|Point/Counterpoint: Best Rotation in AL East|
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on December 30, 2009
The Red Sox added former Angels ace John Lackey to an already loaded rotation, but the Yankees quickly countered by trading for Javier Vazquez, who pitched brilliantly for the Braves in 2009. Now that the dust has set down, which team comes out on top? Jonathan Leshanski and Daniel Paulling debate in another AHP Point/Counterpoint.
Slight Edge for Red Sox
By Jon Leshanski
The Yankees recent addition of Javier Vazquez may in fact have changed everything. I admit, up until then I did think the Red Sox held a sizable advantage when comparing their top three pitchers to the Yankees top three. Now I'm not quite sure that the Red Sox have as big an advantage in their top three, but I think that towards the bottom of that three they still probably have a fair edge.
No. 2 starters, John Lackey and A.J. Burnett are close to even in many ways, but Burnett has only once in his entire career won 15 games in a season. Instead he's averaged a mere 12 wins, while his ERA has trended in the wrong direction three of the past four years. Lackey has been the go-to guy for the Angels over the last four years and has more wins in his eight years of pro ball than Burnett has managed in 11. That gives a slight edge to Boston and Lackey.
Coming in at the No. 3 spot in the rotation are the Yankees Javier Vazquez and the BoSox's Jon Lester. The 31 year old Vazquez is back for his second stint with the Yankees after playing for them in 2004. He didn't fare well in the bright lights of New York as he fizzled more than sizzled while posting an ERA within spitting range of 5, and it was Yankees fans who were doing the spitting. He seems however to have righted his ship and is returning to New York after the best season of his career where he won 15 games and posted an ERA of 2.87.
Yankees fans might want to check that it wasn't an illusion before getting too excited. After all he threw an awful lot of games against the weak sisters of the NL and only went 8-6 against teams playing above .500 in the senior circuit. But what Vazquez does have that is a big plus is experience, he's a wily pitcher capable of winning more than 15 game with a good offense behind him.
Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester doesn't have that experience, or that kind of track record, but he's given every indication of being a young ace rising. In his first two seasons he's racked up 33 wins while he seems to be getting stronger. But youth often struggles, and even the greatest pitchers seem to hit periods where they struggle. It's unlikely that Lester will escape at least a bit of that -- but with his electric stuff and his accomplishments by the age of 25 it's hard to bet against him. I'd give the edge to Lester and the Sox here.
The tail end of both these rotations could be what sets them apart form one another. If Andy Pettitte is capable of another great season, or Joba Chamberlain finds that brilliance which he's shown flashes of, the Yankees could more than make up for any edge the Sox have in the top three. But the same goes for the Sox, if Daisuke Matsuaka returns to form after just 59 mediocre innings this year, or Clay Buchholz takes a step forward, it could push the Sox pitching up by another rung. Still at this point, you'd have to give the edge to the Sox, just not by as much as it was before the Yankees brought back Vazquez.
Yankees Trio Reigns Atop AL East
By Daniel Paulling
Make no mistake about it: The Yankees top three pitchers are better, far and away, than the Red Sox's trio. And it all boils down to health.
As Jon pointed out above, Beckett's health is questionable at times. The same goes for Lackey, the Red Sox's brand-new No. 2 starter. Lackey has missed the start of the last two seasons because of injuries, and the Red Sox gave themselves a layer of protection should Lackey be injured. If he missed a sizable portion of time over his five-year contract, an option will vest that will force Lackey to pitch for the Red Sox for league minimum in 2015. That shows there are concerns about Lackey's health.
That doesn't mean the Yankees hold a significant edge. Sabathia had thrown plenty of innings the last three years, but he hasn't broken down yet. He's a workhorse, and there is no reason to expect anything different to happen going forward. Vazquez is a steady workhorse who seems to strike hitters out and produce 200 innings every season. Burnett is a bit of a question mark, but it seems like something is working for him in New York that hasn't worked for him in his career. Any question about health gives the Yankees the advantage, not the Red Sox.
Vazquez is the darkhorse in this competition. Sabathia is better than Beckett, while Lackey is better than Burnett, assuming all parties are healthy. Vazquez had an excellent first half for the Yankees in 2004, but he fell off a cliff in the second half. Some may say he couldn't handle the pressure, but the words shoulder trouble were floating around as why he didn't do so well that season. Vazquez has put those concerns behind, and he should be successful as a big strikeout pitcher in the Yankees' homer friendly home park.
When you're comparing rotations, it's also going to come down to the "other things." The offense and defense backing up these pitchers will be huge. The Yankees hold the advantage in both of these categories, especially with Alex Rodriguez healthy for an entire season and not looking like an old man trying to play third base.
We've also got to look at the bullpens. A bad bullpen means starting pitchers stay out there longer when they're a bit more tired. A good bullpen means a pitcher can come out early. The Yankees hold the advantage in terms of bullpen strength, as it stands right now. Expect Sabathia, Burnett and Vazquez -- along with Pettitte and Chamberlain -- to be babied a bit earlier in the season to be stronger down the stretch. This will help their pitching stats. The Red Sox don't have that much of a luxury.