Will the Yankees Pitching Staff Lead Them Back to the Postseason in 2014?
New York Yankees 2014
The Newcomers to the pitching staff
The Yankees brought in free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka from Japan, as well as signing left handed reliever Matt Thornton from the Red Sox. Also joining the Yankees starting rotation this season will be, Michael Pineda who has been recovering from surgery the past two seasons, after coming over in a trade with Seattle for catcher Jesus Montero. The addition of these three pitchers to the 2014 Yankees pitching staff, figures to make them more competitive this year, in the American League pennant race. In the past, the Yankees have fielded many division winning teams that had best case scenarios of 100 wins, and worst case scenarios of 90 wins. The 2014 Yankees figure to be a very competitive ball club, but their best and worst case scenarios will probably range between 85 and 95 wins. Optimism surrounds the Yankees this spring, because injuries limited them to 85 wins last season, but a strong pitching staff figures to cause that number to rise in 2014.
This phenom out of Japan will start the season as the Yankees third starter, behind Sabathia and Kuroda. He shares some similarity with Hiroki Kuroda, as one of his most noteworthy pitches is his splitter. He also has an outstanding cutter which complements his four seam fastball that ranges from the low to mid 90s in velocity. He throws a curveball which is his fourth pitch, and completes his traditional four pitch repertoire with the splitter being like a changeup and the cutter being like a slider. What makes Tanaka's repertoire stand out, is that his splitter has more depth and movement than the average changeup. It acts as a plus pitch for him, which he is able to lean on when he needs to get batters out. Since he has a similar style to Kuroda, learning from him could make life in the big leagues easier for Tanaka. If Tanaka could produce the same stellar results that Kuroda has been producing for the Yankees the last two seasons, that would give the team a huge boost in 2014.
The long awaited Yankees regular season debut for Michael Pineda is expected to happen this season. As a rookie in Seattle, Pineda struck out more than a batter for every inning he pitched with the Mariners. He did so with the strength of a very good fastball, that he complements with a wipeout slider. Pineda is 6'7" 265 pounds, so his large frame allows him to throw very hard, with velocities that sit in the mid to upper 90s on the fastball. Pineda has made a complete recovery from shoulder surgery that he had two years ago, which has allowed him to come out throwing with similar velocity again this spring. Pineda's third pitch is a changeup, but he sticks mostly with his fastball and slider combination to aggressively attack opposing hitters. Pineda has a lot of talent, so with a full healthy season at the back end of the Yankees rotation, the Yankee pitching staff could be very strong.
The other members of the Yankees rotation
As mentioned before, Hiroki Kuroda has been one of the Yankees best starting pitchers over the last two seasons, but he has mostly pitched behind staff ace, CC Sabathia. This season could be different, because Sabathia has suffered a dropoff in velocity and may not be able to maintain his form as the ace of the staff. This is not a huge concern for the Yankees, because they have a strong supporting cast on the pitching staff around him, with another very talented pitcher in emerging star Ivan Nova. At 27 years old, Nova has yet to play a full season for the Yankees, but he emerged last season by going 9-6 with a 3.10 earned runs average. The Yankees also have David Phelps at the back end of their rotation as depth or as a long man in the bullpen. With this combination of talent in the Yankees starting rotation, their starting pitching should be strong in 2014.
The retirement of Mariano Rivera marked a changing of the guard in the Yankee bullpen. Former setup man David Robertson takes over the closer's role, and expects to have success after proving to be a very good power reliever, while pitching the 8th inning over the past few seasons. Robertson has notched a few 9th inning saves during his time as the Yankees' setup man, and he should transition nicely into the role of closer. The Yankees added to their bullpen this offseason, with the addition of left handed setup man Matt Thornton. Thornton has served as a closer in the past, and he has the ability to get outs off the bat of both right handed and left handed batters. Shawn Kelley gets moved up in the Yankees bullpen, as he will help with the 8th inning duties and Cesar Cabral gets a look as a 7th inning lefty. Both Kelley and Cabral possess well above average stuff, and should form a formidable complement to the primary relievers that the Yankees will turn to in the last two innings of games in which they lead.
Top to bottom, the Yankees have a strong pitching staff going into the 2014 season. With this in mind, the strength of their offense should win them a lot of games this season, because they will do a good job of protecting leads. Ultimately the Yankees should have enough talent to return to the postseason in 2014, while giving their fans a lot of moments to enjoy along the way.