The New York Yankees sported the "best rotation in baseball" in 2023 for a couple of seconds -- but man, what glorious seconds they were!
Before Hal Steinbrenner could even touch down in Tampa (via Rome), Frankie Montas was already down for the count, and Luis Severino as well as big-ticket addition Carlos Rodón soon followed him to New York's patented Mystery Spot. By the time Nestor Cortes Jr. disappeared in a puff of smoke, the Yankees' dream of putting together an all-world rotation had long been spectacularly dead. Instead, as Gerrit Cole plowed towards (what should be) a Cy Young campaign, the rest of the corps simply hung on for dear life.
The Yankees must improve in many areas in 2024 if they intend to contend but, shockingly, their rotation doesn't sound as dire as that recap of 2023's follies made it out to be. Severino will be gone, and Montas may join him in a pair of "addition by subtraction" moves. Cortes appears to be healthy and rehabbing, but regardless, he's been passed on the depth chart by the resurgent convert Michael King. Clarke Schmidt was plenty competent (and might be traded to St. Louis). Cole doesn't have to be the best pitcher in baseball again, but it would certainly be nice if he was capable of doing so.
And, don't look now, but FanGraphs' Steamer projections believe a whole lot more in Rodón than you or I do. Despite ending 2023 with the flop of all flops, baseball's worst-ever start in Kansas City, the projections believe in his stuff, which never took a marked step back even at his lowest points last summer. Steamer ranks Rodón as the 24th best pitcher in baseball next season, only three spots behind a dipping Cole at 21.
Yankees rotation has two top-25 arms for 2024, per FanGraphs?
Yes, yes, if projections and metrics were candy and nuts, we'd all have a delicious Christmas. And it's no fun to see projected slippage for Cole, especially all the way down to a 3.72 ERA that leaves him firmly behind luminaries like Zach Eflin, Mason Miller and Shane Baz (and implies that the homer regression of 2022 has returned in full force).
But if Rodón ranks as anywhere near the 24th-best pitcher in the game in Year 2 of his long-term Yankees deal, all the kisses he blew to various cheering sections will be long forgotten.
It became tougher and tougher to advocate for him as his season snowballed, but fans saw glimpses at Fenway and PNC Park in September. He missed bats with the heater. He hit 100. He didn't get beat on the cutter in repeatedly. These steps forward were what made his Kansas City thud so hopelessly depressing. It not only erased a month's worth of progress and a summer's worth of encouraging Stuff+ metrics, but it made you feel silly for even believing past data could predict future happiness.
The Yankees need more than just a Rodón comeback to be relevant in 2024 (especially if Cole slips). But watching a Cashman failure turn back from a pumpkin into a humble squash this season would be a good way to get the bandwagon humming again, and objective observers believe it's possible.