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How Joe Girardi should maximize the Yankees new bullpen

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How new additions Kahnle and Robertson could impact the team down the stretch.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few days ago the Yankees’ season seemed to be slipping away after a feel good start. On June 12th the Yankees held a four-game division lead over the Red Sox and had a 88.1% chance of making the playoffs and a 51.8% chance at the division crown per Fangraphs’ playoff odds. Since then the team has gone 11-22, highlighted by a seemingly never-ending series of bullpen calamities. With last year in mind there was debate as to whether the Yankees would be best served to once again sell off short-term assets in order to contend in future years.

Brian Cashman and the front office put an end to that debate on Tuesday by dealing for Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. While acquiring someone like Frazier to bolster the team’s corner infield had long been rumored, spending so heavily primarily to obtain two relievers took some by surprise with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances already in tow.

Bringing in Robertson and Kahnle was not a panicked reaction to recent meltdowns, but rather an attempt to build something truly special. With the new additions, the bullpen is not only improved, but looks like the very best in baseball. The Yankees now have four of the top 15 relievers by strikeout rate and Aroldis Chapman isn’t even one of them!

The 2014-15 Kansas City Royals popularized the idea of building a pitching staff around an elite bullpen, specifically a trio elite strikeout arms at the backend. Since then numerous teams have piggybacked off the Royals’ strategy most recently last year’s Indians who rode Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and specifically Andrew Miller all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.

Joe Girardi is now armed with an unrivaled collection of bullpen weapons that stretches far beyond the backend trio. Chapman and Betances have both had their fair share of struggles, but they each have elite track records and batters still aren’t making contact against Betances.

The Yankee faithful need no introduction to David Robertson, who comes home to the Yankees as largely the same high-strikeout elite late inning reliever he was when he left the team in 2014. Tommy Kahnle, meanwhile, announced his presence on the team by blowing away hitters in his debut. Kahnle has put up truly elite numbers this season with the stuff to match and shows no signs of slowing down.

One of the underrated stories of the Yankees’ season has been the emergence of Chad Green as an elite reliever. The converted starter has compiled a 1.70 ERA backed by a 2.49 FIP and an dominant 37.5% strikeout rate. Adam Warren has also had his best season settled in as a full time reliever. Both have been elite option, yet both may never even see the 7th inning.

With so many options to choose from Girardi is almost spoiled for choice. The Yankee manager has often been criticized for his traditional bullpen management, assigning pitchers to specific roles and sticking to it. The obvious question now is who will pitch other than Chapman in the 9th. Yet instead of assigning everyone a role, Girardi should be as flexible possible deploying his best options when needed most, even in the early innings.

The injury to Michael Pineda left an already fragile Yankee rotation looking perilously thin. In recent days the Yankees have been connected to a host of starting pitchers led by A’s ace Sonny Gray. While the rotation could certainly stand to improve, pitching is pitching and the newly strengthened bullpen will greatly aid the ailing rotation.

In last year’s playoffs Indians manager Terry Francona went to his best reliever Andrew Miller in a fireman role as early as the 5th inning to deal with dangerous situations. Girardi should look to be deploying his best options in the same way, even in the early innings.

Betances, Kahnle, and Green all carry extremely high strikeouts and are open to being used early in the game, making any each of them a great fit for the fireman role in any given game. With suspect characters like Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell making starts, Girardi should not be hesitant to set loose his elite arms as early as the 3rd or 4th inning.

Kahnle and Robertson will primarily pitching at the back end of games, but their presence will effect the entire game, pushing stronger relievers into the middle innings and giving Girardi the freedom to pull his starters earlier.