New York Yankees Look to Avoid Injury Bug in '09

Michael PolakContributor IFebruary 8, 2009

As we reach that wonderful time of year where baseball fans get excited over the fact that Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, it’s time to take a look at the Yankees and one of their biggest strengths this season: their starting rotation.

The Yankees have lined up five pitchers that on paper surely look to be one of if not the best starting five in baseball. When looking specifically at the American League East, the Yankees will certainly be able to compete with the Red Sox and Rays with their rotation. That is, if they stay healthy.

The Yankees have spent some big bucks to put together a rotation that includes C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte.

Overall, this is quite a balanced rotation when you look at it as a whole. Sabathia, Burnett, and Joba all have power arms, but C.C. and A.J. can both throw nasty breaking balls and Joba’s slider is one of the best in baseball.

Wang has one of the best sinkers when he’s on as well. Finally, having a guy like Andy Pettitte as your number five starter, when he won 14 games last season with an ERA of 4.54 is solid for a No. 5 starter. However, health is going to be a big factor for the Yankees this season.

The Yankees lost Chien Ming Wang last season midway through the year with a foot injury. Joba missed a month or so at the end of the year with a shoulder problem. And the Yankees had to deal with injuries to highly-touted youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

If the Yankees are going to survive and be very competitive this year, it is crucial they stay healthy. If not, they do have some depth with Hughes and Kennedy and even Alfredo Aceves if need be. However, who knows if they will be able to live up to expectations just yet?

Health is a big concern with the Yankees starters as it is. Sabathia has been healthy so far in his career, but he has logged a tremendous amount of innings in recent years. Will his arm still be able to hold up? Burnett has had a career full of injury problems and rarely pitches a full season. Wang is coming off foot surgery following his injury last season. I mentioned Joba’s shoulder problems last year. Pettitte will be 37 years old this year so age doesn’t help him in terms of preventing injury. It will be something to look out for this year.

Either way, this year’s staff certainly stacks up as one of the best in baseball this season and one of the best the Yankees have had in a long time. If players stay healthy, and with the line-up the Yankees have, I can see four of the five starters winning at least 15 games with Pettitte winning between 10 and 12.

Sabathia has a chance to win 20 games, as he won 17 last season and is now playing on a team with a much better line-up, even if it is a tougher offensive league. Burnett won 18, and while I don’t know if he’ll win that many, can certainly be a major force in the Yanks’ rotation.

Bottom line is, the Yankees have the tools to put out a solid 1-5 rotation, even if there are some injuries that occur, which there likely will be. However, if the starting five doesn’t perform up to expectations and injuries begin to mount left and right, the Yanks will be in trouble. This team’s rotation is just as good as the Red Sox, Rays, or any other team in baseball. The big question is: Will they stay healthy? I guess we’ll find out.