With rumors swirling that the Yankees and Phillies are the frontrunners for Zach Britton, while the Red Sox make their best pitch to David Robertson, the relief market appears to be taking shape. Add that to the fact that neither Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will be signing deals before 2019, and it seems now is the time for the Yankees to finalize their bullpen.
Whether the team decides to ink one of the various relievers on the market or not , the Yankees still face a problem with their in-house relief options. Luis Cessa and AJ Cole are both on the team, neither appear to offer much of an edge over the other at first glance, and both no longer carry minor league options.
On pure results, both were dreadful in 2018. Cessa put up a 5.24 ERA in 44.2 innings, while Cole was a 6.14 ERA pitcher in 48.1 innings, despite a promising start with the team after being DFA’d by the Nationals. It makes no sense to carry both pitchers, since even as rotation depth they are terrifying options - Cessa logged a 13.3% K-BB% while Cole’s was 16.7%. That’s CC Sabathia territory, and neither Cessa nor Cole generate contact as optimally as Sabathia does.
So, who should be the one in pinstripes in 2019? We can see above that Cole is slightly better on one aspect of process, although he gave up about twice as many home runs as Cessa did, so we can call the strikeout-walk-home run analysis a wash. Let’s turn to their actual stuff:
Top line fastball velocity is pretty similar for both pitchers, although Cole’s secondary offerings tend to be thrown a little harder. This can be either good or bad; harder breaking pitches tend to take hitters by surprise, but a lack of difference between a fastball and breaking ball may allow a hitter’s timing to be more consistent.
Cessa however is able to generate consistently higher spin rates on his pitches, especially his big two: the fastball and slider. This leads to a more deceptive pitch, and could be a reason why Cole tends to be hit harder and give up more home runs. His pitches don’t fool hitters and they’re easier to square up.
That higher spin rate is also reflected in Cessa’s more consistent ability to miss bats. Even though he doesn’t strike out as many men as Cole, he generates a more stable level of swings and misses, making him easier to project and probably gives him a higher floor than Cole going forward. This is a big reason why his FIP was almost three full runs better than Cole in 2018.
So it looks like A.J. Cole is the odd man out of the Yankee bullpen. It’s possible to squint and see something effective in Luis Cessa. Cole might still be a useful bullpen piece somewhere in baseball, but with the Yankees needing greater flexibility in the ‘pen, it sure looks like Cessa should be the one to survive a roster trim.