Making sense of the Yankees' starting rotation

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed and the Yankees’ were very active, landing multiple useful pieces including front line starter Sonny Gray. In addition to bringing in Gray, the team also acquired veteran left handed starter Jaime Garcia from the Minnesota Twins. Because they lost Michael Pineda for the season, we were all pretty sure the team would add a starter by the deadline. What we did not expect, however, was for the team to add multiple starters and now that they have these new arms in the fold, the team will have to sort out what their rotation will look like from now through the end of the season.

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Aside from the injury to Pineda, the Yankees’ starting pitchers have been pretty healthy all season with the only other exception being the hamstring injury that cost CC Sabathia a month. Because of that, the addition of two starting pitchers leaves them with a problem most teams would be glad to have at this point in the season. The team announced on Tuesday that they will use a six man rotation for their next turn and then return to a five man rotation after that. That means that someone will be losing their spot and although it seems unfair, it is likely to be Jordan Montgomery. The Yankees had been flirting with the A’s about a trade for Gray for several weeks prior to the deadline and although many people expected that deal to get done by the deadline, the Yankees’ were not taking any chances.

Brian Cashman surprised us all Sunday night by going out and getting Jaime Garcia from the Twins for a very reasonable cost to further shore up the rotation. As I mentioned a moment ago, the addition of Garcia in addition to Gray will likely cost Jordan Montgomery his spot in the starting rotation but it remains to be seen what his role will be going forward. He has said all the right things since the acquisition of Gray, but Montgomery has been a member of the rotation since opening day and has had a very good rookie season, making 20 starts spanning 110.2 IP and posting a 4.15 ERA. Montgomery has also allowed fewer hits than innings pitched this season with 105 and has only issued 35 walks. Altogether his rookie year has been a promising one so far and if he does get removed from the rotation in the near future, I’m sure the Yankees would consider his campaign a successful one.

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One of the reasons his potential removal from the rotation may be to his benefit is due to the number of innings he has pitched this season. Last season he pitched 139.1 innings in Triple A. Most teams try to limit pitchers to an increase of about 30 to 40 innings from the year before and if Montgomery were to make 10 more starts and pitch five innings in each it would put him around 160 innings for the season with possible playoff appearances at the end of the season as well. This would be pushing it with Montgomery and that is something I can’t see the team doing to him. Whether they send him down to Triple A to keep starting or keep him on the big league club in the bullpen they will keep his long term health in mind. The cost for a pitcher like Garcia was too reasonable to jeopardize his future for a playoff push this year.

What the Yankees ultimately do with Montgomery could very well tie in to how they handle their other young starter, Luis Severino. Severino has been around for a few years and has far more upside but he is still just 23. He has been growing and getting stronger as the season has gone along and is looking more and more like the ace we all hoped he would become but the Yankees will need to keep an eye on his innings as we get to the later stages of this season. Severino pitched 151.1 innings in 2016 and has pitched 132.2 innings so far this season. He has more of cushion than Montgomery does but if the Yankees make a deep run in the playoffs this year Severino’s innings may become an issue. The team has not said anything regarding an innings limit for Severino but they probably have a number in mind that they want to stick close to.  

If the team is going to make a run in this year’s playoffs they will need those dominant performances from Severino. The Yankees want to keep his long term health in mind but their activity at the deadline shows that they also want to win and once you go to the playoffs all bets are off. If the Yankees are going to rely on him in the post season then they will likely need to monitor his innings and maybe give him some extra rest down the stretch. If the Yankees are able to keep Montgomery stretched out as a long man they may be able to get Severino some extra rest down the stretch by sprinkling in a spot start for Montgomery here and there. If they decide to go another route then they may be faced with a tough decision regarding Severino come playoff time.

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These two youngsters have been a big part of the Yankees season but there are four other pitchers in the mix here and they will all play roles for this team. The Yankees still have Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia in house and while Tanaka hasn’t met expectations and CC has missed time with an injury both have provided some reasons to believe they can be useful down the stretch and into the playoffs. 

