Master Procrastinator

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Questioning the Yankees’ Starting Rotation

Posted by Andrew Zercie on January 23, 2011

It’s hard to believe, with all the snow we’ve gotten here in the Northeast, that spring training is just a few weeks away. As a fan of the New York Yankees, this hasn’t been the best of off-seasons, so I would like nothing more than to fast-forward to mid-February to see how the team is going to answer all of the questions that haunt them right now.

Before we get to February though, here is the first of a series of posts regarding the direction of the Yankees, both on the field and off of it. I will pose questions that need to be answered before the season begins, beginning with what I believe to be the most important question that still needs to be addressed.

1. What is going on with the rotation?

Almost all off-season, many have wondered what the Yankees are planning on doing with the #4 and #5 spots in the starting rotation, in the wake of Cliff Lee signing with Philadelphia, and Andy Pettitte acting like he’s not playing in 2011. What people really ought to be wondering about is the status of the Yankees’ rotation as a whole, because it’s not pretty.

If only he could pitch every day...

To me, the Yankees’ starting rotation is an obvious weakness. CC Sabathia is the only pitcher in the rotation who can be counted on for 200 injury-free innings. He is the clear ace of the staff, and should contend for the AL Cy Young award yet again.

2010 AL All-Star Phil Hughes provides the Yankees with hope. He won 18 games last season and he threw a career-high 176.1 innings last year. However, he threw just 86 innings in 2009, and before last year he hadn’t topped 120 innings since throwing 146 way back in 2006, when he split time between Single A and Double A. A big jump in innings-pitched from one year to the next can sometimes lead to injuries, or ineffectiveness, and Hughes has a bit of an injury history already.

Speaking of injuries, one of the knocks on A.J. Burnett when he signed with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season was that he was injury-prone. He’s now had three straight seasons with at least 33 starts. So, a glass-half-full kind of person would believe that Burnett has turned a corner and is a healthy, durable pitcher as he enters his mid-30s. A glass-half-empty person would believe that Burnett, following a career-worst 2010 season (10-15, 5.26 ERA), will be on the disabled list a few times in 2011. I fall in the durable veteran pitcher camp when it comes to Burnett, but his lack of consistency is a huge problem for the Yankees. Healthy or not, they don’t know what to expect from Burnett.

So, the Yankees’ rotation as of right now consists of one pitcher they can truly count on (Sabathia), two spots that are completely up for grabs (#4 and #5 spots), and two pitchers with question marks (Hughes, Burnett). This is not a World Series-caliber starting rotation, to say the least.

Coming soon: Question 2 in the series.


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