The Yankees have trotted out a pretty patchwork rotation down the stretch. It has held together admirably, but there will nonetheless be rumors of New York trying to upgrade the staff during the coming offseason. They could make a splash in free agency, and they will surely be linked to potential big names on the trade market.
Still, it’s worth examining to see if any of the members of the makeshift rotation are worth sticking with for a longer term. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia aren’t going anywhere, and Michael Pineda, for all his faults, is still a talented pitcher worth starting. Luis Severino is no lock for next year’s rotation, but the Yankees would probably do well to give him another chance as a starter.
That would leave the Yankees with the fifth starter slot open. Obviously, New York could try to fill that hole from outside the organization. However, should they opt against a trade or free agent signing, there are certainly players that have contributed this season who could be given a shot at a spot in the rotation.
Among the most prominent candidates are the young pitchers Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell. All possess some amount of potential and have made a small impact at the major league level this year. Which has the best argument to be in next season’s rotation?
The case for Bryan Mitchell
Mitchell had a sensational spring training that left many observers convinced he was ready to be a real asset to the big league club. He gave up just one run in 15.2 spring innings and appeared to have a role as a swingman locked down.
That didn’t materialize once he suffered a fluky foot injury that kept him out five months. Yet he has returned this September and has mostly resembled the pitcher he was before. According to Brooks Baseball, Mitchell sat at 95.7 mph on his four seam fastball in his latest outing, down only slightly from last year, when he sat above 96 mph pitching mostly in relief.
He has only made three starts this year, totaling just 12 innings with a 6.00 ERA, but Mitchell might have the strongest pedigree of the three. He ranked as high as the 13th prospect in the Yankees’ system last year according to MLB.com, and he has a quality minor league track record, with a 3.15 ERA in 125 Triple-A innings.
The main issue is the injury and the loss of development time for Mitchell. Had he stayed healthy and gotten the chance to perform, Mitchell might have been the best candidate among him, Green, and Cessa.
The case for Chad Green
Green has made eight starts this year, totaling 36 innings. The numbers aren’t pretty: a 5.94 ERA and a 6.08 FIP as a starter, but Green has fared very well at least as far as strikeouts and walks go, with a 52 to 15 strikeout to walk ratio as a starter.
It is possible some of his struggles are the result of bad luck. He has been the victim of a .333 BABIP and a sky-high 27.3% HR/FB rate, numbers that should normalize over time. For what it’s worth, according to Statcast, Green has yielded an average exit velocity of 89.7 mph and an average home run distance of 394 feet. Both figures are close to league average, and neither are indicative of a pitcher that should be getting killed on fly balls and batted balls.
Yet his season has still been uneven, and Green looked better during his time pitching in relief. He didn’t allow a run in 9.1 innings as a reliever this year, lending credence to the idea that Green’s stuff is more suited to the bullpen than Cessa and Mitchell. The others each boast three or more pitch arsenals while Green has thrown off-speed stuff just 3% of the time, per Brooks Baseball.
So, while Green’s struggles as a starter probably aren’t all his fault, he has looked effective as a fastball/slider reliever, and isn’t a favorite to sniff the fifth starter role next year.
The case for Luis Cessa
Cessa has had the most success of this bunch in 2016. He leads Mitchell and Green in Baseball-Reference WAR with a modest 0.5, and owns a fine 3.80 ERA in 34 innings as a starter.
Cessa’s peripherals don’t entirely back up his performance, as low strikeout totals and home run troubles have led to a 5.70 FIP. Still, Cessa has flashed a solid four-pitch mix that gives him a shot at starting in the future. He has worked in a slider, curveball, and changeup to go along with his 95 mph heater this year.
Perhaps the best sign Cessa could work as a starter is his slider. According to Brooks Baseball, his slider has generated above average levels of both whiffs and groundballs, and hitters are batting just .226 against the pitch. If Cessa can offer a quality slider, to go along with mid-90s velocity and two other workable pitches, he could truly have a chance to turn lineups over multiple times as a starter.
In the end, if the Yankees are to fill out the 2017 rotation from within, Cessa and Mitchell look like solid candidates, with Green more likely as a bullpen arm. If forced to choose one right now, Cessa might be the pick just based on performance this season, but there’s still plenty of time between now and next year for the dust to settle.