10 Bold Predictions for CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees' Pitching Staff
Amid the anticipation for the 2012 baseball season, there continues to be chatter about the New York Yankees’ upgraded rotation.
In general, I think it’s better to temper expectations, if for no other reason than that you will be pleasantly surprised when your hopes are exceeded.
But since it’s Spring Training, let’s let our imaginations get the best of us for a few minutes.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Yankees’ starting rotation.
Phil Hughes Will Win the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
Phil Hughes was forgettable 2011.
He came out of Spring Training getting knocked around and made only three regular season starts before going on the DL until July.
He had a nice stretch from the end of July through most of August, going five straight starts giving up two runs or less.
However, coming off an 18-win season to make just 14 starts and pitch to a 5.79 ERA was not what anyone expected.
This year, Hughes arrived at camp having lost weight and in great shape.
I expect a bounce-back year from Phil, one that will be good enough to win him the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Ivan Nova Will Win 20 Games
The Yankees liked Ivan Nova when they gave him a rotation spot last year, but I don’t think even they expected him to pitch as well as he did in 2011.
He won 16 of his 27 starts and allowed just 163 hits in 165.1 innings.
His impressive 2011 campaign earned him a fourth place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year race, and he’s only going to improve this year.
He has been developing his changeup, which should make him even better in 2012.
His performance in the 2011 postseason makes me optimistic that he can handle pressure situations, as well. (Nova “started” the resumed Game 1 of the Division Series in the third inning and tossed 6.1 innings, allowing just 2 runs. He also started Game 5 but was pulled after two innings having given up two solo home runs).
If Nova pitches like he did last year over a full season (he missed most of last July), he will win 20 games.
Hiroki Kuroda Will Not Finish the Season in the Yankees’ Rotation
First of all, let me say that I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “bad” one-year contract. There is no long-term risk for the team, and if a player does not perform, he can be removed from his role, or even released, without much of a loss.
And that’s exactly why I don’t think Hiroki Kuroda will be in the Yankees’ rotation come October.
He did a nice job in his four years with the Dodgers. He always had a low WHIP, and never had an ERA higher than 3.76. His lowest ERA was in 2011 at 3.07.
However, pitching at Yankee Stadium in the AL East will be much more challenging than pitching at Dodger Stadium in the NL West.
The lineups he will face are much stronger and Yankee Stadium is much worse for pitchers than Dodger Stadium is.
He’s also 37 years old.
Plus, he’s only on a one-year deal, so if he does not perform the Yankees will not feel the need to keep pitching him like they did with AJ Burnett for the last two seasons.
Michael Pineda Will Lead the League in Strikeouts
Michael Pineda is the real deal. He has a great combo of fastball-slider already in his repertoire and is working on a changeup that will make him even more dominant.
He struck out 173 hitters in 171 innings last year, and that number is going to get even higher as his changeup gets better.
Justin Verlander led the American League in strikeouts with 250 in 2011, and it’s impossible to see him get any better. It’s possible that Verlander’s total will go down this year if he has to go on the DL at any point, which could happen since he threw 271.1 innings last year.
If Pineda is able to pitch a full season of around 220 innings, look for him to be the new American League strikeout king.
CC Sabathia Will Win the American League Cy Young Award
Carsten Charles Sabathia has had Cy Young caliber seasons in each of his three years in New York, but has come up short largely because other pitchers have had all-time great seasons (Zack Greinke in 2009, Felix Hernandez in 2010 and Justin Verlander in 2012).
I think 2012 is the year CC Sabathia will become the first Yankee to win the Cy Young since Roger Clemens in 2001.
CC’s won 59 games in three seasons in pinstripes and his ERA has gone down each season, from 3.37 in 2009 to 3.18 in 2010 to 3.00 in 2011. He looks great at his new weight. So expect his ERA dip below 3.00 this year.
CC Sabathia is a great pitcher. This will be the year he wins his second Cy Young Award.
Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances Will Start a Combined 0 Games for the Yankees
The much-hyped duo of Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances will likely start the season in triple-A with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Fans will be clamoring to see them, especially if one of them excels in the minors.
But the Yankees won’t rush them to the majors.
For starters, both pitchers need to improve their control before they are major league-ready, and with the Yankees’ revamped rotation there will be no rush to speed up their progress.
The new playoff format hurts their chances at breaking the Yankees’ rotation this year, as well.
Under the old eight-team format, the most likely time for them to start games for the Yankees would be in late September, after the Yankees clinch a playoff spot.
But this year, the Yankees are unlikely to take their feet off the gas and give unproven prospects late-season starts until they have clinched their division in order to avoid the new one-game Wild Card playoff. It’s unlikely the Yankees will clinch the division early enough in perhaps the strongest AL East ever to justify giving one of these two rookies a start.
Sorry, Yankee fans, but you will have to wait until 2013 to see these young men in the starting rotation.
Mariano Rivera Will Start a Game
Mariano Rivera has not started a game since 1995, but if this is going to be his last season (and this writer thinks that it is), Joe Girardi is going to let Mo start a game at the end of the season.
He might even let him play center field! (I know Rivera would love that.)
In the last week of the season, if the Yankees have clinched their division or have clinched a Wild Card spot but cannot win the division, Girardi will let Rivera start a game, but of course only pitch one inning.
It would give Mo the chance to start one last time, but not hurt the team or risk Rivera’s health since he would not be pitching any more than he is accustomed to.
Here’s my question about this scenario: When would Yankee Stadium play “Enter Sandman”? Would it be as he came in from the bullpen to the dugout after his pre-game warm-up? Or would it be as he ran from the dugout to the mound to start the game?
Freddy Garcia Will Start at Least 15 Games
Even though Freddy Garcia is likely to start the season as the Yankees’ long man, I still think he’ll play an important role in the team’s starting rotation this year.
I’ve already predicted that Hiroki Kuroda will not finish the year in the rotation and that neither Manny Banuelos nor Dellin Betances will take his spot, so that leaves Freddy Garcia as the logical alternative.
It’s also more than likely that at least a couple of starters will hit the DL at some point this year.
The Yankees will probably be cautious with Michael Pineda if he has any sort of injury this season, and the same goes for Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes.
Between taking over when those pitchers are on the DL and potentially taking over for Kuroda, Freddy Garcia will be an important part of the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.
CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda Will Become the Best 1-2 Combo in MLB
By the end of 2012, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will surpass Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain as the best combination of starting pitchers in the major leagues.
I’ve already forecast that Sabathia will win the Cy Young and that Pineda will lead the league in strikeouts, and if both happen, it would be hard to argue for anyone else.
Would there be a more feared 1-2 punch in the playoffs than these two?
I’ll tell you one thing: it makes me crave a Yankees-Phillies or Yankees-Giants World Series, just for the incredible pitching match-ups.
CC Sabathia Will Go 6-0 in Playoffs
If all, or even some, of the predictions I’ve already laid out come true, there’s little doubt that the Yankees will play in October.
When they do, CC Sabathia will dominate and will lead the Yankees to their 28th championship.
He will win two games each in the Division Series, American League Championship Series and World Series.
Who knows, this year might even go down as the best postseason in history.
And let’s be honest: would any Yankee fan actually be surprised?
I think all 10 predictions will come to pass. But, if even three or four of them happen, how could you not like the New York Yankees’ chances this year?