Sorting out the Rotation
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.