Predicting the Yankees 2012 rotation

Back when George Steinbrenner was still alive the Yankees might have overpaid for C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers or the 25-year-old Japanese hurler Yu Darvish, but it seems like the current regime will stick with the current rotation, or add a minor addition to the pitching staff (or a lefty in the bullpen).

Darvish (who is half Iranian and half Japanese) is an intriguing option based on the seven pitches that he can throw as well as being the best pitcher currently in the baseball crazed country of Japan, but it has been reported that he will likely demand a posting fee before signing his contract like Japanese players typically do when leaving their contract early.  (The Red Sox paid a 51 million dollar posting fee for Daisuke Matsuzaka.) The Yankees last pitching acquisition from Japan, Kei Igawa, did not work on any level, so they will not want a repeat performance.  I realize that Darvish, has had better overall stats during his professional career in Japan, but there is no guarantee that he will be able to handle the constant scrutiny in New York City the way Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui did.

Wilson, the 31-year-old pitcher with a media friendly personality from Newport Beach, California, is a pitcher who has been rumored to want to play for the Yankees.  He is coming of his best season of his career after finishing with 16 wins, a 2.94 ERA, 206 strikeouts and 223.1 innings.  Wilson finished sixth in the American League in the CY Young voting, but a knock against him is that half of his division games in the AL West were against the weak offenses of the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.

Wilson, or @str8edgeracer as he is known on Twitter, was the Rangers number one starter last season, but would likely be the number two or three on the Yankees.  It is also not the most promising sign that his best season came when he was 30.  If Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes pitch up to their ability then Wilson would not be much of an upgrade.  As far as Darvish, he would be asking for the contract equal to a number one starter and the Yankees already have CC Sebathia.

Other free-agent pitchers who the Yankees could be interested in bringing to the Big Apple are pitcher Roy Oswalt (Phillies), Edwin Jackson (White Sox) and Mark Buerhle (White Sox).  They are all either old, have some question marks or both.

If this would have been the 2010 off-season I would have wanted to sign Buerhle as a lefty replacement for Andy Pettitte, but at 32 I am not sure he can handle pitching in the AL East and New York City.

I would sign up for Buerhle, replacing a likely member the 2012 Yankees rotation, A.J. Burnett, as the number four starter, but I will state later on why that likely will not happen.  He has pitched for the White Sox his whole career and has always been reliable and durable, but one has to wonder how many more productive seasons he has left.

My prediction for the 2012 Yankees pitching staff is close to the one that finished the 2011 campaign:

1. CC Sebathia – He is everything you can want an ace pitcher to be.  He is coming off as season where he picked up 19 wins, had a 3.00 ERA, 230 strikeouts and only allowed 61 walks in 237.1 innings. Since the 2005 season concluded, he has only had one season where his ERA was above 3.22 and he has also had 17 wins or more every season since the 2006 season ended.  Sebathia can be counted on to go deep into games, stay healthy and always give the Yankees a chance to win.  He likes pitching under pressure and since he has so many reliable pitches he can be counted on to get out of trouble.

2. Ivan Nova – Last season the 24-year old righty who was in his first full season in the majors emerged as a viable top of the rotation starter.  Nova had a rocky last start of the season where he allowed four runs, but in eight of his last 10 starts of his season he allowed three runs or less.  This proves that he did not hit the “rookie wall” or get worse as the pressure increased like many young pitchers do. His 2011 season was filled with positives including his 16 wins, 3.70 ERA, 165.1 innings as well often not letting a one run inning turn into three or four.  The only area for him to improve are the number of free passes that he allows.  Last season he walked 57 batters, which is more than half of his strikeouts, but I see him cutting down on that number as well as lowering his ERA to below 3.50.  Another positive attribute is that he often limited walks from scoring.

3. Phil Hughes – I see him being able to bounce back to sometimes dominating pitching that he displayed during the 2010 campaign, where he made the All-Star team.  He was awful during his first three starts of the season after which he was put on the disabled list until July, but he did end the season on a positive note.  He had three starts in August where he allowed two runs or less (August also included two starts where he surrendered six runs) and he combined for three runs in his last two starts before being sent to the bullpen.  If he can finish 2012 with 14 or 15 wins and a 3.60 ERA that would be a success.

4. Freddy “The Chief” Garcia – I was not sure what to expect when Brian Cashman signed Garcia before Spring Training to a one million dollar contract. He was 34 and was coming off a season where he had a 4.64 ERA for the White Sox. However, he did indeed surpass my expectations.  His 3.62 ERA was his best full season ERA since he was third in CY Young voting in 2001, while his 12 wins and ability to change speeds on his pitches was also impressive.  If he can duplicate his stats from 2011 he deserves to have this spot but I am not sure he will get over the enigmatic pitcher I have in the number five spot.

5. A.J. Burnett – Before the 2009 season he signed a five-year, 82.5 million dollar contract with the Yankees.  He was coming off a solid, but far from stellar, season for the Blue Jays, where he had 18 wins, a 4.07 ERA, an impressive 231 strikeouts but also 211 hits.  Burnett has not lived up to his contract during his three years on the team.  Last season he had 11 wins, a 5.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 190 hits.  Those stats don’t warrant anything higher than a number five spot in the rotation. I would prefer a free agent signing such as 29-year-old Paul Maholm from the Pirates or the 32-year-old Erik Bedard, who is productive when healthy, but that is not very likely because Brian Cashman likes Burnett and does not want to give up on that contract.  Burnett’s tenure with the Yankees has been filled with inconsistency, but he does have potential. He only allowed one run during his start against Detroit in the playoffs.

*** A dark-horse to look out for is 20-year-old Manny Banuelos.  If A.J. Burnett is inconsistent until the All-Star break and Banuelos cuts down on his walk rate there is a strong possibility that the best arm in the Yankees minor league system could join the rotation.  All of the starters were bragging about him in Spring Training last season and he has a very effective curveball/fastball combination.  He has received praise from the future Hall of Fame closer, Mariano Rivera, who said that he was the best pitching prospect he had seen.

This strategy of not overspending for a potentially questionable starter (that is not to say that they don’t have talent) makes sense because Felix Hernandez, who won the CY Young in 2010, and is arguably the most talented pitcher in the American League will be a free agent after the 2014 season.  At that point, CC Sabathia, will probably only have about two or three productive years left.

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