The Yankees Rotation: Whose Arm Will Explode First?

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

The New York Yankees head into 2015 praying that their rotation will hold up. As nearly anyone can reasonably surmise, it won’t. Injury concerns abound in the Yanks’ top five, and there’s not much help waiting in the wings. If everyone stays healthy, this rotation will be very formidable. Unfortunately, there aren’t many bigger ‘ifs’ than that one.

CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Michael Pineda
Nathan Eovaldi
Ivan Nova
Chris Capuano

Those six names are the only ones that we have projected to pitch more than 19 innings as a starter for the Yanks this season. Considering the team used a whopping 13 starters last year, that’s red flag number one. Let’s start with Sabathia and work our way down.

CC Sabathia was limited to just 46 (largely ineffective) innings in 2014, due to a degenerative knee condition that ended up requiring surgery. He claims that he’s 100-percent healthy, and that he’s all systems go for Opening Day. However, keep in mind that he’ll turn 35 years old this season and weighs nearly 300 pounds. That’s a whole lot of pressure coming down on his surgically repaired plant leg. (Author’s Note: I had completely forgotten that Sabathia got so weirdly skinny last year. Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out. This portion of my analysis may have been rendered moot.)

Furthermore, the idea that Sabathia’s skill set is in decline isn’t exactly a new one. His fastball velocity has been absolutely plummeting since 2011, which is not-so-coincidentally paired with a home-run rate that climbed in a big hurry. Long story short, I’m having trouble seeing Sabathia as more than a top-60 starter in standard leagues this year. He’s still worth rostering, but I’d rather let someone else do that.

As for Masahiro Tanaka, his already-torn elbow ligament could be giving way right now, as I type this. It could also tear completely in Spring Training, or in June, or next year, or never. (Okay, probably not that last one.) If/when his elbow gives way, he’ll be out for a year.

A simple look at his stellar numbers from last year tells you everything you need to know about his fantasy upside. When healthy, he’s likely one of the best pitchers in baseball — but if that elbow blows up, that’s not going to matter one iota. I wouldn’t be remotely comfortable drafting him any higher than the No. 25-30 SP range, and I highly doubt he’ll fall that far in many leagues. As with Sabathia, let him be someone else’s problem.

If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, you’ll have to excuse me, because it’s time to talk about Michael Pineda. Again, the upside here is tremendous. In his 13 starts last year, Pineda posted a sparkling 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP), with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.43.

Unfortunately, Pineda — who missed all of 2012 and 2013 with a torn labrum — found himself on the shelf for nearly four full months of last season, when his defective shoulder reared its ugly head again. Like Sabathia, he claims to be at full health coming into 2015, but what is full health for a guy like Pineda?

Shoulder injuries are far less predictable — and more difficult to overcome — than elbow issues (See also: Johnson, Josh). All that said, I’m still ranking Pineda above Sabathia, and would roll the dice on him somewhere in the No. 45-50 range. Pineda’s upside is still pretty darn high, and unlike Sabathia/Tanaka, I think he’ll fall far enough in drafts that I’ll probably end up with him on a couple of my rosters this year.

Nathan Eovaldi perfectly fits the standard description of pitchers I love grabbing on the cheap in fantasy leagues. He’s got a cannon for an arm, having registered at least one pitch above the 100-mph threshold in each of the last two seasons. Still, the 25-year-old’s strikeout rate sits at just 6.28 K/9 through 460 major-league innings.

The reason for this is that neither his slider or curve has become the out pitch he needs to become a strikeout pitcher. Here’s the thing: Every scrap of analysis I’m providing on Eovaldi is identical to Garrett Richards pre-2014. Richards — another flamethrower with a ‘meh’ strikeout rate — developed his slider into a true out pitch in 2014. For his part, Richards ended up as the No. 14 fantasy starter last year.

The move from the NL to the AL won’t help Eovaldi’s cause, and neither will the move from Marlins Park to Yankee Stadium. Still, if he can develop one of his breaking pitches, this could be a big-time breakout year for Eovaldi. He’s on my sleeper radar in every league, and he should be on yours too.

Unlike his teammates who merely have injury concerns, Ivan Nova is currently rehabbing an existing injury. He isn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery until May or June, at which point he may be worthy of consideration in AL-only leagues. Are we drafting him? No, no we are not.

Oh hey, remember those guys with injury concerns? Chris Capuano had two Tommy John surgeries — and a torn labrum, to boot — from 2007 through 2009. If he can return to his 2011/2012 form, he’ll be a valuable back-of-the-rotation starter for the Yanks. The 36-year-old will be relevant in AL-only leagues as long as he’s healthy, but for mixers, he’ll merely be a streaming option when he faces teams that struggle against southpaws.

Beyond those six guys — one of whom is already hurt, and four of whom have major injury concerns — there’s always Esmil Rogers, who hasn’t been an effective major-league starter since, well…okay, he’s never actually been an effective starter.

Other options would be Bryan Mitchell, who has been ridiculously inconsistent in the minors, or Chase Whitley, whose ceiling is likely that of a No. 5 starter. How about Jose De Paula, entering his age-27 season with zero major-league innings under his belt?

To summarize, the Yankees are playing with fire in a big way by going into the season with this rotation. Nearly the entire projected rotation has major injury concerns, and the guys behind them simply aren’t very good. It could be a rough season for pitching in the Bronx, and I’m shying away from the vast majority of their starters as fantasy options.





Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Enosaurus Rex
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Enosaurus Rex

I think for Pineda, if he can even repeat his 2011 performance with the Mariners when he made it the whole season without injuries, with his current capabilities, he could be a top 15 SP. Anyone else think so?

TB
Guest
TB

Pineda could be a great pitcher IF healthy, so couldn’t Clay Buchholz for that matter. But taking a pitcher that has pitched 76 innings the past three years and removing the injury possibility isn’t looking at the equation honestly.

Steve
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Steve

I agree he is a risk, but the other way of looking at it is that he is now 3 full years removed from his shoulder surgery and his shoulder was healthy last year.

AndrewYF
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AndrewYF

The problem with Buchholz is that every season he’s been healthy, he’s flat-out sucked. Every season he looks great, he gets injured. So we’ve seen what Buchholz can be when healthy: a well-below-average pitcher. Pineda’s always been an excellent pitcher when on the mound. That’s the difference.

For fantasy purposes, I’d rather have a great pitcher that gets injured than a healthy pitcher who sucks.

baltic wolf
Member
Member
baltic wolf

Sure. I’d probably say top 20 because of the stadium in which he’ll be making half of his starts. The talent is there.

The shoulder isn’t there though.

Would you bet on Brett Anderson being fantasy relevant this year? I wouldn’t, but I’m not a huge risk taker. Just as much talent–or more–than Pineda.