This week we asked our writers:
How would you fix the concerns with the Yankees pitching staff?
Here are the responses:
Lincoln Mitchell: The problem with the Yankees pitching staff looks a lot different now than it did on Friday night. Good starts from Paxton and Tanaka have reduced some of the concern around the starting pitching. The Yankees need to solve this problem by having Boone manage it better. Twice in the last three games, he let a pitcher stay in one or two batters too long. Additionally, he spreads the innings around and gives too many to the Yankees second tier relievers. In a short season, the Yankees cannot afford to do this.
Paul Semendinger – Gerrit Cole has been (just about) as advertised. (I have a piece about Cole going up at 4:00 p.m. today). The rest of the starting staff, maybe outside of Masahiro Tanaka who is still coming back to his regular self after a shirted “Summer Camp,” has been underwhelming. It might be time to see what Clarke Schmidt can do. The bullpen, also, without Aroldis Chapman (coming back) and Tommy Kahnle (out for the year) is much shorter. The Yankees lack depth. They almost cannot afford to lose any of Cole’s starts which puts incredible pressure on him. I also agree with Lincoln Mitchell (above) that Aaron Boone has stuck with his pitchers a bit too long, letting them fall apart on too many occasions, before lifting them. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to have much choice. I think it’s time the Yankees trade Clint Frazier and/or Miguel Andujar for a quality arm.
Matthew Cohen – Cole and Tanaka have performed reasonably well so far. Paxton will be fine. He’s had some bad luck on batted balls. I think that Montgomery will be fine as well. Happ has been a disaster. A 8.3% strikeout rate and 22.2% walk rate is awful. The Yankees will need a 5th starter to replace him unless he turns it around pretty quickly.
Loiasiga has showed promise in limited innings. Michael King has walked too many batters and had home run issues but he’s showed promise.
I think that there’s a good chance that King or Loiasiga will be serviceable as a #5. Maybe a combination of the 2 of them. Because of this, I think that the starting 5 will be fine.
The relief corps is another issue.
Kahnle is lost for the season, which is a huge blow. But once Chapman returns, the Yankees will have a very solid top 3 in Chapman, Britton and Green (who has been good). So the 8th and 9th innings will be covered (not every reliever can pitch every day), but getting there will involve some drama.
I don’t trust Ottavino. He walked 14.1% of batters last year and is at 12.5% this year so far. His strikeout rate is down to 20.8% from 31.1% last year. Holder is average at best. Cessa is more of a mediocre long relief guy for me. I don’t really trust anyone else in the pen.
Now the good news is that with a short season, you can maybe get more than an inning out of your top guys so maybe you are covered for the 7th, 8th and 9th most days. So if the starters can go 6, you might be ok. The playoffs should be do-able as well.
The Yankees really need to look at some minor leaguers. Hopefully the loser of the King/Loaisiga battle for #5 starter can eat some middle relief innings (unless they pair the 2 on every 5th day).
As far as prospects, the Yankees don’t really have any top level relief prospects that I like. Which is unfortunate.
Abreu is not the answer. He walked too many people at AA and that problem will be worse in the bigs.
I’d love to see what Clarke Schmidt can do. Miguel Yajure would be a guy I’d give a try in a low leverage situation as well.
Barring a disaster, the Yankees should make the playoffs. And they should be ok in the pen in the playoffs (the #5 starter will be in the pen at that point as well). But the pen is certainly looking a bit thinner than it has in previous years.
Mike Whiteman – I don’t think wholesale changes are needed at this point. Good outings by Tanaka and Paxton in Tampa were encouraging. I anticipate that Montgomery will be an adequate #4 starter. Should Happ continue to struggle, then the decision on if the future is now for Clarke Schmidt gets real.
Bullpen depth has a way of hiding rotation issues, and the loss of Kahnle and Chapman has helped to expose the Yankees’ struggles. The return of Chapman moves everyone back a step, and that leaves Green and Ottavino handing games to Britton in the eighth and Chapman in the ninth. The emergence of King, Loaisiga, or someone else as a reliable bullpen arm would be helpful, but if nobody steps up then the Yanks would be wise to seek a deal for another bullpen piece.
James Vlietstra – Based on Baseball Reference’s inning by inning breakdown, the team ERA improves later in the game. So the high leverage bullpen guys are overall doing well. This should improve when Chapman returns this week and pushes everyone up an inning.
