During the Yankees playoff runs of the late 2010’s, the discourse around the team’s need for improved pitching was chaotic. At the time, Luis Severino’s was the club’s best starter, but he did not always provide the length needed in the playoffs, leaving the rest of the rotation and bullpen in a sticky situation. On top of that, it was clear Larry Rothschild was not a fit to get the most out of the rotation, including Severino.
That left Brian Cashman at a crucial inflection point in his Yankees’ tenure. Rothschild didn’t work. With baseball, and the Yankees, moving more in the direction of heavy analytical influence, Cashman needed to make the right hire. He took a chance with Matt Blake, who hadn’t taken on the traditional pitching coach title in his career.
That chance has paid off. Bringing Blake on to mold the organizations approach to pitching is probably the best non-player related decision Cashman has made with the team.
Blake’s impact has been multi-faceted. The Yankees always had a top-tier bullpen, but it was usually marked by three top-line players, oftentimes imported via big-ticket free agent deals. Nowadays, the weapons run through the entire relief corps. On any given day, there are probably four to six relievers Aaron Boone would be comfortable with on the bump to get the last few outs of a game. Of course, Aroldis Chapman remains the closer, but in a world where he is not on the roster, the team wouldn’t miss a beat.
Organizations can be great at developing pitchers, trading for pitchers, or acquiring them via free agency. They tend to put resources into one area more than the others. Matt Blake and the Yankees’ staff propensity to develop pitchers in-house and get the most out players acquired via trade will open Brian Cashman’s flexibility in free agency in the years to come.
With the team developing an endless number of relievers all between good to elite, the Yankees may never again feel the need to dole out the contracts like the $85 million deal for Chapman, or the $56 million committed to retain Zack Britton. Don’t get me wrong, a team like the Yankees should flex their financial resources to the max for great players. However, given the way the team is currently run under Hal Steinbrenner, having that extra $20-$30 million of wiggle room on a yearly basis should matter a lot. That is enough money to acquire a high-level starting pitcher or position player on the free agent market, and it’s money that won’t need to be allocated to shore up the bullpen.
All that said, and we haven’t even discussed the strides the pitchers in the starting rotation have taken, Gerrit Cole and Severino included. Both already had a history of being 5-6 win pitchers in pinstripes. Now, they have added to their arsenals and diversified their own repertories, filling up any holes they had compared to previous versions of themselves.
The same thing goes for Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes, and Jordan Montgomery. Ranging from elite prospect to DFA’d journeyman, Blake has guided each of these hurlers on a path to be the very best versions of themselves. They don’t posses the natural, raw stuff that Severino and Cole do, yet they are pitching extremely well and have been just as important to the team’s early success in 2022.
The top-to-bottom quality of the Yankees’ current pitching staff is incredible to see. This is hands down the best the team’s pitching been in recent memory, and it’s not close. To put things in perspective, they have a player like Clarke Schmidt in the minor leagues who realistically could start on at least half the teams in MLB.
That is a great problem to have. Blake deserves loads of credit for it. The players and director of pitching Sam Briend are of course highly deserving as well, but Blake is the one at the helm holistically shaping the team’s philosophy. He is the best pitching coach in baseball, and we should hope that he’ll be with the Yankees for a long, long time.