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Did the Yankees make a mistake by keeping Larry Rothschild?

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Larry Rothschild has an excellent reputation around the league, but he hasn’t done a very good job with the Yankees of late.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the nicest features of baseball is the ease of evaluating players in a vacuum. Although the best way of doing so is arguable, it’s indisputable that every single player on the 25-man roster can be given a value and worth without much effort. Navigating to a site like Baseball Prospectus (WARP), Fangraphs (fWAR), or Baseball Reference (bWAR) takes seconds, but immediately returns wins above replacement figures that give us the contribution of a player in any given (or set of) seasons.

Unfortunately, it’s challenging to appraise parts of a team that aren’t directly involved in the on-field product. Although the front office and coaches can be crucial to a team’s success, there’s no such thing as mWAR for managers or WARF for front office employees. Measuring the impact that any given coach or analytical mind provides isn’t impossible, but it’s certainly harder, especially given how little they directly control. A manager can make all the perfect decisions, but a lack of execution from the players can result in a loss. A hitting coach can provide ideal advice for any batter, but it’s up to the player to implement those changes to improve his game.

With that in mind, it’s not so simple that you can look at a team’s pitching, see their performance ranks in the bottom half of the league, and deem their pitching coach ‘bad.’ Injuries, bad luck, or just a poor pool of talent to work with could have contributed to the team’s struggles—not the coach. Put simply, there’s no straight forward way to say whether a coach is making a positive or negative impact, and assessing the overall value of personnel goes much further than on-field performance.

Providing fair opinions on coaches is still possible, though, and in Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild’s case, the public consensus on him may be wrong. Rothschild, who’s been with the club since 2011, is well-regarded for his body of work around the league. There is a chance, however, that this reputation may not be as accurate as many would believe.

The Yankees starting pitching wasn’t awful in 2016, but it certainly wasn’t good, and Rothschild could be to blame. The staff wasn’t crippled by factors such as the aforementioned injuries, bad luck (one can point to BABIP, but for Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, their high rates of hard contact naturally lead to a high BABIP), or a poor pool of talent, yet four out of five Yankees starters struggled immensely. When so many players struggled at such a great extent, it’s hard to look anywhere else but the coaching staff, and of coaches, Larry Rothschild has the biggest hand in how pitchers perform.

Although it’s not always fair to pin the struggles of starting pitchers on pitching coaches, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, and Ivan Nova all ended the season with ERAs north of 4.80 out of the rotation. Considering such widespread struggles from talented players, it’s worth taking a serious look at whether the pitching coach deserves to keep his job.

Take a look at a player like Nathan Eovaldi: much was made about Eovaldi’s arrival to the Bronx prior to the 2015 season because of Larry Rothschild’s guidance—which many hoped could transform the flamethrower into a top of the rotation starter—but, if anything, Eovaldi got worse in his tenure with the Yankees. Rothschild was lauded because he had the former Marlin add a successful splitter into his repertoire, but this new pitch did little on the whole. In his first season with New York, Eovaldi had a 4.20 ERA, and that mark shot up to 5.08 (as a starter) in 2016. Things got so bad that Eovaldi was demoted to the bullpen for a time, and he ended the season with a shredded UCL that likely finishes his career with the Yankees.

Then, there’s Michael Pineda. Another arm with boatloads of talent, Big Mike had the seventh worst ERA among qualified starters in 2016. While it’s impossible to ignore Pineda’s outstanding peripherals, run prevention is the most important quality of all for a pitcher, and Pineda failed miserably in that facet of the game. The 27-year-old’s 2015 wasn’t much better, as he had a 4.37 ERA, and it’s now easy to disregard his short but successful 2014 as a fluke. His WAR has remained solid over the last few seasons due to his high amount of strikeouts and few walks allowed, but it doesn’t get him very far overall.

Luis Severino is yet another talented starter who, after a huge rookie season, turned in a horrific 2016. Expected to become one of the Yankees’ best pitchers in his sophomore season, the 22-year-old had an 8.50 ERA as a starter in the big leagues. He spent most of the year in Triple-A and the MLB bullpen as a result.

Finally, we have Ivan Nova, who, despite not having nearly the expectations of the other three arms, may be the most damning example of Rothschild’s inability to help this team. Nova turned in a 4.90 ERA with the Yankees before he was traded to the Pirates at the deadline. Though there was no reason to miss him after he left, Nova’s excellent performance after the trades appears to be pretty damning to Rothschild’s reputation. After moving to Pittsburgh, Nova was nothing short of outstanding, with a 3.06 ERA, 7.24 K/9, and 0.42 BB/9. Ray Searage of the Pirates transformed Nova, at least for a time, into an incredibly productive starting pitcher—something Rothschild was unable to accomplish.

Now, this doesn’t mean Rothschild has turned every pitcher he’s worked with into dust. Masahiro Tanaka has remained an elite arm despite diminished velocity and elbow trouble, and CC Sabathia has a legitimate chance at winning Comeback Player of the Year after a resurgence in 2016. Still, Tanaka is Tanaka: a pitcher who had some of the best secondary pitchers (and splitter) in the world before getting to New York, and Sabathia attributed a large portion of success to former Yankee Andy Pettitte teaching him how to use a cutter.

Blaming Rothschild for just one of Eovaldi, Pineda, Severino, and Nova’s struggles with the Yankees certainly wouldn’t be fair, but when all four of them have performed well below expectations, it’s time to start questioning whether Rothschild is as good as many consider him to be. While he’s been extended for another season with the club, the Yankees would be smart to think hard about whether they want to give him another shot after next season.