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Springtime Storylines: Do the Yankees have enough pitching?

Mar 21, 2011, 9:35 AM EDT

Yankees' pitcher Burnett works from the mound against the Phillies during their MLB American League spring training baseball game in Tampa

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: A team you may or may not have heard of: The New York Yankees.

The Big Question: Do the Yankees have enough starting pitching?

Apologies to those of you who follow the Yankees closely, because that’s a question you’ve heard asked approximately 500 times since Cliff Lee chose to join the Phillies and Andy Pettitte retired. You’ve hashed it and re-hashed it and you’re probably sick of it. But Springtime Storylines is not just for you, Yankees faithful, and it still remains the most pressing question for the Yankees.

And we all know the breakdown: Sabathia remains awesome, Hughes remains highly promising, A.J. Burnett remains a wild card, Ivan Nova is likely a fifth starter in fourth starter’s clothing and the fifth spot is a hodgepodge of Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and A Guy We’ll Trade For Later, I’m Sure of it, Because The Yankees Have to Trade for Someone, Right?

I’ve been suckered by guys like Burnett before, but I can’t help but watch the guy pitch, see that his velocity is still good and that his stuff still moves and picture him being a totally solid starter. He is labeled as an erratic pitcher, but he was fairly consistent for the six seasons before last year’s train wreck. Given that 2010 hasn’t been adequately explained by injury — and given that there have been some vague allusions to some dark personal business — I’m not ready to write the guy off.  He may not ever earn his contract, but it’s far from crazy to say that he can still be an effective third starter for a playoff contender.

As for the rest: Ivan Nova may or may not have had a breakthrough in his good but by no means dominant time in Scranton last season. It was his second go-around at AAA, and it’s hard to gauge whether his success there was the result of a breakthrough, merely a function of figuring AAA hitters out or some good luck. He was serviceable in seven big league starts, but that tells us less than the AAA stuff. He’s probably more of an unknown than Burnett at this point, but he’s not as sexy a subject as A.J. so people aren’t fretting about him as much. In the fifth spot I have faith that Joe Girardi can cobble together a couple dozen respectable starts between the professional arms he has available to him.  Take a look around baseball’s fifth starters sometime. You’ll see that the bar is not set too high, even on contending teams.

Finally: the trade option.  If New York is four games out of a playoff spot on July 1st, yeah, I think they’d deal one of their increasing number of nice prospects for a front line arm. It’s just that right now it’s kind of silly to talk about it because we have no idea who might come available. A week before the season starts everyone thinks they’re a contender. Reality will set in over the first couple months of the season and many teams will be willing to trade good pitching.  Right now, it’s a dry, dry market.

Ultimately: while the rotation is not ideal, yes, I think the Yankees have enough starting pitching to hang in there. To strongly contend, I think they need two of the three back-end rotation slots to come through. I’d feel quite comfortable betting on one of them being fine. I wouldn’t rule out two of them being OK. And if they’re not, when was the last time the New York Yankees were hesitant to make a major move in the middle of the season?  So I guess what I’m saying is to relax, bunky. Things aren’t as dire as they may have seemed during the cold dark months of the offseason.

So what else is going on?

  • One of the reasons I’m not as concerned about the Yankees rotation as some are is because this is a team that is still poised to beat the living hell out of people on the offensive side.  They led the league in runs scored last year despite Derek Jeter giving them a lot of nothing, Mark Teixeira falling off, Alex Rodriguez missing a chunk of time and despite them giving way to many plate appearances to Francisco Cervelli. I don’t think Jeter’s best days are in front of him, but I don’t think last year was indicative of what his decline will look like going forward. I’m likewise optimistic that A-Rod and Teixeira will bounce back some. I don’t see anyone who so out-performed their talent level in 2010 that we should expect a major backslide. In short, I think this team will score a boatload of runs and that will cover a lot of pitching ills.
  • The catching position is kind of crazy with Jorge Posada the new DH, Russell Martin the new starter and — by virtue of Francisco Cervelli’s injury — top prospect Jesus Montero the backup.  I think Posada will be just fine at DH as he’s still an above-average hitter and may be better off without the wear-and-tear.  I’m no Martin fan, but I love the fact that Montero is lurking. Give the guy a couple of big hits in a couple of Sunday afternoon starts early on and he could easily supplant Martin. Given his promise, that could be a great thing for an already impressive lineup.
  • The bullpen looked to be among the best in baseball when it was assembled in early January, but since then both Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano have been hurt. That said, the 1-2-3 punch of Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson are unmatched in the game so the pen — like the offense — will be another thing taking the load off the rotation.
  • Derek Jeter will get his 3000th hit sometime in the first half of this season. Given how much hype surrounded him passing Lou Gehrig as the all-time Yankees hit leader, I suspect that him becoming the first to get 3000 hits in a Yankees uniform will cause an overload of some kind.  The New York press LOVES randomly significant numbers. That said: good for Jeter. For as much as do the “is-he-overrated?” thing, he is one of the best shortstops the game has ever known and it has been a pleasure watching him play this game for the past 16 seasons.

