Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pitching 2007

The talk of the offseason has been pitching, and rightly so. There isn't a big name slugger out there this year to capture headlines, and the pitching ranks are also thin. With the lack of supply to meet the always voracious demand, the big name pitchers who are sitting out there are getting a lot of attention. The mid-range pitchers are even set to cash in, with some silly team overpaying for league average results. It's the kind of market that has prompted the Yankees to lose their minds in the past on players like Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown. Not this year, or at least it would appear that the Yankees are staying out of it.

Pitchers are a lot like cars. Even the Rolls Royce and Ferrari varieties depreciate the moment you drive them. If you or I were to go out looking for a car, we'd be on a budget. Such is also the case for Big League GMs and their pitching rotations. While the Royals and Pirates are working on a Chrysler "Town and Country" budget, the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox are working with Bugatti Veyron 16.4 level money. The Red Sox have launched the initial volley with a $51.1 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka that has blown a hole in the side of the GMs budgets for pitching contracts on the remaining free agents. The fact that the Sox bid was more than $13 million more than the 2nd place Mets, and about $18 million more than the Yankees shows that they misread the market horribly. Speculation has arisen that the Red Sox were operating with information that the Yankees intended to bid $50 million, and the $1.1 million tagged on was insurance against the Bombers. Silly.

The remaining big boys are generally listed as Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. Hardly an awe inspiring duo, although Zito is a former Cy Young winner and by all accounts a fine left-handed starter. Schmidt is also very good, but his value is inflated far too much this year with the void of prospects in the veteran ranks. His NL pedigree also is enough to scare off half of the GMs in baseball. Where do teams with needs turn? The Yankees situation is enough to answer that question. The answer is stand pat.

I am proposing that the Yankees spend only a bare minimum if they plan to acquire a starting pitcher. Actually, I'm advocating no free agent spending at all in 2007. It's unecessary. Here's why:

Chien Min Wang
Mike Mussina
Randy Johnson
Carl Pavano
Scott Proctor
Darrel Rasner
Joba Chamberlain
Jeff Karstens
Humberto Sanchez
and....

Phil Hughes

The worst case scenario is that Wang isn't as good, Mussina is spotty and occasionally ineffective, Johnson is fragile and similarly ineffective, Pavano is a non-factor, Proctor doesn't translate to a starting role, Rasner is bad, Chamberlain isn't ready, Karstens is bad, Sanchez is injured, and Hughes never arrives. That's terrifying, but no more so than any other team in the Majors.

The best case scenario is Wang is as good as he was last year, plus an improved strikeout rate. Mussina turns in another 125 ERA+, Johnson rebounds from surgery refreshed and effective to the tune of a 3.75 ERA. Pavano finally pitches and checks in at a 4.00 over 32 starts. Proctor remains as a reliever as Darrell Rasner is better than advertised. That's sunny and optimistic.

What I expect in 2007 is the following:

Wang posts a similar season to 2006, with a few more Ks, and a slightly higher ERA. Mussina will also repeat his 2006. 2004 and 2005 looked bad for Moose, but his 2006 showed that the prior inconsistency was a result of some nagging injuries that he was freed from at the start of last year. I think he'll be healthy again this season and post his career numbers, to the tune of a 3.63 ERA and a 125 ERA+. Johnson will take longer to return from back surgery than expected, but will benefit from a cautious approach. He will keep his ERA at 4.00 and give the Yankees some solid outings against the weaker teams in the league, and post RJ numbers just a bit worse than 2005. Pavano will actually pitch this year, but will be up and down. One good game, one stinker. The 5th spot will be Rasner out of camp, as he'll win the job. By mid-season you will see Phil Hughes come up to replace either Pavano or Rasner in the rotation.

When you look at it, the rotation should look almost exactly like the 2004 Yankees. That team started Johnson, Mussina, Wang, Pavano, and the combination of Brown, Wright, Chacon, Small and Leiter. This year, Wang is better and so is Mussina. Johnson is worse, but Pavano is back. The #5 options seem stronger and younger. It wouldn't surprise me to see the following results:

Wang (117 ERA+)
Mussina (125 ERA+)
Johnson (110 ERA+)
Pavano (95 ERA+)
Rasner (100 ERA+)

Compared to the following Red Sox prediction, I think we have a great chance again:

Schilling (125 ERA+)
Beckett (105 ERA+)
Matsuzaka (115 ERA+)
Papelbon (125 ERA+)
Wakefield (100 ERA+)

This is pure speculation, but Schilling should be good for the most part, Beckett has produced one great season in his career, in the NL, and there's no evidence that he can do more than slightly above average in the AL East. Matsuzaka is a crapshoot, but I think he'll be anywhere between a 140 ERA+ and the number I put up there. I went conservative. Papelbon has never shown anything but dominance, if he can stay healthy as a starter, and I think he should match anyone in either rotation. Wakefield is a stop gap pitcher. If both Matsuzaka and Papelbon find their upsides, the Yankees will be in trouble. The Sox will have the far superior rotation, especially if the Yankees aging rotation falters. The question here is not will the Sox rotation be better than the Yankees, as it appears there's a very good chance it will be, but rather is there anything the Yankees can do about it? The answer is yes, if you want to splash on Zito, but no if you don't. If you can win the Kei Igawa bidding for a reasonable number, he should be no worse than a #4 in the AL. That's one other option at the right dollar figure. ($10 million for the posting, and $15 million over 3 years?)

