Wang – Pettitte – Mussina – Clemens – HughesBy
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed those names in succession since the beginning of the season. It was an affirmation — my way of saying, “we may be down now, but look at what we could have by June.” Indeed, on paper, the Yanks will hold the best rotation in the league in the second half of the season. Now it’s a matter of keeping everyone healthy and in the rotation for the rest of the season.
However, many detractors emerged yesterday. “He can’t pitch in the AL East,” they say. “He’s a five or six inning pitcher” they add. All in an attempt to rob Yankees fans of our joy. Some Yankees fans are buying into that line of thinking, too, saying that Roger won’t help the bullpen woes — he might even exacerbate them.
To all of you, I say: look at the numbers.
Yes, my initial joy over the Roger signing was an emotionally based one. A team with pitching questions signs the greatest or second greatest pitcher of our generation (gotta give Pedro his props). Gotta love it. But now, with a day to recover, here’s why Rocket will be just fine with the Yanks.
But…but…the American League has better hitters
Last year’s National League hit a collective .265/.334/.427, averaging 4.76 runs per game. This year’s American League batting line: .258/.329/.405, averaging 4.66 runs per game. Of course, these numbers aren’t the gospel; Roger doesn’t pitch against nine league-average hitters, and those numbers will surely change as the season progresses. But the notion that the AL so heavily favors hitters just doesn’t carry tremendous weight (the NL this year is at .258/.333/.399, just about on par with the AL).
But…but…it’s not the whole NL, just the NL Central
Oh, so you think Roger padded his stats against the worst division in baseball, eh? You might think that, since the two worst offenses in the league were the Cubs and the Pirates. But let’s actually look at his stats instead of making generalizations that will make us sound silly.
First glance: he made three starts against the Cubs. Typical reaction: HE PADDED HIS STATS! HE’S GOING TO STINK IN THE AL! Settle down. Yes, he dominated them his second time against: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 ER. Next outing: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 5 ER. First outing: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 ER. He gave up 29 earned runs during the whole season, and nearly a quarter of them (24%) game against the Cubs. Pad his stats against them he did not.
In his final appearance of the season, he pitched six innings, struck out 7, and allowed just one earned run to the Braves, who led the NL in Slugging Percentage last season. He surrendered more than two runs in just three of his outings: against the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and as we said, the Cubs. He pitched twice against each of those teams, allowing one or zero runs in the other outings. He pitched two games against the Pirates, allowing two runs over 12 innings. That’s not padding; that’s expected.
But…but…he wasn’t that dominant last time in New York
Look at this page and scroll to the bottom. This is where you’ll find Roger Clemens’s career groundball/flyball numbers. Now, we’ve established that the ideal pitcherinduces groundballs and has a high strikeout rate. Just look the list of Northeast quadrant (meaning high GB, high K) pitchers in the linked article. There are what, maybe five names on there that you wouldn’t have wanted on your team last year (Wandy Rodriguez, Cory Lidle [R.I.P.], maybe Dontrelle Willis)? Notice whose name slots at No. 4.
Now go back to the ESPN page. Wow, look at that groundball rate. Notice how it’s at ~1.40 during his three years in Houston. Notice that it wasn’t as high during his tenure in New York (except 2001, when he won the Cy Young, and 1999, which looks like an anomaly). This newfound tendency gives him an edge he didn’t fully exploit his last time in NY.
But…but…he’s a five-inning pitcher
Last year, he averaged a hair under six innings a start. Maybe an Astros fan can answer this question: did he leave games because he was gassed, or because the ‘Stros needed runs and pinch hit for him? I obviously don’t have the answer to that myself (and not the patience to sift through 19 play-by-plays). But it would make sense, considering Roger doesn’t hit a lick (.074/.194/.111 in 38 PA last year, striking out nearly a third of the time).
Much has been made of Rocket’s eventual mentoring of Phil Hughes. And yes, that’s an enormous intangible positive.
Not to make a big stink of it, because it’s probably coincidence, but look at Pettitte’s numbers before and after Roger’s arrival on June 22 last year:
Pre-Roger: 97.2 IP, 5.44 ERA, 6.82 K/9, 2.86 BB/9
Post-Roger: 116/2 IP, 3.16 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 3.01 BB/9
Roy Oswalt also went from a 3.32 ERA pre-Roger to a 2.72 ERA with him.
And then we have the bullpen. In it’s pre-abuse state, the Yankees had a formidable bullpen with Rivera, Farnsworth, Proctor, Vizcaino, Bruney, Henn, and Myers. Since, we’ve basically relegated Myers to a mop-up role, and have deemed Vizcaino ineffective. Proctor and Bruney are starting to take on a large workload, which could be cause for a breakdown later. Ah, but with Roger at hand, the bullpen just gained enormous depth.
First is tonight’s starter, Matt DeSalvo. Torre and Cashman had expressed that they’re looking at DeSalvo to hold down the No. 5 spot on the rotation. With Roger, that won’t be necessary for very long. Phil Hughes will be holding that down eventually — and Mike Mussina may actually be the No. 5 guy statistically by the end of the season. That leaves two options for DeSalvo: keep in a starter in AAA or move him to the big league bullpen.
If he proves he can handle MLB hitters, there’s no reason for him to be spending more time at AAA. He can be a big boost to this team out of the bullpen, and considering the state it’s currently in, the Yanks would be wise to use him in that role. He can mop up long innings (which really makes Myers useless), or he can act as another piece of the bridge to Mo. If Roger is going six innings a start, a guy like DeSalvo in the bullpen can help mitigate that.
Then you have Chris Britton, who probably should be in the bullpen right now. He may not be a late innings guy — yet — but he’s looking to be a better option to Vizcaino. In fact, if there was any demand at all in the NL for Viz’s services, the Yanks could make that swap and plug in Britton. However, Viz’s trade value will be much higher in July.
That still leaves three pitchers without defined roles: Karstens, Rasner, and Igawa. Many people don’t think Igawa will be sent down because it would be a “waste” of a $47 million investment. Malarkey, I say. If you want this investment to eventually pay off, he needs to hone his game at AAA. Unlike Hughes, Igawa plenty of what Igawa has left to learn can be done at AAA (location, location, location). And who knows, maybe he’ll emerge as a viable bullpen candidate later in the season.
Same with Karstens and Rasner. They’ll be better utilized in the bullpen than the AAA rotation. There may not be spots for them right now, but to think this season will conclude without another pithing injury is just inaccurate. There will be places for them to step in. And if they’re effective, they’ll stick.
That’s 12 guys competing for seven bullpen spots: Mo, Farns, Proctor, Viz, Bruney, Henn, Myers, Britton, Karstens, Rasner, Igawa, DeSalvo. You’re telling me they can’t piece together seven quality arms out of that group? And that doesn’t even count Chase Wright, who could also be on that list of bullpen candidates later in the season.
In conclusion, this rocks. No, it definitely doesn’t guarantee anything. But it gives the Yanks a glut of options. If someone doesn’t work out (::cough:: Vizcaino), there are plenty of other people looking for an audition. They may not be a group of closers. But then again, look at the bullpens around the league. How many teams would be using Karstens in their pen right now? At this point, he’s Plan B for the Yanks. And that’s what’s going to make the rest of this season fun.