The 2019 postseason seemed to be a jump back in time, to when starting pitchers went deeper into ballgames. By game four of the ALCS, the league had already passed last year’s mark of innings thrown by starting pitchers throughout the entire postseason.
The two teams that advanced to the World Series certainly helped continue that narrative. Both the Astros and Nationals rode their top three starters to the Fall Classic, and battled through seven games until Wednesday’s high profile matchup between Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke ended in a Nationals victory. The Nats seemed like the clear underdog, but thanks to their big three of Scherzer, eventual World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, they were able to complete their feel-good story despite 85% of their innings through the entire postseason being accounted for by just six total pitchers.
So, what can the Yankees learn from this? It’s pretty simple: the Yanks need to take this offseason to build the best starting rotation possible. Should Aroldis Chapman opt out, it might be time to just let him go and use that money on Cole or Strasburg (if/when he elects to opt out as well). Based on Cole’s hat decision and comments made immediately after Game Seven, it seems like he’s ready to move on, and the Yankees need to finally flex their financial might in order to lock down a bonafide ace for next season.
The Yankees have spent many recent offseasons loading up on the bullpen, but this past playoffs and the pending three-batter minimum should be a push for Brian Cashman to shift his focus. The teams with the two best starting rotations made it to the World Series this year, even though the Astros were putrid with runners in scoring position for almost the entire postseason, and the Nationals’ offense went into a brief hibernation for three straight games in the World Series. Pitching and timely home runs played the biggest roles in this postseason, and the Yankees already have the ability to thrive in one of those categories. They have plenty of power in their lineup. Now they need to equal that power atop their rotation.
A starting rotation headlined by Cole or Strasburg, then followed by James Paxton and a healthy Luis Severino, would certainly rival what the Astros and Nationals had this October. Building a super bullpen is good, but when none of your starting pitchers can go deeper into their outings and that bullpen becomes exhausted (which Zack Britton admitted after the ALCS), then that strength can be nullified. Aaron Boone did a fantastic job keeping his relief arms fresh through the regular season, but when those arms are needed in bulk and at a high frequency in high-leverage spots in the playoffs, they’re going to tire, regardless of their usage through the regular season.
The Yankees’ recent free agent signings to the rotation have all panned out just fine. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka have been the team’s two biggest splashes in the past decade, and both more than earned their contracts. Hiroki Kuroda was another solid signing on a smaller scale. The issue for the Yankees and their starting pitching of late has been the big contracts they haven’t dished out, and that trend needs to change this winter. If the postseason and the World Series showed us anything, it’s that the Yankees need to open their wallets for a dominant, top-of-the-rotation arm, although that seemed like an obvious need even before the playoffs started. October just enhanced it.