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January 21, 2008

Media Bloggers Share Opinion On Yanks Hurlers

Two days ago, in an entry entitled "Yanks Taking Big Gamble With Pitching This Year?," I wrote:

Basically, this report tells us that the Yankees are fine offensively this season. The big areas of concern for New York are Mussina and the kids in the rotation - and the bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera.

Last time I checked, 60% of your starting rotation and 85% of your bullpen are not areas where you want to have a lot of uncertainty if you want to be a contending team.

Being curious as to how some others felt about this, I reached out to seven members of the baseball media, who also have blogs, and asked them the following question:

In your opinion, at this moment, how would you classify and/or describe the state of the Yankees pitching staff for the 2008 season?

To date, here's what those who got back to me had to say:

Tyler Kepner, from the Times, and the blog "Bats" -

I think the Yankees have serious pitching questions for 2008. The upside of Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy is huge, but they have such limited experience at the major league level that it's asking a lot for them all to succeed immediately. The bullpen looks shaky to me, especially if Chamberlain starts, because Farnsworth is your eighth-inning guy and Mo will usually pitch only the ninth. Wang and Pettitte are dependable, and Mussina will find a way to at least give them a .500 record at worst. The best thing they have going for them is the depth of their young pitching -- the number of high-ceiling, live arms is staggering. If they can find 2 or 3 gems among Ohlendorf, Veras, Sanchez, Horne, McCutchen, Melancon, etc., they'll be fine. But it's hard to count on that, just like it's hard to count on Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy all hitting it big right away. Also, I do not think they should trade for Santana, because Hughes is too valuable and Melky's defense cannot be replaced internally. Their best bet -- for the long-term, which should be most important -- is to go with what they have and nurture those young pitchers as best they can.

Kat O'Brien, from Newsday, and the blog "On The Yankees Beat" -

I would describe the Yankees' starting rotation as solid at the front, but not spectacular; and talented at the back end, but a question mark due to inexperience. I would say the bullpen is a bigger question mark than the rotation, particularly if Joba Chamberlain does spend the season in the rotation. Aside from Mariano Rivera, I think the entire bullpen is very iffy, though I believe the LaTroy Hawkins addition is a good one. Most of the relievers are unproven. Should the Yankees acquire Johan Santana, I think they would have much more reason to be confident that their pitching staff is good enough to carry them deep into the playoffs.

Lisa Kennelly, from the Star-Ledger, and the blog "Ledger on Yankees" -

In my opinion, the Yankees pitching staff has both plenty of promise and plenty of question marks. About the only reliable guy is Chien-Ming Wang (19.06 ERA in last season's playoffs notwithstanding). Ok, and probably Andy Pettitte (though he's going to be 36 this year and who knows if the Mitchell Report fallout will have an effect on him?).

But the biggest question is with the three young guys, Chamberlain, Kennedy, and Hughes. The ceiling is so high for all of them, but it's easy to forget how young they are. The biggest question, for me, is how they'll hold up over a long season. Inning limits will be an issue. Facing major league hitters regularly will be another.

I do think Hughes will be successful, judging from how he looked at the end of the season once he got his strength back after his injuries. Kennedy and Chamberlain (if he is not in the bullpen) are harder to say.

And Mussina, after what we all saw last season, doesn't look like he's going to add much to the pitching staff.

Sweeny Murti, from WFAN, and the blog "Sweeny Blog" -

The Yankees are hoping their young studs mature quickly, and while that's entirely possible it is much more likely that there will be some growing pains along the way, talking specifically here about Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy. Getting double-digit wins from all 3 would be a great step forward, but unfortunately too many fans believe they can all win 15-20 apiece this year...that's asking too much right now. They haven't even started 20 games in the big leagues between them, so you can't ramp up the maturation process too much. It doesn't mean these kids won't be good, but it makes it hard to think they can lead a staff to the World Series. Especially when none of the 3 will be allowed to approach 200 innings.

