The Yankees’ surprising lack of demand for pitching

It’s sort of difficult to remember now, but once upon a time this rotation seemed like a huge liability to the Yankees’ playoff chances. C.C. Sabathia was solid but unspectacular for the most part, and seemed to be chronically battling spotty command of his fastball. Hiroki Kuroda was inconsistent, seemingly equally capable of turning in a strong seven innings or getting shellacked early by the opposing offense. Ivan Nova traded more strikeouts for a colossal increase in his home run rate, and Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia were downright awful.

Things began to turn around with the return of Andy Pettitte, however, and at the moment the team’s starters are pitching about as well as could be expected on both an individual and team level. As the Yankees head back to Oakland, the same place they began to turn the season around a little less than two months ago, their starters’ collectively rank fourth in the A.L. in ERA, seventh in FIP, second in K/9, second in BB/9, and second in xFIP. At 3.79, they’re one of only three teams in the league with a rotational xFIP under 4.00, along with the Tigers and Rays. And remember, these numbers include those first six weeks of the season when the rotation was really scuffling!

Put this performance together with their big lead in the division, and it becomes pretty difficult to find a good match on the trade market for the Bombers right now. The second tier guys like Liriano and Rodriguez just aren’t a clear upgrade over what the Yankees already have, and the elite rentals won’t increase the Yankees odds of winning the division by a large enough margin to justify gutting the farm system in order to acquire them. Perhaps if the Yankees get some bad news on Andy Pettitte (knock on wood) between now and the non-waiver deadline that jeopardizes or pushes back his early September return date it might be worth finding a salary dump who offers an upgrade over Freddy Garcia, but barring that the Yankees are sitting in a comfortable enough position that the potential rewards simply don’t justify the cost. You can never have enough pitching, but you can certainly pay too much to get it!

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

10 thoughts on “The Yankees’ surprising lack of demand for pitching

  1. Adam Fox

    Liriano's 10 K/9 , to me, is a significant upgrade. "you can never have enough pitching."

    He has shown flashes of utter dominance in his career; I honestly think his best years are in front of him. He's had a rough stretch for 2 years now, but an LHP like this in Yankee Stadium could be a really, really good thing.

    • BrienJackson

      But what's he an upgrade over, and what's the marginal value of that upgrade when the Yankees are ten games ahead of the field in the division?

      • Adam Fox

        I'd bring him in and slot him at #5. It might light a fire under Kuroda, Hughes, and Nova (especially Hughes and Nova) if Liriano gets here and starts striking out the world. If he can get back to his pre-Tommy John days, he is a potential ace….the thought of having to face both a dominant Liriano and CC at Yankee Stadium in a series is fairly frightening.

        • BrienJackson

          Okay, but:

          a) Why do Kuroda, Hughes, and Nova need to have a fire lit under them? They're all pitching about as well as you can expect them to over the past couple of months.

          b) Liriano is striking out the world, I guess, but he's walking the leftovers, to the extent that his K:BB ratio is only slightly above 2:1. And he's not limiting home runs to the same extent he did at his peak either. Oh yeah, and there are chronic concerns about his durability and work ethic.

          I mean, I wouldn't pass up a freebie, but I'm not giving up anything of value to add Liriano to this Yankees' roster.

          • Adam Fox

            Honestly, I'm a little bit worried about Hughes in the playoffs. I got the sense that when he pitched in the WS a few years ago, the enormity of the situation got a little too daunting for him.

            Nova has been great , too . However, I'd be wary of his (gasp!) total IP as the year progresses. Maybe that has no bearing on the playoffs, or this year even, but it would sure make me feel better if we had a really solid option sitting right behind him, ready to go. (I'd prefer a healthy Pettitte :) )

            I think we can get Liriano on the (relative) cheap. Obviously, if they start asking for Williams or Sanchez, hang up the phone.

          • Well, okay, but we’re still left with you REALLY overrating how good Liriano is.

        • BeanTooth

          Light a fire? Kuroda is steady and stellar as always, Nova has been an absolute beast the last month plus, and Hughes has been as good as any of us had a right to expect. Not sure why any of these guys need motivation.

  2. LarryAtIIATMS

    Even if Pettitte is finished for the year and Garcia reverts to April form, the Yankees appear to be in good shape with a starting rotation of CC, Kuroda, Nova, Hughes and fill-in-the-blank. So agreed, their current position looks "comfortable".

    If we look to the post-season, the Yanks won't need a fifth starter, so depth is less of an issue than the strength of the top three starters. We have to fear a team like the Rangers, who have three starters in the top 15 fWAR in the A.L. So for the post-season, a pitcher like Greinke or even James Shields (who has been significantly underperforming his peripherals) might be VERY helpful. But with the post-season being such a crapshoot, I doubt that the Yanks would pay much just to rent an upgraded no. 2 or no. 3 starter for this year. And at the same time, it doesn't make sense to bring in a starter before the trade deadline UNLESS that starter would provide a clear upgrade to the post-season rotation.

    If we're looking for a problem, it's 2013 and beyond. There's no guarantee that Pettitte is coming back, and Garcia and Kuroda are not going to last forever.

    • jay_robertson

      What you said in the last two lines. The team is in good enough shape now – the playoffs would be my only concern, and Liriano or Wandy don't look enough better than Nova to warrant the expense. I agree.

      But – if we could get Grienke and sign him to a 3-5 year contract – that would be great, since next year that cupboard is 40% bare – and I've given up on a killer B helping the rotation. It would be nice, but I sure wouldn't bet the season on it.

      Now, otoh, should Joba come back and get stretched out as a starter…..
      ;)

      • mike_nicoletti

        troooollllllllll

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