In 16 days, the New York Yankees will play their first game of the 2019 season. A couple days ago, I gave my thoughts on how the Yankees rotation might look on Opening Day. Today I’ll dive into their bullpen and give my thoughts on who will be there.
Tommy Kahnle – 2018 was basically a washout for Tommy. He never had the same velocity he carried after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in 2017, and was injured in an early appearance in April, which he didn’t disclose. Tommy kept pitching with a sore arm, fairing so poorly he ended up back in AAA. Kahnle says he is feeling much better this spring and says “the ball is coming out of his hand better”. He is out of options and would require passing through waivers unclaimed to stay with the Yankees organization if sent down. Therefore, Tommy will get every opportunity to make the club and bring the heat.
Stephen Tarpley – The 26 year old Tarpley came to the Yankees in August 2016 as part of the deal that sent Ivan Nova to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He rose quickly through the system in 2018, progressing from Double-A Trenton to Scranton Wilkes Barre, posting a composite ERA of 2.20 at both levels. He was rewarded with a September 1 call-up, and made his big-league debut at Yankee Stadium the next day. Tarpley pitched so well in September that Aaron Boone added him to the postseason roster for the ALDS against the Red Sox. “Tarp” is able to pitch multiple innings and is effective against both lefties and righties, making him all the more valuable.
Jonathan Holder – Jonathan’s overall ERA (3.14) in 2018 isn’t bad in itself, but it IS deceiving. Four rough outings in his 60 appearances skewed his numbers. Back to back appearances in early April and another pair of outings at the beginning of August were enough to make his ERA balloon more than 2.5 times it’s size. In his other 56 games, Holder’s ERA was 1.29 and WHIP was 0.88.
Chance Adams – In a way, Chance’s 2018 season was kind of similar to Kahnle’s because of injury. In an article by NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty, Adams had surgery after the 2017 season to remove bone chips from his right elbow, and it took longer to recover than expected. He didn’t have the mid-90’s velocity when he did return, nor the results to match. Chance will probably begin his 2019 season in Triple-A Scranton where he can start every fifth day, stay stretched-out and is only a phone call away if needed in New York.
Ben Heller – Ben missed all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and will hopefully contribute during the second half of 2019. Heller and Jordan Montgomery are pretty much on the same timetable.
He's going through much the same program as Jordan Montgomery. With a typical 14-month recovery, you're probably looking at a return to games in June.
The 2018 season is over for the New York Yankees after the Boston Red Sox knocked them out in the ALDS. The Sox were the better team during the regular season and it clearly has showed throughout the playoffs. Tonight Boston faces off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the World Series.
With the Yankees long gone, it’s time to assess. When Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand covered the Yankees beat for the mothership, they would collectively author a piece called “Take ’em or Trash ’em” on Yankees players, coaches and the GM. There would be commentary on the way each person performed and whether the Yankees should keep them or discard them for the next season. I am going to break the team up by position, beginning with starting pitchers. In future installments I will cover relief pitchers, catchers, infield, and finally the outfield.
Without further adieu, lets begin with the starting pitchers.
Luis Severino – (19-8, 3.39 ERA) The 24 year old Severino won a career-high 19 games and struck-out 220 hitters over 191.1 innings and posted an ERA of 3.39, so there shouldn’t be any worries, right? But if you examine Sevy’s season up close, his 2018 was a Jekyll and Hyde affair. At the All Star break, Severino had a record of 14-2 with an ERA of 2.31. Over the second half, he went 5-6 and the ERA skyrocketed to 5.57, giving up 76 hits over 63 innings. The Red Sox jumped on Severino early in his start in the ALDS and it was because he was evidently tipping his pitches. That leads me to believe he might have been doing it during his rocky second half. I’m not worried, he’s too good to not get it back together. He will be eligible for arbitration after next season and still under team control until 2023.
Masahiro Tanaka – (12-6, 3.75) After an inconsistent 2017 season, Tanaka seemed more like himself in 2018, posting a 12-6 record and a 3.75 ERA — down almost a full run. He missed a month after injuring a hamstring on the basepaths at Citi Field during an interleague game against the Mets. He returned in the second half, pitching to the tune of a 2.85 ERA after the All Star break, averaging more than six innings per start, striking out more than a batter per inning. The soon to be 30 year old Tanaka has two more years remaining on his contract.
JA Happ – (17-6, 3.65) Yankees GM Brian Cashman traded for the now 36 year old Happ just after the All Star break, and he proved to be a steal. All Happ did in his eleven starts with the Yankees is go 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA. He was consistently reliable, just what the team needed. Overall, the soon to be free agent went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 2018. It will be interesting to see if Cashman makes Happ an offer to keep him in the Bronx, I’m thinking he will since he said starting pitching is a priority over this coming offseason.
