Starting pitching was among the greatest and most consistent strengths for the 2022 Yankees. Particularly when the team was firing on all cylinders in the middle of the season, it felt like the team’s five starters at the time could do no wrong. This was a surprise to some, as starting pitching was a bit of a question mark headed into the year.
The tenor has shifted this time around. With the acquisition of Carlos Rodón, and reasons for increased confidence in guys like Nestor Cortes and even Luis Severino, those question marks feel much less pressing heading into 2023.
It wasn’t a concern last year either, but Gerrit Cole at the top is about as good as you can get. And we probably have already seen something relatively close to his floor at times last season, which wasn’t bad in any realistic sense. Then, of course, there’s the addition of Rodón. Adding a second ace-level starter can only help the team win. Rodón is coming off a two-year stretch in which he totaled over 11 fWAR, maintained an impressive strikeout rate of 33.9 percent, with an ERA and FIP in the mid-2’s.
During this impressive run that ultimately landed him a big pay day, Rodón put to rest many of the doubts about his health, while submitting by far his best performances to date. Having a stud like that behind (or even right with) Cole, is as good a foundation for a sturdy rotation that you’ll find.
Where my point really gets across, however, is with Nestor Cortes. Coming into ‘22, he was on the heels of 93 very solid innings on the mound. That’s more encouraging 93 bad ones, but it’s certainly not enough to reasonably count on it continuing. After all, he had never thrown more than 66 innings in a year, or maintained an ERA that started with a four.
Of course he took all of that reasonable doubt and proved it completely wrong. Cortes was even better in his 158.1 innings this year, with a 3.13 FIP, a sub-3 ERA, all while maintaining his solid strikeout numbers and managing a career-low walk rate. Different from last offseason, it feels fine to say Nestor is someone that can be relied upon going forward.
There is also Luis Severino, who was a huge question headed into 2022. For all intents and purposes, he hadn’t pitched at any length since 2018. He’s still no sure thing by any stretch, but it’s easy to feel much better about the right-hander than at this time last year.
For starters, he pitched over 100 innings. He was no workhorse, and he did miss some significant time, but 102 innings is a lot more comforting than the 18 he threw over three calendar years prior to this season. He also still had it, as his 102 innings were good ones, and he showed plenty flashes of brilliances that evoked the player who headlined the rotation in 2017-18.
The biggest question mark in this rotation would seemingly be Frankie Montas. Now, I have expressed this sentiment several times, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see him put up an All-Star caliber season. Membership to the Frankie Montas Will Be Good Believers Club is open, but spots are filling up fast. All jokes aside, if the biggest question mark in the rotation is a guy who had a handful of bad starts in the second half, but otherwise has a solid track record (see his career 3.66 ERA before arriving in New York) you’re probably in a good spot.
Realistically, starting depth can only be counted on to be effective and healthy to an extent. It felt like a good group headed into last year, but there was a bit of walking-on-eggshells vibe when thinking about Cortes, Severino, and Jameson Taillon being expected to bear significant responsibility. Would Nestor continue his out-of-nowhere breakout? Would Severino and Taillon stay semi-healthy? Those questions have at least partially been answered in reassuring fashion.
Cortes got even better, while Severino stayed on the mound for over 100 innings and looked like his old self at times. This is not to mention the fact that they effectively replaced Taillon and Jordan Montgomery with Frankie Montas and Carlos Rodón. The ceiling feels sky-high with this group, and the floor is as high as ever too.