So much has gone wrong for the Yankees this year, but what if Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino were merely average rather than horrendous?
Would the Yankees be comfortably in a playoff position?
Because the Yankees actually thought the length of their rotation was going to be a strength this season. And it has instead been a one-man band.
Gerrit Cole is tied for the MLB lead in quality starts with 17. Yet the Yankees as a team rank 24th in quality starts because the rest of the rotation has totaled 15.
Rodon, Severino, Nestor Cortes and Frankie Montas have combined for 31 starts. That would be zero for Montas and 31 for the other three with a 6.51 ERA. Cortes, who came off the IL with an encouraging four-inning effort Saturday against the Astros, has 12 of those.
Meanwhile, Domingo German is now likely gone for the season after committing to alcohol rehab.
The positives have been Clarke Schmidt, who is developing into a capable mid-to-back-end rotation piece — though he is at 109 ⅔ innings going into his Tuesday start after logging a previous professional high of 90 ⅔ innings in 2019 — and Cole, who is the AL Cy Young front-runner. It is possible Cole is going to fulfill a couple of career achievements — All-Star Game starter and Cy Young winner — in a season in which the Yankees fail to capitalize on those and miss the playoffs.
If they are out of the playoffs for the first time since 2016, there will be many culprits. The Rodon/Severino combo is a good one. The Yankees are 6-13 in their starts. But it is more than that. Both missed considerable time with injury. When they have pitched, they have burdened the bullpen with having to cover a lot of innings. Rodon is averaging just under 4 ⅔ innings per start; Severino just over five innings.
The Yanks are 1-5 in Rodon’s starts. They are 5-8 with Severino, but just 1-5 since July 1. Severino has yielded seven or more runs four times, tied for second in the majors.
When the Yankees signed Rodon, I wrote that they might have invested six years at $162 million into the left-handed A.J. Burnett due to a combination of his injury history and the concerns from enough people I trust who had association with him about whether he would temperamentally fit into New York. So far, so bad.
He is back on the IL again with a strained left hamstring. Last season with the Giants was the only time in Rodon’s career in which he made all of his starts without missing time due to injury — and still that was just 178 innings. Rodon was a bad bet, but the kind the Yankees make far too often with red-flag players. The Yankees will state they are underperforming and cite injuries, but they keep enlisting players likely to be injured.
In the brief period in which Rodon was an available player, he had a 7.33 ERA, which is the seventh-worst in Yankees history for anyone with at least six starts in a season. Unfortunately for the Yankees, one of the names above him on the list is Severino.
He has a 7.74 ERA in 13 starts. The only Yankees to start at least that much with a worse ERA were David Cone, who had a 6.91 ERA in 29 starts in 2000, and Kevin Brown, who had a 6.50 ERA in 13 starts in 2005. But that was Cone’s age-37 season. It was Brown’s age-40 season and the final 13 starts of his career.
Severino is just 29. Have injuries just mounted on him over the years to leave him diminished? Have walk-year pressures overwhelmed him? Is he tipping pitches? Is it some combination of all of this?
In this week’s “roster stuff maybe I only notice,” I wonder about what Severino’s status is for the rest of this season — and a little about his future, too.
Aaron Boone has fielded a lot of questions about whether Severino will stay in the rotation.
But the question is who steps in, especially because either Jhony Brito or Randy Vasquez already has to step in for Rodon? Do the Yankees want to have two rookies plus Schmidt going round and round to try to make the playoffs? The correct answer might be that they would not be worse than Rodon and Severino.
So now let’s look at the roster. Remember that the maximum number of pitchers a team can carry is 13 — moving to 14 when rosters can expand to 28 on Sept. 1.
Barring injury, Cole, Cortes, Schmidt, Clay Holmes, Michael King, Wandy Peralta, Tommy Kahnle, Keynan Middleton, Ian Hamilton and Jonathan Loaisiga (activated Monday) are locks to remain. That is 10.
That leaves three spots for a combination of Rodon, Severino, Brito, Vazquez and Albert Abreu, who doesn’t have options left, so he cannot be sent to the minors without passing through waivers.
Abreu is the easiest to dispatch. The Yankees have carried him all season as the last man in the bullpen, trying to avoid putting him in high-leverage situations while seeing once more if they could harness his high-octane stuff. Ron Marinaccio, Nick Ramirez and Greg Weissert have options and can move up and down as needed, if the Yankees jettison Abreu.
Do they move Severino to the pen to do some mop-up and hope he can rediscover himself? Or do they keep sending him out as a starter because they do believe in his talent? It might be instructive to look back to when Severino and Vasquez started for the Yankees in a June 6 doubleheader against the White Sox in The Bronx. Severino allowed three homers and four runs over five innings. In the nightcap — in his second MLB start — Vasquez threw 5 ⅔ shutout innings.
Severino is lined up to start Wednesday against the White Sox. But Vasquez could possibly make that start. Severino would be given two throw days between starts to try to work on what is debilitating him (if he and/or the Yankees know what that is) and start Friday against the Marlins.