That said, Wang and Pettitte will be counted on heavily again, and each is entirely capable of winning 15-20 games each. Mussina pitched better than most people think last year...a few good starts with nothing to show for it in June to even out the 3 horrible starts in a row late in the year.

The bullpen has some questions. Kyle Farnsworth is still being counted on to pitch the 8th inning and has been unreliable for the last two years. Joe Girardi is a strong believer and may be able to bring something out of him, but Farnsworth has been a physical question mark because of the sporadic back troubles. LaTroy Hawkins has a decent track record, we'll see how he adjusts to New York and the AL East. There a number of good arms that will come to spring training to try and win some other spots. For that reason, spring training will be a lot more interesting than it has been in recent years when the available open jobs were few. Let's see how it shakes out. At this stage, because of the youth in the rotation they are not as good as the Red Sox.

Notice, in everyone's feedback, the words "question" or "questions" or "question mark" come up - when referring to the state of the Yankees pitching staff for the 2008 season.

Sure sounds like a consensus here, huh?

This is why I suspect we could be seeing an end to that run of 1st or 2nd place finishes for the Yankees (since 1993).

Thirty-one years ago, Earl Weaver, perhaps one of baseball's best managers ever, was quoted as saying: "Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull. But, the reason you win or lose is darn near the same thing......pitching."

Earl was right. And, nothing has changed since that time. If the answers to all those "questions" on the 2008 Yankees pitching staff turn out to be unfavorable for New York, it's going to be a long "last" season in the "current" Yankee Stadium.

My thanks to Tyler, Kat, Lisa and Sweeny for their feedback on this survey. If I hear back from any other Yankees media bloggers (that I reached out to), I'll add their comments to this once their feedback comes in.

Update: This just in from Mark Feinsand of the Daily News and the blog "Blogging The Bombers" -

I think the Yankees pitching staff is in better shape than most people believe. With Wang and Pettitte at the top of the rotation, they can compete with any other 1-2 in the league during the course of the 162-game season. The only question would be in October, and I think Wang's terrible postseason was the exception, not the rule. If Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain are as good as advertised. If they are, I'd move Joba back to the bullpen and go with Wang-Pettitte-Hughes-Mussina-Kennedy in the rotation. Aside from Rivera, you've got a hodge-podge in the bullpen of Hawkins, Farnsworth, Ohlendorf, Veras, etc, which is the biggest question mark. As we've learned over the years, the staff we see in February won't be the one we see down the stretch.

Thanks Mark!

Update: This just in from Pete Caldera of the The Record and the blog "Pinstripe Posts" -

I'd say it is incomplete. It's hard now to imagine Kennedy as a major figure in the rotation, though it's difficult to know what to expect from Mussina. The mysterious "innings ceiling'' on Chamberlain and Hughes could be a big X-Factor all season; who's to say that Joba won't return to that setup role by the All-Star break if this less-than-stellar looking relief crew fails to get it to Rivera? At this point, they're requiring Pettitte and Wang to have huge seasons, and for Farnsworth to suddenly become reliable. And that might be asking a lot.

Thanks Pete!

Posted by Steve Lombardi at January 21, 2008 10:14 PM

Comments

The inning limits is a problem, but let's not forget that the first half of the 2007 season for the Yankees featured roughly 7 rookie pitchers making their debut... and none of those pitchers are anywhere near the level of our Hughes, IPK, or Joba.

From an optimistic point of view, I strongly feel we have a better staff this year than last. So barring injury, i see no reason why we can't finish 2nd, let alone contend for the division title.

And who here really thinks that Toronto will ever live up to their pre-season projections...

Posted by: JT (BK) [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 21, 2008 11:36 PM

Is it really that surprising that when a team contemplates a rotation that may include three unestablished yet talented young pitchers that the word "question" is an apt part of any description of how they project to perform?

That said, it's a prudent course for the Yankees to take, and I am confident that they will not only finish 1st or 2nd in the division, but will go far in the postseason as well.

