The ticking time bomb of the Yankees rotation

By: Nick Scott

No doubt, the Yankee pitching staff is what kept a poor season from being even worse. Despite the injury and regression of Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, and Pineda the Yankees managed to stay afloat largely on the shoulders of the acquired Brandon McCarthy and the strong performances youngster Shane Greene turned in. As we all know though, those two are no longer on the team and the rotation has gone from a strong point to being riddled with question mark after question mark.
Assuming the Yankees (inadvisably) intend to roll with the current roster and make no more moves the rotation likely looks like this:
1. Tanaka
2. Sabathia
3. Pineda
4. Eovaldi
5. Capuano

Clearly this staff isn’t blowing anyone away and I want to walk through why each one of the pitchers is a time bomb waiting to explode and inevitably harm the team.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka was a welcome addition to many Yankee fans, myself included. However, after being given a seven year, $155mil deal, Tanaka is bomb waiting to explode and this bomb is either going to hurt the Yankees or hurt any team that has to come to the plate against him the next six years.

Tanaka was nothing short of spectacular his first year in the league posting a 13-5 record as well as a 2.77 ERA, 140 ERA+, and 140 K’s in 136.1 IP. All you had to do was watch a game to find Tanaka is a competitive strike throwing machine.

However, disaster struck and midway through the season as the Japanese phenome was diagnosed with a partially torn elbow ligament. As we all know this typically results in the dreaded Tommy John surgery, or at least in cases where it is a complete tear. Instead of opting for the surgery that results in over a year of rehabilitation, Tanaka and the team decided to for a sort of injection and strengthening rehab to heal the injury.

He underwent this treatment and was able to return for a final start of the season and lasted all of 1.2 IP while giving up 5 ER and 7H to a lesser than stellar Boston lineup. Though he tried to downplay it, there’s no possible way you can say his injury didn’t effect that.

I’m not here to dispute the ability Tanaka possesses – he’s a top of the rotation starter when healthy. The issue here is there aren’t too many cases of pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery, let alone a lesser rehab, to enjoy the results they had before the injury. Sure, there have been cases where it has worked out, but there’s also been a lot where they haven’t. Elbow injuries tend to recur and are always at risk to be worsened once the first one occurs. Tanaka’s elbow is a muscle fiber away from being a very expensive mistake for the Yankees and a very unfortunate occurrence for such a classy and talented player. While I would love to confidently say Tanaka recovers to record of 200 K’s next year, I just have a bad feeling it’s not going to happen.

Final Verdict: Tanaka reinjures his elbow and is forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.

CC Sabathia
Boy, oh, boy. CC Sabathia is one of my favorite players. He plays with a passion and isn’t afraid to defend his teammates, showing true leadership qualities and desire I feel is direly lacking on the team. For the first few years in pinstripes he was also a leader on the playing field, exhibiting true ace qualities that should’ve earned him a Cy Young award he was robbed of.

However, he is coming off back to back seasons of a 4.75+ ERA and it has been incredibly difficult to watch the ever competitive Sabathia struggle so mightily.

Trying to figure out Sabathia’s struggles has been a popular pastime amongst Yankee fans. Many have tried to find their explanation for his decline and it feels the general consensus is that his lack of velocity is behind the problem.

I believe this isn’t the only the issue, but certainly has a lot to do with it. This in itself has been something Yankee fans have tried to explain the last two years his well. His weight loss and injuries of the elbow, shoulder, and knees all play a part and certainly have some credibility to their assertion.

However, I believe it is simply the use of being overused. As of this last season, Sabathia has thrown more innings than ace Roy Halladay did in his entire career. The crazy part? Sabathia has pitched two fewer seasons than Halladay. This is an insane overuse of his arm and after time that arm strength just goes and I have to think he will have a hard time getting any better.

As a result of these issues, many have suggested Sabathia needs to reinvent himself and turn himself into a Cliff Lee or Barry Zito and focus more on command and location than blowing it by people. Well, he’s tried and this and for two years it hasn’t exactly worked.

I myself have a difficult time seeing Sabathia improving. What reason would anyone have to? He’s only gotten older and hurt more as time has progressed. My only hope would stem from the fact he had quite a bit or rest and recovery time this season in addition to this entire offseason. Perhaps he comes back well rested and he I able to recover some velocity or pitch effective with that diminished speed to be at least a 3 or 4 starter.

