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Previewing The Yankees’ 2017 Rotation
- Updated: February 8, 2017
With the off-season coming to a close, it’s starting to look like the New York Yankees are done making moves. At least until this 2017 team declares itself as either a contender or a pretender sometime down the road. The team’s biggest question mark by far heading into 2017 is the starting rotation. With four spots essentially locked up by returning veterans, the other two will likely come down to some good old-fashioned Spring Training competition.
An easy starting point for any discussion regarding the Yankees’ rotation. Tanaka has been far and away the best and most consistent pitcher on the team since his debut in 2014. Tanaka has posted a 3.12 ERA (77 ERA-) in his three years with the Yankees. He has excelled despite being victimized by his own home stadium. His K/BB ratio sits at an exceptional 5.30. Not much can be said about #19 that hasn’t already been said. The only possible knock against him is that he doesn’t throw nearly as many innings as other top of the line starting pitchers. He has eclipsed 170 IP only once (in 2016 with 199.2). Tanaka has elected to not pitch for team Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic which should keep him plenty rested for the long season to come.
This section was almost labeled “The Sure Things” instead of “The Veterans”, but I just could not describe Michael Pineda as a sure thing in good faith. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a graph?
Pineda’s journey has been a strange one to be sure. By most accounts, he should have performed a lot better than he has the past two seasons. He strikes out a lot of hitters, but doesn’t walk many. His ground ball and fly ball rates are both trending in the right direction. Pineda’s Fly Ball% has dropped 12% since his rookie year to 32.6%, however when hitters are putting the ball in the air they are doing serious damage, his HR/FB ratio has gone from 9.0% to 17.0%. Some of this change can be explained by moving from the roomy confines of Safeco field in Seattle to an admittedly cramped Yankee Stadium, but surely 8%, nearly double his rookie season, can’t all be attributed to a stadium change right?
Baseball Prospectus recently released a feature on a series of new statistics detailing the difference between ‘control’ and ‘command’. Pineda seems to be the poster child for a pitcher with good control, one who throws a lot of strikes, but poor command; when he does throw strikes they are usually too hittable. There was a time when Brian Cashman was willing to trade the #3 prospect in baseball for Michael Pineda, granted that prospect ended up being Jesus Montero, the point still stands. Michael Pineda was once considered a very good pitcher. Is that still the case today? Debatable. Moving forward, though, if Pineda cannot make a positive change don’t expect him to be back in New York in 2018.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Luis Severino is better suited to be a reliever. His ERA as a starter is 8.50. His ERA the second time through the order is 12.38. His ERA as a reliever is 0.39. His K% jumps 11% when pitching out of the bullpen. Now (un)fortunately I don’t run the Yankees, that combined with the fact that the team is decidedly low on good starting pitching options, Severino will likely start 2017 in the rotation.
When I took a look at the Yankees’ 2017 ZiPS Projections, Severino was a bounce back candidate. Will he bounce all the way back to his 2015 form? Doubtful, his true skill level most likely lies somewhere in between his stellar 2015 and dreadful 2016. In the same way that Severino benefited from some good fortune in 2015, he caught a couple of tough breaks in 2016. His LOB% (runners left on base %) went from 87% to 64%, the midpoint between those two is 75.5% which just so happens to be right around the league average. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) went from .265 to .324, his 2017 BABIP will probably be somewhere between the midpoint of those two (.295) and league average (~300). Are you starting to see a pattern?
Sabathia proved a lot of people wrong in 2016, myself included. He seems to have finally found his way in this third act of his career, remaining effective even with a severe loss in velocity. CC isn’t missing bats like he used to, but he is managing contact with the best of them. Among pitchers with at least 200 batted ball events, CC’s average exit velocity against was the 2nd lowest in baseball with 85.3 mph. Lower than Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Clayton Kershaw. The only pitcher with a better average exit velocity was Tyler Anderson of the Colorado Rockies.
Even if Sabathia underperforms his 2017 projections of a low-4 ERA, he can still be a valuable #4 starter if he continues to pitch at around a league average level and does not miss too many starts.
With four rotation spots accounted for the “kids” will battle for the 5th spot in spring training. I put “kids” in quotes because everyone I’m about to mention is at least two years older than Luis Severino, but you get the point.
Going back to my ZiPS article from earlier in the year again, Green seems to be the favorite to win the 5th spot. On the surface, Green’s short stint with the big club in 2016 seems uninspiring: a 4.73 ERA over 8 starts and 45.2 IP. If you’re a glass-half-full person, Green struck out 26% of the batters he faced, and 25% of the fly balls he allowed were home runs, which will certainly never happen over a full season. If Green breaks camp with an improved changeup that he can use more than 2.5% of the time, expect him to make some noise in Spring Training.
Cessa’s 2016 was similar to Green’s in a sense that it was underwhelming: 4.35 ERA over 9 starts. Unlike Green, however, Cessa’s strikeout numbers took a big hit after making the jump to the majors dropping from 22.3% to 16.1%. Cessa is the most polished pitcher of the three, with a true four pitch mix. It will be interesting to watch both him and Green in Spring Training.
Easily the least appealing option of the three, Mitchell actually had a good, albeit short 2016. Posting a 3.24 ERA over 5 starts. Mitchell has the best stuff in the group, boasting a fastball that sits 95 and a plus breaking ball. All that being said, I still think he’s a longshot to make the rotation out of Spring Training and the reason why is simple: his control is simply not good enough. Over his career, Mitchell has walked 10.5% of the batters he’s faced, good for a 4.25 BB/9. In 2017 he projects to allow 39 free passes in 80 innings.
With a bullpen like theirs to pick up the slack the Yankees’ rotation doesn’t have to be great. That being said, the club will only go as far as the starters take them. Even with all the excitement and new faces in the lineup, the Yankees are still a few bounce back seasons away and maybe a mid-season acquisition away from contending in 2017.
"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.It cannot be changed without changing our own thinking."