Posted by: Rich [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 21, 2008 11:41 PM

Okay, Steve, but I think the question you SHOULD be asking is, how likely is it that the 2008 Yankee pitchers are superior to that of the 2007 staff? And do you really, actually think that it's all that questionable that Kennedy, Hughes, Chamberlain, and the plethora of high-ceiling arms will perform worse than those 11 other rookie pitchers, Kei Igawa, and Roger Clemens? I think their collective ERA last year was around 5.50. And even if the 2008 group performs to that level, that's still the same staff that won 94 games. Plus, you have to look at all the question marks of every other team in the AL East. And when you look at all of that, the Yankees have, by far, the least questions of performance out of all of them. There is a chance the Yankees finish third behind Toronto, or the Rays, but it's not a very significant one. I would say there is a much larger chance the Yankees finish ahead of Boston, than the Yankees finishing behind Toronto. Now, that is the question you really should be asking, rather than the narcisisstic "do the Yankees have questions heading into 2008?" Frankly, that's a dumb question, because every team in baseball history has had questions heading into a season.

Posted by: Andrew [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 08:33 AM

I meant, of course, the Yankees have less questions than everyone in the East besides Boston, but if the Indians hadn't choked it away, it would be a whole lot closer, as it is in reality.

Posted by: Andrew [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 08:36 AM

The funny thing is how hopeful your third place prediction sounds, if only, I suppose, to support the Cashman thesis. Party on, Ahab!

Posted by: Harley [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 09:38 AM

In 2006, the Red Sox finished third. I suppose they could have swung a deal to package, say, Ellsbury and Pedroia, in order to solidify their rotation and end up in second.

Do you think any Boston fan would now think that would have been a good deal?

I will happily take a third year finish in '08 (which I doubt will come to pass anyway) if it's a step towards establishing another run a la '96-'01 in the years ahead. The chance for us to have own version of Mulder-Hudson-Zito in Hughes-Chamberlain-Kennedy is more than worth it, in this Yankee fan's opinion.

Posted by: Mrs. Peterson-Kekich [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 09:56 AM

Thirty-one years ago, Earl Weaver, perhaps one of baseball's best managers ever, was quoted as saying: "Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull. But, the reason you win or lose is darn near the same thing......pitching."

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So, that means the Red Sox have a dynasty for winning the AL East since 1996.

The 1996-2007 Red Sox kick the Yankees ass in pitching. It's not even close: 779 RSAA to 495.

Or, how about the Red Sox dominating the AL from 1949-53, beating the Yankees: 341 RSAA to 225.

How about about the White Sox dominating from 1949-64, beating the Yankees: 807 RSAA to 752.

Another 4 years like the previous 4 years and the Red Sox will pass the Yankees as the most dominant franchise in baseball history. The Yankees currently have a 84 RSAA lead, but has fallen by 235 over the past 4 years.

Posted by: Lee Sinins [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 10:18 AM

The inning limits is a problem, but let's not forget that the first half of the 2007 season for the Yankees featured roughly 7 rookie pitchers making their debut... and none of those pitchers are anywhere near the level of our Hughes, IPK, or Joba.
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Be that as it may, I'd be a bit more comfortable with a few more arms. Not because I don't have faith in what the Yanks have now, but because I've watched the pitching staff get hit with some combination of injury and ineffectiveness every year since 2004. One of these days, it's going to catch up with them.

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 10:23 AM

There is always questions marks about a rotation with three experience pitchers manning it. That's why the Yanks still have Mussina. If an injury happens, the Yanks have Horne, Steven White, Marquez, and who ever else on that tree. The offense, will yet again, pickup the slack, if there is ineffectiveness.

The bullpen isn't an exact science. CashMoney stocked pile on some talent. Somebody or some bodies will be gems.

