. There could be a few changes in the rotation by then, but I still think that two months from now we will be talking about the rotation as a strength again. Obviously thus far in the season that hasn't been the case, but that's why this article is predicting future success, and the basic gist of the article is that the past month should be predictive of that future success.

  3. Joe says:

    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.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Good points Joe, but I think you sort of disproved yourself in this post. The problem of CC not being a "good enough" number one is not really something anyone can do anything about. Personally, I think he can still be the guy he was in 2009 for us. He just has to hit his stride at the right time. Then in your post you went on to say you agree with me that Nova will right the ship, and that Andy Pettitte will be a solid number two for the playoffs. That's three solid starters in the playoffs. You can win a series with that, but you should really have a reliable fourth. I am hopeful enough that Hughes or Kuroda could be that guy, or at least get hot at the right time to temporarily be that guy for the two to three starts they would even have to make in the playoffs. I especially think Kuroda is going to be more consistent from here on out.

      That said, I can understand the viewpoint that pitching is a big weakness for this team. In fact that is why I wrote this article. Most people seem to feel that way but I don't think it will be a weakness all season. In fact, I think it will be a strength herein.

    • Marc Perez says:

      I'd put money on Kuroda finishing lowering than 4.25.

  4. Tanned Tom says:

    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.

  5. David K. says:

    "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.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Kuroda has been a playoff pitcher for the Dodgers in the past, which is better than a fifth pitcher. In fact, I believe he was their second or third pitcher. His ERA is 3.97, which is better than Burnett's was in 2009, when he pretty much saved our world series. His ERA is this low and he hasn't even pitched to his capabilities. If he develops consistency he will bring that ERA down to 3.5 easily, and then he's a shoe-in to be the number two or three starter in the playoffs.

      It turns out Darvish would have been a good investment, but you can't blame Cashman for not going after an unproven international free agent for over $100 million dollars when he could get Pineda for a DH who is currently batting .257 with a .300 OBP. In hindsight that was clearly a mistake too, but then again hindsight is 20/20 and most GM's in Cashman's position would have done the same thing he did, especially with the austerity budget in place.

      • David K. says:

        But will he ever win a few games in a row? There is a reason why he has a losing record here and with the Dodgers. He is almost like a Melido Perez, if you remember that guy (from the early nineties?). Kuroda gets little run support, probably because the lineup has zero confidence in him and the opposing team's pitcher conversely goes into the game very confident. Kuroda gives up early runs, typically in the first inning and puts his team in a hole out of which they usually never recover. And when he is bad, he really sucks, so it's an indication that he cannot make the in-game adjustments to his mechanics. All in all, it's a guy who is good enough sometimes to make you notice but he is just not a winning pitcher. Look for him to go about 10-16 this year. Even if we make the playoffs, it'd be tough to use a 10-16 pitcher as your no. 2 or 3.

        • Greg Corcoran says:

          Evaluating a pitcher solely based on their record is very problematic. If the Yankees lineup is having trouble giving him run support because "they don't have faith in him," then this is the lineup's fault, not Kuroda, and they are the ones who need to make the adjustment. Getting wins is not pure luck, but there is a significant amount of luck involved. Cliff Lee currently has a record of 1-2 for the Phillies, does that mean he is a bad pitcher? Does that mean that the Phillies don't give him run support because they don't have faith in him? I think not.

        • Tanned Tom says:

          Your "zero fatith" argument is so childish it makes me think you were always the last one picked at kickball. I'm sure the Dodgers had tons of faith in Koufax, yet they rarely scored more than 2 or 3 runs for him. The Giants had to know how great Lincecum was, yet they they routinely scored 2 or less runs for him. In 2010 Hughes bit for the last two-thirds of the season, yet the Yanks regularly scored 6 or more runs for him. Maybe there's no connection here, hmm Einstein?

