Analysis · Spring Training

The Rotation Competition

Seeing as how we’re exactly halfway through spring training at this point (17 games down, 17 more to go), I figured it would be a good idea to check in on how the five pitchers competing for the fourth and fifth rotation spots are doing. The candidates are (still) as follows, and in no particular order:

  1. Bryan Mitchell
  2. Chad Green
  3. Adam Warren
  4. Luis Severino
  5. Luis Cessa

Two of these guys will end up in the rotation, a couple more in the bullpen, and at least one will inevitably get sent down to Scranton before the season starts. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve each done so far. Bear in mind, though, that Girardi and management are looking more at stuff than results, at least for now, so we may not be seeing everything that they’re seeing. Nonetheless, here we go.

Bryan Mitchell

3 GS, 11.1 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 7 K, 3.97 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. ATL – 3 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. PIT – 2.1 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 K
vs. DET – 4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K

Just looking at the stat/game lines quickly, it’s pretty clear that the Pittsburgh game created a damaging outlier for Mitchell. And really it was just the second inning of that game, where he gave up 3 of those 4 runs. If you get rid of that inning (because one inning isn’t going to decide someone’s spring training fate one way or the other), then Mitchell has allowed only 2 ER in 10.1 IP this spring. Pretty damn good.

It’s worth noting that at this time last year, before his injury, Mitchell was competing for a bullpen spot on the Yankees 25 man roster, and it looked like he was going to get it. Unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. However, he did eventually get the call up later in the season, making 5 starts for the club and pitching to a 3.24 ERA, although that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. In 25 IP, Mitchell’s K totals were low (11) and his BB totals were high (12). Not that he’s ever really been a strikeout pitcher, but you never want to see someone’s walk total higher than their strikeouts. The good news is that based on what he’s done this spring, Mitchell seems to be on top of his game once again.

Chad Green

2 GS, 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1.59 ERA, 1.94 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. BAL – 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 0 K
vs. DET – 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 K
vs. PHI – 2 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 R, 2 K

A quick look tells us that Green’s outcomes have been good, but ultimately very lucky with that WHIP approaching 2.00. Nearly averaging a walk per inning, Green hasn’t been able to go very deep into his appearances, reaching his pitch limits rather quickly. You’d think someone competing for a starting rotation job would have thrown more than 2 innings in a game by this point in the spring, but Green’s inability to work innings quickly and efficiently has hindered him so far.

One thing he does have going for him though is a major league track record, even if it’s not a spectacular one. Green started 8 games for the Yankees last season after excelling in AAA ball (1.52 ERA/2.17 FIP in 94.2 IP) during the first half of the year. In the majors Green struggled a good deal though, sporting a 4.73 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 45.2 IP. However, his K/9 was strong at 10.25. He proved to the team that he was capable of throwing at least 5 innings in a game on a regular basis, which has become something of a (low) baseline for today’s major league starters. If he can rein in his command, then Green could make a strong case for himself, however if he continues to walk guys and be wild, I don’t the Yankees will be super eager to bring on a high-4’s ERA starter for the rotation.

Adam Warren

2 GS, 8 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3.38 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, o BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BAL – 3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 HR, 3 K
vs. TB – 3 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 2 HR, 0 K

The home run ball has been Warren’s kryptonite this spring. If you could take away three swings of the bat, he’d have a 0.00 ERA. Unfortunately, you can’t do that. Fortunately, these last couple games seem pretty flukey for Warren, who has a career 0.94 HR/9. It’s spring training, weird things happen. Otherwise, he’s looked very much like himself so far, using his 5-pitch arsenal to generate outs in the field.

Warren has by far the most major league experience out of all the candidates. A lot of that experience, however, comes from the pen as a long relief guy. In the 205 MLB games he’s played in, he’s only started 21. Most of those starts came during the 2015 season with the Yankees when the time was in some pretty dire straits with rotation injuries. During that 2015 stretch, Warren pitched to a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP), striking out 67 and walking 30 in 96 IP, while averaging about 6 IP per start. A mid-3’s ERA and 6 IP per start is pretty damn good for a fourth or fifth starter. That was more than a full season ago, but at least we know that Warren has the potential for those types of numbers as a regular rotation guy already.

Luis Severino

2 GS, 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4.15 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. TOR – 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. TOR – 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HR, 4 K

Luis Severino had a very clear mission heading into the spring, and it’s very unclear as to whether or not he’s actually accomplished what he’s needed to. Sev was more or less given a rotation spot heading into 2016, but his significant struggles early on (8.50 ERA in 71 IP) lead to a AAA demotion a couple months into the season. This was due largely in part to the weakness/lack of his changeup, which made it easier for hitters to just lay off his slider and sit on the fastball. Fastball/slider is an effective arsenal for a relief pitcher, as Severino showed at the end of last season, pitching to a 0.39 ERA from the bullpen, but not for a starting pitcher.

Severino has definitely been working the changeup more into games so far this spring, but to mixed results. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. The important thing is he’s throwing it more frequently and letting hitters know that he actually has one, and it’s something they need to watch out for. That’s how he was able to pick up 4 K’s in just over 2 innings in his second start against the Blue Jays.

He’s scheduled to face off against the Rays tonight after not appearing in game action for a couple weeks due to his participation in the WBC, so we’ll see how he does in his return.

Luis Cessa

1 GS, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 5 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BOS – 2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 1 K
vs. PIT – 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 K

Cessa has looked a lot like a back of the rotation starter so far this spring, which is good and bad. He’s not exactly impressing, but as a pitcher who has already shown he can make starts at the major league level, he’s not doing anything as of now to suggest that he can’t continue to do that.

Last season along with Green, Cessa made a good number of starts toward the end of the year to fill in for some holes in the rotation created by injuries. He made 9 starts and pitched to a 4.01 ERA (4.21 FIP) in those games. He wasn’t an overpowering pitcher by any means, but his astronomically low 1.39 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) is indicative of the excellent command he’s shown. He makes a living as a started by making guys swing at the ball and put it in play. Sometimes that works to his advantage, sometimes it doesn’t, which is basically what you’d expect from a bottom of the rotation guy.

Cessa has continued to show that level of command this spring, walking just 1 in his 6 IP so far. Also, according to MLB.com’s spring training game logs, which I suspect are somehow inaccurate due to what I’m about to tell you, Cessa has thrown 39 pitches so far this spring, 34 of them for strikes. That’s 87% strikes, which might sound amazing but it honestly isn’t very good at all. You want your pitchers to throw strikes, but if hitters know the ball is going to end up in the zone 90% of the time, they’re going to swing and they’re going to get hits.

*     *     *

So that’s the general rundown so far. It’s still only halfway through the spring, so not too much is clear on how this competition will play out. As of now, my gut is telling me Mitchell and Cessa get the spots, with Warren and Green ending up in the bullpen and Sev heading down to AAA to start the season. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played though, so we’ll see. I’m sure my prediction will be nowhere close to the reality.

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