Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rotation Not Exactly Pulling Its Weight Right Now

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Just a day and change away from the trade deadline, adding a bat is still the Yankees' top priority.  Adding multiple bats would be an even better priority.  The Yankee lineup is still terribly weak after the Alfonso Soriano trade, not nearly good enough to be competitive night in and night out.  With time running out for the internal help to come back and make a real impact, and a bench full of MiL spare parts, the Yankees need to be aggressive in pursuing options to seriously improve their offense.  As unrealistic as it seems given the way they've played the last 2 months, a 2.5 game Wild Card deficit is not insurmountable.  With little developing on the market for Hughes and Joba, the Steinbrenners have no choice but to buy just to keep up appearances that they're trying to contend.

If the Yankees are going to have any chance of fighting for a Wild Card spot, they need a better offense.  No question about that.  But they could also use a turnaround from the starting rotation.  Over the last 4 weeks, it has slowly devolved into the lineup's co-weakness and become just as big a hindrance to winning games as the lineup's inability to score runs.

Entering tonight's game in LA, the Yankee rotation is ranked 26th in MLB in FIP for the month of July at 4.23.  They're bottom half in K rate, top 5 in HR allowed (20), and their collective value has really only been based on their high innings count (151.0, 5th in MLB).  When some of those innings include Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia getting hit around and giving up runs when they should probably already be out of the game, it's debatable how valuable they really are.  The rotation, which was going to have to carry this team to wherever it was going from day 1, hasn't been holding up its end of the bargain in July and has basically become an unexpected 2-man operation.

Were it not for Hiroki Kuroda's impeccable steadiness and Ivan Nova's surprising resurrection, this month could be way worse.  In 8 combined July starts, these 2 have allowed just 9 runs in 57 IP (1.42 ERA).  They've kept the ball in the yard (2 HR allowed), haven't walked too many batters (14), and have successfully gotten out of trouble without major damage when they have put runners on (85.6% strand rate for Nova; 92.3% for Kuroda).  The emergence of Nova's curveball as a killer out pitch has brought back his effectiveness and once again made him a viable option for the future.

If he can, he should think about teaching it to the other 3 in the rotation, because they've been absolutely horrible in July.  In 15 combined starts, they aren't even averaging 6 innings per outing and their results in those starts make it easy to see why.  Andy Pettitte, with the inability to field his position and the diminished stuff and command that comes with being 41, has pitched to a 4.85/5.16/4.80 line this month and hasn't shown the stuff to get it by guys anymore.  Phil Hughes continues to be as Phil Hughes as he can possibly be, going out and pitching 7 great innings one start, then crapping out for 6 runs in 4 innings the nex,t and giving up way too many HR.  And Sabathia, for whatever reason, has basically become a batting practice pitcher out there.  He's got a 6.60 ERA this month (4.97 FIP).  He's put 55 runners on base in 30 IP.  He's allowed 22 runs in 14 IP in his last 3 starts!  That's not just bad, it's downright scary.

The Pettitte-Hughes-Sabathia triumvirate has been responsible for just 0.2 of the rotation's 1.8 fWAR this month, and that number could go down after tonight's start.  A struggling Andy against a red hot Dodgers team on the road?  Yikes.  The Yankees are spinning their tires in the playoff race mainly because their offense sucks, but partly because their starting rotation is no longer picking up the slack.  If they want to have any shot at playing meaningful baseball in late September, they need their starters to be better.  But can a 41-year-old Pettitte summon up any more than he already is?  Can Phil Hughes stop grooving fastballs?  History has shown that Nova can turn sour at any time.  This, or some similar variation of it, might be what the rotation gives you for the rest of the season.  If so, you can pretty much turn out the lights.

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