Will CC Sabathia be able to carry the Yankee rotation for yet another season?
For the first time in a long time, the only piece of the New York Yankees' roster that seems to be set in stone is their starting pitching.
Normally, their lineup is star-studded and it is the pitching that is in flux. However, a mix of injuries and departures has rendered the Yankees offense anemic, and it will be up to their rotation to carry the load in 2013.
The Yankees' pitching was surprisingly good last year, leading the team to the most wins in the American League with 95. However, it is very questionable whether a group of inexperienced young arms and veteran aging arms be trusted to give New York an encore.
Ahead is a best- and worst-case scenario for each of the Yankees' six starting pitchers heading into the season.
Is CC Sabathia as durable as he once was?
Best-Case Scenario: 21-5, 3.10 ERA, 210 Ks
CC Sabathia could recover fully from his offseason elbow surgery and pitch like the ace the Yankees pay him to be. While many are skeptical about Sabathia's prospects of returning to an elite level, few would be surprised.
Although he experienced injuries last season, throwing the least amount of innings he has thrown in a season since 2006, Sabathia is a workhorse who managed 200 innings despite two trips to the disabled list. Sabathia also posted his lowest WHIP since 2008, which shows that his stuff is still there and that he can still keep runners off base.
Worst-Case Scenario: 12-7, 4.10 ERA, 150 Ks
Sabathia could return from his elbow surgery with diminished stuff and may never be the pitcher we once knew. If he loses fastball velocity and has durability issues, he could struggle mightily. Frequent disabled list trips could result, and when he is on the mound, he may not be effective.
While statistics that poor would be a surprise to many fans, Sabathia's complete recovery from elbow surgery is far from a sure thing.
Hiroki Kuroda led the Yankees' staff in wins in 2012.
Best-Case Scenario: 17-7, 3.50 ERA, 170 Ks
Hiroki Kuroda was absolutely stellar for the Yankees last season. He led the team in wins and posted the second-best ERA in a season of his career. As a 37-year-old, his stuff was still there, with a fastball in the mid-90s, a devastating split finger and great control.
It's difficult to endorse a 38-year-old to repeat last year's numbers, but he could very well be a force in the middle of the rotation for the Yankees.
Worst-Case Scenario: 10-12, 4.30 ERA, 130 Ks
As all pitchers do, Kuroda could begin a decline as he ages, and at age 38, the decline could be fast. Endurance and fastball velocity would be two things that an older pitcher like Kuroda might lose, and losing those could sap him of his effectiveness.
Age, on top of a career high in innings last season, could jump-start the end of Hiroki Kuroda's career.
Does Andy Pettitte have anything left in the tank?
Best-Case Scenario: 15-8, 3.70 ERA, 140 Ks
The best-case scenario for Pettitte would be that a guardian angel watches over his left arm and magically allows his 40-year-old body to hold up for the whole season.
When Pettitte is healthy, he is still very effective, as evidenced by his 2.87 ERA in 12 starts last season.
While he may not be that effective over a whole season, there is reason to believe that Pettitte, a fierce competitor, can be a strong middle-of-the-rotation pitcher if healthy.
Worst-Case Scenario: 4-6, 4.50 ERA, 40 Ks
For Pettitte, his worst case could be a double-whammy. The first would be that he cannot stay healthy and he only pitches in enough games to record 10 or fewer decisions. The second would be that he physically loses his ability to pitch effectively in the majors.
At 40, he was able to throw a fastball in the high 80s and locate it well. Turning 41 in June, Pettitte could physically break down, diminishing his stuff to Jamie Moyer-esque levels.
A loss of physical strength could also affect Pettitte's control, reducing his ability to repeat his form. This could be a very ugly ending to what could be a Hall of Fame career for Andy Pettitte.
Phil Hughes has been a polarizing figure in the Bronx for the past six years.
Best-Case Scenario: 19-7, 3.50 ERA, 190 Ks
Since 2007, when he was called up as a 20-year-old top prospect, the Yankees have been waiting for Phil Hughes to step up and pitch like an ace. This could be his breakout season, where he establishes himself as a bona fide front-of-the-rotation starter.
After starting to throw his slider again last season, a pitch he abandoned early in his career, Hughes reached a high level of sustained effectiveness.
He had an ERA under 4.00 for three straight months and pitched to a 2.67 in five starts in June. If he can realize his potential this season, he could be the Yankees' No. 2 behind CC Sabathia.
Worst-Case Scenario: 7-9, 5.10 ERA, 90 Ks
Hughes' worst case is much like Andy Pettitte's in that it is a two-headed monster. Hughes will begin the season on the disabled list due to a balky back, and health has always been a problem for him in his career.
He could conceivably miss extended time this season with recurring back issues and when on the field, he could revert back to the enigma he has been for most of his career.
Ivan Nova is even more of an enigma than Phil Hughes.
Best-Case Scenario: 16-7, 3.60 ERA, 150 Ks
Which Ivan Nova will we see this season? If the Yankees get the 2011 version, they are in for a treat. 2011 Nova went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 27 starts. He threw with conviction, and his powerful stuff was too much for many hitters to handle.
Although not a high strikeout pitcher, Nova, when right, pitches to contact and forces bad contact with movement and command.
Worst-Case Scenario: 8-13, 5.50 ERA, 60 Ks
The worst-case scenario is that the Yankees see the 2012 version of Nova—one who, with the same stuff, seemed to lose command within the strike zone. He walked one less batter in five more innings in 2012 than in 2011, but he allowed 15 more home runs, 31 more hits and 27 more earned runs.
The two polarizing seasons are almost inexplicable, and the Yankees do not know which one they will get every time he goes to the mound.
Phelps broke out in middle relief for the Yankees last season.
Best-Case Scenario: 13-8, 3.80 ERA, 150 Ks
In 11 starts in his rookie season, Phelps struck out 54 batters in 57.1 innings and pitched to a 3.77 ERA. A good mix of pitches and good control allows him to go through the lineup multiple times and pitch deep into games.
A mature pitcher already, Phelps could immediately step in and be an effective middle-to-back-end starter for the Yankees.
Worst-Case Scenario: 5-3, 4.70 ERA, 60 Ks
The worst-case scenario for Phelps would be that if he struggles to start full time after excelling in relief last season and the Yankees don't make up their mind on his role, rendering him ineffective in either.
Phelps could struggle out of the gate and could get replaced in the rotation when Phil Hughes returns from the disabled list. If he struggles to start and the Yankees move him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen all season, he could be a mismanaged project, much like once-effective Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain.