Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Supposed "Rookie Starter Difficulties"

Every time the Yankees face an unheralded starting pitcher who they have never seen before, a sentiment echoes throughout Yankeedom. There's a collective "here we go again", as it has become a popular notion that they Yankees can't handle these types of pitchers. Last night, during the top of the sixth inning of the YES broadcast, Ken Singleton dropped a stat that is undoubtedly going to surprise you if you subscribe to that idea:
  • In the past two years (since 5/27/07) the Yankees have faced 31 rookie pitchers for the first time. In that span, those pitchers have a combined record 3-18 in those games (after the Yanks beat Derek Holland last night).  
Wins and losses are never going to tell the whole story, but 3-18 paints a pretty clear picture. Singleton was about to say who the three pitchers were, but Brett Gardner dropped a drag bunt, which Derek Holland proceeded to throw away, just before he was pulled from the game and tagged with the loss. Ken didn't continue the thought after the commerical break, so I went back and looked them up. 
Matt Harrison - August 5th, 2008 - Harrison didn't completely shut down the Yanks, but did hold them to two runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched while Andy Pettitte let up 5 runs in 5IP.

Koji Uehara - April 8th, 2009 - The 35 year old Japanese transplant is not your typical rookie, and he had the luxury of facing Chien Ming Wang in one of his first three starts of the season. 

Matt Palmer - May 2nd, 2009 - Palmer, a 30 year old journeyman, slayed CC Sabathia with 6 1/3 innings of one run ball for his second of five straight wins. Despite an ERA of 4.76 with the Angels this season, Palmer still has a 5-0 record. 
So, why the perception that the Yankees are doomed when they face a rookie they have never seen before, especially a lefty?

For one, the stat that YES came up with is heavily caveated. It only looked at the past two calendar years, so it didn't include John Danks' victory on May 16, 2007. It consisted of only guys who the Yankees hadn't faced before, so it didn't acknowledge games like Scott Feldman's win on June 30th, 2008 because they faced him in relief on May 16th, 2006. 

Also, and I think most importantly, it only accounted for actual rookies, not just "guys who we think should suck". Baseball is unique because guys can linger for years on the periphery of the game, ducking in and out of the minors and changing organizations only to emerge at 29 or 30 years old in a starting role for a team in need. So when the Yanks lose a game to a guy like Dustin Mosely, Ryan Feierabend, Paul Maholm, or Jorge de la Rosa, it might not factor into that stat, but it registers in our consciousness. 

The underlying reason that we percieve the Yankees to have problems with rookie starters is our expectations. We see that the opposing pitcher is some no name journeyman and assume the Yankees should pummel him. When they do, we think nothing of it. But when they don't it tends to stick in our craw. When something goes according to plan, it's easy to forget about. You can eat sushi 100 times from the same place and hardly be able to tell each one apart, but if you ever get sick from it, you will remember the exact order for years to come.

Although the Yanks have losses to Uehara and Palmer this year, they have also disposed of Horacio Ramirez, Anthony Reyes, Anthony Ortega, Brett Anderson, Scott Richmond, Brain Tallet, Dana Eveland, Rick Porcello, Brad Bergesen, and the aforementioned Derek Holland. How many of those games did you remember?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I think people really worry about pitchers who the Yankees have never faced before. I never saw it as strictly a rookie thing.