          • David K. says:

            Whether it's "zero faith" or matchups or just plain bad luck, you can't deny that he doesn't get any run support. Now with Phil Hughes, yes he got tuns of run support in 2010 but that stopped last year. Whatever you want to call it, there are pitchers who just don't win and we all know a few who are consistently losing every year, whether they are with a good team or a bad team. Kuroda is one of them and there's no way he should start game 2 or 3 of the playoffs. That's just suicide. He might put up a decent ERA but he's always losing. I'm just trying to suggest possible explanations for it.

          • Greg Corcoran says:

            I think there's a really good explanation for it. It's a sample size that's not large enough for the statistic it is measuring.

          • David K. says:

            Koufax pitched in a different era with the mounds different, no one was scoring a lot of runs back then. So you can't compare that with now. As for Lincecum, the Giants lineup sucks, but Lincecum wins, doesn't he? Therein lies the difference.

          • Tanned Tom says:

            So when the Giants weren't scoring for Cain in 2007 and 2008 and his records were 7-16 and 8-14, even though his ERAs were 3.65 and 3.76 it was his fault? It's just silly to insist there is a connection when there isn't one.

  6. 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???

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      LadyLovesPins, his numbers in May were much better than his numbers in April. There was marked improvement and he had one bad start the whole month, and it was against an extremely hot hitting team with a 6 game winnings streak. Even though he let up all those runs he still managed to go 5.1 innings. You can't take away a start, but when that one start trashes his April statistics and the rest of his starts were extremely effective you also must consider that this start was a statistical outlier and probably shouldn't be considered what you should expect from him.

      Comparing Hughes' stuff to last season is not saying that his last season was good, it is saying that he is much better than that this season. Not sure why you take such exception to that.

      Then you mention that his success came against bad teams. So what? This is major league baseball. A win is a win. There is reasonable hope that the success he had against those teams will start to translate to success against the better teams, statistical outliers and extremely hot teams aside.

      Finally, anyone in the current rotation can be in the playoff rotation if they get hot in the second half, or close to playoff time. They all have good enough stuff, it's just a matter of if they are hot at the right time. This is how it works in all of baseball. If they limp into the playoffs the last two months of the season, they're not going to get a shot to start in the playoffs. If they dominate the last two months, then coaches will find a way to get them into the rotation, especially if they have the stuff. All of these guys have the stuff, they just have to perform.

      Phelps is great but the fact is he doesn't have as good of stuff as Hughes. This past month, in my opinion, has proven that Hughes is improving. Phelps has really proven nothing. It's easy, as we've seen, to look good out of the bullpen. He made a couple of starts during which he had many long innings and wasn't able to make it past the 5th inning in any of them (I know much of that had to do with pitch count). Don't get me wrong, I love Phelps, but Hughes has pitched very well recently and the Yankees would be making a mistake not to see if he can continue that just because he had one bad start against one of the hottest teams in baseball.

      • Tanned Tom says:

        "There is reasonable hope that the success he had against those teams will start to translate to success against the better teams, statistical outliers and extremely hot teams aside."
        ah, in what universe? Hughes has been a starter for 5 YEARS, with an ERA of 5.00. Exactly when does this success you reference commence. I understand the team's reluctance to come to a judgment here as he is still 25 (26 this season), but I honestly don't see it happening. His KO to walk ratio is 2.5 to 1, which is decent, but he is still prone to the 3-run inning that blows a game open.
        There is a far better chance of Nova developing into a good pitcher, because he has the mental toughness. His KO to walk ratio is actually under 2 to 1 for his career, but is 2.9 to 1 for 2012. Their stats for 2012 are very similar yet Nova is 6-2 and Hughes is 4-5.

      • Tanned Tom says:

        The only argument for NOT trading Hughes would be the expectation that he will improve, and I'd like to see some evidence of that happening. Also the argument that being unable to beat good teams, while padding stats against weaker teams doesn't matter, is complete rubbish. For a team that goes to the playoffs EVERY YEAR, it damn well does matter how players perform against better competition. With the NYY offense, the 162 games aren't the issue, it's short series' that come after that matter. It's why Jeter and Rivera are so rightly regarded as great players and then some, and why A-Fraud is not.

