Without a hint of hesitation, I would say that the starting rotation is the biggest hole the 2011 Yankees will have. It consists of one bonafide ace/workhorse/gamer/whatever buzzword there is for pitchers in CC Sabathia. After that, there’s no shortage of question marks. Let’s rewind to last year for a second.
The Yankees had eight men take the hill to start a game in 2010: Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Javier Vazquez. Sparing the long reminiscence, we could call 2010 a mixed bag in terms of success for the Yankee starters. CC Sabathia had a typical CC Sabathia season. Andy Pettitte was great, but was injured and threw under 130 innings. Mitre enjoyed a small sample of (probably unsustainable) success; Moseley was replacement level as expected; Nova showed some potential. Phil Hughes looked like he was starting to realize his considerable upside, though he did slide a bit after an impressive first month. Vazquez and Burnett? Looking at their collective performance in 2010 is like looking at the light that came from the Ark of the Covenant, only it wasn’t the power of God but of unmatched suckitude.
All told, the 2010 starters for the Yankees tossed 973 innings and racked up 10.60 fWAR. Can the 2011 rotation match or beat that? A lot of our gut reactions might say “no” considering how poorly we’ve been “conditioned” to view the forthcoming rotation. So I plugged some Yankee projections into the pitching WAR spreadsheet from Beyond the Box Score (glove slap Mike Axisa) to see what would come out the other end.
I intended this post to only be about Ivan Nova, but I thought why not expand it to the whole rotation? After all, I like to think I live by the “go big or go home” motto that a high school friend spouted perpetually. I used nine starters, the nine I think are most likely to make starts for the 2011 Yankees. I took their CAIRO projected innings pitched and FIPs and plugged them into the above spreadsheet and here’s what I got:
CC Sabathia: 210 IP w/3.68 FIP = 4.7 WAR
Phil Hughes: 172 IP w/4.17 FIP = 2.8 WAR
A.J. Burnett: 187 IP w/4.50 FIP = 2.3 WAR
Ivan Nova: 116 IP w/5.04 FIP = 0.8 WAR
Sergio Mitre: 72 IP w/4.69 FIP = 0.7 WAR
Freddy Garcia: 31 IP w/4.90 FIP = 0.2 WAR
Andrew Brackman: 63 IP w/5.26 FIP = 0.3 WAR
David Phelps: 94 IP w/5.05 FIP = 0.6 WAR
Hector Noesi: 80 IP w/4.91 FIP = 0.6 WAR
Before we get to tabulating the results, I want to review my methodology a bit here. I kept each pitcher’s leverage at 1.0 to make things even. I didn’t change the CAIRO innings projections at all, even though some of them might be unrealistic. I don’t think Phelps (or Noesi or maybe even Brackman) will get that many innings and I don’t think Garcia will get that few. I’m also assuming in this that every inning pitched by these guys is as a starting pitcher, which may not be likely for the “prospect trio” and Sergio Mitre. That said, some of this stuff isn’t THAT far out of the realm of possibility, so let’s get to the results.
These projections give us 1025 innings pitched by Yankee starters, in which they rack up 12.9 WAR. Both of those numbers beat the 2010 version of Yankee starting pitching. We must note that the 2011 projection includes one more pitcher than the 2010 “rotation” did so I adjusted this with a rough WAR/IP calculation. The 2010 starters were worth 0.0109 WAR/IP and the 2011 rotation projects to be worth 0.0126 WAR/IP.
The rotation was 11th in the American League in fWAR by starters in 2010 and if we plug the projected 2011 rotation into that list, it would have the 9th best SP fWAR in the AL. That’s still below the league median, but, again, better than what the team had in 2010.
We’ve been very doom-and-gloom about the possible rotation for 2011, but these numbers (that, yes, we should take with a grain of salt because they’re projections), should help allay our fears just a little bit. While it seems the 2011 rotation might not quite be league average as a whole, it could still be a two win improvement from 2010. With the added bullpen strength and the still strong lineup, the Yankees look like they’ll have a formidable team in 2011.