Predicting the starting rotation for the Yankees to begin the season
The only members of the starting rotation for the Yankees to begin the season as of now are Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. Sabathia is an established veteran who came to the Yankees in 2009 and helped the team win their 27th championship that season. The other two members of the rotation are unknown and should be Luis Severino and Luis Cessa.
In 7.5 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, half a season with the Milwaukee Brewers and eight seasons with the Yankees, Sabathia has a 3.70 ERA with 223 wins, 12 shutouts, 3,168.1 innings pitched, 2,726 strikeouts, 3.66 FIP and a 1.319 WHIP.
He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2001 when he won 17 games, he has been an All-Star six times and won the Cy Young in 2007. Sabathia will likely be in the Hall of Fame since his 2,726 strikeouts will continue to get closer to 3,000, most of the pitchers who have at least 223 wins are in Cooperstown and since he is a six-time All-Star.
He was a power pitcher who relied on his fastball for much of his career but after he struggled mightily with a 4.78 ERA in 2013 and only made eight starts in 2014 due to needing season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery, he has reinvented himself as a starting pitcher.
Sabathia in his third year of throwing more changeups and breaking balls. He also has a knee brace that has improved his performance. In the 2016 season, he had his best ERA since the 2012 season (3.38 ERA) as he finished this past campaign with a solid 3.91 ERA in 30 starts with 152 strikeouts, a 1.319 WHIP (best since 2012 season), and only 22 homers allowed. Sabathia is in his last year of his nine-year, $202 million contract he signed before the 2009 season and the Yankees will take a repeat performance from last season.
Joe Girardi announced during his first press conference of spring training that Tanaka will be the opening day starter. Tanaka, who has been the Yankees ace since his rookie season in 2014, is in his fourth year of his seven-year, $155 million contract he signed when he come over from Japan. He was an All-Star in 2014 and had an impressive 2.77 ERA with a 1.056 WHIP in 20 starts. Last season, when he didn’t have to miss any time due to injury, he had 14 wins, a very good 3.07 ERA in 31 starts and a career-high 199.2 innings pitched.
Tanaka throws from a three-quarter arm slot and throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball and a slider and a splitter, which is one of the best splitters in baseball. Since his UCL injury in 2014, the last two seasons he has been throwing his two-seam fastball more than his four-seam fastball.
Pineda, who is the third pitcher Yankee who has his rotation spot secure, is entering his fourth season as a member of the rotation. He came to the Yankees in a trade with the Mariners for Jesus Montero after the 2011 season. In his rookie season, in 2011, he was an All-Star and finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting with a 2.4 WAR, a 3.74 ERA, an excellent 1.099 WHIP and 173 strikeouts.
He has the potential to be a №2 starter but he just needs to improve his consistency and not allow so many runs in the first inning. Last season, Pineda had a 4.82 ERA, which was one of the worst in the league, but his dominance was shown in the month of June as he allowed two runs or less in four of his six starts.
He gave up three runs in each of the other two starts and for the month his strikeout to walk ratio was an outstanding 49 to 8. His ERA for the month was 2.75, and he is capable of being a pitcher that has an ERA of the low to mid 3’s for an entire season.
In 2016, Pineda relied on his cutter (95 mph) and slider (86 mph), which is one of the best in baseball. He also mixed in an 89 mph changeup. He primarily needs to improve his fastball command to go with his slider so that he can go deeper into games and become more successful as a starting pitcher. Big Mike is also a pitcher who tends to let a walk or a solo homer spiral into ineffectiveness on the mound.
He is 28, which is in the middle of his prime, and that means it is time he proves what he is capable of. He will be a free agent after this season and will significantly increase his next contract if he can improve his 2016 ERA of 4.82 to an ERA of about 4.00 or under over about 25–28 starts.
Luis Severino should be the number four starter in the rotation. In 2015, after being fast tracked while dominating in the minors, the 23-year-old had an excellent 2.89 ERA in 11 starts while striking out 56 and walking 22. He looked like a future top of the rotation starter as he commanded the strike zone and only allowed more than two earned runs in three of his 11 starts, which proves how consistent he was.
The 2016 season was entirely different for the native of the Dominican Republic since he had a 7.46 ERA after his first seven starts of the season. He allowed 7, 6, 4, and 4 runs in four those starts and did not resemble the pitcher he was in 2015. The primary pitch that he has to improve is his changeup and in his first spring training appearance his change was very effective.
He was dominant when the Yankees had him pitch out of the bullpen after his stint on the disabled list. In nine appearances from September 2 to 26, he only allowed two earned runs in 16 innings pitched. He proved that he can be successful in this role but he will be more valuable to the team if he can develop into a reliable number two or three type of starter.
In 2016, he relied on a four-seam fastball (97 mph), slider (89 mph) while also mixing in his change (90 mph). It’s important for a starting pitcher to have three pitches he can rely on in any count. If he can’t fully develop his change then going to the bullpen would be the right choice, but it seems like Severino likely will be able to add a quality change to his arsenal.
He also worked out with and got advice from Hall of Famer and Dominican Pedro Martinez in the off-season. This can only help because Pedro knows a lot about pitching and Severino likely will closely remember any instruction given to him by Martinez. The Hall of Famer could impart to Severino how to bounce back as he really started to excel and improve after his first three seasons as a starting pitcher.
The two met five times with Martinez watching Severino throw and helping him with his mechanics.
The fifth member of the rotation to begin the season should be 24-year-old Luis Cessa, who the Yankees got from the Tigers with Chad Green in December for relief pitcher Justin Wilson. Wilson was the Yankees’ third best relief pitcher in 2015 and Green is also in contention for one of the two open rotation spots.
Cessa signed with the Mets as an international free agent in 2008. He was a shortstop in his first two pro seasons before transitioning to pitcher in 2011, which proves that he still has room to get better as he has not been a pitcher for as many years as most starting pitchers his age.
The righty from Cordoba, Mexico, pitched in the majors for the first time last season. He appeared in 15 games for Triple-A Scranton in 2016, making 14 starts and had a dominant 3.03 ERA with a 1.151 WHIP in 77.1 innings. In 13 starts with Double-A Binghamton in the Mets organization before being included in the Yoenis Cespedes trade in 2015 he had a 2.56 ERA in 13 starts with 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
In 2016, he went back and forth between Triple-A and the Yankees and appeared in 17 games while making nine starts. He had a 4.35 ERA in 70.1 innings, had a 1.109 WHIP, which is notable for a rookie, but his 16 homers allowed were too many.
Cessa, who relied last season on a four-seam fastball (95 mph) and slider (86 mph) while also mixing in a curve (81 mph) and change (85 mph), allowed three runs or less in seven of the nine starts that the Yankees made. This shows remarkable consistency, and he just needs to work on pitching deeper into games as he didn’t pitch more than six innings in any of those starts.
He will make sense as a number five starter in the rotation if he can consistently not allow more than three runs, which he has proven that he can do. His goal for spring training and the beginning of the season should be to allow fewer homers and be more economical with his pitches.