The best case scenario for a fifth starter competition with no clear favorite



When pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Friday, the Yankees will have more than a few jobs up for grabs. The last bench spot is up in the air, ditto about four bullpen spots. The fifth starter’s spot is wide open as well, since the team opted to go internal rather than add a low-cost veteran like … I dunno. Paul Maholm or Jason Hammel, I guess. David Phelps is among those who will compete for that last rotation spot these next few weeks.

“It’s good to have somebody pushing you,” said Phelps to Anthony McCarron last week. “We’re not going to root against each other, because if we all do well, our team does better … I would obviously love to be a starter. I think I’m capable. I just have to go out and show what I’m capable of. If it’s not that, I don’t have a problem pitching out of the bullpen. But at the same time, I do want to start. It’s what I’ve done my whole career up until the last couple years.”

Adam Warren, who was solid as the team’s swingman last summer, will also be in that fifth starter’s competition. So will Vidal Nuno, who has the least big league experience of the candidates but is also left-handed, and lefty starters are always nice to have given Yankee Stadium’s short right field. Barring some suprise late additions, Michael Pineda will be the fourth and only other starter competing for a spot in camp, nearly two full years after having surgery to repair a torn labrum.

“I don’t know what we are going to get from him, but we have hope,” said Brian Cashman to Kevin Kernan last week, talking about Pineda. “This just has to play itself out. He has to perform April through September, and it has to be in New York and not in Trenton. The reports are good now, but he has to continue to progress and do it in a Major League setting. We certainly would love to get him back.”

The Yankees have held some rigged Spring Training competitions in the past (fifth starter in 2010, catcher in 2013) but I honestly don’t think anyone has a leg up in this year’s rotation race. Phelps has the most big league experience of the bunch but he’s only been in the league two seasons. Pineda was an All-Star in 2011 but he hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch in two years now. Nuno is a finesse lefty without a big league out pitch and Warren really seemed to find a niche in the bullpen last summer. Any of those four guys could walk away with the job and I wouldn’t be surprised. For what it’s worth, ZiPS doesn’t see much of a difference between these guys anyway:

Projected K/BB Projected ERA Projected FIP
Nuno 2.76 5.20 5.24
Phelps 2.41 4.54 4.56
Pineda 2.48 4.65 4.65
Warren 1.98 4.64 4.74

Projections don’t really mean much of anything, though I do think the ZiPS numbers do a good job of showing just how tight this race is. There is no obvious favorite for the fifth starter spot given what he know right now and that makes it kinda fun in my opinion. Rigged competitions ruin the surprise.

Now, that said, would it be better for the Yankees if Pineda shows up to camp and looks like the guy he was with the Mariners before the trade? Absolutely. With all due respect to the other three rotation candidates, Pineda has (by far) the highest ceiling of the bunch and a strong rebound from shoulder surgery would be an amazingly positive development for both the 2014 Yankees as well as the 2015-17 teams. He is the only pitcher in history to post a 9+ K/9 with a sub-3 BB/9 in his rookie season, so his ability to control the strike zone while missing bats is especially rare.

The other three fifth starter candidates all have the ability to help at the big league level — they all have already, to some degree — but I think we can all agree none of those guys offers the impact potential of Pineda. That potential may have disappeared with the shoulder surgery, we won’t know what he can do until he gets out there, but Spring Training should give us a decent idea of what he is capable of nearly two years removed from the procedure. There is no clear favorite for that last rotation spot, but the no doubt best case scenario is Pineda showing up to camp and looking like the guy he was before the shoulder surgery.

Categories : Pitching
  • Jorge Steinbrenner


  • The Great Gonzo

    Come on Pineda! Do SOMETHING to win the trade for Cashman.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Any positive production at all would “Win” the trade for Cashman.

      Man, Montero has been awful.

      • mustang


        Don’t say that about the next Miguel Cabrera, the next Babe Ruth, Mr Lightning in his bat or should i say lightning in a needle.

        • mustang

          Seriously, the kid is still young and once showed a lot of promise hopefully he can find himself and make it back to the show.

          • Cool Lester Smooth

            Yeah. I actually really want him as a buy-low guy.

      • lightSABR

        I blame it on Seattle’s hitting coaches. He’s hardly the first hot young bat to cool down in Safeco.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          No idea what the heck caused it.

          I’d honestly love to see him turn it around and salvage his career.

          • The Great Gonzo


          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Courtney Love.

            • Preston

              She’s also why the Sonics moved to OKC.

            • Macho Man “Randy Levine”

              She went on and took everything.

