We all know about the injuries. The 2019 Yankee were decimated by the injury bug during the first month of the season. Yes there have been some unexpected bright spots in the lineup recently — Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and Thairo Estrada come to mind. Heck, even Cameron Maybin has contributed since he was acquired. The bullpen hasn’t lived up to its lofty expectations yet, but we have seen a Tommy Kahnle resurgence that has been a pleasant surprise. Our own John Bleh wrote about that earlier this week. This Yankee team was supposed to be built on offense and back-end pitching, but it’s the starting rotation that has kept the Yankees afloat during the first month of the season.
Let’s talk about the numbers. Yes, the important ones, not pitcher wins. I’m going to express these rankings in terms of the American League only. No one cares about the National League, and they get to strike out the opposing pitcher once every 2-3 innings anyway.
Current Team AL Rankings:
Strikeout Rate: 2nd (9.04 K/9)
Walk Rate: 5th (2.76 BB/9)
ERA: 4th (3.58)
FIP: 6th (3.88)
All of the above numbers lead to the Yankees starters being 2nd in all of MLB with 3.7 WAR. This is the way you keep your head above water until the All Stars get back. Keep in mind, all of the above numbers are without Luis Severino, perhaps the best Yankee starter, not throwing a pitch yet this season.
In my opinion, the starting rotation breaks down as follows: 2 high end arms, 2 mid rotation arms that will keep you in the game, and 1 back end arm that will give you a chance to win.
The High End Arms
James Paxton has been incredible since Carlos Beltran told him he was tipping pitches. In his first season with the Yanks, he has thrown 34.2 innings with an absurd 13.24 k/9. His 2.25 FIP and 1.5 WAR both rank second in the American League only to Matthew Boyd of the Tigers (2.21 FIP, 1.6 WAR). This is the guy the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded for him in the offseason. Paxton has stepped up in the absence of Severino and has become the de facto ace of the staff.
When the Yankees traded for Nathan Eovaldi, they got another arm as a “throw in.” That arm was a low level lottery ticket arm from Single-A. His name? Domingo German. German has always shown electric stuff, but this season he has shown a pitching intelligence that we haven’t seen before. Yes he can still throw it by you, but he is learning to set up hitters. Add in improved walk rates and a much improved curveball, and you have yourself a top of the rotation starter. German currently has a 3.02 FIP with a 0.9 WAR. That’ll play.
The Mid Rotation Arms
Tanaka’s still got it. He may not be the staff ace anymore, but he has the ability on any given night to use his various breaking pitches to shut down a lineup. He will lean on his four seam fastball for a few starts, and then switch up to his sinker. Same applies for his slider and splitter usage. He is one of the most adaptable pitchers I have watched over the years, and he is doing just that to keep the Yanks in games this season. Thus far he has a 4.20 FIP, and has compiled 0.7 WAR. Expect that FIP to come down a little through the year, as his homerun rate is a little elevated at this moment — even for him.
It was a rough beginning to the season for J.A. Happ, but he has settled down in his last few starts. So far his FIP is an unsightly 5.17. This is undoubtedly due to his reduced strikeout rate, which has plummeted from 9.78 K/9 last season to 6.61 K/9 this season. It’s not unreasonable to expect a 36 year old’s strikeout rate to dip a little bit, but this is extreme. Hopefully Happ will find a little extra velocity this summer when it warms up and returns to striking out batters at a more respectable rate. For now though, just keep us in the game and give us a chance to win.
The Back End Arm
3000 career strikeouts for the big man the other night. What an accomplishment. CC Sabathia has really completed his pitching transformation and man was it fun to witness over the years. At the end of your pitching career it’s about stranding as many runners as you can and getting out of jams. That’s what Andy Pettitte did late in his career as well. Get a big double play here, a big strikeout there, and grind through the start. This is essentially what CC is doing. He is changing speeds and throwing pitches that move. Nothing straight. All cutters, sliders, and changeups. Sabathia so far this season has a 2.66 ERA over his 20.1 innings. He’s not the workhorse he once was, but he’s a more than capable 5th starter. The only thing I wish is that we give him the ride off into the sunset he deserves with #28.