So how are they gonna do?

I’ll do the Boston preview either later today or tomorrow, and when I do, you’ll see that I believe the Red Sox to be the best team in baseball.  But for as all-or-nothing as the Boston-New York war seems at times, just because the Sox improved so much doesn’t mean the Yankees faltered in equal measure.  I think this is still a fine Yankees team. One of the best squads in the game, in fact, and even if they aren’t as impressive as their rivals, I believe that they’ll put a lot of hurt on a lot of people in 2011.  I’ll pencil them in as the wild card winner and — if they figure out that rotation — they stand just as good a chance as anyone to make noise in October.

  1. yankeesfanlen - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    Craig, I find nothing to criticize here. SOMEONE will pitch every game, certain pitchers better than others. I’m allowing them 62 to 67 losses, being very generous, but use them sparingly.
    The offense will be a MONSTER this year 950 runs. Last years falloff will add dozens of runs with guys reverting to the norm. Alone, Beep-beep and Grumpy will add 30 runs-they;’re both doing well so far.
    IF they’re ONLY 4 games behing July 1st, well then it’s just gonna be a pennant-winning year.

    • preseasonchamps08 - Mar 22, 2011 at 12:31 AM

      You’re allowing them 62 losses? Really? You think that these Yankees are going to win 100 games? Not a chance my friend. Boston is much better, the Rays are probably still better, and the Jays and Orioles are no joke anymore. Yanks will be lucky to win 85, book it. A-Roid off The Juice is not the same A-Roid as before, Jeter is among the most overrated athletes of all time, and that rotation is garbage after Fat Boy Sabathia.

      • rapmusicmademedoit - Mar 22, 2011 at 6:45 PM

        Dude, have you been to Japan lately, I think you inhaled harmful radiation over there.

      • gscarola2 - Mar 30, 2011 at 8:51 PM

        Okay for starters how do you overrate someone who is over a .300 for their career and has 5 world series rings(only 2 less than boston has won since 1900) hard to overrate someone like that don’t you think? The rays certainly will not be as good, they have far to cheap of an owner to try to hang onto their best players. The O’s should be much improved under showalter and given the jays young talent comes through they will be better also but most likely not better than the yanks unless those two teams really over perform. Now as far as AROD, sure he took roids we all know that but roids haven’t helped the average plumber become a 600 home run man, so while he did use them their is still a lot of talent there. You are however right about the 100 wins that is hard to envision, even for someone like me who is as big of a Yankee fan as you will find, but 85 is probably shortchanging them as well 90-92 is probably a more logical guess because even though the rotation doesn’t look great the offense will be great and the back end of the bullpen will probably be the best in baseball. If the yanks get hughes to repeat last years performance and burnett decides to control his pitches again then the rotation will be better than expect and if ivan nova turns some of his world of talent into good big league pitching then the yanks will once again be a tough team to handle in baseball

  2. BC - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    Be careful with Boston. Beckett is still clearly a mess, and you can’t expect Bucholz to go whatever he was, 19-3 with a 2.30 ERA again. Dice-K is the AL’s version of Ollie Perez. Lester is a beast, and Lackey should be better than last year, but I’d be careful about overrating that pitching staff. I honestly think NYY and BOS will knock the snot out of each other and both win 97 or so games, and it’ll go down to the wire for the division. Tampa will struggle to win 85, and Baltimore and Toronto are irrelevant. This will be a fun two-team race to watch.

    • aburns77 - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:26 AM

      I agree that Boston is due for a regression, especially Bucholz who benefited from a rather lucky BABIP, however I think it’s important to remember this team despite being totally ravaged by injuries and they still nearly won 90 games; this is a really talented team that will be healthier and got even more talented this off-season. Craig, I agree with all your points here, I think this Yankees team is closer to Boston than some think thanks to its great lineup, but a lot of things need to go right in the pitching staff for them to catch the Sox and the odds are against that.

  3. yankeesgameday - Mar 21, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    okay…. we all knew I’d be jumping in here about the Yankee rotation… I’ve given this a ton of thought and I’ve decided that the most important piece of the puzzle is how AJ Burnett keeps it together… or doesn’t.

