More cutters and fewer four-seam fastballs have helped Sabathia regain some effectiveness in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Seven months ago CC Sabathia left Camden Yards and entered an alcohol treatment center. Last night Sabathia pitched in Camden Yards for the first time since rehab and he had his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings. Sabathia has been through it all as a baseball player. I’m sure last night’s game was as special as any win in his career.

“It’s a big contrast from me standing in this locker room last time. To be able to go out and get us a win felt great,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings after the game. Joe Girardi added, “I’m sure it meant a lot. I kind of thought about it as we came into the ballpark and it was his day to pitch. The circumstances were a little bit different (last time). I’m sure it meant a lot. It meant a lot to this club.”

Through five full rotation turns Sabathia has been New York’s second best starting pitcher behind Masahiro Tanaka. Only Tanaka has a better ERA (2.87 to 3.81) and a better FIP (2.78 to 3.53) among the team’s five starters. That’s pretty surprising considering the Yankees made Sabathia compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training, or at least they said Sabathia had to compete for a rotation spot.

The changeup was Sabathia’s best pitch last night — the O’s missed eight times on 13 swings against the change — but it’s another pitch that has allowed him to have this success early on: the cutter. Sabathia has been toying with a cutter on and off for years now, and for most part it was just talk. He would say he was working on it and then throw maybe one or two per start. Now he’s committed to it. From Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Notice the cutter has more or less replaced the four-seam fastball in Sabathia’s arsenal. In fact, PitchFX says he’s thrown 13 four-seam fastballs all season. He threw 27 cutters just last night. It’s for the best too. Last season opponents hit .300 with a .167 ISO against Sabathia’s four-seamer. The league averages were .269 and .175 last year, respectively. “Stop throwing an ineffective pitch” is a good strategy as long as you have a way to compensate.

The cutter has given Sabathia a way to compensate. He doesn’t throw hard anymore — Sabathia hasn’t thrown a pitch over 92.4 mph all season — so the extra movement is crucial. So is the location. More than ever before, Sabathia has to disrupt the hitter’s timing and keep them guessing. “That’s exactly what happened,” said Girardi after last night’s game. “Just kind of keep guys off balance. Try to out-think them and make some good pitches.”

Once again per Brooks Baseball, here is the strike zone heat map of Sabathia’s cutter location this season. This is from the catcher’s point of view and, in a nutshell, the brighter the red, the more cutters in that location. The brighter the blue, the fewer cutters in that spot.

CC Sabathia cutter locations

Sabathia is getting the cutter right in on the hands of right-handed batters to jam them and even back them off the plate. He did that last night and it set up all those swings and misses on changeups away. The O’s had seven right-handed hitters in their starting lineup and it played right into Sabathia’s cutter/changeup plan. It’s might not be a coincidence that in the other two starts in which he completed six innings, the Tigers and Rangers had eight and seven righties in the lineup, respectively.

Last year right-handed hitters meant bad news for Sabathia. They hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him in 2015, so Sabathia essentially turned every righty hitter he faced into Manny Machado (.286/.359/.502/.370). That’s bad. So far this season CC has not been great against righties, but he has been a bit better.

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% Hard% Soft%
2015 vs. RHB .304/.363/.502 .370 16.2% 7.5% 47.0% 30.9% 15.3%
2016 vs. RHB .290/.350/.391 .328 16.8% 6.9% 47.3% 26.3% 26.3%

A .290 average and a .350 OBP still isn’t good, obviously, but righties haven’t hit for the same extra base power. The big increase in soft contact rate is most encouraging. Righties haven’t been squaring up as many pitches against Sabathia so far this season and that’s because he is now pounding them inside with cutters. He’s jamming them and missing the sweet spot. That wasn’t happening with the four-seamer.

Coming into this season Sabathia was viewed as the fifth starter and for good reason. He simply hasn’t been all that good in recent years. Tanaka has been the unquestioned staff ace, but Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi continue to be consistently inconsistent, and Luis Severino has been shockingly bad early on. Through five starts Sabathia has stepped up and been rock solid for the Yankees, thanks partly to his new knee brace and also to a new cutter, one he actually throws.

Yankeemetrics: #RISPFAIL [April 15-17]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

It’s not what you want, Part I
The good news is that the Yankees created a ton of scoring chances on Friday night. The bad news is that they failed miserably in cashing in on those opportunities – and the result was a frustrating 7-1 loss to the Mariners in the series opener.

The Yankees put 13 guys on base overall and just one of them touched home plate – a solo homer by Brett Gardner in the first inning. It marked the first time they left 12-or-more men on base and scored only one run in a game since May 29, 2012 against the Angels.

They had at least one baserunner in seven of the nine innings and multiple guys on in the fourth, fifth and sixth frames. Yet, they couldn’t come up with the Big Hit ® as they went hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Jacoby Ellsbury was the only Yankee starter that didn’t reach base, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. It was his 15th game in pinstripes with at least five at bats and zero hits, the most such games of any player on the team since his debut in 2014.

It’s not what you want, Part II
Another day, another three-plus hours of futility at the plate for the Yankees, who left a small navy of runners on base and lost 3-2 to the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

They somehow managed to set a new level of offensive ineptitude for 2016, surpassing Friday’s debacle by going hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position again and this time stranding a whopping 14 baserunners.

It’s the first time in more than three decades that the Yankees have lost back-to-back nine-inning games while leaving at least 12 runners on base in each contest. The last time it happened was June 5-6, 1984 against the Red Sox.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the last major-league team to go 0-for-12 or worse with RISP in consecutive games was the Orioles in 1993.

CC Sabathia made his 200th start with the Yankees but it was a forgettable one. He was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing three runs on seven hits and with his pitch count at 95. Still, the milestone is a significant one for Sabathia, who also surpassed the 200-start mark with the Indians.

He is just the sixth pitcher in major-league history – and the second lefty – to have at least 200 starts and 1,000 strikeouts with two different franchises. The others in this club are Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson (the lone southpaw), Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan and Jim Bunning.

Carlos Beltran did his best to spark the Yankees offense, driving in two runs while going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. At the age of 38 and 358 days, he is the oldest player in franchise history to have a four-hit game that included at least three extra-base hits. He surpassed Babe Ruth, who was 38 years and 175 days old when he went 4-of-5 with two doubles and a triple against the Senators in 1933.

Do you believe in miracles?
Yes!

Brett Gardner’s RBI double in the third inning, which scored Jacoby Ellsbury from second base, snapped an ugly 0-for-30 streak with runners in scoring position by the Yankees that dated back to the Blue Jays series (Of course, that was their only hit in 11 at-bats with RISP during the game. But one hit is progress!)

The Yankees also broke their four-game losing streak, avoided the dreaded sweep against the Mariners, and had their best offensive output (four runs) since April 9 in Detroit.

A-Rod also joined the streak-breaking party in the second inning when he smoked the first pitch he saw into the left field stands for career homer No. 689. That ended a 19 at-bat hitless streak, which was two shy of the longest in his career (2002 and 2007). He entered the game with a .100 batting average this year, his worst mark through eight games played in any season during his career.

The Yankees got seven strong innings from Masahiro Tanaka, who is now 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts against Seattle. He kept the Mariners lineup off-balance all afternoon with his nasty splitter, which netted him five of his six strikeouts and 14 swinging strikes, the most he’s ever had in a game with that pitch. Thanks to his sinker-heavy approach, Tanaka generated a ton of soft contact and his 12 ground ball outs also were a career-high.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller sealed the win with another pair of ridiculously dominant performances as they each struck out the side in the eighth and ninth innings on 26 total pitches. The pair has recorded 33 outs this season, and 27 of them have been strikeouts.

Of the last 15 batters that Betances has retired, 14 have been via strike three. He’s now had four outings in a row with at least three strikeouts and no more than 1⅓ innings pitched. Betances is the only pitcher in major-league history to put together a streak like that — and it’s not even the first time he’s done it. He had a similar stretch May 26-June 1 last year.

Four truths about the Yankees six games into 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you’re reading RAB, you’re probably not new to this baseball thing. You know the season is still very young — the Yankees have played 3.7% of their 2016 schedule — and you know much of what happens in the first week of games doesn’t mean a whole lot. Outside of injury, I’m not sure anything you see the first week of the season should drastically change your outlook.

That doesn’t mean the first week is meaningless though. Last week Grant Brisbee wrote about the incontrovertible truths of Opening Day. All those little things we saw around the league in Game One that we know are true. The Diamondbacks are going to be holding their breath each Zack Greinke start for the next six years, for example. So, following Brisbee’s lead, I present four incontrovertible truths about the Yankees six games into 2016.

The regulars are going to rest. A lot.

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have been talking about this since last season, and so far they have been true to their word. Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran all sat last Friday simply because the Yankees had played three days in a row and had a day game following a late arrival into Detroit. That was the first real sign the team is committed to this plan.

Furthermore, Girardi told Ken Davidoff he was already looking ahead to Sunday’s postponement when using his bullpen Saturday. “It was one of the reasons I was willing to use the bullpen the way I did … Because I really, in my mind, never thought we were going to play (Sunday),” he said. The likely postponement and Monday’s off-day meant it was okay to use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller with a four-run lead.

