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How might the Yankees’ pitching numbers have looked in a normal season?

Spoiler: Gerrit Cole would still be good at throwing the baseballs.

MLB: FEB 15 Spring Training - Yankees Workout Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday, I did some research to look into how the Yankees’ hitters might have fared if 2020 had been, you know, normal rather than a disease-riddled hellscape of isolation. The obvious follow-up: what about the pitching?

Preseason projections can lend a hand there as well. As mentioned yesterday, I took the Yankees’ actual 2020 numbers and added them to what the PECOTA estimates would have forecasted over a 102-game season with appropriate adjustments.

To keep it simple, I limited the selected pitchers to those with at least 10 games played or 10 innings pitched in 2020. Clarke Schmidt will have more time in the sun next year anyway. I also did not include Luis Severino, Tommy Kahnle, and Domingo Germán since they were all either hurt or suspended. Much like Clint Frazier yesterday, I also had to exclude Deivi García and Nick Nelson from the exercise since PECOTA’s projections did not think that García would regularly be used as a starter, or that Nelson would have more than two appearances. Their numbers would not be accurate.

Onward.

2020 starting pitcher projections

Player GS IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Player GS IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Gerrit Cole (proj.) 31 199 2.65 3.10 150 59 58 286 28 2.6 13.0 1.2 1.04 66 5.5
Gerrit Cole (2020) 12 73 2.84 3.89 53 23 17 94 14 2.1 11.6 1.7 0.96 72 1.8
Masahiro Tanaka (proj.) 27 138 3.76 4.37 133 58 32 132 24 2.1 8.6 1.6 1.19 93 1.9
Masahiro Tanaka (2020) 10 48 3.56 4.42 48 19 8 44 9 1.5 8.3 1.7 1.17 80 1.0
Jordan Montgomery (proj.) 27 125.2 4.09 4.00 121 57 38 124 17 2.7 8.8 1.2 1.27 91 2.0
Jordan Montgomery (2020) 10 44 5.11 3.87 48 25 9 47 7 1.8 9.6 1.4 1.30 92 0.6
James Paxton (proj.) 22 115.2 3.88 3.49 105 50 43 143 14 3.3 11.2 1.1 1.27 87 2.0
James Paxton (2020) 5 20.1 6.64 4.37 23 15 7 26 4 3.1 11.5 1.8 1.48 103 0.4
J.A. Happ (proj.) 24 126 3.77 4.68 108 53 41 112 22 2.9 8.0 1.5 1.18 102 1.3
J.A. Happ (2020) 9 49.1 3.47 4.57 37 19 15 42 8 2.7 7.7 1.5 1.05 103 0.4

Surprise, surprise: Gerrit Cole essentially spun another 200-inning gem of a season with fantastic numbers that saw him come just shy of 300 strikeouts, which would have shattered Ron Guidry’s single-season team record of 248. Given that Cole nearly fanned 100 batters in just 12 starts, it’s entirely conceivable. Earth-2 sounds fun. Let’s go there instead.

Earth-2 would’ve also been a nicer place for James Paxton. I nearly excluded him from the study since it’s not totally clear when he would’ve returned from his flexor strain injury, but for the sake of the exercise, we’ll assume that he came back after another month off. It’d probably be a reach for him to get to the 22 projected starts, but it looks like he’d rebound some anyway from his disastrous five-start cameo in August. Although it’s a little too sunny for my liking since Paxton would be coming off an injury, it’s hard to see him actually being much worse than league average.

Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery remained steady presences in the middle of the rotation with Montgomery’s ERA in particular settling down after ballooning to 5.11 in his actual 10-start campaign. That seems more accurate for him than what we saw, and his DRA- being about the same in both projection and reality reflects that perception.

J.A. Happ exists and is boring as ever. Next.

