Our next Pinch Hitter is a a 26-year-old New Jersey native living in Delaware and working for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, which is Kansas City’s High-A affiliate.
Although the currently works for another organization, Greg Mathews is a fourth-generation Yankees fan. “My life revolves around the team and its tradition,” Greg wrote. Andy Pettitte has always been his favorite Yankees pitcher. “If this really is the last we’ve seen of him,” Greg wrote, “I’d like to take this moment to say thank you. AN-DY PETT-ITTE [clap, clap, clapclapclap].”
For his guest post, Greg looked back 10 years to find that this year’s Yankees rotation isn’t necessarily one-of-a-kind. The Yankees have been in this situation before.
Learning from the Past to Embrace the Present
Patience? PATIENCE? You mean to tell me that the Yankee fan base is supposed to just sit back, watch the rest of the league sign all of the good free agents, and accept the fact that the two pitchers rounding out the rotation of our favorite team are named Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre? Plan “A” was Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte, but now we’re supposed to believe that Nova and Mitre — or “patience” — is a sufficient backup plan?
Yes. That is precisely what the Yankees should do and we, as Yankee fans, need to embrace that plan. We’ve been down a similar road in the past.
Ten years ago – 2001 — the Yankees were heading into the season with a rotation of Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Orlando Hernandez and Ted Lilly. On paper, that’s a comforting rotation with a strong front three. It became a different story though, once the season began. Hernandez had thrown 410 innings over the previous two years and the Yanks were going to have to stomach the growing pains of Ted Lilly’s first full year as a starter. Then, “El-Duque” got hurt. Hernandez threw only 94.2 innings in 16 starts, which was 100 innings less than he threw in 2000.
How did the Yankees fill that 100-inning void? Randy Keisler and Sterling Hitchcock were called upon, and they combined to throw 102 innings in 2001. Keisler, in 50.2 innings, had an ERA of 6.22 and a WHIP of 1.697. Hitchcock had an ERA of 6.49 and a WHIP of 1.656 during his 51.1 innings. Combined, they faced 559 batters and 196 of them reached base, 82 of them scored and only three were unearned. That is a lot of base-runners and a lot of runs allowed in a 102-inning period.
Yet, that team made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
At the moment, the rotation in place for the 2011 season isn’t all that different. Yes, they’re banking on A.J. Burnett rebounding, but if he can even get to just the 2009 A.J., they’ll have a similarly strong front three when you add CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.
Lilly had three career starts under his belt before 2001, and they all came in 1999. He threw eight innings for the Yankees in 2000. Nova is going into this season with seven starts under his belt and his 42 major league innings are 10.1 more than Lilly’s 31.2 when the Yankees declared him the fifth starter. Think of Nova as this year’s Lilly. If Nova can pitch like he did in 2010, but over the course of 120-140 innings this year, he’ll end up with similar statistics to Lilly’s rookie year, and possibly a little better.
We all know what the Yankees are getting (or not getting) when Mitre takes the mound. Even though his three starts last year are a small sample size, his numbers are right in line with his only full season (27 starts) as a starter in 2007. His WHIP in 2007 with the Marlins was 1.483, which is just about even with his WHIP of 1.463 in those three starts last year. Pitching fulltime in the AL East is going to cause that to rise a bit, but essentially that’s how he should perform.
The parallels between the 2001 and 2011 rotations aren’t exact or perfect, but they are certainly very close. The Yankees are relying on Burnett having a bounce-back year, and if he can do that, they are in very good shape. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the back of the rotation will look different when the calendar turns to June or July. Whether it’s a trade for a starter or a starter from AAA being promoted, we’ll see. Brian Cashman has the right idea, though.
Patience is important. With an offense like the Yanks have, it doesn’t matter what other teams do; the Yankees can afford to be patient. Just making a move to make a move isn’t going to improve the rotation, but being patient and making the right move will pay huge dividends.
Associated Press photo of Mussina