New York Yankees

The New York Yankees’ starting rotation is entering 2016 with an uber amount of question marks regarding health, consistency, and production. 

By Christian Kouroupakis

The concerns in the starting rotation for the New York Yankees are just redundant at this point, but since we’re on the topic I might as well go through them.

Masahiro Tanaka possesses what people call a “ticking time bomb” (aka: his elbow), Nathan Eovaldi spent time on the DL due to elbow issues in 2015, and CC Sabathia is returning from alcohol rehabilitation, along with a bum knee.

I have complete trust in Luis Severino, despite the kid being only 22-years old, and although Michael Pineda has a track record of shoulder/inconsistency issues, he is arguably the most important arm in the rotation.

Manager Joe Girardi announced yesterday that Tanaka will get the starting nod on Opening Day, but Pineda has the stuff to be the true ace of a starting rotation that lacks one.

My prediction? Call it a bold one, but Michael Pineda will make a serious run for the 2016 American League Cy Young award, if he can reach 200 innings.

Big Mike’s fastball has an average velocity in the mid-90s with great command, and a devastating slider that embarrasses hitters when he’s on. The catch is: “when he’s on.”

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There were times when Pineda resembled an ace in 2015, and other times when he looked like a home run derby pitcher.

In the first half of last season, he had a credible ERA of 3.64, with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.20 WHIP in 106.1 innings. He fell off a cliff post-all star break, though, owning a 5.80 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and a 1.27 WHIP in only 54.1 innings.

Pineda rebounded in September, posting a 36-5 K/BB rate in 38.1 innings, but he still had a forgetful 4.37 ERA on the year as a whole.

It was caused thanks in large part to letting up 21 home runs (16 of them at Yankee Stadium) which was the most he has given up in his three year career.

Big Mike did however show flashes of ace-status, like his 16 strikeout game against the Baltimore Orioles:

If the Yankees desire elite performances like the one against the Orioles on a regular basis, they’ll need to experience a full and healthy campaign from their 6’7″ right hander.

Pineda underwent right shoulder surgery in 2012 when he first came to the Bronx, and missed time last year with a right flexor forearm muscle strain. His goal is to reach 200 innings, a plateau the former All-Star has yet to reach due to constant DL stints.

“I think he’s more prepared for the workload than he was last year, just because he went through it and he hadn’t pitched in a couple years, really,” Girardi told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “I think he’s in a much better position going into this year.”

The numbers show us that he would look like a completely different pitcher if he avoids injury and takes the mound more often.

Pineda’s K-BB%, which measures how often a hitter walks or strikes out on a per plate appearance, was 20.2% in 2015, good enough for fifth best among pitchers with a minimum of 120 innings.NYY_300_250_v1

The righty additionally had a 11.9 % swing and miss rate, which was good for fifth best in the AL as well. He sits only behind Chris Archer, Corey KluberCarlos Carrasco, and Chris Sale in that category.

Damn, he’s in an illustrious group of starting pitchers.

So why was his ERA so high? Without any elaboration: he was hitable.

This spring, Pineda got right on repairing that issue, simply by enhancing his arsenal. He came out throwing his fastball in the 96 to 99 MPH range, while his devastating slider once reached 88.

The improvement helped him earn a 1.00 ERA in three spring games while holding down a 11 K/9 ratio in nine innings pitched.

If Pineda builds off last season, takes another step forward, and his improved pitches are here to stay, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the leading force in the “Chase for 28.”

And if he could make a habit of dominating, there’s no reason not to believe he will become a strong candidate for the Cy Young Award.

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