The Yank’s Woeful Rotation
After failing to sign their top priority free agent, Cliff Lee, missing out on trade target Zack Greinke, and facing the possible retirement of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees find themselves scrambling for back-end rotation starters.
The 2011 season could see the weakest Yankee starting rotation in years. If the season were to begin today, they would be forced to plug unproven youngster Ivan Nova and retread Sergio Mitre into their fourth and fifth slots. Though both are talented and can get by in the Majors, they each carry question marks as to their reliablility and fit on a championship caliber team.
Turning 24 on Wednesday, Nova has long been touted as a high-ceiling starter but one who has been unable to turn his impressive stuff into results. Equipped with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a good curveball, and a good change, New York has been waiting for Nova to deliver on his potential for years. Those results haven’t come and, until then, he’ll be merely another guy with potential who is short on results.
In the meantime, it looks almost certain that Nova will begin the season in the Yankees’ rotation — whether that’s as the number four (where he stands today) or as number five, if Andy Pettitte returns. And, unfortunately for Boston, he does seem capable of handling these responsibilities.
Despite New York’s concern, Nova does have a nice skill set. He induces ground balls (at a 51.4 percent clip last season), controls the free pass to an acceptable degree (3.64 BB/9 in 2010), and doesn’t destroy his productivity with poor BABIPs and HR/FB rates.
Furthermore, he put up decent plate discipline indicators, which suggest better performance to come. With average contact rates and good-enough control, he should be able to post a K-rate in the mid 6s and a low 3s BB/9. All told, he looks like a pitcher who could put up a low-4s ERA — his expected ERA last season was a 4.11.
Even with a less-than-stellar strikeout rate, Nova looks like a relatively good pitcher for a #4 or #5 spot in the rotation. The main rub with Nova is that he’s unproven, as New York likes to point out his inconsistent minor league ERAs and subpar K:BB ratio in 2010. He has the tools to succeed, however. And, if he had better strikeout and walk ratios in the minors, he’d seem like more of a sure thing; the kind of young pitcher whom you wouldn’t mind taking his lumps as a #5 a la Clay Buchholz in 2008.
Until he proves himself, however, New York will dread his turn in the rotation and view him as a chink in their armor.
While New York is has a reasonable level of concern in the prospect of relying on Nova, the guy they are really worried about is Sergio Mitre.
If today were 2007, Mitre would be a fine option as a back-end starter. He has good groundball skills, is stingy on the free passes, and has the talent to hold down a middle-of-the-rotation gig.
But it’s not 2007 — and Mitre is not the starter he was just three years ago. While he still has the control and ground ball rates he did three years ago, he has serious durability issues and has reverted to his troublesome HR/FB numbers of years past.
When teams cast a player in a starting role at the beginning of the season, durability suddenly becomes a very important asset to possess. For a team void of depth, it becomes even more important. Given that propensity for injury, Mitre would be a much better fit as a long reliever or reserve starter who could fill in for someone else’s injury.
Performance could be an issue for Mitre, as his potential HR/FB rates have caused some serious volatility in his projections, ranging from a 4.58 to a 5.08. That alone is cause for concern. But, when you have no depth and you’re anticipating injuries in your rotation, the performance of your front five might not be your biggest problem.
In the end, the Yankees will do everything they can to avoid plugging Mitre into the front five. Today, though, he stands as the Yankees’ biggest barrier to making the post season.