This is the second in our series of comparing the current roster to the 2013 cast. For our look at the offense remodeling, go here. Today, we look at the revamped starting rotation.

The 2013 Yankees featured a starting rotation that put up the 13th-best ERA (4.08) in MLB over 13th-most innings (970). Skill-wise, they were equally run of the mill with the 16th-rated xFIP (3.90) and 11th-rated FIP (3.88). All told, the starters were credited with 472 total runs allowed (17th).

The Yankees will return three of those starting pitchers: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. Despite the failed predictions of some overconfident naysayers, (like this idiot) they will be joined by “potential #3 guy“, Masahiro Tanaka, and a PTBNL. Let’s see if we should expect the extra money to translate into improved performance. (2014 ERA/IP represent Oliver’s projected ERA and Innings Pitched):

#1
2013: CC Sabathia (4.78 ERA, 211 IP)
2014: CC Sabathia (3.74 ERA, 216 IP)

Everyone believes Tanaka will be the big shot in the arm for the Yankees rotation, but the most significant improvement is likely to come right here — from 2013 Sabathia to 2014 Sabathia.

CC was Girardi’s workhorse again last year, pitching over 200 innings for the 7th straight year (fun fact: the only pitcher with a longer current streak of consecutive 200+ IP seasons is Mark Buehrle with 13 straight!). It’s true that he is in decline. Sabathia is never again going to throw the 240 inning seasons he did in his prime. His strikeout, walk, and groundball rates have all fallen off.

However, the big takeaway here is that Sabathia’s ERA was an illusion created by a high HR/FB rate (13%) and a very low strand rate (67%). CC’s weight appears to have already regressed towards league average. Expect his other numbers to regress a bit towards his career average and for Sabathia to contribute a full WAR to 2 WAR more than in 2013.

#2
2013: Hiroki Kuroda (3.31 ERA, 201 IP)
2014: Hiroki Kuroda (3.74 ERA, 205 IP)

Kuroda ended up being the true ace of the staff last year. He’s been an incredibly reliable pitcher since coming over from Japan in 2008. He’s only missed significant time due to injury once in his MLB career — a 117 inning campaign in 2009. Other than that blip, he’s never pitched less than 183 innings and he’s had three consecutive campaigns of 200+ IP. He’s also posted ERAs below 3.40 for four straight seasons.

You can’t expect much more out of Kuroda as he enters his age 39 season, but he just shows no sign of getting worse. Kuroda is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. Expect him to hold serve and give the Yankees an advantage over almost every other team at the #2 slot.

#3
2013: Andy Pettitte (3.74 ERA, 185 IP)
2014: Masahiro Tanaka (2.59 ERA, 205 IP)

It’s tough to find any scout who thinks he’ll be worse than a #2 pitcher. By all accounts, we will see one of the best splitters in the world — an extreme groundball-inducing pitch that is surely making AL East hitters sweat. Tanaka also reportedly has a top notch slider to go along with a solid low-90’s fastball that he spots on both corners. He also mixes in a slow curve. There’s a consensus that he’s a very smart pitcher. Maybe they’re just saying that because he’s Asian, but he should be fun to watch.

All that said, we should taper our expectations. Ignore Oliver’s projection — they either failed to translate any of his Japanese stats to MLB or were drunk off Sapporo. Oliver projects Clayton Kershaw, the world’s best pitcher at a 5.8 WAR. Oliver projects Tanaka for a 6.4 WAR. Um, ok?!? Moving on…

Tanaka hasn’t been a monster regular season inning-eater. He did throw 212 innings in 2013 and topped out at 226 in 2011. However, in his other 5 seasons, he ranged from 155-186 IP. Considering the jump in league difficulty, you’d have to make your over/under somewhere below 200 IP. Predicting ERA for any pitcher is a tricky business, and doing so for someone who has zero MLB track record is a fool’s errand. If the scouts are to be believed, we should expect an ERA somewhere in the 3.00-4.00 corridor.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, (ERA in the 3.00-4.00 range, little short of 200 IP) maybe you were recently perusing Andy Pettitte’s 2013 stat line. Yes, it appears Tanaka has big upside, so he could well surpass Pettitte’s WAR contribution. Andy’s 3.2 WAR was solidly above-average, so it would take a very strong rookie season for Tanaka to blow by that. Here’s to hoping that Tanaka continues the journey 1st class style.

#4
2013: Ivan Nova (3.10 ERA, 139 IP)
2014: Ivan Nova (3.95 ERA, 169 IP)

The self-proclaimed ‘Best Pitcher In The World’ had a hell of a breakthrough in 2013. Nova’s ERA has jumped around in his career: from 4.50 in his rookie year, to 3.70 in 2011, to 5.02 in 2012, to a stellar 3.10 last year. Yet, the savvy fan will look below the surface and see a clear trend in xFIP over those seasons: 4.35, 4.16, 3.92, 3.68. Even if his skills hold steady this year, his ERA is going to regress.

Nova is young, but he’s never surpassed 170 IP. So all told, 2014 Nova isn’t likely to add more WAR than 2013 Nova, but a higher ERA over more innings should result in a fairly comparable output.

#5
2013: Phil Hughes (4.95 ERA, 145 IP), David Phelps (4.93, 65 IP)
2014: Michael Pineda (3.97 ERA, 97 IP), David Phelps (4.20 ERA, 111 IP)

This is the roster slot with the greatest amount of uncertainty. Fortunately, the standard has been set fairly low. It’s going to take a committee to fill out this slot this year, but they have a good shot of improving upon that ERA.

The Yankees will give Pineda first crack (giggity) at the 5 hole — they gave up their #1 prospect for him and he easily has the highest ceiling. Don’t expect him to approach that ceiling for a while (if ever) and don’t expect him to pitch more than 100 IP. For however long Pineda is able to keep his arm healthy, he should be at least average.

Phelps’ ERA was the result of a bad luck combo: a .320 BABIP and a 67% strand rate. His xFIP of 4.19 when starting reveals a pitcher who has made some strides, and should also be a solidly average pitcher in his swing man role. Behind Phelps on the depth chart are Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno (and maybe late in the season, Manny Banuelos). They’ll likely all be needed at some point to reinforce the rotation.

While Tanaka will enter the season with all the hype, the best bet for improvement in the Yankees rotation should be the #1 and #5 slots. This is a very respectable starting rotation that should stack up fairly well with just about any AL rotation except for the Tigers.