Here is the crazy thing about Severino’s talent: If he pitched well in his last eight or nine starts (assuming he remains in the rotation) and in the playoffs (if the Yankees get there) would it be impossible that the Yankees still put the qualifying offer on the righty?
Maybe not. The qualifying offer was $19.65 million last season, and the expectation is it will rise to around $22 million for the 2024 season (the final calculation from MLB and the Players Association usually arrives in October). That just might be too much for Severino.
But right now the Yankees rotation for next year is Cole, Cortes, Rodon, Schmidt and pick from Brito, Vasquez, Luis Gil, Clayton Beeter and Will Warren (I find it difficult to believe the Yankees will put German back into their clubhouse, much less their rotation).
If Severino showed his best stuff down the stretch, would the qualifying offer be a worthwhile gamble because if Severino accepted, the Yankees would have him in his age-30 season on a one-year contract only? And if Severino rejected it, the Yankees would get a compensation draft pick after the fourth round.
An outside team that signs a player who received the qualifying offer would lose draft pick(s), up to, if they were a luxury-tax payer, losing their second- and fifth-highest picks, as the Yankees did for signing Rodon. That could chill Severino’s market to some extent and motivate him to accept the qualifying offer, rebuild his value in 2024 and then go back out into free agency after that when by rule he could not be given the qualifying offer again.
Of course, even if Severino were to pitch well from here going forward, it is no sure thing the Yankees would even extend the qualifying offer. They just might decide they have run their course with Severino and would prefer to redirect their dollars toward a different starter. For example, Sonny Gray is a free agent (yes, that was a poor joke; I know they are not going into business with Sonny Gray again).
It is just an option at the Yankees’ disposal. And if Severino continues to pitch poorly, it will not be a thought at all.
Whose career do you got?
We interrupt the career portion of this program to ask this question instead for this week:
Whose rest of the contract do you got: Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander?
Both are making $43.33 million this season and next, but Verlander also has a $35 million vesting option for 2025 if he pitches 140 innings in 2024 and ends the season healthy. Both were traded by the Mets to competitive AL West teams. Both are in the latter stages of Hall-of-Fame-bound careers.
It is possible that whichever veteran righty pitches best the rest of the way will determine the winner of the AL West (Scherzer’s Rangers lead by three games over Verlander’s Astros) — and perhaps more than that while also having an impact on the 2024 campaign.
You can get a pretty good argument going about who has had the better career. Among other things, Scherzer and Verlander are both three-time Cy Young Award winners, and Scherzer has compiled a career 133 ERA-plus compared to 132 for Verlander. Two years older, Verlander has 468 ⅔ more innings than Scherzer and, thus, bulk advantages in this comparison.
So let’s just think about which of the duo you would want moving forward. Both have battled injuries this season, but Verlander has produced the better overall numbers, and in his last eight starts had a 1.64 ERA and a .191 batting average against.
If there is concern with Verlander, it is that his strikeout quotient is way down. He is striking out 20.5 percent of batters, which is near league average, after being one of the most dominating whiff artists in the sport. Is that a sign of decline, evolution or both?
Scherzer’s strikeout numbers also are down from his career norms, but at 27.7 percent are still well above the league average. The concern with him is he has been more physically brittle than Verlander has. Plus, until recently, his key slider had too often abandoned him.
Both are high-level competitors with sizable baseball IQs. But who do you got in having the physicality to best maximize those traits going forward?
Ronald Acuna Jr. is a clear front-runner for NL MVP. He has 25 homers and a major league-high 53 steals and is third in the NL in hitting at .339 while was doing it all for the team with the majors’ best record. At this point — barring injury — Shohei Ohtani in the AL and Acuna in the NL seem like they are going to cruise to the top individual awards in the sport.
But what about directly behind Acuna? There will be intrigue in what voters value in deciding Most Valuable. How much do you respect Wins Above Replacement, and how do you decide how to vote when two players from the same team are having seasons with similarly high values?
The WAR matter has become a huge issue. I sense that for many voters it is the key stat in determining how to rank 10 players on an MVP ballot. My concern has been whether some voters are hedging in this direction because it generally allows them to avoid the social media criticism that comes when ignoring or diminishing WAR.
This brings us to Ha-Seong Kim, who is having a terrific all-around season for the Padres. But would you believe he was tied for first in the NL in WAR (Baseball Reference version) with Acuna at 5.6? Such is the power with this metric of a player having an above-average offensive season while excelling on defense and on the bases.
Kim has 15 homers, 24 steals and a 134 OPS-plus. Baseball Reference has him as the third-best defensive player in the NL behind Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon and Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson.
But a few things: Among the reasons I personally use WAR as a tool to assess a season rather than a defining metric is that the two main purveyors — Baseball Reference and Fangraphs — do not have the same formula. In the Fangraphs version, Kim is sixth in WAR in the NL at 4.2 — and among those he is behind is Padres teammate Juan Soto.
