With the first pitch of the 2012 season only five days away, it is now time to take a look at this year’s Bombers squad. The preview will be split up in five parts (rotation, infield, outfield, bench/DH, and bullpen).
The headache that was the 6th man rotation for most of the 2nd half of 2011 is no more, yet that does not mean the Yanks come in to 2012 with only five starters ready to throw. With the familiar faces of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes, not to mention the return of Andy Pettitte, sprinkled in with newcomers Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees will have one of their most solid staffs in recent years. Joe Girardi’s tough decision to narrow this group down to five was made a little easier over the past couple of days, but the elephant in the room will re-emerge at the end of the month when Andy Pettitte shakes off the rust from his one year hiatus and Michael Pineda recovers from his injury. What does this mean? The first month of the season could dictate the future of everyone not named CC Sabthia in the Yanks rotation. They always say you can’t have too much pitching, but with 7 capable arms, Girardi may have a tough time picking his five when everyone is 100%.
Here’s a more detailed look at who he’ll be choosing from.
2011: 19-8, 3.00 ERA, 230 K
For the fourth straight season, Carsten Charles Sabathia will get the Opening Day nod for the Yankees. With 59 wins over the past three years, a much slimmer Sabathia is once again expected to be the main man in the 2012 staff. The hefty lefty has dropped 15 pounds this off season, per team request, but the big question is will he be able to keep the weight off during the season. If you recall, CC dropped around 30 pounds before the 2011 season, only to gain much of it back come October. CC had filthy first half numbers, and was in conversation for the Cy Young Award for 3/4 of the year. Many accredit the 6 man rotation for his slight decline in the season’s final two months, though the hurler did start in 33 games, one fewer than the 34 he totaled the two previous seasons. Nonetheless, if Sabathia can match his numbers from last season, you won’t hear anyone complaining in the Bronx. Sabathia is by far the most consistent arm on the staff, and if he were to go down for a significant period of time, the Yanks would be in trouble. In case you’re wondering, he’s only recorded less than 30 starts once in his 11 year career, and that was back in 2006 when he only started in 28 games.
It all seemed a little too abrupt when Andy Pettitte announced his retirement at the end of the 2010 season, and one of the greatest pitchers in pinstripe history is giving another go at it. Yankee fans everywhere we pleasantly surprised to see Andy hanging around camp this spring, and who knows, maybe that was the reason the 39 year old decided to come back. Despite an injury riddled second half in 2010, Pettitte put up some promising numbers. Now, will Andy still be dandy in 2012? We cannot expect him to immediately return to his past form, but I’m sure no one will complain if Pettitte can consistently go at least six innings. Pettitte’s leadership alone will help bolster the staff, and any other success will be an added incentive. One thing we’ve always known about Pettitte is that he keeps in great shape. He won’t be ready to throw major league innings until at least early May, and when he does return it will certainly cause some congestion in the Yankees rotation.
2011: 9-10, 3.74 ERA, 173 K
Acquired for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi this past winter, we knew right away that the 6 ’7″ righty would be have a magnifying class on him right away in the Bronx. Well, that will have to wait. Pineda will begin the season on the 15 day DL with a sore right shoulder, as we saw plenty of velocity problems with his arm this spring. As a rookie, Pineda make the all-star team with plenty of first half success. Though, it is 2nd half stats that raise some eyebrows. During the final 2 1/2 months of 2011, Pineda was only 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA. There were talks early on that the Yankees were considering possibly starting Pineda off in AAA this season, but the DL stint will obviously prevent this. Hopefully, this shoulder injury isn’t too serious, once he’s healthy, his velocity will return to the 96-97 mark. Pineda also is going to need to establish a changeup for his repertoire. Regardless of when he makes his first start of the season, Pineda will forever be tied to Jesus Montero, and if we see the former Yankee farmhand flourish early on in Seattle, then there may be some added pressure for him to do well once he returns.
