It’s no secret that the New York Yankees sport one of the oldest pitching rotations in the Major Leagues. C.C. Sabathia, the unquestioned ace of the staff, will be 33 years old in July. Hiroki Kuroda is 38 years old, and the ageless Andy Pettitte will be 41 in June. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova (when healthy) round out the rotation at 27 and 26 years old respectively. However, this experienced crew of hurlers has been pitching solid ball recently. Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte all have ERA’s under 4.00, with WHIP’s all under 1.32. There is not much reason to worry much about a drop in performance either.
While C.C. Sabathia has lost some velocity this year (he’s only throwing in the low 90’s), he will still produce results. Remember, this is not the first time C.C. has had to reinvent himself. As a fireballing 21-year-old in 2001 for the Cleveland Indians, Sabathia was not yet a pitcher. He was a thrower who could light up the radar gun at 97-98 miles per hour, but with no control.
That year, he led the major leagues with a 7.4 hits per 9 innings ratio, but was too focused on missing bats instead of getting outs; he had an Edinson Volquez-like ratio of 4.7 walks per 9 innings. Roughly four years later, in 2005, C.C. matured and became a pitcher. He learned to throw a variety of pitches for strikes, instead of just heaters, while easing up slightly on his velocity and throwing roughly 95-96 miles per hour. Furthermore he averaged one more hit per 9 innings from thereon, but lowered his walk rate to below two in later years. Enough talking about the past. My point is, C.C. is an intelligent veteran pitcher with a fine array of pitches. He will be an elite pitcher for the next few years (and especially this year) even if his fastball is only slightly above average in speed.
Will our next contestant please come down? Hiroki Kuroda, who initially appeared in the MLB as a 33-year-old rookie for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been a steady control artist during his Yankees’ tenure. He has been extremely consistent with the Bronx Bombers, which seems to be rare for Asian-born pitchers not named Hideo Nomo. In fact, the United States has only seen one version of Kuroda. His ERA has always been less than 4.00 with a WHIP always between 1.12 and 1.22. As long as no health issues interfere, Kuroda should be his usual, solid, unwavering self for the rest of the year. And then there is Pettitte. I guess retirement in luxury is boring. I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected Pettitte to be quite as good as he has been, excluding his most recent start against the Astros. His ERA is below 4.00, his WHIP is 1.316 at the time of this writing, and has been stingy on free passes to first with only 7 walks issued all year. Pettitte’s situation is similar to Kuroda’s in terms of health. As long as Pettitte stays healthy, he should continue providing both exceptional pitching and veteran leadership. Five Championships demand much respect.
The back end of the rotation is a little shaky. Phil Hughes has not been the pitcher Yankees fans had hoped for thus far, but he looks to be turning things around with 3 consecutive quality starts and 21 strikeouts in those starts. Nova on the other hand, has been a different story. It has been a forgettable season for the young righty, with a trip to the DL for triceps inflammation only adding to the frustration. Hopefully 15 days off will benefit Nova’s arm while also providing a mental reprieve to refresh himself. In the meantime, David Phelps will substitute as a 5th starter. Phelps may not have flashy stuff, but he is actually a decent fifth starter. Besides, he’s no worse than Kei Igawa or Sidney Ponson.
The bullpen also has been stalwart, especially in the eighth and ninth innings. Mariano Rivera has allayed any fears from his ruptured knee and has performed like the Mo the baseball world reveres. David Robertson has been dominating as a setup man, and Boone Logan serves as a reliable southpaw out of the bullpen. Joba Chamberlain intimidates people with his constant chin music, and that has to be a plus, right? Hopefully as the season goes on, Joba will regain his 2007 form (has it been that long?) and become the seventh inning man Joe Girardi desires after his DL stint. The bullpen looks reliable, and the 1-2 punch of Robertson and Rivera should remain a fixture for the rest of the year.
Finally, we cannot forget the second part of the battery, the catcher. No pitching staff can succeed without a competent receiver, and both Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart have done a nice job handling the hurlers, with Austin Romine replacing the injured Cervelli for now. Sometimes the catcher does not have much spotlight when the pitcher performs well, but the battery is a carefully managed symbiotic relationship that can actually make or break a team’s chemistry.
So far, the Yankees’ season has been a success for pitchers. There are no implications for a dramatic decrease in performance for the staff as a whole. Of course, every team is prone to slumps, and a completely flawless season is unlikely. However, if the Yankees continue to pitch as wonderfully as they have so far, there is no reason why the Yankees should not have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the American League.