Yankees 2023 Rotation Report Card
By Sal Maiorana
Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, will be sharing some of his thoughts on the Yankees here on SSTN.
For honest, unfiltered analysis on the New York Yankees, you can subscribe to Sal Maiorana's free Pinstripe People Newsletter at https://salmaiorana.beehiiv.com/subscribe.
Given how horrendous the Yankees offense was this season, it would have taken Herculean pitching efforts from the entire staff to get this team to the postseason.
And before the All-Star break, that was actually happening. The Yankees were 49-42, their rotation cumulative ERA was 4.31 which, while not great was OK, and they were just a game behind the Astros for the third and final wild-card berth.
But coming out of the break the Yankees lost five of six games on a road trip that went through Colorado and Anaheim, two lousy teams, and so began a second-half slog that saw the Yankees post a 33-38 record and the rotation ERA was 4.62, due mostly to the nightmarish performances of Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino.
By season’s end the rotation ERA was 4.44 which ranked 18th in MLB, quite a fall from 2022 when it was fourth-best at nearly a full run better (3.51). Imagine if Gerrit Cole wasn’t on the team how much worse that number would have been.
But again, there wasn’t much the pitching staff could have done to improve the arc of this season because the offense was so inept. The Yankees had 53 games this season where they scored two or fewer runs, so what is a staff supposed to do with that?
However, one thing the Yankees’ rotation could have done better is pitch better in the first inning. They had an abominable ERA of 6.11 as they gave up 113 runs, by far the worst inning. The next worst was the third at 90 runs which was a combination of starters and relievers.
And by falling behind so often in games, the Yankees weren’t good enough to battle back and win on many of those nights - they had only 31 comeback wins and averaged just 1.18 runs in the final three innings of their games.
Here’s how I graded the most used starters:
Gerrit Cole: A+
The announcement won’t be made until mid-November, but we already know Cole will be the AL Cy Young Award winner, and it’s about time. He should have won it in 2019 but it went to his Astros teammate, Justin Verlander. He was also runner-up in 2021 to Toronto’s Robbie Ray who was the right choice. Cole has also had three other top finishes including a fourth with the Yankees in 2020.
Statistically, 2019 has been the best season of Cole’s 11-year career, but 2023 comes very close. He was far and away the Yankees best player - pitcher or batter. The counting numbers say plenty - a 15-4 record for an AL-best .789 winning percentage, and he also led the AL in ERA (2.63), starts (33), innings (209), and hits allowed per nine innings (6.8), while he led MLB in shutouts (2) and WHIP (0.981)
But there were other numbers that took it deeper. There were only five MLB pitchers who threw at least 200 innings in 2023 and Cole’s 217 baserunners allowed were easily the lowest. Next was Arizona’s Zac Gallen who allowed 240 baserunners in 210 innings. And of the 58 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings, Cole’s .259 on-base percentage against was No. 1.
And his quality start percentage (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer) was 73.0%, tied for the best with San Francisco’s Logan Webb. Since he got to the majors in 2013, Cole’s six seasons of at least 200 innings pitched is tied for the most with Verlander and Max Scherzer. He’s a workhorse, the true definition of an ace because he stays healthy and every five days you can count on him to give you a chance to win.
Clarke Schmidt B-
Based on what I expected from Schmidt in 2023 and what he ultimately produced, I’d have to call him a mildly pleasant surprise. In spring training, he was supposed to be battling Domingo German for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but then the injuries began and Schmidt wound up being a rotation regular who made 32 starts. That was one less than he’d made in his first three seasons combined with the Yankees.
And in 27 starts he allowed three earned runs or fewer, though only five of those could be classified as quality starts. That’s because there were only five times where he managed to go six innings, and that was part of the frustration with Schmidt. His career-long issue with putting batters away continued in 2023 and that jacked up his pitch counts and his WHIP (1.352) and we all know how married the Yankees are to pitch count. That, plus they didn’t trust Schmidt to face an order the third time through. Schmidt had 12 starts of at least 90 pitches and in five of those he topped out at five innings or less.
But hey, Schmidt gave the Yankees a solid season with an ERA of 4.64 (slightly above the MLB average) and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.24 across 159 innings. If the Yankees had any semblance of an offense, Schmidt would have benefited. In 13 of his starts the Yankees scored three or fewer runs and eight of those wound up as losses on Schmidt’s record. In nine of those 13 games, Schmidt gave up three runs or less.
Carlos Rodon: F
What a nightmare this guy was. The Yankees gave him a six-year, $162 million free agent contract even though he has had a history of injuries. But they fell in love with his previous two years when he had a 2.37 ERA in 24 starts for the 2021 White Sox, and a 2.88 ERA in 31 starts with the 2022 Giants which were far and away the two best seasons of his eight in MLB. They projected that he would keep building on that, but for one year at least, splat.
He got hurt almost immediately in spring training, a forearm injury that eventually morphed into a back issue and he missed the first three months of the season. And don’t we all wish he had just missed the entire season? What a joke. This was without question one of the worst debut seasons of any big-ticket Yankee free agent in team history.
