As pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, storylines will arise in Yankees camp. It’s a new year in Major League Baseball, and it all starts here.
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In 2015, the New York Yankees relied heavily upon the second-best offense in baseball – scoring 764 runs – to provide insurance to their pitching staff. The Yankees maintained their starting rotation for two-and-a-half weeks to begin the regular season before placing their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, on the disabled list. Get this: the starter who made more starts than any other Yankee was…CC Sabathia.
If this were to somehow happen for a second-consecutive year, New York is in deep trouble for obvious reasons.
Sabathia actually had a “better” ERA than his previous two seasons in pinstripes, but that doesn’t say a lot when considering it was resting at 4.73. Up until his disabled list stint beginning Aug. 23, Sabathia sported an abysmal 5.27 ERA and 4-9 record.
His pitch-making skills are declining, a noticeable trend compared to 2014 as Sabathia’s K/9 dropped to an all-time low in his New York tenure at 7.37. In addition, the lefty’s swinging-strike rate was 9.1 percent last season, the lowest percentage since his rookie season.
Three other pitchers in the team’s projected rotation this upcoming season sustained injuries last year – Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. There are major question marks concerning this group, and it all starts with Tanaka.
The right-hander has reportedly been throwing off the mound with no discomfort in his elbow following offseason surgery. It’s a positive sign, but one false move can set New York back once again.
One noticeable change for Tanaka beginning in his June return last season was a stronger emphasis on his cutter, a pitch he threw 11.1 percent of the time to counteract his fastball. He’s still just 27 years old, but the danger of his injury history outweighs the capability.
Another 27-year-old, Pineda, is coming off his first full season with the Yankees and third overall in the big leagues. We all remember May 10, 2015, a day in which Pineda struck out 16 batters over only seven innings (!) with no walks.
But while the first half of his season was extraordinary – 3.64 ERA and 9.4 K/9 – Pineda was the opposite in the later stages of the summer before straining flexor muscle; he had a 5.80 ERA and 7.5 K/9. The key for Pineda in 2016 will be missing more bats, as opponents hit a career-high .273 and had a 29.7 percent hard-contact rate against him.
Eovaldi was the greatest benefactor of the high-powered offense a season ago, recording a 14-3 record despite a 4.20 ERA. The former Marlin developed a plus splitter midway through the season, helping him go 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA from June 20 to Aug. 24. But in September, he experienced elbow inflammation, ending his campaign. In 2016, Eovaldi will be a major piece for the Yankees to contend in the AL East.
The wild card in the worrisome Yankees rotation is 21-year-old phenom Luis Severino. After being on an innings limit last season following an August debut, it’s likely that will also be the case in 2016..
Primed for a full season in the big leagues, Severino has a chance to become the most proficient starter in New York if Tanaka goes down. It’s also worth noting Ivan Nova remains on the roster as a long-relief option, but isn’t expected to challenge for a rotation spot.
But the storyline to watch in Spring Training is the condition of the team’s starting rotation, most notably the Japanese ace, Tanaka.