New York Yankees: How Pitching Will Win a Championship

July 13, 2010   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

The Yanks enter the 2010 All-Star break with the best record in baseball and are on pace for 103 victories. But the big news in Yankeeland this past week was the non-trade for Cliff Lee. Since that deal fell through, ESPN Insider is reporting that a Yanks deal for Cubs starting pitcher Ted Lilly “has legs.” What I don’t understand is the Yanks’ sudden obsession with starting pitching. Yes, yes, there are those old pitching adages:

Pitching wins championships.
You can never have enough pitching.

But, seriously, is Ted Lilly going to improve this team? I guess you need to grab Cliff Lee if all you’re giving up is a minor league prospect, but even that seemed like an unnecessary addition—like one of those deals I make for my fantasy team that never works out. The Yanks are the best team in baseball because their starting rotation, from top to bottom, is outrageously good right now.

Let’s talk a look at the Opening Day rotation and where the pitchers stand today.

C.C. Sabathia: After a characteristically slow start, C.C. has continued the dominance that earned him $161 million to play on 161st Street. Since June 1, a period of eight starts, Sabathia is 8-0 with an ERA of 1.81. You’re not going to improve on that. Let’s move on.

A.J. Burnett: “Good A.J.” and “Bad A.J.” have both showed up so far in 2010. But perhaps there’s logic behind his horrid stretch. Yankee pitching coach Dave Eiland left the team during the month of June for personal reasons. Here are Burnett’s stats with Eiland on the team and with him gone:

AJ with Eiland (April, May, July): 9-3, 2.96 ERA, 4 HR in 23 IP
AJ without Eiland (June): 0-5, 11.35 ERA, 9 HR in 85 IP

Does a pitching coach make this much of a difference? Does a pitching coach make any difference at all? I have no idea, but the difference in these numbers is ridiculous. How bad was A.J. in June? Hitters hit .357 and slugged .724 against him; he was worse than 2009 Chien-Ming Wang. But the rest of the season has shown that when he’s on, he’s one of the best in the game.

For folks who don’t remember, he single-armedly carried the Yankees for the second half of the 2009 season; he shut down the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series, giving up one run and four hits in seven innings, to even the series at one game apiece. Despite his struggles, I want this man in my rotation.

Andy Pettitte: Dandy Andy is an All-Star for the first time since 2001, and his performance this season backs up the selection. He’s 11-2, bringing his career win-loss record to an insane 240-137 (making him the only active pitcher 100-plus games over .500). With victories in the clinching games in the 2009 ALDS, ALCS, and World Series, he also has 18 postseason wins.

Here in 2010, his 2.70 ERA and 1.147 WHIP marks what could be his finest AL season yet. Can he keep it up, or will his age (38) and the admitted previous usage of HGH finally break his body down? Either way, find me one Yankee fan that wants him bumped from the rotation right now. I’ll be waiting.

Javier Vazquez: Javy was the most likely pitcher to be bumped from the rotation with the theoretical addition of Cliff Lee to the Yanks. A quick glance at his overall 2010 numbers (7-7, 4.45 ERA) seem to indicate that he’d be the logical guy to trade away or relegate to the pen. But anyone watching the Yanks closely knows that he’s not the same guy who had his turn in the rotation skipped twice earlier in the season.

On May 17, Javy came on in the ninth inning of a Red Sox game, striking out Kevin Youkilis to preserve the Yanks’ two-run deficit. When Marcus Thames won the game with a two-run shot off of BoSox closer Jon Papelbon in the bottom of the frame, Vazquez earned the win for his one-third of an inning.

Since that game, Vazquez is 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA. Hitters are hitting .181 against him in 65 innings. For folks who remember only his painful 2004 stint in pinstripes, recall that Vazquez was fourth in the NL Cy Young voting just last year, behind Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright. In his last game, Vazquez lost a no-hitter on an infield single with two outs in the sixth inning. Is this a guy you want traded away or dumped to some long relief role? How would that make any sense?

Phil Hughes: Kind of hard to believe that there was once a battle for this fifth spot in the Yankees rotation. Two weeks past his 24th birthday, Phil Hughes will be an All-Star for the first time this evening. Sporting a sparkling 11-2 record, Hughes is the best No. five pitcher in baseball. More hitters have struck out against him this year than have reached base via a hit.

This is exactly what the Yankees hoped for when they selected him with their first pick in the 2004 draft. This is what Yankee fans dreamed of when Hughes threw 6.1 hitless innings in Texas in his second start, back in 2007. He’s really that good. For folks who were eager to deal him for Johan back in 2007, know this: Phil Hughes is costing the Yankees all of $447,000 this year. Santana is earning $20,144,707 across town.

The only issue in this rotation is Hughes’ reported innings limit. As a reliever for most of the 2009 season, Hughes was limited to 105.1 innings last year. Anywhere near 200 innings this season could be disastrous on his young golden arm. The Yankees skipped one of his turns in the rotation in June to cut back on his workload, but it’s tough to bench a pitcher when your team wins 81 percent of his starts.

Besides, is the intention of trading for Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren, or any of the other assorted pitchers on the trading block really to give Hughes a break? A spot-starter like Chad Gaudin could always spell the young Jedi, and the Yanks can still hold onto Jesus Montero for the inevitable time when Jorge Posada has to hang ‘em up.

So, as we look at the most important component of any baseball team, its starting rotation, here at the All-Star break, it’s mighty impressive to consider that 60 percent of the Yankees’ rotation will be in uniform for the Mid-Summer Classic. The other two guys have had stretches when they flat-out dominated the league. Take stock and enjoy it, fans. And don’t mess it up, Yanks.


From Mr. Blogtober.

Follow on Twitter: @Mr_Blogtober

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