Following their resurgent 2015 season, the Yankees' biggest area of weakness was the starting rotation. Injuries piled up, but even when healthy, there was no starter consistent enough to anchor a unit that desperately needed one. Strangely, the team seems poised go ahead with the same group in 2016, but is there hope that they can improve upon their underwhelming 2015 performance? 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 starting pitchers with their 2015 ERA in comparison to their FIP values (all data from FanGraphs):
Pineda was the Yankees best starter a season ago, even if his ERA suggests that it was a pedestrian year for him. He had the best strike out and walk rate among Yankee starters and his FIP was more than a run better than his below average ERA. If Big Mike can stay healthy, he could be the anchor that the rotation needs in 2016.
If Eovaldi's performance wasn't terribly consistent last year, at least his presence was. That is, until an elbow injury ended his season in September. Up to that point, though, he flashed potential as a valuable middle of the rotation starter. Whether or not he fulfills that potential in 2016 will depend on the hard-throwing righty converting more of his high-90's fastballs into strikeouts. As his 2015 FIP indicates, a break out campaign could be in the cards for Eovaldi.
By all accounts, Ivan Nova was a disappointment last year. After missing more than half the season due to Tommy John Surgery he returned to the Yankees in late June only to post an ERA over 5.00 in 17 starts with an FIP that wasn't much better. The hope is that things will improve for Nova now that he's coming up on two years removed from the surgery that derailed his career in 2014.
Both ERA and FIP are in agreement that Sabathia was a bad pitcher in 2015. More than anything, his propensity for surrendering the long ball has been his downfall. The good news is that this offseason he's made a commitment to getting his life off the field back on track after what appears to have been a rough couple of years. Let's hope that translates to improvement on the mound as well.
In his brief career Tanaka has proven that he can be the ace of a major league pitching staff. Only two things are standing in his way, his precarious right elbow and the short porch in Yankee Stadium. His partially torn UCL virtually guarantees that he'll make an annual trip to the disabled list. When he does pitch, the home run can turn a good start to a bad one pretty quick, as evidenced in the Yankees lone playoff game last year. In 2015 he outperformed his FIP by nearly half a run. In order for that to improve, he'll need to keep the ball in the park a lot more often when pitching at home.
The Yankees' top pitching prospect was nothing short of sensational in a debut last year that had fans drooling. However, per FIP his debut was much less impressive as his number was below league average. The truth is, Severino is a 21-year old with only 62 major league innings under his belt. His destiny as a pitcher is still very much up in the air, and the only thing we're sure of is that we'll likely get a longer look at what he's made of in 2016.
While four of the six Yankees likely to get the bulk of the 2016 starts are due for a positive correction in ERA, it certainly won't be enough to turn the rotation into a team strength. Still, it's a safe bet that they'll be better than the group that faltered down the stretch a year ago.