The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part V: Assessing the Rotation

I've spent the past week and a half evaluating the Yankees' options for revamping their offense this offseason. Given the attrition of several of their less effective hitters and the ability to spend BIG dollars to replace those hitters with significantly better ones, there's no doubt that the Yankee offense should see a big boost in 2002. At least once Jason Giambi signs on the dotted line and the Yanks land themselves a reasonably competent corner outfielder or two, that is.

But when it comes to the Yankees' perennial plans for October, the name of the game is pitching. No better illustration of this came than when they made their big free-agent splash last winter by signing Mike Mussina rather than a big hitter to bolster their sagging offense. The signing gave the Yanks four top-line starters, in Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Orlando Hernandez--on paper the best quartet in baseball going into the season. Today I'll examine how that vaunted rotation performed, and move into the Yanks' options in my next piece.

Three of the four top-line starters--Clemens, Mussina, and Pettitte--lived up to their billing and managed to stay reasonably healthy in 2001. Pettitte missed a few starts, but as a group they made 61% of the Yanks' starts, exactly what we would have expected in a five-man rotation. Orlando Hernandez, on the other hand, didn't hold up his end of the bargain. To the puzzlement of Joe Torre, Mel Stottlemyre, and crew, El Duque struggled during the first two months of the season (0-5, 5.14 ERA) before revealing that he had been concealing a toe injury which hampered his mechanics. Sidelined for two months by surgery, he came back strong, going 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in September.

Hernandez's early-season troubles created a domino-effect mess at the back end of the Yankees rotation. While El Duque was dragging his damaged body out to the mound every fifth day, the Yanks were struggling to identify a #5 starter. Rookie Christian Parker won the job out of spring training, got shelled in his first outing, developed tendonitis and was done for the year. Rookie Randy Keisler made two starts, stunk up the joint and created an even big stink when he was demoted. Yet another rookie, Ted Lilly, took over the #5 spot and acquitted himself reasonably well before becoming the de facto #4 when El Duque went down. At that point, Kiesler rejoined the rotation, and when Adrian Hernandez (still another rookie, and a Cuban-defector protege of El Duque) subbed for Pettitte through a couple of turns, the Yanks suddenly had three rookies in their rotation.

The results, as one would expect, were not pretty, and Yankee GM Brian Cashman finally acquired an experienced (if significantly less than 100%) arm in the form of Sterling Hitchcock. Hitchcock, still recovering from Tommy John surgery, was tattooed on a slightly less frequent basis than the rookies. Not until El Duque returned strong in September did the Yanks have their playoff-projected quartet of top-liners in place.

Looking at the statistics of these pitchers as a group, there's a wide chasm between the Big Three and the rest of the group. The Big Three combined to go 52-24 with a 3.53 ERA, while Your Name Here went 12-24 with a 5.96 ERA. Here are their performances as starters only (Innings Pitched have been rounded, the AVG, OBP, SLG and SL*OB are the opposing hitters stats against each pitcher):
            IP   W-L   ERA   RS   K/9  K/W  WHIP  HR/9  AVG   OPB   SLG  SL*OB

Mussina 229 17-11 3.15 4.53 8.4 5.1 1.07 0.8 .237 .271 .358 .097
Clemens 220 20-3 3.51 6.58 8.7 3.0 1.26 0.8 .246 .305 .375 .114
Pettitte 201 15-10 3.99 6.46 7.4 4.0 1.32 0.6 .281 .313 .397 .124

Lilly 104 4-6 5.63 4.62 8.4 2.0 1.53 1.5 .267 .337 .464 .156
Hernandez 91 3-7 5.06 3.61 7.3 1.8 1.42 1.9 .248 .324 .452 .147
Keisler 51 1-2 6.22 6.75 6.4 1.1 1.70 2.1 .259 .366 .358 .180
Hitchcock 50 4-4 6.16 7.42 4.9 1.6 1.65 0.9 .315 .366 .469 .172
Cy Young Award to the contrary, Mike Mussina was the best Yankee starter, hands down. His ERA was 0.36 better than Clemens, and he had significantly better rate stats with regards to K/W ratio and WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) than Clemens did. Andy Pettitte was off to his best season ever until a late dip; still, he significantly improved with regards to his stamina, WHIP, walks and strikeouts per nine innings and his K/W ratio (I published a piece on his improvement in the wee hours of September 11, just before the world as we know it changed). He wasn't as good as either Clemens or Mussina overall, but he was better than the one in the catalog.

I took a novel look at the Yankee starters by examining the offensive performance of the hitters that faced them. Using Extrapolated Runs, I calculated Offensive Winning Percentages for the batters facing each one, then multiplied by the number of decisions and compared that to the pitchers' actual Won-Lost records. The results confirm what we already know--Clemens was very lucky with regards to wins and losses (six wins above the projection), Mussina fairly unlucky (almost three wins below). Run support obviously played a big factor in that disparity--the Yanks scored over two runs per game more for Clemens (and Pettitte) than for Mussina. Pettite was almost dead on in this projection (the four categories stand for Offensive Winning Percentage Against, Projected Wins, Projected Losses, and Wins Above the projection):
           OWPA    PW    PL    WA

Mussina .290 19.9 8.1 -2.9
Clemens .392 14.0 9.0 6.0
Pettitte .416 15.2 10.8 -0.2
Lilly .569 4.3 5.7 -0.3
Hernandez .572 4.3 5.7 -1.3
Kiesler .663 1.0 2.0 0.0
Hitchcock .624 3.0 5.0 -1.0
Does anybody still think Clemens deserved that Cy Young?

Anyway, I could play with the numbers all day (I did, in fact). In my next piece, I'll explore how this all shakes down as the Yanks plan for 2002.

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