Starting Rotation Disabled List Projections

My Aaron Heilman Nightmare
Checking in on Bonderman & Saito
u ok cc? (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Yankees starting rotation is quite the popular topic these days and for all the wrong reasons. After failing to sign Cliff Lee, who would have simultaneously filled three rotation spots all by himself, the Yanks are now stuck scraping the bottom of the barrel for some kind of innings eater. While they have a number of young and interesting prospects, I’m sure a team that strives to win the World Series every year would rather not trust two-fifths of it’s rotation to untested kids. Performance is not the only uncertainty though, so is health.

Jeff Zimmerman recently completed a great two-part series at FanGraphs where he projected the odds of each starting pitcher in the game (min. 20 starts and 120 IP) hitting the disabled list in 2011. His methodology isn’t terribly complex, so check out his two posts (part one, part two) for an explanation. He essentially based the projection on age and the pitcher’s health history over the last three seasons. The average odds of a DL trip is something like 39.0%, which initially struck me as high but really isn’t. For all intents and purposes, it means two members of an average five man rotation will hit the shelf at some point during the season, and that doesn’t sound crazy at all.

The front of New York’s rotation is anchored by one of the game’s premier workhorses, but everyone beyond him has had injury concerns of varying significance in the not too distant past. Let’s take a look at what might be in store in 2011…

CC Sabathia
Opening Day Age: 30 years, 8 months
DL Odds: 34.2%
Expected Number of DL Trips: Zero

Sabathia, who’s thrown 1034 innings over the last four seasons (including playoffs), has the best odds of avoiding the disabled of any pitcher age 30 or older in Jeff’s study. Dan Haren is next at 34.4%, and both Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland are a touch over 35%. Of course the study doesn’t count for his recent knee surgery, but that’s supposedly just a minor thing. CC’s been on the disabled list just twice in his career, missing 23 days in 2005 and 29 days in 2006, both with a right oblique strain. There’s no reason not to expect Sabathia to be a 33 start, 220 inning workhorse next year. Very few in the game can match this guy’s durability.

A.J. Burnett
Opening Day Age: 34 years, 3 months
DL Odds: 38.0%
Expected Number of DL Trips: Zero

When the Yankees signed Burnett, many were skeptical about his ability to stay on the field and justifiably so. From 2001 through 2007, Burnett hit the 15-day disabled list six times and the 60-day disabled list three times. Aside from a foot fracture way back in 2001, every one of the DL trips were elbow or shoulder related as well. Aside from having a trio of starts pushed back a few days this past season because of a sore foot (hit by a comebacker), a lacerated hand (slammed a door), and sore lower back, Burnett has been perfectly healthy with the Yankees. His 615 regular season innings over the last three seasons are the 18th most in baseball. Of course they haven’t always been quality innings, but staying on the field is extremely important and absolutely counts for something.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Phil Hughes
Opening Day Age: 24 years, 9 months
DL Odds: 37.7%
Expected Number of DL Trips: One

Of the 24 pitchers age 25 and under in Jeff’s study, only six (Mike Leake, Brad Bergesen, Bud Norris, Wade Davis, Yovani Gallardo, and Jonathan Niese) are more likely to hit the disabled list in 2011 than Hughes. He missed considerable time in both the 2007 (hamstring, 94 days) and 2008 (stress fracture in his rib cage, 136 days) seasons, and his minor league career featured time missed due to a stubbed toe, shoulder fatigue, and shoulder tendinitis. In fact, 2009-2010 is the first time Hughes has not gotten hurt in two consecutive seasons in his career. He’s also coming off a career high workload (191.2 IP, including postseason) that exceeds his previous career (146 IP in 2006) by more than 30%. I don’t think we needed Jeff’s study to tell us that Hughes is at risk of missing time next season.

Andy Pettitte
Opening Day Age: 38 years, 9 months
DL Odds: 56.5%
Expected Number of DL Trips: Two

No, he has not yet announced if he’s going to return for 2011 or retire, but I figured I would include Andy in the post anyway. Of the 116 pitchers that qualified for the study, none are more likely to hit the disabled list next season than Pettitte. That’s what happens when you’re that age and have missed 102 totals days due to various injuries (groin strain, elbow inflammation, shoulder fatigue, back spasms) over the last three seasons. Pettitte was a physical mess at the end of the season, battling back and hamstring issues that hampered him throughout the playoffs. If he were to retire, he’d instantly go from an old and injury prone starter to the most physically fit 38 year old in Texas.

* * *

Don’t take these DL projections to heart obviously, it’s a relatively simply method based on age and recent injury history that Zimmerman admits is still a work in progress. What it does help emphasize is the Yankees’ need for some kind of innings eater for the back of the rotation even if Pettitte does return. They’ll be fine with Sabathia and should be okay with the surprisingly durable Burnett, but after that it’s hit-or-miss, and I’m not just talking about DL potential.

My Aaron Heilman Nightmare
Checking in on Bonderman & Saito
  • Tom T

    I think this whole scrap heap business is exciting considering we know help is on the way in AA and AAA.

