Two days ago, in an entry entitled “Yanks Taking Big Gamble With Pitching This Year?,” I wrote:
Basically, this report tells us that the Yankees are fine offensively this season. The big areas of concern for New York are Mussina and the kids in the rotation – and the bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera.
Last time I checked, 60% of your starting rotation and 85% of your bullpen are not areas where you want to have a lot of uncertainty if you want to be a contending team.
Being curious as to how some others felt about this, I reached out to seven members of the baseball media, who also have blogs, and asked them the following question:
In your opinion, at this moment, how would you classify and/or describe the state of the Yankees pitching staff for the 2008 season?
To date, here’s what those who got back to me had to say:
Tyler Kepner, from the Times, and the blog “Bats” -
I think the Yankees have serious pitching questions for 2008. The upside of Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy is huge, but they have such limited experience at the major league level that it’s asking a lot for them all to succeed immediately. The bullpen looks shaky to me, especially if Chamberlain starts, because Farnsworth is your eighth-inning guy and Mo will usually pitch only the ninth. Wang and Pettitte are dependable, and Mussina will find a way to at least give them a .500 record at worst. The best thing they have going for them is the depth of their young pitching — the number of high-ceiling, live arms is staggering. If they can find 2 or 3 gems among Ohlendorf, Veras, Sanchez, Horne, McCutchen, Melancon, etc., they’ll be fine. But it’s hard to count on that, just like it’s hard to count on Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy all hitting it big right away. Also, I do not think they should trade for Santana, because Hughes is too valuable and Melky’s defense cannot be replaced internally. Their best bet — for the long-term, which should be most important — is to go with what they have and nurture those young pitchers as best they can.
Kat O’Brien, from Newsday, and the blog “On The Yankees Beat” -
I would describe the Yankees’ starting rotation as solid at the front, but not spectacular; and talented at the back end, but a question mark due to inexperience. I would say the bullpen is a bigger question mark than the rotation, particularly if Joba Chamberlain does spend the season in the rotation. Aside from Mariano Rivera, I think the entire bullpen is very iffy, though I believe the LaTroy Hawkins addition is a good one. Most of the relievers are unproven. Should the Yankees acquire Johan Santana, I think they would have much more reason to be confident that their pitching staff is good enough to carry them deep into the playoffs.
Lisa Kennelly, from the Star-Ledger, and the blog “Ledger on Yankees” -
In my opinion, the Yankees pitching staff has both plenty of promise and plenty of question marks. About the only reliable guy is Chien-Ming Wang (19.06 ERA in last season’s playoffs notwithstanding). Ok, and probably Andy Pettitte (though he’s going to be 36 this year and who knows if the Mitchell Report fallout will have an effect on him?).
But the biggest question is with the three young guys, Chamberlain, Kennedy, and Hughes. The ceiling is so high for all of them, but it’s easy to forget how young they are. The biggest question, for me, is how they’ll hold up over a long season. Inning limits will be an issue. Facing major league hitters regularly will be another.
I do think Hughes will be successful, judging from how he looked at the end of the season once he got his strength back after his injuries. Kennedy and Chamberlain (if he is not in the bullpen) are harder to say.
And Mussina, after what we all saw last season, doesn’t look like he’s going to add much to the pitching staff.
Sweeny Murti, from WFAN, and the blog “Sweeny Blog” -
The Yankees are hoping their young studs mature quickly, and while that’s entirely possible it is much more likely that there will be some growing pains along the way, talking specifically here about Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy. Getting double-digit wins from all 3 would be a great step forward, but unfortunately too many fans believe they can all win 15-20 apiece this year…that’s asking too much right now. They haven’t even started 20 games in the big leagues between them, so you can’t ramp up the maturation process too much. It doesn’t mean these kids won’t be good, but it makes it hard to think they can lead a staff to the World Series. Especially when none of the 3 will be allowed to approach 200 innings.
That said, Wang and Pettitte will be counted on heavily again, and each is entirely capable of winning 15-20 games each. Mussina pitched better than most people think last year…a few good starts with nothing to show for it in June to even out the 3 horrible starts in a row late in the year.
The bullpen has some questions. Kyle Farnsworth is still being counted on to pitch the 8th inning and has been unreliable for the last two years. Joe Girardi is a strong believer and may be able to bring something out of him, but Farnsworth has been a physical question mark because of the sporadic back troubles. LaTroy Hawkins has a decent track record, we’ll see how he adjusts to New York and the AL East. There a number of good arms that will come to spring training to try and win some other spots. For that reason, spring training will be a lot more interesting than it has been in recent years when the available open jobs were few. Let’s see how it shakes out. At this stage, because of the youth in the rotation they are not as good as the Red Sox.
Notice, in everyone’s feedback, the words “question” or “questions” or “question mark” come up – when referring to the state of the Yankees pitching staff for the 2008 season.
Sure sounds like a consensus here, huh?
This is why I suspect we could be seeing an end to that run of 1st or 2nd place finishes for the Yankees (since 1993).
Thirty-one years ago, Earl Weaver, perhaps one of baseball’s best managers ever, was quoted as saying: “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull. But, the reason you win or lose is darn near the same thing……pitching.”
Earl was right. And, nothing has changed since that time. If the answers to all those “questions” on the 2008 Yankees pitching staff turn out to be unfavorable for New York, it’s going to be a long “last” season in the “current” Yankee Stadium.
My thanks to Tyler, Kat, Lisa and Sweeny for their feedback on this survey. If I hear back from any other Yankees media bloggers (that I reached out to), I’ll add their comments to this once their feedback comes in.
Update: This just in from Mark Feinsand of the Daily News and the blog “Blogging The Bombers” -
I think the Yankees pitching staff is in better shape than most people believe. With Wang and Pettitte at the top of the rotation, they can compete with any other 1-2 in the league during the course of the 162-game season. The only question would be in October, and I think Wang’s terrible postseason was the exception, not the rule. If Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain are as good as advertised. If they are, I’d move Joba back to the bullpen and go with Wang-Pettitte-Hughes-Mussina-Kennedy in the rotation. Aside from Rivera, you’ve got a hodge-podge in the bullpen of Hawkins, Farnsworth, Ohlendorf, Veras, etc, which is the biggest question mark. As we’ve learned over the years, the staff we see in February won’t be the one we see down the stretch.
Update: This just in from Pete Caldera of the The Record and the blog “Pinstripe Posts” -
I’d say it is incomplete. It’s hard now to imagine Kennedy as a major figure in the rotation, though it’s difficult to know what to expect from Mussina. The mysterious “innings ceiling” on Chamberlain and Hughes could be a big X-Factor all season; who’s to say that Joba won’t return to that setup role by the All-Star break if this less-than-stellar looking relief crew fails to get it to Rivera? At this point, they’re requiring Pettitte and Wang to have huge seasons, and for Farnsworth to suddenly become reliable. And that might be asking a lot.