    The upshot of it is, that if Burnett, as the #2 starter can’t pitch deep into games and Giraridi is forced to use his long reliever too much we have a handful of unknonws behind him in the rotation that could lead to overuse of the bullpen over the course of the season. Their effectiveness will be reduced the longer it goes on, injuries could mount and when the Yanks were used to winning games in late innings we can start to see them lose a lot of games late simply because a great pen has been beaten up by sub par starters.

    I break down the importance of AJ’s role in a pretty long post here: but just going with the title of Craig’s post: Do the Yankees have enough pitching, I’ll put it to you this way…

    With AJ being installed as the #2 pitcher his second start of the season comes on Thursday April 7th agasint the Twins in Yankee Stadium. The next day the Yanks go to Boston and will be sending their 3-5 pitchers to the mound in Fenway.

    And who are they? Let’s guess Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon. What Yankee fans are comfortable with that? I mean yikes.

    And if Burnett flames out on Thursday against the Twins, there won’t be a long reliever available if Hughes gets knocked out early on Friday, then half the Yankee pen will either be exhausted or unavailable to pick up Nova and Bartolo Colon Saturday and Sunday.

    In this game, you’re only as good as your next day’s starter… but if he blows it and your pen is depleted, man you’re SOL.

  4. uyf1950 - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    The question is: How Much Is Enough? In my opinion if the pitchers on a team any team can keep them in the ballgame so the offense can score enough runs to win then that’s enough. In that case I think the Yankees clearly have enough. Would it be nice if they had “4 aces” sure. But since baseball is a team sport no one aspect of a team can be judged in a vacuum. I would stack the Yankees offense up against any team in the major leagues. I would do the same the their bullpen. That just leaves their starting rotation which is the point of this article. To be fair and I know Red Sox fans will disagree but both teams starting rotations are not dissimilar. Lester and CC are probably even. Lackey and either Hughes or Garcia for that matter are not to unlike. Beckett and AJ are pretty close, you never know what you are going to get out of either one on any given day. Buchholz while is was very good in 2010 is an enigma will he regress will he make it through an entire season healthy, etc…and Dice K what can you say positive about him? Almost nothing. For the Yankees there is Nova, what does his future hold. He’s pitched very well this spring, but he’s relatively inexperienced and an unknown commodity not to unlike Buchholz. I know Red Sox fans will disagree but there really isn’t that much difference in the 2 staffs. The fact is other then CC and Lester to a lesser degree no one on either staff has a track record of consistency over a 3 or 4 year period. Lackey comes the closest but his numbers have been is steady decline since 2007. Bottom line for me then, is yes the Yankees have enough pitching.

    • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:37 AM

      Enough connotes quantity, not quality. Sorry my friend, but there are too many ifs. Now middle relief is a problem to boot, which might be a greater concern when one of the 3 ifs falter. I am still picking the Yanks to finish 2nd, ahead of Boston, but one game out of the play-offs. Neither the Yankees or the Sox have adjusted to their most notable deficiency, a throwing catcher, so the Rays should “run away” with the divisional crown.

      • beantownsports247 - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:52 AM

        So you think the Tampa Bay Rays are going to win the division over the Red Sox or Yankees , get a grip please , you say too many ifs , then you must be talking about the Rays , Sox and the Yankees both have better pitching and offense then the Rays , the ifs are counting on Manny and Damon , who are both way past their prime , maybe if the Rays still had Garza but after Price it is a weak rotation , Rays finish 15 games behind Red Sox and Yankees .

      • uyf1950 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:11 PM

        spudchukar – I understand what you are saying, my friend. By your definition of “enough” the Rays are in worse shape then the Yankees. Other then Price and maybe Niemann who do they have with any experience? They have no bullpen to speak of and absolutely no closer. So they clearly don’t have “enough” pitching by your definition. I hate to differ with you but the Rays will be lucky to finish 3rd ahead of the Jays.
        BTW, I think if you check the meaning of “enough” as an adverb you will find it means “: in or to a degree or quantity that satisfies or that is sufficient or necessary for satisfaction”. That my friend in my opinion is what the Yankees have. “…quantity that satisfies or that is sufficient or necessary for satisfaction” enough to give the Yankees a chance to win more often than not.

      • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:44 PM

        UYF, I don’t want to get into a semantical argument, but the word adequate is most often used as a synonym for enough and that appears to be the point. Is the Pinstripe pitching adequate for a playoff team. You have more faith than I do, maybe because you are a more rabid Yankee fan than me. Give me Price, Davis, Niemann, Shields and Hellickson any day over any Yankee five. Yes the bullpen could be a problem, but McGee may very well fill in nicely as the closer. Here is what I cannot comprehend. The two richest franchises in baseball, lose the division to a team that is the bottom third in revenue two out of three and neither team address the primary reason they lose to the Rays. Is that even possible? Are they in denial? If the definition of insanity is to repeat the same mistakes over and over without recognition, then the Sox and Yanks need their management to visit a shrink.

      • uyf1950 - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:10 PM

        spudchukar my friend. I hate to disagree with you again. But you are totally off base with your comment at least about the Yankees not addressing a problem. You are correct the Yankee did finish behind the Rays in 2008 and 2010. But after finishing behind the Rays in 2008 they did address their weakness, pitching and to a lesser degree defense. Did you forget that after signing CC, AJ and Tex and Swisher for the 2009 season the finished 1st in the east with the best record in MLB 103-59. Also let’s not lose sight of the fact that even in 2010 and with Pettitte missing over 2 1/2 months and A-Rod missing 25+ games the Yankees still only finished 1 game behind the Rays in the regular season and advance one series further than the Rays in the playoffs. Sometimes thing happen, the Yankees gave it their best shot to sign Lee this past winter it was not to be. Keep in mind there weren’t a lot of options for the Yankees once Lee went to the Phillies. You know what I find troubling about posters and this isn’t meant for you but just a general observation. The Yankees are damned if the do and damned if they don’t. If they go out and spend big money to sign the best players all hell breaks lose that they are buying championships if the don’t spend a lot of money on FA baseball fans are just as quick to criticize them for that. Like I said damned if they do and damned if they don’t. You are right I am an avid Yankee fan and have been for many, many years I wouldn’t have it any other way, my friend. Right or wrong, good or bad they’re my Yankees.

      • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:32 PM

        Sorry UFY, my friend, the deficiency I was addressing was a throwing catcher. My comment did jump from pitching to catching so probably my bad. What befuddles me is not the amount of money the Yanks and Sox spend, that is their business, but that you could spend so much and not address the most glaring weakness, which has allowed a team with such limited finances to outdistance you in 2 of the past 3 years.

      • uyf1950 - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM

        Well my friend, that makes it a little clearer but I still have to disagree with you. Why would the Yankees go out and spend big money on a catcher when they already had Posada with still 2 years left on a contract after the 2009 season. Which by the way Posada hit 22 Hr’s batted .285 had an OB% of .363 and an OPS of .885 and he still had 2 years left on his contract. Plus in addition to that the Yankees farm system was and is ripe with catching prospects that if not ready some time this year will most certainly take over the reins in 2012 whether its’ Montero or Romine. Besides and correct me if I’m wrong when the only real catcher on the market worth going after was John Buck who signed an inflated $17MM contract with the Marlins for 3 years. Signing him would have hampered the development of the 2 Yankee prospects. In my opinion. Hindsight is easy my friend but in all fairness the 2010 FA market once you got past the first 6 or so FA was pretty lean. Especially as it pertained to specific needs that the Yankees had.

      • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:50 PM

        Benji Molina is still a free agent and the Cards signed Gerald Laird as a backup for next to nothing. And free agency is not the only avenue, especially for a franchise with so many riches. Keep minimizing the importance of a quality defensive catcher, and keep looking up at the Rays.

      • bigharold - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:39 PM

        You can’t ““run away” with the divisional crown.” if you can’t get on base. Oh, and by the way Crawford, who was the Rays primary runner is gone. The Rays will make a run but they will likely fade badly in the end as they no longer have the pitching nor the hitting to contend.

      • spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:01 PM

        The Rays didn’t score any runs last year either. As for pitching Hellickson should do just fine replacing Garza, and while I agree their bullpen is suspect, McGee may do quite well. Yes, Crawford will be a loss, especially speedwise, but remember, Zobrist and Longoria should bounce back, they will get more production out of 1B and DH, and Rodriguez and Brignac are emerging quality infielders. Looks like a wash offensively and from a pitching perspective, with the bullpen the only thing keeping them from 2010 stats. I believe the 89 wins they will get should finish them a game ahead of the other 3 contenders, and I am serious about the Jays.

      • preseasonchamps08 - Mar 22, 2011 at 12:38 AM

        The Rays certainly won’t be 15 games out of the division. I fully expect Boston and their bandwagon fans to take the division, but the Rays won’t be too far behind. I would actually bet money that the Rays finish ahead of the Yankees and that even the Blue Jays won’t be 15 games back at the end of it. It’s for sure the best division in baseball, and all of its teams besides Baltimore would win the A.L. West and probably the N.L. Central as well.

