When the Yankees sent Aroldis Chapman to the disabled list on May 14th, it could have been an ominous sign. Losing your shiny new $86 million closer to a shoulder injury just a month into the season doesn’t typically bode well for a club. It forces pressure on the rest of the bullpen and, in a market like New York, begins a dizzying amount of coverage. That’s usually when the emergency bells and whistles start ringing.
The 2017 Yankees, however, managed to avoid a meltdown. Following Monday night’s game against the Angels, the Yankees bullpen has posted a 3.34 ERA in 86.1 innings since the Chapman injury. They’ve held opposing batters to a .183/.257/.316 triple-slash. Their .252 wOBA leads all of baseball. It’s like the relievers never missed a beat.
What has been behind the bullpen’s success? In many ways, surprise performances by the middle relief corps kept things afloat. Chasen Shreve seems to have rediscovered his 2015 magic with a 1.93 ERA (2.56 FIP) over 9.1 innings since Chapman’s injury. Chad Green has also impressed, posting a 2.55 ERA with an excellent 10.70 K/9 in 17.2 innings. These two weren’t expected to be key contributors in the bullpen, yet they managed to hold things with the closer on the shelf.
The Yankees have also had strong performances by their late-inning tandem. Tyler Clippard continued to outperform his peripherals, as the setup man has pitched to a 2.53 ERA, despite a 50% fly-ball rate. He gave up a big home run against the Blue Jays a few weeks ago, but Clippard has been fairly reliable. Interim closer Dellin Betances has also disproved the naysayers, working to a perfect 0.00 ERA and notching six saves along the way. These four have really carried the bullpen.
Others, however, have notably struggled. Adam Warren 5.11 ERA is unsightly, but his 3.02 FIP and solid peripherals suggest he could rebound. Then there’s Jonathan Holder, who had a strong start to the season but has completely collapsed of late. He now sports a 4.50 ERA, with a 5.52 FIP. The rookie right-hander struggled to keep the ball in the park as well. His 2.25 HR/9 mark is alarmingly high. Despite these shortcomings, the bullpen has held it together.
In some ways, it’s possible that the offense and starting rotation spared the relief corps. The Yankees have managed a .283/.354/.506 triple-slash with a 129 wRC+ since Chapman was sidelined. The team has run up the score so often that Betances was called on just to get work in against the Red Sox last week. The starters have also worked deeper into games, logging 158.2 innings since May 14th. That ranks in the top half of the league. With the offense and rotation firing on all cylinders, the bullpen has earned some leeway.
According to Joe Girardi, Chapman is expected to rejoin the team this weekend in Oakland. The Yankees will add to a position of strength when they activate their flame-throwing closer. While the injury sounded frightening, his imminent return quells those fears. The bullpen stepped up in Chapman’s absence, and to a degree, that explains their lead in the American League East. Now with their ace reliever back in the mix, the club looks poised to make real separation in the division.