Posted by: E-ROC [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 11:54 AM

And who here really thinks that Toronto will ever live up to their pre-season projections...
Yankee Hitting coach Kevin Long said in the second half last season that Toronto has the best 1-12 pitching staff in the AL ...and Ryan is coming back sometime next year!Toronto has better pitching hands down for the time being.The comment regarding their being a better chance of the Rays finishing ahead of the Yankees and the Toronto mess....Right now the Yankees have bigger questions than even Toronto because of the pitching,we saw what Marcum,MacGowan,and Litsch do for half a season, we haven't seen what Joba,Ian and Hughes can do for that amount of time.Toronto has a bunch of young flamethrowers that were put in action last year with Accardo being closer ,they did pretty well,unh?Who do the Yanks have,Igawa as long man,Ramirez,and Bruney......is that a great relief core? But to echo Mrs Peterson-Kekich's comments,this is the beginning of an era (The Young Three Era),which has great promise.Nothing is assured,in that Boston and Toronto will remain competitive for sometime to come,but with Cashman's longterm build from within(seemingly with Hank's blessing)ethos gives them a chance to become a dynasty again.The Yankee fans that are more pragmatic can see/swallow this logic,because it would/might be a return to promeninence.The Yankee fans who are less logical act like Toronto is in the Bush League,Cleveland is an elite team(who Boston embarrased in the 2007 ACLS)because they beat the Yankees and Boston has reserved some imaginary curse on the Yankees.have faith,give General Joe a long term plan with youngins and some people might be surprised..........

Posted by: butchie22 [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 12:38 PM

Sure, the Yankees could finish 3rd. Anything is possible. I don't think that is exactly a revolutionary statement. In sports, anything is possible.

What we should be more concerned with is probable, and I know I sure wouldn't put my money on the Bluejays to leap frog the Yankees, nor would I count the Yankees out from passing Boston.

Again, no one can deny that the Yankees have questions in the starting staff, but they had they've had those questions over the past few seasons. Personally, I am lot more comfortable with Joba, IPK and Hughes than Pavano, Igawa, Karstens or Wright, Chacon, Lidle or even the immortal 2005 trio of Pavano, Brown and Wright.

It's one thing to have questions, and another to have questions backed up by talent. With the Yankees powerful offense and a steady duo in Wang and Pettitte atop the rotation, as well as a safety valve in Moose, the Yankees can certainly flourish with three rookie pitchers.

What's more, the Bluejays also have a lot of questions. Will Burnett stay healthy? Will Halladay's decline continue? Also, how will the Bluejays rookies respond to their second full season. Everyone is throwing around innings limits, but Marcum, Litsch and McGowan all saw their innings totals spike in 2007. What will be the effect in 2008?

Posted by: williamnyy [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 12:54 PM

What we should be more concerned with is probable, and I know I sure wouldn't put my money on the Bluejays to leap frog the Yankees, nor would I count the Yankees out from passing Boston.Quote
Anything could happen,the Yankees could come in first and Toronto in second IF Boston sustains injuries to 3 of their 6 or 7 starting pitchers.Otherwise,if anything Boston has the edge over both teams in regards to starting pitching.
It's one thing to have questions, and another to have questions backed up by talent. With the Yankees powerful offense and a steady duo in Wang and Pettitte atop the rotation, as well as a safety valve in Moose, the Yankees can certainly flourish with three rookie pitchers.Quote
Moose is a safety valve???Sorry,but the Moose should be let loose!He is declining in terms of his ability and his being long man or number 7 inspires very few in Yankeeland.Is he going to mount a Schill-like change to pitch this year?I highly doubt it!
hat's more, the Bluejays also have a lot of questions. Will Burnett stay healthy? Will Halladay's decline continue? Also, how will the Bluejays rookies respond to their second full season. Everyone is throwing around innings limits, but Marcum, Litsch and McGowan all saw their innings totals spike in 2007. What will be the effect in 2008?Quote
Halladay's decline?He's still a 1c sometimes.Wang (the Yankee ace) is a 2c at best!Burnett has a walk clause at the end of this year so he's playing for a contract!About the Jays Young Three,good point but at the same time we saw them in action and there is a sign that they can do it (there is no guarantee) whereas with Joba,Hughes,and Kennedy there is no sustainable body of work to make that judgement at all!The Jays Young Three did it last year,although it remains to be seen if the Yankees Young Three can do it at all(I hope and think they will be).

Posted by: butchie22 [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2008 04:09 PM