Boone, 1998 ace bullish on Yankees rotation soaring minus ace Cole

The New York Yankees' rotation members watch as Marcus Stroman pitches during a training session in Tampa on March 20, 2024.
By Rav
Friday April 12, 2024

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A major reason behind the Yankees’ hot 10-3 start has been their superb rotation, despite not having reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole. While it’s still very early, the Yankees’ starting pitchers have stepped up admirably in their ace’s absence – a hallmark of their great teams from the past.

Even without their ace, potentially baseball’s best pitcher, the Yankees haven’t missed a beat on the mound. Their starters have posted a stellar 2.86 ERA through the first 13 games, the third-best mark in MLB entering Thursday’s action. Analytics also love the Yankees rotation, which ranks 7th in overall value added per FanGraphs.

Newcomer Carlos Rodon has shined like a true ace, recording a 1.72 ERA while deploying an expanded arsenal compared to his previous top seasons. The early returns suggest Rodon has rebounded nicely from an injury-plagued 2023 campaign. Nestor Cortes, coming off a down year himself, has flashed signs of regaining his 2022 form, highlighted by tossing eight scoreless innings against Miami on Monday.

Unexpected contributor Luis Gil has also impressed, allowing just three runs over nine solid innings in a surprise No. 5 starter role. His live stuff has provided a major boost.

While it’s a microscopic sample, the Yankees rotation has simply rolled with the punches in Cole’s absence thus far. Their ability to thrive even without their frontline horse embodies the dominant pitching depth that’s long defined the franchise’s glory years. If this trend continues, the Yankees may prove scarier than expected.

Carlos Rodon is on the mound in the Yankees vs. Marlins game at Yankee Stadium on April 9, 2024.

On Wednesday, Manager Aaron Boone expressed that he felt all the guys in their rotation at the moment were very capable. He mentioned that even those who had experienced tough seasons or injuries were not far removed from performing at their peak, with a track record to support it.

“We feel like all the guys we’re running out there in our rotation right now are very capable,” he said. “Even the ones coming off of tough seasons or injury or whatever are not far removed from being at the top of their game, with a track record.”

While the Yankees rotation has mostly thrived without Gerrit Cole, one unexpected struggle has been Clarke Schmidt. Viewed as perhaps the staff’s most dependable arm behind Cole entering camp, Schmidt has stumbled out of the gates with a 4.66 ERA through his first two starts.

The Yankees hope Schmidt can get on track quickly, as he’ll take the ball for Friday’s series opener against the Guardians. Steadying a formerly reliable piece like Schmidt could make New York’s rotation even more formidable as Cole’s return looms.

Boone commented that he wasn’t surprised when the guys in his rotation, without Cole, achieved success, given their talent. The Yankees skipper added that while it wasn’t guaranteed, he didn’t consider it improbable for any of them either.

“With the talent those guys possess, I’m not surprised when they do go out and have success,” Boone said of his Cole-less rotation. “It’s not a given by any means, but I don’t think it’s a reach with any of those guys, either.”

1998 hero upbeat about present Yankees rotation

The Yankees’ pitching staff has proven resilient without ace Gerrit Cole so far. As a dominant starter himself in 1998, David Cone understands the unpredictability of a rotation’s fortunes. Now, years later, the Yankees await Cole’s return from injury while his supporting cast has stepped up admirably. Last season, there was little quality depth behind Cole. But in these early weeks, the Yankees have received surprising production across their rotation. While it’s still early, their mound success without their horseman bodes well.

Nestor Cortes is in action during eight shutout innings in the Yankees' 7-0 win vs. the Marlins at Yankee Stadium on April 8, 2024.

David Cone remarked on Wednesday that the positive aspect of the starters’ performances thus far was that Gerrit didn’t feel pressured to return hastily. He emphasized that the way the guys had pitched provided Gerrit with the opportunity to ensure he was fully prepared when he did come back.

“The best thing about what’s happened so far with the starters is that Gerrit doesn’t have to feel rushed,” David Cone said on Wednesday. “The way the guys have pitched allows him to make sure he’s really right when he comes back.”

While the current Yankees pitching staff may not match the legendary rotation of the 1998 championship team, the club’s starting pitchers have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start to the 2023 season.

With ace Gerrit Cole still working his way back from an elbow issue, the Yankees have relied on a supporting cast that has largely delivered solid outings. In fact, only two of the team’s starters have allowed 4 or more runs in a game so far.

One of those was Nestor Cortes on Opening Day against the Astros – but even then, the left-hander “hung in there” and kept the Yankees in the game, which they ultimately won. Through 3 starts, Cortes now owns a respectable 3.50 ERA.

Another Yankees starter who’s impressed is Marcus Stroman, despite taking the loss on Wednesday against the Marlins. Stroman has a sparkling 2.12 ERA through his first 3 outings.

The team’s young hurlers have also shown promise, with Luis Gil posting a 3.00 ERA in his first 2 starts, and Clarke Schmidt at 4.66.

Marcus Stroman, player of the new york yankees

Perhaps most encouragingly, offseason acquisition Carlos Rodon has been a revelation so far. After an injury-plagued and inconsistent first season in pinstripes, he has a minuscule 1.72 ERA through 3 starts, looking very much like the elite pitcher the Yankees envisioned when they signed him to a $160 million deal.

Cone noted that Rodón’s performance had been impressive, mentioning that he was utilizing more pitches this season, including his changeup. He observed that while Rodón had previously relied heavily on his fastball and slider, this season he demonstrated an ability to vary his approach, which could enhance his pitching arsenal significantly. Cone highlighted the element of mystery that this added to Rodón’s repertoire.

“He’s using more pitches this season, including his changeup. Everybody knows what he did for a long time, having his way with two pitches, fastball and slider, and being pretty much in a power mode,” Cone said. “But so far this season, he’s showing an ability to mix and match, and that’s something that can add an essential element to a pitcher’s repertoire. And that’s mystery.”

With continued steady work from this group, the Yankees rotation could emerge as a major strength, even in Cole’s absence.

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