Heading into the 2014 season, the New York Yankees had some definite question marks in their rotation. Would C.C. Sabathia bounce back from a lack luster 2013? Would Ivan Nova show he can be consistent? Was Hiroki Kuroda‘s second half slide in 2013 going to continue? Could Michael Pineda stay healthy for once and win a spot in the rotation? All of these questions were answered pretty quickly for the Yankees. Sabathia struggled again and wound up on the DL, Nova quickly ended his season with Tommy John surgery, Kuroda has been mediocre, and Pineda won his spot, but quickly went back to his second home on the DL. Besides Masahiro Tanaka single handedly carrying the rotation, the Yankees have received a surprising boost from one of the most unhearalded of pitchers: Chase Whitley.
In spring training, the Yankees had a wide open competition for their fifth starter spot. The typical names you heard were Pineda, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno with the likes of Adam Warren and Manny Banuelos even being mentioned. Nowhere did you hear the name Chase Whitley. With Pineda hurt, Phelps already filling in for an injured Nova, and Nuno filling in for Pineda, Whitley got the call to replace the injured Sabathia on May 15th. That day, he gave the Yankees a much-needed good start, as he threw 4.2 innings, giving up only two hits and no runs. Although he didn’t factor into the decision, the Yankees won the game 1-0.
Watching Whitley isn’t the most exciting thing to do, but it is relatively relaxing for a Yankees’ fan. He’s not going to wow you with his stuff, but he is a strike-thrower, that simply knows how to get guys out. In his past three starts, Whitley has not walked a single batter. Coming off his best start of the season, where he got his first big league win at Kansas City (7 innings, 5 hits and 2 earned runs), reality is starting to set in; this guy is pretty good and may be the Yankees’ third best starter at this moment.
Being relatively unknown before May 15th, fans question whether or not Whitley’s success is luck or talent. Taking a look at his statistics in a little bit more detail, the righty has a ground ball rate of 46.3% and has yet to allow a home run this year in 26 innings. Sure, the home run streak will most likely come to an end pitching at Yankee Stadium, but the ground ball rate is intriguing. The Yankees’ defense has not been stellar this year, but if a pitcher can consistently get ground balls, there is a pretty good chance they will find their way into a fielder’s glove. People point to his low strike out numbers (18 Ks in 26 innings), but at the end of the day, he’s getting outs and has never given up more than three earned runs in a game this season (2.42 ERA).
Is Chase Whitley the next premiere young pitcher in Major League Baseball? Probably not, but is he good enough to keep a spot in the rotation with Sabathia and Pineda’s return up in the air? Most definitely.