There also is the matter of defense. While Kim’s versatility to move to shortstop and third base is valuable, he plays the majority of his games at second base. It is an important defensive position, but less so than short, third, catcher and center field. So the defensive metrics that raise his WAR have a little less sway with me.
Put it all together and it will be part of the ballot to determine where to place Kim and Soto. Who do you place higher, and how many places beyond that person do you put his teammate? But those are not the teammates who are going to cause agita for voters.
The real issue is how to separate Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. It is not just that they both have such terrific statistics (Betts had 31 homers and a .966 OPS, Freeman had 23 homers, a .340 average and a 1.013 OPS. Freeman also was 16 of 17 in steal attempts; Betts was 8 of 10.) But Betts has accentuated his value this season by not only continuing to be a dynamic right fielder, but playing with regularity in the middle of the diamond at second and short, as the Dodgers have struggled in those spots.
Meanwhile, Freeman has this title for me: The guy I would want at the plate if all of my money was on the table. There are lots of good choices. Acuna, Houston’s Yordan Alvarez, Miami’s Luis Arraez. I just think that no one can hit top-end stuff with Freeman’s consistency. He has at least a .966 OPS at home, on the road, vs. lefties, vs. righties and with runners in scoring position. He is a metronomic hitting genius.
Got my attention
Chad Green is edging toward being summoned to join the Blue Jays bullpen. Green underwent Tommy John surgery on June 3, 2022. He signed with Toronto in the offseason on a deal with a bunch of permutations that could be worth as little as $2.25 million this season with him returning to the free-agent market or as much as $27 million from the Blue Jays for the three seasons from 2024-26.
How Green pitches will determine just what road is taken. But he has put himself in position to potentially impact a playoff chase by throwing six shutout innings in rehab between Single-A and Triple-A, allowing a combined three hits, walking none and striking out seven.
Green belongs to the class of players for whom the free-agency system could be harsh — the heavily used, non-closer relievers. From 2016-22, the Yankees deployed Green as a starter, an opener, a middle-man, a set-up man and, on occasion, a closer. He was among the most effective relievers in the sport during that span. At least until he broke down in May of last season.
For want of a better term, Green played a position that is heavily abused, no matter how careful a manager is. In a way, Green’s good health for most of the time he was a Yankee ultimately was a detriment.
With starters being lifted routinely so early, teams are into their bullpens nearly every game, usually for multiple innings. A durable, stellar reliever such as Green is going to be up and in and having to work at full effort a few times a week.
Had Green stayed healthy through last season, I suspect he would have been in the same class as the relievers in free agency last offseason not named Edwin Diaz. Those were Robert Suarez (five years for $46 million by San Diego), Rafael Montero (three years and $34.5 million by Houston) and Taylor Rogers (three years, $33 million by San Francisco).
Instead, he will have to show he is healthy post-surgery to begin to build toward those levels.
Carlos Correa is having a terrible season. This is a wipe-the-sweat moment for the Mets. They nearly had him signed to a $315 million contract, but then, like the Giants before them, the Mets did not pass Correa on his physical due to concerns about his lower right leg.
Correa signed for six years at $200 million with the Twins, and through the weekend, he had the worst strikeout, walk and homer rates of his career, as well as the worst OPS-plus while hitting into three more double plays (22) than anyone else in the majors this year.
Every part of his slash line, which was .221/.295/.381 going into Monday, also would be his career worst. And the reason I was looking at his slash line was I was trying to find one for a player that looked similar to the collective of the Yankees’ lefty batters. That group was at .224/.300/.392.
It is worth remembering every once in a while that the Yankees play their home games in The House that Ruth Built. You know, the place with the short right-field porch. And then convinced themselves that being overly right-handed was not a big deal if the players had power to the opposite field and performed well against righty pitching. But opposing playoff teams did not mind a lineup that lacked diversity and was easy to match up against.
The Yankees’ 1,220 lefty plate appearances were the third-fewest of any team in the majors through the weekend. The team with the fewest was the Astros with 803. But they have two of the game’s best lefty hitters in Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, plus they have played all season without Michael Brantley (shoulder), whom they still hope to get back. Nevertheless, you could see over the weekend at Yankee Stadium that this version of the Astros lineup is easier to navigate than others of recent vintage.
The Yankees’ left-handedness was hurt by Anthony Rizzo’s fade following his collision with San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. that the team now believes left him with the aftereffects of a concussion. Conversely, the Yankees have received much better than anticipated results from Billy McKinney and, especially, Jake Bauers. Still, the diversity and results are lacking.
In the offseason, one player the Yankees attempted to acquire for a lefty counterbalance was Daulton Varsho, who went from Arizona to Toronto. His numbers against righty pitching have been poor: .199/.257/.370. At the trade deadline, the Yankees were interested in St. Louis switch-hitter Dylan Carlson, who is considerably better batting righty than lefty (.201/.291/.313).
It was interesting to see that the two worst batting averages by lefty hitters vs. righty pitching (minimum 150 plate appearances) belonged to former Yankees: Matt Carpenter at .155 and Joey Gallo at .171.