Panic time (…?)

Yesterday morning I was planning on writing an article about how Yankee fans don’t need to panic about their starting pitching.  The screams for adding a starter had already begun, but the reality is the Yanks are 4th in the American League in run prevention.  Not great, but pretty good. Certainly not panic time.

Until we heard about the downgrade of Jordan Montgomery’s situation.  Rut row…

The curious thing about Montgomery is that among a fan base that is notorious for overrating its own players (Didi is now 16th in WAR among 25 MLB shortstops with 150 plate appearances, Yankee fans) Montgomery had been curiously underrated.  In 182 innings over 2017-18 he posted a 117 ERA+, which is 15th in the AL over that stretch – ahead of Charlie Morton, Cole Hamels and Michael Fulmer.

I.e., It’s going to be tougher to replace him than you think.

If it were me, and I knew I was going to make a trade with an eye on maximizing regular season win totals and the post season – i.e., I know for sure I’m not trusting Domingo German, Jonathan Holder or Luis Cessa to start a game in September and/or October – I’d make it now.  This way you get about 100 innings of value rather than 55 or so if you wait until the trade deadline.

So who’s available?

Let’s look at pitchers with an ERA+ of at least 114 and 55 innings pitched.  We’ll exclude those who pitch for teams who have a legitimate shot at the post season, or for teams who think they do…like the Mets.

We’ll eliminate guys who are too good and too young so we know they aren’t getting traded (Blake Snell, Matt Boyd, Jakob Junis).

That leaves us with three options:

Cole Hamels:  Hamels is in the middle of another good season in what’s been a great career.  He’s 34 years old and has a contract that expires at the end of this season with a team option and a limited trade clause.  Nothing jumps out about his numbers that would suggest a regression or progression as this season plays out.  One point of interest however, is that his K% to BB%, his HR rate are up this season from last.  He’s being more aggressive in the strike zone and it’s working:  113 ERA+ last season, 126 this season.  The BABIP is virtually the same so there isn’t a good or bad luck issue.  But a perhaps overlooked factor here is that a residual side effect of being more aggressive in throwing strikes is that he’s throwing fewer pitches.  This allows him to go deeper into games – he’s on pace to face about 150 more batters this season than last and throw about 35 more innings.  If conserving bullpen innings is a concern, Hamels will help.  (Reminder: Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson on fumes blew games 6 and 7 in the ALCS last season.  Not a knock on them, they were great – but a reduced workload might help this time around.)

Kyle Gibson: Gibson is having a great season – he has the best xFIP among the three –  but it’s only his 2nd such season out of 6.  He’s eligible for arbitration at year’s end, so his contract isn’t an issue.  But…  his BABIP is way lower than last season’s.  A 30 year old with an inconsistent career who’s probably being aided by luck?  Pass.

Tyson Ross: Ross is 31 years old and a free agent at year’s end.  He’s having a very good season – 120 ERA+ and he’s in the top third among MLB starters in xFIP – above Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Carrasco, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, Kyle Hendricks, Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Arrieta.  But he’s had more down seasons than up in his career and he also has a suspiciously lower BABIP this season compared to his career rate.  Pass.

So here’s the play:  Don’t worry about the playoffs yet.  You only need four starters and you have four good ones regardless of what your thoughts about Sonny Gray are.  But maximizing regular season wins is a real concern, as the possibility of winning 110 games and having to play a play in game against the Angels, Mariners or A’s is a very real possibility.  Hamels will help considerably to that end.

Based on expected innings pitched and ERA over the remainder of the season, the difference right now between Hamels and what you already have (some combination of Domingo Herman, Jonathan Holder and Luis Cessa) is about 10 or 12 runs over the rest of the season. That’s a win in the standings plus a good post season option.

But if you wait until the end of July, the difference between Hamels and what you already have will be about half that – about 5 runs over two months – again based on innings and ERA projections.  That’s when you have to ask is 5 regular season runs over two months and a pitcher who may or may not be a significant upgrade over your current post season starters worth giving up serious prospects for?

Tough call.  But I’d make it now before the Red Sox do.


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