Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yankees Look Ahead - Starting Pitching

When 2012 opened, starting pitching appeared to be the Yankees strength.  With a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova, GM Brian Cashman had set the team up well for success.  Further, with Michael Pineda expected to come back during the course of the season any holes that opened up seemed to have a ready solution.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.  Sabathia, coming off an injury plagued 2012 and off-season surgery, was awful. It was the worst season of his career and barely, ever so barely, above replacement player level.  11-13 record notwithstanding, Kuroda was the ace of the staff.  At least until mid August, when fatigue got the better of him and he slumped badly.  Andy Pettitte was solid, if not flashy.  Hughes stunk, not to put too fine a point on it.  He had flashes of brilliance, but a right handed flyball pitcher is never going to play well in Yankee Stadium (he was solid on the road.)  Nova was up and down. He sucked in April, was sent down to AAA for over a month, but was nearly lights out on his return.

Also, making starting appearances for New York was David Phelps, Adam Warren, David Huff and Vidal Nuno.  Phelpsie was better during the season than his stats would imply. He had one horrendous start (9 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.)  Without that game his ERA drops from 4.98 to 4.16.  Warren and Nuno also looked good in the small handful of times they got the ball to start a game.

So, what does 2014 look like.  Well, let's start off by acknowledging the retirement of Andy Pettitte and that Phil Hughes will not be back.  Further, Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent and it isn't entirely clear what his plans are.

That said, here is what I would do.  The elephant in the room, so to speak, is CC Sabathia.  He is under contract for three more years and we will need him to return to form. Whether his 2013 turd was due to his inability to prepare as normal during the off-season or is more indicative of wear and tear after his years eating innings (also so to speak) remains to be seen.  At the very least, I think pitching coach Larry Rothschild needs to recognize that CC may not be a power hurler any more and begin transitioning him to a more finesse pitcher (like Andy Pettitte.)  It may be worth it to enter the season not expecting Sabathia to pitch 220 to 230 innings.

I think the Yankees should try to bring Kuroda back for a third year.  As mentioned above, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball throughout most of 2013.  Bring him back, but limit his innings in order to get a full season from him.  200 innings is too many for a 39 year old pitcher.

Ivan Nova is a given as the number 2 or 3 starter.  He struggled through 2012 and in April of 2013.  From my personal observation, it was during this time he tried to become a strikeout pitcher. He has a vicious curveball and I think he does much better when he tries to be a groundball pitcher.

So, that is three (with only 2 under contract.)  What else? Well, I think it is time to bring Michael Pineda into the mix.  Maybe stretch him out a bit in AAA through April, but I think it is time to see what he can do up top.  David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno have also earned the opportunity to compete for a starting job in Spring Training. Phelps would be my odds on favorite, with Warren as the dark horse.  While I liked what little I saw of Nuno, he just hasn't ever had a serious workload thus far in his career. He probably would better fit in as the long man.

Lastly, the word on the street is that the Yankees are interested in JPPL pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka.  Without a revised posting system in place, this may never come to fruition.  But, his numbers in Japan are mindboggling.  Check it out.  I think New York should go all out in their pursuit of Tanaka. His Japanese stats are nearly as good as Yu Darvish's.

So, here it is, my 2014 starting rotation:

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. CC Sabathia
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Ivan Nova
5. David Phelps
6. Adam Warren as the swing man.

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