2010 Season Preview: Strength from the back end

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During their run through October in 2009, the Yankees made headlines for their pitching. Not only did their starters excel, throwing few clunkers in the 15 games it took the Yanks to grab their 27th headline, but they ran through the Twins, Angels and Phillies while employing just three starters. It was impressive, but it underscored a weakness in the back end of the Yankee rotation.

To address that problem, Brian Cashman made a pair of moves with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain waiting in the wings. The initial no-brainer was to re-sign Andy Pettitte to a one-year, $11.75-million. Instead of debating about retirement, Pettitte, coming off a season in which he won the clinching games for the AL East, ALDS, ALDCS and World Series, finalized his deal in early December. The second move was a big one. On December 22, the Yanks sent Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Javier Vazquez. The righty last threw a pitch for the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS, and his return to the Bronx offers him a shot at pressure-free redemption.

With these two in tow for the third and fourth starter spots, the Yankees can mix and match with the best of them. The rotation will be fronted by CC and A.J., a lefty and a righty, with Andy Pettitte, lefty, and Javier Vazquez, a righty, picking up the slack. With four veterans in place, each capable of throwing over 190 innings, the Yanks can use their fifth starter as a no-pressure spot for one of the kids, and if this rotation isn’t the best in the game, it’s certainly in the top five.

Pre-season accolades sound well and good, but what can we expect from Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez? The doubters among us may be tempted to look at the negatives. Pettitte, after all, will turn 38 in June and has had a minor history of elbow problems. Vazquez had a stellar year in the NL in 2009, but he left New York after falling apart in 2004. Yankee fans remember him for surrendering a Johnny Damon Grand Slam in a no-win situation and not his 10-5 first half that netted him an All Star game appearance.

First, let’s tackle Pettitte. In 2009, Andy made 32 starts and went 14-8 over 194.2 regular season innings. He had a 4.16 ERA and struck out 148 while walking 76. In the postseason, he threw 30.2 more innings and sported an ERA of 3.52. His 2010 projections are rosy indeed:

Basically, as one of the Yanks’ mid-rotation starters — the labels third or fourth don’t really matter — Pettitte is expected to regress slightly. We could see the regular season ERA tick up by approximately 0.10 runs while the innings, strike out and walk rates dip by a start or so. If Pettitte can match his projections while pitching in the AL East, the Yankees would be thrilled.

So what to look for in Pettitte’s 2010? Well, the biggest concern for him is the way he approaches pitching in Yankee Stadium. Early on last year, Andy was vocal about his dislike of the new ballpark, and it showed in his numbers. His road ERA was 3.71 while his home mark was 4.59. He surrendered 70 percent of his home runs at home, and opponents OPS’d nearly .130 points higher in the Bronx. At home, Pettitte will have to be a different pitcher to enjoy greater success, and in 2010, we’ll see if he can continue to pull a Mike Mussina and reinvent himself as a strategic thrower. Knowing that he can’t throw the fastball past too many hitters today, he’s well on his way to that goal.

And then we have Javier Vazquez. In 2009, he was great. He went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw 219.1 innings, struck out 238 and walked just 44. By issuing so few free passes, the 20 home runs he allowed didn’t come back to bite him. He is, however, third on the active home runs list, and that moniker Home Run Javy isn’t undeserved. His 2010 looks fantastic on paper.

The projections expect a top season for Javier Vazquez and numbers that would make him the team’s second best starter. The 23 home runs allowed may be on the optimistic side, but if he throws 204.1 innings with 196 strike outs and a 3.60 ERA, the fans would embrace him. For Javy, though, the key will be the bases on balls. Pitching at Yankee Stadium, he will, for better or worse, give up his fair share of long balls, but if he can limit the damage, much the better.

In a way, the Yankees are taking a gamble on their third and fourth starter tandem this year. The team could have opted to re-up with Pettitte and slot in both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in the fourth and fifth spots. At some point, after all, the team is going to have to develop its own pitchers and give the kids a chance to throw enough innings for a full season’s worth of work. On the other hand, when the team tried that in 2008, it backfired before April was over.

So the Yankees will head into 2010 with two guys pitching in their walk years occupying the middle spots of the rotation. We might be seeing Andy Pettitte’s final year in baseball. We might be watching Javier Vazquez’s redemption tour in New York City. We might worry about regressions and injuries, but that comes with the pitching territory across the board. The Yankees needed an arm to take the innings pressure off of CC, A.J. and Andy after a long 2009, and that’s Javier Vazquez’s job. There are worse men for the position. With two veterans in the back end, the Yanks’ rotation is sitting pretty for 2010.

AP Photo of Javier Vazquez by Kathy Willens. AP Photo of Andy Pettitte by Elise Amendola.

