How the NY Yankees Fell from Grace, Part Four: Where Has All the Pitching Gone?
The first three parts of this series covered how the failure to re-sign Tino Martinez after the 2001 season, the signing of Jason Giambi, and the lack of clubhouse chemistry have all been factors in the lack of success for the Yankees for the past several seasons.
The final part will cover how the loss of good pitching has been the biggest downfall for the Yankees, and if they plan on winning, it's all gotta start with pitching.
A lot of coaches will say championships are won with defense, and the Yankees' championships were most definitely won with pitching.
Andy Pettitte was 23 years old in 1996 and was the youngest starting pitcher on the staff with the least amount of experience.
He had pitched in the postseason in '95, but David Cone, Jimmy Key, and Dwight Gooden were more experienced. Their experience and their skills helped to nurture Pettitte and allow him to thrive in the bigs and play an important role in the rotation.
Too often, young pitchers are rushed to the majors and because of their potential are expected to carry a rotation, which is something they aren't prepared to do.
In 2008, the Yankees were trying to stay young with their rotation, and guaranteed roster spots to youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.
It is no doubt that Hughes and Kennedy are very talented pitchers but they demonstrated this past season that they are not ready to carry a rotation.
The pitching staffs from '96-'01 were full of experienced pitchers who were able to thrive in the New York spotlight. David Wells, El Duque, and Roger Clemens were more than able to contribute to the rotation and the championships.
Not to mention, the bullpens were stocked with a mix of lefties like Graeme Lloyd and Mike Stanton, and then a barrage of tough right-handers like Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, and of course, Mariano Rivera.
There was a solid bridge first to John Wetteland in '96 (Mariano Rivera), and then a bridge to Mariano Rivera with several capable relievers. The starters were able to give length on most nights, and the bullpen could be counted on (most of the time) to finish the job.
And then it all fell apart.
After the 2000 season, the Yankees didn't re-sign David Cone, who was definitely on the decline, and instead signed free agent Mike Mussina.
Over the past eight years, that turned out to be the best free agent pitcher the Yankees have signed (up until they signed CC Sabathia the other day, and that hasn't even been proven yet).
The rotation was solidified with Moose, Pettitte, Clemens, and the return of David Wells up until 2003.
The Yankees had traded for Jeff Weaver in 2002, and he looked like he belonged on a surfboard in California rather than in Yankee pinstripes. He showed moments were he could be a really good pitcher, but there just weren't enough of those moments.
After the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins, Clemens decided to retire (for the first time) and had his schedule cleared so that he could visit New York when his good buddy Andy Pettitte was pitching.
And then the Yankees went and did something really stupid. They let Pettitte go as a free agent, and he ended up signing with his hometown Houston Astros.
I can still remember that day. I was home from class and had the TV on and all of a sudden there was a "Breaking News" flash and it turned out that Pettitte had signed with the Astros. I thought it was a joke or a commercial, but it turned out to be a reality. He signed for three years, and I knew then and there we were in big trouble.
Clemens then decided to come out of retirement and go play in Houston with his good buddy Andy, all because the Yankees failed to secure Pettitte.
Things only got worse from there. The signing of Kevin Brown, who had a different injury every day, proved to be one of the worst signings in recent history for the Yankees.
Javier Vazquez wasn't much better, and Jose Contreras could no longer handle playing in New York, so he was traded to Chicago for Esteban Loiaza, who wasn't much better. There was not one starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00.
The bridge to Mo had pretty much been burned. Tom Gordon was brought in, and he had a lot of good games, but it was clear pretty quickly that he was no Nelson or Stanton and the Yankees suffered as a result.
Ever since 2003, the Yankees have been trying to repair the bridge to Mo and the closest they came to that was putting Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen in 2007, but the organization seems pretty set on him being a starter, so there still is no real bridge.
In 2005, the Yankees thought they finally got it right when they landed Randy Johnson in a trade in January. Not to mention they had signed free agents Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, who were both under 30 and had good arms.
The Big Unit couldn't handle the New York spotlight, and after two seasons in the Bronx was ready to go back to Arizona in a trade.
Wright had a long injury history, so it should have been no real surprise when he missed most of the 2005 season and wasn't ready to pitch at the start of 2006.He was traded to Baltimore before the 2007 season.
And then there is Carl Pavano. He landed on the DL before the All Star break in 2005 and spent the next three seasons on the DL and rehabbing various injuries more than he pitched. Pavano had a no-trade clause in his contract so he basically collected $10 million each year for doing practically nothing. Who wouldn't want that deal?
Then there was the brilliant idea to pay over $46 million to Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa, who had never pitched against US MLB players (minus the WBC), and gave most Yankee fans heartburn for the 2007 season. I was ecstatic when he got demoted to the minors, and it seems that's where he's going to stay.
Pettitte returned to the Bronx in 2007 to accompany Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation, but he was no longer the hard thrower he was 10 years prior.
In 2008, Pettitte went an unimpressive 14-14 and did not provide the kind of stability the Yankees were hoping for.
Wang is most definitely a rising star. The Taiwanese pitcher is under 30 and has shown in 2006 and 2007 why he's a force to be reckoned with. He won 19 games in back-to-back seasons and is capable of going eight innings almost every time out, thanks to his sinker, which keeps his pitch count low.
He suffered a foot injury in June 2008 and missed the remainder of the season, but the Yankees at least did something right by promoting him to the big leagues.
I'm sure that several people will cite the Yankees' anemic offense in the postseason the last couple of years as the reason why the Yankees didn't advance in the playoffs or win, but the lack of pitching definitely outweighed the lack of offense.
Any team that you compete against in the playoffs is going to have good pitching, and you can't hope to get by with some patched up rotation.
Their past rotations are what have made the Yankees so driven to bring good pitching back to the Bronx for 2009. That is why they got over the whole idea that the young pitching they had was gonna win them a championship right now and went after a monster free agent like CC Sabathia.
It is also the reason they aren't just stopping at Sabathia and are pursuing A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Andy Pettitte, and Ben Sheets. They want to know that they have a solid five-man rotation, and that the youngsters like Hughes and Kennedy can fill in if there are injuries, but not that the fate of the rotation will be laid upon their young shoulders.
Hopefully, 2009 will restore the Yankees' rotation and bring them back to the days when their pitchers were people to be reckoned with and the opposing players actually felt somewhat nervous when they got into the batter's box.
Let's be serious, guys like Jaret Wright and Kei Igawa never scared anyone, and it's time we start putting the fear back in opposing hitters with some serious pitchers.
Pitching really does win championships—just ask the Phillies...Cole Hamels wasn't the MVP of the World Series for nothing.
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