By the Decade: The rise, fall and rise of pitching

With 2010 upon us, it’s nearly time to wrap up our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts. I’ll publish a summary of the series, but first, we have to tackle the Yankees’ starting pitchers.

For the Yankees, the 2000s was a tough decade of pitching. For the first four seasons, the Yanks thrived on pitching, and then, it all fell apart. After losing Andy Pettitte, David Wells and Roger Clemens following the 2003 season, the team struggled through some sub-par pitching performances from 2004-2008. Only last season with the arrival of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett did the Yanks’ pitching again bring the team a World Series win.

As the decade’s dust settled, the final Yankee starting pitcher tally reached 62. Nine players made just one start for the Bombers, and another seven drew the ball for two starts only. We’ll get to them later. Below is the table of all Yankee starters who made 10 or more starts as well as their overall numbers. Due to the limitations of David Pinto’s Day-by-Day Database and the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I couldn’t break out these pitchers’ starters-only numbers in any reasonable amount of time.

Mike Mussina 248 249 123 72 1553 1565 318 1278 12 8 3.88 114 166
Andy Pettitte 217 219 111 63 1362.1 1478 403 1013 9 2 4.10 110 113
Roger Clemens 144 145 69 32 915.1 859 308 851 2 1 3.88 117 96
Chien-Ming Wang 104 109 55 26 670.2 701 197 310 4 1 4.16 107 41
Orlando Hernandez 82 85 32 27 521 480 165 415 3 0 4.13 111 79
Randy Johnson 67 67 34 19 430.2 401 107 383 6 0 4.37 100 60
David Wells 61 62 34 14 419.1 452 65 238 6 2 3.95 112 45
Joba Chamberlain 43 93 15 9 281.2 266 121 285 0 0 3.61 121 27
Jaret Wright 40 43 16 12 204 238 89 118 0 0 4.99 89 18
Kevin Brown 35 35 14 13 205.1 239 54 133 0 0 4.95 89 19
C.C. Sabathia 34 34 19 8 230 197 67 197 2 1 3.37 127 18
A.J. Burnett 33 33 13 9 207 193 97 195 1 0 4.04 106 25
Javier Vazquez 32 32 14 10 198 195 60 150 0 0 4.91 92 33
Ted Lilly 32 49 8 12 205.1 191 80 182 2 1 4.65 96 31
Jeff Weaver 32 47 12 12 237.1 292 62 150 0 0 5.35 82 28
David Cone 29 30 4 14 155 192 82 120 0 0 6.91 70 25
Darrell Rasner 29 36 9 14 158.1 182 52 89 0 0 5.06 88 20
Philip Hughes 28 72 13 10 192.2 175 72 177 0 0 4.20 105 19
Jose Contreras 27 36 15 7 166.2 145 72 154 0 0 4.64 96 26
Jon Lieber 27 27 14 8 176.2 216 18 102 0 0 4.33 104 20
Carl Pavano 26 26 9 8 145.2 182 30 75 1 1 5.00 86 23
Shawn Chacon 23 31 12 6 142 143 66 75 0 0 4.69 93 18
Sidney Ponson 18 21 4 5 96.1 125 39 48 0 0 6.63 67 14
Denny Neagle 15 16 7 7 91.1 99 31 58 1 0 5.81 83 16
Kei Igawa 13 16 2 4 71.2 89 37 53 0 0 6.66 68 15
Ian Kennedy 12 14 1 4 59.2 63 37 43 0 0 6.03 74 6
Aaron Small 12 26 10 3 103.2 113 36 49 1 1 4.60 94 13
Sterling Hitchcock 12 57 6 9 140.1 181 51 95 1 0 5.84 76 15
Randy Keisler 11 14 2 2 61.1 68 42 42 0 0 7.19 63 13
Ramiro Mendoza 11 133 23 12 259 259 59 162 1 1 3.82 119 27
Al Leiter 10 16 4 5 62.1 66 38 45 0 0 5.49 77 4

The bottom of this chart is a scary sight indeed. Al Leiter, Randy Keisler, Kei Igawa, Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Carl Pavano, Denny Neagle, Darrell Rasner and Jeff Weaver all made enough starts to give me nightmares today. The ninth and tenth slots — Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown — are illustrative of why the Yanks suffered through five years of postseason futility.

