I’m probably not the only person checking the Weather Channel for reports of Hell freezing over. One day you’ve got All-Stars at every position and the next you have Juan Rivera, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells occupying starting roles. I actually find it an endearing crew of misfits to root for, but I’m not sure many Yankee fans would agree with me. But this post isn’t about the lineup, it’s about the rotation, where the Yankees have had at least a modicum of stability through the winter.
Anchoring the staff is the rather indefatigable CC Sabathia. Sabathia logged a 200+ inning season for the sixth season in a row and he’s not seen his FIP above 3.54 since his days with the Indians. He lost a little bit of zip off his fastball last season and his reliance on the slider is on the rise, but his his strikeouts remained at a robust 23.7% rate and his overall results were exactly what you’d expect from your ace. He is soon turning 33 and coming off surgery to remove bone spurs, so I’d say there’s perhaps a tiny cloud of the omnipresent aging curve, but otherwise, Sabathia charges into 2013 with chest puffed.
After flirtations with opposing clubs, ostensibly to keep the front office honest, Hiroki Kuroda is back on a one year deal to see if he can reprise the tidy 3.9 WAR season from 2012. The 38-year old turned in an excellent season last year, notching 16 wins over nearly 220 innings pitched, striking out 19% of batters and posting a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) and 1.17 WHIP. Kuroda leaned heavily on his sinker and increasingly on his split finger fastball in 2012, and both registered as his best pitches according to PitchF/X run values. Relevant to fantasy baseball, Kuroda strikes me as a solid #4 type of arm in a good rotation in standard 5×5 leagues. If he’s your 5th, you’re doing well.
Andy Pettitte surprisingly got up out of his recliner and declared himself fit to pitch after a year away from baseball, and his results were fantastic. He only made 12 starts in 2012 due to a fractured ankle, but in those starts, he posted the highest strikeout rate and lowest FIP since his time with the Astros. Small sample size aside, it was a terrific return for Pettitte, who turns 41 this June. And about that age — the list of effective starters past age 40 is pretty small, including the likes of Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. That’s not to say Pettitte can’t pull it off because by most accounts he keeps himself in terrific shape and, you know, he’s a “gamer” and all. There’s another name on that 40-plus list that kind of reminds me of what Pettitte might do this year, and that’s Kenny Rogers who won 17 games with a 3.84 ERA in 2006. It wouldn’t surprise me to see something similar from Pettitte.
Rounding out the rotation are Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. Hughes is somewhat questionable for the start of the season due to lingering back issues, but he’s already getting stretched out and probably shouldn’t miss too many starts, if any. In 2012, it almost seemed like Hughes wasn’t quite ready for the season. He made four very forgettable starts in April, posting a 7.88 ERA (6.53 FIP) and 1.88 WHIP, affording opposing batters a .329/.395/.658 slash line. From that point on, he had a 3.90 ERA, winning 15 of 28 starts, holding batters to a .251/.295/.439 slash line — which isn’t fantastic, but certainly more in line with what many might expect from a guy with Hughes’ repertoire. Who shows up this season will say a lot about his future with the Yankees. He’s still just 26, and many projection systems forecast a bit of a breakout this season (Steamer not being among them).
Nova had a disappointing season last year, with the 5.02 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He was usable in the first half and a disaster in the second, but at least managed to strike out batters at about a 20% rate all season, which represented a huge improvement for him. His HR/FB rate was an unseemly 16.6% and his BABIP uncharacteristically high at .331, so it could be that he’s due for the pendulum to swing his way. Most projection systems peg him somewhere around a 4.00 ERA with about an 18% strikeout rate. If that’s the case, he might be worth a stash on your bench for the occasional spot start.
Should anyone fall to injury or if Hughes isn’t quite ready to go, they’ll likely hand the ball to David Phelps who was pretty successful as a spot starter in 2012. When he was called on to start, Phelps posted a 3.77 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, holding batters to a .230/.322/.390 slash line. He got a little luck in batted ball and strand rate arena and his FIP and xFIP stood at 4.49 and 4.16, respectively. So keep expectations in check.
Lastly, don’t sleep on Michael Pineda who might show up sometime in July, and will ostensibly supplant the less effective of Hughes or Nova. It’s hard to know what kind of results he’ll get after the shoulder surgery, but just keep an eye on reports of his velocity, because they’ll probably be the most telling.
Your projected Yankee starters with Steamer projections: