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2014 Projections: Yankees rotation, closer

3/27/2014
CC Sabathia, Mahahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda could make the Yanks' starting five a strength. Getty Images

The Yankees' pitching is going to be intriguing to watch from start to finish.

Can CC Sabathia regain his ace form? Will Hiroki Kuroda continue to look old or be revived? Does Ivan Nova have the consistency for a solid full season? Will Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda excel on baseball's biggest stage?

All that, and David Robertson will attempt to replace the greatest closer of all time.

So how will it all shake out? Well, ESPN New York has its projections, as does Dan Szymborski and his fancy ZiPS machine. So let’s take a look at what might be a strength of this club.

As we did for the lineup yesterday, we have assigned each Yankees pitcher to one of three categories, compared with the team's performance on the mound last year: On the Way Up, On the Way Down or Push.

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CC Sabathia, LHP

2013: 14-13, 4.78 ERA

ESPN New York Projection: 14-12, 4.15 ERA

ZiPS Projection: 13-11, 4.03 ERA

PUSH: Sabathia was no longer an ace in 2013. In fact, he was barely a fifth starter. His velocity was down, and so was his dominance. He still gave the Yankees 211 innings, which is valuable and demonstrates Joe Girardi's continued faith in the big lefty.

Now, Slim CC is looking to reinvent himself. He knows he needs to because he admits the velocity may not come back. If it doesn’t, Sabathia realizes he will have to be a different type of starter. His smarts have probably been underrated in the past because of his power. Now, they will be on full display.

He should be better than last year, but far from dominant.

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Hiroki Kuroda, RHP

2013: 11-13, 3.31

ESPN New York Projection: 13-11, 3.91

ZiPS Projection: 13-9, 3.74 ERA

ON THE WAY DOWN: Kuroda is a pro’s pro, but that doesn’t stop the aging process. He is 39 and he finished last season in bad shape. He could be OK this year, but overall he will regress.

Kuroda was so good for most of last season, which inflated his final numbers. He won’t be as bad as how he ended, but he won’t be as good as how he started.

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Masahiro Tanaka, RHP

2013: 24-0, 1.27 ERA (Japan)

ESPN New York Projection: 16-7, 3.42 ERA

ZiPS Projection: 12-8, 3.68 ERA

ON THE WAY UP: To begin last year, the Yankees had a 26-year-old starter who once had the potential to be an ace. Phil Hughes never could complement his plus fastball with anything more than a curveball. The changeup he desperately needed to get through lineups a few times never developed with the Yankees.

Why do we bring this up in talking about Tanaka? Tanaka turns 26 in November and by then we will know how his rookie year went. The reason he will fare better in the Bronx than someone like Hughes is because he has control of his seven pitches and his splitter and slider are pluses.

He has very good, but maybe not dominant stuff. Still, he can throw it with such accuracy you should see a lot of six-inning, two-run outings.

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Ivan Nova, RHP

2013: 9-6, 3.10 ERA

ESPN New York Projection: 17-9, 3.02 ERA

ZiPS Projection: 11-9, 3.98

ON THE WAY UP: If you want a guy who could emerge as the new ace, Nova is as good of a choice as any. He also could end up making his annual summer vacation in Scranton.

This is the year we find out if Nova can put together a full season. Whether it's been a byproduct of luck or not, he has always won games. Nova’s winning percentage (37-18, .673) is the third highest in baseball of any starter with at least 50 career starts. Only Kris Medlen (30-13, .698) and Lance Lynn (33-16, .673) are better.

For the final three months of last season, he pitched like a guy who deserved to have a record like that.

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Michael Pineda, RHP

2013: Did not pitch

ESPN New York Projection: 13-8, 3.75

ZiPS Projection: 4-4, 4.65

ON THE WAY UP: Here is one underemphasized part of Pineda’s spring: He looked much more comfortable in the clubhouse. When he arrived from Seattle in 2011 with too much weight and not enough fastball, he seemed overwhelmed by being a Yankee. When a reporter approached, his eyes grew large as if he'd just seen a ghost.

Now, with his English a bit improved, his weight down and his fastball gaining momentum, Pineda seems much more at ease in the clubhouse. The whirlwind of the past two years may lead to much success for Pineda. To me, he is the X factor for this team.

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David Robertson, RHP

2013: 5-1, 2.04 ERA, 5 saves

ESPN New York Projection: 2-4, 1.95 ERA, 36 saves

ZiPS Projection: 5-2, 2.74 ERA, 35 saves

PUSH: Robertson is replacing Mariano Rivera for 2014, not forever. It is an important distinction. Can Robertson have the longevity Rivera had? Almost definitely not. Can he be as good in 2014 as Rivera was in 2013? He sure can.

Rivera had 44 saves and a 2.11 ERA in 2013. Robertson should be able to come close to duplicating that in 2014. The bigger question is if the Yankees can get the ball to him.