The Yankees’ rotation may surprise you in 2016

I’m going to get back into this blogging business, and I’m really excited about the New York Yankees this season. A lot of “experts” don’t seem to be buying much stock into the Bronx Bombers this season, most likely a typical reaction to their inactivity on the free agent market. But you know what? I do think they’re going to surprise people this year.

Why do I think that? First off, there is a pretty high ceiling for this pitching staff. Their bullpen somehow got even better, and their rotation could fall into place if everything goes right. A lot of “ifs”, however, as pretty much everyone comes with a “Handle With Care” label. Three of their right-handers have dealt with elbow injuries, one finally put together a full season after being held back by a shoulder tear four years, and their oldest starter has been dealing with a degenerative knee.

When they did pitch, the Yankees’ starting pitching was a mixed bag in 2015, as they finished 19th in ERA, 11th in fWAR, and 16th in FIP. However, their peripherals suggest they should have had more positive results. As a team, they don’t walk many batters (4th lowest BB/9 in the majors), they’re above average at getting outs via strikes (7.51 K/9), and they keep the ball mostly on the ground (4th in MLB at 48.3%, 6th in grounders to flyball rate at 1.56). The Achilles’ is their home ballpark, as Yankee Stadium had the. Factoring out home runs, the Yankees’ rotation ranked 7th in the majors in FIP-, which suggests possible positive regression, as batted ball trends are rarely constant year-to-year.

Maybe they won’t lead the majors in ERA, but there is a high risk, perhaps high reward feeling surrounding this team’s rotation going into 2016. If all goes right, there’s a good reason to buy into their odds to get back into the postseason.

Our Hiro: Masahiro Tanaka (2015: 12-7, 3.51 ERA, 112 ERA+, 3.98 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 5.2 K/BB)

Last year was an endless media circus surrounding Masahiro Tanaka and his $155 million elbow. The old-timers in the New York tabloids constantly called for the Yankees to make Tanaka get Tommy John surgery, despite the dissenting opinions from several team doctors, trainers, and Dr. James Andrews himself. Tanaka spent all of May on the DL with a forearm strain related to the UCL problem, but returned to pitch more innings and starts than he did the previous year when he first sustained the injury. Despite inflated home run rates (1.46 HR/9), Tanaka finished with the lowest WHIP (0.99) in the American League and earned the start in the Yankees’ brief playoff appearance.

Now, the Yankees’ hopes rely on Tanaka once more, but the ace is right on schedule again after having a bone-spur removed from that right elbow. He is looking to start on Opening Day again, and has set his goal to throw 200 innings this season. If he manages to keep the ball in the park more consistently, he’s easily one the AL’s elite pitchers.

Big Mike: Michael Pineda (2015: 12-10, 4.37 ERA, 90 ERA+, 3.34 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 7.4 K/BB)

The 6’7″ Pineda has been an enigma in his career in Pinstripes. After missing all of 2012 and most of 2013 with a shoulder injury, Pineda impressed in a 13-start cameo in 2014. His 2015 season was about of a mixed bag as you can get. He had an impressive 7.34 K/BB rate, but was absolutely killed by the home run ball. Despite a 3.34 FIP and 2.95 xFIP, Pineda finished with a 4.37 ERA. His slider at times was very flat, which made him more hittable despite his restored velocity.

Pineda certainly has potential to be a dominant No. 2 starter, the only question is consistency. That question of consistency could be answered as he tries to finally master a third-pitch, his changeup. He began using it more last season, and it resulted in a much higher groundball rate (48.2%) than in his previous two big league seasons (39.1% in 2014 and 36.3% in his rookie year in 2011). Normally, a low-walk rate, a high groundball rate is a recipe for success, so for Pineda it depends on more consistent movement and velocity on his plus-pitches.

Nasty Nate: Nathan Eovaldi (2015: 14-3, 4.20 ERA, 94 ERA+, 3.42 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB)

On a hot June night in Miami, the former Marlin got just two outs and gave up 8 runs. The fireballer’s ERA stood at 5.12. Around this time, Eovaldi began crafting his split-finger fastball, and his four-seam fastball started to reach the upper 90s regularly in the dog days of July and August. In his next 12 starts, he didn’t lose, pitching to a 2.93 ERA as opponents batted just .235 against him. Eventually, his season was cut short in the final month owed to an elbow injury.

The story of Eovaldi’s Major League career is that he gives up hits. Lots of them. However, the majority of them are singles, and Eovaldi is great at not getting hit hard (2.01 groundball to flyball rate, 52.8 groundball %, 0.58 HR/9 rate in 2015). Hitters had a .337 average on balls in play, which resulted in a 4.20 ERA on the year despite a 3.42 FIP and 3.2 fWAR.

