Five + Five = Success for the Yankees

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the impressive pitching depth that has been compiled by the Boston Red Sox, mostly at the Major League level. The New York Yankees organization, a division mate of the Sox, also has some nice depth on hand in case injuries strike the Major League starting rotation.

With a few weeks to go until spring training, the Yankees’ rotation currently includes free agent signees C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett, holdovers Andy Pettitte, and Chien-Ming Wang, as well as Mr. Can-Do-It-All Joba Chamberlain. That is a pretty formidable rotation if everyone is healthy and pitching up to their potential.

But as we all know, in the game of baseball no organization is safe from the injury bug – especially when it comes to the pitching staff. We also need to keep in mind that Chamberlain has never pitched more than 118.2 innings in a season – and that was at the University of Nebraska in 2005.

Luckily, the Yankees have at least five young starting pitchers who will be a phone call away at the organization’s Triple-A affiliate in Scranton-Wilkes/Barre: Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, and Eric Hacker.

Hughes has been, in a word, disappointing. Injuries and general ineffectiveness have taken a toll on his reputation amongst fans in New York but there is good news. He’s only 22 years old, which is something that is easy to forget. And although he posted a 6.62 ERA in 34 big league innings in 2008, Hughes’ FIP was just 4.34 and he may never have actually been healthy last season. He also had a 4.46 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 72.2 MLB innings at the age of 21. The projection systems for 2009, including Bill James, CHONE and Marcel, vary somewhat, but they all suggest reasonable production for a 23-year-old starting pitcher.

Kennedy, like Hughes, faced pretty high expectations after being selected out of USC with the 21st overall pick of the 2006 draft. A number of teams avoided the right-hander in the draft because his success in college came despite dominating stuff. The same can be said for his minor league success, which includes an eye-popping 1.99 ERA in 226 innings. Kennedy has been a different pitcher at the Major League level. He sports an 8.17 ERA (5.45 FIP) and has allowed 50 hits in 39.2 innings. With a little more experience (and possibly a little more use of his breaking ball), he should become a pretty successful No. 4 starter, if nothing more.

Aceves appeared out of nowhere in 2008, after previously being expunged from the Toronto Blue Jays Dominican Summer League team. In one season, the right-hander rose from High-A ball to the Majors. The problem, though, is that Aceves pitched far more innings in 2008 than he ever had before, having played in short-season leagues. His 170.2 innings could be seen as a warning sign for 2009. As well, his 2.40 ERA does not look quite as rosy after looking at his FIP (4.80) and strikeout rate (4.80 K/9).

Marketing opportunities abound with Phil Coke. The 26-year-old left-handed pitcher has put up some nice minor league numbers. He had a solid Major League debut in the bullpen for the Yankees and allowed just eight hits in 14.2 innings. He also posted a 0.61 ERA (1.63 FIP) in those 12 games. There are not a lot of southpaws that can average 93 mph.

Hacker, 25, was a recent addition to the Yankees’ 40-man roster and he follows along the same path as Kennedy, as a starting pitcher who has posted nice minor league numbers despite lacking an awe-inspiring fastball. You can also lump southpaw Chase Wright into that category. After making a forgettable MLB debut in 2007, Wright spent all of 2008 in the minors and was recently removed from the 40-man roster. Both Hacker and Wright could develop into middle relievers at the Major League level.

Obviously the Yankees’ Big Five in the rotation look pretty good on paper going into the 2009 season. The Live Five (plus one) don’t look too shabby, either.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


23 Responses to “Five + Five = Success for the Yankees”

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  1. David says:

    I’m pretty sure Chase Wright was DFA’d.

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  2. dan says:

    Also don’t forget Alan Horne, 2007 Eastern League pitcher of the year. If he comes back healthy, he fits right into that group.

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  3. Greg says:

    I’ll take the Red Sox reserve starters (Bowden, Buchholz, Masterson and Smoltz) over the those of the Yankees anytime. With the exception of Hughes, I don’t see any of the listed Yankees being able to stick in a MLB rotation.

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    • alskor says:

      No kidding. The depth of Boston blows this away. I would actually rate the Yankees rotation depth as a serious concern. Hughes is a solid option, despite the popular perception about his question marks. His stuff has been down the last year and a half and his ceiling has to be adjusted down, but no one should be thinking he’s not a MLB starter. Kennedy cant be any worse than Ponson, though I dont think Kennedy is a MLB starter ultimately. The other guys you absolutely cant count on for depth. If theyre starting the Yanks are finishing third again. These guys are intriguing prospects – but not top notch talents and to assume they could make meaningful contributions at their ages and stages of development is a pretty bad bet. I could see Coke or Aceves in the pen at some point, but that’s about it.