The season is still very young and the Yankees are already going out of their way to rest their important players. Once we move past the schedule weirdness of April and get into the day-in, day-out grind of regular season baseball, the rest will only be more frequent and deliberate. Who knows whether this will actually help the Yankees avoid a second half fade. They seemed to determined to find out.

The starters are not going to pitch deep into games.

Through six games, exactly one starter has completed six full innings in an outing. That was CC Sabathia over the weekend. Here are the innings and pitch counts for the six starts made by the five starters so far:

April 5th: 5.2 innings, 87 pitches (Masahiro Tanaka)
April 6th: Five innings, 87 pitches (Michael Pineda)
April 7th: Five innings, 94 pitches (Nathan Eovaldi)
April 8th: Five innings, 95 pitches (Luis Severino)
April 9th: Six innings, 90 pitches (CC Sabathia)
April 12th: Five innings, 92 pitches (Tanaka)

Apparently no one comes out of Spring Training fully stretched out these days, so the Yankees are still easing their starters into things in the early going. (The cold weather in New York and Detroit didn’t help either.) Eventually these guys will be allowed to throw 100+ pitches. (I think.) That should lead to more starts of six or more innings.

That said, the lack of length from the starters is nothing new. Last season Pineda (5.95) and Eovaldi (5.72) both averaged fewer than six innings per start. So did Severino (5.67), and even when you subtract his one disaster start against the Blue Jays, he still averaged exactly six innings per start. Sabathia led the staff in innings despite averaging only 5.77 innings per game. Tanaka was the staff workhorse at 6.42 innings per start.

Eovaldi has never pitched deep into games, and while Pineda has shown the ability to do so on occasion, he doesn’t do it consistently. Girardi usually doesn’t let Sabathia go through the lineup a third time unless he’s really cruising (or the bullpen is really short), and Tanaka has been handled with kid gloves since his elbow injury. Severino? He’s just a kid and the Yankees don’t want to overwork him.

Only 88 times in 162 games did the Yankees get at least six innings from their starters last season. That was the eighth fewest in baseball and third fewest in the AL. The same staff is back this year, only with Severino replacing Ivan Nova and Adam Warren. Unless Eovaldi or Pineda suddenly figure out a way to be efficient, the Yankees are again going to ask their bullpen for 10-12 outs most nights.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Shreve is back in the Circle of Trust™.

Either due to fatigue or some other reason, Chasen Shreve crashed hard down the stretch last year. He was basically unusable in close games. Yet when Spring Training opened, Girardi talked about Shreve like he was one of the regular relievers, and there was no indication his roster spot was in jeopardy. A dominant spring (10 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) assured he was going to be on the roster.

So far this season Shreve has appeared in four games, and all four appearances came in fairly big situations. Look at when Girardi has brought him into the game:

April 5th: Sixth inning, runner on first, two outs, score tied.
April 7th: To start the seventh inning, score tied.
April 9th: Seventh inning, runner on second, two outs, Yankees up four. Miguel Cabrera (!) due up.
April 12th: To start the seventh inning, Yankees up by one.

That April 9th game really drove home that Shreve has a place in the Circle of Trust™. The Yankees had a comfortable lead, but Cabrera was due up with a chance to cut the lead in half — he had homered the previous day, remember — and Girardi still brought in the lefty Shreve. That’s the kind of situation where using Betances wouldn’t be so crazy. Instead, he went to Shreve, who got Miggy to ground out harmlessly to third.

The Yankees are going to be without Aroldis Chapman for another three weeks and four days, and Girardi has entrusted Shreve to be his No. 3 reliever behind Betances and Miller for the time being. And being the No. 4 guy when Chapman returns is no small thing either, not with the Yankees opted to build the team around their bullpen.

The Yankees will miss Teixeira when he’s gone.

I am a big Greg Bird fan and I’m glad the Yankees have him around as the long-term solution at first base. His shoulder injury really sucks. Hopefully it’s a bump in the road and not something that derails his career. Bird looks very much like someone capable of holding down the job for the next decade.

As good as Bird is — or at least projects to be — he does not combine high-end offense with high-end defense like Mark Teixeira. Very few do. I count seven first basemen you can comfortably project to be above-average on both sides of the ball: Teixeira, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, and Brandon Belt. All All-Stars, basically, because one-dimensional doesn’t really fly anymore.

Teixeira is no longer the hitter he once was, but he’s still really good, mostly thanks to his power. He has very few peers defensively. We see it every game with his scoops and the way he makes tough flips to the pitcher at the bag look routine. Dustin Ackley goes out and plays first for an afternoon, flubs two tough plays, and it stands out like a sore thumb. Bird’s glove is below even Ackley’s at this point.

