The New York Yankees starting rotation has been a point of intense contention all season. When the games matter the most, it can set the tone for the team.
Since free agency started prior to the 2019 season, New York Yankees fans have been clamoring for elite starting pitching. With one of the best starting lineups and the deadliest bullpen in baseball, the starting rotation seemed to be the only questionable link on an otherwise perfect team.
The problems were exacerbated when 2018 ace Luis Severino was shelved in spring training, causing him to miss the entire season to this point.
The starting rotation conversations intensified at the trade deadline when the unit as a whole suffered through a historically bad week and a half just days before the deadline. Things got so bad that Twitter lunatics even called to trade Gleyber Torres to the Detroit Tigers for Matthew Boyd.
Regardless, there’s no pitching help coming at this point in the season. And that’s totally fine. The Yankees have a good rotation that’s capable of giving their fantastic offense a chance to win every game. Even if the starters falter, their deep bullpen can cover a lot of innings in dominant fashion.
And so, here’s how the Yankees starting rotation is shaping up for October baseball:
1. James Paxton
Barring some catastrophic meltdown of a month, I think it’s safe to say that James Paxton will get the ball for Game 1. Since placing more stock in his knuckle-curve, he’s pitched like the ace that Brian Cashman thought he was acquiring. Paxton has also shown the ability to work deep into a game and dominating an opposing lineup.
2. Domingo German
Next, the ball should be turned over to Domingo German. German has had one of the biggest breakout years of any Yankee that didn’t get a lot of attention in spring training. He leads the team with 17 wins this season and showed that even on bad days, he battles and keeps the team in every game.
The only question surrounding German is how his body will hold up, having pitched more innings this season than he’s ever pitched before. Both German and Aaron Boone reiterate that he feels great. Most importantly, they ensured that there will be no innings limit coming down the final stretch and into the postseason.
That won’t stop Boone from getting German some extra rest or even taking him out of a game earlier in his pitch count should the situation dictate it. But, if we see his stuff and command take a dip at the end of the season, it may cause some hesitation to throw him second in the rotation in the postseason.
3. Masahiro Tanaka
When it comes to pitching in big games, Masahiro Tanaka has been there and done that. Over the course of his career, we’ve seen him show up with absolutely dominant stuff under the brightest lights. In past seasons, it was a guarantee that games against the Red Sox or fellow Japanese pitchers, Tanaka was going at least seven innings.
However, this season has been different for Tanaka. As has been well documented, changes in the baseballs drastically altered his ability to throw the splitter, his best pitch. It got so bad that a month ago, he had to change the grip completely. As such, he transitioned to throwing his slider more often. Per Fangraphs, his splitter usage has dropped three percent while his slider and fastball usage are both up by about four percent each.
While Tanaka may not have the strikeout stuff that he used to have, he can still get a lot of ground balls. He is fully capable of putting forth a strong game to get the Yankees to their big horses in the bullpen.
4. The Opener
The Yankees can get really weird with the fourth spot in the rotation and I’m all here for it.
When the Yankees re-signed J.A. Happ this past offseason, they thought they were getting a guy who could give consistent quality starts from the back of the rotation. And they had every right to believe that. After acquiring him from the Blue Jays, Happ was fantastic for the Yankees. He finished the season with a 7-0 record and a 2.69 ERA. While it’s fair to say that was a great run from a solid pitcher, the team expected more in 2019. Happ has been downright awful this year and is now just pitching to get a spot on the postseason roster.
On the other side of the coin, the Yankees have been really strong in opener games this year. The combination of Chad Green and Nestor Cortes Jr. put forth some of the best games of the year. For most of the season, a Chad Green start was as close to a guaranteed win as possible.
The wrinkle here is that Severino is close to returning. Severino won’t have enough time to build up to his usual 100 pitch workload, but the Yankees see him as someone that can throw 50-60 pitches in a start. We could see Severino and Green combine to get the Yankees through five innings before handing it to the bullpen.
At the end of the day, it’s possible the Yankees will only carry three starters in the postseason. Happ may crack the roster but it will be in a relief role.
Paxton, German and Tanaka can all lock down an opposing offense on any given night. Tack on extended use of the Yankees best asset in a game four and concerns about the rotation’s ability to win in October start drifting away.
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