Thursday, February 28, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Starting Rotation

Next up in our position by position debate, we are going to review the starting rotations. If you are just catching on we have been doing a debate on who has the better player at each position between the Red Sox and the Yankees. To be clear, this is not a debate on who has the better team, just the better player at each position. A debate on who has the better team would require much more than a position by position evaluation.

Red Sox Rotation

The Sox enter the 2008 season with a rotation that looks a lot like it did in 2007. And why not? They won the division with those pitchers, and then went on to win the world series. The rotation set on the Red Sox depth chart is as follows: Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester. Beckett was the lone 20 game winner last season, and pitched himself close to a Cy Young award. Last season was his second season posting 200+ innings and he had career highs in wins, and strikeouts, while dropping his previous career highs of homeruns allowed and ERA from 2006. I for one never thought Beckett would remain healthy this long, but I suppose I was wrong about that. Personally, I don't think he'll repeat this year, but he'll still be a solid piece of the rotation.

Curt Schilling, while being slotted as the number 2 guy, probably won't pitch much next season. He has a shoulder injury that he believes requires surgery but the Red Sox believe needs rest and rehab. Not a great way to come into Spring training. Before the playoffs, Schilling wasn't as big of a contributor as he is perceived to be. He won 9 games last season, and pitched 151 innings. He also started a blog last season that wasn't anywhere as good as the "Respect Jeter's Gangster" blog.

Daisuke Matsuzaka showed a lot of promise in his sort of rookie year. Posting a 4.40 ERA with 15 wins and 201 strikeouts in 204.2 innings is pretty solid. I personally think that he will do better this season than last season simply because he has the pitching repetoire to succeed. I think he's gotten over the fact that his fastball isn't going to blaze by hitters in this league, and has adapted to that.

Tim Wakefield tied his career high in wins with 17 last season, but his ERA and strikeouts were both around his career average. I think that's what the Red Sox get from Wakefield, a consistant knuckleballer who if healthy will get them at least 10 wins a season. He was injured for parts of last season so you gotta wonder how that will effect his performance. I don't think Wakefield will hit another 17 wins though, expect something closer to 13.

Jon Lester had quite the season last year. He found out that he had cancer and he needed to go into treatment. He started the season late as a result, and you can say that effected his performance. In 2 incomplete years with the Red Sox he hasn't quite shown the potential he may have, but he'll have another crack at it this year. He did win one of the world series games after throwing 5.2 shutout innings.

Other contributors are Clay Bucholz who threw a no-hitter last season. Hard to say how he does over an entire season, but I expect him to replace Schilling as soon as he goes down. They still have Julian Tavarez who only harnesses his pitching ability for games against the Yankees, but he will be coming out of the bullpen next season. Lastly, the Red Sox signed former Cy Young winner, Bartolo Colon. I hope they use him. A lot.

Yankee Starting Rotation

The Yankees rotation looks similar to the one they had last season with some major differences. In place of Kei Igawa, we have three impressive rookies. In place of Roger Clemens, we have three impressive rookies. The question now will be, how will these impressive rookies fare in their first full seasons, and how will the Yankees fare dealing with their inning limitations. But before going into the rookie discussion, we should look at the stablizing forces of the rotation: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina.

Chien-Ming Wang has posted two consecutive seasons with 19 wins. The sinkerballer knows how to get outs, and he pitches deep into games. As teams started sitting on his sinker, he began to throw his slider more, which is a necessary adaptation for Wang. He missed a lot of April with a hamstring injury (one of many, thank you Marty Miller) and it made me wonder how he would have done if he had made that opening day start and remained healthy throughout the season. 20 wins is an absolute possibility for Wang.

Andy Pettitte had kind of a strange season in that the Yankee offense wouldn't show up during his starts. With the exception of his last start of the season Pettitte didn't get much help from the offense, and it angered me. He had only a few games where he pitched poorly, and in the rest he gave the Yankees a legitimate opportunity to win. He won 15 games last season with a 4.05 ERA. I expect more of the same so long as his elbow holds up.

Mike Mussina had an awful season last year, and is at spring training looking for a comeback. He posted a 5.15 ERA, the highest of his career, with an 11-10 record. He even lost his spot in the rotation for some time last season. Mussina is slated in the depth chart as the number 4 guy. He's much like Wakefield in that you know you're going to get at least 10 wins from the guy.

The rookies are the trickier piece of the puzzle because none of them have pitched a full season. The chances of three rookie starters in their first full major league season all succeeding are pretty slim. However, those chances don't take into consideration pitchers like Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Phil had a rough season last year. He got roughed up in his first outing, and then pitched amazingly in his second one. He also had a no-hitter going against the Rangers when he strained his hamstring trying to get on top of a curveball against Teixeira. While rehabbing he strained his ankle on that same leg. When he finally got back into the bigs, his velocity was down. As time went on, he regained his strength and started getting his velocity up. In the playoffs he pitched an amazing relief effort shutting down the Indians in place of Roger Clemens.

Joba was a starter in the minors last season but was moved to the bullpen when he came to the Yankees. His innings are very limited this season, and the Yankees are smart to do so. He has a triple digit heater with a monster slider. He gave up only one earned run in 24 innings in relief. I am really excited to see him start this season, because he has a changeup and a curveball that we really haven't seen much of.

Ian Kennedy is more of a finesse pitcher, and people have sort of written him off with the power arms ahead of him. A young Mike Mussina is what some people have compared him to. In that comparison, some people think that Kennedy will just be an average player, but that's because those people didn't see a young Mike Mussina pitch. Mussina in his prime was a certifiable ace. Despite the lack of velocity, his knucklecurve kept hitters off balance, and he would put his fastball where ever he pleased. Finesse pitchers may have the hardest time adjusting to the bigs because if they miss their spots, their finesse pitches get finesse batted over the fence, but Kennedy pitched in College like Mike Mussina, and Mussina posted 18 wins in his first full season while pitching 241 innings and a 2.54 ERA. Can we expect that from Kennedy? No, but it goes to show that finesse can do a lot of damage.

Winner: Even. This was the toughest one we've done so far, and I'm sure people from both sides will disagree, but hear out the argument. I was at first leaning towards the Sox because of how well their pitching staff did last season, but in comparison the Yankees finished last season with 2 fewer wins than the Sox while using a trillion more pitchers. Beckett proved to be a better pitcher than Wang last season, but finished with one more win and a 0.43 difference in ERA. Plus, Beckett had a 5+ ERA the year before. Daisuke was not bad last season, and will probably do better this season, but that still just makes him comparable to Pettitte. Tim Wakefield has an up on Mussina, that's true, but both players are likely to return to their career averages next season, which makes them very similar pitchers. Schilling is a wash, because he won't last the entire season, and Bucholz who will probably take his place is entering his first full season in the bigs. Lester is in the same boat. Conversely, the Yankees have Kennedy, Chamberlain, and Hughes coming into their first full season, and it is difficult to say how they will do. So in conclusion, I have a hard time placing one teams rotation above the others.

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