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How the Yankees Should Utilize Their Starting Pitching in the Postseason

The Yankees shocked the baseball world on July 31st as they stood pat during the Trade Deadline. Despite currently tied with the second-best record in baseball at 77-41, the Yankees have a large Achilles heel with their starting pitching. The lack of star power within their starters (not including ace Luis Severino on the I.L.), and the inability to go deep into games posed as a major concern. Even Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman expressed that the rotation is their biggest area of need. Sources such as Newsday reported a month before the trade deadline that Cashman was awake during the early hours trying to talk to other teams about potential trades.

Consequently, the reason the Yankees did not receive any pitching was not because of lack of effort. As the adage goes, “You can never have too much pitching”. Every potential contender wanted pitching, but the trade market lacked a sufficient amount of solid aces. Sure Zack Greinke was traded, but the Astros had to swallow $53 million of Greinke’s $77 million remaining on the contract and gave up their three of their top-5 prospects. As a result, pitchers such as Robbie Ray and Zack Wheeler were dangled on the trade market for enormous asking prices.

For Ray, the Diamondbacks wanted Clint Frazier and three prospects for Robbie Ray (a 2/3 starter at best) such as the highly touted Clarke Schmidt. Likewise, for Wheeler, the Mets wanted a better deal than for Marcus Stroman, which cost the Mets two top prospects. Wheeler is a rental! A potential half-season player for the Yankees! Accordingly, Cashman balked at these potential trades, and with that decision came a series of cries concerning the Yankees lost the chance at the World Series trophy. Time will tell whether or not Cashman made the right decision, but the Yankees still have a glaring hole with their starting pitching.

Of course, the Yankees missed an opportunity at acquiring a big pitcher at the deadline. Also, with the Astros now having three aces in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke, the Yankees’ World Series chances went down. That being said, the Yankees hitting and their bullpen can be competitive with any team in baseball. As a result, their starting pitching does not have to be perfect…they just need to be a bit creative with them. For example, during the Red Sox and Astros World Series runs in 2018 and 2017 respectively, their starters acted as long relievers. The Red Sox used Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Sale in relief. Meanwhile, the Astros used Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh during their 2017 championship. In short, these strategies worked, and the Yankees should take a page out of the Red Sox and Astros’ book. Therefore by taking a closer look at the trends by the Yankees starting rotation (Left/Right splits, Home/Away splits, first, second, and third time through the order), there is a potentially optimal time when their starters can be deployed out the bullpen or pitch in specific situations.

Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka has been the Yankees best postseason starting pitcher since his tenure began in New York; he always seems to step up for the Yankees when it matters most. As a result, he has a very good chance to start Game 1 in the postseason. However, Tanaka is far from perfect, and only a quick turnaround will solidify his chance as the Yankees go to home starter. 2019 has not been too kind to Tanaka. He struggles against both lefties (4.78 ERA, .283/.333/.516, .352 wOBA), pitching on the road (6.48 ERA, .280/.332/.539, 2.01 HR/9), and third time through the order (9.00 ERA, .329/.371/.643, .413 wOBA). Although Tanaka is due for a turnaround against right-handed hitters (4.52 ERA, .238/.277/.394, .283 wOBA) Tanaka should not pitch past the sixth inning. Although he should still face the lineup twice through the order (1st time: 3.18 ERA, .248/.284/.342, 2nd time: 3.40 ERA, .219/.275/.432). Even though Tanaka has, for the most part, struggled away from Yankee Stadium, he excels at home. He has a 3.29 ERA, .244/.282/.286 slash line, and .284 wOBA in New York.

Verdict: Tanaka should primarily pitch at home, and no more than six innings.

