Why the Yankees’ slow start to 2021 season should be at least a little concerning
The “bust” may come before the “World Series” for the Yankees once again.
New York, sitting at 5-10 early in the season, looks like it could come up short on “World Series or bust” expectations again in 2021, if the returns so far are any indication of long-term success. GM Brian Cashman spoke to reporters on Monday, which felt eerily reminiscent of that one scene in “The Naked Gun.”
“This is a bad stretch and we’re gonna get though this together,” Cashman said. “This isn’t us versus them. This is collectively all of us wearing this, including myself.”
Truthfully, the Yankees’ early-season woes can be chalked up to just that: early-season woes. Players are still figuring stuff out less than a month into the season, especially after a year when only 60 games were played. But New York still has some cause for concern. The team has gotten off to its worst start in 25 years and there’s no clear fix in sight, other than “stay the course.” And that’s fine! Just 15 games in, after all.
Some unfortunate truths, though: The offense has been bad (3.6 runs per game, bottom third in the majors), and they’re without only Luke Voit, recovering from foot surgery, so you can’t blame the slow start on injury. Starting pitchers not named Gerrit Cole have been terrible, too, with ERAs looking more like cost of steaks at a nice restaurant.
There’s enough blame to go around. Players play, coaches coach, computers compute. If you’re going to point the finger at anyone this early on, though, Cashman should hold a bit more blame than the rest. The Yankees, with a $210 million payroll, are seemingly too flawed, and a lot of that starts with the hurlers.
Cashman clearly has a type when it comes to starting pitching, and it’s been exhibited ad nauseam over the years, and the formula has resulted in less-than-good production this year.
Whether it was JA Happ, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Corey Kluber or even the higher upside of a Sonny Gray, James Paxton or Jameson Taillon, the Yankees’ search for rotation upgrades for the better part of a decade hasn’t exactly borne the best fruits. That’s continued this year.
Of Kluber, Taillon, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German, not one Yankees starter has a FIP under 5.0. That’s not gonna work. Those starters have pitched 42 2/3 innings over 10 starts combined. That’s also not gonna work.
In turn, the Yankees’ bullpen has thrown the fifth-most innings in the majors so far, and they’re a team that’s traditionally not been afraid to go to the ‘pen, either, especially as the season wears on.
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Could Kluber and Taillon turn it around? Sure, why not? This is baseball and weird things happen all the time. Taillon, after all, hadn’t pitched in nearly two years and Kluber pitched just one start in 2020 before exiting with an injury. Both guys are historically eh in the opening months of the season, too, so maybe it’s just rust wearing off.
The Yankees, again facing World-Series-or-bust expectations in 2021, have seemingly decided to wipe their hands clean after the signing of Gerrit Cole as if to say, “Yeah, we’re done here.” Even after Masahiro Tanaka and Paxton moved on during the offseason, they decided on a patchwork starting corps, relying on the upside of veteran reclamation projects over youth or proven effectiveness.
Oh, and by the way, there’s no guarantee that Luis Severino returns from Tommy John to be a solid No. 2 behind Cole. And he’ll likely have some rust to knock off, as well, having last pitched in 2019.
While the team is likely to turn to Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt or Michael King for the rotation in the coming months, the constant churn should be something the Yankees are concerned about. It’s something they’ve tried navigating for years and something Cashman and Co. haven’t really been able to figure out.
By the way, the mentions of Yankee woes wouldn’t be complete without talking about the team’s mediocre defense, which ranks among the worst in the majors by UZR/150 early on (-6.6).
With the rest of the AL East playing surprisingly good baseball, with the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays providing hurdles to jump early in the season, the Yankees have a long way to go to reclaim even playoff-contender status. Even the Orioles are ahead in the standings right now. The Orioles.
But it’s a long way to October.
All this to say: Please disperse, Yankee fans. No heads need to roll down Jerome Avenue just yet.
A lot can change in a New York minute. Just don’t expect change to happen anytime soon.
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