"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Andy Makes Five

It sure took them long enough, but the Yankees finally came to terms with Andy Pettitte yesterday, re-signing the veteran lefty to a one-year deal with a base salary of $5.5 million and incentives that could make the deal worth as much as $12 million. With that, the Yankees have the final piece of their 2009 rotation in place. Here’s a quick look at the Yankees’ projected starting five along with my thoroughly un-scientific innings and ERA projections for each pitcher:

Pitcher Proj. IP Proj. ERA
CC Sabathia (L) 230 3.20
Chien-Ming Wang 200 4.00
A.J. Burnett 170 4.40
Andy Pettitte (L) 215 4.20
Joba Chamberlain 160 2.90

Quibble with those projections however you want, but consider what they add up to: 975 innings of a 3.73 ERA. Last year the collected Yankee starters–that is every pitcher who started for the team all year, not just the top five–combined for just 898 1/3 innings and a 4.58 ERA. Meanwhile, team that got the best performance out of it’s starting pitchers in 2008 was the Toronto Blue Jays, whose starters combined for 1,012 2/3 innings of a 3.72 ERA. Given that, the Yankees could have the best rotation in baseball even with that underwhelming performance from A.J. Burnett, average performances from Pettitte and Wang, and the limit placed on Chamberlain’s innings total. The catch is that their two top rivals for baseball’s best rotation are the Rays (with David Price taking over for Edwin Jackson) and Red Sox.

Note that I expect Chamberlain, not Pettitte, to be the Yankees’ fifth starter because of the limit the Yankees will need to place on his innings. Chamberlain threw 100 1/3 innings last year. Tom Verducci’s Rule of 30 would suggest a cap of 130 innings this year, but I expect the Yankees’ cap to be around 150 frames, and for Chamberlain to surpass that slighly due to a solid performance. The one remaining flaw in Chamberlain’s game is an inefficiency stemming from his being both a strikeout pitcher and one who walked 3.5 men per nine innings last year. That inneficiency will likely limit him to an average of six innings per start (which is exactly what he averaged in the nine starts prior to his shoulder injury last year). At that rate, he could make 26 starts this year and still have thrown just 156 innings. If the Yankees keep him in the fifth spot and use the odd off-day to skip his turn, he should come in right on target.

Meanwhile, with Pettitte having now rounded out the rotation, Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves become replacement starters rather than potential fifth-starters. That’s good news for the Yankees as there’s a decent chance that at least one of the pitchers in the chart above will wind up throwing as many as 100 innings less than I’ve projected for him due to injury. Aceves is a classic sixth starter, a crafty, junkballing righty who relies heavily on his defense and staying one pitch ahead of the hitter. In scout speak, Aceves has great pitchability, but not much stuff. He’s not far removed from the pitcher he’s replacing in the organization, Darrell Rasner, and is thus better suited as a replacement than one of the organization’s top five starters.

Hughes, of course, is still a top prospect, but even before Pettitte signed, I felt that Hughes needed to start the year in Triple-A and spend a couple of months just getting his legs under him and his confidence up so that he could return to the majors with some momentum rather than start the year trying once again to prove he deserved to break camp with the big club. Remember, Hughes has made just two major league starts since last April, and while he was excellent in the second of those two, essentially beating A.J. Burnett head-to-head (though Jose Veras wound up with the win), it came in late September against a long-since eliminated Blue Jays team. Hughes developed a strong cut fastball while rehabbing his broken rib last year and pitched well, if inconsistently, in the Arizona Fall League. With Pettitte in place, Phil can now build on those two developments at Triple-A in the hope of becoming a mid-season injury replacement (I didn’t write “for Burnett,” but I thought it) and forcing Joe Girardi to make a tough decision in the second half. Remember, Hughes won’t be 23 until last June. He still has plenty of time to make the transition from Triple-A to the majors.

