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The surprisingly decent 2014 rotation, and why pitching will be the Yankees strength in 2015

Looking back at the 2014 rotation, a pitching staff much better than it had any right to be.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

While the 2014 season didn't end the way we all hoped, there remain plenty of reasons to think fondly of the 2014 Yankees, and to get excited about the 2015 squad.  Perhaps the main reason, on both counts, is the pitching staff.

Somehow, even with a rotation decimated almost beyond recognition, the Yankee staff remained quite competent throughout the year (they finished 13th in the majors in FIP - not bad, considering).  Not only did they manage after losing Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia for the season (not to mention Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda for long stretches), the pitching staff actively kept the Yankees in the hunt and managed to scratch out a multitude of close wins while the offense (20th in runs scored) floundered away.  Whether it be Joe Girardi's managing, Larry Rothschild's work with pitchers old and new, or Brian Cashman and the front office plucking surprisingly good young arms from the farm (or a combination of all three), the fact that the Yankees pitching remained as solid as it did all season long is a fact to be celebrated.

Much of the Yankees success in 2014 is due to another underrated and excellent season from Hiroki Kuroda.  Kuroda put together another excellent campaign last year, leading the team with 199 innings pitched and posting a 3.71 ERA and a 3.60 FIP.  Even more importantly, he gave the rotation an anchor, and without his consistency, the Yankee rotation could have easily fallen into shambles.  Even if 2014 is Kuroda's last season, he certainly went out on top of his game.

But Kuroda is the past - Tanaka and Pineda are the future.  Their performances are both reasons to celebrate 2014 and be extremely excited for the Yankee rotation in 2015.  Tanaka threw 136.1 innings this season, posting a 2.77 ERA and a 3.04 FIP.   Pineda only threw 76 innings, but his 1.89 ERA and 2.71 FIP show that, when healthy, he's got the stuff to dominate major league hitters.  He also demonstrated much improved control in 2014, as his 0.83 BB/9 is well below the numbers he posted in both the minor leagues and his first full season in Seattle.  While their health remains a (major) concern, their ability to come back for the end of the season and show flashes of their early success should give Yankee fans hope.  If things break right, they could form one of the best one-two punches in the game next season.

While injuries cost the Yankees a shot at a truly dominant rotation, it did give some young guns the chance to step up.  Both David Phelps and Chase Whitley gained valuable experience (and demonstrated that they would be adequate No.5 starters in the future).  However, the best - and perhaps most unexpected - performance came from Shane Greene.  Greene had a terrific run in 2014, and while he fell off towards the end (a 5.40 ERA and ad 4.16 FIP in September, compared to a 3.09 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 55.1 innings before that) his performance overall was quite positive.  He looks like a solid major league starter that should give the Yankees needed depth next year if (or, more than likely, when) the injury bug strikes again.

The final great pitching story of the season came in the form of Brandon McCarthy.  After Cashman somehow acquired him for just Vidal Nuno, McCarthy helped stabilize the rotation down the stretch and definitively proved that his rough start in Arizona was just a fluke, posting a 2.89 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in pinstripes (hopefully the Yankees front office takes note).

All in all, 2014 should have gone much, much worse from a pitching perspective (when Whitley, Phelps and Chris Capuano combine for 41 starts, you know it's been a rough year).  The Yankees were the only AL team, other than cellar-dwellers Boston and Texas, to not have a pair of starters with more than 25 starts each (Kuroda had 32).  This means they had a lot of turnover in their rotation.  The amount of adversity the Yankee staff faced in 2014 was staggering, and the team's ability to stay in the hunt through it all is one of the best stories of the Yankees' year.  It also should give us all great hope for 2015.  With a couple acquisitions in free agency, such as signing one of Jon Lester/Max Scherzer/James Shields and hopefully re-signing McCarthy, the Yankees could very well find themselves with one of the most talented and deepest rotations in the league.  Let's all just imagine Tanaka, Lester, Pineda, McCarthy, Greene, Sabathia, and Nova all healthy and on the same team.

Hey, it's the offseason.  A guy can dream.