Not many things went right for the Yankees in 2016. It was to be expected though. There were no big offseason signings, the prospects they had were not ready for prime time, and their core was built on over-age veterans nearing the end of their contracts.
They did move a number of older players during the season, plus Teixeira retired, A-Rod was released, and more recently they traded Brian McCann freeing up the catcher position for Gary Sanchez. All of these moves, though, revolved around the offense. They have done very little to shore up their pitching staff, but that’s because there is no need.
Despite what we saw in 2016, the Yankees have a terrific core of young arms that is anchored by staff ace Masahiro Tanaka. Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are each on the verge of a breakout, and their numbers should have been much better than what we got last year. Plus they have a number of top arms in their system headlined by Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo. You may want to target all of these pitchers in dynasty leagues while they are still affordable.
The lone bright spot of the staff. Tanaka defied the odds, thumbed his nose at the critics, and finished one-third of an inning shy of 200. His walk rate was elite (1.54 career BB/9) and has ranked in the top-five since his 2014 debut. Part of that is thanks to a high F-Strike% which was up to 64.5% (top-20). The ground ball rate continues to rise, up to 48.2% last year. While the FB% is average at 31%, some of the damage has been negated with an IFFB% over 10.0. Yet somehow his HR/FB% is still high, but at least it was much lower (12%) in 2016.
Last year’s WHIP ranked 11th among qualified starters, and his three-year average ranked 6th behind only Kershaw, Arrieta, Scherzer, Sale and Bumgarner. His ERA also ranked in the top-12 last year among qualifiers, as it did in 2014. He has also reached double-digit win each year despite the missed time in 2014 and 2015. The strikeouts are the only real negative part of his game, but last year’s 7.44 K/9 was still better than average.
Tanaka doesn’t get the fantasy respect he deserves. Other than an average strikeout rate the rest of his game is money. He makes an excellent trade target in dynasty leagues. Some are still skeptical of his non-surgically repaired arm; others don’t like his home park and division. I wouldn’t worry about any of these things. Tanaka is a top-20 arm, but since many don’t value him as such you should be able to get him at a discount. One more year like 2016, though, and you’ll have no chance at buying low.
When Pineda returned in 2014 he looked primed for a breakout. Unfortunately all we got the past two years was replacement level fantasy numbers. However, if you look beyond the standard fantasy numbers there are some encouraging signs. In 2016 he ranked in the top-five among qualified starters in K/9 (10.61), SwStr% (14.1), and F-Strike% (67.3%). The velocity was back up across the board – his fastball averaged 94 MPH. His contact rate was elite at 70.7, ranked behind only Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez. Finally he has a two-year average of 47% on ground balls.
So why didn’t those results show up in his ERA? Well, there was a lot of bad luck involved. He had the second highest BABIP (.331) among qualified starters. His strand rate (70.7%) ranked in the bottom 20. On top of that, only two starting pitchers with a higher FB rate (17%) had a higher HR/FB ratio. Now it wasn’t all bad luck. Pineda’s BB/9 went up to a high (but acceptable) 2.72. Also his hard hit rate continues to rise (32.7%).
Pineda posted a 4.82 ERA, but his FIP was a full-point lower, and his xFIP (3.30) and SIERA (3.40) support the unlucky theory. Home runs will continue to be an issue until he either lowers his hard hit rate or increases his infield fly ball percentage. Still, the walks should come down to minimize the damage. I know we’ve said it before, but Pineda is a tweak away from turning into a top pitching option.
His value in dynasty leagues will depend on the owner. Some in our early rankings have him as a #5 pitcher, but others didn’t even rank him as a top-75 option. If his current owner is down on him you could get him for cheap, possibly for another back-end starter, spare outfielder or bench hitter. I can’t say I’m 100% sold, but those underlying metrics intrigue me enough to want to find out.
