The fate of the Yankees' season is likely going to rest on their starting rotation. They're a team full of question marks, but there are more questions regarding the Yankees' rotation than there are in any other area.
Last season, the starters suffered injuries and inconsistencies throughout the year. They ended up having the 12th highest starter ERA in baseball, although the peripherals were better. This season, the Yankees are not adding anyone new, and will presumably go with five of their six current starters to fill out the rotation. However, with injury and consistency concerns still lingering, the staff certainly has a very wide range of possible outcomes this season. While it's possible everyone stays healthy and performs up to their capabilities, it's also very like that it, well, doesn't happen. Here's a look at what the likely best and worst case scenario is for each Yankee starter in 2016.
2015: 24 GS, 12-7, 3.51 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 5.15 K/BB
Best case scenario: Tanaka is the most important part of the rotation. When healthy, he gives the Yankees an ace who can eat innings. If all goes well this season, that means Tanaka stays healthy, gives around 30 starts, and performs up to the ace-level he was at in 2014. He must continue to show great command, throw his splitter effectively, and limit his home run problem.
Worst case scenario: That ticking time bomb of an elbow finally explodes. Ever since he partially tore his UCL in 2014, there's been a paranoia that he's going to eventually need Tommy John surgery. Tanaka's right elbow could be the most important body part for the 2016 Yankees.
2015: 27 GS, 12-10, 4.37 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 7.43 K/BB
Best case scenario: He puts his inconsistencies behind him and finally pitches as well as the peripherals suggest he should. Pineda, still just 27, has an effective fastball and plus off-speed pitches. His ability to strike people out while limiting walks is outstanding, boasting a K/BB ratio of almost eight to one over his two seasons in pinstripes. If he puts it all together, Pineda could be great.
Worst case scenario: Either his injury history flares up, or he just continues to be inconsistent and not live up to his potential. Pineda's no stranger to the disabled list, as he missed the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons, and parts of 2014 and 2015. Even if he stays healthy, though, there's a chance he just fails to put it all together and continues to disappoint with his lack of consistency, resulting in an ERA above 4.00 like last season.
2015: 27 GS, 14-3, 4.20 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 2.47 K/BB
Best case scenario: Eovaldi builds off his strong second half thanks to the addition of his splitter and becomes a solid 2 or 3 starter. While he struggled early last year, Eovaldi looked dominant at times in the second half, culminating in a solid 3.67 ERA after the All-Star break. As a guy with a fastball in the high-90s, and now a filthy splitter, the sky's the limit for Nasty Nate.
Worst case scenario: As with almost all Yankee starters, injuries could be a problem for Eovaldi; he's already had Tommy John, and he missed the end of last season with right elbow inflammation. However, the bigger concern for Eovaldi is just pure ineffectiveness. He has a history of putting a lot of runners on base. He led the NL with 223 hits allowed in 2014, and has an unimpressive career 1.40 WHIP. Eovaldi is improving, and the splitter helps, but he's far from a sure thing.
2015: 11 GS, 5-3, 2.89 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 2.55 K/BB
Best case scenario: He continues his rookie season success and lives up to his top-prospect label. He impressed last season in limited time, and with possibly three plus pitches, it's not hard to understand why. He has a fastball in the mid-90s to go along with an improving slider and changeup. At just 22, he can establish himself as one of the game's best young pitchers this season.
Worst case scenario: Although his superficial statistics were impressive last season, his peripherals leave cause for concern. His FIP was well above 4.00 because of his mediocre 2.55 K/BB ratio and minor homer problem, allowing nine in eleven starts. Between that and a possible "sophomore slump," there's some room for concern, but Severino is still immensely talented with the right demeanor; he should be a bright spot for the Yankees in 2016.
2015: 29 GS, 6-10, 4.73 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 2.74 K/BB
Best case scenario: More sadistic Yankee fans will tell you it's him getting injured, stopping his 2017 option from vesting. But the more optimistic ones will hope the big man puts his off the field issues behind him and builds off his strong finish to 2015. Sabathia was wildly ineffective for most of 2015, but from August on, he posted a 2.86 ERA and looked like the CC of old at times. Nearing the end of his career, there's a chance the lefty empties the tank and emerges as a solid, backend starter that eats innings.
Worst case scenario: In this situation, people will have different takes on what "worst" is. You could argue the worst thing that happens is Sabathia's recent struggles continue, he posts a near 5.00 ERA over 30 or so starts, and his option still vests. Nicer people will say the worst thing is his injuries persisting, causing him to miss most of the season, but being nice is overrated.
2015: 17 GS, 6-11, 5.07 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 1.91 K/BB
Best case scenario: Nova's not a lock for the rotation, but if he somehow finds his way in, the best we can hope for is him returning to 2011 or 2013 form. The tall righty surely struggled last season, but that's definitely not uncommon coming off Tommy John surgery. He's still just 29, and although he's been inconsistent throughout his career, there's been long stretches where he was the Yankees' most reliable starter. It's not impossible for him to get back there.
Worst case scenario: We get Ivan the Terrible instead of Ivan the Great. (That's an A+ joke, don't care what you say). As good as Nova was in 2011 and 2013, he was that bad in 2012 and 2014-2015. He doesn't have great stuff and struggles to strike guys out. Add in the Tommy John surgery, and there's plenty of cause for concern. If all goes as planned, though, Nova will only have to be a long reliever/spot starter.
If everything goes right, the Yankees can have one of the best rotations in baseball. However, if a few of those worst case scenarios end up happening, they're in trouble. As with most projections though, we can likely predict the rotation to fall somewhere in the middle. Given their talent at the plate and in the bullpen, that could be enough to make the Yankees serious contenders.