Monday, October 14, 2013

What I'd Like To See For 2014: Starting Rotation

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that starting pitching is the biggest issue facing the Yankees this offseason. Three of their five starters, who threw a combined 532.1 innings last season, are free agents. While one of them will likely only be missed by Yankee haters (Hughes), the other two leave large holes (Kuroda and Pettitte).

You're tired, and so were your numbers last season.

Phil, formerly known as "Philthy", Hughes was downright bad in 2013. On top of having an ERA of 5.19, opposing batters hit .293/.340/.492 with 24 home runs off of him. Those are the type of numbers you see from some All Stars. And with only 11 of his 29 starts being the of the "quality" variety, he rarely gave the Yankees a chance to win. So it's safe to say his loss is not a tough one by any means.

On the other hand, the loss of Andy Pettitte is not an easy one. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking about a perennial Cy Young award winner, but the big lefty has been a solid member of the Yankees' rotation for years. Andy's 3.74 ERA looks good on it's own, but add that to to a quality start percentage of 63%, and you can see that Mr. Pettite gave the Yankees many chances to win. Andy will turn 42 next June, but even at that age I and other Yankee fans would be okay seeing him come out of retirement for a second time in 2014. Not that any of us should hold our breath. And by "any of us" I'm including Yankee management.

That brings us to the third starter that will likely be leaving us... Hiroki Kuroda. The man they call "Hiro" had an ERA of 3.31 with the Yankees in 2012 and 2013, and was arguably the staff ace in both seasons. However, Kuroda struggled in the second half both years, so his loss may not hurt as much as some think. Sure, first half games mean just as much as second half games, but unlike some other fans I'd have a hard time leaning on him again next year. His strikeout rate has gone down in each of the past four years (19.6% to 18.2%), and opposing batters hit him harder than they have in his entire career (23% line drive percentage). That's not to say he would be bad should he decide to return to the Yankees, but I'm not one that'll be on the edge of my seat hoping it happens.

As for pitchers I do see on the team in 2014, let's start with the highest paid hurler on the team... CC Sabathia.

CC Sabathia and the Yankees hope to see the big guy rebound in 2014. His ERA last season was the highest it's ever been in his 13 year career. On top of that his strikeout rate was lower than it's been since 2005, when he was only 24 years old. Sabathia's problems have been talked about ad nauseam, so I'm not going to get into them here. However, while I don't feel too good about him going into next season as the staff ace, I have faith that he'll turn things around and be a strong piece of the rotation.


I will be on the edge of my seat when the announcement comes about Masahiro Tanaka. I don't expect him to be as good as Yu Darvish has been for the Rangers, but it should be noted that Tanaka's had just as much success in Japan as Darvish did. Take a look at the numbers...

Not only are the numbers awfully close, but Tanaka will be the same age as Darvish was when he left Japan for Major League Baseball.

But Masahiro's ability as a pitcher is not the only big thing that attracts me to him. The other thing is how his salary will affect the team's payroll. You see, the posting fee does not factor into the team's payroll in regards to the Luxury Tax. But that posting fee is taken into account when it comes to that player's contract, as can be seen by the fact that while Yu Darvish is one of the best pitchers in MLB, his salary last season was only $9.5 million. In fact, the Average Annual Value (what is used to determine payroll for the Luxury Tax) is a bit lower at $9.34 million.  So you can see that signing Tanaka, instead of someone like Matt Garza, could save a ton of money.

I would like the team to not only sign Masahiro Tanaka, but also bring somebody like Garza on board. However, since I'm keeping the austerity budget in mind, I don't see how it can be done. Garza is looking to make around $17 million a year, and with Ivan Nova able to slot into the #2 or #3 spot in the rotation along with Sabathia and Tanaka, I don't think it would make sense to go over budget here. Not to mention that David Phelps or Adam Warren could prove to be solid starters next season, and Michael Pineda should be healthy and ready to actual throw a pitch in a MLB game for the Yankees.

Speaking of Michael Pineda, while I don't think he is going to return to the team and be their co-ace, like some thought he could be at the time he was dealt to New York from Seattle, I don't think Michael is going to be useless either. As the #4 starter on the team, or possibly the #5, I believe Pineda will do just fine. In fact, if the choice is between Pineda being better or worse than a bottom of the rotation starter, my money is on that he's better.

I got this.

I kind of skipped over him, but Yankees fans shouldn't dismiss what Ivan Nova could mean for the team in 2014 and beyond. Nova surprised most of us by posting an ERA of 3.10, which would be good for eighth among AL starters. I wouldn't expect him to throw a sub-4.00 ERA again next season, but I feel a whole lot better about having him around the team for next year than I did going into last year. And being in only his first year of arbitration, Ivan will be key to the Yankees getting under $189 million.

David Phelps started 12 games for the Yanks last season, to Adam Warren's 2, but we're likely to see both men compete for a spot in the starting rotation in 2014. Warren's ERA in 79.1 MLB innings is 3.97, while Phelps has an ERA of 4.11 in 186.1 innings, so at the moment I'd be okay with either man winning the job. But if I had to pick one over the other, I'd take the guy with more experience. And that guy is David Phelps. But keep in mind that the Yankees will have more than five guys start at least one game for them in 2014, which means that it's highly likely that Warren gets a handful of starts.

So here's what I'd like the Yankees starting rotation to look like in 2014...

*salaries shown are average annual value (AAV)
1. CC Sabathia $23.67 million
2. Masahiro Tanaka $9 million (signed for 6 years/$56 million)
3. Ivan Nova $2.5 million (arbitration 1)
4. Michael Pineda $500,000 (pre-arbitration)
5. David Phelps $500,000 (pre-arbitration)

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