(Can this guy stay in the rotation all season? Courtesy of The AP)
The hitters have been covered, and there aren't a whole lot of new knowns or unknowns about that group as they've all been here before. We move to the pitchers today, starting with the rotation, where there are a couple of new faces and a new old face that's returned for another go.
What We Know- There's No Shortage Of Available Bodies This Year
There's depth aplenty in the Yankee rotation in 2012. No bargain-bin Bartolo Colon signings or hope for unproven young starters this year. The Yankees have 7 viable, capable Major League starting pitchers on hand right now, and any combination of 5 out of that 7 has the potential to make up the best top-to-bottom rotation in baseball if they all pitch to their ceiling. There is also a good mix of old/older veteran pitchers who know the deal and young pitchers still putting the pieces together to reach their potential and figure out exactly where their ceilings top out. And if this group is hit by a plague of injuries, the Yankees have 3 quality arms in Triple-A they can use to plug holes in David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren.
What We Don't Know- How Much They'll All Be Used
It's already been said plenty of times this spring that too much starting pitching is a good problem to have, and it is. But it is a problem none the less, and at some point the Yankees are going to have to deal with it. The young guys are the most likely to take a back seat or get shuffled around, as both Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have Triple-A options remaining and Phil Hughes has experience working out of the bullpen. Injuries could also factor into the shuffling of the rotation deck when that time comes. CC Sabathia is a workhorse, no doubt about it, but that workload and his size always make him a candidate for a DL trip. The Yankees have been lucky enough to not have to deal with that so far, but you never know. In the interest of managing workloads, the dreaded 6-man rotation is always an option as well.
More after the jump
What We Know- Who's Anchoring the Top of the Rotation
CC is The Man on this staff, no matter how good the young arms behind him are or what former Yankee great is coming out of retirement. In his time as a Yankee, CC has been everything the Yankees could want him to be and then some. 3 straight seasons of 33+ starts, 3 straight seasons of 230+ IP in the regular season, 3 straight seasons of 19+ wins, and never an ERA above 3.37 or a FIP above 3.54. Joining him at the top of the 2012 rotation will be Hiroki Kuroda, a veteran pitcher also known for his consistency and the only other pitcher not named CC to be guaranteed a rotation spot by Joe. Kuroda has made at least 31 starts in 3 of his 4 years with the Dodgers, has never had a FIP higher than 3.78, generates a lot of ground balls, and keeps his walks down. Together these 2 veterans will guide the rotation ship.
What We Don't Know- How The Young'ns Will Do Filling Out the Bottom
After the veterans, the Yankees have a trio of young pitchers that will ultimately be the ones who define how good this rotation will be this season. Ivan Nova is coming off a 16-win rookie campaign highlighted by a strong finish after an undeserved demotion to Triple-A in the summer. He's been up and down with his command this spring, but his stuff continues to improve and when he's on he is very good. Michael Pineda, acquired for Jesus Montero in January, has been a lightning rod this spring because of a decrease in his fastball velocity from 2011. But make no mistake, this kid can pitch and he's shown that in his ST camps with his offspeed offerings. And Phil Hughes appears to be bouncing back nicely from a lost 2011. These guys all have the ability to be top-flight pitchers, but there will be added pressure on them to perform due to the presence of a certain left-hander.
What We Know- Andy Pettitte Is On Standby
It's been less than 2 weeks since the stunning announcement of Andy Pettitte's un-retirement, and since then Pettitte has done plenty to show that he's serious about his comeback and this isn't just one last hurrah for a paycheck. He's thrown bullpen sessions, BP, and is working diligently to be in full game shape by May. All the feedback from Joe, Rothschild, Russell Martin, and anybody else who has watched him pitch has been positive, but it will be important for Andy to not get ahead of himself in his return. He still needs to build up his leg strength, something that will be important for his success as a 39-year-old who hasn't pitched competitively in over a year, and still needs to stretch his arm out to be able to throw a full game's worth of pitches. His Minor League prep tour will surely draw as much attention as the Yankees' early season schedule.
What We Don't Know- When He'll Get The Call and How He'll Perform
As previously mentioned, May is the target return time for Pettitte, but that schedule is subject to change. I imagine that Pettitte will encounter a problem or a rough outing somewhere along the line that will cause an adjustment to the plan. Then there's the whole issue of how the Yankees go about inserting him into the rotation without causing a wave of MSM hysteria. If the trio of Nova-Pineda-Hughes is pitching well when Andy is ready to go, it's going to be hard to justify kicking one of them to the curb. I'm already on record saying I don't support Andy being shoehorned into the rotation at the expense of one of the young pitchers if the only reason is that he's Andy Pettitte. Once he does get in, it still remains to be seen how well he can handle a Major League lineup after a year away. The projections for him all paint a positive picture, but we won't truly know how effective he can be until we see it happen.