Guess which team has the best planned starting rotation for the 2021 season.
The padres? Now that they have Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove on Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack? Close, but no. How about the Mets then? You have Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Not even them.
Or maybe the Dodgers, led by Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and David Price; or the White Sox that Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel have; or the Nationals with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin? None of the above.
It’s the Yankees. In FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections, the Yankees start the next season with 18.3 wins above replacement and are thus the top rotation among the 30 teams.
Top projected launch rotations for 2021
According to FanGraphs’ depth projections
1) Yankees – 3/18 WAR
2) Mets – 7/16 WAR
3) Padres – 6/16 WAR
4) Dodgers – 14.5 WAR
5) White Sox – 13.4 WAR
6) Nationals – 13.3 WAR
This No. 1 projection for the Yankees is interesting – because they are also Have a particularly high risk and high reward rotation.
We’re not talking about Gerrit Cole here (projected for 5.6 WAR). He’s an ace among aces. But behind him there are also projections like Corey Kluber (2.9), Luis Severino (2.3), Jordan Montgomery (2.2), Jameson Taillon (2.1) and Deivi García (1.4).
All of these pitchers are on an upward trend – they could easily put together strong seasons for New York and make the projections come true. But they also all have big question marks. Let’s take a closer look.
Projection 2021: 2.9 WAR – 155 IP, 4.02 ERA, 9.0 K / 9
The reward: Kluber finds his old Cy Young form, or at least jumps closer to it.
It still needs to be reiterated that Kluber is only two seasons away from five-year dominance – from 2014-18 he had an ERA of 2.85 while averaging 32 starts, 218 innings and 246 strikeouts per season. If a couple of accidental injuries in 2019 and ’20 are the only thing stopping him, he’ll make a great signature for the Yankees.
The risk: He’s an aging, injury-prone pitcher who keeps going down.
Kluber is entering his 35-year season and while he cannot be blamed for his injuries, it is possible that a pitcher in his 30s who only made eight starts in two years and is undergoing major shoulder surgery never does will do is like what it used to be. There were some warning signs for a club before he was injured, such as falling fastball speed (five seasons in a row, from 93.8 mph in 2014 to 91.3 mph in 2019) and less swings. and misses on his signature curveball.
Projection 2021: 2.1 WAR – 134 IP, 4.45 ERA, 7.8 K / 9
The reward: He’s ready to pick up where he left off with a new, modernized style of pitching.
While preparing for his return to the hill, Taillon revamped his delivery with a shorter arm movement, the same change that made Giolito the White Sox ace. Taillon also plans to throw more fours and emphasize his sinker – a favorite adaptation of today’s strike artists. Taillon was well on his way to starting at the frontline in 2018 when he had a 3.20 ERA and 179 strikeouts in 191 innings for the Pirates, and the changes he’s making could make him even better in 2021, especially since he’s still at best age is 29.
The risk: Two operations on Tommy John are taking too much toll on his arm.
Coming back from an operation on Tommy John is hard enough, let alone two. Who knows how Taillon will react? It has not served since May 1, 2019. Maybe its speed isn’t coming back. Maybe his breaking balls aren’t that sharp. Perhaps his shorter arm movement and new approach aren’t bringing the improvements that he wants. There are many Maybes that Taillon is involved in, who has only had one good full season in his big league career.
Projection 2021: 2.3 WAR – 104 IP, 3.76 ERA, 9.9 K / 9
The reward: A one-time Yankees ace is again a Yankees ace.
Remember, Severino wasn’t just the ace of the Yankees a few years ago, he looked like a future Cy Young Award winner. Sevy finished third in the 2017 AL poll and 19 ninth after two consecutive 200 strikeout seasons. He is 26 years old. He has an explosive high-90s fastball and wipeout slider. If his stuff is still electric when he returns from surgery on Tommy John (probably mid-season), he’s a frontline starter. And a pitcher can absolutely find his stuff after TJ – check out Jacob deGrom town for the best example of having the fastest fastball of all starting pitchers to date.
The risk: A post-Tommy John dip and pre-Tommy John concern.
For every DeGrom there is a different pitcher who is struggling to get back from Tommy John, and Severino’s first year will bring additional uncertainty – even if he gets his things back at some point, it could take time. Sometimes Severino was worried too, even when he was healthy, from a rocky second half of 2018 to pitch tipping to shaky playoff performances. The Yankees are World Series-or-Bust, and they had their part in asking questions back in October. Severino has made many ace level appearances to his name and may not even have reached his ceiling … but what if he falls to his floor instead?
Projection 2021: 1.4 WAR – 93 IP, 4.65 ERA, 9.8 K / 9
The reward: The potential rankings are correct.
García has topped up prospects for the Yankees, is currently number 3 prospect, has a great fastball / curveball combo, and has shown his talent with great starts against the Mets and Blue Jays in his first major league stint in 2020 One move forward in year 2 – or better yet, a big leap – the Yankees could have a 21-year-old star.
The risk: He’s going broke (or just doesn’t hit the hype).
Although García showed he had strikes with 33K in 34 1/3 innings, he also had a 4.98 ERA as well as an unfortunate experiment as the prelude to the Yankees’ loss to the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. García is still a largely unproven newbie and the prospects are always risky. At only 21 years old, anything can happen to García, good or bad. Who knows what it will look like next season.
Projection 2021: 2.2 WAR – 132 IP, 4.29 ERA, 8.8 K / 9
The reward: He is what he was as a newbie.
Montgomery came as a pleasant surprise to the Yankees when it first appeared in 2017. He started 29 times with an ERA of 3.88 and 144 strokes in 155 1/3 innings. He looked like he was a valuable workhorse in the middle of the rotation – and the 28-year-old left-handed man could still be. For example, check out his 47 strikeouts in 44 innings in 2020 or his solid start against Tampa Bay in ALDS Game 4 – four innings, three hits, one run, four strikeouts to lead the Yankees to a win than them stood before the end. New York also needs a productive left-hander in particular, as the rest of their right-handed rotation in 2021 will be without James Paxton and JA Happ.
The risk: He’s not what he was as a newbie.
Like several other Yankees starters, Montgomery recently had surgery on Tommy John (2018). Despite making ten starts in 2020, he completed five innings in just half of those outings and six innings once, and it was an up and down year in terms of performance as he finished with a 5.11 ERA. Montgomery has to prove that he can be an effective starter again for a full season.