The Mythical Six Man Rotation

Might Nova draw the short straw? (Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianne O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Given the state of the rotation heading into Spring Training, it’s hard to believe that we can sit here on July 1st and say that the Yankees have too many starting pitchers. I guess that’s what happens when you catch lightning in a bottle with not one but two retreads, and the untested rookie exceeds relatively modest expectations. Bartolo Colon will come off the disabled list tomorrow following a brief battle with a sore hamstring, and Phil Hughes figures to be activated sometime in the next week after missing all but three (awful) starts with shoulder inflammation. That makes six guys for five spots.

Prior to yesterday’s game against the Brewers, Joe Girardi said a six-man rotation was “something we’re going to think about,” mentioning that it’s easier said than done. “Do we feel a guy needs an extra-day off? Do you skip a guy just to give him a little extra rest in one spot? There’s just some different things that you could do to be creative with the rotation if you do a six-man. Do, all of a sudden, you need one guy in the bullpen because your bullpen was fried the day before? Those are all things you have to consider if you do that. It’s all things we have to figure out in the next couple of days. It’s somewhat complicated, but we need to figure it out.”

Six-man rotations are great in theory, but very rarely are they put into practice (this year’s White Sox are an obvious exception). It seems to me that the most creative thing the Yankees could do is roll with a modified six-man rotation, one in which CC Sabathia starts on traditional five-day rest regardless of whose turn it is to pitch. That way you maximize the number of starts CC makes, which is never a bad idea. If Colon comes back from the disabled list throwing like he was earlier in the year, then it’s probably a good idea to start him every five days as well.

That leaves the other four guys making sporadic starts around Colon and Sabathia. Could be six days rest this turn through the rotation and eight days next time. Pitchers are creatures of habit and like to have a set routine between starts, and the variable rest will only disrupt that. Perhaps they could come up with some kind of weird tandem starter system, where every five days two starters are combining to throw all nine innings. The first guy throws the first five innings, and the next guy finishes it off. They could even alternate roles every other starts. Sounds great on paper, but that’s one of those things that’ll never ever ever work in a Major League game.

The Yankees are in a tough but enviable position. They have some surprising pitching depth, even if half of the rotation only figures to pitch like a four or five starter. The easiest move would be to demote Ivan Nova – either to the bullpen or to Triple-A so he can remain stretched out – since he’s the kid with those precious minor league options. Is it fair? No, probably not. Nova’s pitched well of late and doesn’t really deserve to lose his spot, but sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’d hate to see the Yankees mess around with Colon and/or Garcia when there might be only so many bullets left in those arms.

Ultimately, this is just a temporary situation. Something will happen, most likely sooner rather than later, that will take someone out of the rotation, be it injury or poor performance or both. These things always have a way of taking caring of themselves, I promise you. The depth looks great now but before you know it it’ll be gone, and all this talk of a six man rotation will look silly. I say just send Nova down, it’s the simplest and cleanest move. Don’t worry, he’ll be back before long.

Soriano, Feliciano both throw off mound

Via Bryan Hoch, both Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano threw off a mound in Tampa today. The former threw 32 pitches, the latter 30 soft tosses. I’m guessing that we’ll see Soriano throw a few more bullpens before facing batters in a simulated game, then he’ll head out on a rehab assignment. His rehab stint shouldn’t be all that long since he’s just a one inning reliever. Either way, Soriano’s not eligible to come off the disabled list until after the All-Star break, so he has time. Feliciano still was a long way to go.

Series Preview: New York Mets

(From Flickr user David Berkowitz via Creative Commons license.)

This weekend marks the close of interleague play in 2011. After a two-series homestand the Yanks head across town to play their second to last series this year without the DH. The Yanks and the Mets met up during that brief interleague weekend in may, and after dropping the first one the Yanks took the next two. Overall they are 11-3 against National League opponents and have won their last five games.

What Have the Mets Done Lately?

The Mets have fared well since interleague play started. After dropping a series to Anaheim they won series against Oakland, Texas and Detroit. Included in those series wins is a string of four games in which they put up 52 runs, putting them over .500 for the first time since April 6th. They dropped the final game of the series to the Tigers, but they get a pass on account of facing Justin Verlander. Overall they’re playing some of their best baseball this season, which will certainly make this series a bit more exciting.

