"Now, what is this site about, how Joe Torre ruined pitchers' arms? Is that it?"
-Michael Kay, August 18, 2009

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The season that was not meant to be: Part One

For a team with a payroll over $200 million, many things have to go wrong for it to fail. By the Yankees standards, the 2008 season has been a catastrophic one. With 30 games remaining and a seemingly insurmountable seven-game wild-card deficit ahead of us, it's about time to, for lack of a better phrase, put a bow on this season.

In this part of the miniseries entitled, "The Season That Was Not Meant to be," I will focus on how injuries to the starting pitching staff, ineffectiveness of its replacements and false hope have let the team down.

Whether or not you feel that Chien-Ming Wang is an ace, it's obvious that the first hit to the Yankees' playoff chances occurred when he injured his foot on the Minute Maid Park basepaths. Wang had a rough stretch at the end of May and beginning of June, going 0-1 with an 8.75 ERA in four starts. However, the Yankees only lost one of those starts and despite that run, Wang was 6-2. He turned it around after pitching 7 1/3 solid innings against Oakland and was pitching a five-inning shutout in Houston before reaching base on a fielder's choice. His season would soon be over after injuring his foot behind third base and home.

After winning that game 13-0, the Yankees were 37-33. They were six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. They are now 10.5 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays and seven games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card standings.

The next blow came on August 4 when Joba Chamberlain left in the middle of his start against the Texas Rangers with a right shoulder injury. Phil Hughes injured his hamstring in the middle of a no-hit bid in the same park one year earlier. The Yankees were 10 games above .500 after losing to Texas on that night, 5.5 games behind the frontrunning Rays. They have since lost five games in the standings.

The Yankees went into this season expecting big things about of so-called "Big 3." Hughes is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA and hasn't pitched since April 29. Ian Kennedy is 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA and has made one start in the Majors since May 27. For those scoring at home, Carl Pavano has won more games than both Kennedy and Hughes combined.

Replacing Wang and Chamberlain has been a tough task. You know it'll be hard to win games when Darrell Rasner has started the third-most games for the Yankees this season. After starting his season off 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA, Rasner has since gone 2-8 with a 6.08 ERA. The Yankees are 5-10 in those starts.

Sidney Ponson was also picked up off the scrap heap. The Yankees are somehow 6-5 in his starts, despite having a 5.64 ERA in his time with the team. If only the other starters got that kind of run support we may not be having this conversation.

The point is that it's hard to be a consistent team when you only have one reliable starter. Mike Mussina is 16-7 this season while Andy Pettitte, who is getting paid $16 million to blow leads, has 10 losses and a 4.37 ERA.

There is still plenty of blame to go around, and I'll get to the offense next. But for now let's reflect on the starting pitching. What has been your biggest disappointment regarding the starters?


Anonymous said...

I think the biggest disappointment is clearly the lack of development of the big 3.

Nobody should be disappointed in Rasner and Ponson. Within the last year Rasner was DFA'd and cleared waivers without anybody even wanting him. The guy probably shouldn't be pitching at the MLB level, especially for this many starts. And just look at Ponson's numbers over the last 4 seasons. He is terrible. So those 2 guys have given exactly what they should have been expected to give - crap.

The failure of the big 3 is the largest disappointment, because unlike Rasner and Ponson, this will affect future teams in a big way, especially the upcoming offseason and next season. Kennedy and Hughes have been so terrible that the Yankees may feel forced to bring back both Pettitte and Mussina as well as sign Sabathia, just so they have a guaranteed 5 guys (Sabathia/Joba/Wang/Mussina/Pettitte) with Hughes and Kennedy as the minor league reinforcements for injured pitchers instead of Ponson/Giese/Rasner/Igawa etc.

But even aside from that, all 3 of the young guys pitched fewer total innings this year than last year, including minor league innings. They all had strict innings limits for this year, and they failed to push those limits any higher. They essentially lost an entire year of development. You'll have the same issue to deal with Joba again - if he can only pitch 140 innings there's no way he can be a starter from day one - but what if they try to perfectly map out his innings again in 2009 but another injury interrupts that plan? That is a huge problem to deal with. Would the Yankees really just start him from day one and shut him down at the end of August because he reached 140/150 innings? Cashman said this year that those limits would not be exceeded for any reason whatsoever. I don't see why he would change his mind for next season.

And that's another thing: Cashman is the main guy to blame for most of these pitching problems. I like Cash and want him back, but maybe the Steinbrenners will need a scapegoat after this season. Girardi is probably safe - but Cash is the one who signed Igawa and Pavanao and went all in on Hughes and Kennedy and Joba without having a better backup plan than Rasner//Giese/Ponson. It's unfair to blame all the injuries on the guy, but the bottom line is that the young guys failed and their replacements were highly inadequate. And so a decent amount of that is Cashman's fault.

The lack of success of the big 3 also has people doubting the strength of the Yankee farm system. There really isn't anyone down there that could pitch better than Sidney Ponson? It seems that a lot of the major league ready minor league arms have ended up being relief guys, like Edwar or Robertson or Ohlendorf. And let's face it, relievers are not very valuable in the grand scheme of things. YOung starters are the extremely valuable commodity, and so the failure of Hughes and Kennedy has really hurt the value of the Yankee minor league system. The farm system was exposed for being much shakier than it was portrayed to be.

And that isn't even taking into account the absolute lack of position player reinforcements down there.

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