The New York Yankees during the offseason signed pitching ace Gerrit Cole for the largest pitching contract ever. That investment has paid off so far in this short 2020 baseball season, with Cole winning all three of his starts. But, outside of Cole, the New York Yankees starting pitching as best could be called lacking, and at the worst, miserable. The only reason that the Yankees are 9-3 is because of the powerful bats in the lineup that hit two home runs per game.
The biggest problem the Yankees are experiencing, so far, this season with the rotation is J.A. Happ and James Paxton, both having pitched terribly in both of their starts. Before you say wait, it’s early in the season, this is a 60 game season and the Yankees can’t wait very long for these pitchers to kick in.
In all four of these pitcher’s starts the New York Yankees have only gotten eleven innings of starting pitching from them, putting additional stress and dependency on the Yankee bullpen. Happ struggled Wednesday against the Phillies and was taken out of the game after three innings. He’d issued six walks in a four-run effort, requiring 66 pitches to get those nine outs. This is the second outing that he hasn’t gone past the third inning.
“I thought I made some pitches and kind of didn’t get the benefit of the doubt, then wasn’t able to get back in the zone with some other ones,” Happ said after the 11-7 loss in the first game of the doubleheader. “But six walks, obviously, that was the story.”
Paxton has not looked like himself during his two outings. He said at the end of the training camp that he was working on mechanical adjustments, but his velocity has sat around 92 mph (about 4 mph less than he averaged in 2019). His swing-and-miss rate hovered at about 30 percent last year but has been at 22.6 percent in his four innings this season. The difference in a fastball that barrels in at 96 mph and one that lobs in there at 92 mph is huge.
Paxton in the offseason had back surgery, which he says he has completely recovered from, and that he has no injury issues. If that’s the case why the drop off in velocity, that is so dramatic from last year. Manager Aaron Boone has had this to say about Paxton:
“I feel like he’s healthy,” Boone said. “We do feel like physically he’s sound with all the behind-the-scenes tests we do as far as measuring strength and output. It’s very similar to what it’s been his entire career. He feels good.”
The predictions on Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery are still undetermined. Tanaka after having a delayed start due to getting hit in the head, last Saturday allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and one walk over 2.2 innings during last Saturday’s 5-2 win over Boston. He struck out three and did not factor into the decision. Tonight he will have his second start of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jordan Montgomery in his first start of the season on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, although shaky, he went 5.2 innings in the Yankee win over the Red Sox. His ERA in the game was a tiny 1.59. Fast forward to his second start of the season last night against the Phillies, Monty gave up three runs in the first inning in the Yankee loss. He gave up another two runs in the fourth inning for an ERA of 11.25.
Again, the Yankee’s biggest problem is Happ and Paxton, with no answers seemingly forthcoming. Both of these pitchers if right can be dominant. Maybe the answer to Happ and Paxton will come in the name of Michael King and Clarke Schmidt, both of which have been highly praised in both spring training and summer camp. It all depends on how long manager Boone wants to keep putting Happ and Paxton out there. There are less than two months remaining in this short season. The Yankees cannot afford to lose games. Another loss by either of these pitchers could cause them to be knocked into the bullpen, or even sent to the alternate site in Scranton.
Meanwhile, the bright pitching spot, other than Cole, has been the excellent pitching of the bullpen. Although most everyone in the bullpens has pitched excellently. There are two standouts, those being Chad Green and the other Zack Britton. Green in relief has pitched in five games for eight innings, all scoreless while striking out 11 for a 1-0 record. Britton in Chapman’s absence has saved all five of his opportunities.
The New York Yankees if wanting to get to the postseason and beyond must solve the Happ Paxton problem, either by having Matt Blake resolve their issues or by replacing them.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.