2012 Season Preview: Innings, Innings, Innings

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New ink? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

During the pitching-starved days of the mid-aughts, the Yankees seemed to tax their bullpen on a nightly basis, because their starters were unable to pitch any more than five or six innings. That started to change a few years ago as the team added some quality starters and offense around the league declined in general, and now the club has no fewer than three starters who can be counted on for six strong innings. Back in the day it was just one, before age started to catch up with Mike Mussina.

The Yankees got 979.1 IP out of their starters last season (6.05 IP per game), the eighth most in the AL and the 14th most in baseball. That total is up from 973 IP in 2010 (ninth and 14th, respectively) and 935 IP in 2009 (tenth and 19th, respectively). There isn’t very much correlation between starter innings and team winning percentage, but there is a strong correlation between starter innings and overall runs allowed. Relievers are relievers for a reason; they’re typically inferior pitchers and the more time the starters spend on the mound, the better. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ innings guys for this coming season.

CC Sabathia
There is no greater workhorse in baseball than Sabathia. The burly left-hander has topped the 230 IP plateau in each of his three seasons with the Yankees and in each of his last five seasons overall. Including playoffs, he’s thrown an ungodly 766 IP in just three years with New York. His 1,199 IP since the start of 2007 are the most in baseball, and only Roy Halladay (1,194.2) is within 50 IP of his total.

Sabathia has made 67 starts over the last two seasons, and only once has he failed to complete five innings. That was May 8th of 2010, when a rain delay forced him from the game at 85 pitches with two outs in the fifth. His current streak of 60 consecutive starts with at least five innings pitched is the longest in baseball, eight more than Justin Verlander and 14 more than Jeremy Guthrie. Sabathia has more starts of at least eight innings (28) with the Yankees than starts of six or fewer innings (21). There are few things in baseball more certain than CC taking the ball and pitching deep into the game 30+ times a year.

Hiroki Kuroda
As a veteran starter, the Yankees are expecting peace of mind from Kuroda. He’s supposed to just take the ball every five days and pitch as deep into the game as possible with as little drama as possible, kinda like the old Andy Pettitte mentality. Pitching like an ace isn’t required, but the expectation is a solid performance good enough for a win each time out. It sounds simple enough, but we all know these things are never easy.

Because he was pitching in the NL and for a bad offensive team, Kuroda was often lifted for a pinch-hitter despite having gas left in the tank in recent years. Just last season he was removed from a game with fewer than 100 pitches before the start of the seventh inning 11 times. It’s 40 times since the start of 2009, or nearly half of his 83 starts. Hiroki has averaged just 15.6 pitches per inning during that time, yet only 6.1 innings per start. The Yankees won’t have to worry about pinch-hitting for him, so Joe Girardi is free to let Kuroda throw 100+ pitches each time out in 2012.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Ivan Nova
The Yankees have done some mind-numbingly stupid things to control the innings of their young hurlers in recent years, but Nova is the rare exception. He’s thrown at least 180 innings and made at least 30 starts in each of the last two seasons (majors and minors but not including playoffs), and at least 140 IP in each of the last four seasons*. Nova has never been on the disabled list, and his first serious injury came in Game Five of last year’s ALDS. His strained flexor is 100% healed however, and he’s been able to go full bore since Day One of Spring Training.

*  We’re fudging a bit for 2009, when Nova threw 139.1 minor league innings. He was a Rule 5 Draft pick of the Padres that year, and the Yankees had to send him to Extended Spring Training briefly because San Diego used him as a reliever in camp and he hadn’t been properly stretched out.

After struggling to get through the order multiple times early in the season, Nova used his improved slider to complete at least seven innings in seven of his 12 starts after returning from the minors. He was also very pitch efficient down the stretch, averaging just 14.5 pitches per inning after the All-Star break. Only six pitchers were more efficient in the second half (min. 60 IP), and only one of those six pitched in the AL (Doug Fister). More of the same would be just dandy in 2012.

* * *

Although Phil Hughes remains a question mark and Freddy Garcia has been a five-and-fly starter the last two seasons (averaged 5.2 IP per start), Michael Pineda‘s workload isn’t much of a concern. He threw 171 IP for the Mariners last season, up just 31.2 IP from 2010. It was his third time over 138 IP in the last four years, with the one exception being 2009. A sore elbow cost him three months that summer, but otherwise he’s been healthy throughout his career. Pineda is poised for 200 IP in 2012, though I don’t think giving him a little two-week vacation at the All-Star break would be the worst thing in the world since he figures to be part of a potential playoff rotation.

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  • BK2ATL

    I’m really looking forward to this rotation to come into its own. I just hope that they can keep their pitch counts down and effectively take us into the 8th inning, esp. CC, Kiroda and Pineda. If Nova gets us into the 7th, icing on the cake. Hughes/Garcia into the 6th, pie in the sky. I’m trying to temper my expectations, but this rotation, on paper, appears to be one of the best we’ve had in years.

