On the matter of pitching depth

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We spend a lot of time here at RAB being optimistic. In fact, as the 8.2 weighted average (as of 1 p.m.) from the team confidence poll suggest, we’re not alone in our rosy outlook for 2009.

But we can’t put the Yankee blinders on and assume that everything will go according to plan for the 2009 season. To that end, The Artist Formerly Know as “The” Steve wrote in with a question for me this morning:

The Yanks are not without question marks as they enter the 2009 campaign. What’s our worst case scenario? And more importantly, how are the Yanks prepared to deal with it?

So let’s put on our doom-and-gloom hats while we tackle Steve’s concerns. Mo willing, that worst-case scenario won’t come to pass, but we can’t ignore the obvious concerns. Today, we’ll tackle the pitchers.

First up is the big name and latest Yankee ace CC Sabathi. Asks Steve, “Will the innings load from last year affect him this year?” Josh Kalk at The Hardball Times tackled just this very question in September and concluded that Sabathia, so far, has been a horse. We don’t know how Sabathia will respond following two seasons and over 500 innings, but the Yanks will attempt to keep his innings down. Experts seem to agree that his easy, repetitive motion shouldn’t expose him to a greater-than-normal injury risk for a pitcher in his late 20s.

If Sabathia goes down, the Yanks will have to bump everyone up a slot while turning to a rookie. To that end, Steve’s next three questions are all related.

  • On A.J. Burnett, coming off of a career-high 221.1 innings: “If/when he misses a month or two due to a minor injury, what can we reasonably expect from Hughes/Aceves/IPK?”
  • On Andy Pettitte: “Is he starting to break down with age and no longer able to effectively hold up through an entire season? At 36 and never a hard thrower, what does he have left?”
  • On Joba Chamberlain: “[He] has never pitched more than 120 innings at any point in his career, and some analysts like BA’s Bill Callis have always felt he won’t hold up to a full season.”

Remember too that Chien-Ming Wang is coming off of a serious injury as well.

That said, every team faces health questions about pitchers; it’s just the nature of the beast. I believe, though, that the Yanks could weather the storm of losing one pitcher. Right now, Burnett is slotted third in the rotation and Pettitte fourth. Clearly, the Yanks would rather not lose either, but to lose one would probably not crush the team’s playoff hopes. Here, the Yanks would have deploy their depth and turn to Phil Hughes, Al Aceves or Ian Kennedy probably in that order.

For Hughes, it’s really a matter of which pitcher shows up. In September and October in his career, he is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA in 41.2 innings. He has struck out 28 and walked 12. In 65 MLB innings in other moths, Hughes has good strike out numbers but a 6.78 ERA and is 2-7. If Hughes has to fill in, the Yanks need the late-season Hughes to show up.

Kennedy, meanwhile, is one of the more polarizing figures in the Yanks’ system right now, as the comments to Joe’s IPK post show. Many fans don’t want to see Kennedy again because of some media-constructed story about his supposedly bad attitude; others are rightfully willing to him the benefit of the doubt. After his 2008 effort in the Bronx though, he’s third on the Minor League depth chart.

Al Aceves would fill in if Hughes can’t. The Mexican Gangster threw 30 decent innings last year, but his 16:10 K:BB ratio doesn’t scream future success. He does a good job of keeping the ball low though and limited the number of opposing baserunners.

Because all three are young and have limited MLB epxerience, it’s hard to project how they’ll do. Rather, with Burnett and Pettitte on board, the Yankees have the depth in the minors to weather the storm of a pitching injury. Last year, the Yanks were counting on Hughes and Kennedy to be effective Major Leaguers from Opening Day. This year, they’re the reserved, developing further at AAA until they are summoned. If a member of the starting five goes down, someone or a few someone’s should be able to piece together a league-average effort, and with this team’s offense, that’s all they need.

