I was all set to write a post about how the Yankees’ season hinges on pitching, but Rob Neyer apparently beat me to it. Well, tough luck, Rob. I’m writing mine anyway.
Earlier today, David Pinto released his New York Yankees Rotation Evaluation. Using the Marcel Projections, Pinto estimates that the Yanks’ top five starters — omitted the bound-for-the-bullpen Joba Chamberlain — will pull down an ERA of around 4.14 in 689 innings.
This is of course wildly optimistic and leaves a lot of starting pitching innings to be filled by hurlers who are not one of the Yanks’ top five pitchers. It also relies on the assumption that Mike Mussina will throw to a 4.59 ERA, an improvement approximately 0.66 runs over his 2007 effort. Stranger things have happened.
And here is where Rob Neyer takes over. After reading Pinto’s post, he and I had the same idea. Take it away, Rob:
Aside from Pettitte and Wang both being good, though, I find it essentially impossible to predict what’s going to happen here. In fact, that’s my prediction: Every prediction will fail. Too many moving parts. Between Mussina’s recent struggles and the young starters’ lack of experience and non-history of durability, how can anyone know, really?
…For all the talk about the Yankees’ six starters, would anybody like to bet they’ll get by with only six? Last year nine Yankees started more than five games. The year before that, seven; the year before that, nine. We may guess that in addition to the six guys we’ve heard so much about, at least two others will play significant roles in the rotation.
The Yankees have done a real good job of accumulating talent. They’ve got six starting pitchers who have demonstrated — some for many years, some for a few months — abilities that sometimes lead to Hall of Fame careers. But if the Yankees wind up winning 95 games (again), we’ll look back with admiration for Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman‘s ability to take advantage of all those talents through six months of twists and turns and sprains and tender elbows.
Neyer, of course, nails this analysis. But beyond Neyer’s “twists and turns and sprains and tender elbows” comes the fact of Major League life for young pitchers: the specter of inconsistency. While Phil Hughes struggled with a return to form last year following his leg injuries, he’s been utterly dominant this Spring. Meanwhile, in their brief Major League careers, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have yet to falter.
But they will, and it won’t portend the end of the world. We’ve seen it during Spring Training, a fine time indeed to see struggles. While Phil has been mowing them down and reminding everyone, albeit in limited time, why the organization has long loved his stuff, Joba and IPK had rough early outings followed by better second outings. The two will only get stronger as time wears on, but at some point during the season, they will turn in clunkers.
It is quite possible that the Yanks end up with two candidates for Rookie of the Year in 2008. Joba and Kennedy could be battling out with Evan Longoria when September rolls around. But can the Yanks at the same time expect perfection each outing? No, and that’s why predictions are dicey.
In the end, the kids will be all right, and for years to come, they should remain that way. But Yankee success in 2008 will depend entirely on the consistency of the pitching. In baseball, this is always true, but with three young guns on the way up, this lesson will be on display for all to see. It will be a great ride, but it could get a little bumpy. Now, let’s just get to Opening Day all ready.
Here’s something interesting about A-Rod: If Alex plays 154 games or more this season for the Yanks, a feat he has achieved each year in pinstripes, he will have logged more games as a Yankee than as a Mariner. Hard to believe, no? I still think of him as a Mariner first, but after this year, his longest tenure will in all likelihood be with the Yanks. · (11) ·
Via Jason comes word that Johnny Damon’s right foot is the first of his many nicks and bruises bound to accumulate over the season. An MRI and X-Rays on the foot came back negative, and Damon is listed as day-to-day. These minor injuries that Damon seems to attract are exactly why the Yanks were not as keen to trade Hideki Matsui as many of their fans were this winter. · (8) ·
Chad Jennings at the SWB Yankees blog has up a Where Are They Now? post about former Yankee farmhands. With Tyler Clippard and his spring WHIP of nearly 2.00 destined for AAA, Jennings checked in with Matt De Salvo, Josh Phelps, Ron Villone, Andy Phillips and T.J. Beam, among others. My favorite piece of news is that Kevin Thompson has a legitimate shot at sticking around with the Pirates. Yikes. · (6) ·
Sure, it’s only Spring Training, but the Yanks could really use a good outing from their anointed ace Chien-Ming Wang today. Wang is making his third start of the spring today, and his last outing was alarming. He lasted less than one inning and gave up a whole lotta runs and hits.
