During a typical spring training, there are a few questions answered, let-downs, and sleepers. This spring has been no exception for the Yankees. Questions regarding Masahiro Tanaka‘s transition to America and Major League Baseball are in the process of being answered, while Michael Pineda seems to be the clear favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation. C.C Sabathia is in the process of learning how to pitch without being able to throw extremely hard and questions about potential future starters are being answered. Here, in this order, is a list of the top performing Yankees starters this spring.
When the spring began, one of the biggest questions was “Who will be the fifth starter?” It seems as if the answer is quite clear.
Michael Pineda, who missed both 2012 and 2013 because of shoulder surgery is back and appears to be better than ever. Though his fastball is down to about 89-93 MPH (as opposed to his rookie season with the Mariners when, according to Fangraphs.com, he averaged 94.2 and once reached 99.1 MPH), but he seems to have better command of all three of his pitches (fastball, slider, and curveball) with his slider as his “out-pitch.”
In 9 innings pitched (three games, two of which have been starts) Pineda has struck out 14 batters while allowing only 8 hits (.235 batting average against) and 1 walk for a 1.000 WHIP. Also, he hasn’t allowed any runs.
It might even be safe to say that he looks better than he did during his rookie year with the Seattle Mariners, but time will answer that.
The second best pitcher this spring has been newly acquired Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka.
In 9.1 innings pitched thus far, he has only allowed 2 earned runs (1.93 ERA), has given up only 7 hits (.200 opponents batting average), 2 walks (0.96 WHIP), and 1 home run. He too has shown great control of a low-90′s fastball, a cutter, a slider, and a devastating splitter as his “out-pitch.”
Tanaka has been as good as advertised so far.
The likely runner-up in the Yankees fifth starter competition, Phelps has been able to prevent opponents from scoring, even if his numbers aren’t the team’s best.
His statistics are deceiving. Phelps sports a spring ERA of 2.63, a batting average against of .273, and a WHIP of 1.24, but his last two starts have been his best. On March 9th against the Tampa Bay Rays, Phelps pitched 5 innings, allowed only 3 hits, 0 walks, and 0 runs.
Then, on March 14th against the Minnesota Twins, he pitched 4 innings, gave up 5 hits, 1 walk, 2 runs, and struck out 4 batters.
Though he has only started two games this spring (6 innings pitched), he has shown that he has what it takes to succeed at the big league level either out of the bullpen or at the back-end of a starting rotation.
Nuno has only allowed 3 hits (.143 batting average against), 1 walk (0.67 WHIP), 1 run (1.50 ERA) and has struck out 6 batters. He won’t light up any radar guns (he sits at about 85-89 MPH), but he uses his fastball, slider, and curveball effectively and finds a way to get batters out
One question that has yet to be answered is “Can C.C. Sabathia succeed with a slower fastball?” It’s hard to know at this point as he has had two good starts as well as one that was terrible. His fastball has ranged from 85-89 MPH on average, but Sabathia has repeatedly stated that he expects his velocity to increase as the season gets closer, but can succeed either way.
In preparation for the 2014 season, he is learning to throw a cutter with guidance from his former teammate and Yankees great, Andy Pettitte, who had success with the pitch into his 40′s. He also continues to mix his slider and change up in order to get batters out.
In his spring debut on March 1st against the Phillies, Sabathia went two innings while giving up 2 hits, 0 walks, 0 runs, and struck out one.
His next start would come on March 11th against the Nationals and it was bad. In 3 innings he gave up 4 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs, with 3 strike outs. He was hit extremely hard.
This got fans worrying about whether or not Sabathia was still a solid pitcher who can get results. Then came March 16th in Panama.
In 5 innings he allowed only one baserunner, which came on a fielding error by third baseman Zealous Wheeler, and struck out 5 Marlins. He also got 6 groundouts, which is a good sign, especially if his velocity doesn’t return.
Overall, Sabathia has pitched 10 innings this spring while allowing 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, as well as striking out 9 batters.
Going into his start on March 19th, Nova had an ERA 0f 5.40 in 13.1 innings pitched while allowing 19 hits.
During that March 19th start, Nova dominated the Atlanta Braves going 6.1 innings allowing 2 hits, 0 walks, 0 runs, and striking out 5. The 1-7 hitters in the Braves lineup are all established and talented Major League players (Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons) who went a combined 1-for-19 against Nova.
The Yankees want to see more of this from Nova. He is expected to be the team’s third starter and potentially have a breakout season in 2014.
After his first two outings went well (no runs allowed in 4.2 innings pitched), Kuroda was absolutely rocked in his third outing. This came on March 12th against Detroit. He went 3.2 innings while scattering 10 hits and 6 runs. All of his pitches were flat and hittable (especially to a team like Detroit).
It is safe to say some Yankees fans are worried about Kuroda as well.
Not expecting this order? One of the reasons for the shape this list has taken may be the fact that established veteran starters such as Sabathia and Kuroda need time to settle into a routine and that pitchers vying for a rotation spot are showcasing their best stuff. Another reason might be that some of those veterans are aging and may be headed for a decline. Whatever the reasons might be, a definitive answer will be given throughout the course of the 2014 baseball season.