The point of the Yankees spending almost $250 million on the starting rotation this past off-season was to shore up a glaring weakness from the past few years. Not only has their starting pitching been mediocre in terms of runs allowed, but they’ve also been in the bottom third in innings pitched for the past two years. Starting pitching was a huge priority, and the Yankees brass delivered. Yet through the first month of the season we’ve barely seen a difference from 2007 and 2008. They rank 19th in the league in starter innings pitched, and 26th in starter ERA to this point. This is obviously not what Brian Cashman and Co. had in mind.
The pitching situation hurts that much more because of injuries to offensive starters. Heading into the season the Yankees were already short their best hitter for at least month. Then their second best hitter succumbed to a wrist injury which has limited his ability to drive the ball. Then their starting right fielder partially tore his UCL and was almost lost for the season. Then the guy with balky knees started having knee issues. Then the starting catcher, whose absence was a detriment to the offense last year, tweaked his hammy. That is almost half the starting lineup either missing time or suffering because of injury. Sure, Hideki has recovered for now, but when a guy who has had surgery on both knees builds up fluid in the season’s first month, it’s not a good sign.
The thinking upon hearing of A-Rod’s injury was that the starting rotation was so much improved that the team could survive without him for a month. Yet that has not been the case at all. The pitching, as mentioned, hasn’t at all lived up to expectations, while the offense ranks fourth in the league in runs scored (and essentially tied for second in runs per game). The Yankees starters also get the second best run support in the league. If Posada misses significant time, it’s an easy bet that the Yanks offense won’t keep up that pace. If the team is going to keep their heads above water they’re going to need the starters to step up big time.
This means that the starters must go deeper into games so as to not leave the bullpen exposed. This also has the benefit of returning to a 12-man pitching staff (ideally 11, but that’s a pipe dream right now), allowing the team to add a bat like Juan Miranda to pinch hit for the anemic bottom of the order. Not to mention that starters going deep into games for the most part means they’re pitching well. Even with the injuries the Yanks offense can muster three or four runs most games. If they have starters pitching deep they can steal a few of those wins.
Starters stepping up and going deep into games won’t fix the injury and ineffectiveness issues the Yankees have faced this year, but it will provide a much-needed band-aid. It’s what they were expected to do all season, and it’s time that they started doing it. Now more than ever, when the team has had a few weaknesses exposed. What better way to mask a weakness, after all, than playing to your strengths?