Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Yankees’ pitching could carry club further than expected

From top to bottom the New York Yankees have a quality pitching staff, but health of course is an underlying issue. As Spring Training rolls along, and March turns to April, can the staff continue what has been an impressive beginning?

Yes, pitching is often ahead of hitting at this stage in camp, and it is also no secret that baseball has become a pitching dominant sport of late. But is it too early to suggest that this staff could be better than many let on?

No one will declare this is a top of the league rotation, but is that based solely on the premise that each of the top three starters has injury concerns attached to them? While those exclamations are valid, what if health is not a concern? Take away health for a minute and look at the players here.

What if Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda can combine for 60 starts? Wouldn’t you have to assume that the Yankees would be doing well in a majority of those games?

What’s to say that CC Sabathia cannot reach 200 innings? Again, if he’s able to stay on the mound and is pitching pain-free, why can’t CC win 12-15 games?

Nathan Eovaldi is trying to establish himself and live up to untapped potential. Will his work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild pay dividends? Ivan Nova could be back at the end of May. Can he step back into the rotation and show signs of the pitcher who has had some success at the big league level, albeit inconsistently?

If not, maybe Chris Capuano is just fine as the fifth starter, providing innings and keeping the team in ballgames? There is the potential that Adam Warren controls a rotation spot. Isn’t it entirely possible that Bryan Mitchell can become this season’s Shane Greene if Warren is pushed to the bullpen and/or Nova/Capuano falter?

Removing the health variable for a minute allows us to see that the Yankees might not be as troubled as many make them out to be.

Add in a bullpen which lacks health issues, is full of above-average arms, or even elite in some cases and the pitching can take some pressure off an offense that has underperformed for two straight seasons. And by the way the offense has more non-health related issues attached to it than the pitchers.

Early returns on the hurlers anticipated on making the 25-man roster have been extremely positive. Warren and Eovaldi have each tossed five innings and allowed just one run. Eovaldi has struck out six batters thus far, effortlessly reaching 98-mph on the radar gun. Pineda made his first start Monday, throwing two scoreless innings (25 pitches) and looked as if he could have stayed out there for more. Capuano allowed two runs in his two innings of work thus far.

Candidates for the fifth starter roll who are uncertain of making the club have fared well too. Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell and Esmil Rogers each have two scoreless innings under their belts. It should be note that Rogers and Warren would seem to have bullpen spots if Capuano retains the fifth starter position.

The bullpen arms have been rock solid. Andrew Miller has three strikeouts in two innings; Dellin Betances rang up two batters in one inning. Neither has allowed a run. David Carpenter (2 IP) and Justin Wilson (1 IP) have held teams scoreless.

Relievers on the roster bubble have been great as well – Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa, Tyler Webb and Chris Martin have combined for 10 innings and allowed two runs (unearned).

Again, it is understood that these are all incredibly small samples. But, Spring Training in itself provides modest metrics and just because a player is performing well, or poorly, doesn’t mean that we can push the results completely to the side and ignore them because it is March.

There are plenty of positive steps being taken and the Yanks hope there are more to come with Tanaka making his first start Thursday and Sabathia getting game action sometime next week. Early or not, it’s much more enjoyable to be discussing early successes, than it is to be focused on poor production and injuries.

We can't eliminate the injury concerns and it would be foolish to ignore them altogether. But try and look past them as the only factor to success and realize that this pitching staff can compete at a high level and has extreme depth if needed. Don’t be surprised if we are talking about the pitchers carrying the load this season, potentially to a playoff berth.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.