CC Sabathia – (9-7, 3.65) Carsten Charles Sabathia has enjoyed a storied career over his 18 seasons, logging 246 wins and nearly 3,000 strikeouts (2,986 to date). In 2018, CC added nine more wins to his resume, going 9-7, 3.65 over 153 innings in 29 starts. At this point in his career, the 38 year old Sabathia is nothing more than a fifth starter. He tends to lose his effectiveness after he reaches 85-90 pitches, and his balky right knee (which is bone on bone and will need eventual replacement) all but guarantees he will miss at least a few starts each year. Sabathia will be a free agent after the World Series ends. He still plans to pitch in 2019, but it remains to be seen if it will be with the Yankees.
CC’s one of my favorite players on the team and I appreciate all he’s done, but given his age and wear and tear, I think it’s time to keep a spot open for up and coming guys like Justus Sheffield and Michael King.
Sonny Gray – (11-9, 4.90) Yeesh. Gray spent the first half of 2018 in the starting rotation and pitched to the tune of a 5.46 ERA over 90 innings, likely cementing his legacy as one of the most hated Yankees pitchers since Javier Vazquez. After JA Happ was brought over from Toronto, Gray was banished to the bullpen. In the second half, Gray actually pitched better — going 5-2, 3.63 over 12 appearances (5 starts). In his season ending press conference, GM Brian Cashman all but packed Sonny’s bags for him, saying a trade would be likely.
Jordan Montgomery – (2-0, 3.62) “Monty” emerged as a reliable lefty in the Yankees rotation in 2017, finishing sixth in rookie of the year voting. He made a half dozen starts before going down with a torn UCL which required Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He will likely be back in the second half of 2019, and hopefully will quickly regain form with his heavy sinker.
Domingo German – (2-6, 5.57) The 26 year old lanky right-handed flame thrower stepped into the rotation when Montgomery went down. In his first start of the season, he struck out nine over six no-hit innings against the Cleveland Indians. He wasn’t fully stretched out, so he was removed after 85 pitches. That was the highlight of German’s season. He made 12 more starts, most of them being forgettable. German had a penchant for giving up runs in the first couple innings, putting his team in an early hole. His stuff seems to play better out of the bullpen, where he can just cut it loose.
Lance Lynn – (10-10, 4.77) Lynn was brought over from the Twins for Tyler Austin and minor league pitcher Luis Rijo at the trade deadline. He started off in the Bronx like gangbusters, allowing just one run over his first 17.2 innings (2 starts, 1 relief appearance). Yankees fans were waiting for his Yankeeography. Lynn came back down to Earth over his next four starts (19 ER/18.2 IP). Overall, he did what he was brought over to do, which is eat innings and be serviceable. Lynn went 3-2, 4.14 over 54.1 innings. He will be a free agent after the World Series, but doubt he will be back in a Yankees uniform in 2019.
In our next installment of Yankees Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em, we will take a look in the bullpen. See ya next time!
Luis Severino – (5-4, 3.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP) Severino used his time wisely over the past winter, working on pitches and mindset with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez while in the Dominican Republic. The results have been profound. With some better luck and run support, Sevy could easily have at least five more wins. He’s emerging as the newest ace of the staff.
Masahiro Tanaka – (7-8, 5.47 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) Tanaka is the guy that is SUPPOSED to be the staff’s ace, but has had an abysmal first half. It all started on Opening Day, when he gave up 7 runs in 2.2 innings and two home runs. Tanaka has been like the proverbial “little girl with the curl”, either very, very good or very, VERY bad. There hasn’t been much in between. The Yankees’ hopes for the season depend on him getting better. Tanaka can opt-out of his contract after 2017 if he chooses too, but if he doesn’t get better it seems the team will have another bad contract to pay for.
Grade: D- (five dominant starts saves him a failing grade)
CC Sabathia – (7-3, 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) When Sabathia started wearing a brace on his chronically bad right knee at the tail end of 2015, the results were much better and it carried through 2016. His numbers on the surface look good, and he made a number of starts where he looked like vintage CC. However, there has been 5 starts where he allowed 4 runs or more. This includes a hideous stretch from late April into early May where he gave up 18 runs in 14.2 innings. Sabathia enjoyed a run of six effective starts, lowering his ERA by two runs, when he tweaked a hamstring on June 13 in Anaheim.
Sabathia came back on July 4 against Toronto and had no command. He probably could have used a rehab start for Scranton or Trenton. He’s 37 years old, but still has more in the tank. His velocity sits at 89-91, but still has 94 in his back pocket on occasions as needed. Hopefully CC will stay healthy and effective for the second half of the season.
