The New York Yankees have some time to experiment with their pitching rotation. Though their top two starters, C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, make more ($33 million in 2012) than half of the salary earned by the Tampa Bay Rays, the bottom three of the rotation may shift based on a few factors. The most important consideration is the fact that the Yankees have two young players, Michael Pineda and David Phelps, that have shown signs that they would be effective in the rotation, when healthy and given the opportunity.
Also, one cannot forget that Andy Pettitte, who signed out of retirement in March, has shown signs of strength in two rehab appearances for Hi-A Tampa, throwing a total of seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits while striking out five. The third factor in the potential shake-up of the Yankees’ rotation is the sub-par starts that Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) and Phil Hughes (0-2, 9.00 ERA) have had this year. If Joe Girardi wants to try something new as the season progresses (he may have to if he wants to keep his job), he will have many key pieces to play with already in the organization.
David Phelps is off to an incredible rookie season. Brought up as a long reliever after four years in the minors as a starter, the 25-year-old has turned many heads by allowing just one hit, a home run off the bat of Vernon Wells, in 8.1 innings of work. That blast, Wells’ 250 career shot, came in Phelps’ most recent appearance, when he came in to relieve after Phil Hughes was rocked for six runs in less than four innings last Saturday.
Unlike Hughes, though, Phelps allowed just the one hit in 5.1 scoreless, and the shift from Hughes to Phelps in that game may be a symbol of what is to come. Though it is a little presumptuous to look at such a small sample size, Phelps has shown almost no weakness so far in his MLB career: nine strikeouts and the aforementioned one hit are good signs for the young righty. His minor league stats have also shown great promise, as he maintained an ERA lower than 3.00 his entire time in the Minors (2.99 ERA in 2011, 2.50 in 2010). He leads behind his low 90s MPH fastball, which he has thrown 61 percent of the time in 2012 according to Brooks Baseball, and relies on it as well as his high 80s MPH slider to get batters out with two strikes. The graph below shows his pitch outcomes on 37 two-strike opportunities.
But wait, there’s more! Even if Girardi decides to replace Hughes, who has a career 4.99 ERA as a starter, with Phelps, there is still a chance for Freddy to be bumped from the rotation. Though the 35-year-old’s 2011 comeback campaign was both inspiring and unexpected, his two starts in 2012 have both ended with a quiet walk off the rubber early on. Allowing eight earned runs in just over ten innings has saddled Garcia with a 6.97 ERA for the year, a start reminiscent of his disastrous 2007 season with the Phillies. His velocity has been consistent with that of last year, but he just hasn’t looked good so far.
Contenders to replace him are Pettitte, who as previously mentioned is pitching well in rehab starts down in Tampa, and Michael Pineda, the 23-year-old prospect that the Yankees traded Jesus Montero for this offseason. Pineda, who is currently on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, threw his first bullpen session Monday with no reported problems. It would be nice to have the highly touted youngster as an option in the rotation, but the Yankees have no reason to force him into playing time and risk another injury. The Yankees have several decisions to make when it comes to their starting staff. But they have both time and options- two very important factors when it comes to pitching in today’s game.
Get more great sports analysis over at FootBasket.