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How the Yankees can maximize Gerrit Cole’s starts

What can the Yankees do to get Cole on the mound as often as possible?

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

With every game mattering so much more than usual in this abbreviated season, having your best players on the field as often as possible will be all that more important. When it comes to position players, that remains fairly easy: schedule the “workload management days” of your best players to fall on regularly-scheduled days off whenever possible, and take advantage of opportunities to give players a half day by slotting them in as the designated hitter. For relievers, that involves worrying less about working on consecutive days, except where it affects effectiveness.

Because of the nature of the position, however, getting your best starting pitchers as many starts as possible will be difficult; they normally need at least four days between starts, and putting them on short rest for longer than a couple of weeks might do more harm than good. Then Jack Curry tweeted this:

His plan makes perfect sense, and I would honestly be surprised if the Yankees did not do this. By taking advantage of the off-day, the Yankees can get Gerrit Cole on the mound three times in the first ten games of the season, a potentially massive boost considering how important a hot start to this season will be.

But that got me thinking: just how far can we take this? Would it be possible to utilize the off days in the schedule to get Cole on the mound for more starts than 12, the prorated number of starts expected for each pitcher this season?

And so I laid out the 67-day schedule, marking in the team’s off-days (July 24, August 10, August 13, August 24, August 27, September 3, and September 14), and then slotting Cole into the rotation on every fifth day, instead of every fifth game. I used Curry’s plan to lay out the first 11 games, then simply filled in the rest of the schedule, following a rotation of James Paxton/Masahiro Tanaka/J.A. Happ/Jordan Montgomery as closely as possible.

Starting every fifth day gives Cole 14 starts on the year:

  • July 23 at Washington
  • July 28 at Philadelphia
  • August 2 vs. Boston
  • August 7 at Tampa Bay
  • August 12 vs. Atlanta
  • August 17 vs. Boston
  • August 22 at New York
  • August 28 vs. New York
  • September 2 vs. Tampa Bay
  • September 7 at Toronto
  • September 12 vs. Baltimore
  • September 17 vs. Toronto
  • September 22 at Toronto
  • September 27 vs. Miami

Only one start day coincides with an off day — conveniently at the end of August, roughly half-way through the season. More importantly, this schedule lines up Cole to pitch twice against the Yankees’ biggest rival within the division, Tampa Bay, including the teams’ final matchup of the year on September 2. Throughout September, Cole would be lined up to face the Blue Jays, perhaps the division’s biggest wild card with an explosive offense, three times. Lastly, should things go down to the wire, Cole will be in line to start Game 60 if it’s a must-win game.

Within this model, Paxton and Happ received 12 starts, Montgomery 11, and Masahiro Tanaka 10, with an opener/spot starter being used once. At this point, I decided to push the system a bit: what if the Yankees decided to maximize the number of starts their top three pitchers (Cole, Paxton, and Tanaka) received? I repeated the exercise, first by slotting Cole into the same 14 starts, then penciling Paxton in on every fifth day (taking an extra day whenever him and Cole coincided), and then likewise with Tanaka; Happ and Montgomery then filled in the remaining games.

This second model gave Paxton and Tanaka each an extra start, and Happ and Montgomery were each skipped once through the order (this coincided with the two Tuesday/Thursday off-day pairs that the Yankees have in August). With this, Cole, Paxton, and Tanaka would combine to make 63% of the Yankees’ starts, rather than the 56% they might otherwise be expected to (assuming, as Curry did, that Tanaka would miss at least two starts).

More importantly, however, by skipping two starts for Happ and Montgomery, the Yankees line up their rotation so that Paxton, Tanaka, and Cole start the final three games of the season, in that order (for a comparison, the first model would finish with Happ, Montgomery, and Cole). Should these be must-win games, having their anticipated top three starters on the mound would greatly improve the Yankees’ chance of success.

Of course, these are nothing more than models; even if the Yankees were to attempt to implement one of these two plans, injuries, rainouts, and performance will certainly throw numerous wrenches into them. Nonetheless, it does show that, should things fall favorably and the Yankees really try, they can get their best starters on the mound for an extra start or two — and in such a short season, an extra start by Cole might just be the difference between a division title and an October on the sofa.