Of course, the Yankees, because of Joba, are going to need better than league-average performance from some pitchers not in their starting five. To that end, Hughes or Kennedy or Aceves will have to step in at some point (unless Mike Mussina is in shape and can be coaxed back). But the Yanks have a fallback plan for Joba too. He is adept at getting outs out of the bullpen. If he fails as a starting pitcher, the Yanks will slot him in as the heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera. While the B-Jobbers would be happy with that move, the Yanks are going to run Joba out there every five days or so until they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can’t do it. That’s a future we don’t have to contemplate yet.

As with any team, the Yankees are not without their question marks. By bolstering their big league staff, though, the Yanks have ensured themselves the potential to exploit their depth should the need arise. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the questions surrounding the lineup and the bullpen, but the 2009 injury scenarios are much less dire than they were a year ago.

CC tosses simulated game
YES, WFAN re-up simulcast deal
  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Excuse me while I committ hari-kiri.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      the second “t” is for tragedy.

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

    For reasons highlighted in your last paragraph, I think the team is in a much better position to weather a possible pitching injury than it was last year. And, like last year, I think the only injury that could completely devastate the lineup would be an injury to Posada.

  • andrew

    I think the reasonable worst case scenario for each pitcher is something along the lines of:

    Joba makes 10 starts and shows arm fatigue before getting pushed into TEH 8TH INNING!!111!!1!!
    AJ makes 15 good starts but spends a few months on the shelf
    Pettitte pitches all year, but rather poorly
    CC starts off like he did last year, but doesn’t quite recover as well, he could be an innings eater, just not a dominator. Possibly loses some effectiveness as he wears down the stretch
    Wang, similar to CC in that he’s a good bet to stay healthy and should eat some innings, maybe missing a few starts with recurring foot issues

    In this scenario, we’d most likely need 35 starts to replace Joba and AJ which i think would be given to Hughes and either Kennedy or Aceves. We’d probably want to stop pitching Andy, but due to the injuries he’d probably just try to pitch through it. The chances of one or two of these scenarios occuring is likely, but we’d probably have the worst luck in the world if they all happened. I’m fairly confident with Hughes’ ability to step up barring injury issues for Joba or AJ. I don’t think we could withstand multiple injuries to the staff, but nor could any other team in the majors, so that doesn’t worry me.

    • Tom Zig

      (jumps off cliff)

      • Reggie C.

        If Joba ends up throwing MORE innings than AJ Burnett… i’ll follow you right off that cliff.

        • Chris

          It wouldn’t surprise me to see Joba throw more innings than Burnett and for Hughes to be more effective than Burnett as his replacement.

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            You sure about that? I’d be worried about the former but absolutely shocked by the latter.

      • andrew

        hahahah, keep in mind, that was the list of worst case scenarios… if i had to guess, we’ll probably need somewhere around 15-20 replacement starts from hughes/aceves/kennedy to cover for joba’s innings limit + a missed start here or there for the rest of them

    • Steve H

      As long as those 35 starts don’t come from Rasner or Ponson, we’re in better shape than the Tex/Swisher-less 89 win team of last year. So even in the worst case (reasonable) scenario, you could be looking at a 90+ win team.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        Agreed. Ponson and Rasner having to pitch so much really killed the team last year. I’ll be very surprised if they win less than 90 games.

        • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

          Don’t forget about how wretched Hughes and Kennedy did either! Losing Wang for half a season, Jeter playing through pain, not having A-Rod for 3 weeks, Joba going down in August … god damn, the 2008 season can be summed up by just two words – “If only…”

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            I think Joba going down put the nail in the coffin of the ’08 season.

            • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

              It did. You could see the team visibly deflate after he went down.

  • jsbrendog

    i know that if joba “fails” as a starte and ends up bakc in the pen it will be through no fault of hsi own but i could not and would not want to live in a world where h ends up bakc int he bullpen because it validates all the ignoramuses who think an 8th inning pitcher is better than a starter. and id never be able to leave my house/turn on the tv/radio/etc/etc/etc ever again without transforming into the incredible hulk

    • Steve H

      If that happens, it shouldn’t happen for years. He should be given several seasons to try to make it as a starter, and only after several seasons end early, move him to the pen. Hell, nobody ever put Burnett in the the pen right, despite his injuries? I honestly believe it should take 4 or 5 years of Joba breaking down to decide to put him in the pen. I’m not talking 50 innings seasons, but if he consistently, over the next 5 years cannot last as a starter, then, and only then should he be moved.