2011: 13-16, 3.07 ERA, 161 K
One of the two new faces to the Yankees pitching staff this season is that of the 37 year old Kuroda. With only four years of MLB experience, all with the Dodgers, the righty is coming off his best season in the majors. Don’t let the record fool you, Kuroda set career bests in GS (32), IP (202), W (13), SO (161), and ERA (3.07) for Los Angeles last year. Kuroda’s signing was a tad overshadowed by the Montero-Pineda blockbuster, but he will provide another veteran presence for the Bombers. Not known for having too much velocity, Kuroda is mainly a finesse guy with great control (2.1 BB/9 in 114 career starts). The big question is if his success will translate over to the junior circuit. We’ve seen plenty of guys not be able to handle the switch, just ask Javier Vazquez. Kuroda will make his first start in pinstripes on Saturday in game two of the Tampa series, and should be expected to be a mainstay all season long.
2011: 5-5, 5.79 ERA, 47 K
It has been a bizarre three years for Hughes, as he’s gone from lights out setup man on a champion squad to an all-star starter in 2010 to a complete mess last season. Though, all seems to be in order for Hughes to regain his form from two seasons ago as 2012 approaches. Hughes was not guaranteed a spot in the rotation, as he had to earn it down in Spring Training, where he put up much more impressive numbers than counterparts Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova. The biggest concern last season was Hughes’s velocity. When he put up his 18 win mark in 2010, Hughes was consistently between the 94-95 MPH range. Last year was a different story, as we saw that number drop to 90-91, and a slow start landed him on the DL until early July after making only two starts. The good news for Hughes and the Yanks is that his velocity is back up, and he appears to be healthy. Once considered the future of the Yankees pitching staff, at only 25 years of age, Hughes is faced with a make or break type year. If he can return to his 2010 form, than he should expect a juicy contract for 2013. Though if he struggles, we could see him return to the pen.
2011: 16-4, 3.70 ERA, 98 K
Nova came out of nowhere in 2011 as a reliable starter, earning him a start in Game 1B of the ALDS against Detroit. In his rookie campaign, Nova made the rotation out of Spring Training and went an impressive 8-4 in his first 17 starts. After Phil Hughes returned to the rotation in early July, the controversial decision to demote Nova was AAA was made, and the righty didn’t see any MLB action until July 30. He sure made the most of the opportunity, as he compiled a perfect 8-0 record with a 3.18 ERA in his final 11 starts. But last year’s success will soon be forgotten if Nova can’t return to his prior form. With a spring ERA of 6.86, there is notable concern as the 25 year old embarks in his second season. With minor league options still available, Nova could be the odd man out if he has early season struggles. It’s hard to speculate if his spring struggles will translate into the regular season, but I’m sure Nova will be given plenty of starts to show he belongs before the Yankees would make a move.
2011: 12-8, 3.62 ERA, 96 K
How do you think it feels to Freddy Garcia right now? After compiling his best season since 2005 and earning a one year contract with the Yankees for 2012, the 35 year old went from being a solid back of the rotation guy to one Michael Pineda injury away from pitching in the bullpen. With the news Andy Pettitte would be coming out of retirement, it appeared that ultimately Freddy Garcia would be the odd man out. Luckily for him, after Pineda went down a few days ago, Garcia was awarded the fifth spot in the rotation. By no means was Freddy having a bad spring, as he’s posted a sub three ERA, but it appeared the Yankees were skeptical to move the struggling Pineda and Nova to the pen and couldn’t deny Hughes a spot with his success this spring. So, Garcia stands now where he all expected him to be in January, as the Yanks fifth starter. But with Pettitte and Pineda’s inevitable return waiting in the wings, Garcia’s days in the rotation could be numbered. Obviously the best way for him to remain a starter will be to pitch like he did last April in May, as any sign of struggles could demote him to the bullpen. Another option that very well could be explored would be a trade for a bat, if the Ibanez/Jones platoon doesn’t fare well.
Despite their depth, the Yankees rotation still has a lot of question marks as they head into 2012. Besides CC Sabathia, the other six arms all have their respective concerns attached with them. With a six man rotation out of the question, it will be interesting to see how Girardi will handle his staff once Pineda and Pettitte are able to pitch. In the end, Garcia is the most likeliest to be shipped to the pen or to another team. But, there is a great possibility that the Yankees will be forced to decide on two of their youngest arms in Pineda and Nova, especially if Hughes and Kuroda both succeed early on. Could be some tough decisions to be made in the Bronx in May. Stay tuned.