      The ninth guy on the depth chart for Boston is Michael Bowden. He would be ahead of everyone except Hughes if he was in pinstripes – and then there’s a canyon between Bowden and the Yankee depth. It seems doubtful Sox fans will see Bowden this year at all, too, given the guys in front of him.

      The Boston guys all are former front line starters (Smoltz, Penny) or future mid to front guys (Buchholz, Masterson, Bowden) who were all top 50 or better prospects. The Yankee guys besides Hughes and Kennedy are not top prospects, have marginal stuff or major weaknesses and profile as future middle relievers. They are around replacement level depth. That’s not at all similar to the depth that Boston has. Cashman really hasnt done a good job stockpiling depth in the pitching staff over the last five years or so – and I think he’s done it again. There are some serious health/durability question marks on the Yankee staff. I see their lack of depth as a real weakness, frankly.

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      • Rob in CT says:

        I basically agree with you about the Yankees backups, but I think you’re overrating Boston’s. Yes, Smoltz has been an awesome ML pitcher. He’s also 42 and coming off major surgery. Penny has been good, but was hurt and awful last season. They’ve got the track records and ability, but do they have the health? We’ll see – I do think they’re good gambles for Boston. As for the prospects, I agree there is significant talent there. I’m attached to Hughes, but otherwise yeah, the Sox young guys are better. IPK, as much as I root for him, looks a lot like a guy who might find some moderate success in the NL. Aceves put up an Aaron Small-esq performance last season. The gap between his ERA and FIP says a lot. Coke is probably a reliever (though the Sox appear to view Masterson similarly).

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      • jim says:

        red sox

        Lester – key to success was flipping his gb% and fb%. Can he do that again ? He also had a huge innings spike which makes him an injury risk

        Beckett – His skill set is actually improving , but he is coming on 3 different injuries so he also is a question mark

        Dice K – He is on a 2 consecutive year skill set decline who walks a ton. He is also going to pitch in the WBC. Shilling recently expressed concern of the Red Sox that he would be playing with Japan whose pitching style the Red Sox have spent 2 years trying to have him unlearn .. ?

        Wakelfield – consistant Mediocrity with occasional DL stint .. as long as the Red Sox can score 5 runs a game and has the right catcher he’s good for 15 wins

        Penny – Huge injury risk , but that’s the good news because his skill set is eroding as well.

        Smoltz – at 41 he is still one of the top pitchers as far as skills go. Unfortunately he is 41 and coming off of major should surgery.

        Buckholz – forget about last year, he is still going to be excellent

        Bowden – He is probably looking good as well , but who are the Red Sox trading to get a catcher

        Masterson – He demonstrates much better skill set after move to the bullpen. I don’t think he makes it to the rotation.

        so this is the Red Sox pitching

        upside

        1) beckett rebound – cy young type year
        2) lester healthy and repeating skill gains
        3) Buckholtz emerges
        4) Smoltz heatlthy
        5) Dice K regains 2006 skills and reduces walks and stays healthy

        downside

        1) beckettt , but with injuries 12 wins
        2) dice K with the walks and a high era 10 wins
        3) Lester – great start but then the innings spike catches up and he is shut down for the season
        4) wakelfield – steady
        5) Penny – stays healtty but his mediocre stuff translated to the AL east result in a 5+ ERA

        smoltz never makes it back
        buckholtz never emerges
        etc..

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  4. +1, Rob.

    Kennedy will do well in the NL when he’s traded there after two or three more disappointing-to-mediocre seasons in New York.

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    • alskor says:

      I think that overstates it. I wouldnt be surprised to see him have a couple average-ish years where people think he’s breaking through. He will always strike out a lot of guys in AAA, too, but his stuff just isnt quite good enough for him to really succeed at the MLB level. Which is okay – and he will be a useful pitcher. There are lots of guys who fit that description.

      The biggest issue I have with Kennedy is that he is stereotyped as a control artist with marginal stuff. He does not have plus plus control. He is a guy with good control and marginal stuff. Compare his walk rates to the other guys he is always compared to – like Slowey – and you see he really doesnt have great control. Its just groupthink. Ian Kennedy is not a control pitcher.

      Career MiLB BB/9
      Slowey: 1.27
      Sonnanstine: 1.36
      Kennedy: 2.78

      Career MLB BB/9
      Slowey: 1.38
      Sonnanstine: 1.75
      Kennedy: 5.37 (SSS!!!)

