Should the Yankees run a six-man rotation once Gerrit Cole returns?

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

When the New York Yankees started the season without reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole, there were many concerns about how the starting rotation would perform in his absence. 50 games later, the starting rotation without Cole has been one of the best in all of baseball to start the 2024 season.

The Yankees’ rotation is among the best in the MLB

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees
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Entering Tuesday’s game against the Mariners, the Yankees starting rotation has pitched to a 2.95 ERA this season, which is third in MLB behind the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. In their last eight starts, the rotation has pitched to an astounding 0.86 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, a 2.63 FIP, and a 1.6 WAR, according to FanGraphs. In that same span, they have allowed a total of five earned runs over 52.1 innings pitched.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, all five starters currently in the Yankees rotation had an ERA under 4.00, with Nestor Cortes having the highest at 3.56, which is still a very solid ERA this far into the season. The starters are racking up strikeouts as well, as their 9.12 K/9 ranks third in MLB and second in the AL so far this season.

Who would take a backseat upon Gerrit Cole’s return?

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees, carlos rodon
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Carlos Rodón has endured a bounce-back campaign after a rough 2023 season, Clarke Schmidt and Luis Gil have been fantastic at the back end of the rotation, and newcomer Marcus Stroman has pitched a strong first season in pinstripes. With all this success from each of the starters, it is hard to imagine that one of them might need to take a back seat once Cole returns.

Cole is still at least a few weeks away before being activated off the IL for right elbow inflammation he dealt with during Spring Training, but the latest updates in his rehab have all been positive, indicating that his return is on the horizon. With that in mind, the idea of potentially running a six-man rotation upon his return could come to fruition.

There has been no mention by Yankees manager Aaron Boone regarding the prospect of expanding the rotation, but as the current group continues to deliver strong performances, it is going to be one that they will have to consider at least for the short term.

The Yankees could expand their rotation to six players

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Mar 1, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Expanding the rotation to six players could provide some benefits for all parties involved. Gil is in rookie season and has already surpassed his previous MLB career high for innings pitched. On top of that, this is his first season fresh off of undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2022, so the team will likely monitor his innings throughout the course of the season.

Cole will likely be under some sort of pitch limit through his first couple of starts when he returns, and the idea of giving him extra rest between starts could be prioritized. After all, the main reason for Cole’s injury was because he struggled to recover in between starts, so they will want to protect their ace as much as they can.

Therefore, expanding the rotation at least for the first month Cole is back could give key guys an extra day of rest in between starts, while also allowing them to continue utilizing the guys that have been the most effective for them. It may not be a long-term solution, as longer rest periods also pose the risk of taking players out of their rhythm, but it could at least give them the opportunity to evaluate their best rotation options for the stretch run and the postseason.

More will be known about the rotation in the coming weeks, but for right now, the rotation has done a remarkable job holding down the fort while they wait for their ace to return.

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