What can we make of the lack of left-handed starters on the Yankees' 2004 roster? While our impulse may be to yell like Chicken Little, the reality may not be as harsh as we fear. Shawn Bernard, who recently launched a Yankee-based blog called The Greatest Game, ran a simple but informative study the other day which noted that neither Andy Pettitte nor David Wells were particularly effective vs. right-handed hitting in 2003. At the same time Javier Vazquez (who agreed to a four-year, $45 million contract with New York this afternoon) and Kevin Brown were not killed by lefties either.
Jim Gerard, a reader of Bronx Banter, sent me an e-mail responding to quotes made by unnamed sources in Tyler Kepner's story in yesterday's Times:
One source claims Vasquez is going to have to adjust his style and will be sorely taxed by lineups "stacked with lefties." Just who is he referring to? The Red Sox have four good lefthanded hitters (Varitek, Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller when he hits that way), the Blue Jays about the same. Vasquez hasn't faced lineups of this stature in the National League? Silly. As is the comment that "teams are going to stack their lineups with lefties against the Yanks." What are they going to do -- import players for the series? The truth is there isn't a team in the AL that has more than four good left handed hitters, and some teams don't even have that many good hitters in total. Vasquez has a good BAA lefthanders; if he faces some tough lefties once in a while, well, isn't that what he's getting paid for?
And while Vasquez will have to work harder in a league with a DH instead of the pitcher, the Yanks' newly fortified pen will enable their starters to go a hard six or seven and not worry about getting the ball to Mo.
Yankee lefties have fared better than righties in the Yankee Stadium era (3% better ERA). However, the latest Yankee dynasty didn't seem to benefit much from southpaws (5.23 ERA in 2000?).
Given the turnover in the Yankee rotationójust Mike Mussina remains from the 2003 rotationóthey have other things to worry about than the lack of left-handers. Such as Kevin Browns' age and history of injury, Jon Leiber's rehabilitation, whether Jose Contreras is a viable major-league starter, etc. It will be odd if Felix Heredia leads all Yankee left-handers in wins next year though.
Chances are another left-hander not named White or Heredia will make his way into the Yankee pinstripes before it's all said and done. Call me crazy...
Actually, the storyline that most concerns me---and one that I haven't heard anything about as of yet---is: How will the Yankees will handle the future of Mariano Rivera? Mo has just one more season left on his contract and according to an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated several weeks ago, he was none too pleased about the way the Bombers handled the Pettitte situation. Now, I don't think Rivera is ready to bolt just yet. Still, it would behoove the Yankees to try and lock their stud closer up for two or three more years sooner rather than later. They have traditionally played the waiting game before signing their own players' to extentions. I wonder if they'll do the same with Rivera. I thought they would overpay to keep Pettitte, but evidently, they didn't accord him the proper respect in the courting process, so he left the money and the fame and went home. I would be shocked if they underestimate Rivera in the same manner. I doubt they will.
Still, the thought of Rivera and Torre departing is not a comforting one for the Yankee faithful.