2013 Season Preview: The Number Threes

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)

In the lexicon of numbered rotation slots, number three starters probably generate the least amount of conversation. We argue whether numbers twos are really aces (and vice versa), whether number fives are really numbers fours, but number threes are just kinda there. Since they’re right smack in the middle of the five-man rotation, you’d think a league-average starter qualifies as a number three. That’s not really the case though, the distribution of talent is not balanced. There are way more back-end guys than aces, so a number three should really be an above-average starter.

Ol’ Reliable
I can’t believe I’m writing a season preview post about Andy Pettitte in 2013. His comeback from a one-year retirement was a smashing success in 2012, at least when he was actually on the mound — a hard-hit ground ball fractured his leg in late-June and it kept him on the shelf until mid-September. Pettitte was stellar in the 12 starts he did make though, pitching to a 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 75.1 innings with career-highs in strikeout (22.8%) and ground ball (56.3%) rates. Andy pitched like an ace when healthy.

Less than three months from his 41st birthday, Pettitte returns again for what the Yankees hope will be his first full season in four years. Injuries limited him to 21 starts and 129 innings in 2010, so he hasn’t made 30 starts or thrown even 150 innings since helping the club win the 2009 World Series. We all know Pettitte has the stuff, the command, and the pitching smarts to navigate a full season, but the question is his durability. That doesn’t necessarily mean staying off the DL either, he could simply run out of gas in say, mid-August. It’s going to be something the team will have to constantly monitor.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As amazing as those 12 starts were last year, I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to expect a similar performance in 2013. I’d take it in a heartbeat obviously, but I’m not expecting it. What I am expecting is regular ol’ Andy Pettitte, which means a low-4.00s ERA — maybe less because of the decreased offensive environment — and lots of wiggling out of jams. If he manages to hold up and take the ball every five days, he should be among the best number three starters in baseball. Pettitte entered “you know what you’re going to get” territory a long time ago, which of course is something that doesn’t really exist. It just feels like we know exactly what he’ll do over the course of the season.

Since the Yankees do have six viable big league starters, I do think they should be cognizant of Pettitte’s workload during the course of the summer. That could mean using an off-day to skip his turn or giving him an extra day of rest between starts with some kind of modified six-man rotation. It’s a tough thing to do because you want him to make as many starts as possible but not burn him out before things heat up late in the season. You also don’t want to keep him from finding a rhythm. There’s also the train of thought that all the time off from 2011-2012 did Pettitte’s arm and body some good and he’s as fresh as ever. Who knows. I’ll be keeping an eye on the workload though, that’s for sure.

Knocking on the Door
I’m not the biggest Brett Marshall fan in the world — ranked him 13th on my preseason top 30 prospects list — but the 22-year-old right-hander is slated to open the season with Triple-A Scranton and he has the tools to be a number three-type starter down the road. That includes a true four-pitch mix highlighted by the best sinker in the organization, a heavy low-90s offering that bores into right-handed hitters. A low-80s changeup is Marshall’s second best pitch, and he’ll also throw sliders and curveballs. My biggest concern is that he has struggled to miss bats as a professional, with a career 6.97 K/9 (18.3 K%) in full season ball and 6.82 K/9 (18.1 K%) in Double-A last year. Marshall would have to boost the strikeout rate a bit to reach that number three starter ceiling, which is something he could do as he further refines the two breaking balls. Either way, he hasn’t missed a start since having Tommy John surgery in 2009 and has the workhorse part down pat. Marshall is on the 40-man roster and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see him in the big leagues at some point this summer, but he does have a few guys ahead of him on the depth chart.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Top Prospect
Two spots before Marshall on my preseason top 30 was left-hander Nik Turley, who is expected to open the season with Double-A Trenton. The 23-year-old has climbed the ladder deliberately since being a 50th round pick in 2008, though he has since emerged as one of the organization’s better pitching prospects. Turley resides in the upper-80s/low-90s with his fastball even though his frame — listed at 6-foot-6 and 240 lbs. — makes you think he could crank it up into the mid-90s. A big overhand curveball is his most consistent offspeed pitch, but his changeup is solid and flashes more out-pitch potential. Unlike Marshall, Turley has had no trouble missing bats since getting to full season ball (8.88 K/9 and 23.5 K%). The Yankees added the big southpaw to the 40-man roster this past winter, though I do expect him to spend pretty much the entire year with the Thunder. If he makes his MLB debut in 2013, it means something has gone either unexpectedly excellent or horribly wrong.

The Deep Sleeper
I’m a very big fan (almost certainly too big) of 20-year-old left-hander Daniel Camarena. The Yankees bought him away from a commitment to San Diego with a $335k bonus as their 20th round pick in 2011, but a minor arm issue limited him to 17.2 rookie ball innings during his pro debut last summer. They were 17.2 really awesome innings — 15 strikeouts and no walks — but my fandom is based on his ability to throw strikes with three pitches. Camarena sits in the upper-80s/low-90s with his fastball and backs it up with a curveball and changeup, plus it all plays up because he commands everything well and knows how to set hitters up. When the Yankees drafted him, I half-jokingly said they were getting a college pitcher (in terms of polish) in a high school pitcher’s body. He obviously has a long way to go before having a big league impact, but Camarena has everything needed to fill a mid-rotation slot down the road.