Domingo Germán

Despite Germán having an ERA over four, he stepped up this season and is even tied for the major league lead for wins (15) this season. Germán essentially has the same pros and cons as Tanaka, but perhaps a little better. Germán too can also be a viable Game 1 starter at home. Although he does not have anywhere near the postseason pedigree as Tanaka, he bests his counterpart at Yankee Stadium. In the Bronx, Germán has been phenomenal posting a 2.19 ERA, .194/.247/.333 slash line, and a .249 wOBA. Conversely, Germán struggles on the road. He has a 5.58 ERA, .255/.289/.502 slash line, and a 2.41 HR/9 rate away from home. In addition, Germán does decent against righties (3.91 ERA, .218/.279/.408, .290 wOBA), lefties (4.14 ERA, .237/.275/.447, .301 wOBA). However, Germán should not go through the lineup more than two times (1st time: 2.25 ERA, .189/.240/.352, 2.51 wOBA, 2nd time: 3.40 ERA, .247/.294/.442, .309 wOBA, 3rd time: 8.87 ERA, .286/.327/.571, .370 wOBA).

Verdict: Germán should primarily pitch at home, no more than six innings, and as of now should be the Yankees Game 1 starter.

James Paxton

Ah, Paxton. The Yankees ace in the hole has not lived up to expectations in his first year in New York. While Paxton has an unreal K/9 (11.43), he has his fair share of struggles. While on the road (5.38 ERA, .253/.328/.503, .378 wOBA), against righties (5.88 ERA, .253/.328/.503, .346 wOBA), 1st time through the order (5.74 ERA, .238/.313/.513, .341 wOBA), and 3rd time through the order (6.27 ERA, .349/.407/.578, .411 wOBA). At least Paxton pitches well at home (3.61 ERA, .224/.311/.393, .303 wOBA), and against lefties (1.42 ERA, .308/.345/.394, 0.36 HR/9). In turn, while Paxton probably should not be used against a starter, he can be an effective lefty reliever at home.

Verdict: 2-3 inning reliever at home after a RHP.

J.A. Happ

Happ has struggled in his second season as a New York Yankee in virtually every category. Happ gets shelled by righties (5.42 ERA, .274/.321/.504, .343 wOBA), and fares slightly better against lefties (4.71 ERA, .289/.339/.474, .342 wOBA). While Happ should not pitch at home (5.70 ERA, .306/.348/.545, 2.31 HR/9), he is actually one of the better road starters and even might be due for a turnaround (4.62 ERA, .238/.294/.427, .304 wOBA). Similar to Paxton, Happ also struggles through the first (4.60 ERA, .266/.308/.404, .329 wOBA) and third time (9.97 ERA, .322/.366/.593, .383 wOBA) through the order, but somehow does decent facing the lineup for the second time (3.69 ERA, .269/.325/.478, .338 wOBA).

Verdict: Happ should not pitch at Yankee Stadium, but can be a go-to starter on the road for around six innings of work.

CC Sabathia

In Sabathia’s final major league season, he has been mediocre at best. He works best pitching at home (2.60 ERA, .214/.275/.381. .280 wOBA), and through the first time through the order (3.93 ERA, .230/.301/.453, .317 wOBA). In addition, Sabathia has been alright against lefties (4.57 ERA, .195/.262/.455, .298 wOBA). Although the former Cy Young award winner has his fair share of issues on the mound against righties (4.84 ERA, 2.86/.344/.554, .371 wOBA), on the road (6.95 ERA, .314/.373/.670, .423 wOBA), and through the second (5.35 ERA, .263/.315/.569, .361 wOBA) as well as the third time through the order (5.50 ERA, .342/.398/.618, .420 wOBA).

Verdict: Sabathia should only pitch at Yankee Stadium as a two-three inning long reliever.

Luis Severino

Severino is easily the Yankees’ biggest X-factor in the postseason. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2017-2018, and if he shows a good fraction of his greatness in 2019, the Yankees should be more than happy. Since he has not pitched in 2019, his stats are from last season. Severino is heads and shoulders above the other Yankee starters in virtually every category. Severino excels against both lefties (3.87 ERA, 2.52/.311/.380, .302 wOBA), and righties (3.01 ERA, .227/.268/.378, .280 wOBA). Although pitching vastly better at home (2.74 ERA, .217/.270/.337, .267 wOBA) than on the road (3.99 ERA, .257/.303/.416, .310 wOBA), he still might be the Yankees best road starter without throwing a single pitch this season. In addition, Severino is “money” the first (2.64 ERA, .215/.278/.347, .275 wOBA) and second (2.52 ERA, .211/.275/.322, .265 wOBA) time through the order. Consequently, struggles the third time around, similar to all his fellow Yankee starters (6.15 ERA, .316/.330/.511, .356 wOBA).

