Monday, August 08, 2005

Value Over Replacement Pitcher

It’s official – our pitching staff is a group of scrubs. Rejects, misfits, call them what you want. But these guys – mostly being paid the league minimum by the Yanks (though many are collecting paychecks from elsewhere) – are turning into an effective gauze to the Yanks’ profusely bleeding season.

This group of guys might not get any love from Left Eye Lopez and the rest of TLC, but they’re sure – what’s that term? Earning their pinstripes? It may be early in their tenure in the Bronx, but the three new starters, combined with a new yet familiar face in the bullpen, have been doing exactly what they’re being paid to do: keep the team in games.

Obviously, this wasn’t the plan entering the season. With a rotation that bolstered such names as Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown, the Yanks were finally poised for a season in which they wouldn’t have to worry about their pitching being able to carry them. And I almost managed to type that with a straight face.

On paper, however, the Yanks were set entering this season. On paper, they had a 20-game winner, two 17-gamers, and two 15-gamers. It’s a shame that they don’t play baseball by looking at everyone’s stats and rolling dice to determine the outcome; we’d have run away with the AL by this point (along with capturing the 15-35 Dungeons and Dragons demographic). But realistically, I just don’t know how Cashman and Torre could fathom for a second that this set of starters would hold up. Let’s take a look at the rap sheet.

The name that stands out most on the list is Kevin Brown, to whom a stint on the disabled list is like staying at a buddy’s place when you’re in the doghouse. It was such a given that he would end up on the DL this year that many wondered why Cashman didn’t reel in another starting pitcher (Eric Milton, Odalis Perez, anyone with a pulse) as an insurance policy for Brown, who actually began the season on the DL (though this indirectly led to the uncovering of gold in Wang, so I’m not technically complaining). I said it before the season, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll say it again: we were better off shipping Kevin Brown elsewhere and paying 100 percent of his $15 million salary. What we would get in return: not having Kevin Brown any more.

Then there’s Jaret Wright, a guy who looked like a stud in ’97 when he came up with Cleveland, and had flashes of that greatness last year with the pitcher’s haven in Atlanta. Too bad the only significant humbers he put up between then was days spent on the DL. From 2000 through 2002, he made a total of 24 starts for Cleveland (7-9, 7.20 ERA) before being shipped to Atlanta for bullpen work in 2003, who shipped him to San Diego after nine innings of work. Combined, he was 2-5 with a 7.35 ERA (8.37 in San Diego), two saves and three blown.

And we expected what of this guy? We expected him to reproduce last year, the only truly solid year of his career? His contract year? Fat friggin’ chance. What I don’t understand is how the Yankees broke one of the cardinal rules of free agency: don’t sign a pitcher from Atlanta who is not welcome back there. They know things the rest of us don’t, and it’s scary sometimes. You just watch, when Horacio Ramirez is 29, they’re going to cut him loose and there will be a mad scramble for him. And, of course, he’ll be a bust in any city he arrives in. Why? Because the Braves know pitching. They’ve proven it time and time again.

Now that I’ve mentioned contract years, it’s natural that I move on to Carl Pavano. For some reason I can’t explain, I really do think that Pavano is as good as he showed last year. Yes, his career stats (57-58, 4.21 ERA before New York) don’t justify my stance in the slightest. But sometimes you have a feeling about these things, like Abe Simpson –
“Put it all on 41. I’ve got a feeling about that number.”
“Sir, the wheel only goes to 36.”
“Put it all on 36. I’ve got a feeling about that number.”

Guess I’m feeling a little like Grandpa on this one. Maybe his shoulder has been bothering him the entire season, and he just didn’t let anyone know until it was physically impossible for him to make another start. This may be evidenced by following up his 3.10 ERA April with a 5.05 ERA in May and a 5.86 in June. And now reports are running rampant that he may miss the rest of the season. Wonderful, just wonderful. Another $10 mil wasted.

Moose was another concern coming into the season, as he spent an extended period (July 7th to August 17th) on the DL last season. His relatively injury-free past helped alleviate some of that concern, as did the way he recovered from that injury (3-1, 2.14 ERA in September). The problem with Mussina this season is that he’s not providing the consistency the team needs. Sure, he’s had some good starts and even a few great starts, but they’re all part of a smorgasbord that’s littered with terrible outings – five starts with five or more earned runs.

And don’t even get me started on Randy. I’ve dedicated far too many words to him in the past couple of weeks.

So let’s compare the injured regulars with the replacement scrubs:
Pavano: 4-6, 4.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 56 Ks, 18 walks over 100.0 IP
Small: 3-0, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6 Ks, 6 walks over 20.0 IP

Wright: 2-2, 9.15 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, 13 Ks, 9 walks over 19.2 IP
Leiter: 2-3, 4.68 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 16 Ks, 19 walks over 25.0 IP

Brown: 4-7, 6.50 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 50 Ks, 19 walks over 73.1 IP
Chacon: 0-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 8 Ks, 5 walks over 12.0 IP

And the scrubs have proven an upgrade. Any way you slice it, the replacement guys have performed better than the regulars, which says a boatload about their VORP (a stat that I still don’t really understand).

Why do I bring up pitching for the umpteenth time today? Because the best pitching team in the league is coming into town for three days. Thankfully, we miss their two aces, though the three guys we get aren’t exactly Pavano, Wright and Brown. The Yanks are going to have to work to get runs off El Duque, Contreras and Garcia.

But most of all, we’re going to need a little help from Mussina, Chacon and Small. Here’s to the new guys.