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Pettitte is the number three starter in terms of where he expect him to slot into the rotation, though I think most fans consider him something more than that in terms of expected performance. I’m hedging my bets a bit because he hasn’t thrown a full season in a while, but I wouldn’t put repeating last year’s performance past him. Pettitte has a knack for exceeding expectations and like the rest of his rotation-mates, he will be counted on heavily this summer. Youngsters like Marshall and Turley give the Yankees some nearly big league ready arms who project to fill a mid-rotation slot in the long-term.

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Pettitte discusses future in wake of Rivera’s retirement announcement

Via Dan Barbarisi: Andy Pettitte discussed his own future in the wake of Mariano Rivera announcing his intent to retire following the 2013 season. “It’s been a special run that we’ve all been on here—me, him, and (Derek Jeter),” Pettitte said. “In a sense I feel like it’s a run that should all end close together … It’s just weird — it’s like saying, do you think you could see yourself around here without Derek and Mo? Well, no, not really. But then you think, well, (Jorge Posada‘s) out, he’ll be out two years this year. The game goes on. Life goes on.”

Pettitte, 40, has already said he is undecided about pitching beyond this season. He told Barbarisi he believes he can figure handle pitching for another few years physically, but he will need to adjust as his velocity slides and stuff like that. Regardless of what the upcoming free agent pitching classes looked like, the Yankees should be open to signing Pettitte to one-year contracts for as long as he’s willing to pitch. There’s a trust factor there — I doubt Andy would continue to pitch if he stunk, got hurt, or just didn’t think he could be effective anymore.

Pettitte undecided about pitching beyond 2013

I think most of us have assumed that the 2013 season would be Andy Pettitte‘s last as a player, but apparently that may not be the case. Pettitte told Dan Barbarisi and Jack Curry that he will make a decision about his pitching future next winter, though he made sure to mention that he wants to finish his career strong. We sat through a few weeks of “will he or won’t he pitch?” this past offseason and it looks like we might be in store for some more in a few months. I love Andy, but I hate that part about him.

Rosenthal: Pettitte will not pitch in World Baseball Classic

Via Ken Rosenthal: Andy Pettitte will not pitch for former manager Joe Torre and Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He had until February 20th to make his final decision.

As I’ve said before, I’m glad Pettitte will remain with the Yankees in Spring Training even though it would have been neat to see him pitch in the WBC. Rosenthal says there’s a chance Justin Verlander will join the squad — Kris Medlen recently withdrew from the event as well — which would be a pretty huge for Team USA. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Frankie Cervelli as the only Yankees who will participate in the tournament.

Teixeira — not Pettitte — on Team USA roster for WBC

Team USA announced its official roster for the World Baseball Classic earlier today (seen here), with Mark Teixeira being the only Yankee to make the squad. Andy Pettitte was reportedly going to participate in the event, but he is not on the final roster. Bob Klapisch explains that Pettitte’s exclusion may have to do with the insurance (or lack thereof) on his contract. Not gonna lie, I’m happy Andy will be the Yankees and not Team USA during Spring Training.

The remaining WBC rosters will be announced later this afternoon. Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic) and Frankie Cervelli (Italy) will participate in the tournament, and that’s expected to be it as far as 40-man roster players go.

Heyman: Pettitte will participate in WBC

Via Jon Heyman: Andy Pettitte will be part of the Team USA pitching staff during the World Baseball Classic in March. He’ll be joined by R.A. Dickey and Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation.

I’m surprised the Yankees gave Pettitte the okay to participate in the tournament, but I suppose they have more than enough trust in him to do what’s necessary to prepare for the season. Then again, I don’t even know if they had to consent. Andy probably wanted to pitch for Team USA in what figures to be his final season. It’ll be fun to see him pitching in the WBC, but I will be a bit nervous until he makes it through the thing in one piece.

Yankees re-sign Andy Pettitte

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The comeback went well this season but a fluke leg injury cut it short, so Andy Pettitte has decided to return for another year. The two sides finished up contract talks and have agreed to a new one-year deal worth $12M plus another $2.5M in award-based bonuses according to Buster Olney, Ken Davidoff, and Mark Feinsand. Because the Yankees have been keep tabs on the veteran left-hander’s health this offseason, the process was expedited and the deal is already official.

Pettitte, 40, pitched to a 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 12 starts and 75.1 innings in his return from retirement this year. He also posted excellent strikeout (8.24 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.51 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), and ground ball (56.3%) rates. A hard-hit ground ball fractured his left ankle in late-June and cause him to miss almost three full months, though Pettitte did return in time to make three regular season tune-up starts and two postseason starts.

With Hiroki Kuroda (one-year, $15M) and now Pettitte both re-signed, the Yankees can move forward with their offseason plan knowing the rotation is well set. CC Sabathia will round out the top three while Phil Hughes backs them up as the four, then David Phelps and Ivan Nova figure to compete for the fifth starter’s spot in Spring Training. The Yankees are optimistic about re-signing Mariano Rivera this week as well, and once that’s completed they’ll know exactly how much money they have to address the right field, catcher, DH, and bench holes heading into the Winter Meetings next week.