In the midst of Alex Rodriguez’s controversial, week-long farewell tour, the Yankees added two new pieces to their bullpen: southpaw Tommy Layne and right-hander Blake Parker. Over the short-term, both Layne and Parker fill an obvious need for middle relief in light of the departures of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the trade deadline.
Over the long-term, the Yankees’ bullpen is in need of a complete overhaul. Chapman and Miller are two of the best bullpen arms in all of Major League Baseball, and while the closer’s role appears set in the capable hands of Dellin Betances, the bridge to get to him currently has significant gaps in its foundation. As a result, while Layne and Parker may have been brought in primarily as a short-term fix, if they do not stick with the team beyond 2016, it will not be lack for lack of opportunity. Given the makeup of the bullpen as it stands today, it is worth exploring how each pitcher could contribute to the bullpen mix in the future.
For most Yankees fans, Layne is the more familiar of the two, having pitched for the Red Sox since 2014 and appearing in 98 games for them since the beginning of the 2015 season. Layne has two primary assets as a reliever: his left arm and ground ball rate. Layne has a 1.10 ground ball to fly ball ratio for his career according to Baseball Reference, with 0.84 being the league average.
The Yankees have struggled to develop a match-up lefty over the past two seasons. Chasen Shreve has been oddly more effective against right-handed batters, Richard Bleier never earned a spot in the Joe Girardi “circle of trust,” and the highly touted Jacob Lindgren is likely out until 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The role of lefty specialist would appear to be there for the taking in 2017, and although you can bet that Brian Cashman will look to acquire a great deal more bullpen depth this off-season, Layne currently represents the pitcher most likely to fill that role on the 40-man roster.
Parker is less of a known quantity, having pitched just 2.1 innings at the Major League level this season, and having only 75.2 to his credit for his entire career after breaking in with the Chicago Cubs in 2012. The upside that the Yankees see in Parker is the ability to rack up strikeouts. Across his 75+ MLB innings, Parker has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. So while the sample size could be larger, even for a reliever, the ability to generate outs via the strikeout makes Parker an intriguing bullpen acquisition.
Even more intriguing is that Parker appears to strike batters out while simultaneously lacking high-end stuff. According to Brooks Baseball, Parker sits around 92 mph with his fastball, although his second most utilized pitch, his curveball, does feature a fairly impressive 38% whiff rate (whiffs per swing). This can be partially attributed to his over-the-top delivery, which appears to hide the ball effectively from hitters as Parker goes through his pitching motion.
Will Parker or Layne land a spot with the Yankees in 2017, or even find themselves on the active roster at the end of 2016? Certainly both need to show that they can be reliable and pitch well when given the opportunity, as their lack of pedigree will provide them with little protection should they struggle in the coming weeks. However, both players fill a clear niche, and the post-trade deadline Yankees’ bullpen is a veritable land of opportunity.
Cashman will upgrade the ‘pen this winter, and it is likely to look much different than it is currently constructed. Still, with a good showing over the final 48 games, both Layne and Parker could enter spring training as candidates for a less tenuous spot in an overhauled relief corps.