The Yankees had a lot of highly-anticipated September call-ups this year. Top prospect Justus Sheffield made his debut. Number three prospect Jonathan Loaisiga is working out of the bullpen, and number 13 prospect Chance Adams is back with the big club. Externally, the Yankees added Andrew McCutchen and Adeiny Hechavarria to aid the offense as well.
Lost in the shuffle of roster movement was the promotion of 25-year-old lefty reliever Stephen Tarpley. The minor league journeyman was recalled from Triple-A Scranton with the rest of the big names, and he has actually played the most of any call-up. The Yankees’ bullpen, particularly the middle relief, has struggled mightily recently, and they haven’t had a reliable mid-innings lefty all year.
Could Tarpley be the guy to kill two birds with one stone? Aaron Boone thinks so. The manager said Tarpley is “pitching himself into the [postseason roster] competition.” Placing an unheralded pitcher who has only thrown 6.2 innings at the major league level into the bright lights of October sure is a bold move, but Tarpley has filled a nice hole in the Yankees’ bullpen.
First, a bit about Tarpley himself. The Yankees are actually Tarpley’s third organization. He was drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2013 draft, traded to the Pirates for Travis Snider in 2014, and then dealt to the Yankees in 2016 as a piece in the Ivan Nova trade. Tarpley was a starter at every level before coming to the Yankees, who have used him exclusively as a relief pitcher since acquiring him.
After pitching to a 14-2 record with a 1.55 ERA in two years at Trenton and Scranton, the Yankees decided to give Tarpley a look this year at the big-league level, and he’s produced. After allowing three runs in his first appearance, he’s allowed none since and has had four straight perfect outings.
Tarpley is primarily a sinker/slider guy, which helps him generate a heavy dosage of groundballs. He also throws a four-seamer and a curveball on occasion, making him a rare four-pitch relief pitcher. This keeps hitters on their toes and gives Tarpley options if something isn’t working.
His slider has a good whiff rate (23.5 percent), and he makes it a point to pound batters down and away, as seen here. Throwing the ball down is the best way to avoid home runs and get grounders. Tarpley excels at both. In fact, he’s only allowed three home runs in all of his minor league career with the Yankees, which spans 115.2 innings.
The one thing that Tarpley needs to improve is his walk rate. He’s walked four batters in 6.2 innings at the bigs, and walked about four batters per nine innings with the Yankees’ farm teams. That comes with throwing a lot of pitches down out of the zone, but the key for Tarpley’s success is to raise the chase rate so that pitches that would normally be balls become strikes.
Tarpley can learn a lot from Zach Britton while they’re both Yankees. While Britton has the added gift of velocity on his sinker, they have similar repertoires and Britton has had a successful career and has a high chase rate for a sinkerballer. Perhaps Britton can help Tarpley tweak his approach to propel Tarpely to another level.
Tarpley is in the mix for a postseason spot because he is versatile. He has done well as a situational lefty in recent games, but also has extensive long relief experience. The Yankees’ other options in middle relief range from unreliable veterans (Tommy Kahnle, A.J. Cole, Sonny Gray) to inexperienced or inconsistent Triple-A call-ups (Luis Cessa, Justus Sheffield, Jonathan Loaisiga, Chance Adams). Among all of those names, Boone has called upon Tarpley the most. Behind Chapman, Betances, Britton, Robertson, Holder and Green, there are a few open bullpen spots available for October. Tarpley has Boone’s endorsement, which means we could see Tarpley in October.