I am sure you have all heard by now that Masahiro Tanaka came to the Yankees yesterday and complained of soreness in his wrist. The sequence of events was mentioned all during the Yankees' broadcast during the game last night. Brian Cashman said that an MRI showed no significant damage but did show inflammation of the wrist and possibly the forearm. He called it tendonitis. The team felt that shutting Tanaka down for a month was the call for now and Cashman believes Tanaka will be back after that.
The part that has everyone concerned is the mention of the forearm and the Yankees' broadcast team kicked that around quite a bit. Time will tell as this all plays out and because of the concern of the partial tear of the ulnar ligament, most followers of the Yankees will fear the worst. Who knows what will happen. What we do know for sure is that Tanaka is gone for a month.
Up until this point, the pitching has gone quite swimmingly. Our own Domenic Lanza gave us the details in a recent post. The rotation has been holding its own while the bullpen has been lights out.
That's not to say the rotation has erased long-term concerns. CC Sabathia is still a shell of what he used to be. And to this point, Joe Girardi has shown little faith in Nathan Eovaldi and even pulled him short of a certain win in his last start before he got the last out of the fifth inning: Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Despite a very good performance his last time out, Adam Warren still has a 1.4+ WHIP and a 4.34 FIP and Eovaldi's WHIP is a very troublesome 1.662. Michael Pineda has been very good and Tanaka has been the other positive since a rough first outing.
In some ways, Tanaka looks like the same pitcher as last year. His FIP is exactly the same and his K/9 rate is also nearly identical as last year. But despite a small sample size of four starts, there were some areas of concern. His walk rate had doubled from a year ago and last year, Tanaka averaged 6.8 innings per start and 100 pitches. So far this year, he was averaging 5.6 innings per start and 93 pitches. So he was not as efficient.
Without being as efficient, and with Girardi no doubt trying to protect him, Tanaka has joined Warren and Eovaldi as being five inning pitchers.
From that standpoint, Chase Whitley doesn't offer much less of a workload for the bullpen. The innings for the bullpen are piling up. Sabathia and Pineda lead the team with an average start of 6.4 innings per outing. Those two have been able to give the Yankees a 5.8 inning average from their starters which is better than the league average of 5.6.
Whitley is a five inning pitcher which gives the bullpen an extra two outs more to cover in a five game span. But those five innings can be pretty successful as was shown last night (against an albeit bad hitting team). The Yankees went 8-4 in Whitley's starts last year, good for a .667 winning percentage. That is only slightly lower than the .700 winning percentage the team had in Tanaka's starts.
What I am seeing here is that Whitley...for a month...could fairly approximate the kind of starts Tanaka has been giving the Yankees to this point in the short season. If Tanaka is out longer, then Whitley becomes a wild card as no one knows what kind of durability and consistency he will show.
Bryan Mitchell would probably be the next option. There is little else in Triple-A and then you have to dip down into Double-A and give Luis Severino a shot. It'd doubtful the Yankees would go there and would instead go dumpster diving across the waiver wires. It's either that or bite the bullet on a trade.
Whatever happens with Tanaka's replacement, Eovaldi and Warren really need to start getting deeper into games. The bullpen is great, but expose it too often in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and you are asking for trouble.
In the end, if Tanaka is only out a month, the Yankees can probably get decent results with Chase Whitley. I cannot confidently say the same thing if that month stretches out to months or the season (heaven forbid!).