Gate 4 entrance,Old Yankee Stadium

On Why The Yankees Search For A “Number One” Is Futile

There’s a simple reason why the Yankees will be forced to abandon their search for a number one starter. Almost by design, they don’t exist anymore. 

The Yankees have good reason to wonder if Luis Severino is a genuine number one starting pitcher, especially when a light is shined on his postseason performances. Thus, the search is on to find and obtain an “Ace” capable of pitching (and winning) twice in a five-game series and three times in a seven-game postseason series. Good luck with that.

Dial back, and you’ll find a host of stoppers, aces, number ones, whatever you want to call them in the game of baseball. Virtually every team boasted of one, and a few like the Dodgers claimed two on the same team – with their shutdown tag team of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Later, the likes of Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and a host of others (all in the Baseball Hall of Fame) became their team’s go-to guy when needed the most.

Today, you can roll the names of number ones off the fingers on one hand, and you might not even make it to five. Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer…mmm…let’s see, anymore? Wanna throw in Gerrit Cole, Aaron Nola, Blake Snell? I wouldn’t; it’s too soon to grant them this elevated status. But you see the point.

The pickings are slim for the Yankees or any team seeking a number one. And besides, save for an act of God, these pitchers are all “taken” and for the moment at least, not available.

On the other hand, former and very recent “number ones” are a dime a dozen if the Yankees want to go there. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, and Felix Hernandez are all on the decline with careers falling far short of Cooperstown.

And so it is that we find reports like this one from NJ.com listing Nathan Eovaldi, Charlie Morton (both free agents), and Madison Bumgarner (on the trading block by the Giants) as possible targets of the Yankees this winter. Add in Jonathan Corbin who, if you didn’t know any better, is already on the Yankees team, then ask yourself, where’s the number one?

I can step back on that a bit because Evoldi is pitching lights out for the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs, indicating he just might be stepping it up and ready to join the elite. Prying Eovaldi away from the Red Sox will be a trick in and of itself though, and the Yankees also need to consider that Eovaldi is once around the block with them in New York.

There were only twelve pitchers with 200 or more innings logged in 2018, and the Yankees didn’t have any of them. As we know, it’s become a bullpen game, and in many respects, the idea of starting pitchers, in general, has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Justus Sheffield, New York Yankees Photo Credit: New York Sports Day
Justus Sheffield, New York Yankees Photo Credit: New York Sports Day

Teams like the Yankees cry for starting pitching, but often it seems it’s at the bottom of their list when it comes to developing the same in their minor league system. Arguably, Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams are two pitchers who can step into the Yankees rotation as a four or five. And yet, the Yankees inserted Sheffield into their bullpen when he was finally added to their roster in September.

Most of us work up to the standards given to us. If expectations are low, that’s what we give at work. It’s human nature. And so it is with starting pitchers. The Yankees have failed (so far) to demand of Severino to learn how to pitch so he can provide a minimum of seven strong innings on any given night. Because it’s only then that Luis Severino, or any other pitcher, will qualify as an “Ace.”

We may as well get used to a Yankees staff composed mainly of a group of three and four starters like those mentioned beforehand. The Yankees bullpen will be taxed heavily as a result, and sooner or later all those innings being transferred to relievers are going to catch up to these overworked arms.

The game of baseball goes in cycles. “Bullpennitis” reigns at the moment, even as the Yankees seek something that isn’t there over the winter. And this time, don’t expect Brian Cashman to draw a rabbit from beneath his hat.

Written by Steve Contursi

Editor, Reflections On Baseball

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