SSTN Weekly Mailbag: The Rotation, Managing Severino's Innings, and Jose Trevino!
All they do is win, win, win, no matter what. I said before the season that I didn't buy that the Jays and Rays would be the cream of the AL East crop, and while I didn't necessarily see the Yankees running through the league in such dominant fashion, I did think that they would be the best team in the AL East. Quite simply, the Rays were overmatched by the Yankees. The Yankees have a deep lineup that can now beat teams in multiple ways (though I am waiting to hear the complaints that they hit too many homers...that train is never late). They have a pitching staff that can roll against the best rosters in the league even when their depth is tested. Defense, which was once an afterthought, is excellent behind the pitching staff. And while the Yankees won't be confused with track stars, they are making far better and more intelligently aggressive decisions on the basepaths, leading to scoring opportunities. In short, this team is an absolute joy to watch. Last night's game was a microcosm of the way the Yankees have persevered all season long. Luis Severino was a late scratch; journeyman Ryan Weber was temporarily added to the 40-man roster in his place and piggybacked off of Clarke Schmidt's electric opening three innings to hold down the fort for another 3.2 innings of good pitching; the Yankees ran the bases well; and I almost assumed that Rizzo would walk it off in the 9th inning. Are there places this roster can be improved? Yes, but this team is playing such good baseball as currently constituted that the front office won't be forced to overpay for upgrades at the trade deadline. What a nice change of scenery that is!
As always thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll look ahead to the playoff rotation and try to understand Cole's place in the flock, try to understand how the Yankees will manage Luis Severino's innings, and evaluate Jose Trevino's performance! Let's get at it:
Cary asks: So - that brings me to my question for your mailbag Andy. I have a two part question:
a) In a three game playoff series against, say, Boston, Toronto or the Rays - who do you start (what order)? - assuming you had to make the decision now.
I'd go with 1. Sevy, 2. Cortes Jr, 3. Cole
b) Should the Yankees have signed Gerrit Cole, considering the amount they gave him?
To make that decision today would be a really tough call if I've only got 3 starters in a series. The Yankees have an embarrassment of riches in the starting rotation as all 5 would be in the top-3 of any other playoff rotation in baseball (yes, even with the Dodgers or Mets). Don't sleep on Taillon or Montgomery either. Taillon has been fantastic this season, attacking the strike zone with complete comfort with his new arsenal, but he does allow a few more baserunners than the other starters in the Yankees' rotation. Jordan Montgomery somehow always seems to be criminally underrated even by the well-informed Yankee faithful. Even at his worst, Monty always keeps the Yankees in games, and this season he's been close to his best more often than not. He's a king of soft contact and is capable of reaching back for more when he needs it to get a big strikeout. I am very tempted to slide Monty into my top-3, but I think he just misses in this scenario.
The first start is Severino's. Even going back a few seasons, I have always said that with one game to win, I want Severino toeing the slab for the Yankees. He is an absolute pit bull on the mound with electric stuff to match. Everything I've seen from Sevy this season tells me that he's back to being that guy, and I gladly slot him in ahead of Cole and even Nasty Nestor. Sevy struggled in that role somewhat during the 2017 ALCS (though he kept the Yankees in the game in his starts), but he showed real guts pitching hurt in the 2019 ALCS going toe-to-toe with Cole at the peak of Cole's powers. I'll ride with that guy all day.
Gerrit Cole, while he's shown that he can be beaten over the last year, is still a phenomenally talented pitcher who can dominate any roster in baseball at his best. As much as I love Nestor, Cole is the number 2.
Nasty Nestor is someone that gives a completely different look compared to Cole and Severino, so there's a really good argument for slotting him in-between the two. However, in a 3 game series, there's no sense in getting cute and not chucking your two most talented pitchers first, so as much as I love Nasty Nestor, he slots in third for me. The fact that he slots above Monty for me should tell you how much I love the guy.
As far as the Gerrit Cole signing, yes, the Yankees should make that move every time. At the time of the signing, the Yankees appeared to be an ace away from competing for a World Series. Sevy was hurt with an uncertain future, the window for World Series contention was just at the point of narrowing, and the Yankees had money to burn. Cole was an appropriate signing for a price you accept. In fact, Cole has provided surplus value in each of his seasons with the Yankees thus far if you consider:
The value of 1 win (WAR) to be worth roughly $8 million on the open market.
The prorated value of Cole's contribution in 2020 versus the actual money paid due to the shortened nature of that season.
This season, despite a couple of clunkers, Cole is on-pace to again give the Yankees surplus value on his contract. Despite the way his performance is depicted in the media, Cole has been worth every dollar so far and makes that rotation look oh so much deeper.
Fuster asks: with a superlative won-lost record, and a tough schedule until the end on June, do you consider wear-and-tear on Severino's arm and put him on the IL after his final start in June and hold him out until the double-header with the Astros?
This is going to be an incredibly difficult balancing act for the Yankees as this season moves along. For all intents and purposes, it is incredible to see that Sevy is basically the same quality of pitcher that he was when we last saw him in 2018/2019. You know that Severino is going to want the ball every 5th day, regardless of what logic dictates as far as rest is concerned. Additionally, there is risk to removing Severino from the rotation for a start or two at a time that many people don't consider. Pitchers are creatures of habit, and throwing a starting pitcher out of their routine can mess with their rhythm, and it might have a more detrimental impact on his body and performance than even over-pitching. Remember, some pitchers need competitive innings to maintain their mechanics, and in Sevy's case even slight changes to his mechanics can be disastrous to his health given the upper body dependent nature of his pitching motion.
At the same time, Sevy has thrown just 67 regular season innings since the 2018 season, with 61 of those innings coming this season. Clearly, the Yankees do not want Sevy to approach the 190 innings threshold like he did in 2017-2018 in his first season back. Even with last night's missed start, Severino is on-track for 180-195 innings if he makes the rest of his starts as scheduled. In reality, I think the answer will come from a variety of solutions.
I would not be surprised to see Severino on the IL at some point this summer for something similar to "arm fatigue." That cuts out 1-2 starts. For the health of Severino and all of the Yankee starters who had their Spring Training preparation truncated due to labor dispute, I also really expect the Yankees to utilize a 6-man rotation more than once in the 2nd half of the season, which should cut another start while providing a touch of extra rest. Lastly, I expect that by September, Severino will be limited to 5-6 innings for his final 2-4 starts to ensure that he's ready to go for the playoffs.
With all or even some of these measures in place, I expect Severino to throw 155-165 innings in the regular season and be ready for a long playoff run. The Yankees have gobs of rotation depth in 2022, and they will use it to Severino's benefit.
Dave asks: Does Jose Trevino's emergence change the calculus at catcher and is he the starter for the rest of this season or even beyond?
I thought that Trevino would be a nice pickup at backup catcher for the beginning of the season who was capable of making some contact, but not much more. Wow, has he surpassed expectations this season. He's better defensively than I expected, and I think there are real changes to his mechanics that are producing better offensive outcomes. Do I think he's an above-average bat long-term? Sadly, I don't think so. Do I think that he can be better than the 86 wRC+ average for starting catchers in MLB? Yes, I do, which makes him an above-average option at the position when his defensive prowess is considered.
I really wanted a catcher before the start of the season, and I still expect the Yankees to be in on guys like Sean Murphy or free agents like Willson Contreras following the season, but I think Trevino deserves to be the starting catcher for the remainder of the year. Call me crazy, but he's beginning to remind me of Joe Girardi in 1996: great defense, good contact, and a penchant for clutch hits.