The Yankees will need to find 1,458 innings from its pitching staff in 2021. That alone is more than enough to keep Aaron Boone up at night.
In theory, the Yankees and all of baseball will be playing the full complement of a 162 game schedule in 2021. Their pitching staff will need to log 1,458 innings to complete the season, not counting what is expected/hoped to be as many as 126 additional innings during the postseason.
The age-old axiom in major league baseball is “one day at a time,” game by game, a team plows its way through the grind of a six-month (seemingly) never-ending regular season.
But if you are Yankees manager Aaron Boone or pitching coach Matt Blake, together with the analytics guys who measure the number of innings Pitcher X can throw without risking injury; the issue takes on a whole new meaning of forecasting an overall regular-season plan for your staff.
Add to that challenge an aborted 60-game 2020 season in which no Yankees pitcher threw even 100 innings (Garritt Cole had the most with 73 innings) – leaving us with this question.
Yankee: Getting From Point A To Point B
How do the Yankees get from Point A (then) and Point B (now), where 175-200 innings is typically the norm and expected output of a starting pitcher, without making Dr.Jobe a rich man performing Tommy John surgery on most or all of the entire staff?
To illustrate what’s facing the Yankees further, even if they had five fully healthy and capable starters from day one to the end of the season, and each could be counted on to make 30 starts averaging seven innings an outing, the Yankees will still need to fill 400 innings from its bullpen.
Okay, enough with all the theory. Let’s see how this translates to the current Yankees’ starting staff – with the almighty no injuries caveat.
Yankees: Breaking Down The Starting Staff
Gerrit Cole is the Yankees rock. Let’s project him to make 32 starts, each of which averages seven innings for a total of 224 innings, leaving the balance of the starting staff with about 650 innings (proportionately) to fill.
Immediately, a red flag jumps out as we move to the two, three, and four slots in the rotation.
Between Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and Jordan Montgomery, all of whom have been limited to only 117 innings since 2019 (source it here) due to surgeries and rehab, reality slams in the face of any dream that see the three totaling 150 innings apiece this year.
But let’s say miracles do happen, and each reaches that level – that still leaves 200 innings left to be absorbed by – who?
Left with this question, the Yankees’ answer falls back on the stable of young talent they hold in reserve with arms like Deivi Garcia, Michael King, Albert Abreu, et al. – all of whom tallied a total of about sixty innings in 2020.
In a non-COVID era and a canceled minor league season last year, each would comfortably be slated to begin the season at Triple-A Scranton with requirements to build up arm strength at that level, topping out at 125 innings apiece if all goes well.
Brian Cashman: What Is His Plan B
So, unless Brian Cashman, who has only $6 million or so after signing Brett Gardner before the luxury tax limit is assaulted, can find an innings eater among the remaining free-agent starting pitchers, the “tax” on these young and fragile arms may weigh heavily on the Yankees sooner – or in later years.
The Yankees have already missed out on serviceable arms in that salary range like Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Robbie Ray, Alex Wood, Rich Hill – all of whom have signed with other teams.
Trades are, of course, always a possibility. But as teams move more towards solidifying their roster as Opening Day creeps nearer, chances of trades move increasingly forward once the season begins as teams assess their needs, particularly as the July trade deadline approaches.
Therefore, on paper, the Yankees 2021 season boils down to two perilous and daunting realities.
One, the New York Yankees had better score a ton of runs and score them early.
Aaron Boone: Maneuvering Through The Minefield
And two, Aaron Boone’s job rests on his ability to use his bullpen wisely and efficiently in the face of a starting staff that through no fault of their own will not be able to keep pace with the typical workload assigned to a major league staff over the course of a full season.
Ironically, Boone’s one area of critique during his tenure as Yankees manager has centered on this issue.
Who’s to blame, for instance, Boone for choosing Aroldis Chapman over Zack Britton to yield season-ending home runs the past two postseasons – or the man who threw the errant pitches?
The chicken or the egg, but that’s not the point where the Yankees pitching staff will need the utmost TLC leverage and attention if the team meets the installed Las Vegas odds with a World Series appearance against the Dodgers.
I need to see to believe that this Yankees starting staff (as constructed) has the durability to meet the strain of 30-35 starts over a full 162-game season – with enough gas left in the tank to carry the team to its 28th World Championship during the postseason.
Domingo German, who has seemingly completed his penance in purgatory, and Luis Severino, who is expected back mid-season, will undoubtedly make their mark on the Yankees season. But again, how much can be expected from them given their recent inactivity.
Yankees: A Season With Dramatic Overtones – If…
I don’t count the Yankees out. I’m a fan who wishes them all the success in the world.
But at the same time, from outside the fishbowl looking in, their pitching – even with the outstanding arms in the bullpen – and without the addition of at least another innings-eater/quality arm – the numbers don’t add up to 1,458, and that spells big-time trouble.
That’s not to suggest the Yankees will not win the AL East by a comfortable margin over the Toronto Blue Jays.
But the real test will come when the season turns to October and what’s left of the arms that are taxed heavily from the regular season enter center-stage during the postseason.
The Yankees gambled heavily by not pursuing Trevor Bauer to remain under the luxury tax limit. Ditto their lack of foresight in not signing Charlie Morton and other innings eaters like Lance Lynn or listening to the drumbeat that Blake Snell could be had in a trade.
It’s only the games that count as they are played on the field. Soon, we will see how it plays out for the Yankees.