Following an injury-riddled season from their starting pitchers, the New York Yankees have completely revamped their rotation. With several departures and new arrivals, this starting five has the potential to be one of MLB’s best. However, most of the staff comes with major question marks that could turn this formidable group into a complete disaster over the course of 162 games. With that, here is the Yankees projected 2021 pitching rotation.
1.) Gerrit Cole
The one sure thing in the Yankees 2021 Pitching Rotation is ace Gerrit Cole. Arguably the best pitcher in the American League, Cole has so far made good on the $324 million megadeal he signed with the team in 2019. Granted, it’s only been one 60-game season, but it was a really good 60-game season. As the only Yankee to make 12 starts last year, he accumulated a terrific 2.84 ERA and 0.959 WHIP on route to a fourth-place AL Cy Young finish.
There are some concerns for Cole heading into this season. Chief among them are his drop in strikeout rate and steep rise in hard contact given up. While he still recorded strikeouts at an elite rate (11.6 K/9) in 2020, this was more than two points lower than 2019. Likewise, huge gains in whiff rate on his slider (43.3%) and curveball (48.0%) were offset by a precipitous drop in effectiveness in his four-seam fastball (25.9%). The vertical movement on his fastball also dropped to 2.1 inches, down from 2.9 in 2019.
The results were a 9.1% barrel rate, 44.6% hard hit rate and 90.4 mph average exit velocity. Each of these ranks near the bottom of the league. While he has struggled with the long ball in the last few seasons, the hope is that this particular uptick is just the result of pitching under abnormal circumstances. If it is, expect Cole to be the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young.
2.) Corey Kluber
A truly high-risk high-reward situation, 2021 might be the most important season of Corey Kluber’s career. After injuries limited him to just eight starts in the last two years (including just one 2020 start), the soon to be 35-year-old is trying to salvage the end of a once dominant career. The two-time AL Cy Young winner did look good enough in his winter showcase to warrant a one-year $11 million deal from the Yankees in the first place. While Kluber may no longer be the pitcher who recorded a 2.85 ERA and 2.83 FIP from 2014-18, if he can show he still has pinpoint command of his pitches, he might have a few good years left.
3.) Jameson Taillon
After giving up four prospects to get him, the Yankees are expecting a major comeback from Jameson Taillon. Having missed most of 2019 and all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, Taillon has a lot to prove in his first full season back. Sporting a new lower body focused pitching movement that seeks to decrease pressure on his arm while simultaneously increasing spin rate, Taillon and the Yankees feel confident in a full recovery.
The high bar for success right now is his 2018 season. That year he put up a 3.20 ERA , 3.46 FIP and 1.178 WHIP in 32 starts for the Pirates. He also excelled in limiting hard contact (87.8 mph exit velocity) and walks (1.9 BB/9), and proved efficient enough to pitch two complete games. If he can build on this success, Taillon might just be a sleeper pick for the AL Cy Young. Plus, he’s got one of the most ridiculous curveballs in the league so there’s that to look forward to.
The Yankees are adding Jameson Taillon and his nasty curveball to their rotation pic.twitter.com/xEQZ5W4fLX
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) January 24, 2021
A better pitcher than he appears, Jordan Montgomery is looking to stake his claim as part of the Yankees 2021 Pitching Rotation. 2020 was his first full season back after missing most of 2018-19 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. At a glance, his 5.11 ERA last year looks awful. On further inspection, however, Montgomery was the victim of a lot of bad luck that season.
With a 3.87 xERA, 3.84 SIERA and 3.65 xFIP, the predicative metrics clearly liked him a lot. It’s pretty easy to see why, considering his 5.22 K/BB ratio and ability to consistently generate weak contact (84.6 mph exit velocity, 29.9% hard hit rate). As a groundball pitcher (42.9% GB rate) who relies on his defense to get the job done, the Yankees’ banged up infield literally dropped the ball on him last year. If the defense can stay healthy and improve (cough…Gleyber Torres…cough), then so should Montgomery’s stats.
The final rotation spot is currently being contested by Domingo German and Dievi Garcia. After missing all of 2020 serving a domestic violence suspension, German faces an uphill battle if he wants to earn a starting spot. He was decent in 2019, owing a 4.03 ERA, 4.72 FIP and 1.147 WHIP. While he demonstrated great spin rate on his fastball (2440 rpm) and an excellent 45.0% whiff rate on his curveball, he also had issues limiting hard contact (89.4 mph exit velocity, 40.1% hard hit rate).
Meanwhile, Garcia struggled to a 4.98 ERA in six starts as a mid-season callup. The blame can’t really be placed on him, though, as the 21-year-old was rushed to the majors despite making just six career starts in AAA, where he faltered to a 5.40 ERA. That said, he showed decent command last year, giving up just six walks in 34 innings of work. The assumption is that with a some more experience and a full spring to properly stretch out this time, Garcia can emerge as a viable back end starter. Even if German beats him out for the fifth spot this year, he can still gain valuable experience in AAA.
Featured Image Courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
‘From our Haus to yours’