On June 22 of this past year I noted that the 2011 Yankee pitching staff appeared to be on its way to racking up one of the franchise’s lowest single-season ERAs in years, and in fact, the team finished out the year with a 3.74 mark — the Yankees’ lowest seasonal ERA since the 1985 squad compiled a 3.69 ERA.
These tallies included both starting and relief pitching, and so today I wanted to take a look at some of the historical ERAs of Yankee starters to see just how good Yankee fans had it in the pitching department in 2011, at least compared with some other Yankee teams of recent vintage. To begin with, below is an update to the starting pitching chart I created back in an August post that took a look at how well-rounded the 2011 Yankees were.
At the time of that August post, the Yankee starting rotation had pitched to a 3.83 ERA (94 ERA-) and 3.88 FIP (96 FIP-), with the former representing the 13th-lowest mark — and 3rd-lowest since the team’s legendary 1978 (3.08 starters’ ERA) season — of the 43 Yankee clubs surveyed.
The Yankee starting rotation finished the 2011 season with a more-than-respectable 4.03 ERA (95 ERA-) and 3.97 FIP (95 FIP-), with the former tying the 1985 team’s mark for 18th-best of the last 43 seasons, though perhaps more importantly for Yankee fans of a certain age, the 4th-lowest ERA since 1985, which underscores both the dramatic increase in offensive levels of the last 25-plus years as well as the fact that it’s pretty damn difficult to put together a rotation in the AL that pitches to a sub-4.00 ERA.
The next chart shows the individual ERAs of the Yankee starting rotations — based on innings pitched — since 2003 (as always, click to enlarge):
A couple of things jump out at me:
- Though the Yankees did the right thing cutting bait with Chien-Ming Wang when they did, it’s easy to forget that he was a pretty critical component of the 2006-2007 teams, compiling a total of 9.1 fWAR over those two seasons.
- As I discovered last offseason, Mike Mussina may have been one of the more underappreciated Yankees in recent memory.
- The Yankees have let a rather surprising number of starters put up 5.00-plus ERAs over the last nine seasons.
- I still miss Joba the starter.
- CC Sabathia has already been worth every penny he has yet to earn in pinstripes.
- Good starting pitching is hard to come by.
Got five (really six) questions this week, the last mailbag before the madness of the winter meetings. Send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Biggie asks: What is Ben Sheets’ status? I thought he was going to miss just one year. Could he be a buy low option for the Yanks? I haven’t heard about him since March of last year. Thanks!
Yeah, I haven’t heard anything about him recently either, and I spent entirely too much time digging through Google News archives to find an update. His August 2009 elbow surgery was more extensive than I realized, I thought it was regular old Tommy John surgery. Apparently he had the ligament replaced and also had his flexor tendon and pronator tendon repaired. It was his second time having the flexor tendon fixed. “I have no idea,” he replied when asked if he’d ever pitch again shortly after the surgery. “My arm will tell me.”
Sheets is 33 years old now and he hasn’t been an effective pitcher since 2008 (4.71 FIP with the Athletics in 2010), so it’s tough to expect anything from him at this point. Then again, we all saw what Bartolo Colon did last year. CC Sabathia and Sheets did play together for half-a-season in 2008, so there is a tiny bit of a connection there. Like I always say, I’d give pretty much anyone a minor league pact, but there’s no way you could offer him anything more than that.
Mark asks: Given the strengthening trend of teams locking up their young stars and the potential backlash to overpaying for non-premium players in their early-30s, do you think MLB will see a dramatic correction in free agent prices – similar to 2003-2005?
I think we’re starting to see it already with Jonathan Papelbon’s contract (four years and $50M) and all these sucky middle infielders getting two guaranteed years. Given the new restrictions on draft and international free agent spending, teams figure to start locking up their best young players even more than they are now because it will be tougher to replace them down the road. Simple supply and demand, there will be fewer quality free agents out there but still approximately the same number of holes to fill. I’m sure the agents are thrilled.
Craig asks: I don’t think the Yankees should take this drastic an approach to get rid of A.J. Burnett, but is there any precedent of teams packaging a bad contract and a prospect in order to entice another team to take on the dead weight?
The only thing close to thins that I can think of is the Hanley Ramirez-Josh Beckett swap. The Marlins insisted that Mike Lowell and the $18M left on his contract be included in any trade involving Beckett, but even then they still got a really good haul because Beckett was 25 years old and coming off a three pretty good years.
