There’s a pervasive thought that the Yankees lack sufficient pitching depth coming into the 2021 season. For many, the gambles on Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon are too risky. Allowing Masahiro Tanaka to depart was a mistake. There’s no one after Gerrit Cole who the team can count on to carry a significant workload. All of these are valid concerns to an extent.
Yet, various projections indicate that the Yankees’ pitching staff stacks up with the best of the league. PECOTA says the Yankees have the fifth-best group by WARP, whereas the Yankees are number one per FanGraphs Depth Charts. This completely cuts against the grain of many folks’ sentiments.
Projections aren’t the be-all-end-all, of course. What you see on Baseball Prospectus or FanGraphs’ Depth Charts is a 50th percentile projection, or an indication that there’s a 50 percent chance that the team/player perform at or above said projection. Now, one of the nice things about Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA is that you can look at a wide variety of outcomes. There are the ugly 1st percentile projections, which really just mean that there’s a 99 percent chance that the player meets or exceeds said projection. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 99th percentile projection has just a 1 percent chance of being met or exceeded.
So, when you glean the Yankees’ wide range of projections per PECOTA compared to other clubs, you can get a better sense of how worrisome the pitching staff really is (hint: it’s not).
Now that I’ve gotten my lackluster Excel-created chart out of the way, let’s look at something a bit cleaner from one of our new writers, Jaime:
There are a few key takeaways here, in no particular order:
- The Yankees have a 36.4 WARP difference between the 99th and 1st percentiles. Only seven teams have a smaller range: the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Blue Jays, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Angels. Of course, a small range doesn’t necessarily mean a higher floor. For instance, Toronto ranges from -11 to 25.1. But in the Yankees’ case, I’d say it’s a good thing to have a smaller range of outcomes.
- The Yankees have an 8.2 WARP gap between the 70th and 30th percentile projections (roughly +/-4.1 in either direction from the 50th) That’s the fifth-smallest gap. Yet another positive.
- The Bombers’ 1st percentile projection is still fourth-best among all 1st percentile projections.
- Let’s compare to everyone’s favorite rival: the Rays. The Yankees have a slightly better 50th percentile projection and roughly the same best case scenario. Yet, the Tampa Bay’s downside is far worse than that of the Yankees.
- Let’s say that all other 29 teams met their 50th percentile projections. Where would the Yankees rank if they were the exception and hit a lower percentile?
- 40th percentile: 13.9 WARP, 6th-best
- 30th percentile: 11.7 WARP, 9th-best
- 20th percentile: 9.2 WARP, 17th-best
- Gerrit Cole gives the Yankees a huge boost. His 4.8 WARP projection gives the team a huge leg up on clubs without aces like him. Yeah, things would be pretty bleak if he has a serious injury. But not many other teams could survive losing a top-5 pitcher in the sport.
- The Yankees have eight pitchers projected to record 1 WARP or more: Cole, Corey Kluber (1.8), Jameson Taillon (1.5), Jordan Montgomery (1.3), Luis Severino (1.3), Aroldis Chapman (1.1), Chad Green (1.0), and Deivi García (1.0). That’s more than any other team. That’s what you call depth, folks.
- If one of these 1 WARP guys flops (possible!) but another works out (also possible!) things should level out. I know 1 WARP doesn’t sound exciting, but when it’s a bunch of guys without workloads like Cole, it’s a very, very good thing. If, say, Taillon manages to throw 150 innings, we’re talking about a 2.1 WARP season at the same rate as his base projection. Whereas if Kluber busts and throws just 50 innings, he still would pick up .7 WARP at this same pace. In other words: it’s going to take multiples of these 1 WARP guys failing for things to really go wrong. The Yankees have spread the risk among a bunch of pitchers rather than putting all their eggs into one basket.
- Now, if you want to change that threshold to 1.5 WARP or better, Yankees have 3 which is tied for fourth-best. Lastly, 10 teams have multiple pitchers with 2 WARP projections or better. This is one area where the team falls short. If you want to make your case that the staff lacks a high enough floor, I think this is what you’d point to. (The Padres have 5, which is absurd. Next closest is MIL/PHI with 3).
- Let’s talk about innings for a moment. After Cole (198), only four pitchers project to toss 100 innings or more: Kluber (138), Montgomery (115), García (115), Taillon (103). On the face of it, those total innings numbers don’t sound good. But, this is where most of the league stands. Only the Dodgers have more pitchers projected to go above 100 innings (six total). There are 17 total teams with five pitchers receiving 100 inning projections or more. And hey, this is why the Yankees have built such a damn good bullpen.
So, how about a little touch of optimism, folks? Sure, there may be individual risk among guys like Kluber and Taillon, but the fact that the front office built an extremely deep pitching staff should mitigate things. There will be bumps in the road — there always are across 162 games — but it would take a catastrophe for this pitching staff to be bad. There are enough options to plug holes as issues come up. And, if things really go awry, there’s still the trade deadline as a saving grace.