Despite the highly publicized quest by the front office to shore up the starting rotation, the Yankees already have a strong one, returning the same group as 2017. New York’s division rivals, however, have made a number of changes. How does the Yankees’ starting pitching stack up against the rest of the AL East?
The Rays lost two of their top starters this winter. Alex Cobb declined the qualifying offer he received and remains a free agent. Although he has been linked to a number of teams, the Rays aren’t one of them. Tampa Bay then dealt Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins.
Chris Archer called the moves “tough” and “perplexing” and said the team as a whole is now worse than they were before. It’s hard to argue with his logic. Tampa Bay’s farm system is renowned for continuously churning out talented starting pitchers, but, the organization seems to be perpetually stuck in rebuilding mode.
Manager Kevin Cash set Tampa’s rotation immediately after pitchers and catchers reported to camp. Blake Snell, Jake Faria, and former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi will complete the four-man rotation to begin the season. Due to multiple off-days, the team apparently intends to stick with that group through the beginning of May. Matt Andriese has been told he will begin the season in the bullpen but could be a prime candidate to join the rotation once a fifth man is needed. Top prospect Brent Honeywell would have figured into the mix, but underwent Tommy John surgery last week.
Tampa has more questions surrounding their rotation than any other team in the division. Before the trades, FanGraphs had projected the Rays to win the AL’s second Wild Card spot. Those projections have since been downgraded to 78 wins. At this point, it’s hard to envision them winning that many. They could easily be headed to a 100-loss season.
Baltimore’s pitching was brutal last year. There was a stretch of 20 straight games in June where Orioles pitchers gave up at least five runs. In the midst of that streak was the three-game set at Yankee Stadium during which the Bombers outscored the Birds 38-8.
The Orioles made one upgrade to their rotation this offseason, inking Andrew Cashner to a two-year deal. Cashner had a 4.61 FIP and 1.32 WHIP over 28 starts with the Rangers in 2017. Ubaldo Jiménez became a free agent and remains so.
Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Chris Tillman are the mainstays of the Orioles’ rotation. Gabriel Ynoa is a 24-year-old youngster that Baltimore hopes will step up as the fifth starter. FanGraphs projects three of these starters to post FIPs and ERAs over five. If these projections come true, the Yankees will be fortunate to once again be in a position to tee off against Baltimore pitching this year.
Toronto boasts a pair of young guns in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez to complement veterans Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. The Jays also added former Yankee Jaime Garcia to be their fifth starter.
The trio at the top of the rotation were a big reason the Blue Jays won the division in 2015 and a Wild Card berth the following year. Toronto’s rotation figures to be its greatest asset again this season. There are serious questions, though, at the bottom with Happ and Garcia. Stroman is currently injured and is doubtful for Opening Day.
The Red Sox look great on paper, but have many serious questions. They boast perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale at the top of their rotation. Sale has six straight top-six finishes in the voting and was runner-up last year. He remains the best starter in the division, until someone else steps up to prove otherwise — Severino, perhaps?
Boston also has former Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello. That’s where the questions begin, though. Porcello is coming off an awful 2017 campaign, while Price is trying to bounce back from an injury that caused him to miss half of the year. The bottom of the rotation was expected to be filled out with some combination of Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright — all of whom are currently injured. Wright is also facing suspension over a domestic violence case.
New York Yankees
Compared to the rest of the division, the Yankees’ rotation is rock solid. It is the strongest from top to bottom, and also comes with the fewest questions.
Luis Severino is fresh off a third place finish in the Cy Young voting. He was New York’s best and most consistent starter last season. Could he regress? Sure, anyone can. There’s a possibility that he will take a step forward, though.
Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankees’ best overall starter since he joined the club in 2014. Last season, however, he was a man of extremes. When he was off, he was terrible. When he was on, he was flat-out brilliant.
Will we get to see more of the Tanaka who threw a complete game shutout at Fenway Park? The one who broke his own career strikeout mark three times last season? The one that stiffed baseball’s two best offenses — outside of the Bronx — over three postseason starts? Tanaka has the ability to win a Cy Young, if he could just gain consistency.
After arriving at the trade deadline, Sonny Gray continued his streak of 11 straight starts where he gave up two runs or fewer. Five of those starts came as a Yankee, with the streak running through the end of August. Gray was as advertised. Don’t forget, he had a third-place Cy Young finish of his own in 2015. He’s battled injuries for the past two years, but a full return to form for the 28-year-old means a Cy Young-caliber pitcher in the middle of the rotation.
Among starters who hurled at least 150 innings last year, Jordan Montgomery had the 13th lowest ERA in the league. He received down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes for his efforts. Don’t forget, the lefty wasn’t even on the 40-man roster entering camp last year. He also wasn’t on the long list of starters competing for a rotation spot. He came out of nowhere to win the job outright, despite good performances from other candidates. Don’t overlook Monty just because he is the nominal fifth starter. He out-pitched many top-of-the-rotation guys last year.
CC Sabathia is a man on a mission. Upon agreeing to re-sign with the Yankees on a team-friendly one-year deal, Sabathia’s agent said he has “unfinished business.” Sabathia is intent on helping the Yankees capture their 28th World Series title. He did all he could to accomplish this last year. The veteran southpaw was 10-1 in games following a Yankees’ loss. The lone defeat came at Houston in ALCS Game 7. He will be a team leader once again this year. Questions about his knee persist, but he has shown the capacity to overcome adversity.
The Yankees had one of the top-performing rotations in the league last year. Sabathia, Tanaka, Gray, Severino, and Montgomery combined for 14.6 WAR. It is clear that the team can once again count their starters among their strengths. After analyzing the starting pitching throughout the division, they may even be the envy of the East.