Can The Yankees’ Elite Bullpen Save Their Season?

The Yankees’ elite bullpen may be enough to save their season in 2022.

But probably it’s not.

It actually surprised me to see that the Yankees have an elite bullpen. I knew they were pretty good, but it’s much deeper than I thought. In fact, it’s probably their number one strength. That’s a bit surprising considering how many home runs they can hit and that they have Gerrit Cole anchoring their rotation.

Unfortunately, outside of Cole and a good number three type starter in Jordan Montgomery, their rotation is full of three major question marks, at least. And while the Yankees definitely do hit home runs, they don’t hit quite as many as you might think. Moreover, they have a rather average overall offensive to go with their generally horrid defensive prowess. But who is in this elite bullpen I accuse the Yankees of having?

Closeup on a bullpen pitcher gripping a baseball
Is an elite Yankees bullpen enough? Photo by Jose Morales on Unsplash

Aroldis Chapman: The Yankees’ Closer

Word on the street is that the Yankees approached Aroldis Chapman about a new role in relief. Instead of being used exclusively in the 9th inning as the closer, the gas-throwing lefty may also sometimes be used in the eighth inning as well. Manager Aaron Boone has explained the reason as an attempt to keep Chapman fresh throughout the season and avoid trouble stretches where he is wholly ineffective.

This gets Chapman into games where a closer may not be needed. Therefore, it helps him build and maintain a regular recurrence of appearances to keep him locked in. But there’s another reason to use Chapman in the eighth. You shouldn’t use your closer exclusively in the ninth inning during save situations. Instead, you should use him in the highest leverage late-inning spots, period.

After all, not all saves are created equal. A ninth-inning where you are leading 5-2 with nobody yet on base is not as high-leverage as an eighth-inning moment where you are leading 5-4 with one out and two men on base. Obviously, you want your best relief pitcher on the mound in the second scenario far more than you need him there in the first.

Jonathan Loaisiga: The Yankees’ Best Reliever

However, Chapman was hardly the Yankees’ best relief pitcher last year, despite being the team’s designated closer. The distinction of best reliever most certainly goes to Jonathan Loaisiga. In 2021, Loaisiga pitched to a FIP of 2.58 and an ERA of 2.17 with 69 strikeouts and a mere 16 walks in 70s innings pitched for the Bronx Bombers. That gave Loaisiga an fWAR of 2.4, tied for third-best in the league with Houston’s Ryan Pressly, behind the White Sox’s Liam Hendriks (2.7 fWAR) and Milwaukee’s Josh Hader (2.6 fWAR).

Even if Chapman has a solid bounceback season in 2022, Loaisiga should most certainly be used in the highest leverage spots for the Yankees, whether they occur in the 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th inning. Chapman can keep his official designation as “the closer”, but Loaisiga is the shutdown guy ready to put out the fires.

More Bullpen Depth

Meanwhile, the Yankees have a few other relief pitchers who put up terrific seasons in 2021. These include 30-year-old Chad Green who pitched 83.2 innings and put up a 3.12 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. This was good for 1.6 fWAR. Lucas Luetge, age 34, pitched 70 quality innings with a 2.69 ERA and a terrific 2.69 FIP for 1.4 fWAR. And while Clay Holmes, age 28, only pitched 28 innings last season, another season of a 1.61 ERA and a 2.10 FIP would certainly go a long way to making him a star reliever.

Not everyone in the Yankees’ bullpen is phenomenal. Despite Wandy Peralta’s sparkling 3.07 ERA in 2021, his 10.3% walk rate should be enough to make the Yankees nervous that he will put too many men on base. That could hamper his chance for an ERA repeat in 2022. In addition, the status of Albert Abreu on the Yankees roster this year, a pitcher who was terrible in 2021, looks to be in deep trouble.

Meanwhile, Michael King and Joely Rodriguez, the latter of whom came over in the Gallo trade, should remain important pieces of this year’s Yankees bullpen. But Rodriguez’s drop in velocity has the Yankees somewhat concerned, and rightly so. And the Zack Britton recovery absence makes Rodriguez’s importance that much higher.

The Yankees Bullpen and 2022 Performance

The Yankees’ bullpen has the ability to repeat its elite-level performance from 2021 this year. And if the Yankees want to contend for a championship, they are going to have to repeat. This is especially true in light of the Yankees’ surprising lineup problems, which could stand to get even worse, not better.

The Yankees’ batting order was highly mediocre last season, putting up just 18.2 fWAR. Compare that with Houston (33.9 fWAR) and Toronto (30.5). In fact, 18.2 fWAR ties the Yankees with – the Mets. And the Mets are hardly what one thinks of when they think of an elite performing lineup (though that does have some chance of changing this year in light of the Mets’ recent signings).

The Yankees Lineup Needs Some Love

There is a chance that despite the addition of Josh Donaldson, the Yankees lineup will not improve in 2022. In part, that could be due to the trade involving both Gary Sanchez, who as far as I can see was the Yankees’ only real starting catcher, and Gio Urshela, a solid player with good defense at the hot corner and some power.

Urshela had a bad season in 2021, putting up a mere 1.0 fWAR. This was mostly due to his horrible on-base percentage of .301. Josh Donaldson should be a significant improvement at the hot corner. But, the question remains: by how much? Donaldson could range anywhere from average-y to all-star level this season. Which version the Yankees will see feels like almost a crapshoot.

In the end, even signing Aaron Judge to a long extension does little to improve the Yankees club over their performance last year. If they want to be serious about contending for championship titles again, the Yankees are going to need to stop being cheap.

If you enjoyed this article on the Yankees’ elite bullpen, make sure to also check out my recent piece on why for Michael Conforto, greed is not always good.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply