“There’s no such thing as too much pitching.” It’s a truism at this point, and one that Yankees fans are incredibly familiar with. Teams never finish the season with the pitching staff that they started with, and the Yankees have been no exception. In 2020, for example, the three-headed monster of Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and James Paxton, which would have given the team one of the best rotations in baseball, never saw the field.
Pitchers tend to get hurt at a very high rate, and for years, baseball writers have for years debated what exactly causes pitchers to be prone to injury. For example, Tom Verducci famously argues that a 30 percent increase (originally a straight 30-inning increase) in workload for pitchers 25 years of age and younger resulted in fatigue, injury, regression, or some combination of the three, while Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus has argued that the so-called Verducci Effect doesn’t hold up to a true statistical analysis (although he does make it clear that his issue is not in the premise, but rather the means of measuring overuse).
And pitcher overuse is going to be a major topic of conversation in 2021. The most any one pitcher threw in 2020, regular season and playoffs included, was only 94.2 innings (Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros, for those wondering). Using Verducci’s 30 percent benchmark as a guide (yes, I know that his rule technically only applies to young pitchers, but it provides a convenient round number), that means that, assuming six innings per start, every single starting pitcher in baseball would have hit this threshold by the All-Star break.
Pitching a substantial number of innings more than the previous year is not a guarantee of an injury; in fact, given Verducci’s theory, the big injury epidemic might not even come until the 2022 season. That said, there will almost certainly be an uptick in 2021, and teams need to be prepared.
Following the two recent additions to the rotation, FanGraphs Depth Charts currently pegs the Yankees rotation as Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Domingo Germán. In addition, the team has Deivi García, Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, Jonathan Loaisiga, Nick Nelson, Luis Medina, and Nestor Cortes as depth. Frankly, even that lengthy list of names may not be enough, both due to Kluber’s and Taillon’s injury histories and because Cortes, King, Loaisiga, and Nelson will be in competition for roles in the bullpen and may be part of the 2021 Broadway revival of The Scranton Shuttle. Luis Severino might be able to provide reinforcement when he returns late in the summer, but then again, he’s been on the field for the 2019 playoffs and pretty much nothing else over the last two years; anything he provides is a bonus.
Fortunately, there are still numerous pitchers on the market that they Yankees could pursue. Even if the team is not willing to invest in a pitcher with a guaranteed contract, the slow market means that there will almost certainly be at least a handful of veteran pitchers that they could extend spring training invites to. We’ve profiled any number of these players in recent weeks, whether it’s swingmen types like Yusmeiro Petit and Trevor Cahill, or lower-end starters like Jake Arrieta and Matt Shoemaker, among many others.
When the injury bugs hits — and make no mistake, it will, probably more than ever — having depth readily available might very well be the difference between the World Series contenders and the also-rans in the upcoming season. The Yankees should spend at least a little more money to try and ensure they have the horses to cover the 2021 season.