This past Sunday I noted on my social media accounts that one of the amazing aspects of Nestor Cortes’ performance this season is that even when he’s not “good”, he’s not “bad”. The bad version of Nestor Cortes still tends to keep the Yankees within reach, as he did Sunday when he allowed 7 baserunners and three runs over 5 innings to the Astros – that’s a game score of 50 for you scoring at home. Even when he had command issues – 5 batted balls over 100 mph allowed plus two walks – he still kept the Yankees in the game.
I think the skill to simply avoid getting blown out is underrated. Sure 11 strikeouts with one walk over seven scoreless innings is optimal, but that’s not happening regularly. To me it’s what happens in the other starts – can the pitcher keep the hitters, fielders, and bullpen within range to pull out a win even in the absence of their best performance? (Which as you likely remember is what happened on Sunday.)
Since this isn’t the first time I’ve made this observation this season, it forced me to look a little deeper at the numbers to be sure my perception wasn’t that off, and what I found surprised me. Not only is Cortes, not the most consistent Yankees starting pitcher in that regard, but he’s also not in the top three. That’s not because he hasn’t been consistently good – he has – it’s because the Yankees’ starting rotation on a whole has been consistently good, to a greater extent than I realized.
For simplicity’s sake, I looked at Game Scores. There obviously isn’t one perfect way to judge the performance of the starting pitcher, but Game Score does a pretty good job. If you’re not familiar with Game Score, the very short version is this: It measures a starting pitcher’s performance in each start with 50 being average. You get bonuses for innings and strikeouts, deductions for walks, hits, and runs allowed. Technically, as I‘ll show you in a minute, a pitcher can get over 100, but for the most part, we can consider it on a scale of one to 100.
Cortes has made 14 starts this season, and his worst three have been Game Scores of 45, 38, and 36. Again that’s not good, but it’s not horrible. Those are games where if your hitters and bullpen pick you up, you have a shot to win.
Let’s compare that to Jameson Taillon, who’s also had a very good 2022. Taillon has made 14 starts, with his three worst Game Scores being 43, 30, and 28. Not embarrassing but in those 30 and 28 games you’re going to lose more often than not.
Gerrit Cole has made 15 starts in 2022 and holds the distinction of having the worst start by a Yankee pitcher so far this season. On June 9th against Minnesota, Cole allowed seven runs on five home runs in just 2.1 innings for a Game Score of 14. Ironically, as you may remember, the Yankees won the game 10-7.
Besides that game, however, Cole’s worst two starts were Game Scores of 43 and 44. The “Top Gun’s” 13th and 14th worst out of 15 games were not bad by any means. Those are still games the team could win – should win, if you have a lineup and bullpen like the Yankees.
Since we can count on one hand the times we’ve ever seen Jordan Montgomery get lit up, I wasn’t surprised to see his three worst starts were also not bad. Game Scores of 44, 43, and 38 have been Monty’s rock bottom this season in 15 starts – and one of them was when he stayed in the game after taking a comebacker off the knee.
Somewhat surprisingly, at least in the context of today’s discussion – who can avoid getting blown out – Luis Severino has been the most consistent Yankee starting pitcher. Sevy’s worst three starts among 13 have been Game Scores of 46, 46, and 42 – that is the definition of keeping your team in it when you don’t have your best command. It’s a testament to both Sevy and how good the Yankees staff is that I would not have guessed he’d be the best of the Yankees pitchers in this regard. When you add it all up…
Average Game Score of worst three starts:
Some random final thoughts:
Severino also has the Yankees’ single-best Game Score this season with an 84 he posted against Detroit on June 4th: Seven shutout innings, 10 strikeouts, one walk, and only one hit allowed.
Of course, the frequency of good games and great games counts too…
Average Game Score, all starts:
Yes, the Yankees’ worst pitcher by Game Score has been on average, better than average.
For some trivia: The best Game Score in Yankees history is 106, accomplished by Whitey Ford on April 22nd, 1959. As I mentioned earlier, “technically” a pitcher can get over 100, and Ford’s 14 innings that day got him over the hump. It wasn’t as if he was taking one for the team either as those 14 innings were shutout innings in a 1-0 Yankee win in which Ford struck out 15, walked seven, and allowed only seven hits.
In recent times, when pitchers don’t throw 14 innings, the best two games by a Yankees’ starting pitcher were by Mike Mussina on September 2nd, 2001 (damn Carl Everett) and David Well’s perfect game on May 17th, 1998 – both with scores of 98.
What does all the above mean? Not too much. We all know that the 2022 Yankees’ starting pitching has been the best of any Yankees team since 1998, and it may be better than that team’s. Yet it was an eye-opener (to me anyway) about how good Severino has been this season and has somewhat flown under the radar. With 88 games to go let’s hope they all stay healthy and the pattern continues.
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