Every postseason, tons of digital ink are spilled regarding strategy and tactics as teams try to navigate their way to the World Series. As the Yankees attempt to secure their 28th championship, they should be willing to at least consider a previously-seen but still risky strategy; a three-man rotation. New York could line up Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation lead and shift J.A Happ, Domingo German, and CC Sabathia (if healthy) to long relief, helping to eat alleviate any potential wear and tear on the dominant Yankees’ bullpen.
Severino was the ace of the staff before the season started; should he return healthy and reasonably effective down the stretch, his upside should preserve his ace status. Paxton, who over the course of the last month has gone 7-0 with a 2.98 ERA, allowing 25 hits over 42.1 innings pitched to go along with 51 punch-outs, has finally been able to consistently show the ace-quality outings that were expected once the Yankees acquired him last offseason. If Paxton keeps rolling, he profiles as another front-line starter.
From there, we all know what Tanaka is capable of in the biggest games and the biggest moments. Almost every time the Yankees have given Tanaka the ball in the postseason, he’s reminded them exactly why they didn’t bat an eye in signing him to a $150-million contract nearly six years ago.
Tanaka has allowed five runs in 30 October innings, striking out 25 and walking seven, to go along with his strong regular season track record. Severino, Paxton, and Tanaka combined in a shortened rotation clearly could perform like the last three-man rotation the Yankees used, the Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte trio that powered the team to their 27th World Series title in 2009.
The decision to use a three-man rotation not only gives the Yankees their best, most reliable arms at the start of every game, but ensures that Aaron Boone can liberally use his uber bullpen in every medium-to-high leverage situation. Adding German, Happ, and Sabathia to Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and perhaps Dellin Betances, means that literally every important out in the playoffs can be recorded by a high-level pitcher.
This strategy would require Boone to have a quick hook with his starters, keeping their pitch counts down in the event that they would subsequently have to start on three days rest, but it also adds more arms to the bullpen, putting the relief corps in a much better position to absorb the extra workload. Boone shouldn’t have any problems going to, say, Betances or Ottavino in the fifth inning of a playoff game, knowing that the likes of Green and German and Happ could handle innings the next night.
This strategy also leaves open the possibility of bullpenning a game, a strategy which most recently won the Yankees a game against the Rangers. Boone absolutely could toss Green for an inning or two, followed by a handful of innings from a converted starter, before leaning on his top relievers again.
The point is, a three-man rotation would leave the Yankees with an abundance of options, and a near-guarantee that their best pitchers will be leaned on the most when it counts. With the postseason looming, such a strategy has to be considered.