Yankees – Back to the the start..ing pitchers

At the start of 2008, the Yankees weren’t sure about their number 5 starter and were hoping against hope that Mike Mussina could overcome the years and do better than he did in 2007. Well, that prayer was answered but all the things that they took for granted….. that Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes could handle a full season in the top bracket, that Chien-Ming Wang would deliver again and that Andy Pettitte would give them 18-20 wins…. turned to dust in their hands.
And so the "go with youth" policy was broken into pieces and much money has been spent to put C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett into the rotation for next year. So what went wrong?

Mike Mussina (34 games) 34 starts and an indian summer to match them all. 20 wins. 3.37 ERA and .278 OBA. 200.1 innings pitched. Mussina had looked like he had popped his cork in 2007 and I had very slim hopes of him returning to form. In 2008, he looked like a different pitcher and he ceased to rely on the game that had carried him through when he was a younger man. He looked canny and crafty and he suffered only 9 losses on the year. In short, he was a tour-de-force………… But now he’s retired and the surprise package of 2008 needs to be replaced and so the Yankees had to spend money.

Andy Pettitte
(33 games) 33 starts and rather mediocre. When Pettitte won he quite often did so because the bats delivered and gave him substantial run support. When the bats didn’t deliver (and that wasn’t infrequent), he invariably lost. He ended the year at 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA. Consequently, the Yankees are still pondering whether they need Pettitte for next year. To be true if it wasn’t for his history with the club, they probably wouldn’t be asking those questions. To be true, if it wasn’t for his history with the club, he would already have signed with the Dodgers and Joe Torre. I think he should swallow deeply, remember last winter and all the damage that did to his reputation and take the $10 million that the Yankees have on the table. He would be a good no. 4 or no. 5 starter.

Darrell Rasner (24 games). 20 starts. Somehow or other, Rasner managed to come out of the year as the no. 3 starter. Somehow or other, the Yankees let his slender potential die on the vine and left him out there in some games when his demeanour told everyone he needed to be back in the dugout and to be assured that the Yankees coaching staff cared enough to protect his slender confidence. They didn’t and they sold his contract and he was on the first plane to Japan almost as soon as the season was over. He only managed 5 wins and his ERA ballooned to 5.40 although his OBA was almost identical to Pettitte’s.

Sidney Ponson (16 games). 15 starts. In 2006, Sidney Ponson got a break and wound up playing for the Yankees. He delivered a 10.47 ERA in 3 starts and 2 relief appearances. By 2008, the Yankees were so confused about their pitching that they went back to Ponson who had been cut lose by the Rangers for causing disruption in his own clubhouse. Given all this background, Ponson delivered a surprisingly competent spell with the Yankees and ended with a thoroughly workmanlike 4-4 season. His ERA was an awful 5.85 by the end but given that history that was hardly disappointing. He will struggle to find a spot in 2009 with anybody.

Chien-Ming Wang
(16 games). 15 starts. 8 wins until his injury in June. Rumoured returns in August and September didn’t materialise and in the new season, we wait and see how his recovery has left him and whether he will be his old self. All of these questions, again, ensured that the Yankees would spend and spend big. In the first half of the year, he looked like it could be another great year. He should be back as a number 2 starter but we’ll have to wait and see.

Joba Chamberlain (42 games). Whatever his role in 2009, Chamberlain saw more time as a reliever in 2008, so we’ll deal with him in that category.

Ian Kennedy (10 games). 9 starts. In 2007, he had 1 win and a 1.89 ERA. In 2008, he had 0 wins and a 8.17 ERA. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, the Yankees talked him up into believing that he was the next big thing and really they only had that one win and some other strong innings to base it on. They (and he) started to believe the publicity when everyone came and tried to persuade the Yankees to part with him in the off-season. But they still had little to base this confidence on and they should have been still talking to him about "potential". By mid-season, there was talk of attitude problems and a post-game interview that showed it for all to see. Unless something stunning happens in Spring Training, Kennedy will begin the season at Triple-AAA and unless the whole thing falls apart during 2009, he will have gone away quietly by the end of the season. At best long relief, but really I don’t see it.

Phil Hughes (8 games) 8 starts. If anything, Hughes was an even brighter hope than Kennedy, if you believed the hype at the end of 2007. In reality, he has a better chance of being nurtured by the Yankees in the days that lie ahead. No wins and a 6.62 ERA is not encouraging but he did well when reassigned to Scranton and has had some good innings in winter ball. He could battle it out with Alfredo Aceves for the 5th starter spot.

Carl Pavano (7 games) 7 starts. Before they put all their confidence in the farm system, it was big signings like Pavano who didn’t deliver and didn’t seem to care that they hadn’t delivered that had made the Yankees wary of the free agent market. Lessons quickly learnt and quickly forgotten. Pavano, probably, had his most dependable season for the Yankees in 2008 but conversely he also delivered up his highest ERA. But then nothing makes sense about this guy’s four year contract. In 4 seasons, he appeared in 26 games and the only good thing that can be said about that was that he was competent (no better) when the Yankees needed to find ANY pitching in late 2008 and he was finally ready to steer clear of the disabled list. He certainly won’t be in New York in March and will be lucky to find a spot anywhere else.

Alfredo Aceves (6 games) 4 starts. Now here’s an interesting one. During his short stint in the Bronx in late 2008, we saw a couple of different Aceves. At his best, he looked excellent, other days he looked ordinary. If this was the beginning of last season, we would be setting up Aceves to be a major part of the starting rotation based on that. This year, that is about good enough to be overlooked. The currency has changed and lots of it is on the table. He had a 2.40 ERA in 2008 with 1 win which come to think of it is not very far adrift from what Kennedy produced in 2007. In these money spending days, he will be lucky to make the number 5 slot. Let’s hope he does.

Dan Giese (20 games) 3 starts. Again, as that was his principal role, we’ll look at him on our relievers report.

Brian Bruney (32 games) 1 start. We’ll see more of him as a reliever.

So where are we now?

The contenders seem to be: Sabathia – Wang – Burnett – Chamberlain – Hughes – Pettitte (unsigned) – Kennedy – Aceves

The odds are on a rotation of: Sabathia – Wang – Burnett – Chamberlain – Hughes

I’d like to see: Sabathia – Wang – Burnett – Pettitte – Aceves.

Let’s see what happens in the Spring.

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