The Yankees currently find themselves riddled with question marks as they seek to find their identity with the second half coming up. Many of these questions have been recurring for most of the season, with answers yet to surface.
Manager Joe Girardi has grown agitated with some of the questions, specifically the idea of adding an extra arm to the starting rotation in an effort to further rest his starters and increase their effectiveness when they take the mound.
Girardi was testy with reporters after Masahiro Tanaka’s brilliant performance over 7 2/3 shutout innings Chicago. Tanaka has a pattern of pitching far more effectively with an extra day of rest under his belt, and Girardi has been left to repeatedly field questions about adding rest to maximize his ace.
The Yankee skipper has been avidly opposed to an extra starter, and has explained that he simply cannot pull it off given the schedule and number of roster spots at his disposal. Of course, he does have a point. Despite the rotation being shaky for most of the season, it is never ideal to insert an unknown spot starter in the place of a guy like Tanaka, who is supposed to be leading the staff. Even their newest addition to the five-man rotation, Chad Green, was pummeled in his last start. An extra starter would also leave the middle relief with one less arm, depleting an already weak group outside of the big three at the end of the ‘pen.
However, looking at the numbers, a spot starter could prove just as effective as Tanaka has been on normal rest, and help get the best out of Tanaka for the second half of the season.
After a fifth day of rest this season, Tanaka has a stellar 1.05 ERA and 0.799 WHIP. Those are ace-like numbers. However, subtract a day of rest, and Tanaka has a 5.28 ERA and 1.263 WHIP in the same amount of starts (entering action today). That is a higher ERA than Ivan Nova, and an almost identical ERA to Michael Pineda, who is arguably the team’s shakiest starter now that Nathan Eovaldi has been escorted to the bullpen. On regular rest from 2014-15, he pitched fine, but perhaps that Tanaka is not the same as the 2016 version as he continues to survive on a partially torn UCL.
So is it necessarily more comforting to see Tanaka take the ball on normal rest when he appears to be far less effective? Remember, back in Japan, Tanaka was accustomed to pitching once a week. Throw a fragile elbow into the mix (which could be further protected with an added day’s rest), and an extra recovery day doesn’t sound so bad, given his proven track record on an extra day.
Girardi has said he knows the numbers, and it is just something Tanaka will have to work through. There should be no knock on Tanaka’s toughness. He has willingly gone out on normal rest all year and competed. He just produces far better results when his arm is one day stronger.
The benefits of a six-man rotation could spread beyond Tanaka. After a brilliant start to the season, CC Sabathia’s numbers have started to decline. He is approaching 36 years old and nursing an arthritic and surgically repaired knee. An extra day off could help a pitcher like Sabathia maintain fuel in the tank as they enter the dog days of summer.
If Girardi and the Yankees are to try and make a run at a playoff spot, starting pitching will have to improve. A six-man rotation could preserve some arms in the event that a crucial stretch run presents itself come September. This may take a lot of maneuvering on Girardi’s part, but he is certainly no stranger to that. Given the years of weaving around injury plagued teams to stay in contention, it is a doable task if Girardi is up to it.
The uncertainty of throwing out a sixth starter instead of a proven pitcher like Tanaka is understandable. However, Tanaka has not proven himself on regular rest, at least not lately on a consistent basis. On normal rest, he is almost as much of a question mark as the rest of this Yankees staff.
As a manager, the goal is to get the most out of your strong suits, and right now Tanaka is the strongest piece in an otherwise underwhelming rotation. Of course Tanaka wants to go out on normal rest every start and help the team win, it is much easier said than done for him. He needs an extra day off to pitch like an ace.
Looking at the schedule, Girardi would have to deal with the issues that come with an extra day’s rest roughly five times before rosters expand in September. It appears to be possible to pull off. Who knows, maybe the next Shawn Chacon or Aaron Small presents himself in the form of a spot starter, and helps lighten the load on this struggling rotation.
Maybe Luis Severino rides the wave of his recent success in the minors and returns in the form of his 2015 self. Maybe Green or Luis Cessa is given another try. They don’t have to be staples in the rotation. What’s important is ensuring that the arms already solidified in the rotation, like Tanaka and Sabathia, are performing at their best.
Four Yankees starters, including Eovaldi (who was in the starting rotation until this week) have an ERA north of five. Would an extra starter to rest the more important pieces be that much more unstable? For Joe Girardi, it is at least worth another look, for the sake of this season and beyond.