It all came to an embarrassing end in his final start against the 106-loss Royals when he faced eight men, got none of them out, and all eight scored, ballooning his ERA to a deplorable 6.85. Rodon, who also missed two weeks in August with a hamstring injury, made 14 starts and only three were quality starts. He made it into the seventh inning just twice, and he had three games where he didn’t even get to the fourth inning. His WHIP was a career-worst 1.446 and his 9.1 hits allowed per nine innings were his second-highest.
The Yankees are stuck with this guy and in 2024, when he’s 31 years old, he has to make a dramatic turnaround and become the No. 2 starter behind Cole that the Yankees envisioned.
Nestor Cortes: D
Nasty Nestor wasn’t exactly that in 2023. He suffered a hamstring injury in spring training and while he did return for the start of the season, he was never right. Cortes took a major step backward after his somewhat shocking 2022 season when he emerged as the Yankees’ second-best starter. That Cortes was nowhere to be found as he ultimately hurt his shoulder at the end of May and made only one start thereafter.
His ERA of 2.44 in 2022 - which I always thought was a bit fluky based on his career numbers - more than doubled to 4.97, as did his home runs per nine innings as he served up 11 gopher balls in just 63.1 innings across 12 starts. Like Schmidt, Cortes often had a tough time putting batters away and they hit .244 with a .750 OPS against him as opposed to .189 and .554 in 2022. His strikeout percentage and ground ball percentage - two key factors in recording outs - went down, while his walk and fly ball percentages went up.
Also, another telling sign was the average exit velocity against him was 89.3 mph, a career-worst, so he wasn’t fooling many dudes. He just didn’t have it. Interestingly, the Yankees gave him decent run support and they won eight of those games and Cortes’ record was 5-2.
Luis Severino: F
What a shame. When Severino first came up to the Yankees in 2015 he looked like a future superstar, everything you want in an ace starter. And after two partial seasons in 2015 and 2016, Severino fully emerged in 2017 and 2018 as he made the All-Star game in both years and finished top 10 in Cy Young balloting (third in 2017). He looked like a foundational piece for those so-called Baby Bombers in 2017, and his four-year, $40 million contract signed in 2019 looked like a steal.
Well, as it turned out, it was a steal, as in Severino stealing money from the Yankees. Since he put pen to paper, injuries ruined the righty and Severino made a grand total of 40 starts, threw 209.1 innings, and had an ERA of 4.47 with a WHIP of 1.261. It was an unmitigated disaster which came to a head in 2023 after the Yankees exercised the team option on that contract at $15 million, and got the worst Severino season of them all.
Seriously, he was more valuable to them in all the games he missed. In 18 mostly tragic starts he finished with a 6.65 ERA, a 1.646 WHIP and a 2.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, numbers that simply defy belief. And when you couple his 18 starts with Rodon’s miserable 14, it’s laughable how bad both of them were.
Severino will turn 30 in February, and I can’t imagine any scenario where the Yankees bring him back as a free agent, even on a one-year prove it deal. I think he needs a change of scenery, and the Yankees need to move on from a player who just hasn’t been useable or available for most of the last five years.
Domingo German: B-
Look, this guy is obviously a bad guy and I hope we never see him again, but grading him honestly for just his work on the field and not considering his disastrous life off the field, he was pretty good. And that’s what makes German one of the most polarizing Yankees in recent memory because the talent is obviously there, but what a bad guy he is.
He threw a perfect game on June 28 against the A’s, just the fourth in Yankees history. And when he wasn’t getting drunk and making such an jerk of himself that the Yankees essentially kicked him off the team and sent him to rehab, the former domestic abuser had several other strong performances.
He made 20 starts and pitched at least six innings in 11 which helped the bullpen. And in 12 starts he allowed two earned runs or fewer. There were a couple clunkers that pushed his ERA up to 4.56, but his WHIP was actually very good at 1.077 in his 108.2 innings. My assumption is that his Yankee career is done, but they have to find a replacement for a guy who, more often than not, gave the Yankees a decent outing.
Jhony Brito: C+
Brito actually was a bit of a surprise. In a normal season he would have either been in Triple-A or, if he was called up, would have been a low-leverage middle reliever. But this wasn’t a normal season, not when so many Yankee starters got hurt.
Of Brito’s 25 appearances 13 were starts and his results weren’t great. His ERA as a starter was an ugly 6.32 and opponents had an OPS of .889 against him, though the bulk of the damage came in two awful outings against the Twins and Red Sox when he allowed 13 earned runs combined in just three innings.
Take those out and he was OK, and his grade gets saved from failure for two reasons: At least he made those 13 starts at a time when the Yankees needed them, and then as a reliever he was very good as his ERA was 1.43 in 37.2 innings across 12 appearances with an OPS against of just .504. Depending on how the offseason roster construction goes, he might have a chance to win a rotation spot in 2024 or perhaps become a useful middle reliever.