Did Yankees Really Ever Need a “Frontline” Starter?

Alex Kielar| September 12th, 2019

When Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman decided to stay pat at the July 31 Trade Deadline and not make even one move for a starter, a lot of questions were raised and some fans were outraged. That outrage was backed up by the fact the Yankees’ starters, over a six-game period from July 20-25, allowed a horrendous 15.59 ERA, allowing 41 earned runs and 12 home runs over 23 2/3 innings. As terrible as this was, did the Yankees really NEED a starter at the deadline? Well, the performance of the starting staff since July 31 has been almost in spite of Cashman not making a move, and the Yankees’ plans with how to use the starters and bullpen are enough to make a deep run. They have even started to try out a new tactic with their starters which I will get into more later.

Since the deadline, the Yankees starters have stepped up and looked better than they have looked all season. James Paxton finally looks like the starter the Yankees traded their top pitching prospect for, looking almost unstoppable the last month and a half. Paxton has won all eight of his starts, posting a 3.57 ERA, 0.867 WHIP, .150 BAA, and a 3.77 SO/BB ratio over 48.3 innings. Masahiro Tanaka has looked in playoff form, going 3-2 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, .300 BAA, and a 3.95 SO/BB ratio in 42.2 innings. Tanaka’s last two starts, he has also allowed a .394 BABIP which shows he may have had a bit of bad luck. The rest of the starters as of September 11, in 39 starts, have gone a combined 19-9 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, .224 BAA, and a 2.86 SO/BB ratio over 188.3 innings. Paxton and Tanaka look like they will be the top two pitchers in a playoff series, with a potential “piggyback” situation for some of the games, depending on the situation.

The bullpen will be used a lot for the Yankees in the postseason, similar to the 2015 Royals World Series run. Who is used and for how long will depend on usage during the series and the game situation. But the tactic they could use as well, which they have played around with already a couple times, is the “piggybacking” of two top starters. This would include starting say, Luis Severino (if he comes back and gets into season form), and having him go for three to four innings, riding maybe Paxton or Tanaka for three innings, then going to the big guns in the bullpen. This tactic is similar to the opener strategy the Yankees have also used and been successful with, using Chad Green as the said opener. But it is a bit different, as in this case they would be riding the hot starter hand, and getting major innings without burning the bullpen. This would also allow the starters to not have to go more than twice through the lineup, which has been a strategy used before, just not in this way. Last season, the Red Sox were actually the first team in World Series history that none of the team’s starters went through a lineup three or more times. While they didn’t use the “piggyback” tactic, they did use their starters out of the bullpen, as Chris Sale was the pitcher who closed out the Series (sorry Dodger fans, well sorry to myself too; Yankee fan here). That might be part of the reason Sale struggled this season, especially towards the beginning, as he was used so much during the Sox run last season.

The Yankees have so many high leverage level arms in their pitching staff (starters and bullpen) that them “overusing” someone isn’t really a possibility. In fact, the Yankees have been strong throughout the season not to use any of their top bullpen arms more than three days in a row. Chad Green has been excellent ever since coming back up from Triple-A after struggling initially, filling in very well in the opener and long-man role. He will certainly be a top option in the postseason, and he could even potentially be stretched out to three innings in the opener role. A possibility is even following Green with a starter such as Severino or anyone who hadn’t been used. There could even be games in a series the Yankees use Green and two starters for three innings each and save all their big guns in the pen. If they put someone in and they struggle, they still have other arms to play with, and every pitcher no matter the situation will have short leashes. On a normal start day with, say Tanaka in Game 1, the Yankees could try to get at least three to four innings, then go to a long man and fill in with a combination of their big bullpen arms. That being considered, the potential to lengthen the bullpen, even more, lies on the health and effectiveness of Dellin Betances as he hopes to return shortly after Severino, who have both not pitched in-game this season. Betances is another arm to play with, which gives Aaron Boone plenty of options on any given day. Green, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, and possibly even CC Sabathia will be arms available to Boone, with most of them available two days in a row if they didn’t pitch much the first day. The travel days in the Postseason will only strengthen this strategy, so pretty much everyone will available for every game. Who Boone decides to rely on will be based on who pitched the best and was used the least amount. I forgot to mention as well, that Domingo German is also an option as far as a “piggyback” or long man option. Severino could be used in long relief in certain games, depending on effectiveness and use, or piggybacking.

I’ve already gone over many different options or tactics the Yankees could go to during the Postseason, as they chase for number 28. There are still many other directions they could go with the pitching staff. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches to some extent, and they have even more of that with their hitters. The one concern there has been if they face the Astros in the playoffs, will their pitching match up? Well, the Yankees can definitely hit, and they could certainly score more than they allow to the Astros in four of the games they play against them. Will it happen? Only time will tell, and anything can happen in the postseason. The Yankees don’t have the same level pitching as the Astros, especially the rotation. But they have the talent as a group to overcome that, and Home Field Advantage will be a huge thing for them to get. It’s no secret the Yankees play better at home, and the Bronx roar in the playoffs is second to none. Before thinking about the Astros, though, the Yankees will obviously have to get by whoever they face in the ALDS, whether that’s the wild card winner or the Twins. While the playoffs are certainly a different animal than the regular season, the Yankees are 21-15 against potential matchups in the Division Series. The one team they would probably like to stay away from the most is the Oakland A’s, as they got swept at O.Co Coliseum, and did not have a fun time. Obviously, in the DS they would have home field, but having to play there could drain them, with one or two games being played there. Winning the first two games at home would be a must there, as they would not want to give the A’s a chance to clinch at the Coliseum by winning both those games.

Anyway, before I go way off the realm of what the purpose of this article was, the Yankees never really needed to go after a frontline starter or “ace” at the deadline. Certainly not overpaying for one, and they might not even be better off with any that was on the market. They have so many ways to use the arms in their rotation and pen and will ride that as far as it will take them; they hope it will take them all the way to the promised land. There are also a lot of things about this 2019 Yankees team that mirror or are similar to the 2009 World Series-winning team from ten years ago, but that’s for another article.

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

 

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