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New York Yankees: Grading the Rotation

Posted by Andrew Zercie on July 7, 2009

After handing out mid-season grades to the New York Yankees’ lineup, I felt compelled to give the starting rotation the same treatment. Well, maybe not the exact same treatment.

Uneven Season From C.C. So Far

Uneven Season From C.C. So Far

While the Yankees have scored the most runs in baseball thus far, their starting pitching hasn’t lived up to its enormous potential.

Here is a look at the six starting pitchers the Yankees have sent to the mound this season. Be warned, this report card isn’t pretty in some spots.

C.C. Sabathia: B-

When the Yankees forked over $160 million for the services of Carsten Charles Sabathia, they certainly weren’t expecting pedestrian numbers through the first three months of his Pinstriped Tenure.

Sabathia had his customary slow start, posting a 4.73 ERA in the month of April, along with a 19-t0-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings.

Since then, his pitching has perked up. He went a combined 6-2 with a 3.05 ERA for the months of May and June, pitching more like the 2007 AL Cy Young winner.

Still, his overall strikeout rate is down, and Sabathia recently felt a twinge in his pitching arm then had a bad start. Are these warning signs, or just a case of a veteran “saving bullets” for later in the season?

A.J. Burnett: B-

For the season, Burnett has given the Yankees what they should have expected (7-4, 3.83 ERA).

If one breaks Burnett’s performance down further though, a few things stand out:

–Burnett has pitched much better of late (5-2, 1.88 ERA in his last 7 starts).

–Burnett was known as a “Red Sox Killer,” but he’s been anything but this year in two starts against Boston this year: 21 baserunners in 7.2 IP, 11 ER.

–Burnett has been injury-prone throughout his career, but hasn’t missed a start due to injury this year.

In terms of durability, perhaps A.J. Burnett has turned a corner: he’s on pace for back-to-back 200 inning seasons for the first time in his career. And his recent stretch has shown that Burnett is capable of dominating opponents. When he pitches as-advertised against Boston, perhaps the Yankees will feel like they’ve got something here.

Andy Pettitte: C+

The New Yankee Stadium giveth, and it also taketh away. No starting pitcher on the Yankees’ staff has suffered from the Bronx Bandbox more than Andy Pettitte.

At home, Pettitte is 4-3 in 10 starts, with a 5.72 ERA. He’s allowed 12 HR in 61.1 innings, and teams are hitting a robust .312 against him there.

On the road, Pettitte has been a completely different pitcher: 4-1, 2.79 ERA in 7 starts, 2 HR allowed in 42 innings, and opponents are hitting just .228 against him.

For the season, Pettitte is eating innings (103.1, on pace for roughly 200), but walking more batters than in years past (2.78 walks per 9 innings for his career, 3.66 per 9 innings this year).

He hasn’t missed time due to injury and is putting up numbers that place him around league average (ERA+ of 97). So long as he doesn’t get hurt and keeps the Yankees in ball games, they’re getting what they’ve expected from Pettitte at this point.

Joba Chamberlain: C

The debate continues, but only because Joba Chamerblain is “pitching scared” at home.

In nine starts at the Bronx Bandbox, Joba is winless (0-2) with an unsightly ERA (5.36). Chamberlain averages fewer than five innings per start at home, and he’s averaging 5.35 walks per 9 innings at home.

On the road, Joba is 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA in seven starts. He is averaging six innings per start on the road, and is averaging 3.37 walks per 9 innings away from the Bronx Bandbox.

It is hard to tell how Chamberlain is developing because of this significant discrepancy between home and road starts. He hasn’t been able to develop any consistency, and in fact may be developing some bad habits. In his last start, manager Joe Girardi stated that Joba was not attacking hitters and worked too slowly on the mound.

Despite his inconsistency the Yankees are doing a nice job managing his pitch counts, as Joba averages 91.5 pitches per start, and hasn’t topped 108 in any single start.  As a result, Chamberlain is on pace to pitch roughly 160 innings on the season.

It would be nice to see Chamberlain produce a stretch of solid starts, and it would be great to see him pitch better at Yankee Stadium.

Chien-Ming Wang: F

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Chien-Ming Wang.

Was he pitching hurt all through spring training and it just didn’t show in March? Did he hurt himself coming back from his foot injury too soon?

Were his ribs really the reason Wang hit the DL earlier this season? Is his shoulder hurt now? Has the shoulder been the source of all that has ailed Wang this season?

The only thing we know for sure is that Chien-Ming Wang is not the same pitcher he once was. Hopefully, the Yankees do not rush him back from this latest injury.

Phil Hughes (as a starter): D

Before moving to the bullpen, Hughes filled in for Wang as a starter on seven occasions, and showed some flashes of brilliance, tossing six shutout innings at Detroit in late April, and eight shutout innings at Texas in late May.

Hughes also had one abysmal start in Baltimore, allowing eight earned runs in 1.2 innings, and was otherwise forgettable (6.16 ERA in his remaining four starts).

Hughes has the stuff to pitch as a starter, but has settled in nicely as a reliever.


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