Fantasy owners were expecting a lot from Severino after posting top-tier minor league numbers and an impressive debut in 2015. Just like Pineda, Severino fell short of expectations. Over 22 games (11 starts) he ended the year with a 5.83 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. But just like Pineda, Severino had some positive signs underneath those totals. Both his soft (20.6%) and hard (29.4%) contact levels were in elite territory compared to qualified starters. His FB% was somewhat high (31.2%), but an 11.9 IFFB% should help minimize the damage in the future. Also, his fastball velocity was up a full-point from 2015 (96.1 MPH) which should help raise his 8.37 K/9.
Another thing Severino has in common with Pineda is luck – bad luck that is. Among qualified starters his .324 BABIP ranked in the bottom-10. His strand rate was even worse (64%), ranking dead last. And despite a low fly ball rate (for balls that actually made it out of the infield), his HR/FB% (16.4) was much too high. There was one other non-luck related issue. After posting a 2.49 BB/9 in the minors he was up to 3.17 in 2016. That should come down some as he gains more experience and exposure to the majors.
Maybe our expectations for Severino were too high in 2016. That doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around, though. Weak contact, high grounders, and lower than average fly balls combined with high heat and improvements in both walks and strikeouts could vault him back into fantasy relevance. Maybe even the top-25 in a year or so. This is still the same pitcher many tagged as a sleeper. Unfortunately he was an afterthought for some here when it came to our top-75 SP rankings. If many experts aren’t ranking him high, how do you think your league-mates will value him?
Last year Severino experienced your typical 22-year-old growing pains. He may even experience some more in 2017, but don’t let that get you down if you do trade for him. There is talent here waiting to bust out. This is a perfect target for a rebuilding team a year or two away from competing.
Justus Sheffield/Domingo Acevedo
It will be a race to see which one of these fireballers gets to the majors first. Both have elite strikeout ability: Sheffield with a 9.72 K/9 over 274 minor league innings and Acevedo with a 9.95 over 195 innings. Sheffield has slight control issues (3.28 BB/9), but Acevedo has improved in this area (2.49 BB/9). Acevedo has an advantage over Sheffield when it comes to the long ball with a 0.27 HR/9 compared to a 0.46, but both are great in this department. Finally Sheffield is a little more hittable with an 8.74 H/9 compared to Acevedo’s 8.14.
Neither pitcher has pitched above High-A (I don’t count Sheffield’s four-inning taste last year). Normally that would mean they are each a few years away, but given how quickly teams have pushed players through the minors I would not be surprised to see one or both of them in New York in 2017.
I see Acevedo getting the first crack. His fastball sits in the high-90s and has been clocked at over 100 MPH. He also possesses a terrific changeup and has been working on his slider. Even without a third plus pitch, the fastball/changeup would be enough for now. Sheffield also throws in the high 90s, but he’s more comfortable and exhibits more control when his fastball is in the mid to low 90s. His curveball is coming along, but it may need a little more work before his debut. The changeup also needs work, but it has shown improvements already so just a little tinkering next year.
The Yankees released one of my favorite sleepers, Nathan Eovaldi, which opens up one rotation spot. CC Sabathia is in the final year of his contract which will clear another spot. For 2017 (provided they don’t sign anyone or make a trade), the Yankees will go with some combination of Chad Green and Luis Cessa as their fifth starter. If 2016 was an indicator for the future I don’t see either lasting which will force them to look to the minors by mid-season.
Dynasty owners should target Acevedo now as he is under the radar and doesn’t have the Sheffield name recognition. You could easily get him for a prospect ranked outside the top-100 in my opinion. Sheffield may cost you a slightly better prospect, but depending on the name I might be willing to pay up.
In a year or two the Yankees could have one of the top rotations in the American League. Granted Severino and Pineda could flop and Acevedo and Sheffield could fall apart in Double-A just as easily, but I’m trying to be positive – for once.
Be sure to visit Fantasy Rundown for the best fantasy links from the top sites on the web.