Mets on Offense

(From Flickr user slgckgc via Creative Commons license.)

As a unit the Mets rank eighth in the majors with a .324 wOBA, and get a slight bump in the adjusted numbers because of their pitcher-friendly park. Understandably, they don’t hit for much power, ranking in the bottom third of the league in ISO. They are, however, fourth in OBP and BA and first in triples, so they do get the job done on offense. Their 4.56 runs per game ranks third in the National League.

Jose Reyes leads the way in every rate stat, hitting .352/.397/.529 while stealing 30 bases and scoring 65 runs. You’ll hear people, particularly announcers, saying that the key for the Yanks is to keep Reyes off base. That’s all find and good as a concept, but clearly it’s no easy task. Reyes is actually tied atop the WAR leader board right now with Jose Bautista with 5.3 WAR. Carlos Beltran isn’t far behind, hitting .281/.370/.493 with a team-leading 12 home runs. Reyes and Beltran are clearly the biggest threats on the team, but there are others who can do some damage.

The Mets were looking for big things from Angel Pagan, but a slow start followed by an injury set him, and them, back for a while. He’s finally starting to get into the rhythm, so don’t be fooled by his .326 wOBA. He’s produced .341 and .358 wOBAs in the last two years and is coming into the series 9 for his last 17 with three doubles. Daniel Murphy has been another threat, hitting .302/.346/.426 while playing around the diamond (though mostly at first).

There are a few underrated guys to look out for as well. Ronny Paulino has been getting a few more reps at catcher, and he’s been a bigger threat at the plate than Opening Day starter Josh Thole. Paulino is hitting .346/.387/.442 in 112 PA. That might not be a meaningful sample, but you never know how long a hot streak will last. I’d bet on him getting two out of three starts in the series. Jason Bay has also been quite a deal better lately, hitting .317/.371/.444 since June 11th. It’s not the Bay the Yankees came to know while he was in Boston, but then again he wasn’t that player last year and he still managed to kill them.

Mets on the Mound

(From Flickr user slgckgc via Creative Commons license.)

Friday: LHP Jon Niese. A few weeks back I read somewhere that Niese’s rotation spot was in jeopardy. For a team with an already thin starting staff, I wasn’t sure why anyone would say that, but I guess they were frustrated by his 5.03 ERA on May 12th. Since then he’s pitched 49.2 innings to a 2.36 ERA, including 47 strikeouts to 13 walks. Overall on the season he’s thrown 98 innings to a 3.67 ERA and 3.62 FIP. On the whole he’s been the Mets most effective starter this year, and I’m sure they’re glad to have him going in the opener.

Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee. Gee has been a pleasant surprise for the Mets this year. In a way he’s like their Ivan Nova, but he’s produced better results. He has a below average strikeout rate and above average walk rate, but his ability to keep the ball inside the park helps his overall numbers: 3.32 ERA, 3.83 FIP. He started off June with three excellent starts in which he allowed one run combined, but he faced a few more struggled when facing American League lineups. Against Oakland and Texas he allowed seven runs in 10 innings. This time he faces his most difficult offense to date. It should be a bi gtest for him.

Sunday: RHP R.A. Dickey. On Sunday the Yankees will get their only repeat from the series earlier in the year. Unfortunately, it’s the one guy who held the offense in check. Dickey was going through a rough patch at that point, but since the Yanks series he’s pitched 51.1 innings to a 2.45 ERA, holding opponents to a .288 OBP. The Yankees have had trouble with knuckleballers — Dickey and Wakefield — this year, as well as guys who (according to John and Suzyn) they consider akin to knuckleballers (Doug Davis), so this could be another challenge. But it’ll be a day game, since ESPN mercifully picked up the Dodgers-Angels game.

Bullpen: The Mets bullpen has gotten beat up a bit this season, ranking 25th in WAR and sporting a 4.38 ERA. Francisco Rodriguez has been serviceable, if not good, in the closer role, but there have been problems setting him up. In particular watch out for Bobby Parnell. he was ineffective and then got hurt earlier in the year, but in June he’s allowed just two runs while striking out 12 and walking three in 12 innings.