While I’m on the topic, I might as well address Ian Kennedy. I don’t think Kennedy, who is a year and a half Hughes’ senior, was ever going to be in the picture for the big league rotation this spring. He did enough to discourage Girardi and the team last year that he wasn’t even brought back as a September call-up. Kennedy needs to spend the year at Scranton letting his pitching do the talking and hoping for a chance to make his case for the 2010 rotation in September. The good news on Kennedy is that he supposedly found a new way to throw his curve after working with Scranton pitching coach Rafael Chaves last year and dominated the Puerto Rican winter league with the pitch. Kennedy’s big problem last year was his refusal/inability to use his curve in his major league stints, making him a very hittable two-pitch fastball/changeup pitcher without much heat on his heater and a resulting tendency to shy away from contact. If the improvement in his curve proves sustainable, he may well revive his prospect status, making the A.J. Burnett contract all the more regrettable for expensively clogging up the rotation.

Still, taking the short-term view, it’s hard to complain about the Yankees’ top five starters entering the season. The Yankees haven’t had an Opening Day rotation this strong since they were making annual trips to the World Series. They’ve paid a lot for the priviledge, but it just might pay off.

Tags:  Andy Pettitte  Starting Rotation

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1 Raf   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:09 am

Yes, I'd much rather read about this than "the book."

I thought the Yanks not calling Kennedy up last year was odd. He did behave himself in the minors, and he did pitch well right through the playoffs. I definitely would rather have seen him than Pavano or Ponson. Also, I would think that if the Yanks had really soured on him, they would've moved him by now.

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:22 am

Even if they did want to move him, they're better off letting him build his value back up and using him to fill a potential hole at the trading deadline. Not that I think they should, but his value was likely at its lowest this winter.

3 ms october   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:28 am

nice write-up cliff.
as has been said by many, in addition to having quite a nice 1-5, this gives the rotation some nice depth and breathing room.
hoepfully in another year or so there really will be a logjam in pitching, that can be comfortably dealt for a ss or if needed a c or cf depending what montero/romine and jackosn look like at that point.

ha, agreed raf.
who really knows what the deal was with kennedy, maybe they wanted to shut him down since they knew they wanted him to get in some serious work in the winter leagues. or maybe it was more of a continnued statement to him, like "you still have a long way to go kid" kind of sentiment.

4 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:44 am

I enjoy your writing, but please don't make the mistake of lesser analysts in letting your personal opinions of players shade an objective evaluation of them. For as much as you don't like Burnett, never in his career has he posted that high of an ERA in a full, or even semi-full, season. Furthermore, his last three seasons in the AL East have gone 3.98, 3.75, and 4.07.

5 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:49 am

[3] That would be odd, considering how quickly Kennedy rose through the system. If they really wanted to temper his ego, they'd also have to reevaluate the process that allowed him to get as far as he has, considering that they'd be as much culpable for such potential inflation as he would be. Still, I hope they keep him around and let him develop naturally; I only want to see him as a long man, if at all in the majors this year.

6 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:52 am

Oh, AJ Burnett.

I'm going to hate him.

7 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:52 am

I'm going to repeat myself from yesterday: It's time to trade Hughes or Kennedy for a legit CF. This time next year they still have only one rotation slot open (unless Pettitte proves he's still got something left or Joba can't stay healthy as a starter) with many more pitchers (McAllister, Brackman, Betances, Heredia, Garcia) one step closer. Time to flip some pitching for Kemp or McLouth.

8 Mattpat11   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:53 am

Bum Rush, AJ's numbers look alot more like that projection when you take out the games he had against the Yankees.

9 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:04 pm

Bum Rush, like I said, quibble however you want. Those are gut projections, not scientific ones. I make no claim to accuracy or method, they're there primarily to start discussion and feed my larger point about the cumulative impact of that five-man rotation. Indeed, consider that even with that poor projection for Burnett, the aggregate rotation figures are still outstanding. Consider also that if Burnett doesn't have the abnormally high ERA, someone else likely will, so why not pick on a player I've been very up front about doubting?

