The Poor Man’s Analyst

Sorting out the Rotation

with 9 comments

I was talking to my dad this past week about the state of the Yankees pitching staff. You see, my dad is one of those pessimistic Yankee fans, although not nearly as pessimistic as Steve Lombardi. Side note: That post right there got me banned from Was Watching. Talk about letting criticism roll off your back.

Anyways, as I was saying…according to my dad it’s a virtual lock that Burnett will get hurt this year, and I can’t really blame him for that. So with the Yankees already not having a reliable fifth starter, and Joba having an innings cap this year, there’s reason to worry about where the remaining innings will come from. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s extremely rare for any team to have good starting rotation health all season, and every team relies on starters at some point that Joe Fan hasn’t heard of. Let’s use the Red Sox, who had the third best starters ERA (4.02) in the American League this past season, as an example. The Red Sox top 4 starters—Beckett, Matsuzaka, Wakefield, and Lester—pitched a combined 733.1 innings, compared to 966.2 total from everyone combined. That’s a difference of 233.1 innings. Keep those numbers in mind.

So based on a conversation, this is what we figured the front four of the Yankee rotation would look like:

  • CC Sabathia: 34 starts, 233 innings (6.9 per start compared to 7+ each of the last two years)
  • A.J. Burnett: 26 starts, 160 innings (6.2 per start compared to 6.4+ each of the last three years)
  • Chien Ming Wang: 33 starts, 210 innings (6.4 per start compared to about 6.5 the last three years)
  • Joba Chamberlain: 23 starts, 140 innings (~6 per start, just an educated guess)

That total adds up to 743 innings, using pretty reasonable, if not conservative, guesses for everyone. The Red Sox got 733.1 innings from their front four. So let’s say the Yankees want to get to 970 innings, which would have put them at 6th most in the league in 2007 and 2008. Remember, we’re taking into account a possible (probable?) injury for Burnett and a severe innings cap for Chamberlain. To get to 970 from 743 innings means getting 227 innings out of whoever is in the fifth starter spot and/or the fill-in for Burnett.

Let’s look at two of the Yankees division rivals, the Blue Jays and Red Sox (who also happen to be two of the top pitching teams in the league last year), for some help with getting to that magic number of 970 innings. Blue Jays starters not in their top four pitched a combined 233.1 innings. Pretty close. Red Sox starters not in their top four also pitched a combined 233.1 innings. Now that’s creepy. These pitchers who combined to be each team’s “fifth starter” had 4.74 and 5.48 ERAs, respectively.

When pitching (not on the DL), the Yankees top four should have better numbers than the top four of the Jays and Red Sox. So if the Yankees match the innings projections above, and can get an ERA of around 5 from their committee of fifth starters (or maybe just Phil Hughes), they should be in very good shape this coming season.


Written by dcn29

January 10, 2009 at 6:49 PM

9 Responses

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  1. Nice analysis. However, Burnett with 160+ innings for a season is an pipe dream. The last two seasons was the second time in his career that he has put back-to-back 160+ IP numbers on the board, and that barely. To do it three seasons in a row is asking too much. Expect 120 IP and 8-10 wins. I say his arm implodes in June or July and he’ll miss the rest of ’09 and all of ’10, and will never be the same pitcher ever again. Then again I’m a Blue Jays fan and I might be biased. 🙂


    January 11, 2009 at 6:51 AM

  2. Thanks for commenting. You may be right, obviously nobody will know until this summer. I was counting on some kind of tendinitis or soreness that keeps him out for 6 weeks, not a full-blown arm surgery. It’s rare for guys to have Tommy John twice.

    I just did this quickly now, but maybe we were on to something with our 160 IP guess. If you take Burnett’s total innings for his career excluding his rookie season and 2003 (when he had the surgery), his average innings per year is about 163. Pretty close.

    And by the way, I’m not sure if I’ve said it here or not, but I hated this signing.


    January 11, 2009 at 11:53 AM

  3. Supposedly his mechanics are totally screwed up, and it’s why he had the TJ. My guess is his shoulder is now taking the brunt of his crappy delivery and it’s just a matter of months before it blows. I hope I’m wrong, because I don’t wish that suffering on anyone. Basically AJ is a stubborn know it all who won’t listen to expert advice, at least not while he was with the Jays. Maybe the Yankee staff can help him get his act together. He is still a thrower and needs to learn how to become a pitcher. He basically is a one pitch pitcher and until he starts using his curve consistently or comes up with another pitch, his days are numbered unfortunately. Either way, even healthy, he’s not worth 1/2 of what he’ll be getting paid. Bottom line, we’ll see come summertime. I reserve the right to boo him whenever he comes to Toronto. 🙂 Cheers.


    January 11, 2009 at 12:07 PM

  4. Haha, well hopefully for the Yanks’ sake that doesn’t happen. An analysis of mechanics by Chris O’Leary was done a little while, and he didn’t like what he saw either…


    January 11, 2009 at 1:00 PM

  5. I’m curious if anyone has done an injury risk analysis based on pitcher weight (or maybe, weight made up of body fat). While I think CC will be an excellent pitcher this year, and even the next, I’m worried (well, not so much worried, as hoping, being an Orioles fan) that his weight will catch up with him, making him an injury risk in time as well. With AJ Burnett and Sabathia in the rotation 3 years from now, I’m curious if they will combine for much more than 300 innings. I could be totally wrong on this, but I would imagine there’s some sort of breaking down that occurs with extremely overweight pitchers. I’d heard rumors of extreme interest in Ben Sheets for the Yankees as well. A rotation like that in 2 years could turn out to be quite a problem. Hopefully for the Yanks, by then, Hughes and Joba will be established starters…but that’s a lot of money on the table with a lot of risk. Anyone know anything about overweightness (sp?) and durability? I’d be very interested in that.


    January 11, 2009 at 8:16 PM

  6. Ask and you shall receive. It’s a six part study, so you can find parts 1-5 by clicking the links to each part as they appear. But luckily, the answer to your question is in the first paragraph of part 6.

    “we discovered that short and fat pitchers tend to be better, and fat pitchers especially have an inherent advantage over other pitchers—not only playing better, but for longer.”

    Part 5 (linked to in the intro of part 6) goes over how he came to that conclusion. I’m not aware of any other studies on the issue of body type, outside of citing anecdotal evidence (like David Wells, for example).


    January 11, 2009 at 8:49 PM

  7. Interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it says anything about someone at the extreme. Obviously, I can’t make this conclusion without the data, but I would imagine the linear nature of the data presented breaks down at the tails. I’m not a doctor or biomechanist, but I could ask one of my Kinesiology friends. Obese is considered 30 pounds overweight…but this is a difficult thing ot interpret when we’re talking about athletes with LOTS of muscle. CC Sabathia, I would presume, is not one of them. At somewhere around 100 pounds overweight, a linear pattern may not be appropriate. I’m curious to see a similar study done with morbidly obese pitchers (Ponson, Sabathia, David Wells), rather than Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, and other solid tank-like people.

    This is really interesting, in that it refutes the strong preference for tall, lanky (thin) pitchers. Sort of. If we have a YOUNG tall thin pitcher (who is already pretty good), there seems to be significant room for improvement in K-rate and durability.


    January 12, 2009 at 3:47 PM

  8. One thing I forgot to mention in the above post. While I wonder about Mr. Fatty…I can say one thing confidently:

    The Yankees are going to be really good.

    Sad face for my Orioles.


    January 12, 2009 at 3:48 PM

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