Verdict: Can start games at home, but can be best utilized as an efficient starter on the road.

Chad Green?

Yes, Chad Green is among the list of starters here. He has technically started twelve games this season for the Yankees, although only throwing 1-2 innings as an opener. Nonetheless, the Yankees are 11-1 when he opens the game for the Yankees and has very impressive numbers. As an opener, he has a 1.96 ERA, .204/.304/.367 slash line, and a 14.49 K/9.

Verdict: Should be used as the de facto opener when necessary.

Now that all of these starting pitchers have been analyzed, here are ideas the Yankees should keep in mind about their starting pitching in the playoffs.

Idea #1: If the Yankees decide to use Green as an opener at home, Paxton then Sabathia should be the long relievers that follow Green.

Idea #2: If the Yankees decide to use Green as an opener on the road, then they should pair him with one of the Yankees actual long relievers (Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr, David Hale, Luis Cessa, or Jordan Montgomery). These long relievers might be a better solution than Sabathia and Paxton since they both struggle away from home.

Idea #3: Severino and Happ should be the de facto away starters. If Severino is truly lights out then he can even be their Game 1 starter no matter the situation. However, if he comes out from injury as a decent starter for 2019, Germán and Tanaka might be better options at home. Meanwhile, Happ is surprisingly decent on the road where he does not have to worry about hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. If Happ struggles down the stretch, the Yankees might want to pair him with Green (the opener) on the road.

Idea #4: For a must-win game in the postseason the Yankees should only consider using Tanaka, German, or Severino. Those three are the most dependable of the group to pitch well in a important game. Green can also be considered as an opener, but because of the trio’s lack of familiarity of pitching after an opener, there would be no telling how effective they would be. As a result, using Green would be the Yankees are willing to take if used as an opener in a must-win scenario.

Key:

I.L.: Injured List

W-L: Win and loss record. For example, If a team is 1-1 they have won one game and lost one game.

ERA= Earned Run Average: The average number of earned runs a pitcher gives up in a 9-inning game. A 4.15 ERA was league average in 2018.

AVG(BA)/OBP/SLG: The triple slash line of Batting Average (H/AB), On Base Percentage (H+BB+HBP/PA), and Slugging (1*1B+2*2B+3*3B+ 4*HR/AB). MLB average in 2018: .248/.318/.409.

L/R Splits: How lefties and righties fare against a pitcher.

Home/Away Splits: How pitchers do while pitching in their ballpark (home), and not pitching at their ballpark (away)

First, second, and third time through the order: How pitchers do when they face all nine opposing hitters the first, second, and third time.

wOBA: Weighted On Base Average. A more advanced version of OPS where that weighs the various possibilities of getting on base differently. MLB Average: .320

RHP: Right Handed Pitcher

H: Hits

AB: At bats

OBP: On Base Percentage

HBP: Hit By Pitch

PA: Plate appearance

1B: Single

2B: Double

3B: Triple

HR: Home Run

OPS: OBP+SLG. MLB Average in 2018: .728 OPS

K/9: Strikeouts per 9 innings. MLB average: 7.7 K/9

HR/9: Home runs allowed per 9 innings. MLB approximate average: 1.35 HR/9.

Sources:

https://www.fangraphs.com/

https://www.mlb.com/standings

https://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/yankees/yankees-brian-cashman-general-manager-1.33254783

https://nypost.com/2019/07/31/the-huge-price-tag-the-yankees-rejected-for-robbie-ray/

https://www.si.com/mlb/2019/07/31/zack-greinke-trade-houston-astros

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