Projected 2004 Rotation:
1. Mike Mussina, RHP
2. Javier Vazquez, RHP
3. Kevin Brown, RHP
4. Jose Contreras, RHP
5. Jon Lieber, RHP
Sure, the 2004 rotation may have only two 20-win seasons between them (one
each for Brown and Lieber), but here's what they do have: nine 18-win seasons,
ten 200-strikeout seasons and 26 200-inning seasons. Now, onto the nitty
Mike Mussina, Age: 35
Mussina may not be the most talented pitcher on the staff anymore (that
might just be Vazquez), he's still unquestionably the leader. He's also
the only guy on the staff that's been a Yankee for more than one season.
The Moose hasn't had an ERA lower than league average since 1993 and he's been
one of the most durable pitchers on the planet throughout his career. The
one thing he's never done is win 20 games, or a Cy Young award, could this
finally be his year?
Javier Vazquez, Age: 27
Vazquez Is Only 27
A-Rod or not, Vazquez was probably the single most important piece to the
Yankees' offseason puzzle this winter. He fills a gaping hole left by Andy Pettitte and he has the shoes big enough to handle the task. People may
question whether or not Vazquez, who has spent the first six seasons of his
career in quiet Montreal, will be able to perform under the bright lights of New
York City. From everything I've heard, this guy is the perfect type of
player for New York (unlike a certain other young gun the Yankees tried out,
hello Jeff Weaver).
Vazquez features an extensive repertoire of pitches that includes a 93-mph
fastball with excellent movement, a slider, curveball and a changeup. He's
one of the best young pitchers in the major leagues, and the Yankees are going
to need a guy like him for the next four years.
Kevin Brown, Age: 39
Brown Is A Bulldog
Let's get this out of the way: Brown is injury-prone, and that's
putting it nicely. Back injuries are never good news for pitchers (just
ask David Wells), but facing Kevin Brown is never good news for opposing
batters. I honestly don't care if his back makes him a risk throughout the
season, this is a heck of a pitcher and a heck of a competitor that the Yankees
Brown will fill the Roger Clemens role on the team, and he's probably a
better pitcher than Clemens at this stage in their careers. Like the
Rocket, Brown is uber-competitive and just as tough. Yankee catcher John Flaherty was recently quoted by ESPN.com saying that "As a hitter, you
almost feel like you're being attacked by Kevin." Strong words,
indeed. As long as Brown stays healthy, the Yankees are going to have a
near-unbeatable front three in their rotation.
Jose Contreras, Age: 32
Contreras flourished as a starter last season, posting fun numbers like a
.184 opponent's batting average, 57 strikeouts in 57.2 innings, a 2.34 ERA and a
6-1 record. What those numbers don't tell you is that seven of his nine
starts came against lousy competition (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Chicago
White Sox and Cincinnati).
The Cuban defector is immensely talented, featuring a knuckle-splitter that
nobody in their right mind would want to see coming in the batter's box.
This pitch has more movement on it than just about anything this side of
Francisco Rodriguez' slider. Contreras is highly unproven in the majors
however, something that could come back to haunt him. Let's hope he can
give the Yankees a good amount of innings without getting hurt or running out of
Jon Lieber, Age: 33
How Will Lieber
Return From Surgery?
Lieber is probably going to be the fulcrum of the Yankees' season. If
he performs and gives the Yankees even close to 200 quality innings, it will be
amazing. The only problem is that Lieber is just coming off of Tommy John
surgery that caused him to most virtually all of 2003 and then end of
2002. Most pitchers that undergo TJ surgery come back better than ever
(see Chicago's Kerry Wood), but the road back from any major operation is bound
to be perilous.
Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs in 2001, and specializes in not walking a
lot of batters (like Wells, or Curt Schilling, but not that good). Another
cause for concern is his high opponent's batting average. Opposing batters
hit .277 off of Lieber in 2002, and are hitting at a .271 clip throughout his
career. Lieber features a very good slider and an average fastball and
changeup. His excellent control is what makes him effective. With
it, he'll be just like the Lieber of old, without it, he might struggle.
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