Will Pitching Lead the Yankees to 2015 American League Pennant Race?
New York Yankees 2015
Key starters returning from injury
Early on last season the Yankees appeared to be headed back to the postseason behind the dominant efforts of Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka. Both pitcher's eventually suffered injuries that had them miss a significant portion of the 2014 season, but both are now healthy and ready to lead at the top of the Yankee's starting rotation. After suffering an early season injury to his UCL, Yankee starter Ivan Nova had Tommy John surgery last season to end his 2014 campaign early. Ivan Nova is now scheduled to make a return to the Yankee's rotation in May, and his recovery has had no significant setbacks as he is expected to once again be able to show significant velocity deep into starts on a regular basis. With each of these three starting pitchers either at or approaching their prime years, the Yankees added a fourth young power arm to complement them in the starting rotation, with their offseason trade that sent Martin Prado to the Miami Marlins. Former Los Angeles Dodger and Miami Marlin, Nathan Eovaldi joins the Yankee rotation with a chance to make a difference with his fantastic fastball as a middle of the rotation starter. A further look at how the Yankee rotation will stack up, will help to determine if the Yankees have the pitching to join the American League pennant race in 2015.
The Yankees may have a star in the making if they can get Nathan Eovaldi to buy into the adjustments they want him to make. Eovaldi has had some success early in his career as a pitcher who throws a power four seam fastball. Last season the lack of depth in his repertoire caused him to struggle against left handed batters, and despite brilliant stretches of baseball, he eventually posted a 4.37 ERA for the season. By using only his four seam fastball and slider on a consistent basis, Eovaldi limited his potential in a way that this change of scenery could make all the difference for him in 2015. The Yankees want Eovaldi to use his two seam fastball more in order to generate some ground balls, along with a complementary different look off his high velocity four seam fastball. The depth of the movement on his two seam fastball will help the fade on his changeup to be more deceptive against left handed batters. The Yankees also want Eovaldi to throw his curveball more, as a show pitch which he can get a called strike, and as a pitch that he can bounce for some strikeouts after showing the fastball velocity.
Some of what has held Eovaldi back in the recent past, is his inability to locate his changeup, curveball and two seam fastball on a regular basis. This spring, the focus for Eovaldi is to improve in areas of his game where he has yet to find his comfort zone. Through repetition, the Yankees believe that Eovaldi can gain the command necessary to throw his strong secondary pitches well enough to have them work as great complements to what he already does well. Right now Eovaldi has enough going for him to be a solid middle of the rotation starter, but the project aspect to improving his game allows him to have the ceiling of a top of the rotation starter. The Yankees already have Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova who have put together seasons recently that reflect the ability of a number one or number two starter. This leaves any question marks surrounding Eovaldi as the final pieces to the puzzle for creating an elite starting rotation in the American League East this season. Eovaldi has not shown yet that he can make the adjustments necessary, but his raw talent suggests that the Yankees will have more than enough pitching to join the American League pennant race in 2015.
Veteran leadership filling a role
After filling the role of Yankee ace for a number of years, C.C. Sabathia now fills a role on the back end of the Yankee's rotation. The dependable veteran has had to reinvent himself recently after losing some of his abilities as a power left handed pitcher. The veteran experience on the pitching staff is most valuable part of what Sabathia figures to bring to the young Yankee rotation in 2015. Sabathia hopes to have a better season in 2015 than he has had in each of the past two seasons, but as an MLB veteran his young teammates can turn to him for advice when needed. At just 25 years old entering his second season, Masahiro Tanaka will look to take on the role of staff ace for the Yankees. While Tanaka has not experienced much adversity at the MLB level other than the injury he suffered last season, he could turn to Sabathia for advice if MLB hitters start to figure him out. This applies to all the other members of the Yankee rotation, with young starter Chase Whitley getting the opportunity to hold a rotation spot until Ivan Nova returns from the disabled list. Expectations for Sabathia's productivity in 2015 are somewhat unknown at this point, but if he is able to help in a leadership role, his presence on the pitching staff will not be without value.
Do the Yankees have enough to join the pennant race?
With four power arms leading the way, the Yankees have the top of the rotation talent to lean on for big outs and a large number of innings throughout the regular season. After a two year absence from the American League postseason, the Yankees appear to be in position to return pending the health of their top of the rotation starters. It is a very different look in the Yankee rotation from past years, with a group of four starters all under the age of 30. Veteran starters have served the Yankees well in the recent past, but now they will turn to a talented group of young athletes to lead the way into the American League pennant race. After last season's promising start was cut short by the injury bug, Yankee fans get to see their team get another run at it with all the key players soon to be completely healthy. Run support may be inconsistent for the Yankees in the coming season, but the talent on the pitching staff should allow the Yankees to win plenty of games in which they score only three or four runs.