This past offseason, New York took its pitching staff from a weakness down the stretch to what appeared to be one of the team's biggest strengths. Had the novel coronavirus pandemic never occurred, that bolstered rotation – prominently featuring new ace Gerrit Cole – would have been on full display early on this spring.
The hype surrounding the Bombers' pitching arsenal took a sizable blow when Luis Severino's season-ending Tommy John surgery was announced. Not to mention the fact that James Paxton was set to miss the first few months of New York's campaign as well recovering from lower back surgery.
Nonetheless, had the season begun on time and consisted of a full 162-game schedule, what exactly would this current Yankees' pitching staff be capable of? Which single-season franchise records could hurlers in pinstripes have possibly broken if this campaign wasn't postponed or shortened?
You'll notice, all of these statistical benchmarks are rooted in strikeouts. That's because most pitching records in Yankees franchise history were set over a century ago and will in all likelihood never be broken.
In 1904, future Hall of Famer Jack Chesbro made a whopping 51 starts, winning 41 of them and pitching complete games in all but three. The right-hander faced 1,720 batters that year across 454 2/3 innings pitched. Baseball was such a different game back then...
Chesbro struck out 239 batters that season – 87 fewer punch outs than Gerrit Cole had last season with Houston.
Previous record: 248 (Ron Guidry in 1978)
Not only would Cole's 2019 performance shatter this Yankees' franchise record – leading all of baseball with 326 strikeouts – but his total in 2018 (276) would have done the trick as well.
If you give Cole 200-plus innings to work with – and he's able to stay healthy as he has the last few seasons – he's proven that Guidry's strikeout record is easily within his reach.
Recently, Luis Severino has cracked the top-six strikeout seasons in Yankees' franchise history – he punched out 220 and 230 hitters in back-to-back campaigns in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Last season, James Paxton led the team with 186 strikeouts.
We may need to wait until 2021, however, for Cole to toss his first full season in pinstripes. Had the season started on time, the right-hander was already in midseason form and had his strikeout pitches working, but these unprecedented circumstances have relegated the $324 million arm to playing catch with his wife in their front yard.
Best strikeout per nine
Previous record: 11.111 (James Paxton in 2019)
Sure, Cole is a front-runner to break this record too. He's good enough to contend with practically every single-season strikeout record in Yankees' franchise history! But this record would have had a chance to be broken by multiple hurlers on this Yankees' staff this year.
In the last four seasons, five different starting pitchers (including Severino twice) have made the top-ten in franchise history within this category. That's proof that it doesn't take a Cy Young Award winning season to have a strikeout-per-nine rate in the double digits.
With the fifth spot of the rotation available, Jonathan Loaisiga showed New York's coaching staff he was up for the challenge with a spectacular performance this spring. Comments made by rookie pitching coach Matt Blake this past week prove that Loaisiga was bound to factor into the rotation had the season kicked off on time.
It's a small sample size, but in five Grapefruit League games and 10 innings pitched, Loaisiga posted a 12.6 strikeout-per-nine rate. Adding a new offspeed pitch to his arsenal on the mound, mixed in with improvements to his control, Loaisiga's swing-and-miss stuff became even more effective.
The same goes for Jordan Montgomery. The southpaw was in the midst of his first healthy Spring Training since he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Not only did the lanky left-hander solidify his role in the Bombers' rotation, but he led the entire pitching staff in innings pitched this spring (11) as well as strikeouts (16). That equates to 13.1 strikeout-per-nine – evidently his arm is back, healthy and better than ever.
Spring Training stats aren't always a direct correlation to how players produce during the regular season, but Loaisiga and Montgomery appeared ready for rotation spots this spring. Now, who knows when Yankees fans will see them pitch again.
Most strikeouts as a team
Previous record: 1,634 (2018)
With Cole atop a rotation including veterans and phenoms alike, this staff was poised to do some serious damage in 2020. Plus, once Paxton returned from injury – and eventually Domingo Germán returned from his suspension – New York would have had a surplus of depth to work with.
It would have taken contributions from every pitcher on the roster, but it's possible New York could have broken the record for most strikeouts as a team in franchise history this year.
Two seasons ago, New York compiled a grand total of 1,634 strikeouts. Last year, the Bombers came exactly 100 punch outs shy of tying the record. So, besides Cole and the phenoms at the bottom of the rotation, how would it have been possible for this club to surpass that plateau in 2020? It's simple. The bullpen and an additional roster spot.
The Yankees' dynamic bullpen is perennially one of the best units in all of baseball. Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino both had spectacular campaigns in 2019, while Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green lurk as two more often unhittable relievers.
Combine the potency out of the 'pen with Major League Baseball's new rule set to activate this spring, expanding rosters from 25 to 26 players. More pitchers available means more rest, ideally healthier arms and less of a need to use certain hurlers out of their comfort zones.
Unfortunately, we may never know what this staff was going to do on the mound this season. As cities like Toronto begin to ban city-led events, only time will tell how much longer until sporting events are postponed even further than they already are.
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