It’s nearing the end of April, and the Yankees’ injured list stretches longer than the opening crawl to a Star Wars movie. Yet, despite it all, the Yankees find themselves in better shape record-wise than before the position player injury epidemic struck them.
Much of the credit should go to the Yankees’ unlikely Murderers’ Row, who have averaged 4.8 runs scored over their past 10 games. While star turns from the likes of Michael Tauchman and Gio Urshela have certainly been a boon to the Yankees — as well as being extremely fun to watch — they alone aren’t enough to explain the torrid play of late. The starting pitching deserves equal credit, as it has been nothing short of stellar.
To wit: the Yankees’ starters collectively own a 3.52 ERA so far, good for seventh best in MLB. Yes, that includes their two latest outings, namely Masahiro Tanaka’s six-run clunker and CC Sabathia’s five-run dud. The starting corps looks even better by park-adjusted numbers, as its 77 ERA- ranks sixth. And while the staff’s .272 BABIP suggests some batted ball luck, predictive metrics like FIP- (87, 11th in baseball) and SIERA (4.04, sixth) have the rotation looking pretty good, too. Not bad for a group that lost a top-five pitcher in MLB prior to the season.
In some ways, the rotation’s strong performance is the result of design. James Paxton, who arrived from Seattle to become the Yankees second ace, currently paces the team’s starters in fWAR (1.2) in Severino’s absence. The big left-hander has recorded 12 strikeouts and zero runs allowed in each of his last two starts. It’s safe to say he won’t keep doing that all the time, but considering his track record of success — a 3.40 ERA and a 26.2 K% over 611.1 innings — we can continue to expect way more gems than disasters from Paxton.
Tanaka, by now among the longest-tenured Yankees on the squad, has also generally been his excellent self. While he has been shelled badly twice this season, he’s been stellar in his four other starts. Paxton and Tanaka living up to expectations gives the Yankees’ rotation a solid 1-2 combo even without Severino, something few other teams can boast.
However, the rotation has also been buoyed by a star turn from Domingo German in the early goings of the season. As good as Paxton has been, German has been even better on a per-inning basis, posting a 1.75 ERA and 2.88 FIP over five appearances (four starts) and 25.2 innings.
Aside from the sexiness of his numbers, the most impressive aspect of German’s hot start is the consistency that he’s exhibited so far. The right-hander has gone six innings in three of his four starts, and in all of them he’s limited the opposition to three or fewer runs. Indeed, it’s the first time in German’s career that he’s had four consecutive starts with three earned runs or less.
As many remember, German showed flashes of brilliance last year as well, but he struggled to string together good starts. That he’s been able to do so from the beginning of the season this year gives hope to the notion that he’s turned a big corner in his development.
Sure, questions do remain as to whether the rotation will continue to be a strength. Will J.A. Happ, who I’ve conveniently ignored till now, shake off the suckage of his first four starts and build off his latest outing? Can Sabathia continue to defy Father Time? Will Paxton be able to avoid injury? What will become of Tanaka’s low strikeout and whiff rates? And has German really figured something out?
However, such questions can be tackled at another time. For now, it’s better to just appreciate the fact that the Yankees are alive and well in the division race, despite all that’s gone awry, and that the rotation has played no small part in it. German’s emergence, combined with Paxton and Tanaka performing to expectations, has made the Yankees’ rotation a key strength in the first month of the season.