The Yankees' starting pitching staff for the 2012 season is one of the stronger rotations in baseball, which makes predictions more interesting to think about than last season. We sort of knew what we had with Sabathia, thought we would have a decent Phil Hughes, and had quite a few questions for A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova. Nova and Garcia turned out better than most could have hoped for, A.J. was A.J., and Hughes was a disaster, so a revamp of the rotation was the top priority this offseason, and Brian Cashman did well in that respect with the acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda.
There will not be any typical predictions here. I'm not going to tell you what I think Nova's ERA will be, or how many games I think that Michael Pineda will win. Instead, there will be a visual view of the rotation based wholly on last year's results. We can use some of those statistics to predict how they will do during the 2012 season, but I don't put a lot of value in that sort of thing because any number of variables can happen, and I'm not big on guessing.
While the rotation is not quite set in stone, we pretty much know it will be some combination of Sabathia, Nova, Pineda, Kuroda, and one of Hughes and Garcia. I compared those six pitchers' numbers last season beyond the jump with the aid of pretty graphs and lots of numbers, as per usual.
The first things you probably notice here are that CC Sabathia was pretty amazing in 2011 and Phil Hughes was basically the opposite of that. I included Hughes' numbers only for the sake of comparison, but I do expect him to be better in 2012. How much better? We'll have to wait and see whether or not he beats out Freddy Garcia for the fifth spot in the rotation in Spring Training or not.
If Garcia sadly beats out Hughes for the last starting spot, I definitely won't be holding my breath expecting Freddy to repeat his 2011 success. I think he could still be valuable as another guy capable of producing non-disastrous innings, but I just don't see the smoke and mirrors coming through as well as they did last season, and his FIP and xFIP seem to support that.
Coming from more pitcher friendly parks, it's reasonable to assume Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda might need an adjustment period when switching to Yankee Stadium. However, they also have the added benefit of less exposure to AL East batters, which could certainly work in their favor. It's difficult (and likely impossible) to say whether the smaller park adjustment will cancel out the benefit of less exposure or not right now, but I personally don't expect either pitcher to be significantly worse than their 2011 peripherals indicate. Both will likely give up more home runs than they did last year, and I expect their ERA's to be a bit higher, but I think Kuroda and Pineda will be more than adequate for the Yankees.
Michael Pineda was clearly fantastic at limiting batters' success off of him in 2011. He held right handers to a .182 average against him last year, and trailed only Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Josh Beckett in overall Batting Average Against. He may not replicate that success to such a high degree this season, but I expect his impressive fastball and slider to continue to produce impressive results.
Nova, Sabathia, and Kuroda all had nearly equal BAA numbers last season, while Garcia and Hughes fared a little worse. This is one of those statistics that backs up pretty much exactly what your eyes see. Garcia was hit harder throughout the season than Sabathia or Nova, and, well, hopefully Hughes' issues are mostly behind him.
I doubt it surprises anyone that Ivan Nova had the least amount of fly balls (Phil Hughes in limited action not withstanding) last season. Nova was able to induce weak contact routinely throughout the season, which kept the ball out of the air. Being able to do that again in 2012 would be so valuable in Nova's quest to prove that his 2011 was not a fluke. He's not going to put up Pineda-like strikeout numbers, but I still think Nova is really entertaining to watch when he pitches.
It is interesting to note that these graphs show Hiroki Kuroda's fly ball and ground ball numbers to be nearly equal. Kuroda was better on the road pretty much across the board last season, so he wasn't helped too much by pitching in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium. Our other newest addition, Michael Pineda, also comes to the bandbox from spacious Safeco Field, a park that can really come to the assistance of more fly ball prone pitchers. His fly ball tendencies may hurt him a bit in Yankee Stadium, but Pineda increased his ground ball percentage as the season went on, hopefully indicating that he can continue to build upon that improvement in 2012.
Everyone knows the importance of ground balls, especially when pitching in Yankee Stadium which is so hitter friendly. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova definitely mastered that craft in 2011, which likely had a hand in their highly productive seasons. Being able to keep the ball on the ground and out of the air is an invaluable asset to have when your home ballpark is as small as Yankee Stadium is. As long as Nova keeps throwing bowling balls, I think he'll be alright.
Hiroki Kuroda was also very proficient at inducing ground balls in 2011, which should help him adjust to the smaller confines of his new home ballpark. Dodger Stadium ranked as the 22nd most hitter friendly park in baseball according to 2011 data, so Kuroda will definitely need to adjust to the less spacious Yankee Stadium and getting ground balls is an excellent way to do that.
So, as I promised, there were no fancy predictions, but you can see where to possibly look for regression or adjustment. Hopefully our two newest pitchers can use unfamiliarity to their advantage while adjusting to the move from larger ballparks. Hopefully Nova continues to be a ground ball machine to prove he never deserved to be sent back to AAA last year. Hopefully the loss of CC's fat doesn't make him pitch significantly worse than we have come to expect.
If you'd like to gaze into a crystal ball and tell us what you think our rotation will do in 2012, feel free to do so. Otherwise, kindly take a moment to answer the non fancy prediction poll below.