Armed with the highest average fastball velocity in the American League, Eovaldi is looking to finally break out this season. There’s certainly no questioning his talent, stuff, or his demeanor on the mound, it’s just a matter of putting it all together: that mix of stuff and luck.

The Kid: Luis Severino (2015: 2.89 ERA, 137 ERA+, 4.37 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.6 K/BB in 62.1 IP)

After blazing through the minors last season, the Yankees’ 22 year-old pitching prospect gave them much-needed help in the rotation in August and September. His stuff is absolutely legit: a fastball that regularly hits the upper 90s, a slider that can hit 90 mph, and a changeup that still needs development but has a late drop.

But we probably need to simmer down our expectations for now, as the Yankees will set an innings and pitch count limit for the Dominican right-hander. Over the course of his 11-start debut last year, his FIP was a high 4.37 due to a propensity to the long ball and limited outings. The Yankees will take it easy on the

Redemption: CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova

Lastly we have the back-end, and it leaves much to be desired. Sabathia led the team in innings, but continued his long and ugly decline into old age in 2015 before checking into an alcohol-rehabilitation facility upon the conclusion of the regular season. The 35 year-old former ace is currently favored to fill the No. 5 spot over Nova, but velocity continues to trend downwards and his home run rates continue to rise. With a knee brace now on his leg to combat his declining condition, keeping people off base to limit his homers to solo shots and remastering his signature slider is pretty much his only hope this season.

After returning from Tommy John surgery in June last year, Nova struggled to re-discover the consistency he enjoyed in 2013. After pitching to a 3.10 ERA in his first seven starts last year, he struggled late in the season and was removed from the rotation in September. The 29 year-old regained his pre-surgery velocity, but the movement in his pitches simply wasn’t there. After a full, regular offseason, Nova looks to regain form in whatever role he can be provided. He could very well fill the Adam Warren-role as the spot starter and long man for the team, and with the injury risks all over this rotation, he should have the ability to win his chance throughout the season.

Don’t Look Now, But Here Come the Yankees?

Two weeks ago the New York Yankees were left for dead, and for good reason. A 6-12 slide out of the All-Star break left them one game over .500, 11 games out of first and seven games out of a playoff spot. It looked as if the season were on the verge of being sunk especially after the team was embarrassed in San Diego and swept in Chicago by the dreadful White Sox.

Since that disastrous road trip, however, they’ve pulled off a 11-3 run to inch closer into the thick of things again. They took two of three against the reigning American League champions on two walk off hits by Brett Gardner following blown saves by Mariano Rivera, who is not immune to the Titan Miguel Cabrera much like the rest of baseball. They took three of four from the dreadful Angels and took two out of three in an emotional series at Fenway (although a sweep would have been a serious game changer and a three game bite on the Red Sox’ division lead instead of just one. After sweeping a four game set against Toronto they’ve now won five in a row ahead of a huge series in Tampa Bay.

Honestly, it’s not really absurd to say A-Rod getting plunked by Ryan Dempster on Sunday at Fenway is inspiring this team. Girardi got fired up, Alex got his revenge later that game which sparked the winning rally that game. Even David Ortiz admits Dempster may have woken a sleeping giant.

How have they done it? They are finally healthy and their offense has gone from being historically awful to extremely potent. Over this 11-3 stretch they’ve scored 83 runs (5.93 per game). With Granderson and A-Rod back and healthy, re-acquired Alfonso Soriano having a week for the ages this past week and Derek Jeter on his way back from another, this lineup is looking bullish after being bearish for the entire season.

They’re only half a game from leap-frogging Baltimore in the chase and 3.5 games behind Oakland for the second wild card, but they haven’t inched much closer to Tampa Bay, who is also red hot. They have their chance now. Of their final 37 games left in the season, 28 are against AL East foes, eight versus Toronto, six versus Tampa Bay, seven versus Baltimore and seven versus Boston. They are done playing the Rangers and Athletics, the two teams competing for the West crown with the runner up a likely wild card berth, so the division may be more of a realistic target than beating the AL West runner-up at the moment.

This will start with this weekend in St. Petersburg against the Rays. It’s probably the biggest series of the season and the Rays know it, they know the Yankees coming. They adjusted their rotation to throw their three best pitchers against the Bombers. Friday Hiroki Kuroda takes on the rookie Chris Archer (130 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP). Saturday two former Cy Young lefties butt heads yet again as a struggling CC Sabathia takes on the resurgent David Price (116 ERA+, league leading 5.58 K/BB rate). The finale stars the also resurgent Ivan Nova (2.30 ERA in his last eight starts since returning to the big leagues) against Alex Cobb (134 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP). If the Yankees are going to take this series and continue their roll to a potential playoff berth, the starting pitching HAS to get it done, especially Sabathia.

