Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers

Welcome back! A few days ago, we dug in to Yankees position players in the first post-2020 season installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em“. Over the next two installments, we will break down the pitching staff from ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to closer Aroldis Chapman, and everyone in between.

Let’s get started with the Yankees rotation, next time we will tackle the bullpen.

Starting Pitchers

Gerrit Cole – Cole proved why the Yankees were wise to give him a nine-year, 324 million dollar contract last December. After his first eight starts while paired up with catcher Gary Sánchez, Cole looked fairly pedestrian with a 3.91 ERA. He gave up home runs at an alarming rate, twelve round-trippers in only 46 innings. Beginning in September, Manager Aaron Boone had Kyle Higashioka catch for Cole. The results were strikingly better. The Yankees ace was unstoppable down the stretch. Over four September starts, Cole struck out 34 batters over 27 innings, allowing 14 hits, three earned runs and only two homers over that span. That success continued over three October starts, with the Yankees winning two of them. Look for Cole and Higgy to continue working together in 2021.

Do I really have to ask? Take him (duh).

Masahiro Tanaka – While job security isn’t an issue for the aforementioned Gerrit Cole, Tanaka may have pitched in his final start for the Yankees. It doesn’t seem all that long ago Masa signed a seven-year contract, after spending the first seven years of his career pitching in his native Japan. While Tanaka may not command the 22 million dollars a year he got in his last deal, he certainly is worth hanging on to. In 2019, Tanaka pitched to a 4.45 ERA while struggling to make his trademark splitter work. This year, he lowered his ERA almost a full run to 3.56, while increasing his K rate closer to his 2014-2018 levels. It was troubling to see Tanaka get roughed up in both postseason starts, and he will soon be 32 years old.

If Tanaka is gone, we’ll have this lasting image of him, Cole and their wives on a sushi dinner date.

Take him (but only if the price is right).

James Paxton – 2020 was rough for the Big Maple. After rehabbing his back over the winter, the root of the problem wasn’t discovered until February. He had surgery and rehabbed while Major League Baseball waited out COVID-19. When the season started, Paxton was building his pitch count. He was clearly behind and it showed. Paxton got pounded early, his fastball lacked it’s normal velo. Normally 96-98 mph, his fastball sat 91-92. By the mid August, Paxton’s fastball improved. Things went south when he allowed one hit against the Rays. He walked the bases loaded before allowing a double, emptying the bases. He left with a flexor tendon strain, never to return. Paxton is a free agent. With Tanaka and Happ also free agents, the Yankees need starters. I would offer Paxton a one year deal with incentives. If he wants a lot of guaranteed dollars, I let him walk.

Trash him. đź—‘

J.A. Happ – Most of “Yankees Twitter” can’t stand Happ for various reasons. He pitched poorly in 2019, the first two outings of 2020 and the ill-fated Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Rays. Most people don’t realize Happ was the Yankees most dependable starter for six weeks, including Gerrit Cole. From August 15 through September 19, Happ pitched to a 1.93 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. After expressing his feelings regarding his usage (his contract situation earlier in the season to his role in Game Two of ALDS), It’s safe to say he won’t be coming back. However, Yankees fans shouldn’t be shitting all over Happ. He wanted to be treated fairly and used the way he is used to (and successful with). Happ didn’t ask too much. He’s now 38 and it’s hard to say how much he has left. Trash ’em“. đź—‘

Deivi GarcĂ­a – From the second oldest player (Happ) on the Yankees to the youngest, GarcĂ­a pitched much better than his ERA (4.98) indicates. If you take away his start against the Red Sox on September 20, GarcĂ­a’s ERA drops to a much better 3.73. What I’m saying here is this young man has a bright future. Deivi didn’t look like a typical 21 year old out there, and didn’t get rattled. Best of all, he drew praise from none other than Pedro MartĂ­nez, his idol.

I look forward to seeing what GarcĂ­a will do over a full season in the Yankees rotation. There’s a spot open for him. Take!

Jordan Montgomery – Monty had his ups and downs in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery. It’s been said one of the last things to come back for a pitcher recovering from TJS is command, and Montgomery’s command was spotty at times. This resulted in a season ending 5.11 ERA and high pitch counts that made for short outings for the 27 year old lefty. Monty’s stuff is there, and may be even better after his surgery. Look for Jordan to have a more stable 2021 season with the Yankees at the back end of their rotation.

Take him!

Luis Severino – It seems like forever since we last saw Sevy pitching in a Yankees uniform. After a shoulder injury sidelined Severino for most of 2019, he tore his UCL in spring training late in February. As of this writing, the plan is for Sevy, still only 26 years old, to be able to pitch early in the 2021 season. While the Yankees are known for being conservative, his return will be a welcome sight for the team and their fans. Take!

