MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees

Reliability of Yankees’ bullpen could make or break playoff chances

Once upon a time, the Yankees had a bullpen that caused the opposition to quake in its boots. This bullpen was used early and often, and in the process it seems that the figurative gas tank was depleted in a bad way. Nowhere is this best encapsulated than in the form of Dellin Betances, whom Nick Ashbourne covered in detail here. Chasen Shreve also evaporated before our very eyes in spectacular fashion (batters have touched him up to the tune of .485/.600/.875 in September) while Adam Warren’s move to the starting rotation created another slot to be taken up by a member of the Scranton taxi squad. Warren will likely be back in the bullpen for the playoffs, yet who will be joining him there is a bit of an open question.

Since the All-Star break, Yankee relievers have pitched to a 3.86 ERA. In the last month, the group has a 4.85 ERA and 4.76 FIP. A hefty portion of the relief work has been done by pitchers that spent the year in the minor leagues and it shows. What was once a strength is now largely a group of inexperienced rookies and tired mainstays. The act of starting up the bullpen has been a roll of the dice for Joe Girardi, especially with his starting pitchers not working deep into games. He now gets to do that with the season on the line, and then against the Royals. He’s got his work cut out for him to say the least.

We know for sure that Betances, Warren, Justin Wilson and Andrew Miller will get spots. These are the rest of the candidates:

  • Chasen Shreve
  • Chris Capuano
  • Ivan Nova
  • Bryan Mitchell
  • Andrew Bailey
  • Nick Rumbelow
  • Nick Goody
  • Branden Pinder
  • Caleb Cotham
  • James Pazos
  • Chris Martin

There’s a chance that Nathan Eovaldi could become healthy enough to be activated at some point, but the Yankees likely won’t want to risk the chance that he won’t be ready for important outings. That means these are the guys from which Girardi must select. I won’t pretend to have inside knowledge to Girardi’s thought process and most of these pitchers have been inside and outside of his fabled Circle of Trust at various times.

The most obvious choice seems to be Rumbelow. When Rumbelow is right, his stuff is electric. In 15.2 innings with the big club, Rumbelow has struck out 22.1 percent of the batters he’s faced, but he’s also walked five and given up two homers. This is a rather small sample, of course, but Rumbelow isn’t the worst option to eat an inning or two if the Yankees have a comfortable lead. That’s five of the spots filled. The recipients of the other two spots will likely not matter very much, as if the last man in the bullpen has to get into a playoff game, the game is likely over or deep into extra innings. The Royals showed us last year that due to the rest days built into the playoff schedule, it’s a bit easier to run the big guns out every time they’re needed.

That won’t matter if the Yankees don’t escape the showdown with the Astros. In the very real scenario in which Masahiro Tanaka serves up a few home runs to the powerful Astros and the Yankees have to get into their bullpen early, how do they piece together the necessary innings? CC Sabathia will probably be available in relief, but Sabathia has allowed a humongous .370 wOBA to right-handed hitters this year. The Astros are made up largely of righty power hitters like Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis and George Springer. Is Luis Severino capable of pitching effectively on short rest? With Dallas Kuechel on the mound for Houston, the Yankees don’t want to have to find out.

(Photos: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports) 

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