For better or for worse, the Yankees' pitching staff is a tale of extremes. They grabbed headlines during the off-season by acquiring flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to improve an already dominant bullpen, but the not-so-hidden secret is that the team needs their highly regarded relievers to live up to their reputation to compensate for their starting rotation.
|Projected Yankees pitchers
The Yankees certainly don't have terrible starters; the situation is just uneasy, right from the top. Masahiro Tanaka had games last year where he looked every bit as dominant as he appeared in his All-Star first half in 2014 before the UCL injury. Yet he battled Hughesian home run rates and it still seems like the Yankees are playing with fire every takes the mound. By no means does this suggest that he should have Tommy John surgery—medical experts who looked at his elbow and study this for a living advise against it. So while people should feel confident in his abilities, his injury will always lurk in the back of every fan's mind.
The three starters after Tanaka could really go in any order right now, and each also has the potential to even usurp him as the de facto ace. After all, Michael Pineda looked to be building an All-Star case over the first two months, which included his phenomenal 16-strikeout performance on Mother's Day. Yet he missed time with injury and seriously faded down the stretch. Perhaps this was due to easily his highest innings count in four years and he'll be fine with more stamina in 2016, but the Yankees just don't know how much they can count on the big righty yet.
Nathan Eovaldi had a similar run of starts that sparked chatter, just like Pineda. After a so-so introduction that concluded with him getting bombed by the Marlins on June 16th, Eovaldi tweaked the grip on his splitter to fantastic results. He became the team's most reliable starter over the next months with an ERA of 2.93 and .584 OPS against over his next 12 starts. Then his elbow began barking at him and he regressed, only to end up on the DL for most of the home stretch. Armed with a high-90s fastball and solid slider in addition to that splitter, Eovaldi's repertoire is definitely impressive, but will he rediscover that mid-2015 consistency and stay healthy?
Thankfully, there is Luis Severino, the most exciting young player on the team. In just a couple months of pitching, the 21-year-old displayed remarkable poise on the mound, fanning hitters far older than him and working out of jams like it was no sweat. Despite his age, a good portion of Yankees fans feel more comfortable with him than anyone else on the staff, and it's hard to blame them. The same cannot be said of CC Sabathia.
The veteran lefty and Ivan Nova are competing for the fifth starter spot in the rotation, but CC seems to be the favorite to land the role. Both have allowed six runs during the spring, but Nova has pitched in a total of 13.1 innings while Sabathia has only pitched 7.1 innings. Money could end up making the decision for the final rotation spot, as there is no way the Yankees will push Sabathia into the bullpen. Nonetheless, Nova needs to produce in his role as longman.
If there's one thing the Yankees do well, it's compiling a strong bullpen, which they have done year over year for what seems to be close to a decade now. The 2016 bullpen will be no different with Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and others finishing out games this season.
This year, the Yankees have compiled one of the strongest bullpens in baseball with three pitchers who could be the team's closer. Even without Chapman for the first 30 games of the season, Miller will be the team's closer with Betances as the setup man. The Yankees should do just fine without their closer, and it will give someone a chance to play in the big leagues who likely wouldn't have been given the opportunity had he not been suspended. After these three, the bullpen should be in a constant state of flux, but the talent should be there.
For the rest of the bullpen, Chasen Shreve has earned a spot on the Opening Day roster after shutting out opponents over 6.1 innings, though there are still questions around him. From April to September, Shreve pitched to a 1.89 ERA over 52.1 innings in 2015, but the bottom fell out when he allowed nine runs over the last month of the season. He pitched so poorly at the end of the year that he was ultimately left off the team's playoff roster because, at that point, he was incapable of getting an out. He looks to have recovered since then, but there's no telling how well he will perform from here.
The remaining three bullpen spots are up for grabs, but if there's one pitcher who deserves to make the team, it's Bryan Mitchell, who has pitched to a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings so far. He's been a bit of an unknown for a few years now, but he's done too well to send back to Triple-A. The Yankees have kept him as a starting pitcher despite the disappointing results he's shown so far, but he has a real opportunity to impress in the bullpen.
Nick Goody and Nick Rumbelow probably lost spots on the roster after struggling through spring training, but Johnny Barbato and Branden Pinder should provide quality middle relief. There will be a revolving door of right-handed middle relievers this year, so it won't be long before Goody, Rumbelow, and a few others are up with the big league team.