To find the true stars of the decade, we have to look at the top of the list. For a few years, Chien-Ming Wang was as good as it gets for the Yanks. Now he’s a non-tendered free agent trying to come back from shoulder surgery and a bad foot injury. El Duque and David Wells were both stand-out starters during their peak years, but the two made just 82 and 61 starts respectively this decade. Roger Clemens made 144 starts, and while his 117 ERA+ as a Yankee leads the list of those we’re considering, his total output doesn’t match that of those who lead the list.

And so we are left with two candidates for pitcher of the decade. Do we give the award to Andy Pettitte or to Mike Mussina? On the one hand, Pettitte won two World Series with the Yanks and gave us a 2009 to remember. Mike Mussina, through no fault of his own, captured zero World Series titles. On sentimentality and rings, Pettitte has the upper hand.

But numerically, can Andy take the cake? Outside of pick-offs — 36 for Pettitte against two for Moose — Mike’s numbers are seemingly better across the board. He has an ERA edge of 0.28 runs and leads in the ERA+ race 114-110. He struck out 7.41 per 9 IP while Andy K’d just 6.69 per 9 innings. His 4.02 K/BB ratio is better than Pettitte’s 2.51 figure by a significant amount. Mussina gave up nearly 0.25 more home runs per 9 innings than Andy, and Pettitte’s .638 winning percentage is slightly higher than Mussina’s .631 mark. Wins, though, aren’t exactly the best metric of pitching success.

So in the end, I’m left with a choice. Does Mike Mussina win on the strength of his 2001, 2003 and 2008 seasons as well as his relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? Does Andy Pettitte carry the decade on his World Series prowess and bulldog mentality? I might give the slight edge to Pettitte while recognizing that Mussina in his prime was a better pitcher, but it wouldn’t be wrong to do otherwise. As the new decade dawns, CC Sabathia and perhaps a young hurler named Joba or Phil could inherit this mantle. For now, the two old bulldogs can fight it out.

After the jump, a complete list of all who made nine starts or fewer for the Yankees this decade. [Read more…]

Buying low on Buck

Travis BuckWhile Joe’s busy recapping possible leftfield options for 2010, I thought I’d go ahead and take a look at a player that could possibly help out the outfield down the road. Both Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are under contract for the next few years, but the Yanks don’t really have a long-term solution for that third outfield spot. Sure, it’s possible that Brett Gardner and/or Jamie Hoffmann assume that role, however it seems unlikely. Neither projects to be anything more than a reserve outfielder on a championship club, and at they haven’t shown enough to be considered anything more than that. And of course, there’s always pricey free agents.

Enter Travis Buck, the forgotten man in Oakland’s outfield picture. As it stands, the A’s are going into the 2010 season with the defense-heavy outfield of Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Sweeney, and they have both Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham on the roster as well. Buck, after spending the last two years battling concussion issues and nagging injuries, has seemingly fallen into baseball purgatory despite his impressive track record and equally impressive skills.

A first round pick in 2005, Buck was starting on Opening Day for Oakland by 2007 after hitting .328-.398-.511 in 568 minor league plate appearances across four levels. The rapid promotion didn’t phase Buck at all – he hit .288-.377-.474 while playing everyday in rightfield – however his season ended in August because of a pulled hammy. His .369 wOBA matched Derek Jeter‘s offensive output, and had him one stinkin’ point behind Carlos Lee and his nine-figure contract.

