Advanced metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching have revolutionized the way we think about pitching. In the interest of estimating a pitcher's true talent level, strikeouts and walks have been scrutinized more than ever. Over the past few seasons, the Yankees have paid close attention to them, with pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, and Michael Pineda demonstrating the ability to throw strikes.
This year, Yankee pitchers have put up impressive peripheral numbers, but they have yet to translate to the ERA column. So far, most of the Yankee starters have done a great job limiting walks, if nothing else:
Extreme fly ball pitchers have been known to generate lower BABIP's, often posting ERA's that are well below their FIP's. However, with the continued dominance of ground ball pitchers like Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw, defense independent metrics appear to have some more flaws. Some are beginning to suggest that pitchers do have control over things like BABIP. Statistically speaking, if a pitcher continues to exceed or underperform relative to his FIP, it becomes tougher and tougher to chalk it up to a small sample size.
An increasingly popular school of thought is that pitchers with superb command are more likely to outperform their FIP's by generating weaker contact. Command and control are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. Control refers to a pitcher's ability to throw strikes, while a pitcher with good command can paint the corners and hit the target given by the catcher.
Looking at the Yankees rotation, a common theme begins to emerge. Young hurlers like Eovaldi, Pineda and Severino have all flashed electric stuff, but have struggled with home runs and abnormally high BABIP's. None of them are highly regarded for their fastball location and are thought of as strike throwers rather than command artists. These three pitchers are likely to play an ongoing role in the Yankees starting rotation, so it is important that they develop their fastball command.
Since taking over as the Yankees' pitching coach in 2011, Rothschild has not really been in the spotlight as much as Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman. In 2011 and 2012, the Yankees made the playoffs largely based on their offense. In 2013 and 2014, a slew of injuries made it difficult to fault anyone for the team's record. Since last year, persistent health issues have set the bar relatively low for the Yankees pitching staff.
But with the emergence of Luis Severino and disaster-free seasons from Pineda and Eovaldi, merely hoping for good health is harder than before. The Yankees have managed to put together a starting rotation with a great deal of upside, but also with a significant amount of risk. After starting the 2016 season with an offensive drought, the Yankees are more reliant on their starting rotation than ever. How they perform over the next few seasons could ultimately define Larry Rothschild's legacy as pitching coach.
Fortunately, there is reason to believe that he is up to the task. While it is tough to estimate how much of a role he played, there have been some impressive success stories within the Yankees organization over the last few years. In 2011, they picked up former Mariners ace Freddy Garcia, who was well into the twilight of his career. Even so, Garcia managed to pitch 146.2 innings of 3.62 ERA baseball that season. Hiroki Kuroda was the team's most valuable starter from 2012-2014, as he lowered his walk rate each year.
In addition, Dellin Betances has been able to improve his control to the point where he has harnessed his insane stuff and dominated out of the bullpen. While none of these pitchers were the modern day Greg Maddux, they were all able to improve just enough to succeed in pinstripes.
With a young and developing starting rotation, fans will need to be patient with pitchers like Eovaldi, Pineda, and Severino. But early in the season, it is looking like they will only go as far as their fastball command takes them. In order to help the Yankees rotation reach its potential, Larry Rothschild will have to reach into his bag of tricks. If he can help the young trio locate their heaters effectively, he could go down as one of the most important parts of the Yankees' long term plans.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs. Statistics are as of April 29.