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The Fifth Man: Who’s it Going to Be?

With one addition, the Yankees have changed their rotation from middle-of-the-pack in MLB to having the potential to be one of the best. Gerrit Cole provides the Bombers with the ace at the top of their rotation New York badly needed. The signing takes pressure off Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and James Paxton to perform at ace level.

However, in most rotations, there are five main starters. The Yankees still have a major decision on who will be the fifth man in this strong starting staff. With several candidates to start for the Bombers, manager Aaron Boone and company have a difficult decision in choosing who will be their fifth starter coming out of spring training.

Here are some of the nominees:

J.A. HAPP:

Happ is the highest paid of New York’s in-house options for the fifth starter spot, and possibly their most volatile. Multiple reports have come out stating that the Yankees want to clear payroll to make room for Cole’s contract, and Happ’s $17 million would be an easy subtraction if they can find a partner.

Part of the reason Brian Cashman might be looking to trade Happ is because of the southpaw’s poor performance last year. Happ posted a career worst Fielding Independent Pitching (5.22) and home run rate (1.9 home runs per nine innings) to go along with a 4.91 ERA while averaging fewer than five and a third innings per start. He was so unreliable that the Bombers went with three starters – including one pitcher in Severino who threw 12 innings last season – and Happ was demoted to the bullpen.

Blame the juiced ball, blame the New York lights, Happ had a bad season. And, given his contract, there’s no guarantee that he makes another start in Pinstripes.

That being said, Happ has been a relatively reliable pitcher over the course of his career, averaging 190 innings and 33 starts per season over the course of his 13 year career. Also, over his previous five season, Happ had a 3.62 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and a 3.09 strikeout per walk ratio. Last year could have been regression (he is going into his age 37 season), but last year could have been a blip in the radar. Yes, he is pricey, but Happ might not be a bad candidate to be the Bomber’s fifth starter next season.

DOMINGO GERMAN:

Given the details of his domestic abuse case, German may not be starting for the Bombers for a while. Whether or not he deserves to start in Pinstripes again is another story.

In terms of on-field performance, German was, at times, the Yankees’ best starter. He led all Yankees starters in wins with 18, while posting a 3.92 strikeouts per walk ratio along with 9.6 strikeouts per nine and 2.5 walks per nine.

However, German seems like a likely regression candidate. He did have a 4.03 ERA, but his FIP was 4.72. That’s thanks to a home run rate of 1.9 dingers per nine innings – the same exact rate as Happ. He also had a relatively high left-on-base percentage of 78.7% while allowing an extremely low .259 batting average on balls in plays and a relatively 38.1% ground ball rate.

This is to say that German will most likely not pitch as well as he did last season without improvement. Yes, he pitched well last season, but all the signs point to German taking a step back next year. I would say that German is a better candidate for the Yankees’ bullpen long term than in the rotation.

JORDAN MONTGOMERY:

Monty’s statistics are harder to pull off given that he missed nearly all of the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, his pre-Tommy John performance in 2017 was solid if not spectacular, posting a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts with an 8.3 strikeout per nine rate coupled with a decent 3.0 walks per nine and a moderate 1.2 home runs per nine.

The statistics may not jump out at you (and his 4.07 FIP is nothing crazy), but his minor league career (2.54 ERA, 3.43 Strikeouts per walks, 8.9 strikeouts per nine, 2.6 walks per nine). Also, Montgomery showed flashes of being a stable innings-eater in the middle of the rotation for years to come in his brief tenure. Even with the missed time, Montgomery is a solid in-house option for the Bombers next season.

DEIVI GARCIA:

Possibly the biggest reach on this list but who could blame me for mentioning him after his meteoric rise? Garcia lit up single and double-A ball last season, posting 120 strikeouts in just 71.1, a buff strikeout-per-nine rate of 15.2. Then came Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where Garcia had an ERA of 5.40 and a home run rate of 1.8 homers per nine.

Given his control issues (he averaged 4.5 walks per nine at all three levels last year) and struggles at triple-A, Garcia may be regulated to start the season in the minors. However, talent sells in the majors, and Garcia may be the best in-house talent the Yankees have to be the fifth starter. His strikeout potential alone may get him an opportunity to pitch in relief next season, but do not count out Garcia’s chances to start if he can put everything together.

JONATHAN LOAISIGA:

Another big arm, Loaisiga’s talent got him several playoff appearances last year. Not to mention the fact that Loaisiga has improved each year in the minors, increasing his strikeout rate from 7.7 strikeouts per nine in 2016, to 9.1 in 2017 to 10.8 in 2018 to 11.2 last season.

Once again, control is an issue at the major league level (his 1.7 walks per nine innings in the minors did not carry over in the majors), but Loaisiga’s biggest challenge is staying healthy. The right-hander has only thrown 56.1 innings in the majors the past two years and only has 189 innings total in the minor leagues over five seasons. He was released from the Giants in 2015 after missing all of 2014 on the shelf and missed most of 2016 and 2017 after having Tommy John surgery. Last year, Loaisiga landed on the 60-day injured last with a right shoulder injury.

The talent – a mid-nineties fastball and solid breaking pitches – are all there. Loaisiga’s biggest test is staying on the field for a full 162-game season.

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These are just five of the Yankee’s in-house options to be the fifth starter next year. That does not take into account the possibility of the Yankees going out and acquiring another free agent pitcher like a Dallas Keuchel or Hyun-Jin Ryu. Maybe those pitchers are too expensive for what New York is looking for, but there are options. Up and down the roster, the Yankees have many solid candidates to be their fifth starter next season.

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