Bolstered By Luis Gil, Yankees’ Rotation Off To Surprisingly Historic Start To 2024


Image credit: (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

To understand the Yankees’ situation entering Memorial Day, we must consider how dire things appeared at one point in spring training.

The team’s two biggest stars—Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole—were battling injuries with uncertain timelines.

Judge has since shaken off his March soreness and April slump to go on one of his all-time heaters:

While his 62-homer campaign from 2022 will likely go down as the best of his career, his encore performances have been extremely impressive.

His 116 homers since the start of 2022 lead MLB despite having over 200 fewer plate appearances than Kyle Schwarber (who checks in at second with 103 dingers). After posting a .375 ISO in his MVP season, Judge has been at .346 and .350 for the past two years. Combine his usual greatness with a top-five offensive season from Juan Soto, and the Yankees have the highest wRC+ in MLB.

As for Cole, his absence presented a major issue for a pitching staff built to rely on his stability. The 33-year-old finally won his first Cy Young award in 2023, but it wasn’t his best season. He seemingly traded some strikeouts for a reduced homer rate, which worked. Cole’s 2.63 ERA and 5.2 fWAR were his best marks since his outrageous 2019.

Cole is nearly beginning a rehab assignment, and the Yankees’ rotation has accomplished remarkable things without him.

As of Tuesday, the unit has a 2.72 ERA, which would be the franchise’s lowest full-season mark since 1917. That stat requires a disclaimer that regression could hit the 2024 staff, and it isn’t even June yet.

On the other hand, they’ve done this without Cole. If everyone stays healthy, he could help avoid that regression or improve things.

One of the biggest contributors thus far has been 25-year-old rookie Luis Gil. By most metrics, he has been a top-20 starter this season:

Gil entered 2023 as our No. 11 Yankees prospect. He’s been overshadowed this season by fellow rookie starters Shota Imanaga, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jared Jones, and Paul Skenes. The results have been fantastic, especially considering New York acquired him from the Twins in exchange for outfielder Jake Cave in 2018.

Gil’s superpower is a hellacious arsenal. Using Eno Sarris’ Stuff+ metric available on Fangraphs, the young hurler ranks ninth in overall Stuff+ among qualified starters. His four-seam fastball ranks fifth.

According to Statcast, Gil’s four-seamer is tied for the ninth-highest run value in the league. His fastball also ranks first in whiff rate and hard-hit rate, second in strikeout rate, second in average allowed, and fifth in wOBA (min. 100 PAs).

So it’s a special fastball, and you’ll notice in the table above that Gil has allowed the lowest batting average in the league. He’s done so with a .203 BABIP (third lowest in MLB), which suggests regression, but he also has a 96th percentile expected batting average. It’s dangerous to hand wave BABIP away, but there’s a reason he gives up so few hits—he’s hard to square up.

Another improvement for the young righty is his changeup. He’s now throwing it more than his slider with a higher velo differential from his fastball than in the past. While Gil’s fastball-slider combo works opposing hitters vertically, his changeup attacks them horizontally. It’s tied for the 11th most valuable changeup this season by run value.

If Gil has a glaring weakness, it’s his control. A 13.1 BB% should be a non-starter for him as a starting pitcher, but this is where allowing so few hits gives him some breathing room. There’s less traffic on the bases despite all the walks. He’s also limiting the long ball with a shiny 0.5 HR/9.

Gil’s poor BB% is backed up by a 39% ball rate and a 96 Location+ (per Sarris). This is notably better control than someone like Cristian Javier. But it still leaves Gil with little margin for error moving forward.

Luckily for the Yankees, they haven’t been entirely reliant on him. Aside from a (successful) Cody Poteet spot start, the five members of their Opening Day rotation have taken the mound as scheduled. They’ve delivered:

Nestor Cortes has rebounded from last year’s injury-plagued season to lead the staff in innings. His strikeout rate is down from his breakout in 2022, but he’s compensating by walking fewer batters. Cortes’ fastball has lost a little bit of vertical movement this year, which has led to an overall decrease in his “stuff,” but the Yankees will surely take what he has given.

Marcus Stroman is second on the team in innings, but he has the group’s highest SIERA and worst Stuff+. He’s the type not to try and overanalyze since his strategy is to induce as many grounders as possible. One note is that he’s walking opposing batters at a career-worst rate. His ball% continues to trend in the wrong direction as well. This likely stems from decreased velo on his sinker and cutter, which allows batters to be pickier versus him.

Then there’s Carlos Rodón, who is rebounding in his second year in pinstripes. 2023 was rough—a 6.85 ERA with an ugly end to the regular season—so fans are happy with how he’s performing, even if he’s getting a little lucky and failing to reach the expectations of his six-year, $162 million contract. 

Rodón was downright dominant in 2021-22, but we haven’t seen that version of him on the Yankees. His velo remains strong; he has even increased the Stuff+ on his slider this year. The biggest difference seems to be the locations he’s throwing to.

Take a look at his fastball-slider locations in 2022:

Then compare them to 2024:

They just aren’t as crisp. It’s encouraging that this is more of a command issue than a “stuff” problem. Still, the 31-year-old could be due for some negative regression if he doesn’t rectify the problem soon.

Lastly, there’s Clarke Schmidt, who surprisingly has the most balanced profile in the rotation. The 28-year-old has increased his K-BB% from 15% in 2023 to 19% this season. The key has been throwing his cutter, which he introduced just last year, over 1 mph harder. This has made a huge difference against lefties, who hit .303/.375/.500 against him last season. So far in 2024, that triple slash is down to .209/.296/.318. Impressively, he’s been even better against lefties than he has righties.

Blend these performances together, and it’s how the Yankees have survived without Cole. Favorable health has been key. While Gil’s ascendance has been loudest, it hasn’t been one arm carrying the entire load. There are reasons to be skeptical about several performances, and any regression combined with an injury could suddenly test the organization’s pitching depth post-Soto trade. That’s what makes Cole’s pending return so intriguing, though. It could offset at least one bad break this summer.

Following the Orioles’ Memorial Day win over the Red Sox, the Yankees have a 1.5-game lead in the American League East. Only the Phillies have a better record this season. The health of their two offensive superstars and their entire starting rotation figure to have the biggest impact on how this summer goes, but the to-date results can’t be overlooked. The Yankees’ rotation has been historically great in 2024. Let’s see where it’s at when they drop the reigning Cy Young winner into it.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone