2013 Season Preview: The Number Twos

Spring Training Game Thread: On the road
Prospect Injury Updates: Adams, Austin, Hensley

Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Number two starters don’t garner the attention of aces nor generate the same kind of rosterbation as back-end guys, but they’re obviously very important to a team’s success. The Yankees are lucky to have two pitchers who would qualify as a number two in most rotations, though the club figures to slot in a right-hander behind CC Sabathia to break up the lefties.

It’s funny to look back and remember that at this time last year, Hiroki Kuroda was considered a question mark. He was an older pitcher moving from a big park in the NL to a small park in the AL, and that is usually the recipe for a disaster. Instead, the 38-year-old right-hander was the team’s most consistently excellent starter from Opening Day through the postseason, pitching to a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in a career-high 219.2 innings. Kuroda liked his time in New York so much that he turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs this winter to take a one-year deal worth $15M from the Yankees.

Despite that performance, the combination of age and career-high workload — 236.2 innings between the regular season and postseason — make Kuroda a bit of a question mark going into the season. He battled fatigue last September, so much so that he had to stop throwing his regular between-starts bullpen to stay fresh. Kuroda modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresher later into the season, but it remains to be seen how much good that will actually do. Heck, it might even do bad for all we know.

One thing we do know is Kuroda is tough as nails — this story is still mind-blowing — and incredibly savvy on the mound. He battles every time out and his dud starts have nothing to do with a lack of effort of preparation. I do wonder how being away from Russell Martin will impact Kuroda — his worst full season in terms of ground ball and homer rate came the year Martin didn’t catch him, which could just be a coincidence but is obviously something no one wants to repeat — given all the time the two worked together both last year and with the Dodgers. There will have to be some adjustments there on both the pitcher’s and catcher’s part, hopefully a seamless one.

As was the case last summer, the Yankees are going to rely on Kuroda as their number two starter behind Sabathia and will expect the same kind of reliable, consistent performances. He’s a year older with a few more miles on the arm, but he’s not carrying those NL-to-AL, big park-to-small park transition questions. Frankly I think the transition stuff is a greater concern than age, but that’s just me. Kuroda’s smarts and deep arsenal make me feel really good about his chances to repeat last season’s success.

Knocking on the Door
Just like with the ace-caliber guys yesterday, the Yankees won’t have a projected future number two starter in Triple-A this summer. Left-hander Manny Banuelos would have been that guy had he not blown out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, but he won’t be a factor until 2014 at the earliest. Then again, durability is one of the things keeping from that frontline starter ceiling. I guess that means if he was healthy, Banuelos wouldn’t have projected as a number two, but instead something more. Anyway, the Yankees definitely have some future number twos in the system, but none of them are in the upper minors. Bummer.


The Top Prospect
New York’s top number two starter prospect outside of the injured Banuelos is last summer’s first rounder, righty Ty Hensley. He ranked eighth on my preseason top 30 prospects list. The 19-year-old from Oklahoma has a dominant fastball-curveball mix and the size — listed at 6-foor-4 and 220 lbs. — that suggests future durability, but he lacks command and a third pitch. He needs the latter more than the former to reach his ceiling, both figuring out both in the next few seasons would give him true ace potential. For now he’s someone you close your eyes and see a future number two starter without having to try real hard.

The Deep Sleeper
I’m a big fan of right-hander Gio Gallegos, who didn’t crack my preseason top 30 but did make the not top 30 list as a prospect who could jump into next year’s top 30. His top atrribute is his command and control of a solid fastball-curveball mix, but he needs to work on his third pitch and show he can hold up while starting every five days across a full season. I might be stretching a bit with the “future number two starter” stuff here, but like I said, I’m a big fan of Gallegos. Forgive me for being a little extra optimistic.

* * *

Kuroda is among the best number two starters in the game, a proven veteran with a great package of stuff, savvy, and command. His importance to the Yankees is easy to understate given the bigger names on the roster, but the club needs him to be as strong and reliable as he was a year ago. It’s imperative thanks to the depleted offense. The minor league system offers a few prospects who project as number two type starters down the road, but none at the upper levels of the minors or capable of making an immediate impact.

Spring Training Game Thread: On the road
Prospect Injury Updates: Adams, Austin, Hensley
  • Jersey Joe

    Hmmm. Is it just me, or are #2 starters, for the most part, only #2’s for very short period of time? Besides Pettitte, I can’t really think of someone who is a #2 pitcher only. Aces usually stay aces, backend starters stay backend starters, but #2 starters are always bouncing around the spectrum of success. Usually, a small percentage of them break out and become aces, but the majority also tends to just fall off a cliff. No #2 starter stays a #2 forever.

    Real #2 starters, like Kuroda and formerly Pettitte, are very rare, I think they should be grouped with #3 starters just because they fluctuate so much between levels of success.

    Nonetheless, a good read.

