As the possibility of a staff-saving trade dwindles into the twilight hours of the trade deadline, there’s been a lot of negative talk from fans about this team’s hopes down the stretch. And who’s to blame them? Amid the team’s recent skid is the red flashing light of the starting pitching, which has been pretty much obliterated in the past month. It’s easy to extrapolate those struggles into the months of August and September and assume these issues will persist.
But I’m here to shine some light through the clouds, to provide a lantern in the abyss that is the Yankee pitching staff. There’s good news: historically, the current starting five pitchers on this team have performed well down the stretch. There’s hope, and evidence, that the pitching woes could right themselves.
Tanaka, coming off the worst start of his career, is potentially the most concerning pitcher in the rotation right now. As of today, he’d probably be your game one starter in the playoffs. The good news is Tanaka’s best month historically has always been August, where he posts bests in ERA (3.29), WHIP (1.066), and SO/W (5.75) ratio.
For what it’s worth, July has historically always been his worst month, so while it might not feel like there’s any chance he’ll pitch to those numbers, there’s hope that he can flip a switch as in past seasons. His September splits are also among his best with his third-best ERA (3.65) and second-best SO/W ratio (5.17). And let’s not forget the playoffs, where he holds a dominant 1.50 ERA across 30 innings.
Yes, Sabathia is currently on the IL, but given his ability to get stronger down the stretch, he had to be included here. He obviously has had a long career and one that can really be split into his ace years and his later years. So while throughout his career August and September have been his best months (3.55 and 2.97 ERA respectively), that story actually still holds a fair bit of water if you look at recent history. In 2016, while he had a poor ERA in August, his strikeout and WHIP numbers with some of his best that season. Then it all clicked in September when he pitched to a 2.27 ERA and 1.21 WHIP across 35.2 innings.
In 2017 he returned to his career trends with a strong (for him at this point in his career) 3.86 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in August and a 3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in September. Those numbers were down from above 4 ERAs in every other month outside of a surprisingly dominant June. Last year Sabathia had a very strong August (2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) before stumbling to a 5.40 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in September. Even considering that, the takeaway here is that in his twilight years, he seems to be able to turn it on for at least one of the two months down the stretch. Given his recent injury, the smart money this season would be on September.
Public enemy number one (though he did throw a quality start on Tuesday), Happ also enjoys his best results in the final months of the season. Over his career, Happ has pitched to a 3.72 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in August, his second-best numbers for any month. September sees that improve significantly further with a 3.00 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and best SO/W ratio for any month at 2.96. He’s also thrown the most innings in those two months, showing an ability to stay healthy down the stretch. Perhaps last night was a sign of future improvement to come.
Paxton, who’s still trying to recapture his early-season magic since returning from a knee injury has solid numbers down the stretch as well, though not the best out of any month. His August career splits show his second-best ERA (2.96) third-best WHIP (1.19) and third-best SO/W ratio (3.72). His September numbers are more middling (at least for him) with a 3.76 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 3.18 SO/W. If he can right his struggles this year, there’s no reason to think he would tire out towards the end of the season. Worth noting is that Paxton has also never pitched in the postseason.
German is basically in uncharted territory from here on out. He’s never pitched in August in the majors and has thrown only 7 innings in September. Those innings did produce solid results, giving up just 4 hits and 3 walks against 14 strikeouts with a 2.57 ERA. Still, though, German may be starting to approach his innings limit, and the Yankees will probably get fancy with trying to use him in the bullpen or as an opener. If his performance against the Red Sox on Sunday is any indication, though, the Yankees will do everything they can to manage his innings so they can use him down the stretch.
So overall there’s reason to be at least a little bit hopeful. Maybe the Yankees go out and get another starter, but if they don’t, know that this ragtag group of Yankee starters has had good to great results down the stretch. This is a staff that pitched well in the first half of the season and there’s certainly evidence to suggest they can do that again in August, September, and beyond. And that’s not even considering what Luis Severino or Jordan Montgomery might be able to contribute.