Anything less than two out of three is unacceptable. A sweep of the Rays although unlikely would do some serious damage and make some big time noise throughout the American League as it would bring them to within two games of the wild card. Also this weekend Baltimore (1/2 game ahead of New York) plays Oakland and the Red Sox visit the absurdly hot Dodgers, so the Yankees will make up ground on whoever loses these series assuming their do take care of business at Tropicana Field.

This is the stretch run for the year. It’s do or die time for the New York Yankees. Every game is Game 7.

Yankees’ Keys to the Second Half

Despite the concerns about all the injuries and the age on this squad, your New York Yankees are still within striking distance. Six games out of first behind Boston, only three behind for a playoff spot. Despite all the injuries and all that crap, the Yankees are 51-44. How can the Yankees improve and make the playoffs in the second half?

 

1. Get Guys Healthy and Productive: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson have combined to play in just 24 games this year. Teixeira re-injured his wrist and is now out for the season. Granderson had another freak injury after only eight games in May but should return soon. Jeter returned for one game last week but hurt his quadriceps, probably from the rust of not having played since October. A-Rod is on the way back down in Triple-A. And now, Robinson Cano seems to be banged up after taking a fastball off the leg from Matt Harvey in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Hopefully, the Bombers will have Jeter and Cano back in the lineup for this weekend’s showdown at Fenway Park.

2. GET THE OFFENSE GOING: The Yankees have one of the weakest lineups in baseball right now. They are 11th in the AL in runs scored and their team batting average, OBP, slugging %, and OPS are close to last in the league. Basically, the injuries have siphoned their power. The Bronx “Bombers” have only three players with an OPS above league average (Cano, Brett Gardner, and Lyle Overbay). Only three have an average above .260 (Cano, Gardner, and Ichiro). A year after hitting 245 home runs, the team only has 88 at the moment. In such a great hitter’s park, how can you be that bad? The team’s hope right now is to get Jeter and A-Rod back to keep bums like Eduardo Nunez, David Adams, and Luis Cruz out of the lineup every day.

3. More Consistent Pitching: The Yankees have the 2nd lowest team ERA in the American League, and that’s pretty much how they’ve been winning. You have a very reliable quintet of relievers in LOOGY Boone Logan, rookie Preston Claibourne, strikeout machine Shawn Kelley, fireman set-up man David Robertson, and of course, the great Mariano Rivera. The rotation overall has been a bit mediocre. Hiroki Kuroda has been stellar, 2nd in the league in ERA. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have been pretty disappointing so far. David Phelps has had some very good starts but a couple of brief and piss poor ones have inflated his numbers. Then you got Ivan Nova, back with a vengeance. He’s looked impressive in two starts since being recalled. I hope to see everyone improve in the second half, particularly Pettitte and Sabathia.

4. Scavenging the Trade Market: The team is clearly quite a few moves from becoming a serious contender. They really need some help in both the outfield and on the left side of the infield, assuming Jeter and A-Rod can’t play there every single day. The Yankees have reportedly expressed interest in Michael Young, but there’s no telling if the Phillies want to try to buy or sell themselves. In the outfield, Brian Cashman should look to the Cubs as a trade partner, as Alfonso Soriano, Davd DeJesus, and Nate Schierholtz all could be very good fits for the club.

5. Beating Division Rivals: The Yankees are 20-17 against the other four teams in the AL East, but that is inflated by an 8-1 record against the Blue Jays, who were playing very bad baseball in April and May. They start the second half at Fenway and have 10 more games against the hated Red Sox after that. They also have 10 games against Toronto to play, nine against Tampa Bay, and just seven versus Baltimore. Beating these teams is crucial for a playoff spot and better chances to win the division.

6. Stop Winning So Many Games by the Skin of Your Teeth: The Yankees have been winning too many of their games by nail-biters. They are 16-9 in one run affairs and have a negative run differential on the season. Mariano is on pace for over 50 saves, for what would be only third time in his career. Clearly, this is due to the mediocre offensive output. Will it hold up like the Orioles last year or will their be a regression? Time will tell, but the Yankees need to start making victories more easier to come by instead of clawing for every single run. The returns of Jeter, A-Rod, and Granderson should at least make it somewhat better.

The New York Yankees have entered limbo.

I was born in the year 1994, the year of the MLB players’ strike, the year the Rangers broke a 54 year drought, the year Kurt Cobain died, the year the Knicks were a mere shot and a game away from winning a ring, the year the whole OJ Simpson fiasco occurred. Most of all, it was the year the New York Yankees showed some signs of returning to relevance after a 13 year dormancy.

