The Yankees Are Holding Down the Fort Without Gerrit Cole

New York Yankees pitchers have exceeded expectations so far in 2024, despite the absence of staff ace Gerrit Cole.

Marcus Stroman of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout before the game against the Houston Astros.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 30: Marcus Stroman #0 of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout before the game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on March 30, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Losing your ace to injury before the season even begins is almost always a recipe for disaster, but the Yankees’ pitching staff has shown otherwise. When the team announced that reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole would miss the first few months of the season, many fans in New York lost hope in a pitching staff that was already full of questions coming into 2024.

Yet, to the pleasant surprise of many, the staff has not only held its own without Cole, but Yankees pitchers have dominated most of the competition they have faced. One can only dream of how dangerous this team might be with a healthy Cole back in the rotation.

All stats and rankings updated before game time on April 19.

As part of this impressive start, several arms have put on quality performances, such as Marcus Stroman, Clarke Schmidt, Ian Hamilton, and Clay Holmes.

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However, let’s start by taking a look at two of the biggest question marks coming into the year. This team desperately needed bounce-back seasons from Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodón, and the Yankees have to be pretty satisfied with their starts to 2024. Although neither has been especially consistent, both have shown flashes of their prior forms.

For instance, Cortes had a dominant performance against the Marlins on April 8, featuring six strikeouts over eight shutout innings, looking very much like vintage Nestor. At the same time, that performance was sandwiched between two average starts where he gave up seven earned runs over nine innings combined.

Similarly, Rodón looked sharp against Miami on April 9 but then gave up three earned runs in just four innings of work his next time out.

Meanwhile, Stroman has looked on-brand so far this season. The Yankees signed him in the offseason expecting a quality middle-of-the-rotation guy to eat up innings. That seems to be exactly what they got.

Sporting a 2.42 ERA over his first four starts of the season, Stroman has been a groundball machine, ranking in the 94th percentile (61.3%) for groundball percentage. He has been the most effective pitcher in the rotation to start the season, having thrown at least five innings in all four of his starts.

Schmidt has been solid, with a 3.68 ERA and 16 strikeouts through his first three starts. Luis Gil has also been effective (if shaky) as the No. 5 starter. The 25-year-old has a 3.86 ERA in three outings, with 20 strikeouts (but 14 walks) over 14 innings.

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Although the starting rotation isn’t necessarily throwing gems every day, they are putting together some solid starts as a staff. The Yankees starting rotation currently ranks sixth in the league with a 3.47 ERA over their first 19 games – something not many people saw coming after Cole’s injury.

Fans were certainly less worried about the bullpen coming into the season, but they still had their fair share of concerns. For instance, the team needed to replace arms like Michael King and Wandy Peralta.

Yet, as of April 18, Yankees relievers rank first in the league with 10 saves and fourth with a 2.62 bullpen ERA. Led by the duo of Holmes and Hamilton, the bullpen has been close to lockdown over the first month of the season.

Hamilton has been one of the best set-up relievers in baseball. The slider-heavy righty has provided some gutsy performances, going multiple innings on numerous occasions. His 23.8% strikeout percentage ranks second on the team behind Nick Burdi, and his .192 wOBA ranks in the top 8% of the league.

Holmes, the Yankees’ closer, has been very effective so far, but he’s been doing it in a way fans aren’t used to seeing from him. He has always been one of the best groundball pitchers in the league, and that remains the case in 2024. The difference this season compared to last is that he is sacrificing his strikeout numbers in order to be a more accurate pitcher.

Holmes has significantly decreased his walk percentage, down to 2.6% from 8.8% last season. Meanwhile, he is striking out opponents at nearly half the rate he was last year: 15.4% in 2024 compared to 27.1% last year. Could it just be an early-season statistical anomaly? Of course, but honestly, who cares, as long he’s still effective?

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Another member of the bullpen you just have to highlight is Burdi, who had quite the start to his season before being placed on the 15-day IL with hip inflammation. With a fastball that averages 97.7 mph, he has been purely dominant out of the ‘pen. Opposing hitters have yet to figure out how to square up Burdi, as he ranks in the 99th percentile with an 81.1-mph average exit velocity.

Keep an eye on Burdi as the season progresses, because if the hard-throwing righty can come back and keep this up, expect to see him take on a much bigger role for the Yankees’ bullpen.

All that really matters to Yankee fans is that this bullpen, and the pitching staff in general, continues to exceed expectations as we await the return of the staff ace.

When you combine this explosive Yankees’ offense with a pitching staff that has held opponents to the third-fewest runs per game, the sky is the limit for the 2024 New York Yankees.