While Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman tried to temper expectations when Masahiro Tanaka came to the Bronx, insisting that they saw him as a "solid, potential No. 3 starter," there was little doubt that fans had much higher hopes for the 25-year-old pitcher. Spring training brought the return of another promising pitcher, Michael Pineda, who had finally healed from the torn labrum that has cost him two seasons. With these two slotted into the back of the rotation, the Yankees looked to have a deep and promising pitching staff.
So far, these two pitchers have not disappointed. As this young season enters its fourth week, Tanaka and Pineda have undoubtedly been the best pitchers on the Yankees' staff in 2014. CC Sabathia has been inconsistent while adjusting to his decreased velocity, Ivan Nova struggled before getting hurt, and Hiroki Kuroda has been good but not great; however, the back end of the rotation has been just lights out. Tanaka has thrown 22 innings over his first three starts, posting a 2-0 record and a terrific 2.05 ERA. However, his peripheral stats show that, other than a couple big homers, Tanaka has been almost unhittable. Hitters are batting just .185 against him, his WHIP is an amazing 0.77, and he's striking out batters at the ridiculous rate of 11.45 K/9. His command has been excellent as well (walking 0.82 hitters per nine innings), and, while his ERA of 2.05 is great, his xFIP of 1.79 truly shows just how dominant he's been. Hopefully he can keep it up over the next week or so, as he'll get his first shot at the Boston Red Sox before likely finding himself up against the Los Angeles Angels, who are leading the league in runs scored.
While Tanaka has been great so far, even setting the Yankee record for most strikeouts by a pitcher in his first three starts, Pineda has also been outstanding. His record is only 2-1, but his one loss came in a game where he pitched six innings of one-run ball (hardly a disastrous outing). Although his ERA is better than Tanaka's at 1.00, the rest of his stats aren't quite as impressive. His xFIP is a somewhat mediocre 3.87 and his K/9 is only a 7.50, but he's only walking 1.5 batters per nine innings and hitters are only hitting .200 against him--not too shabby for a supposed No. 5 starter.
While it's certainly still early, and both of these pitchers will no doubt run into some trouble as the season wears on, it's a great sign that these young pitchers are having such tremendous success so early in the season. After all the money the Yankees dropped on Tanaka, it has to be comforting to see him show the same terrific command, excellent variety, and wicked splitter that he displayed in Japan. Pineda finally living up to his potential is great for the Yankees, but it's also just great to see him playing baseball again in general after suffering an injury that could've derailed his career. If Sabathia performs a bit better (hopefully his solid outing against the Rays is a sign of things to come), the Yankees should be in great shape this season, as this is quickly becoming one of the best rotations in the American League.