Recommended Mets Reading: Amazin Avenue is our Mets blog of choice. Friend of RAB Caryn Rose also provides a good take on the fan experience at MetsGrrl.

We’ll be chatting at 2 this afternoon

Mike will be working MLB Trade Rumors and then heading on his way to Citi Field this afternoon, so I’ll take over as his chat host. We’ll gather ’round the chat table at 2 and take you into the holiday weekend. It should be a nice way to end the work day for those who are still stuck there this afternoon.

2011 Draft: Yankees sign second rounder Sam Stafford

Via Kirk Bohls, the Yankees have signed second round pick Sam Stafford for $400,000, which is just a touch over-slot. Stafford, a left-hander from Texas, has run his fastball up as high as 96 while showing a power curveball this spring and last summer. He struck out 91 but walked 42 in 81.1 IP with the Longhorns this year. Stafford’s raw stuff is undeniable but he struggles to harness it, so he’s going to have to work on his changeup and overall command to stick as a starter. Here’s some video.

Mailbag: Cameron, Prince, Montero, Banuelos

Mailbag time. Lots of questions this week so I tried to keep the answers short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions…

(Photo Credit: Flickr user surfneng via Creative Commons license)

Orciari asks: Heard Sox just DFA’d Cameron, any interest for NY?  Obviously it would mean removing Jones, who would you rather have?

Neither is great, and they’re basically the same player. Low average guys that will draw some walks and hit for power, mostly against lefties. Also solid defenders that were once great in center. Mike Cameron was cut because he’s been brutal this year, a .216 wOBA in 105 plate appearances including a .232 wOBA against southpaws, which is why they got rid of him in the first place. Yeah, Andruw Jones strikes out a bunch, but so does Cameron, and at least he’s still shown that he can be reasonably productive. It didn’t work for Cameron with one AL East team, I see no need to make the switch.

EJ asks: What percentage of chance do you think the Yankees have in signing Jeremy Rathjen? Who do you think will be the five toughest players to sign from the 2011 draft?

Very small, and in face Baseball America called Rathjen completely unsignable right before the draft. They’ve already taken care of one tough sign in 13th rounder Justin James, who came to terms a few days ago. The other difficult ones will be Jordan Cote (third round), Rookie Davis (14), Hayden Sharp (18), Dan Camarena (20), and Adam Ravenelle (44). I’m confident they’ll get Cote signed (they didn’t take him that high not to sign him), though the others will be tough. My guess today is that they land two of them, likely Davis and Sharp.

Sven asks: If Freddy Garcia is a type B free agent at the end of the year do the Yankees offer arbitration? What about Swisher? If he finishes with say 25 HRs and an .800 OPS do they buy him out and then offer arbitration as a type A free agent?

Garcia is just short of qualifying as a Type-B (as in ~1.5 points short), and I assume he’ll make the jump into Type-B territory if he continues to pitch the way he has. If he does that, he’ll earn all of his incentives, pushing his total 2011 salary to $5.1M. If the Yankees offered him arbitration and he accepted, Garcia would probably get a salary somewhere around $7-8M next season. Is that worth the risk for a sandwich pick? I think it’s a fair salary, but there’s a heightened risk give his age and recent injury history.

I don’t see why the Yankees wouldn’t pick up Nick Swisher‘s option at this point. If you can find me a better right field option for next year that will sign for less than (or equal to) one year and $9.25M (the net cost of Swisher’s option), then we’ll talk about buying him out. But for argument’s sake, if they did decline the option, I’m guessing they’d absolutely offer him arbitration. He’s comfortably a Type-A free agent, and worst case scenario he accepts and they’re stuck with him next year for $12-15M or so. Obviously the option is the cheaper way to go, assuming they want to keep him.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Steve Paluch via Creative Common license)

Nick asks: Why don’t the Yankees focus on signing Prince Fielder this offseason? Prince is not a pitcher but would be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium and he is about to hit his prime. Prince isn’t one of the free agents on the wrong side of his 30s when the Yankees signed him either.

