Entering the 2018 season, the Yankees made the conscious decision not to bolster their rotation depth. Their top five looked pretty strong, with ace-caliber talents like Luis Severino at the top and solid back-end arms like CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery rounding out the group. There wasn’t much backup, though, and when the likes of Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka went down with injury, the Yankees pressed a variety of young arms into duty.
By the end of the year, the Yankees’ choice not to add more starting pitching looked shaky. Like Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German, Luis Cessa flitted between the Yankees’ rotation and bullpen throughout the season, and was generally uninspiring at all times. He’s still only 26, but this counted as Cessa’s third straight season of mediocre at best performance.
2018 Statistics: 44.2 IP, 5.24 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 1.433 WHIP
2019 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible, free agent after 2022
Cessa came over from the Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade. At the time, he was a modestly regarded prospect, but one with a bit more cache than Chad Green, the other player acquired from Detroit in exchange for Wilson. Safe to say, Green has been the far more valuable player during their respective careers.
In terms of rWAR, Cessa was almost precisely replacement level in 2018. He has recorded less than one win above replacement for his career in 151 innings. For the most part, Cessa has turned into the quintessential 25th man, one of the first guys called up from the minors when injuries strike, and one of first guys sent back down when the starters return to health.
Cessa especially struggled when called upon to start this year. In five starts, Cessa recorded a 6.50 ERA. Opposing batters tattooed him for a .320/.378/.480 slash line. At this point, the Yankees can likely do better in terms of depth starters.
That being said, Cessa did show fairly well in the bullpen this season. The 4.39 ERA he allowed as a reliever isn’t exactly great, but the .255/.295/.396 opposing slash line he compiled was impressive. This was in just 26.2 innings, but Cessa did strike out 26 batters in that time.
Indeed, there were moments this year where Cessa looked like he could make an impact out of the bullpen. Between August 16th and September 29th, the Yankees let Cessa work exclusively as a reliever. He allowed a 3.18 ERA over that span, to go along with a .654 OPS. All of his outings lasted at least two innings. Again, this is a small sample, but Cessa did at least spark a glimmer of hope that he could work as an effective multi-inning/long relief kind of arm.
That’s probably Cessa’s best chance at contributing positively to the Yankees going forward. The team has little in the way of definite starters penciled in for next season, but the smart money is on them bringing in multiple quality arms. After another uneven season, time is running out for Cessa to cement himself on the roster. He’s not quite a lost cause yet, but his chances to stick in New York are dwindling.