Today, Wang faces a Blue Jays lineup consisting of guys who will be on the team come Opening Day. He is slated for around 50 pitches, and it would be great if he could last four innings. Following Wang will be Darrell Rasner, Kyle Farnsworth, Heath Phillips, Jonathan Albaladejo and Ross Ohlendorf. The game is on YES and MLB.tv at 1:15 p.m. and the slow Spring Training version of Gameday will be available here.
In other Yankee news, five players were reassigned to Minor League camps. Juan Miranda landed in AAA, and Austin Jackson, Collin Curtis, Jose Tabata and P.J. Pilittere were sent down as well. No big surprise there.
ESPN, the oh-so-pro Red Sox sports network, plans to pay tribute to the final season at Yankee Stadium through a series of 30 vignettes focusing on famous moments in stadium history. The first ten will debut on March 22 and air during the lead-up to Opening Day, and the next batch are set to hit prior to the All Star Game. Considering ESPN’s penchant for running the same commercial over and over again, I’m guessing we’ll all be sick of these promos rather quickly. · (13) ·
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I caught for a variety of baseball teams at different levels. I caught for eight years and bore the brunt of my fair share of dings, bruises, black-and-blue marks and home plate collisions. So when I saw Elliot Johnson run into Francisco Cervelli and the Yanks’ young catcher come up in pain, I was empathetic.
What I did not feel was outrage or this sense of injustice that seems to be emanating from some — but not all — Yankee blogs and from the Yankees and their fired-up manager himself. In fact, to me, the collision looked like a clean play between youngsters trying hard to make an impression with their Big League coaches. Cervelli’s injury was an unfortunate freak accident; it didn’t stem from any malice between the two players.
Back during my baseball days, I would spend the months from the spring through the summer playing ball. After school or in school, over the summer and into the fall, I would be on the diamond playing games. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible. I could hold my own on my high school varsity team and could have played in college too if athletics had been a priority.
Every year in March, my high school team would fly south for our own spring training. Seven or eight years ago, the weather in New York in March and April was unreliable, and with a short season, we had to get as much practice time and as many games in as possible. During out trips to Arizona and later on during our season, we would play games that didn’t count against out-of-league opponents. Some of these teams — the ones from Arizona — were really good; others — the ones from up north getting in practice in the sun — weren’t. During the season, we would play games against out-of-league teams such as Iona Prep and tense in-league contests against Poly Prep or Hackley that would determine how and when our season ended.
But day in and day out, one thing held true: No matter who we were playing, we came to win, and once we as a team stepped on to the diamond, it was very, very hard to turn it down until after the game was over. We would, in March, play to win. We would play hard; we would play tough. If that meant a tough slide or a play at the plate, so be it. Even if the games didn’t count in our overall record, we couldn’t just dial it down out of some sense of fairness. Baseball is baseball.
So now look at the Cervelli/Johnson collision. A then-23-year-old was rounding third heading home with a 21-year-old catcher blocking the plate. As any baseball player knows, you have to score, and in the split seconds between the base path and home plate, instinct takes over. Did Johnson have time to think to himself, “It’s Spring Training. I shouldn’t barrel over the catcher. I should try to slide around”?
As a former player, I can safely say, “Of course not.” Johnson knew what he had to do; he knew it from years of playing baseball, and he couldn’t just turn it off. That’s not how it works at any level. Once a baseball player hits that third base bag, years of baseball training and instinct take over.
What surprises me too are the reactions from the Yankees. Joe Girardi, an intense player and an intense manager, should know this. Shelley Duncan, mouthing off about retribution, should know this. Clearly, Don Zimmer knows this. He’s spoken the most sense over the last few days.
What happened over the weekend was unfortunate. It was also a bad accident. It involved a player trying to field his position and a runner acting as any baseball runner does. Maybe — but doubtfully — a veteran with years of experience would have tried to find a way to avoid a collision. Maybe another catcher tries a swipe tag. But Cervelli stood his ground; Johnson stood his; and neither the twain shall meet. This collision shouldn’t involve retribution; it should simply involve Cervelli’s healing as fast as he can and everyone else’s remember that a baseball player can’t just turn it down five feet from home plate.
This is Part Two in my series of ripping off ideas from Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider. Yesterday I took a look at the best tools in the AL East, and now I’m ranking the best overall players. There’s no set formula used to determine the rankings, I basically went on track record and how I think everyone will perform this coming season. There’s not much separation between spots four and, like, 21, so don’t get too worked up if you disagree with a ranking. This wasn’t nearly as easy as you think.
I followed Jason’s lead and included some projected stats in the rankings, although my foray into sabermetrics won’t last much longer than this post. Thanks to Jason for giving me the okay to steal his ideas; I really appreciate it. The good stuff is after the jump.