State of the Yankee Spring Training Battle for the Starting Rotation

Barring injury, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka will open the 2017 season in the Yankee starting rotation. The remaining two spots are up for grabs. A potentially huge number of Yankee starting pitchers (including Justus Sheffield, who has just four innings at Double-A), are auditioning for spots in the rotation. How are they doing?

Let's start with the statistics. Below are the other four Yankees who have started games this spring:

  • Luis Cessa: 1 start (3 games): 6 innings, 3.00 ERA, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk
  • Chad Green: 2 starts: 5 2/3 innings, 1.59 ERA, 3 strikeouts, 5 walks
  • Bryan Mitchell: 3 starts (4 games): 11 1/3 innings, 3.97 ERA, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks
  • Luis Severino: 2 starts: 4 1/3 innings, 4.15 ERA, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks
  • Adam Warren: 2 starts (3 games): 8 innings, 3.38 ERA, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks

Right off the bat, it is telling that none of Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrara, the highly-regarded prospects likely to join one of these four in the Triple-A rotation to begin 2017, have been given a start in the big league camp. The Yankees aren't going to rush anyone, even if they stand out in March. None of these guys have a full season at Triple-A, so the Yankees aren't in a hurry to push them up to major league competition. 

Of the five pitchers, no one stands out. Bryan Mitchell is doing his usual "good looking stuff but weak results" thing. Luis Severino hasn't looked nearly as sharp as he did out of the bullpen in 2016. Chad Green has been inefficient. Luis Cessa has been Luis Cessa. 

Who will emerge from this group? Given that no one has so far stood out, prior expectations about performance should dominate. Adam Warren has a career 3.88 ERA as a starting pitcher. Luis Severino was one of the worst starting pitchers in major league baseball last season. Chad Green had very promising Triple-A numbers, but batters hit .289/.346/.591 (!) off him last season when starting. Bryan Mitchell has a 4.52 career MLB ERA in 65 innings and a career minor league ERA of 4.29. Luis Cessa is Luis Cessa.

That is to say: the Yankees can probably expect Warren to be average or better, Mitchell and Cessa to be replacement level, and Severino and Green to have a wider range of outcomes. 

Thus, I think Adam Warren will make the Opening Day rotation. The Yankees have a solid set of mid-inning right-handed relief pitching options to take up his competent innings. At least one of Mitchell or Luis Cessa will likely be available as a long reliever. The Yankees won't miss Warren in the bullpen if he's a successful starting pitcher who keeps them in games.

Similarly, I think Luis Severino ends up in the bullpen. His starter/reliever splits last season were stark. Batters hit .337/.389/.587 off starter-Severino and .105/.209/.158 off reliever-Severino. Given that scouts were always questioning Severino's ability to stick as a starting pitcher, I think the signs are clear that his best home is in the bullpen. Even if you vastly improve Severino, he seems more like a struggling 4th starter at best to me. There's no shame in turning 2015's #35 prospect in baseball into an ace relief pitcher. Just ask Dellin Betances. If Luis Severino, 2016 relief pitcher, shows up, we won't be missing Andrew Miller.

Of the remaining, I don't know who emerges. The Yankees have always been strangely high on Bryan Mitchell despite terrible minor league strikeout, walk, and runs allowed statistics. Chad Green was elite at Triple-A last year, even if he looked real bad at times in the majors. Luis Cessa is a fine replacement player. If I'm Joe Girardi, I take a shot on the ceiling and pick Chad Green.