As we anxiously for baseball to return, the Yankees rotation includes one new face, one returning face, and potential for excellence.
The New York Yankees in recent years have strived to add starting pitching to complement their already dominant bullpen and potent lineup. Through all this, however, the Bombers never really constructed a dominant rotation. With the addition of Gerrit Cole back in December, that all changed, as the Yanks now pose one of the best rotations in the sport (2nd in MLB, according to Bleacher Report).
When baseball finally returns, this rotation will likely consist of Cole at the front, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Jordan Montgomery. This is all without primed second starter and borderline ace Luis Severino, who’ll miss 2020 after receiving Tommy John Surgery. With this note, let’s take a look at each starter that is projected to take the mound for the Yanks this season.
Gerrit Cole – The New Yankees’ Ace
He’s the ace, ladies and gentlemen. Cole has shown nothing but dominance the past two seasons, finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2019 and prompting the Yankees to fork over $324 million dollars over the next nine years for his services.
Cole pitched in 33 games last season to the tune of a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 212.1 innings. Those are video game numbers, and you can start to see why the Yanks were willing to pay a hefty price for the California native. Cole’s value goes deeper than just those numbers, though. The righty had a very solid postseason in 2019, as well, spotting a 1.72 ERA in five starts, proving he can show up when it matters most.
James Paxton – A Steady Number Two
The Yankees acquired Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in October of 2018 for a package of Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams. In his first season in pinstripes, Big Maple had some flashes of brilliance but also faltered at times, too. When all said and done, Paxton had a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts (150.2 innings) and struck out 186. He only allowed 138 hits and walked 55.
There’s something to note about Paxton as we approach the start of the 2020 season: he’s a free agent come year’s end. Knowing his high-strikeout potential, Paxton may likely get somewhere close to what Zack Wheeler got with the Phillies following last season — five years, $118 million.
The only real concern with Paxton is his injury history, as he’s had five DL/IL stints in the past three seasons. Having said that, if the lefty can stay healthy and finally put it all together in 2020, he’s in store for a big payday.
Masahiro Tanaka – The Modern Day El Duque
Time flies, doesn’t it? 2020 will be Tanaka’s seventh year in pinstripes, and, like Paxton, he’s also a free agent after this season. If you’re a Yankee fan, you probably know the story with Tanaka: mediocre to decent in the regular season, but boy, does he come to play in October. Last season, Tanaka put together a very average 2019, as he pitched to a 4.45 ERA in 182.0 innings. He allowed 186 hits and struck out 149.
The postseason tells a completely different story. Last October, Tanaka had a 2.25 ERA. That’s not all, though. In his career, Tanaka’s postseason ERA is a near-spotless 1.76 in eight starts (46.0 innings). In that time, he’s only allowed 25 hits and struck out 37. I’d be shocked if the Yankees didn’t make a push to bring him back following this season.
J.A. Happ – The Veteran
This is where the rotation begins to get a little questionable, but not too bad. Happ struggled last season, as his 4.91 ERA would indicate, but if you dig deeper, it’s not all that bad for the veteran lefty. In September, Happ had an ERA of 1.65 in 27.1 innings. After being traded to the Yankees in 2018, Happ actually did really well, spotting a 2.69 ERA.
No one expects him to be brilliant in 2020, but if he can be a semi-competent contributor, the Yankees should take that.
Jordan Montgomery – Back in Action
It wasn’t that long ago when Montgomery was establishing himself as a solid young rookie for the Yanks. His first (and only) full season had him hurling to a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts (155.1 innings), striking out 144 with only 140 hits allowed.
This was setting Montgomery up for a promising future, but Tommy John Surgery and other injuries ended his season early in 2018 and delayed it heavily in 2019. Montgomery returned in September of last year, pitching in only two games, so he’s fresh from his return and is slated to be the fifth starter when baseball comes back.
We don’t know exactly what we can expect when the Yankees take the diamond again, but we can likely tell that this rotation will be very, very solid.