When pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Monday Feb. 13, the question on the minds of many Yankees fans was this: can the New York Yankees starting rotation rise to the occasion in 2017? Last season was filled with inconsistency and disappointment, and New York was forced to rely heavily on its bullpen. GM Brian Cashman flirted with the idea of dealing for Chicago White Sox ace Jose Quintana, but decided in the end that it wasn’t worth parting with any of the Yankees prized prospects. One or two of those prospects might have considerable impact soon.
New York Yankees Starting Rotation Preview
The Yankees best pitcher last season was ace Masahiro Tanaka, who, despite suffering an injury (forearm strain) for the third consecutive year, pitched well enough to be in the Cy Young conversation. The other starters were less than stellar, and that’s putting it nicely. Michael Pineda, who the Yankees keep hoping will develop into a No. 2 starter, finished with a 6-12 record and an ERA of 4.82. Another pitcher the organization has been extremely high on, Luis Severino, finished last year winless at 0-8 with an ERA of 8.50. He’ll have to put forth a better effort if he wants to make the rotation this season.
Barring any unforeseen complications or injuries, it’s safe to say that Tanaka, Pineda, and CC Sabathia are all guaranteed to be in the starting rotation. The remaining two spots will be open to competition.
On Tuesday, a day after pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, Yankees manager Joe Girardi named Tanaka his Opening Day starter. This will be Tanaka’s third consecutive start on Opening Day.
Tanaka, 28, finished the 2016 season with a 14-4 record, a 3.07 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and a 4.58 K/BB ratio in 199.2 innings pitched. Despite missing some time due to a strained forearm last season, the Japanese import was impressive enough to finish seventh in the AL Cy Young voting.
The Yankees ace does have an opt-out clause, which he can exercise following the 2017 season. Whether Tanaka plans to opt-out or not is bound to be a recurring topic for the New York media this season, especially if the right-hander has a sensational season.
Before Tanaka donned the pinstripes, Sabathia was the Yankees ace. The one-time lefty flame-thrower now has to rely on pitch location and wit to out-duel the opposing pitcher, which is becoming more and more difficult for Sabathia. His struggles are due in large part to declining health. In October, Sabathia underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and hasn’t thrown off a mound since his last start against the Boston Red Sox on September 29.
The number two spot in the rotation should come down to either Sabathia or Pineda. The 36-year-old appears to be the logical choice, given his ability to eat innings. Sabathia made 30 starts last season and finished at 9-12 with a 3.91 ERA in 179.2 innings, the most innings pitched for the one-time Cleveland Indians star since 2013.
This season is most likely Sabathia’s last in pinstripes, as he’s entering the final year of a five-year, $122 million contract. He’s scheduled to make $25 million this year. The veteran is entering his eighth season as a member of the Yankees.
Pineda is coming off a disappointing and lackluster season, in which he posted a 4.82 ERA and a 1.3 WHIP in 175.2 innings. He struck out a career-high 207 batters. The strikeouts were muted, however, by the 27 home runs he allowed in 32 starts. The hard-throwing right-hander finished the season with a 6-12 record. However, upon closer inspections of Pineda’s numbers from last year, it becomes clear that he wasn’t as bad as his record would indicate. He led the American League with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, while only walking 53 batters. Those stats compliment his FIP of 3.79, which was a full run lower than his ERA.
The 28-year-old is in the final year of his contract, and can become a free agent at the end of the season. Pineda has indicated that he’d like to remain in New York, but unless he can prove that he’s more than just a pitcher with potential, this may very well be his last year in pinstripes.
Pitchers Vying for the Final Two Spots
In 2016, Green and Cessa were added to the roster as depth for the starting rotation. Last season was Cessa’s first in the Majors, and he posted a 4.35 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 70.1 innings, while going 4-4. Cessa’s odds of landing a spot in the rotation are low, but he could add some value in the bullpen if he’s given more time to develop.
Severino struggled tremendously last year after showing flashes of dominance in 2015, when he went 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in eleven starts. But after going 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 71 innings in 2016, he’ll have to show Girardi that he can be far more consistent with his pitches in the strike zone. Severino has been working on a change-up to compliment his 96.7 MPH fastball. If he can improve his strike-to-walk ratio, he could take over the fifth spot in the rotation before long.
Mitchell, a former top prospect, got off to a great start last year in Spring Training until he fractured his big toe and needed surgery. The Yankees are excited to see what Mitchell can do now that he is healthy. If he pitches well, he should earn a spot in the rotation.
Green is a talented right-hander who possess a great sinker that helped him strikeout 52 batters in 12 games, while posting a 4.73 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 45.2 innings last season. Green could prove vital out of the bullpen and as a spot starter should someone miss time due to injury.
The Yankees are a team in transition as Cashman works to turn over the roster and get younger. To do that, the Yankees need to unload some veteran contracts, like those of Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley. Following this season, the Yankees will be free of Alex Rodriguez‘s and Sabathia’s hefty contracts. With a group of top prospects waiting to come up, the Yankees could be a completely different team come 2018.