The Yankees have reached the end of the first half, or at least the All-Star break, with a 57-31 record and 6.5 game lead in the division. From now until play resumes Friday, we’ll evaluate the team thus far, position by position: First up: the rotation.
The Yankees came into the spring poised for improvement in the rotation with James Paxton aboard, a full season of J.A. Happ and the jettison of Sonny Gray. However, with injuries to everyone but Happ and Masahiro Tanaka, the staff has had to stay afloat with its depth.
- 4.22 ERA (12th in MLB)
- 4.61 FIP (20th)
- 16.2% K-BB rate (9th)
- 443 2/3 IP (25th)
Masahiro Tanaka – B
Remember when everyone thought Tanaka should just go ahead and get Tommy John surgery after an injury to his UCL? Five years later, he’s the only Yankee starter to reach 100 IP and not miss or be skipped in a start this season.
The right-hander was improbably an All-Star despite a 3.86 ERA and 4.24 FIP in 18 starts, though his 2.1 fWAR lead Yankee starters. He’s raised his performance against top competition; in six starts against the Astros and Rays, he’s allowed just eight runs in 40 1/3 innings. His most high profile start, however, was a dud when he allowed six runs and couldn’t escape the first inning in London.
The key in the second half will be if he can find his old splitter. It’s gone from his go-to offering in big spots to one of the worst pitches in baseball as he’s lost depth on the pitch. The pitch ranks last among splitters in Fangraphs’ pitch values.
James Paxton – C+
Hailed as a potential new ace, Paxton has fallen short of lofty expectations thus far. He leads Yankee starters with 95 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings, but his 4.01 ERA lags behind his FIP.
The tall southpaw was hitting his stride in April after discovering he was tipping pitches against Houston. He allowed just five hits in 14 scoreless innings over two starts against the Red Sox and Royals while striking out 12 in each start.
However, as he has in previous seasons, Paxton suffered an injury. His knee took him out for 26 days in May and he’s been below-average since. In eight starts, he’s lasted just 38 2/3 innings and has a 4.89 ERA with hitters batting .299/.368/.503 against him.
There’s hope still for a strong second half. He hasn’t lost velocity since coming off the IL and produced back-to-back quality starts to end the first half. His 11-strikeout performance in Tampa on Sunday was his best outing in months.
Domingo German – A
German has broken out around a hip injury and leads the Yankees with a 3.67 ERA and 10 wins. I know, 10 wins means nothing, but it’s still somewhat cool. The right-hander had flashes of brilliance in 2018 and he’s become a consistent force when healthy this season.
What’s led to the breakout? His curveball is seventh in Fangraphs pitch values, just behind Aaron Nola and German Marquez. German throws the curve more than any other pitch and holds hitters to a .155 average with 55 strikeouts on the pitch.
The right-hander missed time with a hip injury and looked back-to-form in his return Wednesday. His surge in home runs before going on the IL — seven in three starts — was/is concerning, so whether hitters are powering up against him is worth monitoring.
J.A. Happ – D
Happ has had well documented issues with home runs this season, surrendering 20 in 89 2/3 innings. Only four of his 17 starts have been homerless.
What happened to the Happ from 2018, you ask? The 36-year-old has lost 1.3 mph on his fastball, which averages just 90.7 mph this season. That’s coincided with only a 0.3 mph drop on his changeup, so he no longer has as much separate between the two pitches. Between his fastball and slider, there’s only a 6.4 mph average separation between his fastest and slowest pitches.
He has some 2018 Sonny Gray issues going on with Yankee Stadium, allowing 13 home runs with a 6.29 ERA in 44 1/3 innings at home vs. 7 homers, a 3.77 ERA and 45 1/3 innings on the road. Fortunately, three of his four best home starts have been wins against the Rays and Red Sox.
Moving forward, he’s ideally a five-and-fly pitcher who can narrowly hand a lead to the bullpen.
CC Sabathia – B
Dang, CC Sabathia will retire in just a few months. That reality is tough to accept. The southpaw turns 39 years old on July 21 and has been a fine starter in his age-38 season with a 4.03 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 76 innings. He’s hit both 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts for his career.
Two concerning signs for Sabathia: After excelling off weak contact in 2016-2018, his average exit velocity allowed has gone from 84.4 to 86.5 mph in 2019. That’s still above-average but just by 1.0 mph. The other concern is a rise in home runs, which may be related. He’s allowed 1.9 per nine innings, better only than his 2014 campaign.
After a mid-season swoon around his annual knee maintenance IL stint, he has turned it around with three straight quality starts against the Rays and Jays. He was over-extended in Saturday’s start, yet he featured his best stuff of the year.
Luis Severino – N/A
Severino signed a four-year extension at the start of Spring Training, but fans haven’t seen the newly paid right-hander. He’s missed the entire season with a shoulder injury (injuries?) and has had a series of setbacks. The Yankees admitted to missteps with his rehab.
Since he was injured early in the spring, he needs a full ramp-up to come back, so any further setbacks would presumably preclude a return in 2019. That’s devastating for the Bombers.
Chad Green/Nestor Cortes Jr. – A
Jonathan Loaisiga initially held down the depth starter role and had mediocre results before going down a rotation cuff injury. In his place, the Yankees have turned to the opener, the Rays’ go-to strategy for supplementing a beleaguered rotation.
Turning to Chad Green to open and primarily Nestor Cortes Jr. as the bulk pitcher, the Yankees found a dynamite combination. The team is 8-0 with the opener thanks to Green figuring things out after a Minor League stint. Cortes has been a revelation with his contrasting repertoire that complements Green well.
If the Yankees acquired another starter or two, they’ll likely avoid using the opener again this year, allowing Green and Cortes to pitch in the bullpen. Still, the strategy has proven successful for the Bombers and can be used again in a pinch.
As for further depth in-house, there could be one shining hope on the horizon …