I’m not hopefully, but Sabathia is the kind of guy to work as hard as possible to make sure he’s helping the team, so while he might not blow everyone away, he might be able to come back and give the Yankees 25 starts and a chance to win half of them.
Final Verdict: Sabathia pitches 170 IP with a 3.75 ERA

Michael Pineda:
Before this last season I predicted that Pineda would be a pretty solid contributor the team. I was, well, sort of correct. Pineda went 5-5 but had an astounding 1.89 ERA. Long story short, Pineda was insanely effective, when he was pitching.

So why do I think there’s an issue with a guy who in my mind could be an ace or solid two starter when he’s healthy? Well again, health is an issue.

Pineda was only able to make 13 starts this year due to an injury occurred during a start he was making outside the majors as a result of his suspension for quite obviously using pine tar on his neck in several games to start the season.

This isn’t the first time Pineda has had serious injury issue as said injuries had kept him from playing in pinstripes since his acquisition in the 2011 offseason. He only compounded these issues by tagging on a DUI during that period.

Pineda is a great talent, don’t get me wrong, but he has some serious issues with injury and I would say maturity that really worry me. However, maybe this is the year he makes 25 starts for the first time since 2011.

Final Verdict: Pineda pitches to 13-5 in 24 starts with a 2.30 ERA and misses some time for an injury

Nathan Eovaldi
This one gives me headaches. The Yankees recently traded away the very solid Martin Prado, who can play most positions and hits very well, for the pitcher that led the league in hits allowed this past season. He gave up 223 hits in 199.2 IP to be exact. This is downright horrible and he has averaged 203 hits allowed every year of his career.

Despite this Eovaldi has generally been considered a guy with upside in the league the last few years, though I feel that has been thoroughly disproved. He throws hard and was in the top of the league in average fastball velocity the last year and many sources have reported the Yankees love guys who throw gas.

Velocity is a doubled edged sword. Obviously, if you throw it harder, the batter has less time to react, therefore it is harder to hit. On the flipside, even weak swing result in bullets off the bat if a high velocity ball is lined up and this is clearly Eovaldi’s issue as scouts have said his fastball comes in “straight as an arrow.”

I don’t have a lot of confidence in this turning out favorably for the Yankees. I think they made a boneheaded move trading a proven hitter/utility man for Eovaldi, a decent prospect in Domingo German, and a beyond horrible first baseman in Garrett Jones. I get the “Yankees need to get younger yada-yada-ya” stuff, but younger doesn’t mean more talented, and if it indeed isn’t that’s simply more potential years you are stuff with a poor performer.

The only hope here is that in working with the Yankee pitching coach he is able to develop some run on that fastball to compliment some better command for better results. That needs to happen or it’s going to be real ugly, especially in the AL East. We can hope because he’s young, but do not count on this one.

Final Verdict: Eovaldi gets shelled for 230 hits in 200 IP with a 4.71 ERA

Chris Capuano
I really don’t understand this one. There were plenty of other cheaper, better options for starting pitching available on the market, but instead the Yankees re-signed Chris Capunao and intend on making him a starter, as of this point.

Capuano had 2 wins in 12 starts with the bombers last season for a record of 2-3. There is a serious issue here, because he only lasted roughly 5 innings per start as evidenced by his lack of decisions. This creates a ton of stress on the bullpen when it has to pick up 4 IP every time he makes a start.

He’s posted over a 4.00 ERA the past two years and hasn’t thrown more than 105 IP in that time either.

This one should be pretty apparent. If the Yankees seriously intend to use Capuano as a starter, it’s not going to be good for the team.

Final Verdict: Capuano is released or traded half way through the season

What Does All This Mean?
My point here is the Yankees pitching staff has developed a lot of holes these past few months and they’ve made some questionable and quite frankly poor attempts to fill them. The Yankees have a need for another top of the rotation pitcher and honestly Max Scherzer is the perfect fit. He’s an ace on the market and the Yankees wouldn’t lose a draft pick as they were compensated for David Robertson’s departure. He’s a star talent that only costs money. And don’t give me any of that “Yankees need to save money” garbage. The team won’t be under the luxury tax cap for a while and there’s no sense in being over that cap if it isn’t funding talent to compete, of which the Yankees don’t have enough of in the rotation.

James Shields and Cole Hamels are out there as well as named such as Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto. I’m not saying these Yankees should get them all, but the point is someone of an ace caliber is needed or this is going to be a disastrous season. The team already had an overtaxed bullpen with a far superior staff last season and with the current staff that is only going to get worse.

The Yankees need to get serious about their pitching staff.

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All stats and info provided via Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com

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