5 Issues: Tanaka arrives, Ells back at Fens

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
8:00
PM ET
Heading into the Yankees-Red Sox series in Boston, we take a look at five issues surrounding the first-place New York Yankees (11-8).

1. Tanaka's time, Ells' return: Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury have a couple of things in common as they arrive at Fenway on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesRed Sox fans can be coldhearted, so will Jacoby Ellsbury get a warm reception in his Boston return?
They both have lived up to the hype and both are about as stoic as Mount Rushmore -- and as quotable, too.

So as Tanaka and Ellsbury arrive -- or return, in the center fielder's case -- on the big stage of Fenway Park on Tuesday, they don't seem the least bit overwhelmed.

Tanaka -- 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA and the most swings and misses in baseball -- said he has watched the Yankees-Red Sox series on TV from Japan. However, when the Red Sox came to the Bronx 10 days ago, he didn't really notice much of a fever.

"I’m sure the fans will be heated up a bit and it should be a good experience going up on the mound that day and I'm very much looking forward to it," Tanaka told reporters Sunday in Tampa.

Tanaka is making hitters miss at an alarming rate, as Newsday's Jim Baumbach demonstrated.

To comprehend just how good Tanaka's swing-and-miss rate of 16.1 percent (49 out of 305 pitches, according to fangraphs.com) is through three games, consider that Texas' Yu Darvish led the majors last year at 12.6 percent and that the league average this year is 9.4 percent.

The last time a starting pitcher went a full season with a swing-and-miss ratio this high was Arizona's Randy Johnson in 2002. That year The Big Unit induced swings-and-misses on 16.4 percent of his pitches en route to striking out 334 in 260 innings.


Meanwhile, it is unclear how the Boston fans will react upon Ellsbury's return. Ellsbury spent nine years in the Sox organization and helped the team win two championships. Still, he left for the Yankees' $153 million, seven-year deal when Boston was not going anywhere near that figure.

Ellsbury, who leads Yankees regulars with a .338 average, said he hasn't thought much about what the reaction will be.

"We'll see what happens," Ellsbury, 30, said. "I gave the organization everything I had for a third of my life. Nine years in an organization, drafted by them, came up and won two World Series. I left it all on the field."

[+] Enlarge With Ivan Nova out, should Brian Cashman go shopping for a new pitcher.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIvan Nova is likely out for the season.
2. Cashmanian Devil: Ivan Nova is likely done for the season and maybe more than half of next year. Whatever you think of Nova, he is a certifiable big league starter. So how do you replace him?

The Yankees could look to the trade market. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post threw out some names, starting with Cliff Lee.

Other possible trade targets include Cleveland’s Justin Masterson, the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, Arizona’s Bronson Arroyo and (yikes) Lee’s Phillies teammate A.J. Burnett.


That would be tremendous if Cashman went for Burnett again. I highly, highly doubt it. (Did I mention highly?)

In fact, I don't think the Yankees will trade for a legit starter in the near term. The fact is that Lee, for example, is owed more than $50 million for 2015 and '16, if he vests an option. Besides having to pay that type of dough, the Yankees would have to gut their farm system.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are trying to restock their minor league system with prospects. Other teams will have to see the Gary Sanchezes, Tyler Austins and the Manny Banueloses of the Yankees' universe develop on the Triple-A level before they seriously consider making a big trade for them.

So it seems cost-prohibitive on a number of different levels for the Yankees to make a big deal for a starter.

[+] EnlargeVidal Nuno
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonVidal Nuno has given Joe Girardi plenty of reason to start.
3. If you don't look good, we don't look good: Vidal Nuno did a fine job Sunday and may have earned another start. Nova's turn in the rotation will next come up against the Los Angeles Angels this Saturday at the Stadium. The easiest thing to do would be to just put Nuno in that spot.

Nuno has sort of earned it. Let's just say his name was Masahiro Tanaka or Michael Pineda, and I told you his career numbers as a major league starter were 1-1 with a 1.64 ERA in four starts.

Yes, it is just four starts, but everyone would be going crazy about the guy. Instead, the 26-year-old arrived off Cleveland's scrap heap. He barely throws 90 mph but finds a way to get people out. Last year, he impressed before a groin injury wrecked his season.

He probably deserves a month to see what he can do every fifth day. It won't be 1.64, but it might be serviceable.

(In researching this post, I found this classic commercial from Vidal Sassoon: If we don't look good, you don't look good.)

4. Warren commissioned: I would like to see how Adam Warren could do with an extended shot in the rotation. Warren's debut in 2012 lowered expectations to a point he has had to fight to become noticed. However, he has pitched pretty well for an extended period.

If you throw out his 2012 debut, his career numbers are encouraging. In that 2 1/3 inning spot start against the White Sox on June 29, 2012, Warren gave up six runs, which represents more than 6 percent of the total runs he has allowed in his career.

If you take that outing out, Warren has a 3.32 career ERA. That's pretty good over his past 86 2/3 innings. Can he go through MLB lineups more than once? That is unknown.

Warren does have a deep enough repertoire to make it very possible. Thus far this season, he has thrown his fastball 41 percent of the time, his slider 27.3 percent, his change 18.4 percent and his curveball 10.4 percent. (The numbers are from FranGraphs, and 2 percent of his pitches were unknown.)

The Yankees may decide Warren is too important for their bullpen, but I think he deserves a shot in the rotation. To me, he is a better option than David Phelps, who went 5-4 with a 4.93 ERA in 12 starts in 2013.

5. Pitching matchups vs. Boston: Opposing Tanaka is Jon Lester (2-2, 2.17). Derek Jeter has hit .320 in 50 at-bats versus Lester.

On Wednesday, it is Pineda (2-1. 1.00 ERA) versus John Lackey (2-2, 5.25). It is Pineda's first appearance as a Yankee at Fenway. He went 4 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs in Boston in a 2011 start with the Mariners. This is the first time he has faced the Red Sox since L'Affair PINEda.

On Thursday, it is CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19) versus Felix Doubront (1-2, 5.48).
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .273
HRM. Teixeira 21
RBIJ. Ellsbury 67
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .775
ERAH. Kuroda 3.81
SOM. Tanaka 135