The awful offense of the New York Yankees down the stretch got most of the attention and blame for the downfall of the second half, but the starting pitching played a role as well and the Yankees are in an interesting spot this offseason when it comes to their rotation.
The Yankees finished 18th in starters ERA at 4.25, but eighth with a 3.75 xFIP. The biggest issue was a lack of innings, as the Yankees finished 21st in MLB in starters innings and it felt worse than that. CC Sabathia of all pitchers led the team with 167.1 innings. This really manifested itself down the stretch when the bullpen performance fell off due to too many innings.
The thing with the Yankees' starting rotation is that it's tantalizing with potential, almost like a tease. We've seen Masahiro Tanaka perform like an ace at times. We've seen flashes from Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi that suggest they can be good second and third starters. The problem is that between injuries and their own inconsistencies it hasn't been shown enough.
Tanaka's peripherals were better than his overall numbers last year and he fell victim to some bad home run luck. Tanaka held opposing batters to a .217 average in 2015 grounders were slightly up, his hard contact given up fell by four percent and his soft contact given up lowered by two percent. The velocity was a non-issue, as he threw harder in 2015 than in 2014, but the effectiveness of his fastball remains a big issue. It's hard to be a top of the line starter without having an effective fastball. He allowed nine homers and a .318 average against his four-seam fastball last season.
Pineda is definitely the most baffling player on the Yankees. His 2.95 xFIP far outweighs his 4.37 ERA. His 8.74 K/9 ratio compared to his 1.18 BB/9 ratio is terrific, as is his 48.2 percent ground ball rate. Was it just horrible luck for Pineda with his .332 BABIP? It seemed like when things went bad for Pineda they snowballed. That seemed to happen when he didn't have his good slider. Obviously, developing the changeup more would be big to help that. Maybe it's a case of Pineda being around the plate too often since he doesn't walk anybody. Larry Rothschild usually has pitchers overachieving for the Yankees and not underachieving. Pineda underachieved, so it needs to be figured out what exactly happened after his awesome start to the season.
Eovaldi definitely improved greatly over the second half of the season with his splitter, but you want to see it for longer to be completely convinced. Luis Severino made a great impact down the stretch, but outperformed his peripherals a little bit and should the Yankees rely on what will be a 22-year old at the top of the rotation?
The depth is pretty good if both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchel are considered starting pitchers. If Sabathia is the fifth starter by default again than Warren, Mitchell and Ivan Nova are some talented arms and form a pretty good 6-7-8 to put in when the inevitable injuries hit.
This all screams for an ace pitcher who you could depend on for over 200 innings. It would make such a huge difference to slide everybody back a spot. You could conceivably have Eovaldi as your fifth starter. How awesome would that be? There are certainly guys like that available from David Price to Zack Greinke to Johnny Cueto. Of course, the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees are much more likely to trade or sign a mid rotation innings eater pitcher and try to convince Yankees fans that Tanaka, Pineda and Severino will lead the rotation at the top based off flashes. That's a risk that didn't really work out last year, but since it's the cheaper option it probably won't stop the Yankees from doing it again.