    • yankeesfanlen - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      I have no reason at all to disparage the whole of the Yankees pitching staff, but I do mean in it’s entirity through 9 innings. I believe that there is enough gamesmanship AND stamina to sustain us through less than optimum starts (well, one exception, you-know-who).
      We have this new phenomena, the Five Inning Starter.
      I’m not a fan of W-L records, and it’s a good thing now, because only CC and Phil will get 20 wins next to their names. Can and have to live wih that.

      • preseasonchamps08 - Mar 22, 2011 at 12:43 AM

        Hahahahaha. No way does Phil Hughes get 20 wins. Good luck in your crazy, douche Yankee fan fantasy world, though.

  5. beantownsports247 - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Enough to win the wildcard , yes , the east , probably not . It is going to come down to Sox Yankees for the ring this year , and who will pitch more effective in a series ? We will just have to wait and find out , both clubs are offensive power houses so it is not a huge gap between the two teams , I am a Red Sox fan and unlike some Sox fans , still realize the Yankees have a very potent lineup , Cano is a beast , 2011 MVP possibly. One thing i know is that the season is a mere 10 days away , what a beautiful thing , my friends.

    • pisano - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:08 PM

      beantown, I never thought I’d agree with you as you’re a Sox fan and I’m a Yankee fan, but I have to agree with you on both your posts. I also agree with my friend uyf1950 that the Rays will be lucky to stay ahead of the Jays for third. As my friend says: just my opinion.

      • beantownsports247 - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:07 PM

        Pisano, glad we can agree on something , we both know that we have great teams , it is as simple as the winner of the AL pennant will be who plays better in key moments , as for spudchukar , I am fairly certain the Yankees or the Red Sox are not looking up to the Rays , they will finish behind both teams , only position that the Rays have better then either teams is MAYBE catcher and 3rd base , Price is comparable to Lester and CC , then your out of luck , just some promising young arms , no proven track record yet.

  6. derpdederpdederp - Mar 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    they dont have enough pitching, and saying their rotation will be comparable to bostons is just funny. sure you have CC, but who else? buchholz > hughes, lackey > burnett, and lester can definitely compete with CC. you can talk about your 95 wins from last year, but come opening day those will mean even less than they do now. you can talk about your great bullpen but youre rotation is gonna have a lot of trouble getting the ball to your overpaid setup man with a lead. you can say jeter and a-rod had down years but we all know they are in fact starting their decline. yankees management sure seemed to think so about jeter this offseason. the outfield is average at best, but maybe youll get lucky and granderson will actually hit over .250 this year. and then theres the argument that nothing will stop the yankees from making moves to improve during the offseason. the only problem is there is something that will stop them, and that is a lack of minor league players that would be worth anything in a trade. basically the yankees core is now CC, cano, and tex. if one of those guys goes down for an extended period of time theyre in some serious trouble

  7. rapmusicmademedoit - Mar 22, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    I think the Yankees will will buy the entire Rays team at the trading deadline, they will combine the teams and make two teams and substitute 8 players whenever they feel.

    Think about it.

    buh bye

  8. lmno7 - Mar 23, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    I know I’m in the minority on this… But I really like Cervelli… I like the way he catches… I like the way he pumps up (or calms down) his pitchers… I like his energy and enthusiasm… I like the way he throws the ball back to the pitcher HARD, like he’s saying….”C’mon, let’s go!”….

    Now he obviously won’t ever hit like Posada can… but I remember him having several really clutch hits… and I prefer a clutch double in a key spot, to a two run homer in a blowout game… and I also remember Posada having some clutch situation strikouts and DP’s…

    But like I said…. I know I’m in the minority on this one…

  9. smokehouse56 - Mar 29, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    Ya know, I suppose I’m in the majority on this one. I am so damn tired of this web site writing about the damn Yankees every day. Guess what. Many or probably most of use don’t give a shit about the Yankees.

  10. BC - Mar 29, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Yankees in the playoffs, yeah, they can make it. Win the whole shooting match? Very shaky prospect. I figure Boston and the Yankees are both good for about 95-96 wins, White Sox about 91-92, and Texas 88-90. I don’t see anyone else over 84 in the AL.
    And of course, the Phillies will win 130 games, as first predicted por moi. And my Mets will stink on ice.

  11. mrznyc - Mar 29, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    Mets can’t afford ice.

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