I don't want to spend on Zito because the free agent class of 2007 is FAR superior to this 2006 crop. Think about it. Carlos Zambrano, Chris Carpenter, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, John Smoltz, Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez, Michael Barrett, Francisco Cordero, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, plus our own Jorge Posada, Bobby Abreu, and Mariano Rivera. I'm sure most of those players will be signed to their current clubs before the end of the season, but there will be an opportunity to spend big money on actual star quality players. Yeah, but Mike what if none of those players are available to the Yankees? What if the Red Sox make a run at the pitchers and beat us to the punch? They need to replace Schilling and Wakefield?

That's all true. It's an all out spending war with Boston now. Fortunately, we seem to be matching them with our minor league pitching prospects, have a more well-rounded lineup, and in the end can outspend them if we choose. I never factored Phil Hughes into my 2007 rotation discussion. Joba Chamberlain is pitching lights out in Hawaii. Dellin Betances has the potential to be a freakish pitcher in the Majors. If any of those players becomes ready over the next few years, we'll be at least even with the Red Sox. That's enough to dissuade Cashman from overspending on guys in the free agent market, unless they are proven aces. Zito is on the fringe of that evaluation, and I don't think he's worth the money.


If you don't spend on Zito and get one of the big name guys in 2007, you could be looking at the following rotation:

Zambrano/Carpenter
Wang
Mussina
Hughes
Pavano

That will be as good as anyone. In 2008, Johan Santana looms large. Minnesota will lose him because they can afford to pay $25 million a year for one player. The Yankees can. There is also the possibility that Cashman can work a trade. If the Yankees are willing to part for a few top prospects, not named Hughes, an ace can likely be had. There are many options. No need to go overboard. I'll keep an eye on this, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

5 comments:

Travis G. said...

I mostly agree with your sentiments. Although the Yanks rotation has many questions, at this point, Boston has as many or more. Schilling is 40, Beckett's coming off his worst year, Lester has cancer, Papelbon is a reliever with one plus pitch, and Wakefield is old too.

We have solidity in Wang and Moose, and should have 2 decent pitchers if Pavano and RJ return healthy. I actually feel quite confident in Karstens/Rasner/Proctor, at least to be a 4/5 starter. That's it right now, but at least our bullpen is set, unlike Boston's.

The Yanks in the past have been very reluctant to let rookies become starters. But they have to be more lenient with the idea: it worked for Matt Cain, Verlander, most of the Marlins, Papelbon, Wang & cano 2 years ago. I do not have a problem going into the season with our rotation, bc I believe Sanchez, Hughes, and/or Clippard will come up from AAA during the year and pitch well. And probably better than RJ or Pavano. Of course, I would feel more confident if we could add a decent starter like Lilly, Wolf or Igawa.

Then next year, adding Zambrano should fit well. But I dont think Santana will reach FA. The Twins will do whatever they can to sign him, he's their franchise. Even without him or Zambrano, our 08 rotation could be: Wang, Hughes, Sanchez, Mussina, Clippard. Adding Santana or Zambrano would be sick. And then I expect Chamberlain or Kennedy to join the club in 09. Wow.

Travis G. said...

oops. I forgot about Matsuzaka, but he's a question too, having never thrown a ML pitch, and already having 1400 innings on his arm.

My theory with the rookies holds true as long as Torre takes it easy on their arms. I dont want any of them pitching over 200 innings. We dont want another Liriano.

Sean J. said...

Mike,

I definitely agree with you on this. Even if it means the Yanks don't make the playoffs (which I highly doubt) I think it would be worth sitting out this offseason and going with what we have. A few comments:

1) I love the Ichiro idea. Moving Damon to 1st and then getting Ichiro in center and moving Cabrera to right (Or trading him and resigning Abreau. If he plays well in 07 his value will be pretty high as he costs almost nothing).

2) I Don't like Zito. The only way I'd sign him is he planned on giving the "i always wanted to be a Yankee" discount. I heard he would really like to play with Giambi and Damon again but I think that might just be a negotiating ploy. No one goes to Boras unless they are thinking $$$.

3) Ted Lilly or Gil Meche might not be bad options if they're salaries aren't crazy. But more importantly I don't like these moves because they will ask for multi-year deals.

4) I might be inclined to overpay Andy Pettit or Roger Clemens for a one year deal. That could hold us over until 2008.

5) I like Igawa. He'd be a nice catch. Plus it would be awesome if he, somehow illogically, out preformed Matsuzaka for 1/10th the price.

6)Can someone explain to me why everyone is so high on Zambrano? I like him and hes puts up good numbers but hes an NL pitcher so... that is worrisome.

7) If there is one person, other then Ichiro, I want the yankees to spend on in 2008 its Joe Nathan. I would love to have him as for when Mo has to hang it up.

mars2001 said...

Mike -

I'd be interested where you found a list of the 2007 Free Agents... I'd like to cull through that list & see what's available myself.

Thanks.

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