How badly do the Yankees need Tanaka in 2014?

Chung Sung-Jun

Despite a forgettable 2013, the Yankees rotation held up surprisingly well. With a few holdovers and departures, the Yankees rotation will look different in 2014. How much of a difference will Tanaka make compared to what the Yankees have on hand.

The Yankees struggled to score runs in 2013. With a reconfigured outfield, a massive upgrade at catcher with Brian McCann, and four other lineup spots that could not possibly be worse than they were in 2013, the Yankees figure to make an improvement on offense in 2014. The pitching staff is a different story.

The Yankees rotation kept the team in contention for much of the year. With a great season from Hiroki Kuroda, the emergence of Ivan Nova, a solid farewell from Andy Pettitte, and shutdown seasons from David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees pitching staff finished fifth in the majors in fWAR.

In 2014, the Yankees are bringing back Nova, Kuroda, and CC Sabathia. As presently configured that leaves around 400 innings for David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, Vidal Nuno, and David Huff. Before looking at the potential impact of bringing in Masahiro Tanaka, how does the present rotation compare with last year's group?

In 2013, Nova, Sabathia, and Kuroda combined for 561 1/3 innings pitched and 9.1 RA9 wins (RA9 wins takes runs allowed per nine innings, accounts for ballpark and league, then translates to wins). Using Oliver projections available at FanGraphs, the same trio is projected for 590 innings and 9.0 wins. A bounceback season from Sabathia and regression from Kuroda and Nova lead to similar numbers for 2014.

The Yankees will lose 185 1/3 solid innings from Pettitte, which resulted in 2.9 wins. They also lose 145 2/3 worthless innings from Phil Hughes. Seriously, they were worthless. His RA9 ended up at exactly 0.0. Add in the dozen starts from Phelps and the handful from Nuno, Warren, and Huff, and Yankee starters combined for 981 1/3 innings and 12.7 wins.

Without adding anyone, the remaining 400 innings are spread among Pineda, Phelps, Nuno, Warren, and Huff. Oliver projects Pineda, Phelps, and Nuno to be pretty close to average, while it estimates Warren and Huff at replacement level. Taken with the projections for the established starters, the Yankees' starters end up with 11.5 wins above replacement. All in all, that's not a bad rotation. It's about a win behind the group from 2013 and somewhere in the middle of the American League.

Adding Tanaka to the mix likely takes the Yankees from the middle of the pack into the top three or four rotations in the league. Tanaka's innings would come at the expense of Huff and Warren, two replacement level pitchers. If Tanaka is just slightly above average, it's a two-win difference over last year's group. If he pitches at an All-Star level, the Yankees will be in discussion with the Rays, Tigers, and Rangers for the best rotation in the league.

Prior to last year, the Yankees had not been an "if everything goes right, they make the playoffs"-type team. Despite losing Cano, there has been some evidence the Yankees do not want to be in that position again. Signing Tanaka would cement the Yankees' spending attitude, and go great lengths to getting the Yankees back to the playoffs in 2014.

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