There is no doubt the Yankees have better pitchers than a year ago. But will they pitch better?
After CC Sabathia, the Yankees now have the more consistent Hiroki Kuroda replacing A.J. Burnett. The in-shape 2010 version of Phil Hughes is in for the 2011 jalopy model. Ivan Nova returns with a year more experience. And the always steady Freddy Garcia takes the fifth spot again.
Plus, around the corner, the Yankees have Andy Pettitte and a bunch of young studs, including the recuperating Michael Pineda and the almost-ready-for-prime-time trio of David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren. Not to mention the Killer B's, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, developing at Triple-A.
Still, for all the talk about the Yankees' makeshift starting rotation last year, their staff (including their relievers) finished the season with the American League's fourth-best ERA at 3.73. That helped lead to an American League-best 97 regular season wins.
So let's take a look at the Yankees' starters and relievers and tell you where this staff is headed. We will use ESPN insider Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for a second point of view.
2011: 19-8, 3.00 ERA
ZiPS: 17-8, 3.55 ERA
Marchand: The 31-year-old Sabathia struggled late last season as critics harped on about his weight. Sabathia finished the last two months at 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA. After being rain-delayed out of Game 1, he couldn't pitch through the sixth in Game 3, giving up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. His cameo in Game 5 didn't go much better.
Sabathia came to camp a little slimmer than at the end of last year, but, it is reasonable to expect his wins to go down and his ERA to rise, if ever so slightly. So I will go with 17-9 with a 3.65 ERA.
2011: 13-16, 3.07 ERA
ZiPS: 12-9, 4.33 ERA
Marchand: Kuroda is going to a tougher division and a worse home ballpark for a pitcher. Still, he is a pro's pro and doesn't figure to be overwhelmed by the scrutiny of New York.
Part of me thinks he could be the Yankees starter who struggles -- somebody has to, don't they? -- but, in the end, I think he goes 13-8 with an ERA of 4.15.
2011: 5-5, 5.70 ERA
ZiPS: 9-8, 4.04 ERA
Marchand: Hughes might not be an All-Star, as he was in 2010, but I think this will be his best full year. Don't forget he only really pitched at an elite level for about two months in 2010.
This season, he is in better shape and is more determined to perform. I think his changeup is real, he stays healthy and goes 15-7 with a 3.92 ERA.
2011: 16-4, 3.70 ERA
ZiPS: 13-10, 4.44 ERA
Marchand: Most of the advanced metrics have Nova falling off this year, but I think there is something special about the guy's attitude -- if he can stay in the rotation. An injury will probably open a spot for Pettitte, but if Pineda finds his form, Nova will have to pitch well to stay in the starting five. Just like last year, I think he is going to have to continue proving it.
I think he will continue proving himself, but will end up at 14-8 with a 3.95 ERA.
2011: 12-8, 3.62 ERA
ZiPS: 9-8, 4.85
Marchand: You can bet against Steady Freddy, but I won't. It wouldn't surprise me at all if, by the time Pettitte is ready to go, Garcia will be pitching too well to take out of the rotation. The guy is a survivor.
I say he goes 11-7 with a 4.11 ERA this season.
Marchand: If Pettitte can stay healthy, he should be pretty good -- the Andy of old. I just don't know if he will be able to avoid injuries after a year off and his 40th birthday around the corner. Really, the only thing that is important for the Yankees is surviving into October and then having Andy ready.
I say he goes 6-4 with a 4.22 ERA in the regular season.
2011: 9-10, 3.74 ERA
ZiPS: 11-7, 4.11 ERA
Marchand: Pineda now becomes the wild card in the Yankees' season. As bad as he looked throughout spring training, with his fastball hovering around 88-92 mph in most outings, he could have quite the comeback if his shoulder and fastball recover.
He showed his nasty slider during the spring and his change showed promise. If he can control his heater and fire it in the 93-96 range, it is still very possible that he could be the Yankees' No. 2 playoff starter by October.
For now, though, it is a long way back, so I'll predict 8-6 with a 4.14 ERA.
2011: 1-2, 44 saves, 1.91 ERA
ZiPS: 3-1, not available, 3.12 ERA
Marchand: He's Mo. This could be his last year as a Yankee. I'll go 0.42 ERA and 42 saves for the 42-year-old, who wears No. 42.
2011: 4-0, 1.08 ERA
ZiPS: 4-2, 3.06 ERA
Marchand: You could make an argument that Robertson was the MVP of the team last year. You probably wouldn't win the argument, but you could make it. He won't be as good as last year, but I think he will be plenty good. I'll go 5-2 with a 2.75 ERA.
2011: 2-3, 4.12 ERA
ZiPS: 4-2, 3.15 ERA
Marchand: Soriano is like a little island in the Yankees' clubhouse. He says he doesn't hang out with anyone on the team and, when you see him at his locker, you believe that assessment. So-Ro-Mo never really came to fruition last year, but Soriano could be a key because, if he is right, the Yanks could have a lock-down bullpen from the seventh inning on.
I'll say he will be very good and put himself truly back in the discussion as Mo's heir. So Soriano will have a 2.12 ERA with a 4-1 record.
BEST OF THE REST
Marchand: Boone Logan could have a complement in Clay Rapada from the left side. The Yankees like the idea of a second lefty, but they don't think it is a must. Cory Wade earned his spot last year, while youngsters Phelps, Mitchell or Warren could be the team's long man. Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma could be late-season additions, though the Yankees won't know if they can count on them for a while.