Yankees' First Week Reveals Disturbing Trends

When 40-year-old Andy Pettite is your best pitcher, and it's not close, it may be a bad thing...

Yankee fans should be familiar with slow starts. Last year the Yankees started 0-3 before winning 95 of their next 159. The 2009 Yankees were 9-10 at the end of April and ended up with an AL East crown and a World Series Ring. And of course, in 1998, the Yankees started 0-3, had a beam fall through the stands, and managed to win a record 114 games and sweep the Padres for a title.

There’s a big difference between this 2-4 start and those starts of the past. In each case, the Yankees were favorites to win the division, or to at least make the playoffs. This year, a 2-4 start feels about right when the middle of your order with a $200 million payroll is Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells.

It’s not time to hit the panic button yet (unless you’re the New York media, which in that case Thursday’s game against Boston and Sunday’s game vs. Detroit were considered must wins), but there are some disturbing trends from week one of the season.

Pitching Problems

Last week, I wrote that the Yankees shouldn’t have to worry about their pitching. One week later, that prediction looks as good as my Duke – Indiana national championship game.

Prior to their win over Detroit, Yankees pitchers had a 6.43 ERA, good for last in the American League. CC Sabathia rebounded from a poor opening day start to throw seven scoreless innings. Although his fastball is still only topping out at 92.5 mph, down from a 94.5 average over his career, Sabathia located his pitchers within the strike zone better. If the velocity doesn’t permanently come back, Sabathia can take a cue from fellow lefty Andy Pettite, who also doesn’t throw as hard as he did in his prime but was the best Yankee pitcher of week one with eight scoreless innings vs. Boston.

The problems are at the back end of the rotation. Phil Hughes struggled through 4 innings in Saturday’s loss. Ivan Nova could use some seasoning in AAA after another rough outing, but likely replacement David Phelps also has a 6.75 ERA. Hiroki Kuroda was injured after pitching 1.1 innings against Boston.

The lone bright spot from the non Sabathia/Pettite group was rookie Adam Warren, who threw 5.1 innings of one run ball replacing Kuroda. Warren is likely next in line for a start to replace Nova or another potential injury.

Missing Hitters

The new guys haven’t been a problem. Kevin Youkilis leads the team in batting average at .409. Vernon Wells has continued his hot spring and leads the team in homeruns (two) and runs (four). Former farmhand Francisco Cervelli leads the team in RBI’s with five. Those are all welcome surprises.

What about the guys who are expected to hit? The three hitters who the Yankees were least worried about (Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki) have combined to hit 9 for 66 with one homerun and two RBIs.

Pitchers know to pitch Cano away, as according to ESPN Stats and Info, is seeing a higher percentage of pitches on the outer third or away from the plate than he has in previous years. On those pitches in the outer third, prior to this weekend, Cano had failed to record a hit and had swung and missed on 22 percent of pitches to that area.