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  • Jammy Jammers

    I agree. I’m glad we have Javy. The Yankees seem to be in fine position for 2010. (fingers crossed)

    • http://www.bomberbanter.com/index.html BomberBanter.com

      I’m glad we have Javy back, too. I think the Yankees and Red Sox have pretty even rotations… out of the 10 pitchers, i have a hard time picking who the best is, and I’m sort of thinking it might be Lester. I would probably say AJ if he could be consistent – that dude’s stuff is FILTHY.
      Check out the new post at BomberBanter.com

      • WIlliam

        Uh, are you not counting CC. It’s generally accepted he’s the best in the AL East.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    2010 Season Preview: Strength from the back end

    TWSS

    • kunaldo

      I’m not sure what that acronym stands for, but I’m pretty sure I was just thinking the exact same thing.

      Giggidy.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        It means what you think it means, and they were who we thought they were.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    On December 22, the Yanks sent Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Javier Vazquez. The righty last threw a pitch for the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS,

    No, he last threw a pitch for the Braves on September 30, 2009. It was a pitch to Chris Coghlan of the Marlins for an inning-ending flyball out to Nate McLouth.

    It came in a loss that dropped Jazzy to 15-10 on the year, but his sterling 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts garnered him a 4th place finish in the Cy Young balloting, as he finished the year in the NL Top 10 in ERA, ERA+, FIP, xFIP, IP, wins, W/L%, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, K/BB, CG, and WAR.

    In other words, Javier Vazquez was the balls.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Are you disagreeing with my statement that Vazquez’s last pitch for the Yanks came in 2004?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        No, just snarkily interpreting your statement a different way.

        No offense.

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

          I think you’re both wrong. Javy Vasquez has only thrown one pitch in his whole career.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            Actually, he’s only thrown two pitches in his whole career: the GS to Damon, and the leadoff homer to Jimmy Rollins last week in Grapefruit League action.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          Yeah. After I thought about it some more, I see what you meant. For many fans, though, that Javier Vazquez has been one of the better and more durable pitchers in the majors from 2005-2009 doesn’t matter. It’s an absurd point of view, but that’s how people see things.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            It’s why I’m fighting the good fight.

  • Thomas

    204.1 innings with 196 strike outs and a 3.60 ERA
    189 inning with 138 strike outs and a 4.26 ERA

    BIMP

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Not only does Javy add a bunch to lengthening the rotation, but I think our 6-10 (or so) spots are much better off than last year too. Obviously Javy is part of making that deeper by pushing people back, but last year Ace was likely seen as a reliever only, Gaudin wasn’t in the org., Mitre is further along from coming back from TJS (and likely to be better than 2009 Mitre who was higher on the depth chart). Nova and Z-Mac are also a year closer, so they’d probably get the call before a veteran retread would.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      Also:
      Hirsh (who’s looked very nice this spring)
      Romulo (although he’s probably a reliever long term, he could make a spot-start if necessary)
      Chris Garcia (that one’s for Andy)

      • http://warriorsmovie.co.uk/content/gangs/images/baseballfuries02.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        coughAlan Hornecough

        • Thomas

          Nope, Alan Horne isn’t an option. Your coughing just broke every bone in each of his legs . . . twice.

          • http://warriorsmovie.co.uk/content/gangs/images/baseballfuries02.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            Ha, well done. Poor guy.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        I see you threw Romulo in there for yourself.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          He’s just so jolly.

          http://i11.photobucket.com/alb.....anchez.jpg

          He’s like Raul Mondesi, if Mondesi was a pitcher.

          • Thomas

            I would have loved to see Mondesi pitch with his arm, would have been awesome.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        How about, “My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” Kei Igawa?

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    At some point, after all, the team is going to have to develop its own pitchers and give the kids a chance to throw enough innings for a full season’s worth of work. On the other hand, when the team tried that in 2007, it backfired before April was over.

    I believe you mean 2008, not 2007 The 2007 opening day rotation was Mussina-Wang-Pettitte-Igawa-Hughes; Joba and IPK didn’t arrive until that August/September. In any event, though,

    Counterargument:

    The 2008 opening day rotation was not 24 year old Joba Chamberlain with 43 career starts and 23 year old Phil Hughes with 28 career starts, it was 21 year old Phil Hughes with 13 career starts and 23 year old Ian Kennedy with 3 career starts.

    24 year old Joba and 23 year old Hughes >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 21 year old Hughes and 23 year old Kennedy

    —————–

    (Not saying that we shouldn’t have acquired Jazzy; we should have. Just pointing out the reason why we could have turned to two “kids” in the rotation with more confidence in 2010 than we would have had in 2008.)