I have no idea what will happen with Teixeira following the season. He’s going to be a free agent and the Yankees are skewing younger, but Bird’s injury threw a wrench into things. Whenever Teixeira is gone, either this offseason or next or the one after that, the Yankees are going to miss his two-way play. His glove is close to impossible to replace.

Yankeemetrics: Frozen in Motown (April 8-9)

No. 688 (Rick Osentoski | USA Today Sports)
No. 688 (Rick Osentoski|USA Today Sports)

Chill out
The Yankees’ first road trip of the season got off to a historically terrible start, as their bats were put on ice in a 4-0 loss to the Tigers on Friday afternoon at Comerica Park. They were held to just three singles and got only one runner in scoring position against starter Jordan Zimmermann and the Detroit bullpen.

THE GOOD: The game lasted just 2 hours and 44 minutes!
THE BAD: It was the first time since 1980 that the Yankees were shut out in their road opener.
THE UGLY: The last time they were held scoreless and had three hits or fewer in their first road game of the season was 1915 against the Senators. Walter Johnson tossed a two-hit shutout in Washington’s 7-0 win; the lone Yankee hits were by Wally Pipp and Jeff Sweeney.

Zimmermann, who gave up two of the three hits, joined Mike Maroth (2004) as the only Tigers pitchers in the last 25 years to allow two hits or fewer in an outing of at least seven innings against the Yankees.

Luis Severino, the youngest pitcher to start a game in the majors this season, got tagged for a career-high 10 hits and allowed three runs in five innings. He really struggled to command his slider and the Tigers took advantage of those hanging pitches in the zone. Severino threw 28 sliders, Detroit batters swung at 13 of them, put six in play and all six went for hits.

Luis Severino2

Return of the Bats
Playing in even colder temps on Saturday, the Yankee bats warmed up quickly and delivered a nice bounceback win over the Tigers. With a game time temperature of 31 degrees, it was the coldest game the Yankees have played in baseball-reference.com’s database (which has near-100 percent weather data coverage since 1988).

The three veterans that sat out Friday’s game shined on this frigid afternoon: Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered, while Brian McCann went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored three runs in the Yankees 8-4 victory.

A-Rod‘s homer gave them a 1-0 lead in the first inning; it was his team-leading 15th go-ahead home run since the start of last season, four more than any other Yankee. Beltran’s blast was his 394th career homer, breaking a tie with Jim Edmonds for sole possession of 59th place on the all-time list. McCann’s second-inning single made him 20-of-43 (.465) in his career vs. Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey, his highest batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 25 times.

CC Sabathia, the first Yankee with a quality start this season, threw six innings of three-run ball as he improved to 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA versus the Tigers since the start of 2012. That’s the sixth-best ERA and third-best record by any pitcher with at least five starts against Detroit over the last five seasons.

Starlin Castro made sure the young guys also got some headlines. He notched another multi-hit game to give him 1,000 career hits at the age of 26 years and 16 days. Derek Jeter, who reached that milestone on Sept. 25, 2000, joined the 1,000th hit club at the age of 26 years and 94 days.

He’s also in select company with his ability to hit for average and extra bases as a young up-the-middle infielder. He’s just the seventh second baseman and/or shortstop to compile at least 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

The Milestone Watch [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With another Yankee season underway, let’s take a look at some statistical milestones that a few of our boys in pinstripes can reach this summer.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, of course, is on the verge of becoming the fourth player in major-league history with 700 homers. His pursuit of the home run record is well-documented, as he is 28 homers shy of passing Babe Ruth for third place all-time.

He is at 342 homers with the Yankees, just 16 shy of tying Yogi Berra for fifth-most in franchise history. He has a good chance to move into the top-10 of a couple more lists in the Yankee record books, too. With 14 runs scored, he’ll pass Don Mattingly for 10th place there, and with 35 more RBI, he’ll also jump ahead of Mattingly and into 10th place on that leaderboard.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran is approaching a few nice round numbers this season. With eight more home runs, he’ll be the fourth switch hitter to reach the 400-homer milestone. Beltran can join an even more exclusive club, too, when he hits No. 400. He’d be just the fifth player in MLB history with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases in a career, joining A-Rod, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

If he stays healthy, he should also reach two more benchmarks: 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI. He is at 2,454 hits and 1,443 RBI entering Tuesday’s season opener. The only switch hitters in baseball with 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI are Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is also nearing membership in the 400-homer club, and is just six away as he begins his 14th major-league season. The only other switch hitter to hit 400 homers that early into his career was Mickey Mantle. Eight other first baseman totaled 400 homers in their first 14 career seasons: Carlos Delgado, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire.

