This spring, if I were to ask which team had the best rotation in baseball, the Nationals and Tigers were the two most obvious answers. The Rays, Red Sox, Braves, and Cardinals had a shot at this title before injuries and regression met them. The Yankees were in a similar discussion, though no one thought CC Sabathia or Michael Pineda would hold up for very long. Unfortunately, these fans were right, and as brilliant as the Yankees' rotation looked in the month of April, the loss of Sabathia, Pineda, and Nova seemingly turned their pitching staff from a strength to a weakness.
Now that we're a month and a half into the season, the Yankees' rotation still hasn't hit a perfect stride, but they're certainly keeping themselves above water. In fact, the breakout season of Masahiro Tanaka could be one of the best pitching performances the Yankees have seen in the franchise's history. Hiroki Kuroda's slow start certainly put a damper on expectations this April, but he's put up a 3.44 ERA since May 1st. David Phelps and Vidal Nuno haven't posted brilliant ERA's, as both pitchers have been volatile, putting up a number of quality starts alongside a number of horrid ones. And finally, Chase Whitley is now one of the most underrated Yankees on this team, who through his first five starts owns a 2.42 ERA and a 2.28 FIP.
According to pitching WAR, the Yankees' rotation now ranks fourth in baseball and second in the American League behind the Nationals, Cubs, and Tigers. They lead all of baseball with a 1.93 BB/9 and own a 3.85 ERA, which is extremely impressive considering the offensive atmosphere of Yankee Stadium and the AL East. This also comes at the hands of an awful infield defense that ranks 26th at converting ground balls into outs. And as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Yankees outfield has been somewhat of a disappointment as well, which according to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info ranks 23rd in baseball in converting deep fly balls into outs.
The Yankee rotation has prevailed regardless, and it has kept this team afloat while the offense struggles to find consistency. Looking at the state of the Yankees' pitchers as it stands, the team is in a good position to maintain this for the next few years. Only Hiroki Kuroda projects as a free agent this winter, and Tanaka will be a Yankee until at least the end of 2017. Though none of them have emerged as top of the rotation starters, Nuno and Phelps have eaten enough innings that they deserve appreciation, and they are under team control through at least 2018. Meanwhile, Pineda and Whitley are under similar cheap team control, but with much more upside if they can remain in the rotation.
As Katie pointed out yesterday, I think we can appoint some of the success to Brian McCann's pitch framing, plate blocking, and game calling. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has also owned a nice run of strike out and command improvements with this team. The addition of pitching coordinator Gil Patterson from the Athletics at the end of 2012 also seems to have improved upon Nardi Contreras' previous work with the farm system.
Though there's not much left in the pipeline, it looks like the Yankees have improved their development of young pitchers. This recent draft will add a number of college arms to the system that we can look forward to shortly. With the way things went with the Hughes and Chamberlain-era, a breakout season from Whitley and Dellin Betances could indicate that the Yankees' pitching development has entered a less frustrating era.