The age-old pitching adage states that a quality starting rotation goes a long way in producing wins. Given the plethora of historical data to back this philosophy, it’s quite clear why just about everyone in Yankeeland is sitting a little less comfortably in their figurative seats of late. After all, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre aren’t the most stellar of options. Now, I’m not going to tell you to step away from the ledge because I’m not in love with the idea of those two guys either, but I will encourage you to hold off from taking the plunge at least for the time being. In other words, do as Cashman does, and idle patiently. Frankly, you have no choice in the matter anyway.
For the sake of discussion, let’s take a brief look at the 2011 CAIRO projections for the presumed starting rotations (you know what they say about baseball, right Suzyn?) of each AL East club.
Highlighted in yellow are players who could realistically work their way into each team’s respective rotation. Millwood might be handed an opportunity if another starter is injured or simply not meeting Showalter’s expectations. Jeremy Hellickson will definitely join Tampa’s rotation as soon as the club feels he’s capable of handling the physical rigors associated with a season’s worth of pitching. Additionally, there’s always the distinct possibility that a guy like Matt Garza or James Shields is traded, thus accelerating Hellickson’s development. And of course, Andy Pettitte (although likely to retire) hasn’t been officially ruled out just yet. Should Andy decide to not hang up the spikes, of course he’d be welcomed back. Any of these guys could somewhat alter the discussion, but for now, let’s assume they’re all the “sixth man.”
For the sake of banter though, let’s assume that everything plays out as currently projected come April. As it stands, the Red Sox rotation has the best collective ERA (4.27), FIP (4.09), and cumulative WAR (13.5). They also have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Bobby Jenks on the roster along with “World Champions” tattooed on their foreheads, right? Cynicism and sarcasm aside, the Rays rotation has the second-best collective ERA (4.34) and FIP (4.35), although their combined WAR (7.6) is noticeably less. Meanwhile the Yankees follow closely with a combined 4.46 ERA, 4.42 FIP, and a 10.6 combined WAR. Fortunately for the Yankees, approximately half their games come against presumably less potent, non-divisional opponents which may help the stat inflation for some of those back-end guys.
However, let us consider the possibility that the Yankees do not actually intend on starting (or ending, perhaps) the season with both Nova and Mitre in the rotation. Let’s pretend Pettitte comes back. Or, pretend that one of the several names that has been littered (irresponsibly at times) throughout the rumor mill actually pans out (I’ve highlighted those names in bold at the bottom of the table). The net effect is threefold: A) Nova or Mitre gets demoted to the bullpen; B) Joe Girardi cries a little before falling asleep knowing his favorite man-crush lost his starting spot; and C) the rotation’s overall stats close the gap that much more in relation to their arch rivals. If Cashman were to acquire, say, Jeff Francis for example, the starting rotation would combine for a 4.38 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and a 13.2 WAR while simultaneously sounding significantly
less crappy more reliable (at least on the surface). This of course assumes that the Sox’s and Ray’s rotations perform according to plan which is no guarantee.
But what if the Yankees are sincere about a combination of Nova and Mitre for those final two slots? How much worse for the wear would the team find itself? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the expected rotation was CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett. With both Lee and Pettitte in the rotation, the staff would have amassed a cumulative 17.2 WAR according to CAIRO — or about seven wins better (not to mention the collective ERA and FIP would have also benefited). Sure, seven wins can signify winning the division versus winning the wild card or winning the wild card versus not making the postseason altogether. It also signifies that the disparity between what is considered to be an excellent rotation in contrast to what is a “highly suspect” one might not be as vast as initially figured.
If there is one reassuring point to be made here, it’s this. The Yankees will do what it takes to not only survive, but remain in the hunt. J
ust when the dust appears to be settling, a deal will be made (just think back to that absurd $20M pro-rated bombshell of contract handed over to Roger Clemens). While it’s probably true that the Yankees rotation will not qualify as “elite” in the conventional sense, it should be good enough to uphold the integrity of my favorite baseball cliché. Let’s just hope the lift in production is worth the cost.
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