Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What To Expect From The Yankees' Rotation

It's been a very bizarre offseason in the Bronx. Amid rumors of both frugality and spending sprees, the team simply wound up taking two positions of relative strength and versatility and making them both stronger and more versatile.

The big headline, of course, was the addition of Aroldis Chapman to the already deadly closing duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. This move, despite a little bit of controversy regarding Chapman's potential legal troubles off the field, gave the team arguably the best back-end bullpen in league history. Meanwhile, the Yankees also upgraded second base by snagging All-Star Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Second base wasn't exactly a position of strength yet, but you can find a whole lot of Yankees fans who already considered a platoon of Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley to be a gigantic upgrade over the indescribably useless Stephen Drew. Plenty were ready to see Refsnyder get his shot.

These moves have turned the Yankees into a more complete team - not a perfect one by any means, but one that looks as likely as any other to come out on top in the crowded AL East. The defense should be terrific, the lineup is strong, and the bullpen could be legendary. The lingering questions, frustratingly, lie with the starting rotation. So let's try to piece together a reasonable projection for the Yanks' starters....

Who's In The Rotation?

To begin with, it's most important to try to guess at which pitchers will actually make up the rotation. The only absolute, unquestioned sure starters appear to be Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, who will likely duke it out for the number one spot (it's almost certainly Tanaka's to lose). Beyond those two, Michael Pineda is very likely to be in the rotation again despite severe regression in 2015, and provided good health coming out of spring training CC Sabathia will get a spot because he's CC Sabathia. That pretty much leaves one spot up for grabs between Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and possibly Bryan Mitchell. For what it's worth, the Yankees' depth chart lists Eovaldi in the rotation with Nova and Mitchell occupying the sixth and seventh spots, and I'd guess that's how it shakes out. Nova looks like a spot starter and long man at this point, particularly following the departure of Adam Warren in the Castro trade. And Mitchell is unproven as a starter.

Who's Preventing Runs?

It's about the most basic question you could pose regarding a starting rotation, and yet where the 2016 Yankees are concerned it's something like an unsolvable riddle. The important thing to remember is that ERA is far from a defining stat regarding a team's defensive performance. In 2014, the Angels were one of the top teams in baseball and finished with a 3.58 team ERA, placing them 15th in the league. That's a good thing, because frankly 3.58 would seem pretty strong for this rotation. Taking the five names listed above for expected rotation spots, the combined ERA a season ago at the major league level was 3.94. Meanwhile, excluding Severino from the bunch (because he was a rookie), the other four gained 2.5 runs on their collective ERA between 2014 and 2015 - though most of that can be attributed to Michael Pineda. All things considered, Tanaka and Severino are the only two who look like safe(ish) bets for 3.50 ERAs or lower.

What Needs To Happen?

For everything to go right in 2016, a number of things have to happen. This is a rotation full of question marks, but let's not forget it's also one with elite potential. Most importantly, Tanaka needs to perform more like he did in 2014 (13-5 with a 2.77 ERA, 3.04 FIP, and 15 HR allowed) than in 2015 (12-7, 3.51 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 25 HR). Given that he underwent elbow surgery to fix a bone spur issue, perhaps he'll get back to his dominant ways. The Yankees can also hope for more of the same from Luis Severino, who was dominant as a rookie, and Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched to an unattractive 4.20 ERA but ate innings, racked up strikeouts, and won games consistently. The big uncertainties lie with Pineda and Sabathia. Sabathia showed signs of figuring out how to pitch without power late in 2015 and actually dropped his ERA by half a run from 2014, so the hope is that that tr ajectory continues. Pineda was simply an inexplicable disaster in 2015, and we can only hope he regains his number two starter form.


Hey, who knows, right? But given what we know and the trends of the past season, here are one writer's wild guesses at what we might hope to see in terms of win-loss records and ERAs from the Yankee starters:

  • Masahiro Tanaka: 14-7, 3.20

  • Luis Severino: 13-4, 3.15

  • Michael Pineda: 10-10, 4.00

  • Nathan Eovaldi: 15-6, 3.90

  • CC Sabathia: 7-9, 4.10

Those projections show marginal improvement pretty much across the board, but that may not be unfair. Tanaka is healthier, Eovaldi has steadily improved as a Yankee, Pineda's 2015 seemed too bad to be true, and Sabathia seemed to figure something out late in 2015.

It's not going to be a dominant rotation, but it may be good enough given the rest of the Yankees' improvements.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)