Despite being better than expected, the Yankees rotation has been mercurial. At its best, each starter contributes six or more innings, allowing two runs or less. At its worst, the starters are inefficient and allow four or five runs in three innings. This leads to more pressure and a heavier burden placed upon the bullpen. This has generally been the downfall for the New York Yankees in the last several seasons. When the rotation was healthy in April and May, it was this team’s bright spot. However, it faltered in June for a multitude of reasons. Combine this with an underperforming offense and you get a team that posted a 12-14 record with a -11 run differential during the month of June.
The Yankees Rotation at its Best
The Yankees fell to 41-41 after a loss in the first game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets on July 4th. Since this date, New York’s 20-10 record is the best in baseball. In all, they are 61-51, 6.5 games back of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East, and 2.5 back in the Wild Card race. Of any starting staff in the majors since July 4th, the Yankees collective 4.0 fWAR narrowly ranks second, behind Milwaukee’s 4.1 fWAR. The starters 10.36 K/9 ranks first, 2.79 ERA ranks third, 3.44 FIP ranks fourth, and their 154 2/3 innings pitched ranks 9th. All told, New York’s rotation has been one of the best over the past five weeks.
Also of note, more help is on the way as right-handers Luis Severino and Corey Kluber are set to return in the coming weeks. Kluber was part of the rotation in April and May, starting the season in a strong fashion. In 10 starts and 53 1/3 innings, he posted a 3.04 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 9.3 K/9, and a 143 ERA+. He also threw a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers in May. In addition, Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery are currently on the COVID-related injured list but will presumably be back in the next week or two. What this means is, as good as the rotation has been, it figures to get even better as their best pitchers return to the field.
Gerrit Cole is the unheralded ace of the staff. Even with the sticky stuff concerns, he has had a dominant season by most measures. The acquisition of Jameson Taillon in January could help the rotation if Taillon was healthy again. When slotted behind Cole, with Severino healthy, the Yankees will have a potent one, two, three in their rotation. Even though he has made all of his starts, Taillon’s season was a disaster until July. Over the first three months, he put up an ugly 5.43 ERA and batters posted a .811 OPS against him. A very apparent change in pitch selection has seemingly led Taillon to greater success. He won the AL Pitcher of the Month award in July, making five starts and pitching 31 innings while posting a 1.16 ERA, with opponents batting .182 against him.
If you want to take an even greater sample size, Taillon has a 2.35 ERA over his last nine starts. Despite Cole finding his groove again for a few starts in mid-July, Taillon has been the best pitcher on the team during this hot stretch. His season numbers still do not look great but are trending in the right direction. He currently has a 4.04 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 9.1 K/9, and 1.215 WHIP. While still nowhere near his best, this is the Taillon the Yankees were hoping to get when they acquired him.
The Rest of the Yankees Rotation
Lately, Taillon has been the best pitcher on the team, but what about everyone else? How valuable has Nestor Cortes Jr. been to this staff? Cortes made his first start of the season on July 4th in game two of a doubleheader against the Mets. Since then, Cortes has made four starts, five appearances in all. He’s pitched 20 innings to the tune of a 3.15 ERA. Cortes has even completed five innings in each of his last two starts. In total, he has pitched in 12 games and 37 2/3 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 2.80 FIP. In addition to his bullpen work, he has been a great contributor to the starting staff.
From looking at his numbers, Domingo German is not having a great season. Over 97 innings pitched, his 4.45 ERA, 4.32 FIP, and 97 ERA+ are all below-average figures. Even his July was not great, with a 4.29 ERA. However, in his last three July outings, he pitched a combined 15 innings with a 3.00 ERA. In one of those starts, he had a no-hitter through seven innings against the Boston Red Sox. Despite currently being on the injured list, the Yankees have leaned on German to provide valuable innings.
One last pitcher worth mentioning is Jordan Montgomery. He has used his deep arsenal and savvy approach to make himself a top-20 starting pitcher in 2021 according to his fWAR. His 2.7 fWAR is not only second on the Yankees but is 18th in baseball. His 3.69 ERA ranks 29th, and 3.49 FIP ranks 16th. In six starts since the beginning of July, “Monty” has put up a 2.76 ERA in 32 2/3 innings pitched. He has firmly solidified himself as a quality number three starter.
Optimistic in New York
The Yankees are 6-2 in August, and 8-2 since Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo joined their lineup. There is no doubt that having Gallo and Rizzo in the lineup creates a dynamic that wasn’t present before. Gallo has had a slow start to his career in pinstripes, while Rizzo has raked. Both make a huge difference on offense and defense. Regardless, it is the starting pitching that has propelled the Yankees squarely into the playoff picture. They have driven the team to a 61-51 record, and a hot start in August. Even with a new addition, Andrew Heaney, serving as extra rotation depth, the pitching figures to get even better when players like Kluber and Severino return.
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