As for where I got that 4.40 from, prior to his last four starts last year, Burnett had a 4.47 ERA after 193 1/3 innings pitched. His ERA against everyone other than the Yankees last year was 4.57. Yeah, sure, maybe he posts a sub-2.00 ERA against the underpowered Blue Jays and it all comes out in the wash this year, but it's not like I predicted he'd post a 5.80 ERA.

10 Raf   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:04 pm

[7] Hughes and Kennedy will not bring back a "legit cf" at their current value.

FWIW, depending on the projection system, Burnett is expected to post the following ERA's

Bill James: 3.62
CHONE: 3.88
Marcel: 3.97

11 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:05 pm


But he's pitched well at the Skydome. Now he'll do that against the Jays.

12 Shaun P.   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:05 pm

[7] But their one close-to-the-majors hitting prospect is a center fielder! And as Cliff said, Kennedy has a long way to go to get his value back.

Besides that, the Dodgers have plenty of young pitching, while Kemp is their best young hitter; and as for McLouth, to me '08 numbers scream "fluke!" because he's never hit for that kind of power before.

And all the guys you mention are almost certainly not going to be ready for the bigs by this time next year; none of them has pitched a full season in high-A, much less AA or AAA yet. Only McAllister has even pitched above low-A. None have the college pitching background IPK or Joba had which might justify them getting all the way to the bigs by the end of the year. I agree there is depth on hand, but not enough to think about trading IPK, or particularly Hughes.

[8] That, and even though he's a strikeout pitcher, he's going to have the Yanks' defense (12th in AL in '08 in defensive efficiency) behind him, not the Blue Jays (who've been no worse than 4th in the AL in DefEff since 2006). Now admittedly with Tex, and minus Abreu, the defense should be better, but I think Cliff's within his rights to be cautious.

13 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:07 pm

@ 10

No, it will require them plus others. Still, add-in Melky or Gardner and then they just need to add a pitcher like McAllister or Garcia. Somehow I think the Pirates, who need all the prospects they can get, would do something like Kennedy, Melky, and McAllister for McLouth.

14 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:11 pm

Just to put this out there: McLouth is 27 already. I don't actually think his breakout season last year was particularly fluky, and he is an all-around talent (speed, power, defense, won't hit for much average but will draw walks), but he's not particularly young for a player with just one full season as a starter under his belt.

15 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:19 pm


I'm not convinced Jackson is legit. And even if he is, Kemp is good enough to become a corner in a year or two when he becomes ready.

I disagree on the Dodgers having plenty of pitching. According to KLaw, they have two legit pitching prospects, Lindblom (with 34 pro innings) and MacDonald. And it's arguable about whether Loney and Ethier are both better. If they sign Manny, Pierre slides back into CF any how.

You might be right on McLouth, but he's worth a shot. He's got decent enough OBP skills, with good SB rates. He may not be a long term solution, but he'll be better than what they've got.

As for the Yankee pitchers, it's true they're probably two years away. But they'll all be much closer and thus more projectable. But even in 2011, they'll only need one pitcher if all goes well with Joba.

16 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:21 pm


To be clear, 2009 is his age 27 season. He could be peaking right now. I'll take that for two or three years, if they take Kennedy, Gardner, and McAllister.

17 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:30 pm

Actually, BR, if the Dodgers sign Manny, Pierre rides pine. That said, I do think Kemp will eventually become a right fielder, and I share your concerns about Jackson. I'm not in a rush to see the Yankees trade any of their legitimate pitching prospects, however, even though the Sabathia and Burnett contracts suggest that's what will ultimately happen. I'd like to see Burnett survive a full season in a non-contract year first.

18 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:31 pm


Fair enough. I generally like your analysis too much to think you're letting your emotions influence your gut. Thanks for the clarification.