    It will be funny to see Girardi trying to figure out when to interject his bullpen matchup ridiculousness, when his starters are still effective and rested.

    • CountryClub

      They really only need to pitch into the 7th with the pen the Yanks have. I’d especially like to see them cut back CC’s innings at this point. They know they have him for the long term now. It’s time to start managing him better as he gets older. Especially since they appear to have other pitchers that will also pitch into the 7th. No need to use CC as the “rest the pen day” guy anymore.

      • BK2ATL

        But if CC, Kiroda, or Pineda, or any pitcher for that matter, is at 80-90 pitches and still effective going into the 7th, should you even consider pulling him?

        I’d say no. Leave him in as long as he’s effective and the velocity and command/control remains. The bullpen should only take over, when that is no longer true.

        I would agree that CC shouldn’t hit 120 pitches more than 5x this year.

        • Ted Nelson

          You should wait until after a pitcher becomes ineffective to pull him, rather than proactively pulling him before he becomes ineffective?
          It’s a fine line and there’s no right answer.

          And in terms of Girardi managing his bullpen based in part on match-ups… not sure there’s a single manager out there who doesn’t do that.

          • BK2ATL

            My point is, why mess with a good thing? Esp. if nothing to that point begs for your (Girardi) overactive involvement.

            We have a top-notch bullpen ready to go, when needed. We finally have a rotation that can provide length into games.

            • http://yankeeanalysts.com Matt Imbrogno

              Hasn’t Girardi proven over the last 4 seasons that he’s a really good manager of the bullpen?

              • BK2ATL

                We’ve had some questionable starters that have been run out there over those 4 seasons. The bullpen was needed.

                I think this article gets to the point that, we finally have at least 3 starters that can be trusted to go longer into games effectively.

                My thing is, if these starters can go deep into games effectively, why mess with it, if they aren’t running deep pitch counts??? Remember, they are still pitching effectively.

                If our starters are effective over 7 innings and start to tire, sure, we can get D-Rob, Soriano, and Mariano in the mix. However, if these same starters are effective and we’re up big (3-5+ runs), why mess with it, esp. if they have the opposing team in hand?

                • Ted Nelson

                  You come across to me as being really radical on this point. I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that a workhorse starter going deep into games is a good thing. Your insistence that these guys should pitch 7 IP/GS, that Girardi is ridiculous in his bullpen management, your wording on not taking starters out because there is no point in doing so, etc. comes across really strong. When Girardi is exactly the guy who has let CC average 7 IP/GS the last two years, it seems especially odd.

                  Some of those “questionable starters” looked very good on paper, namely Vazquez and Burnett. That we expect the Yankees to have guys going deep into games doesn’t mean that they will. I’m hoping this rotation hits its potential or close like everyone else here, but it’s by no means assured.

                  What three guys are trusted to go 7 IP/GS? There are like a dozen guys in MLB who did that last season. Kuroda has averaged 6.1 IP/GS for his career. Pineda and Nova were both at 6.1 last season. Garcia was at 5.8. Hughes was at 5.1. CC is one of the few guys out there who goes 7 IP/GS.

                  If you’re up 5 Rs late in the game… one reason to mess with it is to rest your starters. It’s a long season. You have to balance that with resting your bullpen too, obviously. Just saying that working your starters harder than they’ve ever been worked before isn’t a foolproof strategy.

                  • BK2ATL

                    You seem to read what you choose to read. You seem to interpret whatever you choose to interpret. To the normal common sense RAB poster, they could easily understand my premise and my point.

                    There’s nothing radical in the point of leaving an effective and efficient SP in the game, rather than the hypothetical “if you leave them in too long….”

                    • Ted Nelson

                      There’s really no need to get into insults.

                      As I’ve said… no one is going to disagree with you that most starters on a 100 pitch count with 80 pitches thrown should generally go into the next inning… the issue I have is that you’re making it seem like this happens all the time and Girardi does something different that other managers in this situation.

                      Very few SPs league wide average 7 IP/GS. Very many SPs have some 7 IP starts. Very few can do it consistently. That’s not on Girardi. I don’t even care to defend Girardi… I just don’t understand where you’re coming from that he should get 7 IP/GS average out of his starters when only a dozen or so guys do that league wide.

                      “If our starters are effective over 7 innings and start to tire, sure, we can get D-Rob, Soriano, and Mariano in the mix.”

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Basically, I don’t think most people would agree with several of your points. That if a guy has 80 pitches through 6 IP he should generally go back out there… yes, I think everyone agrees as a general rule. The point is that this doesn’t happen all that often to all that many pitchers.

            • Ted Nelson

              Because if you wait too long, it costs your team runs. That’s a pretty simple and powerful reason. You ideally want to pull a guy right before he loses it… not after. Timing that is obviously very difficult. With a bullpen like the Yankees, though, it’s pretty easy to make an argument for erring on the side of caution rather than risking wins and overworked starters.

