Yankees trying again with pitching

February, 16, 2009
Tyler Kepner writes in the New York Times about the Yankees' latest efforts to build a pitching rotation:

    The track record since [2001] has been abysmal. Starting in 2002, the Yankees have traded for or signed [Jeff] Weaver, José Contreras, Kevin Brown, Javier Vázquez, Esteban Loaiza, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Randy Johnson and Kei Igawa. Only Johnson won more than 16 games for the Yankees, and he is best known for crumbling in the playoffs.

    "Some of it is that guys couldn't handle New York," Cashman said. "In some cases, you see that other organizations put them in a position to succeed maybe more than we did, in terms of figuring out their mechanics and their mindset.

    "Obviously, José Contreras wasn't successful here, but he went to the White Sox and he became a world champion. Was it because they unlocked certain things in him? Because the talent was there; our scouts weren't wrong.

    "And our scouts weren't wrong on Weaver, who led a National League team, the St. Louis Cardinals, to a world championship. They weren't wrong about the assessment of these guys, so what happened here?"

I think Cashman overstates the case a little. Weaver was a good pitcher before the Yankees got him, and he pitched well enough in his first couple of months with them. Then he struggled for a season, was dispatched to the Dodgers, pitched decently for two seasons, then spent two seasons pitching himself out of the majors. Sure, he "led" the Cardinals to a World Championship … and in the same season he went 8-14 with a 5.76 ERA. I suspect he just wasn't all that good.

I don't mean to suggest that the Yankees didn't mishandle any of those guys, or that some of them really couldn't handle the pressure of pitching for the Yankees. But the real problem is that the Yankees kept getting pitchers who were old, or injury-prone, or just not real good.

CC Sabathia is none of those things. A.J. Burnett &133; well, I guess two out of three's not bad. It's not like the guy can't pitch …

    Among pitchers with 500 innings, Burnett ranked third, with 9.04 strikeouts per nine, and Sabathia ranked seventh, with 8.28. That will be especially important for the Yankees because of shortstop Derek Jeter's diminished range and second baseman Robinson Canó's inconsistency.

    "A.J. led the American League in strikeouts," Cashman said. "There's a lot of reasons why his power and his stuff -- if he can maintain health -- really are a benefit.

    "We are a bad defensive team, so a guy that prevents the ball from being put into play is a good thing for us."

    Burnett's health is his obvious question; 55 pitchers have made more starts over the past three seasons, and the signing was panned by Baseball Prospectus. Kahrl called him "an injury-prone, occasionally effective starter whose track record for consistency is that he's consistently inconsistent."

    But Burnett said he had learned to conserve arm strength and stop trying to challenge ballpark radar guns. Veterans like Jeter, Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez vouched for his character to Cashman.

    "I learned my lesson in Toronto when I went there and tried to do too much after my last contract," Burnett said.

We'll see. Burnett's thrown 200 innings three times in nine years, and I'm not sure if changing his attitude is going to materially improve that ratio.

Oh, and you have to appreciate Cashman's honesty here. When's the last time you heard the general manager of a good team admit that his team was bad at something? At best, they'll usually soft-peddle the criticism, say something like, "We don't have a great defense."

Last season, the Yankees were 25th in the majors in defensive efficiency -- that is, turning batted balls into outs -- and they don't figure to be much better this season. But with Sabathia and Burnett and Joba Chamberlain in the rotation, it really shouldn't matter a great deal.



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