Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stabilizing The Pitching Staff With Some CC

All things considered, the Yankees have handled the double-whammy loss of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte from their rotation about as well as anybody could have hoped.  The team has gone 9-6 since that fateful day of June 27th, hardly world-beating, but taking into consideration the fact that their AL East lead has expanded to 9 games in that time, that's a damn fine way to get through a 3-week stretch without your 2 best starters.

It hasn't exactly been the smoothest of sailing these past 3 weeks, something that should come as no surprise.  Adam Warren blew up spectacularly in his emergency start in Chicago, so much so that the Yankees demoted him and turned to the still-not-fully-stretched-out-as-a-starter David Phelps to take Warren's spot in the rotation on Independence Day.  Freddy Garcia had been more than adequate in his 3 starts this month, allowing only 6 earned runs, but he hasn't provided a lot of length (17 IP total in 3 starts).  Combine that with a couple of clunkers from Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova and the overall team pitching line over the past 15 CC-less games isn't nearly as sparkly as what we saw from the rotation in early June:

4.23 ERA/4.27 FIP, 9.57 H/9, 2.92 BB/9, 8.06 K/9, 13 HR Allowed in 89.1 IP

The BB rate is acceptable, and the K rate isn't far off from the numbers the rotation was churning out a month ago when it was running like a well-oiled pitching machine.  But this recent patchwork version of the Yankee rotation has been much more hittable than the full-strength version, and has fallen victim to the longball a bit more than I'd like to see (1.31 HR/9 allowed).  Compounding those issues has been this group's inability to consistently provide length and pitch deep into games.  During the rotation's gangbuster stretch in early June, there was never an instance in 10 games where the starter went fewer than 6 innings.  During this 15-game stretch, starters have only pitched more than 6 innings 6 times, and have also gone fewer than 6 innings 6 times.

The Warren/Phelps/Garcia trio is responsible for 4 of the 6 sub-6 inning outings, and all of those are understandable.  Nobody in their right mind would have left Warren in any longer with the way the White Sox were crushing him, Phelps was on a pitch count, and with the type of stuff he has and the type of start he had to this season, Joe is always right to keep a short leash on Freddy.  These shorter outings from the rotation have put an added burden on the bullpen, a group that already has some overworked arms amongst its ranks, and at no time was that more evident than in Sunday's game.

Down just 1 run in a game where the lineup got more than its money's worth against Jered Weaver, Joe made the call to go to Chad Qualls in relief of Nova in the 7th inning.  Qualls somehow wriggled off the hook in that situation, but predictably gave up 3 runs in the top of the 8th to open a wound that could not be closed by Boone Logan, D.J. Mitchell, or a valiant 9th-inning effort by the offense.  Normally, Qualls and Mitchell wouldn't have sniffed the field in that game unless it went into extra innings, but with Rafael Soriano pitching in each of the previous 2 games, Cody Eppley throwing 2 innings the day before, and Joe for some reason still being unwilling to use D-Rob for 2 games in a row, those are the options Joe had left.

This is where CC's return to the rotation tonight comes into play.  If nothing else, him coming back should help to stabilize the workload in the bullpen and get guys back to their regular roles and usage patterns.  Whether he's 100%, 90%, or 50% physically, CC is always going to eat innings as a starter.  In his 15 starts this season, CC has gone at least 6 innings 14 times, the lone sub-6-inning outing coming in his last start against the Mets before being put on the DL.  He's thrown 7 innings or more in 11 of his starts this season, and 8 or more in 5.  CC is the modern-day baseball definition of a horse, and with 3 weeks off to rest his injured groin and his arm, the likelihood of him continuing to be that horse and stabilizing force at the top of the rotation should be high.

The Yankees did what they had to do without CC and Andy to get by over these last 3 weeks, and a big chunk of credit goes to the bullpen for picking up the undermanned rotation.  With CC returning tonight, hopefully some of that burden on the bullpen can be lifted.  The last thing you want late in the season and in the postseason is a worn out relief corps (just ask Joe Torre), and the addition of the rotation's best pitcher back to the mix should help put a stop to any potential overwork scenarios before they can become a problem.

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