Of course he’s a great fit for Yankee Stadium, pretty much every left-handed power bat is. Where is he going to play though? Are they going to give him a six or seven or eight year deal just to be the designated hitter? I can’t see why the Yankees would give Prince Fielder a deal like that when they’re going to need that DH spot for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in the not too distant future. Would he make the team better? Absolutely. But the cost is astronomical and it would destroy future roster flexibility.

bonestock94 asks: Are you beginning to doubt Montero’s ability to be a star in the majors? Am I just overreacting to a poor 2011 campaign?

It’s been 282 plate appearances, relax. The kid is 21 years old and in Triple-A, if he’s still struggling when he’s age appropriate for the level, then I’ll be worried. That’s at least two years away.

Steve asks: [What do you think about Brian Cashman saying there are no high-end starters available? Could they go after Jered Weaver?]

I had to shorten that question up, Steve got a little wordy. One of the many things I’ve learned in recent years is to never believe a word Cashman says. He never says anything that will tip his hand one way or the other, which is exactly what he should do. From here it doesn’t look like any ace-caliber pitchers will be available, but who knows. The trade deadline is a month away and things have a way of changing. I’m sure he and his staff are working diligently to find a high-end starter.

I have an irrational dislike of Weaver, so I might not be the guy to ask. He’s having a great year, but I can’t imagine the Angels would trade him away before at least attempting to re-sign him. I think they’d sooner trade Dan Haren to free up some money for Weaver.

CS Yank asks: At the start of the season, we were seeing 3-4 IP from ManBan and it seems like they either were going off a PC or pacing his IP. In seeing his [69.1] IP YTD, seems like it will likely be a two year build-up of innings (as AA is better than 50% done) as AA is typically over by Labor Day … so do you think his target was around 120 or will they have him go 6-7 from here on out to bring him up to around 150 IP this year? I’m guessing the ship has sailed (with the DL time, BB issue, etc) on any realistic chance to see him in the bigs in 2011.

The short starts early in the year had to do with with Spring Training and his blister. Remember he didn’t have a normal camp because he was with the big league team, so he was throwing 2-3 innings at a time rather than being stretched out normally. Once he got going with Trenton, he had to be shut down with the blister. He (and Dellin Betances) are on 90-100 pitch counts, but because of their control issues that usually means just five innings. They’ll go six innings if possible.

Banuelos only threw 64.2 IP last year because of the appendectomy and he’s already over that, but he did throw 109 IP in 2009. I’m guessing they’d like to get up around 120-130 IP, though remember that they can send him to a winter league (Arizona Fall League again, most likely) to get even more innings. Plus there’s Instructional League, all sorts of ways to get those innings in. But yeah, 120-130 IP this year seems like a reasonable target, then 150-160 next year.

This is what Matt Moore looks like from the third base line. (Photo Credit: Flickr user tedkerwin via Creative Commons license)

Reggie asks: Would you be in favor of a prospect trade : Jesus Montero to the Rays, Matt Moore to the Yankees.

I think it’s fair value and it fills a need for both teams. Tampa could use another big bat to pair with Evan Longoria, and they could stick Montero at first long-term. The Yankees could always use a young, hard-throwing left-handed starter, so it’s easy to see why they’d want more. Fair and logical is one thing, but I think it goes without saying that neither team will ever make the trade. Every team loves their prospects more than everyone else’s, plus there’s the whole intra-division thing. That sure would be fun though, prospect-for-prospect trades don’t happen too often.

Would I do it? Yeah I would. Free agent hitters are safer bets, so it’s better to grow your own arms rather than throw money away. The more pitching prospects the merrier.

Kevin asks: What kind of a contract is Bartolo Colon looking at this offseason? Also, do the Yankees look to retain him or let him go and keep their lightning in a bottle from this year?

I have absolutely no idea. There’s no precedent for a situation like this, so anything I say is just guesswork. If he comes back from the hamstring injury and pitches like he did in April and May, can’t he go out on the market and say he wants $10M a year, maybe even for two years? I think in a perfect world, they’d re-sign him for one year and $5M with a bunch of incentives, assuming he continues to pitch as well as he has. At the end of the day, he’s still 38 years old with a bum shoulder. Who know how the stem cells will hold up.