This offseason, the Yankees moved on from 3/5 of their proposed 2020 starting rotation, instead opting for two proven starters with high upside who missed all but one inning of the shortened season.
In came Corey Kluber, who many suspected would make less than the $11 million the Yankees offered him, and Jameson Taillon, hoping to make an impact after missing nearly two seasons to Tommy John surgery rehab.
It was extremely understandable at the time why New York, with all the familiarity in the world with Kluber internally, opted to believe in his rehabilitation instead of Paxton’s more mysterious journey in which it once seemed like he’d need TJ himself.
Is it too hasty to draw any sort of conclusion? Naturally.
But Kluber’s command-less spring, mixed with Paxton’s dominant return with a velocity bump to boot, has people asking questions.
The Yankees might regret letting James Paxton walk for Corey Kluber.
Thus far, Kluber’s numbers haven’t exactly matched the eye test; his 2.77 ERA also doesn’t account for the third inning Sunday in which he abruptly departed mid-jam, as per spring training rules.
This is also not to say he’s been as terrible as Eno Sarris believed him to be last week. We’ve seen flashes of the old Klubot so far, with some KluberBalls bending wildly and a few dominant outings mixed in to the mess. Overall, though, his walk numbers have been elevated, as has his pitch count.
Paxton? Against all odds, he seems to have settled into a very familiar groove in his old home.
His ERA’s down to 1.08, wrapping his spring with a nine-whiff, four-shutout-inning performance in which he peaked around his typical 96-97 velocity.
Last season in the Bronx? Paxton lived in the low 90s before succumbing to what many thought was a UCL issue, but turned out to be some sort of frayed nerve that didn’t need surgical repair.
You can understand why the Yankees were cautious about the lefty, though. His injury history — to every part of the body but the elbow — is far more expansive than Kluber’s, which only includes the past two years, one of them filled with freak issues.
Add in the team’s familiarity with Kluber’s rehab thanks to Eric Cressey, and it doesn’t take a sleuth to solve the mystery of the decision.
One pitcher has seen both his stuff and command bounce back in February and March, though, while the other is still searching for the second element.