Here’s the burning question for the New York Yankees, as I talked about in my season preview of the Yankees earlier today.
Will the upgrades the Yankees made to their rotation be enough to keep them over the hump this season?
The upgrades that the Yankees made were, essentially, replacing AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia in their rotation with Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and Phil Hughes. I mention Garcia just because while he’s still with the team, he’s no longer in the rotation.
Here is the major issue with New York’s new starters: they have durability questions. Kuroda has been largely fine over his four year MLB career, but has only thrown over 200 innings in a season just once, which came last season. He missed ten starts in 2009, and at age 37, isn’t getting any younger. Out of their three new pitchers, I think health is less of a question for Kuroda than the other two. He doesn’t really have a strong history of getting hurt, but at his age, these things can spring up pretty quickly.
Michael Pineda only made his professional debut in 2008, but missed a good chunk of the 2009 season with elbow problems. He was largely fine in 2010 and 2011, but got his innings cut down the stretch to prevent overuse. There is a major warning sign so far for Pineda in Yankees camp, as his velocity is down. In his last start on Saturday, Pineda’s fastball sat between 89 and 92 mph. Last season, his average fastball velocity was 94.7. That is a huge drop in average, and and a drop that severe is usually a sign of shoulder problems. Shoulder problems are generally much more traumatic than elbow injuries, which seem almost commonplace in comparison.
And then, there’s Hughes. Phil Hughes is an enigma of a pitcher. He only made 21 starts (110 1/3 innings) between the majors and minors in 2007. In 2008, Hughes started just a total of 14 games, along with a pair of relief appearances to total 69 2/3 innings. In 2009, Hughes was used mainly as a reliever, but did get seven starts. He was worth 2.4 fWAR as a major bullpen arm for the Yankees. 2010 resulted in Hughes essentially getting a full slate of starts, with 29 on the season. And then in 2011, the wheels fell off again. 14 starts (excluding a pair of rehab assignments) and a 5.79 ERA in the majors is a major flop for a team like the Yankees.
While New York’s new pitching staff has resulted in optimism for the fans, there is a much higher chance that injuries will claim them in comparison to last season. Say what you want to say about Colon, Burnett, and Garcia, but Burnett started 32 games, while Colon and Garcia started 26 and 25 games respectively. The trio combined for 6.6 fWAR, but the current rotation could easily surpass that…if they’re all healthy, of course.