2020 late reliever projections

Player G IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Player G IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Aroldis Chapman (proj.) 40 40.2 2.60 2.70 25 12 18 65 4 3.9 14.3 0.8 1.04 74 0.9
Aroldis Chapman (2020) 13 11.2 3.09 2.93 6 4 4 22 2 3.1 17.0 1.5 0.86 111 0.0
Zack Britton (proj.) 57 60 2.40 3.38 43 16 24 55 3 3.6 8.3 0.5 1.11 68 1.5
Zack Britton (2020) 20 19 1.89 2.61 12 4 7 16 0 3.3 7.6 0.0 1.00 71 0.5
Chad Green (proj.) 63 70 3.00 3.40 47 23 22 93 10 2.8 12.0 1.3 0.98 68 1.7
Chad Green (2020) 22 25.2 3.51 4.17 13 10 8 32 5 2.8 11.2 1.8 0.82 68 0.7
Adam Ottavino (proj.) 61 59 4.23 3.84 52 28 28 73 7 4.2 11.0 1.1 1.35 81 1.0
Adam Ottavino (2020) 24 18.1 5.89 3.52 20 12 9 25 2 4.4 12.3 1.0 1.58 69 0.5
Jonathan Holder (proj.) 42 47.1 4.18 4.38 47 22 18 43 6 3.4 8.2 1.2 1.38 90 0.6
Jonathan Holder (2020) 18 21.2 4.98 5.22 25 12 11 14 3 4.6 5.8 1.2 1.66 91 0.3

For all its preseason acclaim, the Yankees’ bullpen was depressingly pedestrian. It wasn’t a Phillies-level disaster (condolences to Joe Girardi), but their 4.51 ERA and 4.61 FIP each ranked roughly in the middle of all teams. They missed Kahnle badly, Adam Ottavino lost Aaron Boone’s confidence in September, and Aroldis Chapman did not look especially sharp after returning from his bout with COVID-19.

Although it’s not much of a consolation at this point, all of the key relievers saw their numbers calm down a touch when given another 102-game sample (save for Zack Britton, who was still terrific, just less outrageously). Chad Green nearly whiffed 100 batters in 70 innings while keeping his WHIP under 1.00. Decent! PECOTA also gave Ottavino a hand since DRA- was not nearly as down on his actual 2020 numbers. Perhaps there’s more hope than expected of the slider-loving righty righting the ship in 2021.

Jonathan Holder is the Happ of the bullpen. Sorry, kid, I don’t make the rules. Take him or leave him.

2020 middle reliever projections

Player G IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Player G IP ERA FIP H ER BB K HR BB/9 K/9 HR/9 WHIP DRA- WARP
Jonathan Loaisiga (proj.) 46 60.1 3.71 4.16 52 25 24 68 8 3.6 10.1 1.2 1.25 86 0.9
Jonathan Loaisiga (2020) 12 23 3.52 4.41 21 9 7 22 3 2.7 8.6 1.2 1.22 73 0.6
Luis Cessa (proj.) 40 47.1 3.72 4.01 44 20 17 44 5 3.3 8.4 1.0 1.29 96 0.5
Luis Cessa (2020) 16 21.2 3.32 3.79 20 8 7 17 2 2.9 7.1 0.8 1.25 90 0.3
Luis Avilan (proj.) 24 23.2 4.07 5.03 23 11 12 23 4 4.5 8.6 1.4 1.46 90 0.4
Luis Avilan (2020) 10 8.1 4.32 5.95 9 4 5 9 2 5.4 9.7 2.2 1.68 75 0.2
Michael King (proj.) 26 74.1 6.34 4.99 86 52 26 69 14 3.2 8.3 1.6 1.51 125 -0.2
Michael King (2020) 9 26.2 7.76 5.14 30 23 11 26 5 3.7 8.8 1.7 1.54 112 0.1

The 2020 full-season projections round out with a few arms the Yankees mostly featured in middle relief or swingman roles. PECOTA got a little ambitious with the up-and-coming rookie Michael King, who started 14 of his 26 appearances on Earth-2, rather than four of his nine outings in real life. That’s why he has 74 13 innings in the projection. Regardless, they’re clearly not quality outings, so he needs some more work.

Jonathan Loaisiga made three starts in 2020, but PECOTA projected the rest of his innings out of the bullpen. That’s probably fair since his limited success with his repertoire means that his long-term outlook is more likely to be in relief than starting. Given Loaisiga’s decent results in the sample and his 10.1 K/9, that’s probably the best move.

Luis Cessa’s numbers didn’t change all that much. Unlike Chapman, his performance did not seem to have been affected much by his missed time due to COVID, and he remained steady in this sample, too. As for Luis Avilán, he is 31 and really only filled in during bleak games. PECOTA thought he was okay, but that walk rate is too high for comfort. If he returns in 2021, he won’t have a guaranteed roster spot.

The larger season sample helped assuage some concerns about the Yankees’ pitching staff, but Brian Cashman clearly still has some work to do. That’s especially true since three of his starters are free agents and the bullpen could use another boost, too. Happy hunting, Cash.

Thanks again to Matt Provenzano for research consultation.