So the real problem is the starting pitching beyond Cole and Tanaka. I expect Paxton to be solid.
So the simple solution is activate Clarke Schmidt and hope his youthful aggression is absorbed by his peers. The roster spot would have to come from someone, probably Hale or Avilan.
Ed Botti – Despite losing 3 of 4 to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees have a 10-6 record (.625%), which over a full season would equate to 101 wins. So they aren’t at a desperate point.
The top end of the rotation of Cole, Tanaka, and Paxton, if healthy will not be altered. Leaving Happ and Montgomery as the only starters that could possibly be replaced mid-season. It would be a rash decisions at this point to remove Happ from the rotation, after all he has only thrown 7 innings so far and is making a prorated $17 million this season. Which leaves us with Montgomery who hasn’t looked great in his 2 starts, but is coming off a long period of inactivity due to his injury.
A possible a solution for a short season is to use more of a bullpen approach during the Happ and Monty starts. We are only looking at 8 or so more potential starts for each of them. In order to do so, the top end three must pitch deep into games. Cole isn’t an issue. Tanaka can do it, and probably will. The question is can Paxton do so after coming back from back surgery?
Paxton proved he can pitch effectively with his reduced velocity this past Sunday. The problem for him may be stamina, as we saw him break down in the 7th inning with a very low pitch count, in an otherwise very impressive start.
I do not believe that the answer will be found in the pool of the 30 reserve players in Scranton, regarding a rotation upgrade.
Many have been saying for the last 2 years or so that Chad Green deserves a shot in the rotation. This year he has a much improved slider to go with his fastball, curveball and occasional sinker However, I believe that doing so will weaken the bullpen, especially with the Tommy Kahne injury.
There is an August 31 trade deadline looming, so who knows what will happen in 3 weeks, and who will be sellers in this season of expanded playoffs.
The loss of Tommy Kahnle and his changeup will be a big loss for the staff. If and when they get Chapman back, which should be very soon, it will be a major boost. The bullpen innings have to be managed very strategically and I believe Boone and Matt Blake are up to the task of using their 10 bullpen arms effectively. Having said that, I do not think a repeat of Saturday’s Game 2 pitching order of King, Avilan, Abreu and Heller should be followed again anytime soon. There were much better matchups available, but they decided to go with the neophytes, and it didn’t work out as they walked 9 in 6 innings.
Ethan Semendinger – There aren’t many moves that the Yankees have to do to shell up the rotation and keep the bullpen able to function without being overtaxed at the top. The return of Aroldis Chapman is going to be big as they are without two major arms in Dellin Betances (who they did miss in 2019 as well) and Tommy Khanle, but they’ll still have four high quality arms in the pen with Chapman, Britton, Ottavino, and Green. As long as the other relievers (Holder, Heller, etc.) can hold innings the Yankees should be able to work with that. It’s still easily a Top-3 bullpen in the MLB.
For the rotation, the first move is to take J.A. Happ and make him the long reliever. He is done and starting is no longer a viable option if the Yankees want to win. This also provides extra bullpen depth if a starter doesn’t go 5+ innings. This means they’ll have to replace Happ in the rotation as well, which means it is time to give Schmidt and Garcia a shot. Erik Kratz has said that they are ready, and I’m ready to see what they can do as well. Masahiro Tanaka will be back to getting through 5/6 innings shortly (which taxed the bullpen heavily) and James Paxton looked very good in his last start (which also taxed the bullpen). Combine that with Cole as the ace and Montgomery as the #5 man and bullpen issues should be sorted out naturally as players return to their normal production levels.
Patrick Gunn – If I were Brian Cashman, I would look to add a dependable starter and a reliever at the trade deadline. The Yankees bullpen has been stronger than I expected without Aroldis Chapman and Tommy Kahnle (mainly thanks to Jonathan Holder and David Hale), but the Bombers could use another strong multi-inning reliever. Maybe reach out to the Royals for Trevor Rosenthal or Greg Holland (they’re pitching well now). Also, their rotation has been inconsistent this year, aside from solid work from Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. James Paxton showed signs of improvements in his last start, but that’s coming off the heels of two abysmal starts. The Bombers should reach out to the Rangers and Diamondbacks – two teams they talked to last year – about the same starters they looked into in Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, and Robbie Ray (Jim Bowden details several other pitchers who could also help out the Yankees).