the Yankees do not expect Andy Pettitte to start the 2011 season with the team. Larry isn't convinced that we've seen the last of All Day AP, but I'm less certain. Whatever Pettitte decides to do, there is no time like the present to begin understanding what his absence means for the 2011 season.
As it stands right now, the 2011 Yankee rotation isn't actually CC Sabathia and pray for rain, but it's pretty close. After the big man, the Yankee rotation projects to be Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. Put another way, the Yankees have an ace, a league average pitcher with considerable upside, a head case with considerable downside, hack journeyman Sergio Mitre and fifth-starter-at-best-if-he-can-figure-out-how-to-retire-batters-the-third-time-through-the-order Ivan Nova. What could this mean for the team?
The answer rests squarely on the four shoulders of Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. If Pettitte stays retired then the Yankees will be trotting out an entirely untested back end of the rotation in 2011. (This smells like 2008 all over again.) Here's how these guys did in limited duty in 2010:
In his entire career, Mitre has never pitched more than 149.0 innings, which he did in 2007 with the Marlins. That season he put up an ERA of 4.65 in the NL East, good for an ERA+ of 94. His WHIP was 1.483. These are below-average numbers, and the WHIP suggests he may have gotten lucky. Making matters worse, he didn't go deep into games. He started all 27 games he appeared in that season, averaging only five and a half innings per start. That's fine for a spot start, but it will kill the bullpen if it's called on to give the team four innings every five games. In other words, Mitre would have to have the best season of his career for him to be a suitable solution in the rotation.
Ivan Nova is even more of an unknown. He started well in 2010 in the rotation, but he labored as time went on, both within games and the season. He too lost steam around the fifth inning of any given start. Unlike Mitre, Nova showed promise a bit more recently, except it was in AAA. In 23 starts for Scranton Ivan averaged 6.1 innings per start. He pitched to a 2.86 ERA and a 3.54 FIP. The problem here is that, at best, we have to assume he'll be able to give the Yankees at most about five innings of work per game in the Bigs, unless he improves dramatically. That means that the Yankees would be getting short length from their #4 and #5 starters on a regular basis, putting considerable strain on the bullpen, more if A.J. Burnett proves to be his usual self. (Suddenly Rafael Soriano doesn't look so bad.)
These numbers suggest that the Yankees have, at best, a solution to start the season and nothing else. The projection systems agree. CAIRO sees Nova giving the Yankees only 83 innings of work. It sees Mitre giving the team only 72 innings in 2011. Bill James isn't much more optimistic, projecting 80 innings from Nova and 61 innings from Mitre. Both of these projections probably will need to be updated if the Yankees start the season with these guys in the rotation, but the forecasts are based in reality. It is improbable to expect that the Yankees will get much more than that from either pitcher.
The Yankees know this. So far the team is keeping its cool, but it has a rotation for one-third of the season at best, perhaps less if one of the front three implodes. Did I mention A.J. Burnett is on this team? The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the Yankees have to be much deeper in the market for starters than they've been letting on. Behind the scenes it may very well be an all-hands-on-deck situation for Brian Cashman. Whether he fills out the holes with veteran free agents, or tries to make an unforeseen trade is anyone's guess, but it is certain that the team needs one more legitimate starter at least. Upping the offer to Andy Pettitte is a pretty good place to start. $20 million anyone?