Unfortunately for Buck, he hasn’t been able to repeat that performance. He again started in right on Opening Day in 2008, but hit just .154-.197-.277 in 71 plate appearances before shin splints landed him on the disabled list and eventually back in the minors. In 2009 he hit .226-.287-.355 in his first 101 plate appearances before being demoted. Buck plays like nutcase, and suffered a pretty severe concussion when he ran into the wall while in the minors in 2008. He did that same thing again last year, and was dealing with post-concussion syndrome as late as this past October.

As you’ve probably noticed, Buck’s been hurt quite a bit. In addition to the hammy and shin splints and concussions, he’s also missed various amounts of time with a sore wrist, a sore thumb, a strained oblique, and bone chips in his throwing elbow (surgery). The good news is that his injuries are similar to Nick Johnson‘s in that they aren’t related or evidence of a chronic, degenerative issue. Like Ryan Church though, we’re still not sure what kind of toll the concussions have taken.

Back when Buck was Oakland’s top prospect , Baseball America said the following on his ability as a hitter:

He has quick hands, strong wrists and outstanding pitch recognition. He has the bat speed to turn on good fastballs, yet trusts his hands enough to wait out breaking balls. The result is that he stays balanced, uses the whole field with a repeatable, low-maintenance swing and lashes line drives from foul line to foul line. As he gets stronger and learns to use his lower half better, many of his doubles should start going over the fence.

Buck hasn’t exhibited a platoon split in the big leagues (.772 OPS vs. RHP, .768 vs. LHP) and has been serviceable against lefties in the minors (.753 OPS). It’s clear Buck has the hitting tools to be an everyday outfielder, but it’s worth noting that his defense is very good as well. He has a +8.6 UZR in over 1,000 big league innings in right, and Total Zone has Buck as a +17 run defender at the position in his minor league career. The sample sizes for left and center are too small to say anything, but I’m sure he provides better than Johnny Damon-level defense in those spots. Baseball Prospectus says he’s cost the A’s two runs on the basepaths in 208 times on base in the big leagues, which for all intents and purposes means he’s a league average baserunner. Sadly, that would represent an improvement for the team as a whole.

I’m not 100% certain, but it looks like Buck will fall short of qualifying as a Super Two after 2010 (assuming he spends the entire year in the bigs), which means he has two more pre-arbitration years left and five more seasons of team control left overall. He also has one option remaining, which is always a plus. Acquiring Buck would be a move geared more towards 2011 and beyond than 2010, as the Yanks could use that remaining option to give him a full season of Triple-A at-bats. He could catch his breath at one level for once and focus on staying healthy while hanging out with former Arizona State teammate Colin Curtis.

As a lefthanded batter with decent pop, good defense, and very good on-base skills, it’s easy to see why a player like Buck would be a good fit for the Yankees. Plus it’s not like they’re loaded with outfield prospects in the high minors anyway. Given his health troubles, poor big league showings over the last two years, and Oakland’s crowded outfield, Buck might be a little undervalued at the moment. Then again, Billy Beane is a pretty smart dude, so maybe not. Hopefully Brian Cashman can pull off another ninja move to add a young hitter like Buck for depth.

Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld, Getty Images

Fan Confidence Poll: January 4th, 2010

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Left field closing arguments: Ryan Church

After a New Year’s hiatus, we return with our ongoing series on the left field situation. Given the parameters — mostly a caddy for Gardner — we’re looking at the available free agents to determine whether or not they fit. I’ll present the data, you’ll comment, and that will be that. Today, we get the final say on Ryan Church. You can check out the previous closing arguments on Reed Johnson and Marlon Byrd.

Just a few years ago, Ryan Church looked like a budding star. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues at age 26, he hit .287/.353/.466 in 301 PA, despite battling multiple injuries. These included a day-to-day shoulder issue, a ribcage injury that caused him to miss 16 games, and a toe injury that forced him to miss 15. Time missed due to injury would become a major theme in Church’s major league career.

