2016 started out with high hopes but ended up just being a rebuilding year, which the Yanks did a great job of. They went into the season with a plan of getting the ball to their strength, Betances-Miller-Chapman, but unfortunately their plan did not work. Whether it was the anemic offense, ranking 22nd in the league, or the lack of starting pitching depth, the Yankees sold at the deadline and went on to building the next dynasty.The Yanks have lost Nathan Eovaldi and Ivan Nova, to injury and trade, respectfully, who accounted for 45 starts. Those are starts that now will go to young pitchers looking to develop. Here is my infield and outfield primers as well
There is going to be some turnover in the Yanks starting pitching staff this year so let’s dive in with what we know.
Masohiro Tanaka: Already announced as the opening day starter and is the undisputed ace of the staff. Tanaka put his injury questions behind him last year making 31 starts with a 3.07 ERA and 165Ks. Tanaka is up there as a top ten pitcher in the league but because of the lack of strikeouts doesn’t get talked about as much. Adjusting for ballpark Tanaka was 10th in the league in ERA,and 7th in the league in WAR.
Diving into the statistics Tanaka really doesn’t light up the radar gun (avg 92 MPH) but can rear back and hum it up there to 95-96. Looking at Brooks Baseball you can see the different pitch mix which details his splitter, Sinker, Slider, Fastball, Cutter and Curve. His curveball acts like a change-up and he really doesn’t throw it that often.
In 2016 Tanka really relied on his sinker more than his fastball as the 4-seamer went from 18% usage to only 9 while the sinker went from 13% to 27%. He has great movement on all three of those pitches leading to more groundballs and in tern more outs.
This year I expect more of the same from Tanaka, about a 3.00 ERA in 200 innings, 160-175Ks and a really low walk rate. Tanaka throws strikes and because of the movement on his pitches he gets ground-ball outs, he is a top 15 pitcher in the league. The projections I believe are off because they value strikeouts more than simply getting outs.(Tanaka has an opt-out in his contract but we will go over that more as the season gets moving)
Michael Pineda: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is pretty much how Pineda goes about things when he is pitching. He has so much talent exhibited by his 207 strikeouts in only 175 2/3 innings. Pineda’s big issue is mental, I cannot begin to count how many two out rally’s or home-runs he gave up. He seems to lose focus for about half the game and then regain it. He’s actually spoken to this focus issue this spring but the proof will be in the numbers this year. His 4.82 ERA is atrocious for someone with a 10.6K/9 rate. This season will be his fourth in pinstripes and the Yankees need to see the Pineda of 2014 when he had a 1.89 era in 13 starts.
Pineda has the talent to be a Cy Young candidate but needs to get his mental game in gear especially since he is a soon to be free agent and needs to prove himself. Can Pineda put it all together with a sub 3.00 ERA and 200+ strikeouts? Well he has the talent and the pitches for it but it’s going to take a huge maturation process.
His projections are all over the board, but the Innings pitched number is low, he pitched 175 last year and if he limits the long ball that should be closer to 190. I would say that if he can somehow pitch 190 innings with a 3.50 ERA and 200Ks he’s going to be exactly what we need in a #2 starter.
C.C Sabathia: CC has had a long career, after starting his career with Cleveland in 2001 CC is a potential future hall of famer. If you told me last year that CC was going to stabilize the rotation last year I would have laughed in your face. In 2015 he only pitched 167 innings and had a 4.73 era and in 2014 he was hurt and had a 5.28 era. All signs pointed to CC being #DONE. Well what did CC do? He came out and shut me up with a 3.91 ERA in almost 180 innings. He changed how he attacked hitters, instead of trying to over-power hitters or strike them out CC took a more measured approach. He used his pitches to induce ground balls and keep hitters off balance. His K/9 was right in line with his career but the way he went about it was completely different. He changed from throwing a straight fastball to more of a cutter type pitch. He also threw his change up way less and his slider more.
What am I looking for from CC this year? Really anything like last year would be phenomenal. If he can eat up 170+ innings with a 3.90 era I’m not sure what else you would want. I would look to see the cutter continue to be utilized and the change up be used sparingly.
Looking at CC’s iso against you can see why he moved from the fourseam fastball to the cutter. (the cutter data in 2015 is too small to be significant and so is the 2016 fourseam data). Looking at 2015 fourseam vs 2016 cutter you can see a drop of exactly .100 pts in slugging against, which is a huge difference.
The projections don’t account for the change in pitching style for CC and instead seem to be blending his last two years together. Taking a look at the data and the way CC attacked hitters last year should show us that he is a different pitcher than 2015 and will, hopefully, be able to repeat his 2016 performance.
Now what happens to the #4 and #5 spots? Well that is going to be determined but here are some potential candidates:
Luis Severino: has struggled at times developing into a starting pitcher and if he doesn’t show much promise he may be relegated to the bullpen. Right now we have Tyler Clippard as the 7th inning man but if Severino doesn’t perform this spring he will probably get that spot. Severino struggled last year with a 5.83 which was actually worse when he started. He has the talent with two plus pitches but needs to develop a third and keep things more under control if he wants to be a staple of this rotation.
Chad Green: The young fireballer who can pump it up to 95 MPH regularly is going to be given a chance at the #5 spot in the rotation, assuming Severino locks up the #4 spot. He has some movement on his fastball and combined with the velo of 95 will generate a lot of swings and misses. He need not throw it 50% of the time though because then it becomes predictable. He messed around with a cutter last year which could be a weapon if he gets the right grip on it, as he has the arm speed to generate a lot of movement.
Green also throws a sinker and slider, but no change up. I believe that any successful starting pitcher needs a change-up because they have the same arm action as a fastball/cutter and therefore keeps the hitter guessing. Also if he develops a change that has some left to right break it would be a weapon against both lefties and a possible finishing pitch against righties.
Luis Cessa: Cessa can get it up to 95MPH and the slider generates a lot of groundballs which is good. Cessa needs to develop his curve more and his change-up. The curve doesn’t have much break and the change usage isn’t consistent. I would like to see him throw the slider more, curve less, and change-up more. There should be no reason a starter should be throwing his fastball over 50% of the time so Cessa may be regulated to the bullpen if he can’t get his secondary pitches together.
Bryan Mitchell: My sleeper for the final spot in the rotation because he can command his pitches and can pump the fast ball. He has a good fastball and a cutter that generates a lot of groundballs because of its quick movement and velo. He throws a curveball but rarely throws his change-up. Again if he can develop that change-up and throw it 10% of the time combined with his fastball Velo and cutter movement he could be a really good starter.
Bullpen up next tomorrow