For as long as I can remember, the Yankees bullpen has been considered a strength. The team always seems to feature a dominant closer, with a more than ample supporting cast.
Sparky Lyle became the first AL reliever (second overall) to win the Cy Young Award in 1977. The club brought in future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage the following year to form an unprecedented two-headed bullpen monster.
More recently, Mariano Rivera enjoyed a nearly two decades-long run as the Greatest Of All Time. Mo had a constantly changing — yet usually highly effective — stable of set-up men.
Fans enjoyed the thrilling combination of “No Runs DMC” for a half-season in 2016, before Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman were dealt as part of the trade deadline sell-off. Although Chapman returned via free agency, it was his struggles, as well as those of Dellin Betances, that led the Yankees to acquire David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle last July.
That quartet, along with the versatile Adam Warren and the emerging Chad Green, gave the Yankees a potentially historic bullpen. If only Chapman and Betances could regain their mojo.
The group performed sometimes brilliantly — but occasionally disappointingly — in helping the Bombers advance to within one win of the World Series. The vaunted relief corps carries with it a number of questions as the team gets set to begin anew its quest for the storied franchise’s elusive 28th championship.
Can Betances regain his dominance?
This may be the number one question surrounding the bullpen heading into 2018. Despite making the All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year, Dellin Betances did not have a good season. From June on, he allowed 67 men to reach base in 42 plus innings. Alarmingly, 46 of them were via walks or hit by pitch.
His control problems were so severe that he fell completely out of Joe Girardi’s circle of trust. Despite this, Betances made five postseason appearances, but did not fare well. He took the loss in the ALDS Game 2 dumpster fire, while failing to record a single out in two other games. Overall, he allowed 9 base runners in only 5 2/3 innings.
Can Chapman regain his consistency?
Aroldis Chapman lost his closer job after a horrendous stretch last summer, but won it back after being used sparingly for a time in middle relief. He had issues with both command and control, walking an uncharacteristically high number of batters and yielding three home runs over a six-appearance stretch in August.
His ALCS Game 2 loss was the only time in six postseason appearances where Chapman allowed a run. He finished four of New York’s wins, earning the save in three.
There was speculation that Chapman’s mid-season struggles were due to his possible overuse during the Cubs’ world championship run the previous year. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but one thing is certain: The Yankees really need Chapman to regain his vintage form.
Will there be set bullpen roles?
It will be interesting to watch how rookie manager Aaron Boone handles the bullpen. Will he assign specific roles? For example, will there be a designated closer, eighth inning set-up man, and seventh inning guy? Will he go with the best match-ups from game to game? Or will he use a hybrid approach, something akin to what Girardi did in the playoffs?
Since Boone has no managerial experience at any level, he has no history for us to go on. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Kahnle and Robertson both seemed to thrive in the flexible relief roles that we saw them fill during the postseason. The fact that they were both used with success for multiple innings is a huge plus. It really gives Boone some additional options moving forward.
One thing to note that could be a possible cause for concern is that D-Rob threw a career-high 81 1/3 innings last year (playoffs included). That represents an increase of 19 innings from 2016. His previous high was 68 2/3, back in 2011. It will also be curious to see how Boone manages Robertson’s workload to ensure that the veteran is at his best for a possible deep run in the postseason.
Although there are questions, New York’s bullpen should be counted as a strength as we move toward Opening Day. If each of these accomplished hurlers pitches up to his talent level, the Yankees could have a historically great relief corps in 2018.