New York Yankees Struggles are Fixable: Part II

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 03: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees pitches in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on July 3, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. New York Yankees defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 6-3. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

New York Yankees Struggles are Fixable: Part II

Prior to the start of the regular season, the Yankees brass and scouts across the league all agreed that the Yankees had one of the top bullpens in Major League Baseball. Their rotation, however, was a completely different story. The Yankees ace, Masahiro Tanaka (7-7, 5.25), was anything but an ace to begin the season. The former Japanese superstar was uncharacteristically inconsistent. His biggest issue was his inability to locate certain pitches. Specifically, his slider and split-finger tended to hang in the strike zone.

Tanaka Trending Up

As of June 17, Tanaka had a record of 5-7 with an ERA of 6.34. Who knows where New York would be without CC Sabathia (7-3, 3.81), who routinely cleaned up after Tanaka by going 6-0 following the ace’s losses. Thankfully for the Yankees and Tanaka, the 2016 Cy Young candidate has had three consecutive starts in which he looked like the ace fans were hoping for to start the season. In those starts, Tanaka pitched 21.0 innings, while giving up only 14 hits, three runs, three earned runs,and five walks, while collecting 22 strikeouts and lowering his ERA from 6.34 to 5.25, and evening his record at 7-7. As long as Tanaka can continue to pitch at the level he has been in his last three starts, then only an injury could derail his season, as well as the Yankees.

Pineda on a Slide

The most frustrating pitcher to ever put on the Pinstripes, Michael Pineda, actually got off to a fantastic start this season, leaving everyone within the organization to wonder, is this the year that Pineda puts it all together? On May 28, Pineda won his sixth game of the season, tying his win total from a year ago when he went a dreadful 6-12 with an ERA of 4.82. After posting a record of 6-2 with a 3.32 ERA, Pineda reverted back to the pitcher that Yankees fans have come to expect. He’s consistently inconsistent, and the stats, unfortunately, prove it. In four of Pineda’s last seven starts, he’s given up five or more runs. During his last five starts, he’s given up 39 hits in 24.2 innings pitched, along with surrendering seven home runs; he owns a 7.30 ERA during that span.

Severino and Montgomery Impress

Luis Severino, 23, has arguably been the Yankees best starter all season, despite his 5-4 record. Still, many aren’t sold on the young starter, especially considering it was only last season that the young right-hander went 0-8 as a starter, with an ERA of 8.50. However, six of the bullpen’s fifteen blown saves this season would have been Severino wins. The young flame-thrower could easily be 11-4 on the season instead of 5-4.

Severino is in the top ten in most pitching categories for the American League, including WHIP (#6 – 1.116), hits-per-nine (#10 – 7.763), walks-per-nine (#8 – 2.278), strikeouts-per-nine (#4 – 10.463), innings pitched (#10 – 106.2), strikeouts (#3 – 124), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (#4 – 4.593). Needless to say, Severino has been a bright spot for the Yankees rotation this season; if he, Tanaka, and Sabathia continue to pitch well, the Yankees should remain in contention.

Then there’s the rookie, left-hander Jordan Montgomery (6-4, 3.65), who wasn’t even on the Yankees radar during Spring Training, when pitchers like Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa,  and Adam Warren were competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. In the end, Montgomery earned the job with his array of pitches that threw off hitters. As we get ready for the All-Star break, Montgomery is one of the biggest reasons that the Yankees are in the position they’re in.

In his last six starts, he’s 4-0, with a 2.95 ERA, along with 35 strikeouts and only nine walks in 36.2 innings. He leads all rookie starting pitchers in ERA (3.65), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.11), strikeouts-per-nine (8.57), and WHIP (1.23), and is second among rookie starting pitchers in winning percentage (.600). Because this is his rookie season, manager Joe Girardi will have to keep an eye on his pitch count moving forward.

Bullpen Woes

If the Yankees were to upgrade their starting rotation via trade, then Pineda would have to be part of any deal. So far in the first half of the season, Pineda has emerged as the weak link. Tanaka has figured things out and is back to being the Yankees ace. Severino and Montgomery have formed quite a duo at the back-end of the rotation, and Sabathia has shown he still can be a stabilizing force when needed. Now, if only the bullpen could do its job.

The Yankees are 9-16 in one run games. That’s not all on the bullpen, but it has blown sixteen saves on the season. In the last 19 games, the bullpen is 1-8 with a 5.64 ERA. Not good. Since June 13, Tyler Clippard has a 14.85 ERA, Dellin Betances has a 11.05 ERA, and Aroldis Chapman has a 4.50 ERA. Clippard is the Yankees man in the seventh inning, a bridge to Betances and Chapman. But the veteran right-hander is 1-6 in save opportunities, and has struggled to the point where you wonder if you can even trust him.

In Clippard’s last 12 games, he’s 1-2 with a 13.06 ERA and three blown saves. He’s given up 13 hits, 15 runs, 15 earned runs, four home runs, and ten walks. He’s recorded just 11 strikeouts, and opponents are hitting .302 in 10.1 innings pitched. Betances hasn’t faired any better. In his last 11 games, the big man is 0-3 with a 8.38 ERA with one blown save. During his 11 game stretch, he gave up six hits, nine runs, nine earned runs, and 14 walks, but has earned 18 strikeouts in 9.2 innings pitched. Obviously, things will get better. These guys are just too good. Some of the players just need rest, others need more work, and a few have mechanical issues that will get worked out.

Could the Yankees use another arm in the bullpen? Absolutely. One of the names that have been linked to the Yankees is Sean Doolittle of the Oakland Athletics, and another name that has been mentioned resides with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate. Chance Adams of Scranton Wilkes/Barre is 6-2 with a 2.69 ERA in ten starts. New York could bring Adams up to pitch out of the bullpen, and the Yankees wouldn’t have to part with any of their prospects, which they’d have to do in order to obtain a relief pitcher like David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox. A player like Robertson would certainly cost the Yankees a handful of their top prospects. GM Brian Cashman is more likely to make small deals while promoting from within.

Who’s on First?

First base has been a problem all season long, and there doesn’t appear to be an answer anywhere else in the league; at least, not one that would be cheap. Plus, Bird is expected back next year, so any signing or trade would have to be a rental. Right now, Ji-Man Choi has the opportunity to make something happen. Choi is one of ten players to man first base so far this season, joining Chris Carter, Matt Holliday, Rob Refsnyder, Austin Romine, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez, Chase Headley, Mitchell, and Greg Bird. If Choi can bring some stability and the bullpen sorts itself out, the Yankees should be in good shape for a second-half push.

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