Last years Yankees were sorely lacking in the critical area of starting pitching. The season began with Wang, the ace, on the DL and Carl Pavano starting on Opening Day. Mike Mussina was also injured at the beginning of the year and the only really solid guy was Andy Pettitte. Kei Igawa, the signing from Japan, was terrible serving up home runs left and right. Speaking of home runs, remember when Chase Wright gave up 4 in a row to Boston? Tyler Clippard had a few decent performances but got sent back down after an overall unimpressive performance. Jeff Karstens wasn't good and got injured on a comebacker from a Red Sox player early on (Pedroia?). Matt DeSalvo got bombed repeatedly. Darell Rasner was good but also got injured and was often passed over in favor of other, lesser pitchers. After a while, Phil Hughes got called up. He had an overall poor debut but showed good signs and was wildly cheered by the Yankees Stadium crowd. In his next start he had a near no-hitter but pulled his hamstring in the 8th inning (he later sprained an ankle badly) and missed most of the season. Eventually, Roger Clemens announced his return to the Yankees and added, if not a great pitcher, a steady reliable pitcher. Just before the All Star Break things turned around and Wang and Pettitte became a feared combination. Mussina and Clemens were decent and by August Phil Hughes was back.Hughes wasn't great but he was good. Mussina dropped off a lot in September and was even replaced by Ian Kennedy at one point. Wang collapsed in the playoffs in the playoffs, Pettitte did well, and Clemens did poorly pitching hurt. Overall the rotation consisted off a lot of bad replacements and 5 solid but not great pitchers.
This year Joba will be back to starting and is expected to be in the ML rotation, Hughes will start the season in the Bronx, and Wang will be back. Andy Pettitte has a player option for 16 million dollars he is expected to pick up and should be a valuable innings eater. Mike Mussina is back and after the off-season maybe he can get his "fastball" up to the high 80's instead of the 84 mph FB we were seeing last year. If he can regain the seperation between his fastball and change he could also be solid. If not Mini-Moose (Ian Kennedy) will be waiting in Scranton to take Mike's job.
Darell Rasner will probably still be around in AAA to fill in case of injury. Alan Horne might be in front of him by now though. Jeff Karstens definitely did not have a good 2007 and probably will be a little farther down the list now. We saw many promising signs with Kei Igawa as well but I think he`d be better suited for relief. Chase Wright was rushed last year and should start the season in AAA. Matt DeSalvo is an interesting case. He was great in AAA and actually made BA's top 100 prospect list once this year but was terrible in the majors. Maybe it was just nerves because he didn't look like the guy the stats and people described pitching in AAA.
Finally, their's still Roger Clemens. After a dramatic announcement of his return to pinstripes he helped turn this team around. I love Rocket and his intensity but the guy pitching in the ALDS against the Indians a month ago looked done. He`s not better than an average pitcher now other than the experience he brings to young players. I`d love to see him back for a reasonable deal but not another 28 million dollar deal. Maybe 13 million protrated would do it. If he wants to come back and we have room for him great but you can't purposely keep a spot open for him.
I think Hughes and Joba both have the potential to be aces this year. The Hughes we saw late last year wasn't the real Hughes. As Fabian Mc'Nally at The Minor Yankees Blog pointed out, he was taking a shorter stride than he was taking in the past. Possibly out fear of another injury or it might have still been bothering him. As a result he lost velocity on his fastball and became a worse pitcher. When Dave Eiland came up this problem was partially fixed (which explains his success in September compared to when he first got back) and since it looks like he`ll be the new pitching coach I`d be surprised to see this continue. Both are on innings limits (180 for Hughes I think and 160 for Joba but I`m not sure on this). Making Joba a reliever, even if Rivera leaves, would be a waste of his talents (yes, I also think Papelbon is being wasted as a closer and would have more value as a starter). Trading either one in a desperate bid for Santana would be dumb as well.
Wang is a decent pitcher and nothing more. He is a sinker baller which means he is very vulnerable to luck. His SO's increased last year with an improved slider which should help but he still allows a ton of balls in play. Wang has benn lucky the past two years and had excellent ERA's but it could easily turn around this year and he could have a below average ERA. He needs to keep working on that slider and striking more guys out. I love him but I wouldn't be opposed to trading him because his value will never be higher than it is now after two consecutive 19 win seasons.
Pettitte is a solid innings eater. He was decent last year but not great. His K/BB was down to 2.04 and his GB% remained about the same. He suffered from a terrible lack of run support all year and had only two bad stretches all season. One at about the ASB and another, less significant September slump. He has a 16 million dollar option for 2008 he`s expected to pick up. He `ll be a good middle of the rotation starter next year and will be a solid veteran prescence. He`s given a great pitcher for the Yanks and has given them some amazing moments but this could be his last year. He almost retired before last year. He`s a borderline HoF candidate but I doubt he`ll make it in. If he has a Cy Young caliber season it might be enough to get him in and convince him to pitch another few years. It probably won't happen but weirder things have happened. He`s arguably one of the top five Yankees pitchers of all time as well.
Mussina has one year left on his contract for 11.5 million dollars. After a fantastic 2006 he had a terrible 2007. His K/BB dropped all the way from 4.91 to 2.60. On its own that still looks okay but it was more a product of not walking people than striking guys out. His GB% was also a terrrible 41.9%. He went from throwing 88-90 mph to throwing 84-86 this year. In September Ian Kennedy took over for him and almost pushed him off the playoff roster. However, after resting he came back strong and his fastball was back up to 88 mph. The key for him is to get that seperation between his fastball and changeup that he was lacking last year. Hopefully, after an off-season of conditioning and under the stricter regime of Joe Girardi he`ll get his fastball velocity up to where he needs it to be to be effective. Mussina is another borderline HoF candidate but he`s a LOT closer than Pettitte. Mussina's been critisized a lot but he`s been a great Yankee and is also arguably in the top 5 all-time Yankees starters.
A trade suggestion I heard that I liked is Wang+Kennedy+Damon+DeSalvo+Money for Santana. Santana is the best pitcher in baseball and would give us the ace we`ve been looking for. Wang is a very nice pitcher but that's all he is and his value will never be higher. Kennedy could also become a very good pitcher but he`s not on the same level as Phil or Joba and we`ve got depth. Damon is pretty good but he`s declining and overpaid. We don't have room for him to play either. He can fill Tori Hunter's spot in CF for the Twins. DeSalvo had great minor league numbers but the Yankees have other more talented players.
Proposed 2008 Starting Rotation:
1) Johan Santana
2) Joba Chamberlain
3) Phillip Hughes
4) Andy Pettitte
5) Mike Mussina
6) Alan Horne
7) Darell Rasner
8) Jeff Karstens