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Projecting the Yankees playoff pitching usage (way too early)

Since the Yankees failed to add pitching before the trade deadline, how do they stack up against the Astros?

American League Division Series Game 3: Boston Red Sox v. New York Yankees

According to FanGraphs’ Playoff Odds, there are three American League teams with 95 percent or better chances to make the postseason: the Astros, Yankees, and Twins. At the trade deadline, these teams combined to acquire Zack Greinke, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, Martín Maldonado, and Sam Dyson. This is a pretty substantial haul for the three best contenders in the AL. The only hitch is that all of those players except Dyson (Twins) are en route to Houston.

With the noteworthy exception of Edwin Encarnación back in June, the Yankees did nothing whatsoever at the trade deadline. Put another way: The Yankees, possessors of 27 World Series trophies, who haven’t won a championship in a decade, who recently had the franchise appraised at $4.6 billion with an estimated annual revenue of $668 million, who eschewed major free agents in the offseason for “financial flexibility” and the salary cap that isn’t a salary cap, who have only one starting pitcher with a DRA under 5.00, who have more players on the IL than any other team (15), who surrendered 88 runs in their last ten games, stood still this July.

It’s unlikely anyone gets through the ALCS without dealing with the Astros, who will feature a playoff rotation of Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Wade Miley. By comparison, the Yankees rotation consists of almost entirely below-average pitchers (or at least pitchers who have been below-average this season). Regardless of the rest of the rosters, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

That’s not to say the Yankees are completely outgunned. No one questions their power-packed lineup, especially when (if?) Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sánchez, and Luke Voit return from the IL. While relievers have struggled across MLB in 2019, the Yankees have a bullpen full of studs. Their bullpen leads MLB by a considerable margin with 5.5 fWAR.

The procession of dominant relief arms out of the Yankee bullpen must be their savior in the playoffs. The team has experimented with openers and bullpen games this year. Given the stark difference in quality between their starters and relievers, they may have to take that to new extremes in October.

Since rosters and playoff eligibility are now mostly determined (the playoff eligibility deadline is August 31, but the trade deadline is behind us, so...), we can get creative hypothesizing how the Yankees are going to get outs in the postseason. Before we do that, we need to predict their playoff pitching staff.

Here’s a guess at the 13 hurlers the Yankees will carry into October, presented alphabetically along with their DRA:

This is just a guess, of course, with injuries the biggest caveat. It also presumes that both Severino and Betances will be healthy and effective, though neither has pitched yet this season. Lots of things can and will change, but if the season ended today JA Happ (7.05 DRA) probably wouldn’t make the postseason roster. It’s certainly tough to see both him and Sabathia getting spots. Luis Cessa (4.94 DRA) is also in contention for a job.

Lets throw traditional roles out the window. Forget starters and relievers. We need to find 27 outs per game while maximizing effectiveness and allowing for rest. Naturally, we can’t account for how well they actually pitch in the playoffs, nor will we know opponents, matchups, scores, or leverage. What we do know is that they’ll need 135 outs in a five game series. Excusing our blind spots, let’s figure out how to get them.

Game One

Here are the pitchers we’ll use for Game One, including how many outs we’ll ask of each (alphabetically):

Most of the big guns come out for the opening game. Germán probably starts and is relieved by Green, who has been used in multi-inning and opener roles frequently. After them, it’s a parade of hard throwing relievers.

Weighted for number of outs recorded, this pitching lineup has a DRA of 3.78. Not too bad, except that Zack Greinke’s is 3.06. (It’s highly unlikely the Yankees and Astros can face each other before the best-of-seven ALCS; just roll with it.)

Game Two

We’ll see some repeats from the Game One lineup, but obviously some new pitchers as well. For Severino and Betances, we have to use their 2018 DRA: 2.79 and 2.15, respectively.

  • Betances, three outs
  • Chapman, three outs
  • Cortes, six outs
  • Hale, three outs
  • Kahnle, three outs
  • Ottavino, three outs
  • Severino, six outs

No one lasts longer than two innings here. It’s hard to discern a starter; Severino will most likely pitch in relief for the rest of the season when he returns from the IL. No matter, we’re getting creative, right?

The Game Two weighted staff DRA is 3.63— just a little better than Game One. However, we’re assuming nine outs of low DRA pitching from two players that haven’t yet pitched in real life this year. Houston would presumably use Gerrit Cole and his 3.58 DRA.

Game Three

Following an off day, two traditional starting pitchers make their first appearances.

  • Betances, three outs
  • Britton, three outs
  • Green, three outs
  • Hale, three outs
  • Paxton, nine outs
  • Sabathia, six outs

With as poorly as Sabathia has pitched this season, it’s going to be tough to use him in a playoff game, especially if the Yankees drop the first two contests. Be that as it may, with no pitchers going beyond three innings in any game, everyone must contribute.

This pitching lineup sports an unsightly weighted DRA of 5.00. That won’t suffice against Justin Verlander’s 3.85.

Game Four

The well is drying out, and some of these relievers are getting overworked.

  • Britton, three outs
  • Chapman, three outs
  • Cortes, three outs
  • Green, three outs
  • Kahnle, three outs
  • Ottavino, three outs
  • Tanaka, nine outs

Tanaka is the obvious starter. Green will be asked to record 12 outs in the first four games. Cortes needs to pitch an inning just two days after throwing two frames, and he’s not that great to begin with. Still, if they can escape the early innings with a lead, the team is in decent position for a victory.

The weighted DRA for this lineup is 4.30, mostly dragged down by Tanaka and Cortes. The Astros could counter with Wade Miley (4.89) or Aaron Sanchez (7.16), but it’s more their style to employ a bullpen-centric game of their own. Nevertheless, this is the one game in which the Yankees might have a pitching advantage.

Game Five

In the ALDS, there is an off day preceding Game Five, but in the ALCS there is not. Either way, we can’t use Britton or Green, who pitched in both Games Three and Four.

  • Betances, three outs
  • Chapman, three outs
  • Germán, six outs
  • Hale, three outs
  • Kahnle, three outs
  • Ottavino, three outs
  • Severino, six outs

Anchored by Germán and Severino, this is actually the best pitching lineup yet. The same disclaimer for Severino and Betances applies: they haven’t actually pitched this season.

The weighted DRA for this group is a stellar 3.24. However, we can’t be too confident in that number, and they’ll compete with Zack Greinke’s 3.06 once again.

Results

Altogether, these 13 pitchers spread around 135 outs pretty evenly. Sabathia records six, Germán retires 15, and the remaining 11 all get either nine or 12 batters. The weighted staff DRA is 3.99, which is really pretty decent.

The Astros team DRA is 4.03 this season, but that includes a smattering of less effective pitchers who won’t make the postseason roster. It also doesn’t include Greinke. Adjusting accordingly, the Astros have a clear pitching edge, even if the Yankees use their pitchers as optimally as possible. Maybe New York should’ve considered this when they declined to bolster their staff two days ago.


Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983