The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2019 season, but they also have some breakout candidates as well.
In recent years, the Yankees’ bullpen has been one of their strong suits. They signed Andrew Miller to a four-year deal in December of 2014 and then traded for Aroldis Chapman in December 2015, pairing the two with Dellin Betances to form a formidable bullpen and plenty of “No Runs DMC” puns.
When the team tore it down in 2016 and traded off many notable players for prospects, Miller was shipped off to Cleveland for a package highlighted by Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield while Chapman yielded a return of Gleyber Torres and others from the Cubs.
The team went on to re-sign Chapman following the 2016 season, and the Yankees’ bullpen has benefitted from the success of relievers like Chapman, Betances, David Robertson, and others in recent years.
While these relievers were already big names before they came to the Bronx, the Yankees have seen relievers come out of nowhere and flourish.
In 2016, Chad Green was a seldom-used swingman who went 2-4 in 12 appearances (eight starts and four relief appearances) while dealing with occasional control issues and pitching to an ugly 4.73 ERA.
Then in 2017, Green came out of nowhere and solidified himself as one of the team’s top relievers. He appeared in 40 games, pitching to a 1.83 ERA and holding batters to a ridiculous .147 batting average. In a year when Dellin Betances faltered in the second half of the year and Aroldis Chapman hit the DL in May, Green was an integral part of a bullpen that aided the team in their deep playoff run.
Green even fired 2.2 lockdown innings of relief in the first three innings of that year’s Wild Card Game when Luis Severino gave up three runs in the first inning while only recording one out. The bullpen as a whole got the last 26 outs while only giving up one run in the Yankees’ comeback 8-4 win.
Then in 2018, the Yankees saw another reliever flourish out of nowhere to become one of their more reliable bullpen arms. In 2017, Jonathan Holder had a reputation of being the team’s mop-up man who consistently blew games when given an opportunity to pitch in close games. He finished the year with a 3.89 ERA and 17 earned runs allowed in 37 games, though the team only went 15-22 in the games in which he appeared, further suggesting that he blew plenty of games or was used in games where the deficit was already out of reach.
But in 2018, Holder, like Green in 2016, rebounded and was much more effective and pitching to a 3.14 ERA in 60 appearances, holding opponents to a .214 batting average. He was especially effective before the All-Star break when he pitched to a 1.85 ERA in 39 innings in 33 games.
The Yankees recently lost Robertson in free agency to the Phillies and currently have no agreements in place with other free agent relievers like Zach Britton or Adam Ottavino. Thus, they could rely on some lesser-known names to break out in 2019 as Green and Holder did in recent years. Here are a few names to keep an eye on.
The Nicaraguan right-hander Loaisiga, nicknamed “Johnny Lasagna” by many, saw his first taste of major league action in 2018, taking Masahiro Tanaka’s spot in the rotation when Tanaka went down with an injury in June. He started four games, going 2-0 while allowing six runs and recording 21 strikeouts in 18 innings.
However, he displayed some control issues, walking eight batters in those 18 innings. An injury kept him out for much of the Summer, but when Loaisiga returned in September when rosters expanded and worked out of the bullpen, he was up and down.
He pitched to a 10.80 ERA in five games, heavily tainted by giving up six runs on three hits and two runs in 1.1 innings against the Twins on September 11. However, he did display his electric fastball at times and looked good in his first outing back on September 3 against Oakland.
Loaisiga is unlikely to crack the 2019 rotation except as a potential 6th starter or spot starter if a number of starting pitchers hit the DL, but keep an eye on him as a candidate to break camp as a long reliever if he impresses in Spring Training.
Heller was acquired by the Yankees along with Frazier, Sheffield and J.P. Feyereisen from the Indians in 2016 for Miller. In 2016, he struggled, pitching to a 6.43 ERA while giving up 11 hits, five runs, and three home runs while only recording six strikeouts across seven innings in 10 appearances.
However, he greatly improved in 2017, recording a 0.82 ERA in nine appearances and 11 innings, striking out nine batters and only giving up five hits. Though both of these years were very small sample size, they provided a look at how good or bad Heller could potentially be in the future. He missed all of 2018 dealing with an injury, but if he can showcase more of his 2017 form in Spring Training, he could break the 2019 roster as a bullpen arm.
German was acquired with Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones by the Yankees in a December 2014 trade with the Marlins that sent David Phelps and Martin Prado to Miami.
He saw minimal MLB service time in 2017, but in 2018 he was given a chance to pitch in the Yankees’ starting rotation when Jordan Montgomery went down with an injury early in the year that ultimately required season-ending Tommy John surgery.
German showed flashes of talent, twirling six no-hit innings against the Indians in his first start after Montgomery’s injury and even drawing some comparisons to Yankees ace Luis Severino. However, German digressed as the season went along. He consistently struggled with getting through the lineup the first time around, and by the time he had settled in, the damage was often already done.
He ended up appearing in 21 games (14 starts and seven relief appearances) and pitching to an ugly 5.57 ERA in 85.2 innings. He also had problems with the long ball, giving up 15 home runs. Look for him and Loaisiga to compete for a long reliever spot in Spring Training.
Tarpley was called up when rosters expanded in September and struggled in his debut against the Tigers, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks and putting a game that was within reach out of reach.
However, he rebounded and quickly proved himself to be a pretty reliable lefty option out of the bullpen, pitching nine straight scoreless outings after struggling in his debut. He even worked his way onto the Postseason roster, though he only appeared to do mop-up work in the Red Sox’ blowout 16-1 win in Game Three of the ALDS.
Tarpley could lend himself to a bit of a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy) type role, something the Yankees don’t have in their bullpen. He’s a strong candidate to break out in 2019.
Kahnle was acquired in the 2017 trade that brought Todd Frazier and David Robertson to the Yankees from the White Sox. He was a big piece to the Yankees’ bullpen in that 2017 playoff run, firing in fastballs upwards of 96 MPH on his way to posting a 2.70 ERA in 32 appearances.
He pitched some big innings in relief in the Wild Card Game and in ALDS Game Four, both huge elimination games. He came into 2018 with high expectations, but he had a very disappointing year. He missed a good amount of the season due to injuries and had issues with his velocity when he returned, his fastball significantly slower than it had been the year before.
He ended up posting an atrocious 6.56 ERA in 24 appearances. If he figures out his velocity issues, he could return to form as a key cog in the Yankees’ 2019 bullpen as either a middle reliever or a setup man.