Starlin Castro
The 26-year-old enters 2016 needing nine hits to reach the 1,000-hit mark. His gap-to-gap power and ability to hit for average is underrated and rare for a player at his age and position. He would be just the seventh middle infielder to compile 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

CC Sabathia
If Sabathia can hold onto his rotation spot, he can enjoy a few round-number milestones. First, he is just 11 1/3 innings pitched shy of 3,000 for his career. Only 10 other left-handers have gotten to that mark in their age-35 season or younger, as CC is about to do. And of that group of 10, only Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich also had at least 2,500 strikeouts on their resume like Sabathia.

He’s also moving up the Yankee pitching lists. With two more starts, he’ll be the 17th guy to start 200 games for the Yankees, and he needs three wins to become the 17th pitcher with 100 wins for the franchise.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

The Crookeds and the Straights

“You got to take the crookeds with the straights.” Few lines can more accurately sum up the course of a baseball season than this one. Opening Day for the Yankees is just one sleep away and so our tired, baseball-starved feet finally rest at the variously crooked and straight path that is the 162-game marathon of a Major League season. Just like the 30 teams, each individual player will have his own crooked and straight moments to form the mosaic of his season. Hopefully for the Yankees’ players, there are more straights than crookeds. Let’s take a look at those possibilities for the place that’s a big question for the Yanks: the mound

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Middle Relief

I’ll take this as a group instead of going player-by-player, since the same thing applies to just about all of them. Here lies the boom and bust potential of the team. If they can preserve the leads that the starters–not always likely to go deep–can hand to them, they can help overcome the iffiness of the rotation and hand things off to the definitively solid back end of the bullpen. If not, they make the back end of the bullpen almost meaningless. The faces in here will change throughout the year, but the job remains the same: just get the outs when your name is called.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Ivan Nova

I touched on his relief potential earlier in the year, and I’ll stick to my story here. The straight side of things is that Nova becomes Adam Warren. The crooked is that he continues being Ivan Nova, a pitcher whose only new trick is inconsistency in a new role. Ironically, going crooked instead of straight may be Nova’s best shot; like I wrote back in late January, if he focuses on his sinker and his curve, he may turn out alright as a reliever.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances

This is the place where the Yankees are mostly likely to have things go straight. Miller and Betances–along with Aroldis Chapman–are the safest bets of any Yankee players to be their elite selves this year. If things go crooked, it’s because Miller’s newly injured wrist isn’t holding up or Betances’ innings catch up to him. Luckily, the Yankees are crooked-proof here thanks to the three-headed monster they’ve assembled that will be hard to defeat; they’ve got insurance for insurance.

CC Sabathia

The straight path for CC is a lot more crooked than it is for others. There is not likely to be a return to dominance or even a return to goodness. All we’ve got to hope for here is a straight shot from April to October that includes health. Sabathia is going to be the fifth starter and all he needs to do is perform like one.

Masahiro Tanaka

The difference between crooked and straight matters most when it comes to Tanaka. Going straight, he can finally pitch a full season and be the ‘full time’ ace that injuries haven’t allowed him to be. Going crooked, he can finally prove a lot of amateur injury experts right and hurt his elbow for good. With so many question marks on the mound, it would be great for Tanaka to be the anchor we’ve all wanted him to be. He’s got frontline potential that obviously plays in the season, and would be great in the playoffs, especially paired with…

(Getty)
(Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi/Michael Pineda

Way back in November, I wrote about the mutual crossroads that Nasty Nate and Big Mike were about to approach; now they’ve arrived. The crooked part of the path sees their development stalling. The straight path sees Eovaldi continuing his second half surge and Pineda rediscovering his pre-Mother’s Day form. If you had to choose which one of these things if more likely, which would you? Because I have no idea. These two are a mystery, bigger even than…

Luis, you're No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Luis, you’re No. 1. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Luis Severino

Severino, no longer a rookie, will be counted on to take a step forward this season. Hopefully, that step is straight. We shouldn’t expect dominance and we shouldn’t expect him to meet his full potential already, but a straight step by Severino would boost the Yankees now and in the future. If he doesn’t step straight, though, he’s still young enough that he’s got time to correct his ‘gait.’ A crooked step by “Sevvy” might be bad for 2016, but luckily, it doesn’t mean the end of him.

It’s easy today to get overly emotional with each pitch, each play, each game–especially with the immediacy of social media. But we need to remember to try to stay calm. It’s a long road from here to November, and the path will be winding; we’ve got to take the crookeds with the straights.