The Yankees are coming into the 2019 season with a solid starting rotation in Luis Severino, James Paxton, J.A Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, and C.C Sabathia. They also have other guys that could fill rotation holes when necessary such as Luis Cessa, Domingo German, and Jonathan Loaisiga. With that said, let’s take a look at what we should keep an eye on with the starting pitchers throughout Spring Training 2019.
Throughout his time with the Yankees, Cessa has always been a rotation-filler or somebody who could provide length. In his case, it’ll be interesting to see if he comes into Spring Training having worked on a new pitch or increased his fastball velocity. He’s always been somewhat of a solid option for the Yankees on the mound, but it’d be nice to see if he can bring a little more juice to Spring Training this year.
Prior to getting injured, Domingo German was somewhat of a bright spot for the Yankees in 2018. He was a solid rotation piece, starting 14 games and looking pretty good overall. His ERA was not so pretty, but German showed plenty of signs of potential during the season. He gets a lot of swings and misses, especially with his best-pitch curveball. His elbow issues are something to worry about, so we’ll see if he comes out looking sharp and confident that he can be back at 100%. In a perfect world for the Yankees German looks like the same pitcher this Spring that he did last season. If that’s the case, it will leave room for him to continue to develop.
Much like German, Loaisiga is another young arm that the Yankees can use in either a starting pitcher or long relief role. Loaisiga has had Tommy John surgery already and battled shoulder issues throughout last season. Though he won’t be getting an early spot in the rotation, he is somebody that could add depth to the Yankees’ staff throughout the season. First, however, it needs to be seen how he bounces back from battling his shoulder issues. If his fastball velocity doesn’t take a significant dip and he looks like the same confident pitcher that he was last season, then the Yankees should be optimistic.
J.A Happ is fresh off another solid season, and the Yankees decided to keep him in the Bronx by inking him to a two-year $34 million contract. His eligibility for the 2021 season relies on an incentive for him to pitch 165 innings or start 27 games in 2020. As a 36-year-old veteran, all eyes should be on Happ’s ability to maintain his fastball velocity. Happ’s Hard Hit% jumped from 31.1% in 2017 to 34% this past season.
Nonetheless, Happ didn’t experience any severe dips in his fastball velocity last season, or throughout his career, but father time could play a role in 2019. It’ll also be interesting to see if Happ continues to rely on his sinker and slider to get more swings and misses. His swing and miss % on both of those pitches increased in 2018. On his four-seamer and changeup, he wasn’t getting as many. Lastly, Happ stopped throwing a curveball in 2018, so we’ll see if he changes his approach at all in Spring Training.
Perhaps the biggest splash of the Yankees offseason to date, James Paxton is slated to be atop the Yankees’ rotation for the 2019 season. Since this will be his first season in pinstripes, definitely watch how he works with Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine. Hopefully, he can build a strong trust with both of those guys. The Yankees don’t need another Sonny Gray situation. Paxton throws an effective looping curveball, so especially keep an eye out for how Sanchez handles it.
Sabathia had heart surgery in December. That should about say it all when it comes to what we should watch for with Sabathia throughout the Spring. I can’t imagine he’ll get too much work. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares considering we saw plenty of the signs of age throughout last season. He is still slated to be a part of the rotation for now. It’ll be interesting to see how that materializes as the younger guys get an opportunity to show their worth.
Severino looked like two different pitchers last season. At one point in the Cy Young conversation, Severino immediately starting getting shelled every five days. A lot of people have said that his main issue was that he was tipping pitches. I am a little bit skeptical of this notion. I assume someone on the Yankees’ coaching staff would have noticed that and helped him tweak it. What seemed to hinder him throughout his struggles was that he was having issues maintaining his nasty slider. He lost velocity and spin rate on it throughout the season, likely due to fatigue. Ideally, Severino comes out looking fresh and throwing his slider confidently, especially with two strikes. Keep an eye on his fastball velocity too. Look for it to be in the 97-100 range consistently.
For some reason, Tanaka always seems to get knocked around in the Spring. It might have something to do with the fact that he has struggled in day games. That might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s at least accurate, it wasn’t so much of a problem in 2018, but in 2017 he had a 6.99 ERA in day games.
Apart from that, the thing to watch for will be his ability to keep balls down in the zone. Now on the wrong side of 30 with a used-up elbow, location is going to be key. He is by far his best when he mixes his slider, sinker, fastball, and splitter down in the zone. When his pitches leak to the middle of the zone is when he gets in trouble, because he has lost the ability to blow guys away. So, keep an eye on his ability to control the bottom half.