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Yankees 2022 Midseason Grades: Starting Pitchers

The All-Star break has come and gone and the Yankees are kicking off the second half of the season Thursday against the Astros. While the team is more than the official half way point of 81 games, the All-Star break is often considered the midpoint of the season for everyone involved. Over the next few days we’re going to be giving out midseason grades to players on the roster based on their performance so far in 2022.

For the sake of this exercise I am going to stick with a basic A through F scale. No A-, no C+, etc. I don’t really have the brain power to determine what would be the difference in those grades, so I am going to make it easier on myself and the reader. Let’s consider it this way:

  • A – Exceeding expectations or meeting expectations at an elite level
  • B – Meeting expectations at a non-elite level
  • C – Performing below expectations or performing in a way that makes them expendable
  • D – Not contributing in a productive way, entirely expendable
  • F – Not contributing at all, actively hurting the team with their performance
  • INC – Incomplete, not enough of a sample size to give an accurate grade

Simple enough. What better place to start than with the starting rotation? As a group they have been dominant and mostly healthy. Here is where the group ranks in baseball:

  • 3.20 ERA – 3rd in baseball
  • 3.66 FIP – 8th in baseball
  • 515 IP – 4th in baseball
  • 9.07 K/9 – 6th in baseball
  • 8.5 fWAR – 7th in baseball

*Bows to Matt Blake shrine in my closet*

We know the group is good though. Time to dive into individual performances.

Gerrit Cole – Stats: 19 starts, 113.1 IP, 9-2 record, 3.02 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 11.67 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 1.35 HR/9, 2.2 fWAR

Gerrit Cole has been … Gerrit Cole. The ace has led one of the best pitching staffs in baseball in the first half, putting up numbers that were good enough to earn him his fifth career All-Star bid. His 2.2 fWAR leads Yankees starting pitchers and is good for 18th in all of baseball amongst other starters. Cole’s 11.67 K/9 is good for third in baseball amongst that same group. His 113.1 innings is good for 10th in baseball.

The one blemish in Cole’s game continues to be the long ball. He has given up the fifth most homers amongst pitchers in baseball with 20. All 20 of those have been to Rafael Devers. I’m only partially kidding (but for God’s sake man, stop pitching to him).

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In all seriousness this is what Cole is now. A mostly dominant pitcher who has a few clunkers and gives up probably a few too many homers. Spider Tack Gerrit Cole probably isn’t coming back and that is fine. This version of Cole is damn good as is and despite what Yankees Twitter might lead you believe, he has pitched like a Cy Young candidate his entire time in Pinstripes. That holds true this year too. The ace of the staff has pitched like the ace of the staff. For that reason he’ll be getting an A.

None of this matters though. If Cole wasn’t pitching this way there’d be much bigger problems. We know what he can do in the regular season. The way Yankees fans talk about Cole and October you’d have no idea he went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three postseason starts in 2020. The only thing on the mind is what happened in the Wild Card game last year.

Being the highest paid pitcher in baseball and playing for the New York Yankees means one thing and one thing only. You need to deliver a championship. Until that happens Gerrit Cole is going to get scrutinized for every little blemish, fair or not. I can sit here and tell you to enjoy the prime of one of the best pitchers of our generation pitching like a Cy Young candidate for our favorite team but it wouldn’t resonate. That’s not how Yankees fans operate. Piece of metal Championship or bust, Gerrit. I’ll see you in the fall.

Midseason Grade: A

Luis Severino – Stats: 16 starts, 86 IP, 5-3 record, 3.45 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 9.94 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 1.47 HR/9, 0.9 fWAR

Writing this a week ago would’ve been a bit more fun. Luis Severino left his last start of the first half after two innings and is currently on the IL with a Grade 2 lat strain. A bummer way to end a first half that has been so, so, so much fun for Sevy. After basically not pitching for three years, Severino came back this year and looked like his old self. The electric fastball, the nasty slider, the fist pumps when getting out of jams. Hell, he even became a more complete pitcher. In 2022 Luis has been utilizing his changeup considerably more than the pre-injury version of himself and has also added a cutter. The fastball / slider Luis is a thing of the past. This version is a four-pitch guy.