              I don’t know that Girardi is any more active a BP manager than average. What makes you so sure that he is?

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

                Because if you wait too long, it costs your team runs.

                Says who? That’s not absolute. You can pull the starter too early and cost your team runs too.

                • Ted Nelson

                  That’s another issue. I was not saying always pull your starter. I was specifically talking about the rational for pulling a starter just before he loses it, rather than just after. Responding to one particular comment asking why someone would mess with a starter before he lost it. Try to look at the context, rather than defaulting to your doctrinaire beliefs.

                  That a reliever might give up runs too does not mean that leaving a starter out there too long DOESN’T cost your team runs. It still does.

                  We are also talking about the Yankees, with one of the best bullpens in baseball. I am, again, not saying always pull your starter. I am saying that if the manager believes his fatigued starter is likely to give up more runs than the reliever he’s got ready to go… it’s not crazy to remove that starter.

                  • BK2ATL

                    So you would screw with something that is successfully and efficiently working, because of the supposed “if you wait too long, it costs your team runs?”

                    • Ted Nelson

                      It’s a matter of circumstance, which is why in my very first comment to you I said: “It’s a fine line and there’s no right answer.”

                      Under certain circumstances, yes I absolutely would take a guy who is successful but running his pitch count up late in a game out for a reliever. So would every manager in baseball based on their actions. If you disagree, cool. If it’s CC Sabathia and he’s shown that he can do it, sure I’d let him. If it’s most other guys, though, I would pretty cautious when they reach a higher pitch count.

                      That doesn’t mean I would always take a pitcher out. Not every guy is the same. That a dozen MLB pitchers can go 7 IP/GS doesn’t mean that it’s in the Yankees’ best interests to push all of their pitchers to that point. Not when they have such a strong BP and only one SP who has proved that he can handle 7 IP/GS effectively. If Pineda and/or Nova develop to that point (or Hughes, or Manny, or Dellin, etc.), I’ll be thrilled. We’re not there right now, though.

                  • Manny’s BanWagon

                    I agree that with a strong bullpen, as a general rule, your probably better off pulling your starter a batter or 2 early than a batter or 2 too late though there are so many hypotheticals involved, it’s almost impossible to make a strong case one way or another.

                    Overall, though, I think Girardi has done a good job managing when to pull starters and use his pen, especially after watching Joe Torre mangle the bullpen for years.

  • Havok9120

    Not to nitpick, but you’ve mixed up some years in the second paragraph. Or you haven’t and I just keep reading it funny.

    Either way, very good piece. I’m pumped about the rotation this year more than any other point in my tenure as Yanks fanatic. The fact that the pen also looks very very solid (at least judging by the names and records of those in it) sure helps too.

    • Havok9120

      Yay! I contributed!

  • mike

    it might be asking alot for Kuroda to pitch more innings in the AL- while the PH certainly cut down on overall innings thrown, he will have a much tougher time in the AL….and we might wish to have some additional energy for Autumn/October pennant-race baseball.

    my bet is Pineda throws more innings than Kuroda

    • Monterowasdinero

      Maybe but we are not really “protecting” Kuroda’s 36/37 year old, 1 year, 10M arm as much as we will Pineda’s.

    • Ted Nelson

      Still averaged 199 IP the last two season despite getting pulled with relatively low pitch counts so often. I don’t know if it’s expecting him to give more innings so much as the same.

      • mike

        NL parks….NL lineups….absolutely no pressure for the last few years…knowing you are going to get PH for lets you empty out a little sooner to get thru an inning…

        I am afraid he may not be more than a “back-of-the-roatation’ guy when its all said and done

        • Ted Nelson

          We don’t have any evidence that Kuroda knew he was coming out of the game for a PH.

          The argument is that the impact on IPs of facing tougher line-ups may be cancelled out by the impact of not being pulled at 80 pitches for a PH. We’ll have to see what actually happens.

          (There might actually be an argument that being pulled earlier helped Kuroda transition to MLB compared to some other Japanese pitchers who were pushed more… I have no idea.)

  • Preston

    This rotation on paper is definitely better than last year but going into 2009 and 2010 our rotations were arguably stronger.



    However this group is more exciting because it could potentially feature three big, hard throwing pitchers 25 and under. All of whom already have one successful season in the bigs.

    • Johnny O

      Good point even if one might disagree with the relative strength of each on paper. To a better point, the Red Sawx ‘5 aces’ were great on paper and crapped out in reality.

      • Preston

        The point being that in any season unexpected things happen. Wang’s hip, Vazquez’s shoulder, Phil’s? and A.J.’s head, made them not quite what we’d expect. But unlike those rotations the excitement of this staff isn’t limited to this year. I’m excited about having Nova, Pineda and to a lesser extent Hughes for next season as well.

  • mike

    i want to protect him for the pennant run and the post-season so he can be effective