        • Preston

          I also think it was dumb for them to stubbornly keep him at C. Failing miserably at half of your job and getting physically beat up in the process has to affect you at the other half of your job. His short lived success in pinstripes came with him primarily used at DH. When they moved him off C and sent him to the minors to learn to play first, he immediately got injured. So who knows what will happen going forward.

      • Farewell Mo

        Not really true.

        As Mike has pointed out multiple times, whether or not Montero turns out to be a good player isn’t the end all be all in evaluating this trade.

        Montero was a top 5 or top 3 rated prospect in all of the minor leagues and was therefore a very valuable trade chip so Pineda needs to do more than simply step onto the field for this trade to work out in the Yankees favor.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          I….actually agree here.

          It’s also water so far under the bridge at this point.

        • jsbrendog

          campos is the real wild card in all of this

        • Preston

          If your are going to evaluate Montero based on his value at the time of the trade then you have to evaluate Pineda the same way. He was 22 after an excellent big league season. It was a fair trade at the time and given the teams needs it was the right trade, no matter how poorly it has worked out since.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          I think we’re talking about two different issues.

          Did the Yankees or the Mariners come out on top is very different from “Did the trade turn out well for the Yankees”?

          I don’t know how any positive from Pineda pushes the Yankees ahead of the Mariners in the trade result column.

          That still doesn’t mean he was a worthy return for Jesus.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

            doesn’t push the Yankees*

        • Kyle Litke

          I think the problem is people are assuming someone has to win or lose the trade. That’s not how it works. It is absolutely possible, just as you said, that both teams can “lose” the trade, because even if both guys do nothing, they were both strong trade chips that could have brought back more useful players.

          I’m not counting Pineda out or anything, just agreeing that Montero was a valuable trade chip that could have gotten something else, and the same could be said for Pineda.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

            If you compare the players traded, you can easily compare who got more out of the trade.

            I have no idea why this is so difficult to understand.

            There’s no LARGER baseball meaning. It’s a fun yet pointless exercise, no one gets hurt, no logical theorems are being thrown to pieces. It’s a baseball blog. I can talk about whatever I want, compare whatever I want, and if I have evidence for an argument, argue whatever I want.

            Some people argue without evidence, if that’s your bag.

  • mustang

    “no doubt best case scenario is Pineda showing up to camp and looking like the guy he was before the shoulder surgery.”

    Adding to the “best case scenario” would be:

    Masahiro Tanaka being as advertised.

    Ivan Nova always being like the second half of 2013.

    Three young starters being the foundation of the Yankees rotation for the next 5 years that’s the “best case scenario”.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Well I think Axisa was only referring to the best case scenario for the 5th starter competition.

      • mustang

        That’s why I said “Adding to the” best case scenario.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          You are free to use as much creative license as you wish, mustang.

          • mustang

            Ain’t That America

            • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

              Little Pink Houses.

              • Jorge Steinbrenner

                Well played.

    • mustang

      For an organization that can’t develop starting pitching its nice the FO put them in this position.

  • lightSABR

    Guys… pitchers and catchers report THIS WEEK. We’ve almost survived the offseason!

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      As far as I’m concerned, the offseason ends when my fantasy baseball draft occurs, usually the week before the season.

      • lightSABR

        For me it’s when I can start watching spring training games on MLB.tv. So… a bit less than two weeks from now.

    • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

      Thank the maker!

  • emac2

    Best case is they are all awesome in spring but the Banuelos is perfect and wins a job.

    The amazing bounty allows cc to be traded and we get under 189.

    • Poconos Adam

      You must live in Colorado. Only use that stuff for medicinal purposes otherwise.

      • jjyank

        No way weed makes you hallucinate like that.

        • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

          He is probably shooting some of Philip Hoffman’s Heroin. That stuff is deadly!

          • The Great Gonzo


            • jjyank


            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead


    • The Great Gonzo

      All things that will not be happening.

      They will not all be awesome, Banuelos will not be perfect, he will not win the job, and they will not move CC and get under 189.

      They have a better chance of kidnapping Bud Selig’s kid and getting him to lift A-Rod’s suspension than of your chain of events.

      • CS Yankee

        Hmmm, where is said kid?


      • emac2

        Best case means what?

    • gbyanks

      I would say the best case would be pineda pitching like he was never hurt, winning the job and manban dominating AAA for a year giving us a top pitching prospect in all of baseball. Which would allow us to ether trade him for a monster player or have everyone move up a spot next year and have a 2015 rotation of CC,Tanka,Nova,Pineda,Banuelos.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      This would, obviously, meet the emac2 mandate of forcing a rookie onto the roster every second of every day of every year of all tiiiiiime.

  • Nate

    This seems like it would make an interesting poll question.

