Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The starting rotation
CC SABATHIA — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: More of the magic he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Failing that, the stuff and results he gave the Indians in 2006-2007 (31-18, 3.22 ERA) would probably be fine.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Milwaukee-level wonderfulness seems unlikely, but something in his mature Indians catalogue seems doable. The only question is if throwing over 500 innings the last two years will bother Sabathia in any way. With most pitchers we could be pretty sure the answer would be yes, or at least “very likely yes,” but he’s such a unique physical specimen that we’ll just have to wait and see.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: That innings pitched total. Sabathia threw 253 regular-season innings last year. No Yankee came close to matching that total during the Torre years — Andy Pettitte pitched 240.1 innings in 1997. The last Yankee to exceed Sabathia’s total was Ron Guidry, who threw 259 in 1985. Guidry never quite got over it, but he was a very different physical type from Sabathia. Pettitte too was a lot less effective in 1998-1999 than he was in the rest of his prime, but again, Pettitte is a very different pitcher.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Sabathia struck out 251 batters last year. The Yankees franchise record is 248 (Guidry, 1978). The last Yankee to whiff more than 200 batters in a season was Randy Johnson in 2005 (211). The Yankees have had just 14 such seasons in their entire history.
CHIEN-MING WANG — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Stay healthy, keep up the good work.
DID HE GET THERE? No. Injuries wiped out half his season.
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get back to where he was in 2006-2007 (38-13, 3.67 ERA).
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Ask me again after he makes his next start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Wang has a career strikeout rate of 4.0 per nine innings. The only pitchers to throw over 1,000 career innings since 1990 with a strikeout rate of 4.5 or lower: Carlos Silva, Kirk Reuter, Ricky Bones, Bob Tewksbury, Brian Anderson, Zane Smith, Mike Moore, and Steve Sparks. Tewksbury and Smith are the keepers, though neither is truly comparable to Wang.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: This isn’t the first time Wang has struggled with his mechanics. In fact, you could argue that he’s been struggling right along, even as he’s been succeeding. Maybe a better term for it would be “evolving.” In addition to the degradation in his ground out/fly out ratio mentioned in this space earlier today, his strikeout rate has been gradually rising, though not so far as to make him a strikeout pitcher, while his walk rate has also been climbing.
A.J. BURNETT — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Show consistency and durability, two qualities that have eluded him in most seasons.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems unlikely that Burnett will achieve either in his 30s, but you never know with pitchers. He has swing and miss stuff, and outside of 2003 has been on the field more often than not, so he’s a better bet than Carl Pavano, but you still wouldn’t call him a truly reliable pitcher.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Batting average on balls in play. It was .318 against Burnett last year, and should come down some this season. Even a slight drop would greatly improve his numbers.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, Burnett led the American League with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The last Yankee to lead the AL in that category? Dave Righetti in 1982, with 8.02. It was the second consecutive year he led the league. In 1984, the Yankees put him in the bullpen, a move still open to second-guessing.
ANDY PETTITTE — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Pitch, not talk. Only speak the name “Clemens” in reference to the life and work of Mark Twain; pursuant to this, memorize passages from “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” and this passage from “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:” “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” Oh yeah: pitch well without injury, shrugging off last season’s September slide.
DID HE GET THERE? He got through the not speaking about Roger Clemens part alright. The pitching part was complicated by some rough second half pitching.
2009 GOAL: If he can carve about half a run off of his ERA and get back to his 2006-2007 form (29-22, 4.13 ERA) no one will complain.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems reasonable. The Yankees played poor defense behind Pettitte at times last year, something suggested in his .338 batting average allowed on balls in play. His strikeout rate was very healthy, and his control was good. Pettitte may fancy himself a pitcher on the verge of retirement, but the numbers say otherwise.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees career wins list. With just 12 wins this year, Pettitte can pass Lefty Gomez for third place on the franchise list (Hall of Famer Gomez won 189 games for the Yankees). Leader Whitey Ford (236) remains a long way off, as does number two Red Ruffing (231).
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Louisiana career wins list. Pettitte has the second-most career wins of any pitcher born in the bayou state, trailing Hall of Famer Ted Lyons 260-216.
JOBA CHAMBERLAIN — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: I don’t seem to have written one, but had I done so it probably would have been something along the lines of, “Find way out of the bullpen; avoid being eaten by killer insects.”
DID HE GET THERE? Yes on both counts, though there were some health problems along the way.
2009 GOAL: Put up a big season in the rotation, forever quieting those who would like to see him thrown in chains and dragged back to the eighth inning.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Strong, health permitting. Perhaps we don’t even need to say that — “health permitting” is true of all pitchers.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: One-hundred quality starts. The quality start, a game in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs, is a measure of how often a pitcher does what he’s supposed to do, “give his team a chance to win.” One reason the Angels have been so resilient in this century is the depth of their starting rotations: in most years, they have received more than 90, and up to 99 (2005) quality starts from their rotation. When the Yankees reached the World Series in 2003, they received 96 quality starts. In 1998, they received 92. Last year, they had only 78 quality starts. No American League team has had the depth and consistency to receive 100 quality starts since the Angels in 1989. This also reflects the growing reliance of relief pitching over that time. Going five-deep in the rotation should allow the Yankees to compile enough quality starts to contend for the league lead, if not the elusive 100.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: A team doesn’t need five starters in the postseason — it only needs five to get there. Should the Yankees make the playoffs, it’s possible that Chamberlain could be back in his old role, depending on how the rest of the rotation looks at the time.