Entering the 2014 season, the New York Yankees could have one of the best rotations in baseball or one of the most uncertain. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, in particular, are question marks, not in talent but durability. The Yankees should consider going to a six-man rotation. By doing so, they can ease the workload on their starters without relying on a bullpen that has question marks of its own.
Tanaka has never made more than 27 starts in a season. He did throw 212.0 innings last year and 226.1 in 2011, but that doesn’t testify to his endurance. Rather, the fact that he threw so many innings in so few starts causes concern that the Rakuten Golden Eagles may have overworked him. The Yankees don’t want Tanaka to have the same arm issues that Daisuke Matsuzaka had. Therefore, they’ll want to monitor the number of innings he throws in 2014.
Pineda entered Spring Training in a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and, after posting a 0.00 ERA, appears to be the winner. The Yankees hope he will continue to dominate in the regular season but must be wary of the shoulder issues he’s endured over the past two seasons. Joe Girardi has stated Pineda will not throw 200 innings this season no matter how impressive he is.
One way a team can control a starter’s work load is to take him out an inning or two early in every start. This will not work because the Yankees’ bullpen is not good enough to handle that many innings over the course of a 162-game season.
Another way is to simply shut the pitcher down once he reaches a predetermined innings limit. The failure of this strategy with the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg should demonstrate this is not a viable option.
The best way to check Tanaka and Pineda’s workload could be a six-man rotation. To be clear, I don’t mean they should have Adam Warren pitch every five days. I mean they should go with five consistent starters, but give Warren, Vidal Nuno, David Phelps or even Manny Banuelos a spot start every other week or every two weeks.
By doing so, the Yankees could give each starter an extra day of rest. This would help Tanaka’s transition to the more grueling MLB schedule and would stall Pineda’s innings ceiling. Furthermore, it could prevent another Hiroki Kuroda flame out in 2014 (who was clearly exhausted by the end of last year and lost seven of his final eight decisions) and, in the case of Nuno and Banuelos, could add another south paw in the rotation.
Tanaka and Pineda were the two biggest question marks in the Yankees’ rotation entering Spring Training but both have been impressive. If C.C. Sabathia and Kuroda return to form and Ivan Nova is more Jekyll and less Hyde, the Yankee rotation could be formidable. Giving spot starts to their other pitching prospects can keep their starting five strong throughout the regular season and deep into October.