Michael Pineda – (8-4, 4.39 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) Michael Pineda is an enigma. Still. In fact, a picture of Pineda should be next to the definition of the word enigma. After a tough first start of ’17, Michael sailed along on a nine start stretch where he allowed three earned runs or less. Over said stretch, he won six of seven decisions and carried a 3.32 ERA at the end of May. Then June happened. Like flicking a light switch, 2016 Pineda emerged, looking every bit like the shell-shocked, unfocused Pineda that drives Yankees fans batshit crazy. From June on, his ERA shot up from 3.32 to it’s current 4.39. He gave up 53 hits over 36.2 innings during this stretch.
**EDIT** Pineda was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his right elbow, ending his season. Terrible news.
Michael Pineda has partial tear of UCL. Will go on DL…tommy John surgery likely #yankees
Pineda finishes 2017 with probable Tommy John surgery and an uncertain future. I wish him well.
Jordan Montgomery – (6-4, 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) The rookie Montgomery opened everyone’s eyes in Spring Training with his ability to get guys out and willingness to challenge hitters. He earned the 5th spot in manager Joe Girardi‘s rotation and has kept a grip on it, like a bulldog. “Monty”, as Girardi refers to him, has worked at least six innings in eight of his 16 starts. Sure, he’s had a few clunkers, but all rookies do. Still, there are only three starts where he allowed four or more runs. He is striking out almost a batter an inning. Montgomery still hasn’t been lit up yet, unlike veteran starters Tanaka and Pineda.
Monty seems impressive and has a bright future ahead of him.
Aroldis Chapman – (2-0, 3.48 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) Chapman started off 2017 in his usual dominating way, converting all five save opportunities through April 26. That day, Chapman labored through the 9th inning, walking two, allowing a hit and striking out two. It was raw and drizzly in Boston and he threw 33 pitches. On May 7, in his return to Wrigley Field against the Cubs, he blew his first save, throwing 36(!) pitches before Girardi mercifully pulled him. Five days later, after another bad outing against the Astros, it was revealed Chapman was suffering from shoulder inflammation. He returned on June 18, but his results have been uneven. We’re in the 1st season of a 5 year/86 million dollar contract, so it would be prudent for Girardi to not leave him in games for 35 pitches.
Dellin Betances – (3-4, 3.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) On the morning of June 22, Betances had a record of 3-1, 0.40 ERA and was shutting down everyone. Five days later, he was summoned by Joe Girardi to close out a game in Chicago and walked two batters, hit another and gave up a hit, resulting in a walk-off White Sox win. Things continued to fall to hell from there. Since June 27, Betances’ stat-line is ugly: 3.2 IP, 2H, 7R, 7ER, 10BB, 6K. Even Carlos Marmol wasn’t that wild. Warning signs began to show themselves earlier. He began walking more hitters in early June, when his workload become sporadic because games weren’t close and he wasn’t needed. After he pitched on May 27, his next appearance was six days later. His following appearance was five days after that. Then a four day gap. Pitchers need regular work, especially a man Betances’ size. Repeating a delivery is tougher for big and tall guys, and I believe the time off hurt him. I think if he gets regular work, Dellin will be okay.
Tyler Clippard – (1-5, 5.24 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) Just as June was unkind to Betances, it’s been every bit as bad for Clippard. The problem for Clip is he is being hit all over the yard AND he’s walking people. His stat-line from June 1st to now is: 12.1 IP, 14 H, 16 ER, 12 BB, 13K and five HR’s allowed. Clippard doesn’t have the stuff and the upside Betances has. If he doesn’t turn it around quickly, the 32 year old Clippard may be gone before the trade deadline on July 31.
Adam Warren – (2-1, 2.02 ERA, 0.79 WHIP) Warren has quietly had an excellent season out of the Yankees bullpen. In years past, he’s been a swing-man, making spot-starts and used in long relief. This year, he’s been used a variety of ways in relief, earlier in the year in low-leverage situations, and Girardi has also trusted him to hold the lead in the 7th inning. Warren missed three weeks in June because of a cranky shoulder, returned at the beginning of July. Whenever he’s been handed the ball, he’s done his job.
Jonathan Holder – (1-1, 3.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) Holder is a highly regarded young arm who hopefully will grow into a role where he will be trusted to hold leads and maybe even close games someday. He throws four pitches, so an eventual starting role isn’t out of the question. Right now, it’s hard to tell what you will get from Holder from game to game, because he’s left a lot of pitches over the plate. Those pitches are usually hit very, very hard.
Chasen Shreve – (2-1, 2.96 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) After a promising beginning to his Yankees career in the first half of 2015, Shreve has been relegated to filling an inning or two of relief in mop-up situations. His control has been better this year, which has helped his cause. When a starter is failing in the early innings, Shreve is usually the guy you see warming up in a hurry because he can be ready quickly. He’s been optioned back and forth to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre when fresh arms have been needed.