      • Chris

        I think it depends on the type of injuries. Burnett had a stress fracture in his foot. Later that season he had a bone bruise in his elbow, which led to a couple stints on the DL followed by TJ surgery. That’s not an injury history that would suggest he can’t start.

        • Steve H

          You’re right. But also remember, it’s never been proven that being a reliever is any easier on your arm than being a starter. I’d be willing to bet that just as many relievers get hurt, if not more, due to 100% effort every time they pitch and irregluar schedules. A starter knows when he’s pitching, and roughly how many pitches, and can prepare for that.

    • Reggie C.

      you doing okay js?

      • jsbrendog

        ::shaking::

        b-jobers….b-jobbers man…everywhere, in the trees, in my house, in my head…

    • Drew

      Similar to Dwyane Wade vs. the knicks, jsbrendog says, “You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

  • RobC

    How much are the starting 5 affected by the quality of middle relief?
    With a 4 run lead do you take Joba or AJ out after 5 innings to limit their pitch and innings count?

    • Rey22

      I don’t think they’re paying AJ 16 mil a year to give you 5 innings, injury history or not.

    • A.D.

      Only if they’re already up to 100 pitches or so. Otherwise they could be pulled if they’re under 100 but have already pitched 6+ innings. But I doubt you see a 5inning 80 pitch outing unless they aren’t effective.

      • Yankeegirl49

        Just for the record…I HATE damn pitch counts!!
        Not that anyone cares..but I thought I’d get it out there..

        • Chris

          Mark Prior respectfully disagrees.

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            Tom Gordon, too.

            See: Ch. 5 of Baseball Between the Numbers .

            • jsbrendog

              QUANGOR(MO)

              • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

                You lost me on that one, j-dog.

                • jsbrendog

                  quan(trill) Gor(don) (MO) rivera

                  mo was in parenthesis orignally because he didnt have any arm issues but quantril and gordon both were ran into the ground. and proctor and sturtze. pitch counts and appearances.

        • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

          Inning count > pitch count IMO.

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            I disagree. Innings always vary in size, pitches don’t.

            • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

              Y’know … it really does depend. If it were up to me, I’d rely on a bit of both. Sometimes the ball can come out of a pitcher’s hand so easily – his mechanics are all in sync, he’s not putting any stress on his body, and throwing 120 pitches instead of 100 isn’t going to put any extra wear and tear on a guy. Sometimes that same pitcher is struggling and he’s putting a lot of pressure on his body, and even if he’s only at 85ish pitches, its time for him to go. But like you said, pitches are absolute, and innings vary.

              And this is a debate of scouts vs. stats where I side with the scouts – sometimes you really do just gotta go with the flow and judge a pitcher based on what you are actually seeing in a game.

          • Chris

            I’ve always wondered about that. It’s easy for a team to calculate pitch counts for the season, yet most of what you hear refers to innings limits.

            Pitches per inning range from 13-18 (average about 16). That could mean a 50 (or more) inning difference in the number of innings thrown with an equal number of pitches.

            • MattG

              pitch counts are important in-game. They lose all meaning over the course of a season. The point is to avoid throwing pitches while fatigued, so knowing how many pitches a pitcher threw in April is totally meaningless in September.

              Conversely, inning counts are obviously meaningless in-game. The point here is to not allow a young pitcher to exceed his innings pitched by more than 20% or so from the previous year. Each of those games should’ve included a pitch count limit, so the innings should represent the upper limits of the pitcher’s ability to pitch.

    • Jake H

      I would say if he is at 80 pitches through 6 they might limit him or Joba. Wang I’m sure they will run out there longer because he can get a 10 pitch inning very easy.

    • RobC

      If they are concerned about innings on Joba or AJ why leave them out there for meaningless innings if they have a good lead.