        • Greg Corcoran says:

          Phil Hughes is not being relied upon to be a number two, or even number three starter, no matter what Girardi says. A fourth or fifth starter is expected to pitch well against the lesser teams and win a few games against the better teams. No reason why Phil can't do that.

          If you want to see why I expect Hughes to improve, you should look at his statistics from 2010. He has the same stuff now as he had then, and he now has more experience. His career ERA is severely hurt by last season's performance, during which he suffered from shoulder weakness and diminished velocity for being out of shape. This year he is in great shape.

          In April he showed very good peripheral statistics which would suggest that he had some bad luck. In May that started to turn around for him and the results got better, but he had one bad start that led to his statistics looking much uglier than his overall performance.

          I agree that there is more hope for Ivan Nova than there is for Phil Hughes, but that doesn't mean we should give up on either of them.

          And look, in the ideal situation, Hughes would now be in the bullpen and Pineda would instead be in the rotation. Unfortunately that plan went down with Pineda's torn labrum, and in my opinion Hughes is the best option. Two abbreviated starts by David Phelps is not a large enough sample size to convince me that he deserves to pitch over Hughes.

          DJ Mitchell is sporting a 4.5 ERA in Triple-A right now, and Adam Warren's is above 5.0. Freddy Garcia is not an option unless an injury occurs. Ramon Ortiz and Nelson Figueroa should be locked behind a glass case that says "open only in case of emergency." Both represent players having success in Triple-A, but not legitimate major league options for the starting rotation. Manny Banuelos is hurt and Dellin Betances isn't ready.

          The only one with even a close to legitimate argument for the rotation is Phelps, and he is so inexperienced that no one would know what to expect from him. Instead he could be eased into the majors the same way Ivan Nova was, and that worked out pretty well for the team.

          • Tanned Tom says:

            First off let me say how much I appreciate a well reasoned response (you know how rare that is). And I agree with everything you wrote, with 2 exceptions. Hughes is something of a known commodity as a starter, whereas Phelps is not. There doesn't seem to be any reason why Phelps couldn't match Hughes' numbers as a starter (after all a 5.64 ERA in 2012 sets the bar pretty low). Secondly, when Hughes gets moved to the bullpen his trade value will drop. Middle relievers are just not worth trading for. So for me it's Hughes being crummy enough where I feel Phelps could match or better his numbers, and the desire to extract some value from Hughes before he inevitably is jettisoned. Although, I am willing to move Hughes (and accept the dimished trade value) to the pen if Garcia is traded. That one organization should find itself with Hughes, Garcia, Ortiz and Figueroa can be found in the GM manual under the chapter heading "don't let this happen to you".

          • Greg Corcoran says:

            You are most certainly entitled to your opinion. I would be more inclined to agree with you about trading Hughes if we had more really good options besides Phelps. Unfortunately right now we don't. I don't doubt that Phelps could exceed Phil Hughes' current stats in 2012, although I think it would be a lot more challenging for him to match the May numbers (4.5 ERA) than the overall numbers (5.64 ERA). I'd be interested to see what Phelps could provide, but I'm still not ready to give up on Hughes. A few more bad outings and I might be singing a different tune, but I feel like the decision is never going to be that obvious. This of course leaves guys like me and you to forever debate whether Phil should or shouldn't be in the rotation! Hopefully we'll have a better idea one way or the other within a month or two.

          • Tanned Tom says:

            And of course they aren't trading him before 2014 in any case.

          • Greg Corcoran says:

            As of now they only have him until the end of next season anyway. If he proves he deserves it they could extend him, but if not I'm pretty sure he's gone after next season.

          • Tanned Tom says:

            Oh, and this year that he's in such great shape, his ERA still sucks.

  7. Marc says:

    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.