19 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:41 pm


You know, our old fat two-faced friend was starting Pierre to begin 2008. I won't be surprised if he does the same to start 2009, especially if Kemp struggles. Lessons learned one year were soon forgotten the next (Cairo, Miguel; Williams, Bernie - indeed part of the problem with Cashman is Torre says he wanted Bernie back).

The problem with Kemp moving is they'll soon have a logjam in the corners if they sign Manny, with Ethier, and with Lambo looking like he'll move quickly.

20 The Hawk   ~  Jan 27, 2009 12:57 pm

Someone mentioned before they were disappointed that spring training would see no competition for the fifth spot. I am relieved this is not happening. With all the money spent and moves made this off-season, it would be a sad thing for this team to not know who their fifth starter's gonna be. This is the best possible end to the process - Andy's a known quantity, dependable and hell I'll say it: He's a Yankee. I like the look of this rotation a LOT.

21 rbj   ~  Jan 27, 2009 1:02 pm

[1] I was thinking the same thing, a whole season of not having to rely on Ponson for 10-12 starts.

As for Aceves/Hughes/IPK, they should all realize that Pettitte's got a 1 year deal, no guarantee of being here in 2010. Whether it's in the pen or in Scranton they should take this year as an audition for next years rotation.

And it's what, 17 days to pitchers and catchers?

22 seattleyank   ~  Jan 27, 2009 2:23 pm

[7] IIRC, wasn't McLouth a horrid defensive outfielder last year by most projections?

23 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 2:58 pm

Indeed, I stand corrected (even though it wasn't me you were correcting). McLouth grades out as a sub-par defender via Dave Pinto's Probabalistic Model of Range and Ultimate Zone Rating as well as BP's less-reliable Rate.

24 PJ   ~  Jan 27, 2009 3:35 pm

Thanks Cliff! Yes, I'll take this topic any day! I sure hope they all can be healthier than last year! It will be great fun to watch!

25 ms october   ~  Jan 27, 2009 3:40 pm

shaun and cliff's guess that the corresponding 40man roster move would be to drop chase wright was right (per petabe - i would link but everyone knows the site and links seem to get caught in moderation)

26 MichiganYankee   ~  Jan 27, 2009 4:03 pm

As Steve Goldman states, Pettitte in the rotation is now Plan A while "the kids" have been relegated to Plan B. It seems that it ought to be the other way around, as Pettitte's contract is perfectly structured to be an insurance policy.

Let the kids fight it out for the #5 spot and slot Pettitte as the swing man. If the kids are all ineffective or if one of the starters becomes injured, Andy is available to provide lots of league-average-or-better innings. If the Yanks don't need much of Pettitte in the rotation, they won't have to pay more than the base salary and roster time. If he ends up contributing as a rotation regular, they'll pay him like one.

27 OldYanksFan   ~  Jan 27, 2009 4:03 pm

I have to agree with BR somewhat on AJ. $18m for 170 IP of a league-averagish ERA is a bit depressing. If he is 'that bad', maybe we can pull a bit of Andy's incentives out of that $18m?

I would hope we could count on an ERA bewteen 4 and 4.2 for AJ. 4.2 for Andy would be a nice surprise.

I don't think we should be trading Hughes unless someone, for some reason, bowls us over with an offer. Even if he's a #3, a cost controlled #3 is very valuable, especially on a team with so many high priced players.

28 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 4:32 pm

[25] Try this hyperlink code:

[a href(equal sign) "http(colon, double-backslash)yankees dot lhblogs dot com(backslash)2009(backslash)01(backslash)27(backslash)wright-is-designated(backslash)"]
Chase-ed Wright Off The 40-man[/a]

[ is Less-than sign
] is Greater-than sign
(backslash) is /
(colon) is :
dot is .
(equal sign) is =

Chase-d Wright Off The 40-man

I copy and paste whatever text and link into an existing example of a hyperlink code, as this is easy to forget unless you're an HTML coder (wowzers...)

