In 2010, the New York Yankees’ starting rotation was in shambles. A.J. Burnett went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. Javier Vazquez was just as mediocre with a 10-10 record and 5.32 ERA. On the positive side, Phil Hughes went 18-8 but accomplished the mark with a 4.19 ERA and 1.248 WHIP. Andy Pettitte also pitched well, going 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA but was limited to just 21 starts all season.
In the midst of injuries and poor performance, C.C. Sabathia was an absolute rock at the head of the Yankees’ rotation. The big lefty went 21-7 that year (tied for the most wins in baseball and the only 20-game winner in the AL) with a 3.18 ERA, and he finished third in the majors with 237.2 innings pitched. None of the other Yankees starters threw more than 186.2 innings.
No matter how shaky the rest of the rotation was, the Yankees could count on a win every five days with Sabathia on the mound. And with an average of seven innings pitched per start, the bullpen could count on a night off. He was an ace in every sense of the word.
Sabathia had another phenomenal year in 2011 (19-8, 3.00 ERA) and a solid campaign in 2012 (15-6, 3.38 ERA) before setting career highs in losses (13) and ERA (4.78) in 2013. Facing issues with his weight and declining fastball velocity, many questioned whether or not Sabathia could return to ace form in 2014.
Ivan Nova was another uncertainty in New York’s rotation entering this season. He was inconsistent in 2013 but had a brilliant run through July and August, going 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched (the Bombers were shut out in those two losses). The Yankees hoped he could repeat that dominance in 2014.
Unfortunately, Nova continued his Jekyll and Hyde routine, alternating quality starts with terrible ones. He was forced to leave Saturday’s game after allowing eight runs in four innings and has since been diagnosed with a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He’s been placed on the 15-day DL, but rumor has it the 27-year-old will require season-ending Tommy John surgery. If this is the case, the Yankees will rely on Sabathia yet again to be a stalwart at the top of the rotation.
Overall, New York’s starters have surpassed expectations, and with lineups that consistently feature Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, the Yankees have gotten most of their wins on the strength of their pitching. Still, Michael Pineda has a history of shoulder problems, and you have to wonder how long it will take major league hitters to figure out Masahiro Tanaka. Furthermore, two years in a row, Hiroki Kuroda has been outstanding in the first half only to run out of steam down the final stretch of the season.
The Yankees’ rotation has the potential to be great but is fragile nevertheless. With Nova potentially out for the season, the team will once again rely on Sabathia to provide stability, just like he did in 2010.
If you discount one bad inning against the Boston Red Sox, Sabathia has allowed just one earned run in his last two outings. He took the loss in that game against the Sox but pitched like a true No. 1 starter for six innings.
He no longer has a mid-90s fastball but has demonstrated he can still dominate big league hitters. The process may be different, but the results are the same. The Yankees will need it if they’re going to make the playoffs.