      I like pitch counts more than innnings
      A inning pitching to the Nick Swisher’s of the world is not the same as pitching to the Jose Molina’s

  • A.D.

    With the amount of young pitching that could be called on Yanks are in as good a place as they can be for wost case. Especially since it would be young guys getting innings which would help for the future.

  • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

    The Doomsday Scenario:

    -CC breaks down
    -AJ gets hurt
    -2009 Andy = 2nd half 2008 Andy
    -Wang trips and shatters his ankle, which the doctors had reconstructed out of porcelain (oops!)
    -Joba can’t handle the workload and becomes the heir to Mo
    -A-Rod gets suspended for calling Bud Selig’s momma a whore.
    -Jeter begins a major decline at the plate
    -Posada’s shoulder falls off
    -Matsui has the knees of an 80 year old
    -Gardbrera is Gardbrera
    -Everyone in the pen besides Mo has an ERA over 5
    -Teixeira becomes a crack addict
    -Girardi lies to the media (oh no!!!!!)
    -Cano day dreams about Larry Bowa all season
    -Swisher stops playing music in the clubhouse
    -Damon grows his Red Sox era beard out as a silent protest
    -The turkey in Hank Steinbrenner’s sandwich is dry.

    If all that happened … Mariano Rivera would throw 150 innings of no-hit ball and save 75 games. Don’t forget gentlemen…wtih Mo in your hearts, all things are possible.

    • 27 this year

      lol

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      What I’ll be interested to see about DJ this year is whether or not his power comes back. Both his SLG and IsoP have seen steady drops over the last 3 years (.483-.452-.408 & .140-.130-.108) but last year, I’ll chalk it up to the hand injury. If it doesn’t come back, though, even to his career mark of .458 or somewhere around that, then there will be cause for concern.

  • Expired Milk

    Damn right I’m optimistic. Not because of the off season moves but every other team in our division is full of question marks.The Red Sox imo have much more question marks than the Yanks.

    • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

      Yes, I agree 100%, even if the general media says otherwise. I’d like to see a RAB post where we dissect a BoSox doomsday scenario … it would be less of a stretch to imagine it happening for them than it would for us.

      • jsbrendog

        cause we hate them

        • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

          Yeah…but I hate and respect Boston in equal doses. I watch almost as many Red Sox games as I do Yankee games in a season (I <3 MLB Ticket). They rolled the dice on on their free agent pickups big time, and its very possible Pedroia / Youk will not repeat their numbers from last year, while Ortiz and (especially) Lowell are big question marks … not to mention Josh Beckett. I think the only known commodities they have are Bay, Pedoria (who still won’t match his 2008 MVP campaign), Lester, and Papelbon. Everyone else get seriously regress.

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      I think their two biggest ones are Dice-K’s apparently luck and Jon Lester’s big innings bump. The back-end of their rotation could also be tricky, along with shortstop on the defense/offense side. Mike Lowell’s health is also a cause for concern as is David Ortiz’s.

      In the Bronx, we’ve got Pettitte as a question–which one will show up? Burnett’s injury problems could flare up again, as could Posada’s and Matsui’s. Otherwise, I think we’re alright. Meh, maybe I’m actually wearing blinders this time.

      • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

        All Pettitte needed was a week or two off, but our rotation sucked so much shit that we needed him to play through pain because Pettitte at 50% is a hell of a lot better than Igawa at 200%.

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

          Yeah. It was just so painful to watch Pettitte in those last few weeks. It seemed that every time someone came to the plate, he was hitting a frozen rope.

      • Chris

        I think the difference between the Yankees and Red Sox is that the Yankees are looking from bounceback years from a lot of people (Cano, Swisher, Matsui, Posada, Wang, Jeter) while the Red Sox are looking for players to maintain their improved play (Lester, Dice-K, Pedroia, Youkilis).

        Of course, the Yankees went out and added some significant pieces, so I think that gives them an advantage.