Despite his successful 2005 campaign, the Nationals started him in AAA for the 2006 season. That ended quickly, and Church hit fairly well in his first 78 plate appearances. The only thing he didn’t do, really, was hit singles. His .215 average must have stuck out to the Nats, because they demoted him on May 20, despite his .346 OBP and .477 SLG. Of the 14 hits he amassed in that short stint, eight went for extra bases.

The Nats recalled him again after the All-Star break, and this time Church hit his way into a more prominent role. In 152 plate appearances he posted a .305/.376/.550 line, sending half of his 40 hits for extra bases. Best of all, he got through the season without injury. In two partial major league seasons, Church had hit .282/.359/.491 in 531 plate appearances. His BABIP was a bit high, at .350, but that’s not too uncommon for a high strikeout player.

(While Church toiled in the minors after his 2006 mid-season demotion, the Yankees actually expressed interest in him. While Church would have been a decent addition at the time, I think everyone was more than pleased with Abreu.)

In 2007 Church would get his chance, and he responded well. He missed just two games due to injury, and racked up 530 plate appearances, hitting .272/.349/.464. That was good for a .351 wOBA, 116 wRC+, and a 114 OPS+. In other words, solidly above average. His power fell a bit, from a .250 ISO to .191, but that’s still a good mark. Apparently, though, the Nationals had seen enough, shipping Church and catcher Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge.

It appeared Church would continue his hot hitting ways in New York. He got off to a torrid start in 2008, hitting .311/.379/.534 in 183 plate appearances through May 20. But then his head collided with Yunel Escobar’s knee in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader. It was the second concussion Church had suffered that year — the first came in Spring Training when he and teammate Marlon Anderson ran into each other while tracking a fly ball.

Even though it was his second concussion in two months, and even though he had to visit a doctor after the game, Mets manager Willie Randolph used Church as a pinch hitter the very next day. He actually pinch hit three times in the four days following the Escobar incident. Church tried to return full-time at the beginning of June, but apparently couldn’t handle it. After striking out three times in four at-bats on June 5, Church missed the next 19 games with post concussion issues. He tried to come back in July, but that experiment ended after five games, and he missed the next 41.

Since then Church just hasn’t been the same player. He finished the 2008 season horribly, hitting .219/.305/.307 in 128 plate appearances. An off-season of rest didn’t bring him back to form, as he hit .272/.328/.352 through May 22, when he injured his hamstring. He kept a consistent line upon his return, and eventually Omar Minaya traded him to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur. He hit better in his new home, .260/.347/.402 in 144 plate appearances, but nothing approaching his 2006, 2007, and beginning of 2008 seasons. The Braves cut loose Church on December 8.

On the plus side, Church has demonstrated that he can hit. From 2006 through May 22, 2008 he posted solidly above average offensive numbers. He also plays average to above average defense in the outfield — above average at the corners, which is what the Yankees seek. His strikeout rate historically is a bit high, but he still hits for a good average. I’m not sure if it means anything or it’s just an outlier, but Church drastically reduced his strikeout rate in 2009, dropping it nearly 10 percent from 2008.

On the negative side, we never know if he’ll be the same again after the two concussions. That the Braves, who could use some outfield help, cut him loose makes that even more doubtful. Another area of concern, at least as it involves the Yankees, is his platoon split. They already have the lefty Granderson in center field, so in order for Church to make sense he’d have to hit about equal against lefties and righties. But, as is the case for many lefties, he shows a large split, .813 OPS vs. righties in his career and a .700 OPS against lefties.

For another team, Church might be worth a gamble. He has the ability to hit and field well, but it’s unknown whether he can actually handle it. Given that uncertainty and his platoon splits, however, he doesn’t appear a good fit for the Yankees.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Church and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Open Thread: Win and they’re in

No one returns from Revis Island.

Yes, we know RAB is a baseball site, but news on the diamond is slow because execs are enjoying a tiny bit of R&R as the calender shifts to 2010. Don’t worry, the hot stove action will surely pick up tomorrow. For now though, let’s focus our attention to the Jets, who have a chance to earn a playoff berth tonight in the frickin’ freezin’ Meadowlands. The scenario is simple: win, and they’re in. That’s all they have to do. If they lose or tie, they’re done.