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While his fastball velocity, K%, and BB% have all dipped a bit compared to his last full season they are all still amongst the 75th percentile or better in the majors. Severino is giving up a bit too much hard contact, registering in the 35th percentile in average exit velocity and in the 34th percentile in hard hit %. Like Gerrit Cole, he has given up too many dingers. His 1.47 HR/9 would be sixth worst in baseball amongst starters if he qualified. Some of that is bound to happen at Yankee stadium, but Severino needs to do better at keeping the ball inside the fences.

All things considered it’s been best case scenario for Luis and the Yankees thus far, even with the injury. Had you given the Yankees a truth serum at the beginning of the year they probably would’ve told you they had no expectations given how the last few years have played out. Had you told them they’d get the stats listed above over the course of the entire year, they probably would’ve been thrilled. Now we’re envisioning him starting Game 2 or 3 of a playoff series. He’s been that good.

Maybe the injury was a blessing in disguise. Given his lack of availability the last few years it was already starting to be time to monitor his workload so he could be available in October. I spent time prior to his injury mapping out ways to skip his starts after the All-Star break or considering a phantom IL stint. The baseball God’s resolved that for us as they tend to do.

Hopefully the injury heals and Severino can come back and pitch like he did in the first half. The track record is not good and I have a tendency to lean toward the side of doom, so I am skeptical. I hope I am wrong. But this is a first half grade, not a future grade. And first half Severino was freaking delightful. So great to have you back, buddy.

Midseason Grade: A

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Nestor Cortes Jr. – Stats: 17 starts, 95.2 IP, 7-3 record, 2.63 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 9.31 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 1.8 fWAR

I can’t help myself. I have to start here:

Iconic. Ok, now that we have that out of the way we can dive in. Nestor Cortes was freaking good last year so in theory this season shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was still easy to be skeptical that is was real despite all the peripherals lining up. You watch Nestor and he seems like the guy who the shoe is going to drop at some point. But it just hasn’t. And man do I love it.

Nestor’s journey to this point has been well documented so i’ll save us both the time. But sheesh, what a find. So far Cortes has registered the 10th best ERA amongst starters in the game. His 1.8 fWAR is 26th amongst those same peers. He ranks amongst the elite in the game in xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, barrel%, K%, and BB%. All this while being in the 7th percentile in fastball velocity. The horizontal movement he found on his slider in 2021 has stuck. The cutter he added has remained effective.

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All this added up to an All-Star bid for the left hander which was no fluke. Nestor has been one of the best pitchers in the AL to this point. Well deserved.

There has been some “league is catching up” concern lately. The 1.70 ERA he posted over the first two months of the season was never sustainable. His June ERA boosted up to 4.15 over five starts and it started to creep into the mind of Yankees fans if that shoe was in fact dropping. However, Nestor has begun to right the ship in July posting a 3.24 ERA in three starts before the break.

What’s getting him lately is the long ball. 10 of the 13 homers he has allowed this season have come in the last two months. Nine of those have come to right handed batters. There is definitely some regression to the mean happening here. It will be fascinating to see how much more regression happens in the second half.

It still is unclear to me what Cortes’ role will be in October. As we stand, it’s very likely he’d get a nod as at least the 4th starter in a playoff series. If the Yankees go and add someone like Luis Castillo then maybe he becomes a swingman assuming Severino’s health. I think theres a happy medium between the first two months version of Nestor and the last two months version of Nestor. Perhaps the Yankees will need to do their best to limit his exposure to right handers to maximize his impact come the postseason, which is fine.

Even with the outstanding question marks one thing seems certain at this point: Nestor Cortes is for real. Despite the few bumps in the road the last few weeks the Yankees could never have expected this as an outcome. Another perfect score. Long live Nestor.