Bryan Mitchell – (1-1, 5.06 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) Mitchell has some of the best stuff on the Yankees staff, yet it seems Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild don’t know what way to use him. In 2016, he was all but named one of the five starters coming out of spring training, then suffered an unfortunate toe injury that took most of the season to heal. This year, Mitchell was having a good month of April until later that month when he gave up 7 runs over back to back outings. Since then, he’s been ping-ponged back and forth to Scranton where he’s now stretched out. The Yankees plan to start Mitchell in Boston on Sunday in the first game of a doubleheader.
In the wake of Michael Pineda’s injury, my guess is they will give Mitchell a start or two to prove if he’s worthy of being in the team’s plans or possibly to showcase him to other teams who need starters, or a good right arm. I am thinking the latter. For some reason, I have a hunch Girardi and Cashman have soured on Mitchell.
A few days ago, we took a look at the first two months of the Yankees season, grading the team’s hitting and defense, position by position. Today, we are going to focus on starting pitchers.
While the hitters have supplied lots of muscle, Yankees pitchers have fared quite well, for the most part. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia each have six wins. However, if you watched Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox, you’ll see why everything isn’t completely well in the rotation. Let’s dig in.
Masahiro Tanaka – (5-6, 6.55 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) After three seasons of dependable starts and a career record of 39-16, the sky is falling. Or are those just all the home runs balls landing around us? In seven of Tanaka’s 12 starts, he has allowed a minimum of four runs. In 66 innings, he’s allowed 17 home runs (!), which would translate to 51 over a 200 inning season. Tanaka insists he is healthy, which has been debated since July 2014, Tanaka’s rookie season. His velocity is not down, in a start against Baltimore on April 8, he was 96 mph or above three straight pitches. His BB/9 innings is 2.5, a career high. His first three seasons were between 1.4 and 1.6, a telling sign pointing to lack of command. Tanaka has shown signs of his dominating self in three separate starts against the White Sox, Red Sox and A’s, allowing 2 runs and 14 hits over 23.1 innings, proving his stuff and ability are there. The Yankees will need “the good Tanaka” if they want to contend long-term in 2017.
CC Sabathia – (7-2, 3.66 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) Sabathia has provided strings of dependable in 2017. Since he started wearing the knee brace on his right knee at the tail end of 2015, he’s pitched better and shown a more velocity. He’s made the transformation from an all power guy to more of a finesse pitcher. But he can still reach back for a little extra when he needs it, touching 93-94 when needed.
CC can be a bit streaky. He allowed three earned runs total in his first three starts, while allowing 22 earned runs in the following four. Sabathia has pitched to the tune of a 1.11 ERA since May 16, winning all five starts, including a masterful performance against Boston on June 7 (0 runs in 8 innings). With Tanaka having his problems, the Yankees need this to continue.
Michael Piñeda – Updated stats: (7-3, 3.39 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) Piñeda has as many wins right now as he had all last season, which says quite a lot about how poorly 2016 went for him. He still gives up lots of home-runs (13) and still strikes out a lot of batters, but a big difference is in his WHIP, which is lower than the last two seasons. His walk rate is down from 2.7/9 IP in ’16 to 2.1, and his hits per 9 IP is down from 9.4 to 8.4. He’s doing much better at locating and keeping away from the big inning. He’s still prone to getting rattled out there, so it’s something to monitor, but bottom-line Piñeda is giving the team a chance to win.
Pineda pitched a strong outing tonight vs. Boston, his updated stats after beating the Red Sox stand at: 7-3, 3.39 ERA, WHIP 1.13. As a result, I also upgraded his report card grade from C-plus to B-minus.
Luis Severino – (4-2, 2.90 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) What a difference from last year. In 2016, Severino was tattooed early and often as a member of the starting rotation, to the point where he was sent back to Triple-A Scranton in mid-May. He ping-ponged back and forth between New York and Scranton, but never seemed settled. Luis spent a lot of time over the winter with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who worked with him with on several facets of the game and are paying dividends. He has struck out 76 over 68.1 innings and lowered his walk rate from 3.2 per 9 IP to 2.1. Severino has provided length as well, giving seven innings or more in six of his 11 starts. Sevy seems to have come of age.
Jordan Montgomery – (3-4, 3.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) Rookie starter Montgomery has done a very nice job as the 5th starter in the rotation. In his ten starts, Monty has gone at least six innings and has limited any damage when things haven’t gone well. In his last start, Montgomery shut down a hot Blue Jays lineup that scored 37 runs in their previous five games. It’s easy to see why the Yankees are very high on him.
In our final installment of Yankees Report-Card, we’ll tackle the bullpen.