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Jameson Taillon is aiming for 120 to 150 innings in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, writes Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Taillon has just 37 1/3 innings to his name over the past two seasons, and since this will be his second time coming back from TJ, there’s reason to temper expectations regarding his workload. Davidoff looks at PECOTA, Steamer, and ZiPS to get an idea for what the projection systems think Taillon can handle in 2021 – though the creators of the systems admit this is an area that requires guesswork. Still, it’s instructive to know that the three systems project 103 innings, 133 innings, and 106 1/3 innings – in line with Taillon’s thinking.

How those innings manifest might be the question for the Yankees. The mean of the three projections is 114-ish innings, which would be just under four innings per start over a full 30-game workload. That’s not likely to be the shape of Taillon’s 2021 production. We know that depth will be key in 2021 across the league, but thinking in this way about Taillon all but erases the possibility of a five-man rotation surviving the season.

While that’s an absolute best-case, rarely-achieved feat in the first place, it’s worth keeping in mind before getting frustrated when Deivi García, for example, doesn’t make an opening day roster, speculatively speaking. And while Clarke Schmidt’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious, it serves as a generous reminder that the injury bug can bite at any time.

As if Taillon didn’t cloud the Yankees’ projections enough on his own, the rest of the group doesn’t bring much certainty either – beyond Gerrit Cole, of course. The projection systems collectively tag presumptive No. 2 starter Corey Kluber with an expectation for about 137 innings in 2021, a forecast largely born from the fact that the soon-to-be 35-year-old managed just one inning in 2020 and 35 2/3 innings the year before. Still, Kluber was a workhorse before 2019, with five straight 200+ inning seasons with the Indians.

Jordan Montgomery slots into the No. 4 spot, and he logged just 51 2/3 innings over the past two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery himself. Somewhat remarkably, the starter with the most innings after Cole the past two seasons is the guy who missed all of 2020 under the league’s domestic violence policy: Domingo Germán. Germán made 24 starts and amassed 143 innings with a 4.03 ERA/4.72 FIP, 38.1 percent groundball rate, 25.8 percent strikeout rate, and 6.6 percent walk rate in 2019. Those are above-average walk and strikeout numbers. Germán faces his own uphill climb, of course. Given comments made by his Yankee teammates this offseason, there’s more than a little doubt about how well he’ll be able to re-acclimate to the spotlight that comes with donning Yankee pinstripes.

García will obviously be a candidate to join the rotation, as could other 40-man roster arms like Schmidt, Michael King, Nick Nelson, Alexander Vizcaino, Luis Medina, and Luis Gil. Veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Asher Wojciechowski are also in camp as non-roster invitees. Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu and Luis Cessa are expected to pitch out the bullpen, but they’ve spent time starting games in the past. The Yankees also hope to receive a mid-season boost when Luis Severino returns from Tommy John. Severino threw just 12 innings the past two seasons, but he was an ace in the two years before that, averaging a 3.18 ERA/3.01 FIP, 5.5 fWAR in 192 innings per season in 2017 and 2018.

Of course, no matter the starting five, most teams are going to call upon more than just their opening day rotation to toe the rubber. The Yankees themselves used nine different starting pitchers in 2020 over just 60 games. They used 12 in 2019, 12 in 2018, and 11 in 2017. Those units finished eighth, fifth and fourth in the American League by measure of FIP, ninth, third and third by fWAR. Yankee starters ranked third in the AL by both FIP (4.19 FIP) and fWAR (5.3 fWAR) last season.

Volume isn’t everything, but for pitchers, inning totals do often point to success, or at the very least, health. Given the uncertainty of the Yankees new rotation, what are your expectations? Who of the starters after Cole stands the best chance of surviving the season?

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