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Midseason Grade: A

Jordan Montgomery – Stats: 18 starts, 102 IP,  3-2 record, 3.26 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 7.06 K/9, 1.68 BB/9, 1.15 HR/9, 1.2 fWAR

Jordan Montgomery isn’t the most exciting guy to watch. He doesn’t throw hard, he doesn’t strike guys out, and just doesn’t really do anything flashy in general. What he does do is continue to get the job done, mostly by limiting hard contact.

I tried to remember off the top of my head a “Damn it, Jordan” start this year and I couldn’t. Then I looked at his game logs and realized one didn’t really exist. He had a couple meh games in June (6 IP/4 ER, 6.2 IP/5 ER), but the Yankees won both of those. Thats about the extent of the damage. Montgomery has allowed three runs or less in 16 of his 18 starts this year. That’ll do.

Theres is some notable changes from 2021 Monty to 2022 Monty. Jordan is striking out less hitters this year (7.06 K/9) than he did last year (9.27 K/9). That appears to be by design. He is throwing a considerable more amount of sinkers (38.2%) than he did last year (21.9%), which has boosted his grounders from a 42.7 GB% to a 48 GB%. This has also dropped his hard% from 31.4% to 23.9%. All this equates to a more efficient Jordan. He is averaging 14.5 pitches per inning this year, down from 16.4 pitches per inning last year. He has sacrificed strikeouts for more ground balls and better pitch count management.

The underlying metrics suggest theres a bit of regression coming here. His xERA is 4.19 which is nearly a full run higher than his actual ERA of 3.26. His FIP of 3.96 is about somewhere in the middle of those two numbers. Nothing that is all too concerning, even if Monty trends closer to his xERA then his real ERA in the second half he’ll still be fine. This is just to say he may be getting a bit lucky so far.

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What Montgomery’s role in October will be is equally as murky as everyone not named Gerrit Cole right now. He deserves a spot in the postseason rotation as is, but depending on what they do at the deadline he may be pushed into a piggyback situation come October. This wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Boone and the Yankees have limited him to only seeing 85 total batters a third time through the order, when the SLG against him jumps to .450. Having him cruise through 3-4 innings as the fourth starter and turning it over to the bullpen could be a recipe for success. Time will tell. But so far this year Jordan Montgomery has been his steady if unspectacular self.

Midseason Grade: B

Jameson Taillon – Stats: 18 starts, 100.1 IP, 10-2 record, 3.86 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 7.36 K/9, 1.08 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9, 1.6 fWAR

Coming into the season Jameson Taillon, like a lot of the rotation, had some question mark to him. He was coming off a back and forth 2021 that included a rough first three months, a pitcher of the month award in July, an up and down final two months, and finished with an ankle injury that led to offseason surgery. Given it was his first season back from his second Tommy John surgery the 4.30 ERA and 2.0 fWAR had to be considered a success, even if it wasn’t always flashy.

The Yankees were hoping Taillon could find another gear this year, and for the most part he has. His first two months were spectacular, posting a 2.49 ERA (3.01 FIP) in 50.2 innings. The last two months, however, Jameson has started to come back to Earth. Over his last 49.2 innings pitched Taillon has a 5.26 ERA (4.54 FIP).

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His issues stem from the same symptoms that have begun to plague Nestor Cortes. Over his last nine starts Taillon has surrendered 10 long balls, seven of which have come to left handed hitters. Lefties are mashing JT to the tune of .330/.360/.649 over that time. Ouch. For comparison, he held LHB to a .149/.197/.239 slash his first nine times through the rotation.

Hopefully this is a blip on the radar. As I mentioned last year was an up-and-down pattern as well for Taillon. He seems to go through these cold spells. Ideally he’d bounce back and rattle off another elite starter bender after the break. He too is fighting to earn the right for a playoff start. Perhaps a situation where him and Cortes tag team it in the postseason, with Cortes getting most of the lefties and Taillon getting most of the righties. Time will tell.

Overall it’s been the tale of two seasons for Taillon even though were only half way through. The first nine starts would have earned him an A. The last nine starts are in the C/D range. It’s unreasonable to expect pitchers like Taillon to be elite over the whole season. His role is to be a 4/5 starter on this team and those guys go through some lumps.

