Pitching Problems in Yankee Land

The expression used by general managers is “you can never have enough starting pitchers” holds true for the 2014 New York Yankees. On opening day the 5-man rotation included CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Masahiro Tanaka. Yes, Tanaka was considered the fifth starter. After 43 games the Yankee’s record is 23-20 and they are in first place 1/2 game ahead of the Orioles. Boy, has the 5-man rotation changed! The rotation now consists of Tanaka, Kuroda, and three  unproven starters, right-hander David Phelps, left hander Vidal Nuno, and right-hander Chase Whitley, who made his major league debut against the Mets.So where have all the starters gone? Ivan Nova is done for the year having undergone Tommy John Surgery. CC Sabathia will be out at least for six weeks with a cartridge problem in his knee. Michael Pineda pitched to a 1.83 ERA before being suspended for his pine tar incident. After the suspension he went on the DL with a strained back muscle. He is expected back within four weeks.

To say that Tanaka was as good as advertised is an understatement. Tanaka’s performance this year includes a record of 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA. Of all AL starting pitchers with at least 6 starts, he is first in WHIP (0.91), fourth in ERA, seventh in opponents’ batting average against (0.214), fifth in strike-outs (66), and third in fewest Base-on-balls (7). Can we call this performance a surprise? There were many critics of the signing of Tanaka based onhis 24-0 record in a Japanese League. Playing in Japan and in the US, Tanaka has an amazing winning streak of 34-0 since August 19, 2012. My feeling is if you have a 34-0 record in any league there is something special about you as a pitcher. After watching several of his starts, scouts now agree he is the real thing. He works both sides of the plate and has four legitimate pitches. His control is great and when he gets two strikes on a batter he can finish him off with the best splitter in baseball. In his last game against the Mets Daniel Murphy said, “I knew what was coming and still could not hit the ball.”

CC Sabathia is another story. His fastball had a velocity of 94 mph fastball three years ago. Last year his velocity dropped to 91 mph. This year his fastball velocity diminished to a very hittable 89 mph. CC is now a fifth starter. When CC gets two strikes on a batter he cannnot finish him off. This leads to high pitch counts, early removals from games, and more home runs.Michael Pineda is an injury waiting to happen. Even if he returns in four weeks it is just a matter of time before he is back on the DL. Kuroda is a 39 year old pitcher, who last year broke down in the second half of the season. Look for him to break down again after the All-Star break. This leads to the three unproven starters, Phelps, Nuno, and Whitley. Unfortunately, in their starts so far they have all shown themselves to be 5-inning pitchers.What about the Yankee bullpen? If starting pitchers continually leave the game in the fifth inning or before, theinnings pitched by the relief pitchers will mount up. Yes, Robertson has been solid as their new closer.  Betances is finally living up to his potential with 42 k’s in 24.1 innings and an ERA of 1.85. He can be used as the eighth inning specialist. This leaves Warren and Kelly as seventh inning specialists. Thornton the left-handed specialist has not produced (ERA 5.87). Aceves slatted to be the long-reliever has disappointed (ERA 6.35). The problem is as the season goes on the increased innings required of therelievers will wear them down.

Currently the Yankee starting pitchers have a cumulative 4.24 ERA and rank 10th in the AL and 24th in the MLB. To summarize, unless the starting pitcher rotation is stabilized, there will be no October baseball in New York City.

Update: Tanaka’s winning streak is over as he loses to the Cubs 6-1 on May 20.

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