    Surprised Jeff Francis’ name has not come up more often. Lefty had a sub 4 FIP and xFIP last year and likely won’t get more than a 1 year deal. If nothing else he eats innings and delays service time of some kid(s) until they are ready.

    Also you could do worse than Freddy Garcia on a 1 year deal as a back end option. Remember it doesn’t mean he starts game 4 on ALDS, just helps buy some time.

    • CS Yankee

      Jeff Francis would make a decent #4 or 5 guy for a year. I’ve seen him pitch a number of times and if you can accept that his heater is more of a warming plate, you’ll be alright.

      However, I believe that they need a viable 2-3 year option and should look hard at a Garza trade. Doesn’t seem to be a crop of FA pitchers next off-season and having too many kids come up is too risky.

    • bonestock94

      He’s only pitched over 200 innings once, not exactly an innings eater. Career 4.46 FIP. Meh.

  • theyankeewarrior

    Tough to breakdown the rotation’s projected DL trips when we don’t have a rotation.

    Very interesting post though, Mike. I wonder if front-office members put any stock into formulas like this?

    • Mike Axisa

      I’m sure think (hope) they have their own way to analyzing injury risk.

      • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

        I think that lies in the team trainer’s hands. If he doesn’t think a guy could handle going out on the mound after 5 days, and needs an extra day or two, he will tell Girardi.

  • Jobu

    Zack Mcallister’s flame out last year really hurts in this situation. What are the that chances that David Phelps gets a shot to compete with Mitre for the fifth spot?

  • Short Porch aka Master of the Obvious

    CC’s about 50 lbs overweight and seems to be getting bigger. Shocked the Yanks aren’t helping him manage his weight better given their investment. He just had to have his knee operated on. That’s a big body to support.

    • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      Some big guys are still very athletic. I’m not saying that CC can run a sub-5 mile (he probably can’t go under 7 minutes), but he is well conditioned and in great “pitcher’s shape”, he knows how to use his build to his advantage.

      • Short Porch aka Master of the Obvious

        Look, there is obviously a great athlete in there. That extra baggage is not what the Yankees paid for, and it does produce wear and tear.

      • Jobu

        I think that there is a good chance that CC could run 5 miles for a sub . . . marine sandwich.

    • Mike HC

      Agreed, although there is only so much the team can do. It is on CC. There will be unavoidable problems as a result of all the extra weight he has been carrying for years. The knee surgery is just the beginning. Hopefully he can hang in there for another 5 years before any major problems start.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      david wells

      • Mike HC

        I read David Wells book, and he had a ridiculous amount, mainly his back, of debilitating medical problems when he got into his 30’s. He barely made it out to the mound some nights and would have to get steroid injections into his back just to get out there. He still managed to painfully pitch solid, but not at the level we expect of CC.

  • Regis

    Swisher usually gets banged up for a few games each year and they are going to need him to eat up some innings!

    • Jobu

      Nick Swisher – career ERA 0.0! With a stellar career k/9 of 9.0. of course his career BB/9 of 9.0 will likely catch up with him at some point.

  • Dan

    I would much rather try unproven youngsters even if it means a continuous cycle of differnet prospects rather than an old “innings eater” with a 4.50 or worse era.
    Innings eaters only use up the bullpen, so no garcia, millwood or other indistinguishable war horse please.
    Other teams have luck calling up prospects even from AA without the offensive and defensive support the Yanks can provide.Why not us?
    before I would consider a retread I would prefer a prospect, Joba, a young maybe like Francis, and finally Mitre.

    • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      Cervelli barely played any AA before being called up

      Joba went from A+ to the Majors in one year, and he only had a handful of starts

      Curtis spent a lot of time in AAA and AA, but he was called up

      Pena only played 43 games in AAA and was brought up for his glove.

      Then you have Nova as well.

      The next crop will be guys like Adams, Laird, Pope, and Noesi… I fail to see your point.

    • Jobu

      There is a lot going on here, but let me jump in on a few items:

      “Innings eaters only use up the bullpen” – By definition this has to be wrong. If a pitcher is overly taxing the bullpen then that pitcher cannot be an innings eater.

      “Maybe a young like Francis” – I am assuming you mean young pitcher, but i would like to point out that Francis will be 30 on opening day. While not old, that is hardly young.

      “I would much rather try unproven youngsters even if it means a continuous cycle of differnet prospects rather than an old “innings eater” with a 4.50 or worse era.” – i have to disagree. I would be more than happy to sign up for 210 innings of 4.5 ERA performance out of the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation today.

    • Cuso

      I think you’re misinterpreting the phrase “innings-eater.”

      It’s not someone you “throw out there to take up space.”

      It’s someone that you feel confident will give you 170+ IP for a full season; a guy you can count on for at least 6 IP/start regardless if he pitches to a 5.00 ERA.

      Livan Hernandez was the quintessential innings eater.

      They thought Javier was going to be able to “eat” 200 innings for them last year even if he carried a 4.50 (didn’t work out).

      “innings eaters” don’t destroy bullpens, they’re supposed to preserve them.

    • Mike HC

      I agree with the spirit of your post. I would prefer to use our minor leaguers rather than sign some mediocre veteran who is 90% sure to be completely worthless by September.