The Yankees aren’t exactly in the position to give away a starter at the moment, even one as miserable as Burnett has been for the last two years. He’s still good for innings every five days, and he buys the kids in Triple-A a little more time. I don’t see why they should eat a big chunk of his contract and trade a prospect just to get rid of him, it’s just a bad allocation of resources.
Dustin asks: What are the chances the Yankees could get Eric O’Flaherty from the Braves for Eduardo Nunez? Also what do you think of potentially going after Gavin Floyd? Most seem interested in Garza and Danks, but Floyd is pretty good and would probably be significantly cheaper when compared to the other Chicago pitchers.
I don’t love Eduardo Nunez, but I’d want more for him than a lefty reliever, even a good one like O’Flaherty. The middle infield market tells us that he’s worth more than that, whether we want to believe it or not. O’Flaherty’s really really good, but the Yankees need bench help more than they need bullpen help.
As for Floyd, he’d be another fine pickup for the rotation. I don’t think he’ll be as good as Garza going forward, but he and Danks are pretty much on the same level in my eyes. Danks’ left-handedness is nice, but Floyd is under contractual control for two more seasons (assuming his 2013 option is exercised), not just one. I think the White Sox prefer to hang onto him for that reason, but I also don’t think he’s off limits. I do think it would also make him a little more expensive to acquire in a trade, but I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.
Dan asks: If the 2012 season was starting tomorrow with no significant additions to the roster … player egos be damned, what would be your everyday batting order?
Against left-handed pitchers, I’d go…
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Curtis Granderson, CF
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Mark Teixeira, 1B
- Nick Swisher, RF
- Andruw Jones, LF – pretty please re-sign
- Jesus Montero, DH
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B
- Russell Martin, C
The guys in the 2-3-4 sports are pretty interchangeable to me, I wouldn’t argue those three occupying those three spots in any order. A-Rod‘s struggles against southpaws is now a two-year thing rather than a possible one-year fluke, and there are simply too many other guys in the lineup that mash lefties. No disrespect, but that’s where he belongs. If Jones doesn’t come back, then just bump everyone up a notch and bat Gardner ninth. Against right-handers, it would be…
- Brett Gardner, LF
- Curtis Granderson, CF
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B
- Mark Teixeira, 1B
- Nick Swisher, RF
- Jesus Montero, DH
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Russell Martin, C
Just like A-Rod can’t hit lefties, Jeter can’t hit righties. He did manage to post a .307/.362/.376 batting line against them after coming off the DL this past season, but I’m going to need to see a lot more (it’s only 223 at-bats) to forget about the year-and-a-half before that. It’s tempting to put Montero a spot or two higher, but he just doesn’t have to track record to justify it at the moment.
Dec. 1st: … on his vocal cords. Did I get you with the title again? Can’t blame me if you fell for it again, it’s on you the second time. Anyway Mark Feinsand reports that Rivera will indeed have surgery to remove polyps from his vocal cords next Thursday. He’ll need two weeks of rest (including no speaking during the first), then he should be good to go. Get well soon, Mo.
Nov. 22nd: … on his vocal cords. George King reports that Rivera will meet with a doctor on Monday to determine if baseball’s all-time best reliever needs to have his vocal cords scraped. “It’s been a month,” said Mo earlier today. “Every time I talk it gets worse and worse.”
Based on what I’ve been able to find on the interwebs, the recovery time for such a procedure is six weeks followed by an unknown amount of speech therapy. “When you are taking about surgery nothing is simple,” said Rivera, who’s absolutely right. Hopefully the doctors find a non-invasive treatment and Mo can enjoy the rest of his offseason.
I had completely forgotten Kelly Stinnett was once a Yankee. They signed him six years ago today, and apparently he played 34 games for them in 2006 before being released in July. He even hit a homerun at some point, which is pretty neat. Too bad I don’t remember it.
Inspired by Stinnett, I went back and looked at the Yankees roster over the last few years to see which players I had completely forgotten about. Here’s a few: Kris Wilson (five games in 2006), Felix Escalona (15 games from 2004-2005), Travis Lee (seven games in 2004), Chris Stewart (one game in 2008), Dan Miceli (seven games in 2003), and The Ramiro Mendonza Reunion Tour (one game in 2005). I can’t believe Travis Lee was once a Yankee and I forgot all about it. I remember thinking he was going to be a star after that one good year (116 OPS+ for the 2003 Devil Rays). So much for that.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. There is a football game on tonight, the Eagles at the Seahawks (8:20 pm ET). It’ll be on the NFL Network nationally and on some local channel in those markets. The Rangers are also playing. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.
