It’s easy to mistaken question marks for solely negative connotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Luis Severino are widely criticized for having uncertainty, concerns and doubt making up a rotation looking to contend for the playoffs in 2016. And to an extent, these criticisms are warranted, like many starters, they come with legitimate worry, but it’s easy to forget none of those worries are “bad pitcher, unable to cut it in the major leagues”.
The truth of the matter is the Yankees’ 2016 rotation, similarly to its 2015 rotation, has a lower floor than most playoff contenders but just as high of a ceiling. We will review the six potential Yankees’ starters and their pros and cons along with where they compared this time last season.
Pluses: This is going to be year three in the majors and it will be mainly thanks to Tanaka defying expectations by staying healthy enough to throw 154 innings in his 2015 campaign. He did have some time on the DL, but not to the extent of missing the year with Tommy John many were expecting. Tanaka wasn’t as great as his 2014 debut, but he still posted a 3.51 ERA and a career best .99 WHIP to go with 8.1 K/9. A 3.98 FIP states he may have been a little lucky (or talented with stranding runners) but there’s no reason to doubt he can’t match or improve upon last year’s numbers as he turns 27 and heads into his prime.
Perils: The elbow will never stop being a concern until he has surgery or finishes his career. The slight tear is still there and Tanaka has still not exactly completed a full season in the rotation. While the statistics indicate if he’s healthy he’s not going to be worse than last year (which is to say, a very solid, front of the rotation arm), there is still reason to fear for his health over the course of a season, one where he has yet to make more than 24 starts in America.
Change from Last Year: Same concerns, but more reason for optimism. Last year at this time we didn’t know if Tanaka would make it out of spring training in tact. Now we can reasonably expect a healthy season, with the minor fear Tanaka still has a slight tear in his elbow. Overall, with the risk of “sophomore slump” over, he’s in a better place than he was last year.
Pluses: There’s a lot to be excited about Pineda’s 2015 season. It was the first time since 2011 the 6’7 hurler eclipsed 100 innings, throwing 160.2 last season setting him up to hopefully approach 200 innings this year. Pineda’s 27 starts were one short of his 2011 rookie campaign with Seattle, but a 4.37 ERA and 1.22 WHIP (both career highs) brought him about 10 innings short of that year’s innings totals. The good news is his FIP was 3.34 implying Pineda was largely unlucky. There’s a lot to like about a pitcher who just turned 27, just had a mostly healthy season, was largely unlucky and has the upside of ending up with ace-like numbers if he can put it all together. There’s a chance Pineda can be the best pitcher on the staff this year.
Perils: This will be Pineda’s sixth attempt at a MLB season and so far he has never made more than 28 starts. Though he struck out significantly more (8.7K/9 compared to 7.1) than an alternatively fluky 2014 campaign, Pineda’s ERA jolt is a cause for concern in the event he gets unlucky twice. There were times when Pineda did not have any chance on the mound last year and he will have to pitch deeper into games even if he is missing bats and keeping offenses off the board. Cutting down on giving up 21 HR like he did in 2015 will help, too.
Change From Last Year: This time last season we wanted to see if Pineda could stay mostly healthy, and he did. Then he posted numbers which soured a lot of his fans, but we know a lot of that was bad luck. For a pitcher only now heading into his prime and really only entering his third full season, barring the death sentence shoulder concerns returning, Pineda should be poised for big improvement.
Pluses: Coming off a year when he lead the league in hits given up while pitching in a pitcher’s stadium in Miami, there were plenty of concerns. Eovaldi had a very mediocre first half before catching fire and then meeting an untimely finish to his year with elbow issues. Eovaldi has the same upside most of the rotation has, he will turn 26 before the season begins and enter his fifth full season meaning he’s a top tier breakout candidate, especially if he can build off of a second half which helped lower his season stats to a 4.20 ERA and 1.45 WHIP (3.67 ERA and 1.33 WHIP the second half) in 27 starts. A 3.42 FIP would imply we may see more of how Eovaldi finished, not how he started.
Perils: Even with a strong 13 starts or so, Eovaldi was at times a wreck, bailed out by high run support during a 14-3 season. Elbow issues ending a season in August is never encouraging and Eovaldi has still yet to figure out how to turn a high 90’s fastball into elite strikeout numbers. Can he be consistent for a year? Will he finish the season? Will he be closer to the 199+ innings he posted in 2014 than the 154+ he threw in 2015?
Change From Last Year: Put it this way, this time last year many were skeptical Eovaldi could even pitch in the AL East. By midseason last year many were feeling assured of that belief and missing David Phelps. Towards the end of the year, Eovaldi was an option to start Game One of a potential playoff series and Phelps finished with a 4.50 ERA in 112 innings in a pitcher’s park in a weak hitting division. There is far less concern for the big righty heading into 2016.