Is Yankees' 2015 Rotation a Total Trainwreck in the Making?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2015

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, of Japan, walks after throwing in the bullpen during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Associated Press

The New York Yankees are pitching toward disaster. Get it? Because "pitching" means "to fall forward or headlong," but also because...never mind. You get it.

It's going to be a long, sordid season in the Bronx. Alex Rodriguez is the main event, back from a yearlong performance-enhancing drug suspension and ready to take aim at some iconic home-run milestones. (Don't pretend you won't shed a tear when he passes Willie Mays on the all-time list.)

The Yankees' pitching staff, though, is a close second in the dysfunction department, particularly the starting rotation.

Let's start at the top with Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese import was a revelation last year, pitching himself into the thick of the American League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young conversations before his right elbow began barking in early July.

What was initially diagnosed as inflammation turned out to be a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. Tanaka opted for rest instead of surgery, and returned to pitch a pair of games in September.

Skipper Joe Girardi told reporters he'll go "crazy" if he worries too much about his ace.
Skipper Joe Girardi told reporters he'll go "crazy" if he worries too much about his ace.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

Now, he says he's healthy, feeling good and ready to go. Maybe it'll work out. Despite the heavy innings he logged for the Rakuten Golden Eagles (1,315 to be exact), he's only 26 years old and in the midst of his prime.

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Still, the doubts will linger, and the dreaded words—"Tommy John surgery"—will remain poised on everyone's lips.

As for manager Joe Girardi, he's taking the Zen approach. "If I worry every pitch, it's just going to drive me crazy," the Yankees' skipper said, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. "It's not worth it. If it's going to happen it's going to happen. Hopefully he’s able to get through the year and be really healthy."

It's a good thing Girardi is pacing himself in the worry department, because he's got plenty to fret about.

Like, say, CC Sabathia, another key cog in New York's rotation, who reported to camp tipping the scales at 305 pounds. Yes, he's 6'7", and yes, he's selling his bulk as a positive. 

"I feel like this is a good weight," Sabathia told reporters, per Sporting News' Marc Lancaster. "I feel a little stronger. I feel my legs under me, being a lot stronger, and being able to push off the mound."

CC Sabathia made just eight starts last year while battling a knee injury, and arrived this spring with added bulk.
CC Sabathia made just eight starts last year while battling a knee injury, and arrived this spring with added bulk.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

That's one way to spin it, and certainly Sabathia knows his body better than anyone. On the other hand, we're talking about a guy who'll turn 35 in July and who made just eight starts last year because of an ailing right knee.

You don't need a degree in physics to do the more-weight-equals-trouble math.

Speaking of touble, how about Michael Pineda, who pitched like an ace last season—when he wasn't injured or suspended.

Pineda has been a disabled-list fixture since the Yankees acquired him in 2012. First, it was shoulder surgery, which knocked him out for two seasons.

Last April, just as his comeback was beginning, Pineda was slapped with a 10-game suspension for illegal use of pine tar in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (of course).

Add a back injury, and the 26-year-old right-hander managed just 13 starts in 2014. He did post a 1.89 ERA and 0.825 WHIP, suggesting he could emerge as an aceif he can stay on the field.

The back end of the rotation is also littered with question marks.

Ivan Nova is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Nathan Eovaldi, acquired from the Miami Marlins in December, could receive a rude welcome to the AL East after surrendering a National League-leading 223 hits last year. Chris Capuano is 36 and hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2012.

It's possible things will gel. These are the Yankees, so there's always a gaggle of talent in the clubhouse, even if much of it is on the decline.

But if you're in a betting mood, bet on the discord simmering into the summer then steamrolling toward full-blown trainwreck status.

As with all trainwrecks, it'll be hard to look away. 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com