      People keep saying he’s a control pitcher – he is NOT. He has marginal stuff and above average control. He will ALWAYS be able to get AAA hitters out at a great pace, but his stuff is fringy for MLB and he doesnt have the great control of other guys with similar stuff who have succeeded. Again, I wouldnt be surprised to see him have a couple average-ish years where people think he’s breaking through but I see a career bouncing back and forth between the pen and rotation. Hopefully for him he can put two good years together and get a Carlos Silva type of deal.

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  5. AndrewYF says:

    Greg, that’s all well and good, but then you’ve got Brad Penny (yeah, the guy who was completely unhealthy last year and posted a 6 ERA, in the worst division in baseball) as the Red Sox’s fifth starter. In that case, the Yankees actual rotation (the far more important part of the equation) blows Boston’s away. I’m not sure that’s a trade-off you want to make.

    This also isn’t to mention the rumblings that Wakefield’s shoulder may be so shot he might just retire. In that case, Boston’s starting pitching depth crumbles.

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    • alskor says:

      crumbles?

      Beckett
      Dice K
      Lester
      – take out Wake-
      Penny
      Smoltz
      Buchholz
      Masterson
      Bowden

      That’s STILL deeper than the Yankees. If we go down to the Sox guys who are comparable to Coke, Aceves, etc… we could add Tazawa (he’s not ready, but then neither were the Yankees mentioned), Kris Johnson (THIS GUY is a good comp for the Yankee depth mentioned in the article above), Davern Hansack and Charlie Zink… If the Sox get to THAT level the back end guys are comparable to the Yankees “+five” part of the equation, IMHO.

      Further, there’s no reason to assume Boston will have any more injuries than NY. Yes, Penny, Wake, etc… but we know for a fact someone has to pick up 60-80 IP from Joba’s spot (likely Hughes). CC got abused pretty badly last year in Milwaukee, but he is a horse… Burnett’s propensity for injury has certainly been overstated in the media recently, but he does often miss some time and is a risk. Wang is coming off a year lost to a pretty severe injury. Pettitte… there is some risk there as well.

      Can we quantify this risk to compare the two teams? No way. I wouldnt be comfortable doing that at all. BUT be aware there is plenty of risk on both sides and I dont think Boston is any more likely to lose starters to injury than NY. Certainly its not a slam dunk in either direction. If we want to assume Wake is going to miss time or Penny – well, that basically just evens out the Joba Verducci Rule issues, really…

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      • AndrewYF says:

        So Buchholz, Masterson and Bowden = the Yankees “+5″? And that’s assuming great health from Penny and Smoltz, something absolutely no one should be doing. So, even if that were true, Boston’s rotation would be head and shoulders below the Yankees’, as it’s already a step below when you assume Wakefield is there and slot Penny into the #5 slot.

        Depth is important, but let’s not confuse it for simple quality. Boston’s depth does not ‘blow away’ the Yankees’, just as the Yankee rotation as it stands does not ‘blow away’ Boston’s.

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  6. alskor says:

    I think you misunderstood me. The article is titled “five + five.” Meaning five starting pitchers + five reserves. I was saying that Buchholz, Smoltz, Masterson and Bowden blow away the Yankees “+five”/reserve section – that is, Hughes, Kennedy, Aceves, Coke, etc… I stand by that.

    As for the other, I would agree with you. Much has been made of the Yankee rotation, but it is not much different in quality from Boston or Tampa.

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    • AndrewYF says:

      I’m sorry, but when you include Brad Penny as a bonafide member of the rotation, Boston’s falls quite a bit.

      And I think you’ll find that Masterson will be a permanent member of the bullpen when all is said and done, just like Coke will be a permanent member of the bullpen. He has two real pitches (none against left-handed batters) and is a sidearmer. Buchholz is no surer bet than Hughes, and while Bowden is a nice hyped-up prospect who has pretty good minor league numbers, there is simply not too much difference between what he and Kennedy will do in the major leagues. The Yankees don’t have anyone like Smoltz in their ‘reserve’ list, but if Smoltz ends up retiring simply because his 42-year old body simply can’t take it (a very real possibility), then a healthy guy like Aceves is infinitely more valuable.

      I will give you that Boston’s depth beyond their starting five is more impressive than the Yankees’ beyond their starting five (provided Smoltz can actually pitch), but you’re dreaming if you think Brad Penny is in any way comparable to Joba Chamberlain (and if you think anyone in Boston’s rotation is better than Sabathia). The Yankees top five is simply better than Boston’s. In a similar fashion, Boston’s bottom five is better than the Yankees.

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  7. Josh says:

    Bowden is the Red Sox verion of Kennedy, with slightly worse MiLB numbers. People also seem to forget that Smoltz will be out for the beginning of the season not including any setbacks. Personally I really wouldn’t count on much from Aceves as touched on in the article. He has average stuff and average command and as previously stated was quite lucky. Coke should be useful though, he had a velo spike last year and now can hit mid-nineties and has a good starter. Him and masterson should fit into similar roles with each team. That said, Bucholz=Hughes, Bowden<Kennedy, CokeAceves.Quite frankly Kei Igawa hasn’t been mentioned (not a joke) and I would actually take him over Brad Penny. This isn’t bias or anything, but Igawa despite ineffectiveness as the MLB level was great in Triple-A last year and does have the talent to succeed in some role in the majors. That said, Penny is an out of shape pitcher who was terrible in a pitcher’s park in the worst devision of baseball and has lost multiple MPH on his fastball, and quite frankly I don’t view him as no better than Daniel Cabrera or much less, minor league contract guy. Erick Hacker=Devern Hansack, and George Kontos (not mentioned either, should be higher than Alan Horne) >?. All said in done, the depth on either team is equal, or if Penny is fine Boston has a little more depth.

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  8. Steve S says:

    Aceves was in the Mexican Leagues up until this year. He was there for 6 seasons.

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  9. Hawkins44 says:

    from the Minors to the majors:

    1) Buchholtz looked lost last year just like Hughes so they are a wash… Buchholtz threw a no hitter, Hughes through almost threw a no hitter before he got hurt….. again, a wash
    2) One could argue that Kennedy is better than Bowden as has one or two decent major league starts compared to zero.
    3) Smoltz and Pettitte are a wash….. I want to see an old Smoltz pitch in the AL East
    4) Chamberlain would be rated above Penny
    5) Wang and Lester are close… but man, one could go with Lester but the stats wouldn’t support it as Wang has a larger statiscal sample size
    6) Dice K and Burnett – even
    7) Sabathia and Beckett – even

    So then you need throw in Wakefield and Masterson (No slouch) against the Yankees second tier SP prospects Aceves, Coke, and Horne… you have to give that to the BOSOX although Aceves had a solid run last year.

    They both have rotations to compete in the AL east… the difference is the Yankeees lineup is far superior offensively…

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    • Greg says:

      Good job organizing things. I agree with except that I think Bowden is better than Kennedy. Bowden is two years younger (9/9/86 DOB compared to 19/19/84 DOB), taller (6’3″ to 6’0″) and throws 2.7 MPH harder (91.7 to 89.0). Kennedy has good minor league K/9 numbers, but at don’t expect those to translate to his MLB career at 89 mph.

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    • Chofo says:

      Good comp. My toughts:

      Sabathia > Beckett, LH and more durable. Beckett has more question marks.

      Wang < Lester, I´ll take Lester in my team first because of age and better record in post-season, but they could end having the same stats this year.

      Burnett Smoltz or Wakefield, right now you have to give edge to the more healthy and younger lefty, but if everything goes well, Smoltz could have better numbers than anybody on this list. That´s a big IF. It`s still advantage Yankees if Wake takes this turn in the rotation

      Joba > Penny, even if both are healthy, wich is a bigger question mark for Penny. Right now this is a BIG edge to Yankees.

      Hughes = Buchholz right now, higher ceilling for Buch

      Kennedy Coke, Aceves, has more expierience in bullpen

      I`d take Boston defense, pen and bench over the yankees, but they have better offense.

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      • Chofo says:

        Ooops… some part of my post was deleted. here it goes:

        Burnett Smoltz / Wakefield, right now you have to give edge to the more healthy and younger lefty, but if everything goes well, Smoltz could have better numbers than anybody on this list. That´s a big IF. It`s still advantage Yankees if Wake takes this turn in the rotation

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      • Chofo says:

        Another part deleted:

        Kennedy Coke and Aceves, has more expierience in bullpen

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  10. karl says:

    Why 5+5? It seems like 5+2 or maybe 3 matters a lot more. If you need 5 different backups for any significant inning, you’re in trouble. Of course their will be a few spot starts here and there, but those usually go to a vetern stocked in AAA (like a Davern Hansack). I think that looking at a top 8 would tell a much more important story: how well can this team do if it suffers a couple of major injuries? That gives you 2 replacements, plus an option if one of them doesn’t work out in a few starts.
    And referring to Smoltz and Penny as bad risks for the Sox is failing to understand their financial situation. Even if both are complete busts that never pitch an inning, the Sox can easily absorb that financial loss. They are essentially no-risk signings to a team with that deep a wallet.

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  11. Chofo says:

    I like the Yankees 5 better than Sox, but those 2 rotations are very good ones. The Sox depth is better, and if everything goes well for both franchises, it´s going to be scary come Octuber.

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