Even with the swings in performance Jameson ranks 30th in baseball amongst starting pitchers in fWAR. Not bad. Taillon is meeting expectations. Given what the team needs him to be, that is more than ok.

Midseason Grade: B

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JP Sears – Stats: six games (two starts), 19 IP, 3-0 record, 1.42 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 6.63 K/9, 2.37 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, 0.6 fWAR

The Yankees have been fortunate enough to only need three starts from players not in their original rotation. That will obviously change with Severino’s injury and overall workload management of the staff in the second half but they’ve had great luck health wise. Of those three starts, two of them have gone to JP Sears.

Originally acquired from the Seattle Mariners in 2017, Sears earned a spot on the 40-man roster this past offseason to the surprise of some. He has justified that decision by pitching well in his limited duties so far. In those two starts Sears did not allow a run. 5 innings, three hits, two walks, five K’s against the Orioles. 5.2 innings, three hits, one walk, one strikeout against the Athletics. Neither of those teams are World Series contenders by any means, but that doesn’t matter. Thats all the Yankees could have asked for from Sears.

We’re getting to the point where Sears will either need to be in the minors or in the majors. A new rule limits the amount times you can option a player to the minors to five per season and by my (unofficial) count we’re at four with Sears already. He was recalled this morning to be the 27th man in the double header against Houston, though if I am correct that won’t count toward the five when he’s optioned tomorrow. The next time they bring him up though he will either have to stay or be exposed to waivers (not going to happen). For that reason we’re likely to see more Domingo German than JP Sears in this role the rest of the year.

All things considered this is an incomplete grade. In his 19 innings he has pitched to an “A” in his role but 19 innings tells us nothing. He could go out today and get bombed and these numbers look less shiny. JP Sears has done what the Yankees have needed him to do and put himself on the radar for their future plans. For him and the front office, that is a success.

Midseason Grade: INC

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Clarke Schmidt – Stats: 14 games (one start), 24 IP, 4-2 record, 3.00 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 7.88 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 0.75 HR/9, 0.0 fWAR

Clarke Schmidt has had a pretty weird career so far. Drafted 16th by the Bombers in 2017 he didn’t make his professional debut until 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. When he came back he only pitched 23.1 innings. He pitched decently in 2019, throwing 90.2 innings of 3.47 ERA (2.55 FIP) ball across three levels. Then the pandemic hit and Schmidt was suddenly in the majors. He showed some flashes of what made him a first rounder but ultimately didn’t do much in his 6.1 innings.

2021 seemed like a year for Schmidt to build on his cup of coffee. Instead, he missed a majority of the first half due to an elbow injury and ended the year with only 44.1 innings pitched between the minors and majors. Clarke is healthy now and showed some dominant stuff this spring which was enough to earn him a spot on the extended roster when camp broke. He pitched infrequently but when he did there was some evidence of brilliance. When the rosters were cut down Schmidt was a casualty and he has been bouncing between the Bronx and Scranton ever since.

In his limited duty he’s been good. His one start was three shutout innings where he struck out five batters against the Tampa Bay Rays. Otherwise he has been limited to relief duty. He had a rough three game stretch where he allowed six earned runs in 3.1 IP but otherwise has only allowed two earned runs all year.

The stuff is there. Schmidt ranks in the 70th percentile in fastball velocity. His fastball spin and curve spin are in the 91st and 94th percentile respectively. On most teams this guy would be in the majors. On the Yankees he’s a depth arm.

I don’t really know what the Yankees plans are with Clarke. Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? Trade bait? We’re half way through the season and Schmidt has all of 41.1 innings pitched this year. In his professional career, which has been five years, he has totaled just 206 innings. Like I said, it’s been a strange ride.

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Schmidt is already 26 years old so the clock is kind of ticking I guess? They don’t check ID’s on the mound but the dude has barely been on the mound enough to get carded if they did. He has another option year after this so they don’t have to figure it out right now but the time is coming. For the second half he will continue to function as is, a back and forth arm who slots in wherever he is needed on the best team in baseball. You can see where I am trending with this. Schmidt gets an incomplete grade as well.

Midseason Grade: INC

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