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A brief look at the 2019 rotation

Despite the addition of James Paxton and the re-signings of CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ, many fans are still clamoring for more starting pitching.

In essence, the rotation for 2019 is similar to what it was at the end of 2018, with the only difference being the addition of Paxton. Brian Cashman stated at the onset of the offseason that he intended to add at least two starters, preferably elite. You could argue Paxton fits the elite bill, but perhaps not Happ. Regardless, the Yankees have five starters at the moment not including Sonny Gray, who is bound to be traded sooner or later.

So how would a full season of Paxton and Happ compare to what the Yankees had throughout 2018?

Pitcher Starts
Luis Severino 32
CC Sabathia 29
Masahiro Tanaka 27
Sonny Gray 23
Domingo German 14
J.A. Happ (with NYY) 11
Lance Lynn (with NYY) 9
Jordan Montgomery 6
Luis Cessa 5
Jonathan Loaisiga 4
Chance Adams 1
Jonathan Holder 1

As seen above, the team got 99 starts from those pitchers who would be in the rotation if the season started today. They received 28 starts from German, Lynn, and Cessa. The Yankees were sixth in the entire league last year in “cheap wins” (18), defined as wins in which the starting pitcher of the winning team did not have a quality start (less than five innings pitched or more than three earned runs allowed). They were also slightly below league average in innings per start at 5.3. James Paxton’s career mark is at 5.7.

There are reasons to argue that the rotation is sufficient and that it is not. One argument against it being enough to win the World Series is health.

Tanaka’s elbow has always been a possible question mark; Sabathia had heart and knee procedures this offseason and will turn 39 in July; Happ will turn 37 in October; Paxton has not pitched more than 160.1 innings in a season; Montgomery is expected to return sometime during the 2019 campaign, but how long will he need to round back into form after Tommy John surgery? Will he even be the same pitcher?

Thus, quality depth is needed, and the Yankees would have Loaisiga and German as the two top guys to fill-in if needed (excluding Sonny Gray).

There are also some question marks if the aforementioned starters stay healthy.

After being towards the top of the league in barrel percentage against in 2016 and 2017, Paxton fell towards the bottom of the league in that category in 2018 at 9.4 percent. Similarly, he was towards the bottom of the league in exit velocity against with an 89.4 percent mark. Lastly, he had a high hard-hit rate at 42.1 percent. This means that while he appeared dominant and ace-like at times, he was still getting hit rather hard on average. And his 3.76 ERA does not necessarily scream ace, but rather middle of the rotation. Plus, who knows how he’ll adapt to being a Yankee and pitching in Yankee Stadium?

Severino also comes with concerns, namely tipping his pitches. He had a dominant first half, compiling a 2.31 ERA over 128.1 innings pitched. But after the All-Star Break, that figure skyrocketed to 5.57 over 63.0 innings. If he can find a way to be more consistent, he’s obviously an ace.

Of course, there are a lot of “ifs” with this rotation, but that tends to be the case with most teams. While there are many concerns, the upside is equally impactful. As mentioned, James Paxton has shown flashes of dominance and had a career-high 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which would have ranked fourth in the entire league among qualifiers (a pitcher must have 1.0 innings pitched per team game – Paxton fell just short).

The Yankees’ starting five last season was Severino, Tanaka, Sabathia, Gray, and Montgomery. Therefore, the difference for 2019 is that you’re essentially replacing Gray and Montgomery with Paxton and Happ to start the season, which is an upgrade. Add in the fact that Cashman and company will likely look into an acquisition closer to the trade deadline in July, this rotation does, in fact, appear to be strong than it was a year ago, and could get better with reinforcements mid-season.