The world of baseball pitching began to be shaken up in late-May and early-June as MLB announced that it would be checking the hats, gloves and belts of pitching staff during games.
Rumours had begun to spread about the use of a substance called Spider Tack which was allowing pitchers to get a better grip on the ball and consequently increases spin speeds. Players like Josh Donaldson of Minnesota became very vocal in their criticisms of pitchers including, for example, the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole.
Now, there have been allegations like that. There also been suggestions that spin speeds for certain pitchers have dropped since the announcement of the rule-enforcement may have caused some pitchers to relearn their craft but so far that’s all we know.
So as we examine these statistics for the month of May, let’s consider those pitchers whose performance seems to have varied most dramatically – but I’ll go no further – the jury is still out – and we may never really know.
Here’s the stats for the whole team and then we’ll begin with a closer analysis of the starting rotation:
* indicates a left-handed pitcher, no asterisk indicates right-handed pitcher.
|Justin Wilson (RP)*||0||0||0.00||1||0||0||0||0||1.0||0||0||0||0||1||0.00|
|Darren O’Day (RP)||0||0||0.00||1||0||0||0||0||1.0||0||0||0||0||1||0.00|
|Nestor Cortes (SP/RP)||0||0||0.64||6||0||3||0||0||14||8||1||1||0||1||0.00|
|Jonathan Loaisiga (RP)||3||1||2.20||12||0||1||0||0||16.1||12||4||4||4||16||0.98|
|Albert Abreu (RP)||0||0||2.25||2||0||2||0||0||4.0||2||1||1||1||2||0.75|
|Chad Green (RP)||2||1||3.21||10||0||0||0||0||14.0||10||5||5||4||17||1.00|
|Luis Cessa (RP)||1||1||3.55||10||0||4||0||0||12.2||15||6||5||2||8||1.34|
|Jordan Montgomery (SP)||1||1||3.77||5||5||0||0||0||28.2||29||15||12||10||27||1.36|
|Zack Britton (RP)*||0||0||4.15||5||0||1||0||0||4.1||3||2||2||3||3||1.38|
|Lucas Luetge (RP)*||0||1||4.40||12||0||2||0||0||14.1||15||8||7||4||16||1.33|
|Gerrit Cole (SP)||2||2||4.65||5||5||0||0||0||31.0||25||17||16||8||32||1.06|
|Michael King (SP/RP)||0||2||5.24||5||5||0||0||0||22.1||24||14||13||10||18||1.52|
|Jameson Taillon (SP)||2||0||6.14||5||5||0||0||0||22.1||29||15||15||6||18||1.59|
|Wandy Peralta (RP)*||0||1||7.11||8||0||1||0||0||6.1||8||6||5||3||1||1.74|
|Domingo German (SP)||0||2||7.27||6||6||0||0||0||26.0||31||22||21||9||21||1.54|
|Aroldis Chapman (RP)*||1||2||11.42||11||0||8||0||5||8.2||14||12||11||10||11||2.77|
|Brooks Kriske (RP)||0||0||13.50||4||0||4||0||0||4.0||8||6||6||0||3||2.00|
|Nick Nelson (RP)||0||0||21.60||1||0||0||0||0||1.2||3||4||4||2||3||3.00|
As soon as we begin to let the “sticky stuff” get inside our head and internally meditate on Josh Donaldson’s comments, then the first think we notice is the drop in effectiveness in the performance of Gerrit Cole. But we need to clarify that the use of substances like the one that MLB is now actively seeking out has always been illegal and therefore, if Cole’s performance has been affected by the announcement, it would be that he has been cheating all along and is now pitching honestly. This is a deep, dark mire we don’t really want to get into at this stage! One thing that can be definitely noted is that Cole is just another player who has lost form on a team full of players who have lost form. Previously, he and Corey Kluber were leading the starting rotation. Now, Kluber is out injured for the forseeable future and amongst the regular starters, Cole is second to Jordan Montgomery in ERA and ahead of all starters in WHIP. We would be working on slim evidence if we take this as some kind of proof of wrong-doing and guilt.
In June, Montgomery is 1-1 in 5 starts. Cole is 2-2 in 5 starts. Michael King, Jameson Taillon and Domingo German who made up the rest of the starting rotation in June were also horribly inconsistent. Amongst these three, only King managed an ERA that was below six and nobody managed a WHIP that was beneath 1.50.
The only bright bit of news concerned Jameson Taillon who until now had been really struggling since the Yankees took the risk on him regaining his past form. In June that trend continued across his first three starts. He pitched 10.1 innings, and was fortunate to come away with three no decisions. This was especially the case in the middle game of the three where he lasted one-third of an inning giving up 4 runs on 5 hits and a walk. Somehow he managed to turn all that round in his fourth and fifth game of the month. Here, he produced two wins, pitched 11.2 innings (more in total than in the first three games) and gave up 6 runs. The fact that 5 of these came in the second of those games should stop us from cheering him too loud without some hesitation but it is no doubt some sign of a turnaround of sorts.
If there was a question mark over Gerrit Cole’s loss of form in June, then amongst the pitchers coming out of the bullpen, the most astounding loss of form was that shown by closer, Aroldis Chapman. Across April amd May, he appeared in 20 games, giving up 2 runs – only one of them earned. During that period he collected 11 saves and 3 wins. Now, if we compare those figures with his line in our June table, then the difference is astounding. He gave up 14 hits and 12 runs across a mere 8 and two-third innings and showed an 11.42 ERA and a 2.77 WHIP. It is for figures like these that the Yankees keep Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske in the majors – there is no other way of making them look anything near respectable.
Thankfully, breakthrough pitcher Jordan Loaisiga and longer-established Chad Green continue to do their job well. Loaisiga pitched in 12 games. Green pitched in ten. Their roles in middle-relief are so valuable to this team with starters exiting early and closers and late innings pitchers falling apart. Loaisiga achieved 3 wins and delivered up a WHIP of just under 1. Green’s 14 innings gave the team a WHIP of exactly one. The team need more relievers like these in these troubled times.
Luis Cessa, who I always think of in a tandem with Chad Green as they joined the Yankees at the same time, is also holding his own. Zack Britton is seeing some struggles. But the 8th-inning pitcher doesn’t nearly have the same scale of difficulties as the closer and his troubles are injury related.
Lucas Luetge and Nestor Cortes continue to be the two big positive surprises. Luetge previously pitched in the major leagues in 2015 for Seattle and then for only one game. The fact that he has bounced back at all is quite something but proving such a useful lefthander out of the bullpen, he is a real asset. Cortes’ re-emergence has been even more remarkable, His 0.64 ERA and zero WHIP in this month of his breakthrough is tremendous. After being released by the Yankees in 2019, he spent a short while with the Seattle Mariners but his 15.26 ERA in 5 appearances made that a short-lived experiment. He is now baffling batters at the major league level without any obviously outstanding pitch.
But that is really where the good news ends. Wandy Peralta endured some real struggles on the month and emerged with a 7.11 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. In 8 games, he only managed to survive through 6.1 innings. He took 1 loss and the remainder were no decisions.
The veterans Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day were not available for most of the month and their signing has become something the Yankees must regret. Despite this Albert Abreu who does well and could be given space to develop his craft is obviously ranked below them in the minds of the Yankees’ front office and continues to bounce between the Bronx and Scranton (Triple-A).