      I still hope we can trade for a legitimate above average starter at some point before the deadline though as well.

  • GermanYankee

    I still wonder if Pavano is really no option for the Yanks. I mean they could overpay him for 1 year. We need a good pitcher if Andy retires and I’D take Pavano even though his history with the Yanks isn’t a good one.

    • Mike Axisa

      He’s definitely not an option. They’d sooner go with a three man rotation.

    • Jobu

      I would rather start Igawa every fifth day!

      • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

        Upon reflection, screw that idea!

        I would rather have the Yankees sign me to a seven figure multi year contract to pitch even though I have no qualifications and all logic dictates that i am too old to learn to pitch. For the record I would be willing to consider an incentive laden contract as long as the base was not insulting like the base they offered Joe Torre.

        Brian, please keep in mind that you don’t know what you are getting with me. I have no track record of performance to indicate my true skill level. While there is a possibility that I could be horrifically bad, you at least have to admit there is some possibility that I could be the greatest pitcher to ever take the mound. There is money available in the 2011 payroll. Take a chance!

    • Mike HC

      That would be insane. I thought trading for Javy again was insane as well. This would be another level of insanity though.

    • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      I mean they could overpay him for 1 year.

      Based on his production during his time in pinstripes, I’d say they already overpaid him, for four years.

    • A.D.

      I just don’t think its going to happen, the FO was not pleased as he left, there’s been various comments that signing Pavano was a huge regret, and Pavano is likely looking for a multi-year deal, appears to have several suitors, and probably doesn’t want to go back to the Yanks after his time there.

  • bonestock94

    I’m surprised the % are so high

    • Mike Axisa

      I was too at first, but they seem to make sense.

      • Mike HC

        You did a very good job of putting it in context with the line, “it means two members of an average five man rotation will hit the shelf at some point during the season, and that doesn’t sound crazy at all.”

        Once I thought about it in that way, it definitely made sense.

  • RobC

    AJ’s injury potential bothers me b/c of his technique.
    He does the “M” or inverted “W”
    Pitching elbow above shoulder too soon.
    Eiland does not see it as a problem (personal discussion) but R. Peterson and others do not like it.

  • Mike

    Our pitching SUCKS !! PERIOD

    Besides CC and Hughes .. forget it . .

    Aj- sucks
    Pettite aka Brett Farve is 40 years-old and his body is falling apart. .He’s not getting any younger or stronger.
    Nova – Can’t get past the 5th inning . or gets scared when someone in on first base .

    again . .Out Pitching SUCKS !! spin it . .however you want

    • Thomas

      He’s not getting any younger

      That’s how it works for real people. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a work of fiction.

    • Mike HC

      Assuming Pettitte comes back, it is the same rotation as last year. Our rotation did not suck last year.

      If Pettitte does not come back, then, well, our rotation is middle of the pack with the potential to suck.

      • Mike

        AJ sucked . Vasquez SUCKED . Meat Tray sucked . Ivan i can’t get past the 5th inning bordline sucked .

        So yes . our ration did suck. Thank God for CC and Hughes.

        Actually looking back on it . .I’m not sure how we were only 2 games from the World Series. I guess a good everyday lineup , a great closer and a decent bullpen will carry you.

        • Mike HC

          Almost every rotation goes through problems like this. CC, Hughes and Pettitte was a very legitimate front three, and the back two had the same problems that almost every team goes through. I’m not happy our rotation is just as mediocre as the rest of the league without Pettitte, but it is just that, mediocre, not terrible.

    • A.D.

      First time I’ve seen someone post about this.

    • jsbrendog (returns)


  • A.D.

    Having options in the Phelps/Noesi/Warren/Bs of the world makes me a lot more comfortable that someone can up and make a few starts if someone does go down short-term

    • Mike

      A bunch of over hyped minor league pitchers makes you comfortable ???

      I don’t get it.

      • bonestock94

        Banuelos is the only one that gets any kind of attention, and even that is minimal…not sure where you see the hype.

  • RL

    The best option I’ve heard to date is Wandy Rodriguez. Certainly hope the Yankees are exploring a trade to get him. Of course, the FO will decide if he’s worth the price, but I at least hope they kick the tires. I think the minor leaguers are still another year or 2 away and bringing them up, even rotating them in and out for limited periods of time, while tempting, may do more harm than good.

  • Hornets686

    Carlos Zambrano

  • Tom

    I agree if Pettite does come back the rotation (baring injury) should be solid. CC, Hughes, and Pettite are very solid. If AJ can get passed his divorce and get back on trck you have 4 very solid starters who all are going to give you 170+ innings (again if healthy)

    Then you can start a guy like Nova and hope for a trade for a guy like Garza in June or July.

    If Andy Doesn’t come back you really need to find a starter. Mirtre and Nova can’t be counted on

  • Dany

    I agree with mike cc & hughes are the only consistant pitchers the yankees have so far

    If the yankees would trade for felix hernandez they would have a great strong 3 man rotation & the pen wouldn’t have to do that much work

  • Jerome S.

    Old Hoss Radbourn FTW.

  • Donny

    Their rotation is THE SUCK!!!