Tanaka has had an up and down season to this point, struggling through the first half of the season and arriving at the All Star break with a 5.47 ERA. Tanaka’s season so far has been defined by the home run ball. He has not been able to keep the ball in the park, even in his good starts. He has already surpassed his career high in home runs allowed for a season and that is something he will have to correct if he is to fully return to form. Since the break his performance has been better and he has lowered his ERA to 5.09 for the season. His most recent outing against the Rays was by far his best of the season and if he can continue to improve and get back to leading this Yankee staff it would be a big boost to a team that has been missing their veteran ace all season.

Credit: Jim McIsaac

CC Sabathia has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. In his age 37 season the big lefty has pitched to a 3.66 ERA in 93.1 innings. He has kept the ball in the park, allowing only 10 home runs and has a 2.06 K/BB as well. CC is the oldest member of the Yankee rotation and has already missed time with an injury this year but he has been very effective when healthy. We know as long as he takes the mound he is going to battle and give the team his best effort. He has shown a better ability this year to pitch with a diminished arsenal and as long as he is healthy the team will certainly rely on his veteran leadership and experience down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Now on to the new additions. Based on his track record and performance this season, Jaime Garcia will likely fill Montgomery’s role at the back of the rotation. For his season he has pitched to a 4.29 ERA in 119.2 innings and 11 out of his 19 starts have been Quality Starts. He won’t blow anyone away with his arsenal but he will be able to eat innings and get the ball to the bullpen. Garcia also has postseason experience, pitching to a 3.94 ERA in seven postseason starts. On a team with so many young players in key roles, having veterans with postseason experience is invaluable and Garcia fits that mold perfectly.

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I saved the big fish for last here, Sonny Gray was the key acquisition for this Yankee team at the deadline and he brings a lot of positives. He is only 27 years old and is under team control for two more years after this one. For his season so far, Gray has pitched to a 3.43 ERA in 97 innings while allowing just 84 hits and only eight home runs. He is rebounding nicely from a difficult 2016 season where he missed time with multiple injuries and pitched to a 5.69 ERA. Injuries are definitely a concern for Gray and he has struggled with them throughout his career. He missed time at the beginning of this season with a lat strain but has come back and pitched well. 

While he may not have the upside of a potential ace like Luis Severino, he is a very good pitcher and can help lead this pitching staff for the next few years. Over his last six starts he has pitched like an ace, posting a 4-2 record with a 1.23 ERA. He is pitching his best ball of the season right now and the Yankees are getting him just in time to start their stretch drive for the playoffs. Although the injury concerns are real for Sonny Gray, when he is healthy he is a top of the rotation pitcher.

So Brian Cashman has assembled all of these pieces and put together a very good team that looks like it will compete for a division title. Just a few weeks ago it looked as though the team was in a tough spot after Michael Pineda was lost for the season and the bullpen continued to blow games but Cashman has loaded up on arms that will help them now and going forward. 

This Yankee rotation has a good mix of youth and veterans and how they decide to deploy them will depend on a few things. The deadline additions look like they will bump Jordan Montgomery from the rotation but if injuries hit or Luis Severino runs up against an innings limit the team will have a good backup waiting to contribute. The team will certainly have to keep an eye on Severino’s innings as they move towards the playoffs and their additions plus the solid rookie season of Montgomery will certainly help them do that.

Its hard to believe the makeup of a rotation could change so much in just half of a season but it definitely has for the 2017 Yankees. We came into this season not knowing what we could expect from Luis Severino, Michael Pineda or even CC Sabathia and while it has been Tanaka who has struggled the most this Yankee team is still set up for success now and in the future. The additions of Gray and Garcia will help lead this team into the playoffs this season, but it is the emergence of Severino and Montgomery that will help them stay there in the future. Brian Cashman has taken a huge question mark and turned into a clear strength.   

Article by Matt Graziano


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