    I think Phelps will win it. Pulling for Pineda to blow everyone away. But I really like Nuno and it would be need to see him succeed in the rotation.

  • hogsmog

    Personally, I think the real question is if Pineda looks like he can face MLB batters in spring training. We’ll almost certainly see all these other guys get a turn in the rotation as the season wears on, especially with two old guys (CC and Kuroda), Tanaka who has to adjust to an American pitching schedule, and Nova, who has yet to crack 200 IP in a season.

    Not like these are disasters or anything, just that we’ll probably appreciate any depth we can get in 2014.

  • nsalem

    I love what I saw of Vidal and perhaps because he’s the underdog I’m rooting for him to succeed. As I am for all of our pitchers. Despite his lack of of an out pitch and his inability to throw a 90 mph fastball he has a great track record of creating outs over his minor and major league career. Plus his High School was named Sweetwater which is part of my family name.

    • Poconos Adam

      He has sneaky good LOOGY written all over him….I’d love to pull for him too, but he also has “spring training sensation sent back to AAA after pitching to a 11.35 ERA in two games” written all over him as well.

      I just don’t see him getting through the order three times without getting hammered.

      • Bryan

        LOOGY should be worst case scenario. Nuno could have trouble getting through three times. But you are looking for someone who can give you 6 decent to good innings. Nuno could definitely be that guy. Heck he looked great in six innings vs both the Rays and the Mets and blanked a sneaky good lineup in Cleveland for 5 innings last year. If anything, I would put odds at Phelps as the favorite with Nuno right behind and a similar ST to last year making him the leader. At worst, Nuno should be the first SP on the phone from AAA.

        • Poconos Adam

          I’d be very pleased if you were right. I tend to see a soft tosser who beats people during short call ups as having proven very little — it’s tough to get people out without a fastball worthy of the title.

          Fair point on what you want from #5 though — I’d settle for 5 innings of 2.5 runs on average — the days where he gives you six are a plus.

      • nsalem

        I think he was a spring training sensation last yearand when he got his chance he was pretty sensational. I’m aware that his peripheials do not project more than moderate success at the ML level if anything at all, but projections many times are far off base. The reality of the situation is that he has been getting batters out on a consistent regularity on everylevel that he has pitched including the majors. I can see others POV that his MLB success is merely a snapshot. but I would counter that by saying he should be given the oppurtunity prove or disprove the point.

  • jjyank

    Cautious optimism with Pineda. He’s still young, and the surgery wasn’t as invasive as first thought.

    SSS disclaimer, but his numbers in the minors were pretty good.

    7.56 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 1.08 ERA, and 2.24 FIP in 8.1 A ball innings.

    8.00 K/9, 6.00 BB/9 (okay, ouch), 4.00 ERA, 6.64 FIP in 9 AA innings.

    10.03 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 3.86 ERA, 3.11 FIP in 23.1 AAA innings.

    While these numbers probably don’t mean much, I’m hopeful that they at least mean that he is healthy, and has now had a normal offseason to prepare.

    • I’m One

      I’m in the Pineda camp. With a few MiLB innings under his belt last season and an offseason to rest and ensure he’s in shape, I’m hopefull he’ll win the 5th starter job, excel, and become part of the new young core of Yankee pithcers. Tanaka, Pineda, Nova, with Banuelos right behind them and ready for a starting role in 2015, anchored by CC, sounds like a pretty good rotation. Of course, they need to actually produce.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        Dream big or don’t bother dreaming.

        All in on that rotation for 2015.

  • http://chatsport T Girardi

    Toss up for the 5th starter. (I hope that’s all we need.) I’d like to see what Johan Santana has to offer if we need another pitcher. Off subject … what about a 6 man rotation or modified 5 man rotation with CC starting every 4-5 days (depending on the schedule) and the other pitchers getting an extra day’s rest? (For example, CC as #1 … 1,2,3,4,1,5,2,3,1,4,5,2,1…) Crazy?

    • mitch

      I definitely would not do that. I want my best pitchers starting as many games as possible. They do need to figure out a way to keep Kuroda from breaking down, but i’d rather see him on a lower pitch count than making less starts.

    • jjyank

      Yeah, crazy.

    • hogsmog

      CC is going to need as much rest as anyone, I think… There doesn’t seem to be a clear ~230 IP workhorse in the rotation as constructed.

      • CS Yankee

        I think Tanaka easily fills 200+, and with postseason could easily surpass those 230 IP.

        He had about 250 last year and their season is shorter.