    • jjyank

      I never really thought about it. Generally speaking,the whole # thing is pretty open to interpretation with plenty of room for arbitrary cut off lines, in my opinion. It does give us fans a quick and easy way to gauge a pitcher’s ability relative to his peers.

      That said, the first guy that jumped into my mind reading your comment is James Shields.

      • Jersey Joe

        I actually meant to put Shields as an example. But yes, I agree the number system is flawed.

        I think it would be interesting/understandable if Mike separated it into K pitchers, junk pitchers, specialists, late innings, long relievers.

        • jjyank

          I don’t have a problem with how Mike is separating them. Like I said, it’s a convenient short hand for us. Either way, if Kuroda repeats last year, the Yanks have a damn good 1-2 punch.

        • Laz

          But even with Shields he bounces around a lot.
          era by year.
          2010: 5.18
          2011: 2.82
          2012: 3.52

          • jjyank

            Sort of. If you look at his FIPs instead, it looks like this:

            2007: 3.86
            2008: 3.82
            2009: 4.02
            2010: 4.24
            2011: 3.42
            2012: 3.47

            It’s not perfect, but he’s been a pretty consistent #2 pitcher for awhile now.

    • Laz

      most pitchers vary from year to year. You have your aces that aren’t really humans, then you have your #2’s who are good pitchers that will throw you a few acelike years, but also give you some years that look like a backend starter.

    • https://twitter.com/adamhobson Adam Hobson

      I think #2 pitchers are harder to mentally picture because we end up overestimating too many #2s as aces. I think the perfect example is Zack Greinke. He had one ace-type year, and ever since then he’s been thought of, and now paid as an ace. However, his actual production has been more in line with a #2. A lot of innings with an ERA+ above 100, but generally closer to 100 than 125. There’s also the promising youngster with ace-stuff, but who has yet to prove that he can carry a team with 200+ innings year in and out. Strasburg and Chris Sale fall into this type of #2.

      • Bo Knows

        Disagree completely, Greinke is definitely an Ace, he’s suffered from playing with some terrible defenses but he is a top shelf guy

        ERA says he’s closer to a two but here are his FIP’s since 2007

        3.74 (’07)
        3.56 (’08)
        2.33 (’09)
        3.34 (’10)
        2.98 (’11)
        3.10 (’12)

        • Laz

          But some people never live up to their FIP, for many reasons. Outside of his 2009, there is nothing performance wise to assume he is anymore than a #2.

          • Laz

            I don’t think FIP is terrible, I just don’t like using it to say this pitcher is an ace if he doesn’t have results. I think it is better to look at the results, then use FIP to determine whether it is manageable, or simply a fluke.

  • jjyank

    Hiroki and Andy are on my fantasy team this year, so I have extra motivation in rooting for them to both repeat 2012, minus a line drive to Andy’s leg.

    I gotta say, Andy’s come back might have been my favorite part of the 2012 season. One of my childhood heros, it was pretty great seeing him come back and be so successful. It was also a lot of fun for Hiroki to shove any doubt about his transition straight down the haters’ throats.

    Also, I remember reading Hiroki’s back story. Shit is intense.

    • Jersey Joe

      Definitely. I had hoped Pettitte would finish on top at the end of 2010, but his return was a bright spot of 2012. Also, one of my childhood heroes.

  • trr

    agree, it’a a kind of a transient label. the only labels that really stick are aces or end of the rotation guys

  • Laz

    Kind of funny how many people were trying to label Nova as the Yankees #2 last winter. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kuroda isn’t as good, and could even see a scenario where Hughes pulls in as the Yankees #2.

    • jjyank

      Entirely possible. Should be fun seeing if one of Hughes/Nova/Phelps takes a big step forward.

    • Bo Knows

      It’s as crazy as you make it out to be

      He has a fastball with above average to plus velocity, two different breaking balls that he can throw for strikes one of which is a true swing and miss pitch, the other showing the potential to be that and he has strong GB tendencies. He also throws a lot of strikes, and doesn’t walk many batters.

      The issue with him will be all command, his command was very good his first year and complete shit the second year. That’s the key to the Nova mystery, if the command that he showed his rookie year comes back for good, he’ll be a solid #2 pitcher on a playoff caliber team if it is closer to what his 2nd year was, then he’ll be a backend starter.

  • Eddard

    Nova pitched like a #2 just two years ago. We have 4 starters behind CC who are capable of being a #2. This will be one of the best pitching staffs in baseball which is reason enough to not panic in mid-March.

  • @NotJackCurry

    I was deceived by the article heading.

    I thought Mike was telling us what he thought of the Yankees batting order for 2013!!!!

  • http:/www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    Does Pettitte not count as a #2 starter?

    • Laz

      Wouldn’t say he is the teams current #2, because he has missed a lot of time, and Kuroda was more than good enough to take the title.