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      Whoops:

      “The 2007 opening day rotation was Mussina-Wang-Pavano-Pettitte-Igawa-Hughes-Rasner.”

      Wang and Hughes didn’t make their first appearances until the end of April, after Pavano’s re-injury and Rasner/Igawa’s suckitude. My bad.

  • mryankee

    I fyou look at the way Peavy looked at the end of last year and this spring. Maybe he would have been a better option?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      Peavy probably would have cost more in prospects than Melky, Vizcaino, and Dunn, though. The prospects the Padres got for him (Poreda, Richard, Carter, and Russell) is a decent haul, more than we gave up.

      Also, Peavy still has 70M in contractual obligations for the next four seasons. Vazquez is only under contract for this year, and then we can dump him if we want to give his spot to a kid (or sign a FA upgrade like Lee/Webb/Beckett). That financial flexibility is huge, especially if Peavy’s injury struggles continue or he regresses from pitching half his games in our HR-friendly park.

  • bexarama

    If Bill James’ predictions for Andy came true, I would cry in joy. And I’m very glad we have Javy. Like many have said, it really wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the second-best starter after CC. In fact, I hope he is, just to shut. everyone. up.

  • mryankee

    You know what stings is the more Chapman pitshes the more you feel the Yankees should have jumped on him. Next year you would have Hughes,Joba,AJ cc and Chapman. You might not need to get a Lee.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Despite what The Onion once said, there is a limit to what the Yankees can do. I don’t know why fans don’t believe in concepts of business and economics when it comes to baseball and the Yankees.

      • mryankee

        Well I am not sure about all the economics but Chapman would sure look good in a Yankee uniform. That is a true power pitcher, of course it might backfire but seems like a worthwhile risk.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          When it’s not your money or your budget, it always seems worth the risk. There’s no doubt that he’s alluring, but the Yanks don’t have limitless funds.

          • mryankee

            I seriously doubt that an additional 30 million or so for 5 years of Chapman would have bankrupt the organization. They spent how much for Igawa? They made the wrong choice. Lokk at what you could have for teh presnt and future. Chapman would have been for the Yankees a very smart buy.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

              I know arguing with you is like arguing with a brick wall, but how can you call it a smart buy? Because you’re using hindsight — and hindsight based on spring training at that.

              Don’t compare it with Igawa. They messed up. They realize that. But just because they spent money on Igawa doesn’t mean they should do it on others.

              • mryankee

                I am not being dense nor basing on spring training. Chapman could start at A ball with the Yankees and they would be able to bring him along at their pace. This is a smart buy because as I always here when it comes to young pitchers the “upside” is there. The contract would hardly have been an albatross.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

                  This is a smart buy because as I always here when it comes to young pitchers the “upside” is there.

                  You should “here” less. Or have your “hereing” checked.

                  More importantly, you need to learn how to weigh and balance the various streams of information you accumulate with wisdom and perspective.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

              Based on what, seven Spring Training innings? Get a grip.

              • http://warriorsmovie.co.uk/content/gangs/images/baseballfuries02.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                The exceedingly rare 3 RABbi Takedown.

                (TWSS?)

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

                mryankee always loves the greener grass on the other side of the fence. No matter what we currently have, no matter how good it is, somebody else has something else that’s better that we should go get immediately (or should have gotten and will regret missing our opportunity).

                Maybe mryankee is just too demanding. Maybe he’s just like his father, too bold. Maybe he’s just like his mother… she’s never satisfied.

                Oh, why do we scream at each other?

            • Mister Yankee

              We could just trade for Chapman!!1!

              Gorecki + Sanit + $29 million should get it done.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

                I’ll also give the Reds the rights to Drew Henson and Brandon Claussen, into perpetuity. That’s my final offer.

                • Mister Yankee

                  The Reds counter.

                  They want Wordekemper.

                  Do you accept?

                • Thomas

                  You’d probably have to give up Wily Mo Pena instead of Henson, because Henson said he didn’t want to play baseball for anyone but the Yanks and he wouldn’t want to play in Ohio either.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

                  I’m saving Wordekemper and Fortenberry to be the centerpiece of our package for Zack Greinke when the Royals put him on the market this July.

                • Mister Yankee

                  Good man.

              • YankeesJunkie

                It would be very nice to have such a high ceiling arm like Chapman, but he was quite expensive and he could easily be a bust.

            • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

              Chapman is not a sure thing just because he has looked good in ST and throws a billion miles an hour from the left-side. There are in fact a good number of questions around him that made other teams back off giving him such a huge offer.

              Besides that last I looked Igawa and Chapman were not both available at the same time, the Yankees didn’t make a decision to go out and get one and not the other.

  • bexarama

    I really enjoy how there’s a mryankee, Mister Yankee, and dr mrs the yankee