Outside of the masterful performance of Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees starting pitching has not lived up to expectations so far in 2014. Injuries have piled up and the replacements have not gotten the job done on a consistent basis, but is there hope that they can get back on track for the balance of the season? In order to determine that, it's helpful to observe what FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) says about them. While ERA does a good job of telling us what has happened, FIP is more effective at predicting future performance by focusing only on what a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, and home runs). Here are the Yankee pitchers with five or more starts so far and their FIP values (all data from Baseball-Reference as of 6/13/14) :
Tanaka has arguably been the best starter in the AL so far this year and though he has outperformed his FIP, the small correction he is due for should keep him at an elite level from here on out. That contract is looking less ridiculous every time he takes the mound.
The aging Kuroda is walking batters at the lowest rate of his career, but it's also coming with a career-low strikeout rate and a jump in home run rate compared to last year. He's been nothing more than an average starter and his FIP indicates that he'll probably stay around that level going forward. The Yankees expected a little more from their number two starter.
At the start of the year, Nuno barely made the roster as a long reliever. After Ivan Nova's season-ending injury forced him into the rotation, it's clear that he's best suited for his original role. The lefty just doesn't have the stuff to fool hitters multiple times throughout a game and should be the first to return to the bullpen once Sabathia or Pineda re-join the team.
Before being shut down with a knee injury, the big man was striking out batters at a career-high rate and walking them at a career low. The problem was that balls were leaving the park against him at an astronomical rate (HR/FB of 23.3%, average is about 10%). If he can maintain the command he showed to start the year, the possible correction in home run rate he's due could mean a very effective Sabathia when he returns.
As another guy who started the season as a long reliever, Phelps' ERA has been about the same as Vidal Nuno's. The good news for Phelps is that he has actually been much better than Nuno according to FIP. If he stays in the rotation the Yankees should get league average performance from him for the balance of the year.
Whitley has seemingly come out of nowhere to be the Yankees' second best starter so far. He's blended excellent control with a stingy home run rate to dominate the relatively weak lineups he's faced. As the competition gets tougher and his home run rate regresses to the mean, he's sure to hit a few bumps in the road. However, as his FIP indicates, we might still be calling Whitley the Yankees' number two starter by season's end if he can maintain his pinpoint control and keep inducing ground balls.
While most Yankee starters have FIP values that say they have pitched better than their ERA shows, the corrections they are due for are marginal at best. Unless a deal is made to acquire a top of the rotation arm, Yankee fans will have to rejoice when it's Tanaka Time and hope for the best the other four days. We don't need another hero, we just need another Masahiro.