Old Yankee Stadium - down the line. Photo Credit: Steve Contursi

Yankees: On The Need To Manipulate The Starting Staff For October

Old Yankee Stadium - down the line. Photo Credit: Steve Contursi
Old Yankee Stadium – down the line. Photo Credit: Steve Contursi

The Yankees, with the resigning of J.A. Happ, have filled out their starting rotation. There’s still room for one more though. Here’s why…

Brian Cashman has fulfilled his promises to bolster the Yankees starting staff. Beginning with his early jump on the market trade for James Paxton, and now with the addition of J.A. Happ, arguably, the Yankees are set with one of the best starting staffs in the league.

Aaron Boone, together with his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, are now able to mix and match starts until a valid order of proficiency emerges, and with an eye on the playoffs, the ace of the staff takes his place.

Still, the Yankees have to be wary of injuries that are as sure to come along as the Baltimore Orioles playing patsies for everyone in the AL East.

Luis Severino gets the hook, Game 4. Photo credit: Forbes
Luis Severino gets the hook, Game 4. Photo credit: Forbes

Given the advancing age of CC Sabathia, the career innings pitched on the tender arm and shoulder of Masahiro Tanaka, and the decided second half decline of Luis Severino for two consecutive seasons, the need for another starter should be a fait accompli in the Yankees plans moving forward.

Thinking more radically, using a six-man rotation beginning midway through the season at least might also be a part of the team’s thinking as well. Sabathia himself made the case for a six-man rotation in February of last year. Because as many have said, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts.

And as we know with the Yankees, they have not been able to close the deal in the playoffs when a season’s seventh month makes all the difference. Pitchers in baseball today, more and more are defined as a “workhorse” when they hurl 200+ plus innings, a feat Sabathia, a dinosaur, has accomplished eight times in his illustrious career.

We’ll never see that again, at least from the Yankees staff as it’s currently constructed. Together with the rise and reliance on the bullpen artists, though, why should anyone care? One would think that with the reduction of innings pitched in a season, pitchers should be able to enter the month of October at or near full strength. But that has not been the case as even the bulls in baseball, like Chris Sale and Corey Kluber have struggled in October.

To be fair, we can’t hang the Yankee’s postseason disappointments entirely on the starting staff, as several needed bats have gone suddenly quiet, but the dominance that’s necessary and lacking from the pitching staff has not helped the matter either.

The early part of the season, with the usual number of weather-related postponements and built-in off days, presents an opportunity to use the fifth starter in a regular rotation, something that isn’t ordinarily necessary until mid-May.

If the Yankees follow the same guideline, presumably, CC Sabathia would be the odd man out on the Yankees staff as the fifth starter, sitting on the sidelines through April. A better strategy might be to pitch Sabathia in regular rotation, regardless of the rest of the staff having to wait “their turn,” even if it means an extra day or two between starts.

An exception arises when the Yankees play the Red Sox nineteen times during the regular season, and Boone will try to arrange the starts based on who has the hot hand.

At some point, whether it’s now or later in mid-summer, the Yankees should be planning to add a sixth arm to the staff. By then, Jordan Montgomery could be ready to return from Tommy John. Jonathan Loaisiga fits the bill as well – or the Yankees can turn to the trade market at the July deadline.

J.A. Happ, New York Yankees Credit: NESN
J.A. Happ, New York Yankees Credit: NESN

Whatever the case, the team needs to avoid what surely looked like a case of a “dead arm” with Luis Severino in October. Remember too, James Paxton has never reached more than 160 innings in one season, and Tanaka has been pitching at a high level (including Japan) since he was only 18, accumulating 1300 innings before he threw his first pitch as a Yankee.  J. A. Happ will turn 37 when he’s (hopefully) pitching in the midst of the playoffs in October, and Sabathia will be 39 in July.

It all adds up to less is more. Fewer starts, fewer innings over the long haul of a baseball season for a team like the Yankees, where everything turns on October, makes sense.

Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball

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