Who’s the Frontrunner for the Yankees’ Fifth Starter Spot?

Feb 28, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi (28) talks with New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova (47) after he was hit with a line drive during batting practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi (28) talks with New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova (47) after he was hit with a line drive during batting practice at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

So far this spring, the Yankees have maintained that their fifth starter spot is up for grabs. If we are to believe that they are telling the truth about this, then let’s examine the candidates and see who is winning.

First of all, let me be clear in stating that I don’t believe the spot is open. The guys over at RAB did a good job of breaking down why, so I don’t want to get into too much detail, but you don’t pay a guy $25 million dollars to be the fourth lefty out of the bullpen. Unless C.C. Sabathia gets absolutely hosed all spring long, and someone else shuts everyone out this month, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Sabathia every fifth day come April.

That being said, I would like to live in a world where the fifth starter is chosen on merit, and not on salary owed or years in the league or anything else that doesn’t occur on the mound. So far in camp, it looks like the three main candidates are Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell. So, in my ideal world, which one of these guys has earned the spot so far? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Let’s start with the incumbent, the Big Lefty himself, C.C. Sabathia. So far this spring, Sabathia has had two starts, and has looked like a different pitcher in each. In his spring debut against the Marlins on March 8, Sabathia pitched two smooth, scoreless innings and only gave up one walk, while striking out two on 16 pitches. Our own Antonio Mendes said in his game recap: “It’s only March 8, but this is what you want to see from CC this early.”

Unfortunately, start number two was far less effective. You can read my game recap yourself, but I’ll just tell you. He struggled through 1.2 innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and a walk. He struggled with his command and couldn’t put hitters away effectively. That lifted his spring ERA to 4.91 in 3.2 innings, but the worst part is that Sabathia was supposed to pitch three innings, and didn’t even stretch himself out to two.

Now let’s take a look at Ivan Nova, who has faired much better so far in the early going. Like Sabathia, Nova has made two starts. Unlike Sabathia, both starts have been very good. Through his two outings — his first against the Phillies and his second against the Mets — Nova has allowed one run on five hits and only one walk in five innings. He only has two strikeouts, but I find that Nova is at his best when he’s not trying to strike people out and is pitching more to contact. So far, so good for Nova.

Finally, there’s the long shot: Bryan Mitchell. Mitchell has looked very sharp so far this spring. Like Nova and Sabathia, Mitchell has also made two starts. Like Nova, he’s had two good outings. He has faced two decent offenses in Detroit and Baltimore, and the results have been impressive. Mitchell has also only allowed one run in five innings, with only one walk and four strikeouts thrown in. He hit a batter against the Tigers and gave up a home run against the Orioles, but he’s looked just as good as Nova, and more consistent than Sabathia.

So who do I choose? If we’re basing this on performance alone, I have to give the slight edge to Nova over Mitchell, although I’d take either one over Sabathia at this point. There are also intangible reasons to choose Nova over Mitchell. First of all, Nova is fully recovered from his 2014 Tommy John surgery. Secondly, he’s heading into a contract year, and looking to prove his worth before he hits the open market. If anyone needs a huge year, it’s Nova, so why not ride his hot pitching until he shows you he’s not worth a rotation spot?

When it comes to Mitchell, I’m just not sold on him as a starter. In my opinion, his massive fastball and nasty curve really play well out of the bullpen, but I think he lacks a third pitch to help him get deeper into games. This is not a bad thing. Would you sign up for another guy in this bullpen with high-90s gas and a filthy curve ball to help him rack up strikeouts? Personally, I think he’d fit nicely ahead of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman in that disgusting Yankees bullpen, and I think that’s where he’s best suited to help this team win.

Finally, when it comes to Sabathia, his story has been the same for the last few seasons. He comes to spring training feeling good and talking like he’s rediscovered how to pitch effectively despite his downgraded pitching repertoire, but he ultimately just ends up being very frustrating to watch. Frankly, I’m ready to move on to a new story, because I’ve been wanting to close the book on Sabathia for years.

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What do you guys think? Should it be Sabathia, Nova or Mitchell? Let us know in the comments below!