Standing in their way are the Bengals, who have already clinched the AFC North. I don’t know how much Carson Palmer and the rest of his crew will play, and frankly I don’t care. Cincy has earned their playoff spot and is entitled to do whatever the hell they want when it comes to resting their starters. I’m looking forward to Chad #85’s trip to Revis Island, from which no man has ever returned. The game’s best running attack faces the game’s second best run defense, so it’ll be up to Rex Ryan’s league best defense to keep the Bengals’ 20th ranked offense in check.

Talk about the game, or whatever you want here tonight. The Knicks are the only other local team in action. Enjoy the open thread, but make sure you follow the guidelines and be cool.

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

Final Winter Ball Update

The regular season in the various Caribbean leagues is basically over, so this is your final update of the season. DotF will start back up when the 2010 season starts on April 8th.

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte: 19 G, 5 for 17 (.294), 8 R, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 SB
Jamie Hoffmann: 21 G, 16 for 68 (.235), 8 R, 5 2B, 5 RBI, 7 BB, 14 K, 3 SB – hasn’t played since the trade
Juan Miranda: 13 G, 18 for 44 (.409), 9 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 SB – apparently his elbow was never injured, the team just played a local fan favorite for a few games
Eduardo Nunez: 4 G, 2 for 10 (.200), 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 CS
Wilkins Arias: 26 G, 17 IP, 17 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 7 BB, 18 K - rocked early, but he’s been very good over the last month or so
Noel Castillo: 3 G, 2 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K – fugly
Edwar Ramirez: 3 G, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 34 G, 16 for 64 (.250), 10 R, 1 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 18 K, 1 SB
Ramiro Pena: 26 G, 21 for 85 (.247), 10 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 2 CS
Jorge Vazquez: 32 G, 31 for 123 (.252), 16 R, 5 2B, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 12 BB, 25 K – mashin’

Puerto Rican League
Amaury Sanit: 6 G, 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

Venezuelan Winter League
Frankie Cervelli: 6 G, 3 for 14 (.214), 3 R, 1 2B, 3 BB, 4 K
Reegie Corona: 44 G, 44 for 139 (.317), 36 R, 17 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 28 BB, 19 K, 3 SB, 1 CS
Jesus Montero: 9 G, 3 for 26 (.115), 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K - he’s playing every day in the playoffs (4 for 10 with a homer in three games) at first base … I’m an idiot, that was Miguel Montero of the D-Backs
Luis Nunez: 15 G, 13 for 45 (.289), 2 R, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K
Juan Marcano: 3 G, 6.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Ivan Nova: 5 G, 4 GS, 25.2 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 K
Jon Ortiz: 6 G, 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
Romulo Sanchez: 26 G, 32.1 IP, 23 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 19 BB, 44 K
Josh Schmidt: 16 G, 13 GS, 75.1 IP, 61 H, 38 R, 30 ER, 31 BB, 71 K – 13 hit batters too
Pat Venditte: 7 G, 9.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
Eric Wordekemper: 5 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5BB, 3 K

Report: Cone out at YES

A few weeks ago, in mid December, Phil Mushnick of The Post broke the news that David Cone may not return to the YES broadcast booth for the 2010 season. Today, Bob Klapisch’s sources tell him that Cone is a goner at YES. The former pitcher isn’t returning, reports Klapisch, “after a heated disagreement with network executives.”

Officially, YES says that Cone hasn’t reached a decision. A network spokesman told Klapisch, “David’s contract is up. We’d love to have him back, but he’s in the process of evaluating his various options.” It doesn’t, however, appear as though a return is likely. Three weeks ago, Mushnick speculated that Tino Martinez could be on the YES radar if Cone doesn’t return. For now, though, we just might be stuck with more John Flaherty.