Yankees Luis Cessa Is Quietly One of Youth Movement’s Biggest Successes


New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Cessa has quietly been one of the rebuilding club’s biggest success stories in 2016.

In just his eighth career start, Luis Cessa held the best offense in baseball to just two earned runs over six frames in Tuesday night’s New York Yankees 6-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox. The workman-like effort was typical of Cessa’s performance since being thrust into a rotation job by Nathan Eovaldi‘s season-ending elbow injury.

He’s not going to overwhelm opponents with his stuff (only two Ks Tuesday and 5.6 K/9 on the year), but he mixes four pitches well, has not allowed more than four earned runs in a start to date, and shows incredible poise for a rookie.

After holding Boston scoreless over the first five innings Wednesday, Cessa came close to blowing the Yankees slim 3-0 lead in the sixth inning. The young pitcher led the sixth off with an error and then surrendered two hits, scoring a run and bringing up Yankee-killer David Ortiz with runners on second and third and no outs.

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Amazingly, Cessa buckled down to strikeout Big Papi, get Mookie Betts to groundout, and then finish the inning with a K of Hanley Ramirez. He hadn’t struck out any batters all game, but when the team really needed a couple, he responded in a big way by shutting down the dangerous middle of the Red Sox lineup.

That is exactly the kind of clutch (or lucky) that has allowed Cessa to outperform his messy peripheral stats all year. In general, not striking anyone out and allowing way too many home runs (2.1 HR/9 in 2016) is a recipe for disaster.

Cessa’s 5.71 FIP may indicate that his 4.18 ERA is due to regress at some point, assuming he doesn’t continue to progress. We saw Luis Severino put up pretty run prevention numbers with an ugly FIP in 2015, and then everything came crashing down this spring as his luck caught up with him.

Could that happen to Cessa? It’s possible, but one thing he has going for him is his broader repertoire. None of Cessa’s pitches are as nasty as Severino’s, but he has more weapons to keep hitters off balance and give them different looks throughout the game.

He’s far from a sure thing going forward, but Cessa’s strong performance down the stretch should probably earn him first dibs on a rotation spot going into next year. After veterans Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda, the Yankees currently have two more-or-less open spots.

Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino seem like the leading contenders for those jobs unless the front office brings in another candidate during the offseason. While he may not have the same ceiling as those guys, Cessa has gotten results.

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As long as he keeps keeping the Yankees in games, he should keep getting the ball every five days. Cessa’s emergence is the kind of pleasant surprise that makes a big difference for a rebuilding club. Getting two potential long-term starters for an OK reliever looks like one of GM Brian Cashman’s best moves last winter.