The New York Yankees are swimming in starting rotation pitching depth. In a season where they have led the American League in innings pitched by starting pitching, fWAR, FIP, and ERA-, they have barely tapped into their Triple-A group of pitchers which includes JP Sears, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Gil and a few others. The main one-through-five have had incredible health and ability to go deep into games. As several key relievers have gone down with short to long term injuries, the starting pitching has stepped it up,
The rotation has not had a pitcher throw less than five innings since May 15th, when Jordan Montgomery battled through 4.1 frames against the Chicago White Sox. In the most recent turn through the rotation, three pitchers gave a minimum of 6 IP, and two delivered eight-inning gems.
The timing of this trend has been tremendous given the injuries. Aaron Boone’s willingness to let his starters go has undoubtedly increased. This could be for a few reasons. The obvious first is relief pitching injuries from the team’s best three relivers in 2021. The other two are performance and physical capacity.
If your pitcher has been dealing for an extended period of time, of course you feel more comfortable letting them take the reigns of their own game. For example, Jameson Taillon has been on a tear of late, giving great length while suppressing runs. In his 11 innings pitched where the opposing lineup was in their third time through the order, Taillon has dazzled with a 1.64 ERA, .200 batting average against, .275 slugging, and not a single walk. It’s extremely difficult to take a pitcher out when they’ve flashed the ability to improve as a game progresses.
The same goes for Nestor Cortes, who has been nearly unhittable the third time through with a 0.84 ERA, .184 batting average against, and .289 slugging in 10.2 innings pitched. The other three starters haven’t been great the third time through this season, but low FIPs from Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole indicate this performance isn’t as bad as it seems. You get the gist. If starters are pitching well deep into games and their stuff doesn’t show any significant decline, you have a ton of motivation to let them ride, especially if your bullpen is more shorthanded than usual.
That brings me to the next point: physical capacity. One indicator of this is pitch velocity as you start to reach that 85+ pitch mark. Here’s the thing, though, that breaking point of a pitcher’s physical limits is different for each player, so don’t get too caught up in that one-dimensional mindset of 100 pitches being as far as a pitcher can go.
This is both pitchers’ most recent start. Each recorded eight innings, and their stuff never really seemed to waver even as their pitch counts got a little further up. Both of their fastball velocities were fairly consistent with no steep drop off at the end of their appearances. That’s a solid indicator that their physical capacities weren’t too tested in this game, making the decision to keep them in easier for Boone.
You don’t want to test it too much at this point of the season, but luckily for Boone his pitching staff has efficient, repeatable mechanics across the board. They can maintain their average levels of velocity for a period of time that allows them to go deeper into games. This has been huge for their taxed bullpen which has even seen recent struggles from the dominant Michael King on top of the three significant injuries. Length from your starters is a huge benefit no matter the time of year, but when injuries suddenly pop up like this, it’s a great alternative option to have. For a while, the bullpen and offense carried the team on top of great starting pitching, but now, it’s the turn of the starters to dominate and carry all by themselves. If there is one rotation that can do it, it’s this one.