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The Yankees’ top three starters are scarier than their ERAs suggest

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Tanaka, Paxton and German make for a great top three - provided that they’re all on top of their game.

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made of the Yankees’ starting pitching and their lackluster performances. Despite the team as a whole succeeding due to their endless supply of above-average hitters, the rotation has continued to struggle. Over the past 30 days, they own a collective ERA of 4.75, and have averaged 1.86 home runs allowed per nine innings. I can think of many adjectives to describe that factoid, but ideal is not one of them.

It is important to note, however, that the Yankees’ top three starters - Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Domingo German - have all been quite good in that time frame. Tanaka has been stellar, going 3-1 in 6 starts with a 3.44 ERA and a sparkling 0.74 HR/9. Paxton has gone 6-0 with a 3.57 ERA, and German has gone 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA despite allowing an ungodly number of homers (9 across just 30.1 innings!).

Though none of the above trio has managed to bring their season ERA below 4 yet, it’s encouraging that all three are trending up as October nears. However, there’s another reason why Yankee fans should be confident about their top three starters. While Tanaka, Paxton, and German have all had their share of clunkers throughout the season, all of them have the skill and/or the stuff to absolutely dominate opposing lineups on their good days.

Indeed, Tanaka, Paxton and German have pulled Jekyll-and-Hyde acts for the entirety of the season to date, dominating in one start and being shellacked in the next. FanGraphs’ version of the Game Score statistic, which assigns scores to individual starts on a roughly 0-100 scale based on their quality, illustrates just how good the three pitchers’ peak performances are. For a breakdown of the statistic, visit this page.

Let’s set the benchmark for a dominant outing at a Game Score of 70. For an example of what a 70 start looks like, look to Tanaka’s April 2 start against the Tigers, in which he pitched 6.2 innings and allowed one run on eight hits while striking out seven with no walks. I think that captures the essence of what we think when we hear “dominant.”

Despite their less-than-shiny season ERAs, the Yankees’ top-of-the-rotation trio have had many dominant outings, that is, starts with Game Scores above 70, throughout the year. Tanaka alone has had six such starts, plus two starts that narrowly missed the cut at 68 (May 23 against Baltimore, and April 20 against Kansas City).

Meanwhile, Paxton has had several stellar starts of his own, posting Game Scores above 70 in three of his starts, plus three starts that almost reached the threshold (one 69 and two 68s). Finally, German has had four such starts.

If all this sounds less than impressive, keep in mind that 70 starts are a rare occasion for most pitchers. Sure, for aces like Max Scherzer (who own 10 such starts) or Justin Verlander (12), 70-plus starts are the standard. However, it’s difficult for the non-Scherzers and Verlanders of the world, even if they are very good pitchers, to pump out 70-plus starts.

Take, for example, José Berríos, a top-10 pitcher in the AL by both ERA (3.57) and fWAR (3.8). Though his season stats are a cut above Tanaka, Paxton, or German’s, the Twins’ ace only owns four 70-plus starts, the same number as German.

This isn’t to say that the Yankees’ top starters are as good as Berríos has been. Consistency matters as much as peak performance, and Berríos has them all beat by a mile on that front. However, the fact remains that, when they’re on top of their game, Tanaka, Paxton and German can go toe-to-toe with the best pitchers in the league. While it may not seem like it just by looking at their season stats, the Yankees’ top three starters are as scary as almost anybody else when they’re at their peak. They have my vote of confidence as the Yankees seek to wrap up the division and build momentum towards the playoffs in the coming weeks.