Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Returning Pitchers: Wang, Pettitte, and Chamberlain

Chien-Ming Wang looked like the rotation’s ace last year until he was sidelined with an injury and the early-struggling Mussina rose up into the limelight. Thankfully the injury didn’t involve his arm or shoulder and he should return to form again this year. The published projections for Wang aren’t that hopeful. Both sources (the Bill James Handbook and Baseball Prospectus) are counting on Wang to make 30 appearances, but while Bill James predicts 200 innings, the Baseball Prospectus guesses 126, suggesting another setback might be on the way. BJ predicts an ERA of 3.70 while BP predicts 4.39. Obviously here one is looking for a solid season from Wang while the other is forecasting a big slide. Personally I think Wang will be back on his game and will produce numbers similar to his 2007 season. If he doesn’t, the injury prone and depleted rotation could be in big trouble.

Andy Pettitte was last season’s workhorse, the guy who would eat up innings and deliver stuff that was good enough to keep the team in the game. He had his off days and he had good days but in the end the innings went by and the team was still in a position to win. BP suggests a dropoff in Andy’s innings, games played and wins, but also a drop in ERA. BJ predicts a full workload of games and innings, a drop in wins and also an improvement in ERA. Pettitte’s deal with the Yankees took a while to iron out, but hopefully he stayed on top of his offseason conditioning. I’m looking for Andy to be Andy. Not the pitcher he once was, but still a reliable guy to go out there every five days. The media attention about his past PED use has all but disappeared and hopefully he can concentrate fully on the season ahead and deliver the goods.

Joba Chamberlain was impressive in everything he did last year. For the most part, people seem to be accepting the argument that  his talents are best used in the rotation rather than the bullpen. The big concern is his durability. The Yankees need to enforce a strict pitch count and innings limit for him from day one and need to be able to rest him every so often, skipping his start (by using him as the 5th man or having a 6th starter ready).  The only projections available are from Baseball Prospectus which seem to think his status is up in the air, making a bunch of starts but also getting some bullpen work while seeing 126 innings total. His ERA is predicted to be a mere 3.09, up from last year but still impressive. I personally don’t have a strong feeling about what’s going to happen with Joba. Starting him is the right thing to do, but he’s going to need rest, and he might not be able to hack it. If anything does happen, he’ll quickly be back in the bullpen where he’ll spend the rest of his career as a set up man and closer.

The Rest of the starters, well, there really aren’t any. I don’t have faith or hope for Kennedy or Hughes. The two of them need an entire year in the minors before I’d want them back. They will see time in the majors, however, because it’s inevitable that someone on this rotation is going to have at least a minor injury that will require a spot starter. Traditionally, a long reliever on the roster can fill in in these instances, but despite Girardi saying he wants a long reliever on the team, I don’t see it happening. I’d be willing to give Giese a shot and we should get a look at him in spring training.

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