Perspectives: Pitching Help Needed
by Paul Semendinger
July 11, 2022
You win some, you lose some...
A team is never as good as it looks when it is playing great nor as bad as it looks when it's playing poorly.
Those are truisms. The Yankees are 61-25. Their winning percentage is still over .700. They seem fine. As far as winning the division, they are, or should be, fine. As far as getting to the playoffs, they seem like a virtual lock.
That does not mean that there are not reasons for concern, especially around the starting pitching. There are.
Remember, a few weeks ago, when so many people said that the Yankees has plenty of starting pitching and they didn't need another starter? I didn't think that at the time, and I don't think that's true at all today. The Yankees need a starting pitcher. They need a very good starting pitcher. They need a starting pitcher because the magic that was happening with virtually every starter pitching way above their expectations just was not going to last. It just wasn't. And it hasn't.
Remember when so many said, "Nestor Cortes is as good as he's pitching. He really is that good." Well, he wasn't. He's not. He's doing well overall, but since June 1, Nestor Cortes is 3-2, 4.34. Let's be honest, if Cortes pitched to that type of line the rest of the way this year, and for the rest of his career, would you be surprised? What is more likely... Cortes pitching to a 4.34 ERA as he has since June or pitching to the 1.95 ERA he put up in May? Is the Nestor Cortes that we've seen since June 1 a pitcher you want starting a critical post season game?
A worse sign, Cortes set his MLB high in innings pitched last year with 93. This year he's already pitched 88.2 innings. Do you think he might be tired? How much can the Yankees really expect out of his the second half?
How about Jameson Taillon? He has nine wins! Wait! He also has an ERA over 4.00. After pitching a grand total of 37.1 innings over two seasons 2019 and 2020, he threw 144.1 last year. That was a big lift. He's at 94.1 this year. Do you think he might be getting tired? Since June 1, his ERA is 5.83.
Gerrit Cole is the ace. No question there. But, since June 1, his ERA is 3.49. That's good, it's okay, but it's just not "ace-like." That's not a stat that screams out, "We've got Game One of each post-season series under control." 3.49 says, "You have a nice chance of winning a playoff game, but it ain't gonna be easy." (And that's not what the team needs from its ace in the playoffs.)
Jordan Montgomery has been good. But, for a big strong guy, he struggles with going deep into games. He's 0-2 in July and hasn't been able to get through the sixth inning in either start. Sure, small sample size, but, that's also been a general pattern for him. Last year he pitched 157.1 innings which was his most, by far, since 2017. More concerning... From 2018-2020, Montgomery pitched a grand total of 75.1 innings. He more than doubled that last year. This year, he is at 96 innings. He might also be reaching his limit.
Between 2019 and 2021, Luis Severino pitched a grand total of 18 innings. He's at 84 innings already this year. Do you think he just might, already, be at his limit?
The point here is that the Yankees have a nice starting staff, an excellent starting staff in many regards, but there are indications that this starting staff could be in for a very difficult second half. Sure, it looks like the Yankees are a lock for the post season. But, with these signs, there is a very real concern that they could have a quick playoff exit. They could head into the playoffs with a starting staff of pitchers who are way past their innings limits and who threw their best innings of 2022 months prior.
With all of this being the case, should the Yankees be in the market for a top starting pitcher, right now? Yes. Of course.
Many were blinded by the ridiculously good (and unsustainable) pitching lines this starting staff put up in the first months of the season. That wasn't who these pitchers are. What we have seen since June is the type of performance we'll see the rest of this season from these pitchers. They're good. Very good, often times. But they aren't great. They are not going to pitch like all-time greats the rest of the way as they all did in May. Those early months of the season just might have been their high water mark. Isn't it possible that their performances will continue to decline as the season progresses? I think so. And they're all (save for Cole) reaching their innings limits.
My kingdom. My kingdom. My kingdom for a starting pitcher!!!
Of note, once the starters get to the point where they are pitching past their peak efficiency, the team has to rely more and more on its bullpen - a pen that also hasn't looked as invincible as it did earlier in the season. Right now the Yankees need Clay Holmes and Mike King to pitch like Mariano Rivera the rest of the way. They've been great, but, again, expecting that from them just isn't realistic.
Virtually every Yankees pitcher was pitching way above and beyond any reasonable expectations. What was bound to happen was that they would regress to the mean. That always happens. Always. The concern is that they'll all now in that regression pattern. There's no reason to expect that any of the pitchers pitches as well as they did in the season's first months going forward.
This team needs reinforcements. They need them now.
Let's Go Yankees!