Monday, February 23, 2009

New Rotation Ready to Put the ‘K’ Back in Yankees

Fans remember the buzz generated last season every time Joba Chamberlain reached back for 100 MPH on the stadium radar gun.

However, their memory might not be as quick to recall the last time a Yankee starting pitcher had velocity worthy of sleepless nights for opposing hitters.

Surprisingly, no Yankee rotation has had even three starters accumulate 100 strikeouts since 2004. Javier Vazquez lead the team that season with only 150, while also posting a 4.91 ERA.

To put this into perspective, Randy Wolf accounted for 162 strikeouts in 2008. Wolf will never have his fastball confused with Bob Gibson’s, and does not make hitters worry about putting the ball in play.

A pitcher equipped with ‘swing-and-miss’ ability is an incredible advantage to any rotation. While it tends to increase pitch counts, it allows for the ability to escape jams and neutralize a team’s best hitters.

The Yankees last reached the World Series in 2003. During that season, they had three starters eclipse 180 Ks, including Mike Mussina’s team high of 195. The dynasty years also saw David Wells, David Cone, and Orlando Hernandez post high strikeout totals.

Before an eventful offseason, the Ace of the Yankee staff was Chien-Ming Wang. While his career high of 104 strikeouts has not affected his regular season dominance, it has clearly affected his postseason performance.

Facing the best teams in Major League Baseball in October, a pitcher needs an out pitch to maneuver through potent lineups. It is this go-to pitch that has made Josh Beckett and Cole Hamels so electric in recent playoff runs.

Wang’s sinker is a devastating pitch, but the Yankees’ defensive liabilities up the middle make it difficult to maximize his effectiveness.

AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Joba Chamberlain will add a dimension to the Yankee rotation not witnessed since the glory days. All three possess unhittable breaking pitches, and all three have approached 100 on the radar gun.

So long as Burnett and Chamberlain spend more time toeing the rubber than lying down on trainer’s tables, the 2009 rotation should keep many hitters from ever leaving the batter’s box for first base.

In their last full seasons in the American League, Burnett and Sabathia struck out 231 and 209 respectively. Even if Chamberlain is limited to only 150 innings in 2009, he would account for 171 Ks based on last year’s averages as a starter.

This would account for a total of 611 strikeouts for these three starters alone, which is already more than the entire Yankee starting rotation from 2008 (601 Ks).

While it takes much more than swings and misses to assemble a top-flight pitching staff, these three flamethrowers are not one-trick ponies.

They know how to pitch, and they can utilize all of their pitches in any count. This not only makes them intimidating, but very dangerous.

For the first time in half a decade, the Yankees will be capable of unleashing a pitcher than can truly dominate a game. Mariano Rivera may even find himself taking a few close games off this summer.

The Yankees will try to hook the Rays and reel them back in after finishing far behind in 2008. There is one key difference this season, as they will once again be fishing with dynamite in 2009.

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