The Future of Yankee Pitching is Not What You Think

Yankees Pitching

Where We’ve Been

Baseball has always been a game of adaptation and change. Historically, those unwilling to do either or both have been relegated to obscurity. The 2023 season is the perfect microcosm of the league adapting to changing circumstances. We saw the introduction of the pitch clock, the banning of the infield shift, and an increase in base size. Players, fans, and personnel around the league have varying opinions about the rule changes, but the data are less ambiguous. The batting average was up five points, the length of games dropped by an average of 24 minutes, ratings across networks were higher, and stadium attendance increased by 9.6%. As the game continues to evolve, so must those who play it, and in 2024, that could mean pitchers.

It’s contentious to pinpoint when major league teams began using the 5-man pitching rotation, but the credit most likely rests with the Dodgers. In 1971, Los Angeles had four pitchers who would start more than 30 games. By the end of the 1972 season, they had five pitchers who saw more than 25 games but none more than 33. 1973 was similar, with five pitchers tossing between 28 and 33 games, but ’74 and ’75 saw a return to the 4-man rotation. Finally, in 1976, the Dodgers went back to five starters and have stuck with it ever since. This construction is what we see in the modern game with very few exceptions; however, that could change in the coming years.

Where We Are

Heading into spring training last year, it looked like the Yankees would have the best rotation in baseball—Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Domingo Germán/Clarke Schmidt. If every pitcher performed to the back of their baseball card, the American League East was in for a year of Yankee dominance. That hope was short-lived, however, as Rodón would go down to a series of back and forearm issues in spring training. Even after his return, Rodón appeared to be a shell of what he was in 2022. He relied heavily on his fastball/slider combo but lacked the command that made him such an elite part of the Giants and White Sox in years prior. Nestor Cortes had seemingly lost the movement on his fastball, likely due to an unreported injury that resulted in prolonged stints on the IL. Clarke Schmidt had a decent second half of the season but struggled to command his cutter in his first several outings. Domingo Germán performed well, aside from the alleged “sticky stuff” that would result in a ten-game suspension. However, He would rebound briefly and post the 24th perfect game in MLB history and the 4th in Yankees history. However, this monumental achievement would be marred by his actions off the field. Germán suffered from alcohol abuse and was placed on the restricted list at the beginning of August, ending his season early. Luis Severino had a year that could be generously described as awful. What makes his performance such an oddity are the years leading up to 2023, in which he was nothing short of dominant. Since his major league debut in 2015, Severino has been a two-time All-Star, was in Cy Young Award talks, and was positioned to be a long-term part of the Yankees core youth along with Aaron Judge. General Manager Brian Cashman even locked him up for four years and $40 million, which concluded with Severino only pitching 26 games throughout that contract. The lone bright spot in the rotation was Gerrit Cole. From his first start to his last, Cole was dominant all season—so much so that he would win his first Cy Young Award.

Where We’re Going

Amidst a perfect storm of injury and regression, it’s hard to see many bright spots. Upon closer inspection, however, a disappointing season turns into something altogether different. Pitchers like Michael King, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez stepped out of their traditional roles and proved to be a pretty formidable platoon—each proving their value to be much more than their defined positions alone would suggest. This hybridization model of pitching is likely where the Yankees will find the most value. When considering the league-wide demand for quality starting pitchers and the supply being relatively low, even mid-rotation pitchers could become inning-eaters out of the bullpen. Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake said as much in a conversation with New York Post sports writer Joel Sherman late last week.

“It makes sense to me [to see if there are relief candidates who can start],” Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake said. “You can create more value by having more guys that can give you ‘length.’ It doesn’t necessarily need to be labeled starter or reliever, but stretching guys out and having hybrid roles will probably be a trend. A few teams basically ran two-, three-man rotations last year with a bunch of flex guys picking up the innings in different fashions. We used three or four of those types of hybrid roles at different points throughout the year. It allows you to utilize your personnel a little more creatively if done right.”

Joel Sherman / New York Post

Necessity, being the mother of invention, has led several teams to this point, including the Yankees. Could this evolution of pitching roles be the future of the rotation? Matt Blake, among others in the league, seems to think so. To the degree they are right or wrong—only time will tell.

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