It is no secret that the 2018 Yankees have a very good bullpen, even the best in the league by some measures. The organization, however, saw fit to shuffle around some relievers at the trade deadline.
First, with the acquisition of Zach Britton, the Yankees added another setup man to the fray. Later on, the Yankees added starter Lance Lynn to pitch out of the bullpen and serve as a safety blanket sixth starter. This made certain arms expendable. Gone are the likes of Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos, plus various other minor league pitchers. But did these moves make the Yankees’ relief corps better? How should Aaron Boone utilize his remodeled bullpen?
Despite some rejiggering of relievers, nothing changes for the Yankees at the top. All-Star Aroldis Chapman will remain the closer, as he should. He is having one of the best seasons of any reliever in baseball this season, and is an intimidating pitcher for the endgame. The Yankees, however, have three other former closers on their roster in Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Zach Britton. These guys will serve as setup men for Chapman and are valuable to have around as closer insurance in case Chapman is unavailable to pitch. There are some teams out there that don’t even have one qualified closer; the Yankees have four.
So far, Boone has avoided giving Britton, Betances and Robertson any specific inning to pitch. Instead, the Yankees can play the matchup game. Have some tough lefties due up in the sixth? Britton can handle it. Maybe there’s some speed demons due up in the seventh. In that case, Robertson would be a better fit than the slow-working Betances. And if the heart of the order is due up in the eighth, Boone will go with his best available arm, which has been Betances for most of the season.
Any way you slice it, the four closers will primarily pitch in late or high-leverage innings. That leaves middle and long relief roles for the rest of the Yankee bullpen. Those are roles that Chad Green and Jonathan Holder are made for. They too offer Boone a couple of options based on matchups. Green throws more fastballs, but gives up more hard contact. Holder strikes out less batters, but has the best walk rate on the team. Perhaps Green will be used as the mid-inning fireman to get out of jams, while Holder will be called upon to start fresh innings.
Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve were somewhere between middle and long relievers on the Yankees. They were both capable of pitching multiple innings, yet were overshadowed by the other relievers. Having two of these pitchers was redundant and limited their overall appearances, so they’ve been shipped out to Seattle and St. Louis, respectively. In their stead, A.J. Cole will take over as the mid-long reliever who serves as the jack of all trades.
Cole has been a fun story this year. A converted starter who struggled with Washington, he has changed his approach as a Yankee to great success. Two-thirds of his pitches have been breaking balls, and he’s also added a sinker to his repertoire. His overall velocity is up, and his strikeout, walk and groundball rates have improved. Relievers sure are volatile, but Cole has a chance to stick around as the new Warren this year.
Newly-acquired Lance Lynn can serve as a swingman – he can either work in long relief or make spot starts. A fastball-heavy starter who enjoyed some good years with St. Louis from 2012-2017, Lynn had struggled with the Twins this season. He was penciled in for the bullpen, but will surely make a handful of starts before season’s end.
There’s always room to improve though, and the Yankees have some options at Triple-A for when rosters expand in September. Tommy Kahnle is likely the next man up, and will look to regain his role from last year’s team. These trades also clear a path for Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams to come up in the 2007 Joba Chamberlain role as a flamethrowing reliever. I would bet on at least one of these three pitchers to be in the Yankees’ postseason bullpen.
Through all the changes, the Yankees have improved their bullpen. They added another late-inning weapon in Britton and shed some extra arms to provide opportunities for others. Although every other contender added to its bullpen as well, the Yankees’ bullpen seems to remain perched atop the relief pitching mountain.