After finishing the season with an 84-78 record, good for fourth place in the American League East, the New York Yankees can look at their pitching staff as a facet that excelled at various points in the season, but had holes throughout.
Masahiro Tanaka earns ace money, and in 2016 he pitched like he deserved it. The 27-year-old right-hander hurled a career-high 199 2/3 innings, generating a 3.07 earned run average (3.51 FIP). The ERA was good for third-best in the American League. Tanaka went 14-4 for the Yankees, and the team was 23-8 in his starts. He stopped losing streaks and kept winning streaks going. Tanaka is the unquestioned ace of this staff.
After Tanaka, CC Sabathia was surprisingly the team's next best starter. Sabathia, coming off his third-straight disappointing campaign and alcohol rehabilitation, finally discovered how to succeed without elite power pitches. There was a point in time in 2016 that Sabathia was the best starter on the team. Through June 16, Sabathia held a 2.20 ERA in 65 1/3 innings. He went into a funk, but then regained his composure and finished the season strong. Sabathia's final line -- 179 2/3 innings, 3.91 ERA (4.28 FIP) and 158 strikeouts -- provides some reassurance for the massive $25 million he'll earn in this final season in pinstripes.
Michael Pineda is an enigma, plain and simple. Pineda set a career-high with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016, but put up a career-worst 4.82 ERA (3.80 FIP). Pineda often looks untouchable through parts of a game, and as though he is pitching batting practice in others. There is little doubt in his talent, but there is evidently something askew, or else the 27-year-old would be winning 15 or more games per season instead of the dismal six he managed this year.
Nathan Eovaldi came in with high expectations to slot in behind Tanaka as the team's number two starter after a fine 2015 season that was shortened by injury. Eovaldi never put it together (9-8, 4.76 ERA, 4.96 FIP in 124 2/3 IP) and then succumbed to an elbow injury which resulted in his second Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi will likely be non-tendered this offseason as he was set to play in his final season before becoming a free agent.
Ivan Nova won the fifth starter role out if spring training, but once again proved to be nothing more than an innings eater. The Yankees managed to get two players for Nova at the trade deadline, and to his credit Nova pitched well in Pittsburgh. He may well succeed elsewhere, but it was evident staying in New York was not his future.
Luis Severino also came into the season with immense anticipation to build on his impressive rookie campaign. Severino never looked comfortable as a starter, compiling a 0-8 record with an 8.50 ERA in 47 2/3 innings. He was demoted on two separate occasions and performed well at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (3.49 ERA in 77 1/3 innings).
What might have surprised some in the organization, is that Severino excelled working out of the Yankees' bullpen. His power fastball and slider worked well as a reliever as he allowed just two runs (one earned) in 23 1/3 innings. Expect Severino to be part of a large competition for what could be multiple spots in the Yankees' rotation, but if that fails he might be a great fallback option out of the bullpen.
Chad Green and Luis Cessa came to the Yankees from Detroit for reliever Justin Wilson last offseason. The Yankees felt they needed some depth at Triple-A, but it ended up that the duo provided much more than that.
Green was excellent at Scranton (1.52 ERA in 94 2/3 innings), which earned him some starts with New York. He had ups and downs (4.73 ERA in 45 2/3 innings), but he like Eovaldi he finished the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury, putting his 2017 season in question.
Cessa was steady at Scranton, and then was able to transform that into similar efforts in the big leagues. Across 70 1/3 innings with New York, Cessa had a 4.35 ERA (4.01 as a starter in 51 2/3 innings) and solidified the back-end of the rotation over the final weeks of the season.
When the season began, the team's unquestioned strength was the back-end of the bullpen. If having Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller was not enough, the Yankees traded four middling prospects for Aroldis Chapman and his 100+ mph fastball. The Cuban fireballer was suspended for the team's first 30 games for violation of the league's domestic abuse policy, but once he returned, the Yankees were tough to beat when holding the lead after seven innings.
Unfortunately, the Yankees offense was not generating enough leads to get the three-headed monster into enough games. Subsequently, Champan and then Miller were dealt within days of each other as the Yankees became sellers at the trade deadline.
Betances (73 IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 15.5 K/9, 12 saves) was thrust into the closer's role and didn't miss a beat as the Yankees went on a run in August which pushed them back into the playoff picture. Almost out of nowhere, Betances developed mechanical flaws with his delivery, causing wildness and ineffectiveness. Betances was dreadful when the team needed him most in September and it seemed to get into his head.
Betances worked fewer innings in 2016 (73), which could be beneficial to next season. For the moment, Betances is the closer, but it is widely assumed the Yankees will make a run for Chapman in the offseason and Betances will fall back into a setup role, where he seems most comfortable.
Betances was assisted in the late innings by Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard after the trade deadline. Warren pitched much better than he did in Chicago (he was in the Chapman deal), but I wouldn't suggest the club should rely on him next season. He might be part of the equation, but I'm not certain he is the right person for a late-inning role.
Clippard was reliable as the eighth inning arm (2.49 ERA in 25 1/3 innings), and he most certainly will be a part of the Yankees back-end of the bullpen in 2017. Clippard has demonstrated for several years now that he can aid clubs as a setup reliever who continues to compile innings.
The biggest issue for the Yankees' pitching staff was their middle relief. In each of the last two seasons, the Yankees have used a shuttle approach with some of their younger relievers in an effort to get fresh arms and see if anyone would run away with a job. The Yankees also did their best to use reclamation projects to fill bullpen innings. Last season, there were some positive developments, but this year the group as a whole was inconsistent.
The Yankees did receive some decent efforts from left-handers Tommy Layne, who the club picked up off waivers, and Richard Bleier, who received his first taste of the big leagues at 29 years old. It would not be surprising to see these two receive first crack as the team's lefties in the 2017 bullpen.
Some other young pitchers I expect to make noise in the spring are Dietrich Enns, Jonathan Holder, Bryan Mitchell, and Jordan Montgomery. Holder was fantastic with Scranton, but had some issues with New York after getting a September callup. Mitchell missed a majority of the season due to toe surgery, but came back strong and could be in the mix for a rotation spot or as the Yankees' swingman -- the role he had locked down during spring training before the injury. Enns and Montgomery had excellent seasons in the minors, which should lead to an extended look next spring.
During the offseason, the Yankees are certainly going to keep an eye on both parts of the pitching staff. They could use one or two No. 2 or No. 3 type starters who won't cost their best prospects. I would also expect the Yankees to go hard after Chapman. If that fails, they could check in on Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon. If nothing comes to fruition with an elite closer, I suspect they will seek a proven setup reliever to add to Clippard and Betances.