2009 Rotation Importance in Historical Perspective

Because I just don’t have enough stuff to do during the day, I like to assign myself some seemingly random, often statistical and, hopefully, ultimately relevant task to perform.  Having finished The Yankee Years, I was motivated by a good chart that Torre and Verducci (in all likelihood Verducci) compiled on page 460, breaking down from 2001 to 2007 what Yankees starters contributed regarding W-L, ERA, innings pitched, and K/9 IP.  The stats were revealing, showing for the most part steady declines in innings logged, wins from starters, and strikeouts per 9 innings especially after 2003.  This was no random table, for Verducci–to (probably safely) ascribe this work exclusively to him–argued (with persuasive quotes from Jason Giambi) that with the addition of Curt Schilling to Boston, the Red Sox had a second “alpha” starter with strikeout ability to complement Pedro and help Boston overtake New York for AL East, AL, and baseball supremacy.

Having had this stuck in my head for a week but lacking adequate time to compile and analyze this, tonight I broke down the stats for the years 1996-2000. While using Verducci’s baseline model, I added what I consider an important component–I divided the starters’ statistical contributions between “primary” starters–those delineated at baseball-reference.com based upon spending the majority of their appearances as starters in a given season–and “fill-in” [F-I] or “secondary” starters whose work as starters was occasional and/or rare relative to their overall work, who were not initially in the rotation, or did not spend considerable time in the majors.

Below are the results.  First, I listed the 1996-2000 seasons, followed by the 2001-2007 seasons.  Note that I did not break down the contributions between primary [P] and fill-in starters [F-I] from seasons 2001-2007, since what I did was already quite time-consuming.  More than just for statistical s*&%s and giggles, I believe there is a larger point to be made with this year’s Yankees.

Year                                W-L              ERA            IP                  K/9 IP

  • 1996 Total       68-49          5.05            921 2/3             6.17
  • 1996 [P]            62-36          4.48            809                     6.29
  • 1996 [F-I]         6-13             9.11            112 2/3              5.35
  • 1997 Total       72-42          4.12            1017 1/3           6.86
  • 1997 [P]            66-37          4.06           923                      6.95
  • 1997 [F-I]         6-5               4.77           94 1/3                5.92
  • 1998 Total        86-39          3.85            1061 1/3           6.96
  • 1998 [P]             79-35         3.72            947 1/3             7.32
  • 1998 [F-I]         7-4               4.90            114                      4.03
  • 1999 Total        71-50          4.33            1002 2/3          6.96
  • 1999 [P]             68-46          4.31             945                     7.02
  • 1999 [F-I]          3-4               4.53            57 2/3               6.09
  • 2000 Total       65-58          4.81             976 2/3            6.31
  • 2000 [P]            60-54          4.70           914 1/3             6.43
  • 2000 [F-I]         5-4               6.50             62 1/3              4.62

A few things are worth mentioning.  The first is the increased durability among the primary starters in the years 1997-1999, their very good ERA and K/9 IP, and W-L.  Importantly during that three-year span, the work of fill-in starters was at its peak in terms of ERA and, in two of the three years, K/9 IP.  They weren’t just workhorses, but good, very efficient ones.  Not surprisingly, that the team’s starters were relatively healthy in the 1997-1999 years correlated to both their effectiveness and that of the fill-ins, who were not overtaxed, especially flexible factotum Ramiro Mendoza, whose ground-ball ability minimized the K/9 IP ratio but also improved the overall effectiveness of the fill-ins during that stretch.  He ably started 15 games in 1997, 14 in 1998, and 6 in 1999 and, in doing so, allowed others to replace his bullpen innings a little at a time, sparing the team from the need to entrust too many leads or long relief stints to newcomers at any given time.  Mendoza’s effectiveness and importance to the team, therefore, is even greater than these numbers indicate.

Below are the numbers Verducci included in The Yankee Years, not broken down between primary and fill-in starters:

  • 2001 Total         64-48           4.34             974 1/3             7.79
  • 2002 Total         79-41           4.34             1024 2/3          7.32
  • 2003 Total         83-42           4.02             1066                   6.91
  • 2004 Total         70-46           4.82             942 1/3             6.55
  • 2005 Total         70-51           4.59             965 1/3              6.11
  • 2006 Total         74-42           4.54             933 2/3              5.84
  • 2007 Total         65-47           4.57             921                      5.61

I’ll add the somewhat dismal but somewhat misleading 2008 season below, just to illustrate the trend having, hopefully, run its course:

  • 2008 Total        59-53           4.58              898 1/3             6.19
  • 2008 [P]             45-34           4.25              635 1/3             6.84
  • 2008 [F-I]          14-19           5.37              263                   4.62

The 2008 statistics are rather revealing.  They indicate the low number of overall innings the starters logged due to ineffectiveness and injury, the poor W-L, the drastically high number of replacement innings that “fill-in” starters logged as well as their very low K/9 IP, and high ERA.  Rasner simply was not intended to make or effective in 20 starts, getting steadily worse the more teams saw him.  Nor was Ponson in his 15 starts.  The numbers certainly reveal a lack of quality depth in the rotation, an unusually high number of starters used (13, though Bruney made one in KC when Girardi out-thought trying to beat the weather and umpires as well as the Royals) and starts the fill-ins made (51).

But as bad as 2008 was, there are some bright spots worth remembering for this season.  The “primary” starters numbers include poor stats from Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy (aka Ian E. Neumann), who were dreadful especially early in the season.  Overall, Hughes was 0-4, 6.62 ERA, 6.09 K/9 IP in 8 starts and 34 IP, and Kennedy 0-4, 8.35 ERA, 5.89 K/9 IP in 9 starts and 36 2/3 IP.  Otherwise, the “primary” starters of Mussina, Pettite, Joba (whom I included here since he’ll be a starter in 2009), and Wang were quite good–45-26, 3.84 ERA, 6.95 K/9 IP in 564 2/3 IP and 94 starts.  Add Sabathia and Burnett to that mix (with the obvious subtraction of the now-retired Mussina), and that’s a staff with the potential to log big innings, win a lot of games, fan a lot of batters, and maintain a pretty good ERA.

To make a long and statistically-laden story short, the rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettite, and Joba has significant potential to return the Yankees to the heyday of the late 1990s to 2003 form if they’r healthy and effective.  They have big-time strikeout potential and may well eat innings.  I admit to loving those whom Frank the Sage terms the “alpha starters,” the guys who demand the ball and deliver, but who can also overpower.  Wang does it with the sinker; others such as Sabathia, Burnett, and Joba do it via the punch-out.  The K is the ultimate veto power for pitchers, and it’s been a long time since a Yankee staff has been as rich in strikeout capacity as this one in 2009.

This is a team with the capacity to get the Yankees back to and deep in the post-season, if healthy and effective.  As the numbers above show, there is a general correlation between rotation effectiveness, durability, strikeout ability, and team success for the Yankees in the last 13 seasons.  It’s also one that, if effective and healthy, should allow Hughes, Kennedy, Aceves, and others spot starts to possibly maintain and effective level of replacement work for a change.

Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 2:46 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Jason wrote this excellent piece (he’s a history buff like me) on his blog yesterday analyzing the statistics of the Yankee pitchers in 1996-2000 and 2008. […]

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