How good can the New York Yankees rotation be?

Earlier this offseason, we took a look at the top ten rotations heading into the 2016 MLB season. There were two teams that weren’t mentioned in the top ten, but were debated about back and forth several times.

One of those rotations is the Seattle Mariners. Any rotation anchored by Felix Hernandez immediately deserves top ten consideration, and Hisashi Iwakuma is about as much the model of consistency that you will find, although I am weary of his injuries last season. I like the young arms of Walker and Paxton, but Wade Miley as the No. 3 kept them right outside of the top ten.

The other rotation was the New York Yankees. Is it completely outlandish to think that this team can be a top ten rotation? It really isn’t.

So, how good can the Yankees rotation be?

Quickly, of all the Yankees 2015 starters, who made the most starts? When you realize the answer is C.C. Sabathia you’ll understand why the Yankees rotation struggled so much last season.

Now, I have always like Sabathia, almost to a fault. When I was at Yanks Go Yard, I wrote articles defending the big guy when the rest of the Yankees Universe turned against him. That being said, Carsten Charles is not the pitcher he once was and he shouldn’t be the ace of this staff making the most starts in a season. The more quickly that he and the Yankees realize that, the better.

The question then arises, who is the Yankees ace? Has the baseball world seen enough of Masahiro Tanaka to say that he is what we thought he was? Tanaka came out guns blazing, but let’s face it, he hasn’t been that same guy since July of 2014. The fact is that he may never be.

That being said, playing with a bum arm last season, his numbers were still pretty stout. While his ERA rose a bit (3.51), both his hit rate (7.4) and WHIP (0.994) lowered, and his walk ratio stayed the same (1.6). His fastball velocity was up, but of all his pitches, it seemed that his fastball was the most hittable.

What does that mean for 2016? Who knows? It means he will probably miss a few starts with that pesky UCL. But it also shows that while not playing at full strength the past few seasons Tanaka is still pretty darn good.

Michael Pineda is an enigma. Last season he looked ok in the first half, but as he threw the most innings he has thrown since his rookie campaign in 2011, he completely broke down. 3-5, 5.80 ERA and just 45 strikeouts in 54.1 innings in the second half, not pretty.

Pineda has the stuff to be good, really good actually, but this is a guy that needs to get to 200 innings without breaking down. He also needs to learn how to pitch.

Pitching is more than throwing strikes and taking a look at Pineda’s numbers, it seems that he may not understand the nuances of using the corners and getting batters to chase. He had a .332 BABIP while stranding just 68.6 percent of his runners. His FIP is actually lower than his ERA, meaning that fielding had little extra to do with allowing runs when Pineda was on the mound. It was Pineda who allowed the runs.

The more he learns how to use his arsenal and the strike zone, the more he will look like the 2014 Pineda. And that’s scary.

Now we turn to C.C. Did you realize that in the month of September, Sabathia allowed just seven runs in his 27.6 innings (five starts)? In fact, he only allowed more than two runs in an outing just twice from the beginning of August. I got news for you people, C.C. still has it.

He is not the top end ace he once was, but with a bullpen that can shorten games, C.C. can be a lethal No. 3 pitcher. The Yankees fans need to forgive C.C. for how last season ended and understand that he did what he needed to do to make his life better. In doing so, he will have made the Yankees better.

The real wild card will always be Nathan Eovaldi. There is no denying that this guy throws heat, he has the fastest velocity on his fastball in Major League Baseball. But that’s about it. This guy is more hittable that Rocky Balboa’s chiseled face in the early rounds of a fight.

I’ve always felt that Eovaldi was more suited for a closer role with his nasty fastball, yet people still believe in him as a starter. He is arguably the most hittable pitcher in the bigs, leading the league in hits allowed two years ago and allowing more than 10 hits per nine in five of his seven seasons as a pro.

The positive to having Eovaldi on this years Yankees? He is great for five innings. His implosions often came at the end of the fifth or the top of the sixth. Come May, the Yankees will be so deep in the bullpen that Eovaldi will only need to give them five solid innings an outing. That should preserve him for the long run, in which case they can extend him much like a rookie.

Speaking of which, how about Luis Severino? Severino may be the answer to the question I posed earlier.

He is the Yankees ace.

Will it happen this year? Based on how they Yankees — and MLB — bring along young pitchers, it is likely that Severino won’t pitch enough innings to be a true ace, no matter what the Yankees brass are saying two weeks into spring training.

Severino’s biggest issue — and it always has been — is control. He walks a lot of batters. He’s also 22-years old and has never been at one stop on the Yankees ladder for very long. When he can get big league hitters to chase his pitches, he will win Cy Youngs.

The other thing that amazes about Severino is that he gets stronger as the game progresses. Twice I watched Severino last season (in person for the purpose of a scouting write-up) and twice I saw his fastball jump from the low-90s to 95 or higher as the game wore on. This kid is exciting and should thrive in his first full season because he will be at the backend of the rotation meaning favorable matchups.

Now, how can this Yankees rotation break the top ten? Tanaka and Pineda’s spring training debuts were both sharp. If they are healthy, they are the 1A and 1B atop this rotation. If they can return to 2014 numbers, these Yankees are dangerous.

The bullpen is a huge factor. Everyone talks about how Dellin Betances will shut down the seventh, Andrew Miller will come on in the eight, and by May Aroldis Chapman will close the door. Let’s not forget that the Yankees bullpen will be armed with Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell for early relief work as well as young arms like James Pazos to bridge the gap from the starters to the three-headed monster of a bullpen.

It is a legitimate possibility that the Yankees can limit their starters innings so that they will be fresh at the end of the season. This allows Tanaka (elbow) and Pineda (shoulder) to slowly work back from their aches and pains and not be counted on to go deep into games until August. This allows 35-year old Sabathia to go five innings a night as he nears his 36th birthday to be fresh for the end of the season like last year when he was at his strongest. And it certainly gives Severino the boost of confidence he will need in his first full season on the hill.

So, are the Yankees a top ten rotation? Not right now. There are simply too many question marks. But the thing that they have going for them that many other teams do not is that they have top ten talent in their current rotation. It is a lot to ask for a full healthy season in today’s MLB, but if the Yanks bullpen can limit the innings these guys are throwing, this rotation could be seriously scary come September.

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