The New York Yankees bullpen has been pretty shaky to begin the 2019 season, but who have been the most reliable pitchers?
The Yankees entered this season with what was widely considered the best bullpen in the league and arguably the most talented bullpen ever assembled. While some relievers have stood out as highlights of the team thus far, the bullpen as a whole has faltered a number of times and already cost the team a few games.
The recent news that Dellin Betances isn’t expected back until this summer certainly doesn’t help matters either. With that in mind, here’s how the eight relievers currently on the Yankees’ roster rank in how much manager Aaron Boone should trust each of them to get the job done when he turns the ball over to them.
8. Jonathan Holder
Holder broke out as a solid reliever on the team last year after struggling significantly in 2016 and 2017, but he has stumbled out of the gate so far this season, looking much closer to his 2016 and 2017 self than his 2018 self. He has recorded a 7.00 ERA in five outings while striking out 10 and recording a 1.44 WHIP.
Despite these abhorrent numbers, manager Aaron Boone has continued to turn to Holder in key spots of games, as his Leverage Index is 1.72, the highest among all Yankees relievers. Although this point of the season is far too early to panic about any one player’s performance, Boone should stop giving Holder the ball in high leverage situations and should instead rely on the team’s other relievers.
7. Joe Harvey
Harvey was called up just last week by the Yankees and made his debut on April 10th, throwing two scoreless innings against the Astros. He has looked solid thus far, giving up just one earned run and striking out six batters over four appearances and five total innings.
However, he is still very inexperienced and despite his impressive first few games, he also should not be used in important moments of games until he can string together a number of scoreless appearances. He’s also a candidate to get sent back down to the minor leagues when the Yankees start getting some of their injured players back.
6. Chad Green
Green has been the most disappointing reliever on the team so far. After a breakout 2017 that he followed up with a stellar 2018, his stats through eight appearances thus far are nothing short of horrific. He has gone 0-2 with an 8.59 ERA and 1.64 WHIP while striking out seven batters.
Given how great he was the last two seasons as one of the Yankees’ secret weapons in their loaded bullpen, there’s most definitely a chance that he rebounds and still finishes the season with an ERA in the 3’s and as one of the team’s most reliable relievers, but as of now he’s definitely not one of the team’s top options to turn to.
5. Tommy Kahnle
Kahnle was acquired in a July 2017 trade with the White Sox that also brought Todd Frazier and David Robertson to the Yankees. He was a huge piece of the 2017 team’s bullpen that helped them on their extended playoff run, but he faltered significantly in 2018. His velocity dipped noticeably and his 6.56 ERA was nearly four runs higher than his 2017 career-best ERA of 2.59. He also appeared in just 24 games due to injuries that he recently admitted he concealed from the team.
Thus far, Kahnle’s performance has mirrored his 2017 season much more than his 2018 season. He’s recorded a 3.38 ERA in six appearances, striking out seven batters as well. His 1.50 WHIP is a bit high, but he has given up just two earned runs, working in and out of trouble a number of times. One concern is that he has allowed four walks in his six appearances, but beyond those control issues, he has looked very impressive thus far as he continues to work his way towards regaining his 2017 dominance.
4. Luis Cessa
Cessa was easily one of the most polarizing figures in the Yankees organization the last few seasons, as he always looked decent in his first inning or two as a reliever but would consistently become much worse any time the team tried to stretch him out for more innings or try him as a starter. The team’s front office clearly was very high on him, as he has been out of minor league options for a while, but the team always elected to keep him on the 25-man rather than DFA him despite the ire he brought to fans every time he was brought in to pitch.
He seems to have proven the team right thus far, as he has surprisingly been one of the team’s most effective relievers, posting a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings across four appearances while striking out nine batters as well. Like Kahnle, he has had his control issues, as he has walked four batters. However, he has allowed just one earned run this season, largely keeping the runners he puts on at bay. Whether Cessa’s success is sustainable still remains to be seen, but as of now, he is certainly one of the team’s most reliable relievers, something very few people saw coming.
3. Zack Britton
The Yankees resigned Britton this offseason after acquiring him from the Orioles at the trade deadline last season. He had two rough outings last week in the series against the Astros, but by and large, he has looked very good this season. He gave up three runs in 1.2 innings across his two appearances in the Houston series, but he has held teams scoreless in his other six appearances.
In total, he has recorded a 3.68 ERA and struck out six batters while giving up eight hits across 7.1 innings. His 1.64 WHIP is slightly concerning but (like many of his other stats) is inflated by those two bad Houston games. Given that Houston is perhaps the best team in baseball and that Britton has looked fantastic in his other six games, he should remain one of the team’s most trusted relievers and Boone shouldn’t hesitate to go to him in late-inning key matchups.
2. Aroldis Chapman
Chapman seems to be well on his way to another All-Star season, with the only real concern being that his pitch velocity has yet to fully come back. He was only throwing in the 94 MPH range in Spring Training, and although he has recently been consistently hitting 99 and 100, we have yet to see his fastball hit 101 or higher like it has been known to. However, this diminished velocity has yet to really hurt Chapman’s effectiveness.
In seven appearances, he has recorded three saves and just one loss, which happened when he came into the 9th inning of a 1-1 game against the Tigers on April 2nd and promptly gave up two runs, with 3-1 holding as the final score. Since then he has looked much more like his usual self, overall striking out nine batters across his seven innings of work this season and walking just one batter.
He has allowed six hits as well but has allowed one or fewer hits in six of his seven appearances, with the outlier being the Detroit outing previously mentioned. As his velocity picks back up, there is little to no doubt that he should return to being the dominant closer we have seen in years past.
1. Adam Ottavino
One of General Manager Brian Cashman’s many additions this past winter, Ottavino has been nothing short of spectacular for the Yankees thus far. After a breakout 2018 with the Colorado Rockies, Ottavino signed a 3-year deal with the Yankees this offseason. He has been one of the team’s most used relievers so far, pitching nine innings over eight appearances and allowing just one earned run (also in that same Houston series that Britton struggled in).
He has struck out a whopping 14 batters, and although he has allowed seven walks and recorded a 1.71 WHIP, he has largely been able to work out of trouble and strand most runners on base, with the one exception being the one earned run he allowed in the Houston series. As long as Ottavino continues to keep pitching the way he has, the Brooklyn native should absolutely continue to be one of the team’s most trusted relievers.