While the 2018 Yankees have had a successful season, there is no doubt that injuries have ravaged the team. They have cost the Bombers a number of wins as various replacement players have populated the roster. Over the course of the year, the team has lost starting pitchers, infielders, outfielders, and a catcher for stints ranging from two weeks to the whole season.
Fortunately though, the Yankees bullpen has remained fairly healthy all year. That is, until Aroldis Chapman developed tendinitis in his right knee and hit the disabled list last week. The All-Star closer was in the middle of a terrific year and the Yankees will surely miss his presence in their relief corps.
Chapman has dealt with his knee tendinitis since May, and it finally came to a head last week in Miami. If it was a minor enough injury to pitch through for three months, why would the team put him on the DL heading into the stretch run instead of having him continue to tough it out?
Unlike when Gary Sanchez was replaced by Austin Romine, Aaron Judge by Neil Walker and Shane Robinson, and starters by the likes of Sonny Gray and Luis Cessa, the Yankees have adequate pieces in their bullpen that can replace Chapman’s production. Those fill-ins have done their jobs, too.
The Yankees haven’t designated one set closer while Chapman heals, and that is the best approach. This lets matchups dictate who will handle the late innings on any given night, rather than locking in relievers to designated roles. The Yankees are in the fortuitous position of having three other vetted closers on their roster in Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Zach Britton. Some teams can’t even find one good closer, let alone four!
These guys have all stepped up with Chapman out. Robertson hasn’t allowed an earned run this month, although he did surrender a two-out home run that almost cost the Yankees a game. Britton is back to throwing strikes and generating groundballs, and Betances has been perhaps the best he’s ever been, allowing just two runs since Memorial Day. These guys needed to shoulder the load with Chapman ailing, and they sure have.
It’s more than just the experienced pitchers leading the way in the Yankees’ bullpen, though. Jonathan Holder has gotten back on track and has become Aaron Boone’s go-to middle reliever. Tommy Kahnle is back, and although he has struggled with his control this year, he isn’t too far removed from being the guy who pitched the second-most games in the 2017 playoffs for the Yankees. Chad Green got off to an impressive start, but has struggled since. He has combated this by experimenting with a new changeup to pair with his fastball, and he’s looked better lately. These arms have had their ups and downs this year, but are a solid middle relief unit.
The Yankees do have two somewhat unreliable relievers on the roster in A.J. Cole and Gray, but these pitchers are typically only used in low-leverage situations. They are likely to have their innings replaced by September call-ups like Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, Jonathan Loaisiga in the coming weeks anyway, which just goes to show how deep the Yankees’ bullpen depth is.
That the Yankees finally put Chapman on the DL shows that they know they can allow him a few weeks of rest and rehabilitation at this point. This could very well be an injury that requires offseason surgery. The Yankees, however, will cross their fingers and hope that a quick DL stint could be just the refresher that Chapman needs to come back strong for October. After all, the same strategy worked for CC Sabathia recently.
The Yankees have the depth now where they can comfortably let their players heal without hurting themselves or the team by continuing to play. It’s better that Chapman misses a couple of weeks now than leaving the team out to dry by going down in the playoffs. The bullpen had been showing signs of wearing out, but it bounced back in a big way at just the right time for the Yankees.