Yankees Rotation: Playoff Bound?

When Spring Training rolled around the Yankees had one the better rotations in baseball on paper. CC Sabathia lost weight, Huroki Kuroda was back for another season, Ivan Nova was poised for a breakout and they had two new big additions to the staff. Masahiro Tanaka was fresh off setting records in Japan and signing a massive contract and Michael Pineda was healthy and finally ready to contribute. However, at this point in the season Kuroda is the only one who remains from that highly touted staff. Nova and Sabathia have suffered season ending injuries with Tanaka out since the All-Star break and his rest of season and possibly even 2015 season in question. Pineda is currently on a rehab stint and could rejoin the rotation as soon as Wednesday after missing most of the season to this point with a multitude of injuries.

However, despite all of these injuries Brian Cashman has made a few minor moves and some strategic callups to help build what has become a very successful rotation. Kuroda has still remained part of the rotation with Cashman adding Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano and calling up pitchers like Shane Greene and Chase Whitley. David Phelps had also joined the rotation replacing the injured starters yet he himself has also gotten injured and found himself on the disabled list. They also added Esmil Rodgers who in a spot start on Friday pitched well earning himself a win and potentially another start until Pineda returns.

The question remains though although this rotation has been extremely successful to this point can they maintain the success enough to carry the Bronx Bombers to the playoffs? The Yankees currently sit six games out of first in the division while also trailing in the race for the second wild card spot by 1.5 games need to the rotation to pitch well in order to make a run at October.

As of right now the four guys poised to remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future are Kuroda, McCarthy, Capuano, and Greene with the fifth spot likely being Pineda’s when he returns, likely in the next two weeks.

Kuroda has pitched much like the Yankees had expected of him throwing to a 3.97 ERA, which is slightly above his 3.46 career ERA, but it is an anticipated regression for a pitcher in his age 39 season. For his career Kuroda although he has thrown less innings had been a better second half pitcher (3.52 ERA vs 3.39) and this season the trend has continued with Kuroda throwing to a 4.10 ERA in the first half and he has a 3.42 ERA so far in the second half. The Yankees have tried to limit the aging Kuroda’s pitch count and innings so far this season wanted to ensure the right hander was stronger down the stretch run as Kuroda faded in 2013 late in the season. If Kuroda figures to maintain his career splits and pitch better in the second half he should be able to maintain his success to this point in the season and be the pitcher he was expected to be early on in the season.

The two minor trades that Cashman made before the trade deadline are also going to factor into the Yankees postseason chances. Thus far McCarthy and Capuano have been huge for the Yankees pitching to a 2.21 and 2.84 ERA respectably over 9 starts combined and have a combined 5-1 record in those 9 starts. So far over his 36 innings as a Yankee McCarthy is pitching much better than his career averages in K/9, BB/9, and HR/9. He has faced 155 batters as a Yankee meaning only his K rate has stabilized (70 BF). Thus the other two statistics especially his HR rate which is currently at .74 is much improved compared to his career 1.03. The improved HR rate is likely what has caused his vast success to this point, and pitching down the stretch in the power-hitting AL East and in Yankee Stadium, chances are this will regress back to his career averages and McCarthy will once again be a back-of-the-rotation starter, as opposed to the ace he has been for the Yankees so far since the trade.

Although Capuano’s sample size has been smaller than McCarthy’s his success has been similar. According to career averages Capuano is striking out around a half batter more per nine and walking about a half batter less. Those don’t account for the increase in success he’s had. So far in 19 innings in New York Capuano has yet to allow a home run. However, looking back at his time earlier this season with the Red Sox his season HR/9 is at .53 significantly lower than his career 1.20. Unless at the age of 35 and in his 10th season Capuano has magically figured out the secret to keeping the ball in the ballpark he will likely regress back and beginning pitching more like he has in the past with his ERA moving back into the range of his xFIP which currently sits at 3.35 as a Yankee and 4.07 for his career.

Lastly, that leaves the rookie revelation that has been Shane Greene. As Eno Sarris points out, looking at Greene’s pitch mix gives him a few good comps of successful major-league starting pitchers. However, Greene’s minor league track record did not signal anything similar to this type of success he’s had since being called up. However, there is room for excitement as Greene has posted the lowest K/9 rate since his call up than he did at any point in his minor league career meaning that rate could see an increase. Also, his walk rate seems to be on par with his minor-league record, especially when looking at his numbers over 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Where Greene has succeeded in the big leagues has been with his ability to limit BABIP (.268) and his low HR/9 numbers. Throughout his minor-league career the highest HR/9 Greene posted at any stop was in rookie ball when he posted a .79 rate over 23 innings. Thus far in 37 big league innings Green’s HR/9 has been .72. He has a track record of being very successful at keeping the ball in the ballpark. However, what remains to be seen is if his BABIP comes back down to Earth and his K rate remains low. If he doesn’t retain the ability to strike batters out like he did in the minors and regresses to his minor-league BABIP numbers — only one stop lower than .330 — Greene figures to regress to the below-average pitcher he was in the minors

Over the last month the Yankees’ makeshift rotation has been keeping them alive in the playoff race. However, looking at each member of their rotation, there is reason believe that significant regression is coming with Kuroda being the only one performing near his career averages. Unless each of these arms continues this unprecedented success or Pineda and potentially although unlikely Tanaka return and pick up right where they left off it doesn’t seem like this current Yankee rotation has what it takes to reach the playoffs.

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Jim S.
Jim S.

No matter. Girardi is a genius. Just look at the Yankees’ pythag record last year and this year.