Yankee fans had a big scare yesterday when they heard ‘elbow injury’ and Andy Pettitte’s name in the same sentence. Andy has had elbow issues going all the way back to the late 90s, and there has long been speculation that at some point it was going to blow up on him. Andy himself has said in recent years that he would continue pitching as long as his elbow held up. Big ups go to Girardi, who said in yesterday’s post game that he noticed something during the 5th inning. He quizzed Andy about it, and “had to drag it out of him” but Andy eventually admitted that his left arm was experiencing some stiffness, something he had experiencing on and off for the past week or so. This is the second time during his managerial tenure that Girardi’s keen eye has nipped an injury in the bud. You may recall a hot August night in Texas from 2008 where Girardi pulled Joba Chamberlain in the 5th inning after noticing something with his delivery. Joba was soon thereafter diagnosed with shoulder tendinitis and missed a month. In both cases, had they continued to pitch they could have injured themselves far worse.
So Yankee fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was reported that the injury appears to be minor, and even Andy himself is not overly concerned about it. But was a big scare really warranted? Would the Yanks be in big trouble if Andy was flying to Alabama to have season-ending (and in all likelihood career ending) surgery? Would the Yanks be looking at the divisional race being over, and a Wild Card berth as their best case scenario?
I don’t think so. There’s no doubt that whoever replaces Andy would represent a step down, he’s been outstanding so far this year, going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. Were he to continue that production all year, it would be by far the best season of his career, so a regression to the mean would be in order. That’s important, and I’ll return to that in a minute. The Yanks currently have 3 other starters who are pitching like staff aces in Hughes, Sabathia and AJ Burnett. We’ve already got more out of Hughes and AJ than anyone was expecting, Phil was projected for league-average production as the #5 and AJ was supposed to be his usual, inconsistent self. With all that, the Yanks were still targeted for 100+ wins this year before the season began. While its hard to say any of them will continue to be as good as they’ve been out of the gate, they all have top of the rotation stuff and can be expected to perform well going forward. I have also weighed in recently that I believe AJ’s transformation is for real.
Another thing to consider is how many positive regressions we have coming offensively. Teixeira is just starting to break out of his slump in the past week, Nick Johnson isn’t going to hit .171 all year and Alex has yet to really get going offensively. He has 2 measly HRs so far, I don’t think A-Rod will project to hit 12 for the season. We have some negative offensive regressions in order as well. I don’t think Brett Gardner will hit .346 with a .430 OBP all year. As much as we want to say Cano has matured, I don’t think he’s matured into Albert Pujols with his 1.100 OPS. Bench players Francisco Cervelli and Marcus Thames are also looking at drop offs, but as minor contributors that shouldn’t affect things much one way or the other. The fact of the matter is the heart of our order, batters 2-4 have yet to get going this year. Johnson, Tex and Alex have the kind of ability that can carry a team, and have yet to do so.
I also think Javier Vazquez has a big turnaround coming, he’s been too good for too long to have lost it this badly all at once. This isn’t the Chien Ming Wang situation from last year, where you had a pitcher coming off an injury who relied very heavily on one very special pitch. He’s a very good pitcher who’s performed well in both the AL and NY in the past. The one qualifier with Vazquez is if he’s hiding an injury, which is something he said he’s done before in New York. A return to form by Vazquez would mean Andy could be lost for the year and the Yanks would basically be looking for a 5th starter, which is a role that Aceves, Mitre or possibly even an Ivan Nova (who been pitching well in AAA) should be able to fill in effectively. There are also pitchers like Jarrod Washburn and Pedro Martinez still floating around out there, who would represent additional options. Considering that you would expect Andy to regress to the mean anyway, someone coming in and providing league average production wouldn’t represent a significant drop off for the Yanks win total expectancy. If either Andy comes back healthy OR Vazquez returns to form, the Yanks will be fine and still win around 100 games. If both happen, they could still chase history.
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