        • All Praise Be To Mo

          Yea, but Tanaka also had an extra day or rest in between starts and was facing weaker lineups that he didn’t have to go all out the whole game.
          Either through injury or ineffectiveness I think with the starting roatation constructed as is, we’ll see all of Phelps, Pineda, Nuno get a start sometime this year.

  • Darren

    It’s funny but usually the 5th starter competition garners the most attention in camp….and then the winner stays in extended spring training since the team doesn’t actually need a 5th starter for weeks.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      That’s not true this year. The Yankees are scheduled for 13 consecutive games to start the year. They’ll need a 5th starter right off the bat.

      • Kyle Litke

        UGH, I didn’t realize that. The Yankees are stuck with the “Hey guys, we’re going to make it so one single team doesn’t play until everyone else already has” game this year, aren’t they? Getting pumped for opening day and then not even getting a Yankee game until Tuesday night sucks.

  • Jess

    The ZiPS numbers for Pineda seem to involve even more guess work (or extrapolation from inadequate to non-existent data) than for the other pitchers.
    I am surprised they posted numbers at all.

    • LK

      The numbers for Pineda are based both off all previous pitchers who needed shoulder surgery and their subsequent careers, as well as the numbers Pineda put up in the minor leagues last year. Lots of other pitchers probably have similar error bars around their projections.

      But either way, if your projection system refuses to estimate any players that have complications, it’s not really all that useful.

  • TWTR

    I hope that Pineda doesn’t put any added pressure on himself and end up overthrowing or doing anything that might cause an injury. I think they made a big mistake by keeping in the competition for a rotation spot when he got here, despite shoulder soreness and greatly reduced velo, and I wouldn’t want to see anything similar to that happen again.

  • CS Yankee

    Due to innings limits, maybe 150 each Pineda and 125 for ManBan, it would be cool to see them try and split the 5th starter, something like;

    Pineda, pitch count at 80…maybe innings 1-4, possibly the 5th.
    ManBan starts the inning clean, perhaps the 4th thru the 6th, same PC limits.

    30 shared starts could net 120-150 IP for Pineda and 90-120 for ManBan. Guessing the main reason not to do this would be that Pineda would often miss the “W” due to being pulled early. I however like it better than a six-man staff or what the Rox tried for a few months. The 25th spot is seldom used and earmarking a RP (even if its Warren) for 2-3 innings every fifth day and being available to clean-up a inning between seems doable.

    • hogsmog

      Having never thrown a pitch in the MLB, and after not really pitching for two years, ManBan just can’t be counted on as a rotation piece at this point in time.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        I agree, let ManBan build up innings and confidence back up in AAA. It’s been almost 2 years, let him get the feel back for pitching, and if he’s killing it at midseason fitting him into the rotation would be a great problem to have.
        More likely I think we see ManBan with the September callups hopefully absorbing some innings to give the starting 5 a break for the playoffs and to line up the rotation.

  • Preston

    I don’t think that the starter jobs have been as rigged as we like to think. I think that Phil got the nod over Joba because of Joba’s injury history. And even though Stewart was the heavy favorite in ST, Cervelli actually won the starting job. I think Phelps is the favorite going into ST. He has the most starting experience over the last two years and I think Girardi trusts him. Pineda obviously could change that since he’s obviously the biggest talent, but I think it would be wise for them to hold him back and let him get sharp at AAA and call him up some time in season when they inevitably need a 6th starter.

  • FLYER7

    Pineda or Phelpsie

  • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

    Pulling for Pineda.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      What you do in your own private time is your…..oh, I see what you mean.

  • The Tenth Inning Stretch

    Does anyone else feel like the Yankees might just be waiting out Ubaldo?

    • The Great Gonzo


    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Anything is possible. I lean no, however.

    • Kyle Litke

      Wouldn’t mind it at the right price (or number of years, really), but I don’t think so.

  • Wheels

    I believe in Phelps.

  • Kyle Litke

    I like Phelps well enough but I think people are really quick to forget that he wasn’t good last year. 4.98 ERA between the bullpen and starting rotation is not good…neither is a 1.419 WHIP. He kept the home runs down and struck out a solid amount, which is great, but he walked too many and gave up too many hits (but not some crazy number that would imply he was really unlucky).

    Ideally, Pineda looks like he’s his old self stuff wise (or close to it), takes the 5th starter job, Phelps and Warren are both in the bullpen (one in short relief, one as the long man maybe), and Nuno is in AAA as the next guy in line in case of injury or emergency starter needed. I think Phelps and Warren make the team regardless…I think Pineda only makes the team if he’s the 5th starter, so while it’s hardly the most important consideration, it’s worth pointing out that Phelps or Warren winning the 5th starters job probably weakens the bullpen too.