29 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 4:37 pm

Check Chyll gaming the system!

OYF: "$18m for 170 IP of a league-averagish ERA is a bit depressing. " Why do you think I was so pissed off when they signed him?

30 ms october   ~  Jan 27, 2009 4:51 pm

[28] thanks chyll - and good headline :}

31 Raf   ~  Jan 27, 2009 5:22 pm

I have to agree with BR somewhat on AJ. $18m for 170 IP of a league-averagish ERA is a bit depressing. If he is ‘that bad’, maybe we can pull a bit of Andy’s incentives out of that $18m?

From fangraphs;

Thanks to the new Marcel projections that were just added to the site last night, we can estimate Burnett’s 2009 performance pretty easily. Marcel projects him at 187 innings with a 3.87 FIP for next year, but we’ll round that to 190 innings and a 3.90 FIP just to make the math easier. Once again, we’re going to use a 5.50 FIP as replacement level for a starter and cap his innings at 160, and use a 4.50 FIP as replacement level for a reliever, who will make up the 30 inning difference. So here are the totals that we’re projecting:

Burnett: 190 innings, 82 runs allowed
Replacement Level Starter: 160 innings, 98 runs allowed
Replacement Level Reliever: 30 innings, 15 runs allowed

We’re projecting the replacement level pitchers to allow 113 runs, or 31 more than what we’re projecting for Burnett. That would translate to +3 wins for whoever signs him. We can once again add a bit of a bonus to account for his extra innings saving the bullpen, so let’s call Burnett a +3.3 win pitcher.

3.3 wins * 5.5 million per win = $18.15 million in projected 2009 value. We again factor in a 10% discount rate to make up for the fact that he’s going to get a long term deal, and that gives us an annual average value of $16.4 million. Given Burnett’s history, it’s unlikely he’ll get more than four or five years. That puts his projected contract at 4 years/$66 million or 5 years/$82 million.

A.J. Burnett was signed to a five-year, $82.5M contract.

Not bad how the math works out, eh? :)

32 PJ   ~  Jan 27, 2009 6:35 pm

I hope these guys, especially the new hurlers, throw at opposing batters when our guys get hit for a change! That's the only thing I'm not going to miss about Moose.

I wonder who is going to help out at ST this year? Has that information been published yet?

33 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 7:27 pm
34 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 27, 2009 8:29 pm

[33] I'm not Sweating the Technique, Rakim, but not being a techie got no idea what you mean there... :)

Ben Sheets is STILL out there, right? Would love to see the Yanks offer the same deal Andy got to Sheets..then the rotation would be:
AJ/Sheets (18-20 starts each with all the injuries)
Andy P

add it up and you get 100 wins...

35 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 8:55 pm

[34] Yeah... but what happens if something completely stupid happens, like AJ making 30+ starts? I kinda think that the only reason they get Sheets at this point is if Joba is forced back in the pen because of some fluke accident to a present reliever, and that's if he doesn't sign with Texas first.

We kid about AJ and Sheets, but you know, I don't want to speculate that they will get injured. Besides, we have a plethora of options at AAA for spot duty. If Cash wasn't afraid of Sheets' injury report, he'd be here already...

36 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 27, 2009 9:09 pm

[35] Always stockpile arms and assume injuries will happen!

I know this has been covered before, but I still don't get it..Joba looks like a Mack truck, is his arm that fragile that he can't even pitch 180 innings at this point?? Perhaps someone can point me to some reading material about pitchers arm strength and development..obviously each individual is different, but it just seems like they are babying him a bit..

37 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 9:39 pm

Tokyo, read the Verducci piece I link to above.