Since then, the Yankees have missed the playoffs just once, never finished with a losing record, won 13 division titles, seven AL pennants, and five World championships. Any fan of any team would love to have that kind of success. But with this franchise and the former late owner who ran it with an iron fist until his death in 2010, you expected more.

Now, I don’t know what to expect from a team who all I expected was winning it all. After surviving a late season collapse and five game series with a team full of mediocrity, after proceeding to get completely embarrassed by the same team that beat the year before, they have not built themselves to be a team that expects to win and win and take home the Commissioner’s Trophy.

No, they’re a team in limbo. A team that has duped the press and its loyal fanbase by pretending to be that same team that set the example that anything less than first is a waste. They did absolutely nothing to improve on an embarrassment in the League Championship Series. They blamed this on a luxury tax despite the fact they generate more revenue than any other sports team in the world by their cable network ALONE. Instead they went out and got a collection of overpaid wash-ups like Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis while refusing to go within to solve the problems with youth. They went into the season with a lineup of Eduardo Nunez, who is good at very little and erratic at just about everything at SS/3B,  a “platoon” at catcher between Francisco Cervelli, a minor leaguer, and journeyman Chris Stewart, Ben Francisco as the DH against LHP, a washed up Ichiro as a corner outfielder, and Jayson Nix (.219 career hitter) as the Opening Day 3B.

They have done absolutely nothing to improve the franchise from within. The top prospects that they have had come up in the last few years have flamed out not because of lack of talent, but because of complete incompetence and mis-handlement by this organization. When faced with a complete lack of rotation depth two seasons ago, they went with has-beens Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia rather than give Joba Chamberlain, who they have completely ruined starting back in 2009, another shot. Last year, they traded away their best prospect since Derek Jeter for an overweight pitcher who blew out his shoulder and still has yet to throw a pitch for this club.

This year, they’ve had all of us fooled with that 30-18 start. They were completely dominated in four games by one of the worst teams in baseball, they got dominated at home yet again by their arch nemesis with first place on the line. But now, this is the breaking point. They not only just got completely dismantled and outlasted by a team that was better than them, they looked completely inept. In this latest loss, their 4-7 hitters, who make a combined $57.5 million, combined to go 0-28 with 12 strikeouts as the offense scored zero runs in the last 17 innings of the game and the whole team left a combined 30 runners on base, the most in a single game in franchise.

The team is now averaging 3.94 runs per game, their worst run pace in 23 years. Quite frankly, this team has become nearly unwatchable at this point. They are not good enough to win the championship, and they won’t end up being bad enough to do a complete rebuild. Not yet at least. They are in limbo right now.

Where is the heart? There is none. The days of the Core Four and the Lords of the Five Rings are over. Jorge Posada has been gone. Mariano Rivera is hanging it up this year (BTW, this has been a great send off for this team). Andy Pettitte has been great since coming out of retirement last year but you know his final one will be soon. The Captain, the heart, soul, and face of this franchise for the past 17 years, has yet to return, and it will probably be all for naught. It is clear as day: This 18 year run by the New York Yankees is coming to a close. The organization has brought it on themselves. Don’t be fooled by this team’s success so far this season. Unless something changes soon, it’s all trending downwards from here.

The ownership, in contrast to their father, cares very little about winning. That is also clear given the pitiful attempts to improve and reboot this team. They only care about making money. Why else would they keep the ticket prices for the new Yankee Stadium so high, thus alienating the true fans and attracting only the wealthy, casual fans who text on their phones in the 9th inning. They try to make it seem they have tried to improve the team by accumulating the highest payroll in baseball history, constructed only by albatross contracts, the biggest belonging to that fallen hero Alex Rodriguez who honestly should never play another game for this team.

How can any fan take this ownership and general management seriously anymore? Clearly this franchise is a chicken with its head chopped off. A franchise with no direction as it tries to transit from one era to another. As a life-long fan who buys all the memorabilia, merchandise, hats, shirts, and jerseys I can afford as well as go to as many games as I can, I feel cheated.

If the Steinbrenner brothers are truly committed to building a championship caliber and not full of it, it’s time to completely rebuild. If this means letting Robinson Cano walk instead of handing him a ridiculous 8-10 year deal, so be it. This run was built over the course of five years by Gene Michael after George Steinbrenner was suspended by the Commissioner. He drafted Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. He signed Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. He traded for Paul O’Neill. He had a clear vision for this franchise, and this team needs someone like him to do the same for this team.

The Yankees are desperate. Desperate to resurrect the flame of the dynasty and are only fooling themselves. The vultures are circling. It’s time for change.