A few weeks ago word got around that C.J. Wilson and his agent had requested a meeting with the Yankees in New York. The Yankees gave no immediate reply, which made enough sense. There’s no reason for them to rush anything. But apparently their hesitation wasn’t about playing coy. According to ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, the Yankees have denied Wilson’s request for a meeting. That pretty much puts the kibosh on any notion that the Yankees will sign Wilson this off-season.
If the Yankees off-season seems to be moving slowly, it’s for good reason. There just aren’t that many moves to make. The starting rotation would benefit from an upgrade, and the bench needs filling. The former will take time, and the latter usually comes towards the end of the off-season. In terms of starting position players and bullpen, the Yankees are pretty set. In fact, the biggest upgrades are likely to come from within. It all starts with the big bat at first base.
In the last two seasons Mark Teixeira has disappointed. The Yankees signed him to a $180 million contract with high expectations, and he delivered fully in his pinstriped debut. His 2009 season ranked among his best, and his 42.9 runs above average led the Yankees by a decent margin. Yet in the last two seasons combined Teixeira has managed only 50.8 runs above average. While he’s still ranked among the team’s best hitters, he hasn’t provided the top-level production expected of him. A return to his days of 40-plus runs above average could be vital for the 2012 squad.
Teixeira has talked about his failures in 2011, and this week he reiterated them as he received the March of Dimes’ Sportsman of the Year award.
“Right-handed, I thought I had a great year,” Teixeira said. “Power-wise, I thought I had a great year, but my average was very disappointing. Being able to hit the ball the other way a little bit more, use the whole field, take the shift away, it’s going to really help me out.”
There is nothing false about Teixeira’s assessment. Against lefties he hit .302/.380/.587, good for a 158 wRC+. That ranked 25th out of 204 players with at least 110 PA vs. left-handed pitching. In terms of power Teixeira is spot-on, too. His .246 ISO was the fifth-best mark of his career, despite declining league-wide power numbers — his ISO ranked 12th in the majors. And, of course, his average was quite disappointing. This was not only because it was so low in general, but also because it was two straight years of sub-.260 hitting from a player who hadn’t hit below .280 since his rookie season.
The issue of hitting the ball the other way is something that almost everyone sees when watching Teixeira hit every day. While hitting into the shift represents one aspect of his left-handed hitting futility, it’s not the whole of it. Oftentimes he tries to pull outside pitches, which leads to weak fly balls and grounders, not to mention the now-infamous pop-ups. A quick look at his spray charts against right-handed pitching makes the issue as clear as possible.
In 2011 Teixeira lacked any power to the opposite field. While the green and red dots denote where the ball was fielded, and not necessarily where it landed, the idea is still the same. The green dots deep to center, left-center, and left field are indicative of balls hit far enough, or hard enough, to get near the wall. In 2011 he hit just one baseball to the warning track in center, left-center, or left, and it was a fly ball that was caught. None of the ball he hit in that direction were hard enough to get by the outfielders, for the most part. So, again, this issue extends far beyond hitting into the shift. It’s an issue with his approach as much as it his his swing.
Thankfully, Teixeira is already hard at work. He hasn’t resumed baseball activities yet — that begins with the new year. But he knows the issue and plans to put a greater focus on hitting for contact from the left side. In the meantime, he’s already started off-season workouts and has dropped 10 pounds since the season. This might not seem that important, since Teixeira has never seemed anything less than athletic. But it does emphasize a point that I haven’t seen mentioned often. At this point last off-season, Teixeira was still rehabbing.
In fact, in the last two off-seasons Teixeira has faced unprecedented challenges. In 2009 he played deeper into October (and November) than he had previously in his career. That necessarily changes his off-season habits. Perhaps his conditioning suffered and that played a part in his disappointing 2010 season. Teixeira ended the 2010 season with a hamstring injury, suffered in mid-October. That takes rest and rehab, and chances are he was again thrown off his normal routine. This year, however, with an early October exit and a clean bill of health, Teixeira is able to go through the motions as he’s become accustomed. That he’s already lost weight is only a positive sign.
The 2012 Yankees offense might be set, but that doesn’t mean it’s worry free. Curtis Granderson, for instance, had a career year that will prove difficult to repeat. Derek Jeter is another year older, and could see a further decline in his numbers. It’s tough to know what they can expect from Alex Rodriguez. Teixeira stepping up, then, factors heavily into the strength of the 2012 offense. A return to stardom for him could help offset declining performance from others.