It's about conditioning. He's just not stretched out, and players under 25 are still maturing physically so you have to be careful about extending them significantly past what they've been conditioned to do in the past. Pitching is a very unnatural act. Once he's built up, like CC has been, he should be able to go 230-odd innings annually, but it takes a few years to get to that point and to get him out of what they call "the injury nexus," which is that less-than-25-years-old period.

Put it this way, just because somebody's tall, thin, and leanly muscular doesn't mean they could go out and run a marathon without training for it first. And you can't go from running a 10K to running a marathon without some intermittent training either. Throwing 200+ innings in a season is like running a marathon, you have to build up to it.

38 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 27, 2009 9:42 pm

[36] There has been some research (most notably by Tom Verducci when not writing books) suggesting that suddent innings spikes at early ages disproportionately leads to injuries. In Joba's case, it's important to remember that he did not have a long college or minor league career, so I think the Yankees are wise to take it easy with him. With Pettitte on board and Hughes in the wings, I think the Yankees can afford to be cautious. Also, it's important to remember that Pettitte has signed a one-year deal, meaning Hughes really isn't a plan-B, but more like a 2010 plan-A in waiting. Now, instead of trying to ease two youngsters into the rotation, the Yankees can groom Hughes at AAA, knowing he can step this year if needed, but targeting 2010 for his full-time ascension.

39 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 27, 2009 10:05 pm

[37] [38] Thanks for that, makes sense.

Amazing to look back though and see guys throwing 300 innings..doubtful that will ever happen again.

40 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 10:32 pm

That's because of the five-man rotation.

162 games divided by five pitchers is 32.4 starts. Even at eight innings per start that's only 259 2/3 innings. But 162 games divided by four is 40.5 starts, a pinch more than 7 1/3 innings per start in a four-man rotation would push an ace like Sabathia up to 300 frames.

It's funny, because the same performance analysis that has lead to strict pitch counts and innings limits for young pitchers (based on evidence of workloads leading to injuries in the past) also argues in favor of four-man rotations for established starters as it would eliminate the often-replacement-level fifth starter and there's no evidence that pitching every four days is any harder on a mature pitching arm than pitching every five days.

41 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 10:43 pm

[40] Mature, but not (Randy Johnson) past prime? Then again, Randy won a lot of games during the regular season, but seemed to age another twenty or so years around playoff time...

42 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:00 pm

[40] The 4-man rotation would therefore be preferable as long as you don't go Dusty Baker on the pitch-counts..

43 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:24 pm

[42] Poor, poor Edwin Jackson... just when it seemed like he was finally getting it together...

44 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:24 pm

Right, it's bad for any pitcher of any age to throw too many pitches in a single game (search for articles on Pitcher Abuse Points, or get a copy of Baseball Prospectus 2007, which has an essay in the back that updates PAP), but if in-game workloads are not abusive, total innings in a season can go up to the required levels for a 4-man rotation without risk provided there's a build-up to those levels over the course of the previous seasons.

45 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 27, 2009 11:55 pm

[43] didn't E.Jackson go to Detroit?? is Leyland known for ignoring pitch counts as well??

[44] Great, will do. I do remember reading somewhere about David Cone throwing 150 pitches on more than one occasion..

the pitchers here in Japan are Seriously "abused"..Matsuzaka's famous "Koshien National Tournament" championship game was over 175 pitches..and he had pitched two days earlier, and he was 18 years old!

46 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 28, 2009 7:08 am

[44] I don't think you can really compare innings pitched across eras. The more pertinent thing to consider is the number of pitches thrown. Without the data to back it up, I am pretty sure that pitchers today throw a lot more pitches per inning than when the 4-man rotation was used. Whether it’s because of better hitters, a tighter strike zone, smaller ballparks, etc., getting three outs today is probably a lot harder than it used to be. If you could somehow reverse that trend, you could probably reconsider the 4-man rotation. Quite frankly, I don’t see such a reversal. In fact, I think it’s a lot more likely that we will see a 6-man rotation than a return to the 4-man rotation.

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