Domingo Germán – Germán sat out the 2020 season after a MLB investigation proved his guilt in a domestic violence incident late in the 2019 season. He has not been back with the team since. His suspension ended this past September but was ineligible to pitch in the postseason. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner did not commit to bringing Germán back in 2021. However, Hal’s father, George M. Steinbrenner III gave players second chances. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden are two of the most famous examples. That said, no one George Steinbrenner gave a second chance to was guilty of domestic violence. Personally, I think Yankees should trash him. đź—‘

Clarke Schmidt and Michael King – Both Schmidt and King are guys the Yankees have high hopes for, but neither are ready for full-time rotation spots. Yet. Before everything went to hell in a handbasket in March with COVID, both guys were looking good in Florida in spring training. When everything resumed, King found himself in the Yankees bullpen as a long reliever/mop-up man. Schmidt returned to the team’s “alternative site” in Scranton/Wilkes Barre to keep sharp in simulated games. Both King (age 25) and Schmidt (24) were victims of infrequent use, resulting in ERA’s over 7.00 and wasting a year of their careers. Hopefully they will begin 2021 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre to refine things and cement their statuses as upper level prospects. If injuries hit, or Yankees don’t add a starter or two in free agency, one or both could start the new season on the big league staff.

Take ’em both – but they could use a little more seasoning in the minors.

In the next installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will wrap things up with the Yankee bullpen. Join us!

 

Yankees 40 Game Report

It seems like it was just the other day when I cranked out the 30 game report for the New York Yankees. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The last ten games for the Yankees and their fans have been anything but fun. The same can be said for the ten games before that. It’s been a very ugly stretch for this battered team. Let’s get on to assess the carnage, shall we?

Hitting

Or lack thereof. Where do we even begin? I guess we will start with the guys actually producing. D.J. LeMahieu came back for the team’s 30th game after missing ten games with a hand injury. He picked right up where he left off. “LeMachine” logged 10 hits in 36 at-bats in this ten game stretch, including back to back two hit games against the Tampa Bay Rays. The second of which he slammed a pair of home runs in a rare Yankees win over the Rays.

First baseman Luke Voit was productive against the Mets and Rays, but cooled off considerably against the Baltimore Orioles. Backup catcher Erik Kratz has been a pleasant surprise for many reasons (see this YES Network video about him helping Latin pitchers realize their dreams), but he has swung the bat well (8 hits in 27 AB’s) and gunned down a couple runners. Saturday night, he caught O’s catcher Pedro Severino napping off 2nd base from his knees. Not bad for a 40 year old.

There’s not much else positive to say about the rest of this Yankees lineup. 3rd baseman Gio Urshela has battled a troublesome bone spur in his throwing elbow, and was placed on the IL. Gary Sánchez still looks lost at the plate (13 hits in 100 AB’s), including strikeouts in each of his last seven plate appearances. He did manage a home-run, a grand slam that proved to be a game-winner against the Mets in the first game of a doubleheader. However, Aaron Boone is planning to sit him for a couple days to get himself right.

Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Mike Ford and Tyler Wade continue to struggle and give non-competitive at bats. Mike Tauchman has one hit over his last 17 at bats. Clint Frazier is still hitting well (8 for last 26), but only drove in three runs. It’s hard to drive runs in when no one else gets on.

Pitching

You know things aren’t going so hot when Jonathan Holder has the lowest ERA on the team (minimum 10 IP). Sigh.

It’s been a tough last few turns for Gerrit Cole, but he deserved so much better Saturday night against the Orioles. He has his best stuff of the season. Cole struck out five of the first six hitters and sat 97-99 with his four-seamer. He had nine K’s through five innings on only 63 pitches. The next inning, the roof caved in. D.J Stewart hit a home-run. Hanser Alberto reached on an error. Cole issued back-to-back walks, then followed those up with a two-run single and a ground-rule double. Next thing you know, five runs have scored (one earned) and that’s all she wrote.

Masahiro Tanaka tossed six innings of two run ball in a 5-3 Yankees win against the Rays on September 1, punching seven tickets. Sunday against the Orioles, Masa was charged with four runs (two earned) over 5.1 innings in Baltimore. Like Cole the night before, Tanaka deserved a better fate. Luis Cessa relieved him for some reason only Manager Aaron Boone knows (more on this later). Cessa inherited two of Tanaka’s runners and allowed a single to load the bases. He went on to walk in a run, followed by a single for another Baltimore run. The O’s went on to a 5-1 win Sunday. Again, Tanaka deserved better.

Jordan Montgomery imploded in a his start against Tampa on September 2, giving up five straight hits and two home-runs to a fired-up Rays team. The day before, closer Aroldis Chapman sailed a 101 mph fastball just inches over the head of Mike Brosseau. The Rays felt they had something to prove, and they made a statement, jumping on Montgomery, who only recorded two outs on 39 pitches.

J.A. Happ made a start in Thursday’s makeup game against the Mets, going five innings, giving up 4 runs on eight hits. His season continues to be up and down.

Deivi GarcĂ­a pitched a beautiful six innings against the Mets in his debut on August 30, striking out six. He looked like a seasoned veteran, allowing a scant four hits. He drew praise across MLB, including Pedro MartĂ­nez, whom GarcĂ­a is often compared to.

His second start wasn’t as great, but pitched into the 5th inning before he was relieved by fellow rookie Clarke Schmidt, who was just called up to make his Major League debut. It didn’t go well, with the Orioles ripping him for three straight hits, allowing four runs to score. We’ll also touch on this move by Boone later.

Michael King made a couple of uninspiring starts and abbreviated starts, against the Mets and Orioles, respectively. King didn’t pitch badly, only giving up a total of five runs between the two starts. But Boone doesn’t give him a lot of rope. His longest outing of the season was his start against the Mets, four innings. That puts a lot of work on the bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, it’s worn out. Any starter not named Gerrit Cole or Masahiro Tanaka simply doesn’t get to pitch very deeply into games. Sometimes it’s for a good reason (they are getting shelled), sometimes it’s because Aaron Boone gets an itchy trigger-finger or analytics call for a move.

Adam Ottavino (16 appearances), Chad Green (15) and Zack Britton (13) are getting worked a lot, and the team is averaging 4.5 innings per start from their starting pitchers. Things are getting thin, and cracks are beginning to show. Jonathan Loaisiga, who’s been valuable as an opener and multi-inning reliever, was put on the IL with an illness unrelated to COVID.

As mentioned earlier, Aroldis Chapman threw a pitch above Mike Brosseau’s head. This ended up getting him a three game suspension from Major League Baseball. He has appealed and is awaiting a hearing. Even if reduced, it adds more to an overworked bullpen. Another unwise and selfish move by Aroldis.

Britton returned from the injured list last week, and will help ease the burden. He looked a bit rusty in his first couple games back, but should be fine with more work.

Luis Cessa and Jonathan Holder have received higher-leverage innings out of necessity, reaffirming how much the Yankees miss Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery).

Aaron Boone/Coaching

The Yankees have now lost 13 of their last 18 games. Aaron Boone has made some questionable decisions. Bringing in Luis Cessa into a runners-on situation in relief of Tanaka trailing only by a run (it didn’t work). Having Clarke Schmidt, a starter, make his debut in the middle of an inning with runners on base (it failed miserably) when he had a couple other arms to chose from. Not having Erik Kratz catch J.A. Happ (who raved about working with Kratz after the game) when the pair was spectacular together in Happ’s previous start, having Kyle Higashioka catch him instead (it didn’t go that well).

I realize managing a team is difficult, managing a struggling team in New York magnifies it tenfold. But it seems like Boone is making things harder than it needs to be.

It’s easy for me, other writers and fans to be armchair managers. One thing is obvious. The Yankees need to turn this around, or they may be watching the playoffs along with us in our armchairs.

 

Despite Injuries, Yankees Have Depth to Overcome

After an injury-riddled 2019 season where they used 54 different players, one would think the New York Yankees 2020 season would be better in terms of health simply by default.

Concerned about the alarming number of injuries and treatment of them, the team overhauled the strength and conditioning department, hiring Eric Cressey as Director of Player Health and Performance.

Longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donahue, with the team since 1979, has been reassigned as Director of Medical Services in the restructuring.

So far in 2020, the “Medical Gods” still aren’t being too kind to the Yankees. As of this writing (March 6), the team has lost starting pitcher Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) for the season. James Paxton (lower back surgery) will be out until May at the earliest, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton strained his right calf doing defensive drills last week and may miss the first week of the season. It has been reported Stanton has resumed running, so he may be able to ramp things up again soon.  Aaron Judge has been dealing with pain in his shoulder/chest area, and today it was revealed he has a fracture in one of his ribs.

It was also revealed Judge originally suffered this injury in a game last September 18 on a diving catch attempt, and felt a “crack and a pop”. Preliminary tests were performed and Judge received a cortisone injection.

More on Judge’s injury can be read via Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed.

Despite these injuries, the Yankees have depth to overcome. Even with the early losses of Stanton and Judge (and loss of CF Aaron Hicks for first half of 2020), the team has Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial on the 40 man roster to go along with Brett Gardner. Miguel Andújar has looked promising in left-field, to the point where manager Aaron Boone says he is comfortable continuing to give him reps.  Also in the mix is 27 year old Zack Granite, a 2013 draftee from the Twins organization. The lefty hitter spent last season in Nashville, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

For the starting rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newly-signed Gerrit Cole have looked very good in the early going. Jordan Montgomery looks like he’s back to his 2017 pre-surgery form and youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia are in competition with holdover Luis Cessa to nail down the 5th starter spot.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes it a point to stock up on depth, and it served them well in 2019, still winning 103 games. They look poised to make another run at a World Series title in 2020.