      • jsbrendog

        they’ve also got questions in the outfield. theyve got jd drew, mike lowell, david ortix injury questions, they have matsuzaka’s preipherals which are frighteningly bad and lester’s innings bump, they have an inconsisten bucholz, they have becket coming back from an elbow injury as well, they have smoltz and penny who could both be good or both be another round of butthole colognes, they have the shortsotp question aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand they still have jason varitek catching.

        • jsbrendog

          oh, and rocco baldelli’s health questions and seriously, does wakefield still have it in him?

          and youkili’s stupid new facial hair too!

          • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

            Wakefield can probably pitch until he’s 50, but I don’t see him having an ERA below 4.00 ever again.

  • MattG

    Try and guess what my comment has in common with this post? Its right in front of your face? It’s probably what you are thinking?

    • jsbrendog

      comment depth?

      • MattG

        Unnecessary question marks. Is there any team in baseball with less starting pitching question marks than the Yankees?

  • Zack

    Every team has question marks. “Worst case scenario” is losing 2 pitchers, but that can happen to any team.

    • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

      First, muchas gracias to Ben for building a post around my e-mail suggestion.

      And just to be clear, I’m NOT gloomy about this season whatsoever. Far from it. I voted 9 on the optimism level poll earlier today. I just wanted to balance off our spring euphoria with a look at our weaknesses, plus explore our backup plans to address them. As we all know its a loooong season and sooner or later many of the things that can go wrong will.

      All of that being said, 98 wins and we’ll see the Sox in the ALCS.

      • http://evilempire20.com/ Ryan S.

        As much as I loathe Boston, I LOVE a Yankee-Sox ALCS. To me, there’s nothing better in sports.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

          When all is said and done, my heart would rather not sit through another NYY-BOS ALCS. I think I lose five years of my life every time that happens.

          • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

            Tell me about it. I bite my nails watching the Yankee classics, and I know how those games end.

  • David

    I agree that the Yanks have more SP depth this year, but if we go back a year, the Yanks seemed to have pretty good depth. One year ago, Joba was the #6 SP, with Karstens, Rasner, and Pavano available behind him. We didn’t know in advance that injuries and ineffectiveness would decimate the staff.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      In terms of potential and my desire for each player, it’s not really a stretch to say that I’d much rather put my eggs in the Hughes/Kennedy/Aceves trifecta as starters 6, 7 and 8 than in the Karstens/Rasner/Pavano bucket.

      • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

        That, plus Pettitte was our #2 and IPK and Hughes were the #4 and #5 in 2007.

        This year, old reliable Andy Pettitte is #4 and Joba with a successful year under his belt is #5. Hughes and IPK are #6 and #8, respectively. It’s not even close.

  • Januz

    You cannot look at teams in a vacume, and say if this negative thing happens, then this will occur. Last year bad things happened to the Yankees, but the same thing happened to Boston (Beckett, Ortiz, Veritek etc), stuff evens out. Every single team in sports has various question marks. I can tell you as a Steeler fan, they had to overcome a brutal non-conference schedule (NFC East, Tennessee Titans, and New England Patriots), in order to just make the playoffs. But when the got there, they got lucky, not facing teams like Indianapolis, Tennessee or Philadelphia, and won the Super Bowl.
    The key to winning it all is holding everything together, and a little bit of luck.

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  • mustang

    “Many fans don’t want to see Kennedy again because of some media-constructed story about his supposedly bad attitude”

    “It’s always disappointing, but it’s my first bad outing in a long time, since the All-Star break”, said, Ian Kennedy, whose previous seven starts were in the minor leagues”.

    “I felt like I made some good pitches and got out of the second inning. ‘I am not too upset about it’. You move on, and I have already done that. I am not going to look too much into it”. … Ian Kennedy, after Yankees 10-5 loss to Angels

    AND after a bad April.

    I think media-constructed is a bit strong as you see the media had a lot to work with.

    • Zack

      And once Ian Kennedy throws a good game everyone will support him again. I mean did boston fans love pedroia after he started off hitting .200 in his first april?

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