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It's taken me forever to put this together, mainly because there are so many variables for the Yanks coming into the season. Could they win 100 games and walk away with the A.L. East? Absolutely. Could they win 85 games and miss the playoffs? Yes. How will they finish? Well, that's the big question.

For me, this season will come down to starting pitching, as most do. Unfortunately, the Yankees rotation is full of question marks. No one was happier to see Johan Santana go to the Mets than I, because as soon as the Twins accepted that half-assed offer for Johan, it meant we'd get a chance to see Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in pinstripes this year. That being said, we're expecting an awful lot of production from those three kids.
Before we look forward, let's look back. Last season, the Yankees finished with a record of 94-68, their starting pitchers compiled a record of 68-49, threw 943.1 innings with an ERA of 4.59, a WHIP of 1.43, averaged 5.6 K/9 and 5.8 innings per start.

Not great numbers, but they were good enough for the Yanks to allow the sixth fewest runs in the league. More than enough for the Yanks to win more games, especially given their explosive offense.

Now, let's break it down a little further. Three spots in the rotation will remain static, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Those three combined for a record of 45-26 in 566.2 innings of work over 91 starts and compiled an ERA of 4.22, a WHIP of 1.39, while averaging 5.3 K/9, 6.2 innings/start. Chien Ming-Wang lost time to injury, Mike Mussina lost time to futility, Andy Pettitte was healthy all year. For the sake of argument, let's say these numbers remain static. This is a big if considering Pettitte is already hurt and Mussina has been throwing batting practice for over a year now, but let's stay somewhat optimistic.

This leaves us with the rest of the rotation. Last year, the other starters used by the Yanks combined for a 23-23 record in 376.2 innings of work over 71 starts and compiled an ERA of 5.14, a WHIP of 1.49, while averaging 6 K/9 and 5.3 innings/start. These numbers include solid contributions from Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who we'll get to in a moment. The other guys who accounted for these stats were Roger Clemens, sans PED's apparently, Carl Pavano, Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens, Chase Wright, Sean Henn, Matt DeSalvo, Tyler Clippard and who could ever forget Kei Igawa. Not a single one of those players is on the major league roster for Opening Day, and they shouldn't be.

When you look at that last paragraph, there is absolutely reason to to be optimistic. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and later in the season, Joba Chamberlain can't possibly be that bad, can they? Barring an injury, you have to believe the Big Three can beat those numbers. I'll go as far as to say they should blow them out of the water. So why am I cautiously optimistic about this season going in? Well, they're all young. Extremely young. No matter how much potential these guys have, no matter how much success they've had in the minors and no matter how great they looked in the bigs last year, they're still unproven. I wouldn't be shocked if they all posted ERA's under 4.00. By the same token, I wouldn't bet you money that they won't have a collective ERA of over 4.50 when all is said and done. I feel good about them, but I'm just not sure.

I know I've spent a lot of time here talking about starting pitching, but honestly that's the only real area of concern heading into the season. The bullpen should be better than it was last year. Proctor and Vizcaino have been replaced by LaTroy Hawkins and Joba. Definite upgrade.

On offense, I'm going to say they take a step forward. 2007 was a career year for A-Rod and Posada, expect both of them to slip a bit this year, Posada more than A-Rod. In the plus column we have Cano, who will only get better, Melky, who's game is progressing and possibly the most important position to the offense, first base. Jason Giambi is in a contract year, and he should be platooning with Shelley Duncan all year. I'm expecting much, much more production out of that position this season. It would be hard to do any worse than the numbers Doug, Andy Phillips et al put up last season.

On defense, they'll have Melky in center and Damon in left from the get-go, which is an upgrade over Damon in center and Matsui in left. Jeter's knee can't possibly be as bad as it was last year, so there should be some kind of improvement there. Giambi is a step down at first, but overall, I'd say it evens out or the Yanks have a slightly better D this season.

My prediction: 97 wins and a division title. I've seen these kids pitch, and having them in the rotation for a full season, in whatever form they take, is a huge improvement over the garbage they threw out there last year. The bullpen is solid from the get-go, and we'll see how it rounds out after Joba goes to the rotation, if he goes. Their lineup is still the best in the league. The thing that has me the most worried at this point is Mike Mussina. The Yanks have to trot him out there every fifth day and I'm really afraid he's going to get shelled and tax the pen for about 30 starts. Maybe another kid like Jeff Marquez can jump ahead of the pack and join the team in June. Otherwise, the Yanks may have to make a trade for a starter who can eat innings without posting a 6.00 ERA, like Mussina.

by Brian on Mar 30 2008
Tags: 2008 Season Preview |