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What was the best pitcher start last year?

It’s been more than a month since the baseball season was supposed to start. Because of that, it feels like the offseason never ended. That sucks, but the offseason is also a time for eternal optimism. Every player is in the best shape of their lives and about to have the best season of their careers.

I was thinking about the New York Yankees’ pitching staff, and how it could actually be really strong this year. Sure, Luis Severino is out for the year, but a 1-2-3 of Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and James Paxton is pretty great. With the theme of optimism, I was thinking of just how special that rotation could be. What would be the best-case scenario?

The easiest way to think about that was to look at each pitcher’s highest point last year. That is, what was their best start? Because in theory, that is their potential and if everything goes right, what could happen this year, whenever baseball returns. One way to measure this is by Game Score, which is a stat Bill James invented. You start with 50 and based on how many hits, runs, innings, and strikeouts your score is adjusted. It’s too early in the morning for actual math so think about it like this – a 50 is average. Anything over 80 is great. Anything over 90 is incredible. And if you reach 100, then you basically either threw a no-hitter or struck out a ton of batters. Here is each Yankee starters’ best 2019 start by Game Score.

Masahiro Tanaka

June 17 against Tampa Bay: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1BB, 10 K, Game Score: 92

Tanaka was electric in this CGSO of new rival Tampa Bay and he even had 10 K to go along with it which is rare for him. Tanaka only needed 111 pitches to finish the game off, and in this day in age, anytime a starter can pitch a complete game is impressive. Even more impressive, the Yankees only won this game 3-0 which meant Tanaka had to have it every inning and stay locked in. When he’s on, there’s nobody more equipped to go through a lineup like this than Tanaka.

James Paxton

April 16 against Boston: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K, Game Score: 89

This was a HUGE game early in the season. With the Yankees struggling and coming off a sweep by Houston, they returned to the Bronx for a series with Boston. Paxton came up big time in this game outdueling Chris Sale and providing a spark to get the Yankees going. The next day was the Brett Gardner grand slam game, and I can’t help but think Paxton shoving the day before helped set the tone for what was to come that day for Gardner and for the rest of the season.

Gerrit Cole

September 8 against Seattle: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 15 K, Game Score: 91

Okay so this came while Cole pitched for Houston but it doesn’t really matter because he’s on the Yankees now. And I like writing that. Cole threw 96 pitches in those 8 innings and the only reason he didn’t finish off the game was that Houston was winning 21-1. I’m sure that was a result of nothing but pure skill by the Houston batters, of course.

J.A. Happ

September 7 against Boston: 6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, Game Score: 75

Although not as impressive as the other starts on this list, this is what you hope for with J.A. Happ. Get you through six innings and keep you in the game. What’s encouraging about Happy is his best two starts last year came in Sept. against Oakland and Boston, both of whom have good offenses. Late season success could mean Happ figured something out and will return to a serviceable starter this season.

Jordan Montgomery

May 23, 2017, against Kansas City: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K, Game Score: 72

I cheated a little and picked this Monty start from 2017 because he missed almost all of 2018 and 2019 with Tommy John surgery. What is most encouraging about this start is the 0 walks. Monty struggled with walks at times, and the biggest step for someone coming back from TJ is command. Walks are the first thing I’ll be looking at for Monty this year, and if he can keep those down, he will be more than just a fifth starter.

This is a rotation you can dream on, and I’m very excited for baseball to return, whenever it does.

You can contact Rohan on Twitter @rohanarcot20