Major-league managers face a challenge every day as they seek to best utilize their bullpens. The urge to use the trusted and hot hands on a daily basis must be fought as the 162-game season can wear out the deepest bullpens.
While some relief pitchers thrive with regular work, in other cases, more sporadic work can yield the best outcomes. Two current members of the Yankees bullpen, Chad Green and Luis Cessa, are best utilized when they are working less frequently out of the bullpen.
Green and Cessa arrived in the Yankees organization in December 2015 when the Yankees traded lefty-reliever Justin Wilson for the pair, then minor league starters. Wilson was coming off a strong season for the Yankees, but the organization needed more depth for its starting staff. After making their debuts without much impact in 2016, it was the 2017 season where Green established himself as one of the best relievers in the game. In many ways, it was how the Yankees used him that allowed him to thrive.
Green only pitched in 40 games for the Yankees during his 2017 breakout season, but was still able to log 69 innings while recording 103 strikeouts and a 0.74 WHIP. Deployed out of the bullpen less frequently, the vast majority of Green’s 2017 appearances came with two days of rest or more. In 2018, the Yankees decided to use Green more often, even if it was in a shorter role. 31 of Green’s 63 appearances in 2018 came with one or zero days of rest. He only pitched 6.2 more innings than the previous season despite making 23 more appearances. While still an above average reliever, in 2018 his ERA, WHIP and batting average against all went up pitching more often.
Heading into 2019, the Yankees decided once again that they wanted turn to Green more often. The Yankees tapped Green on one day rest in four of his first 10 outings of the year, and the results were disastrous, leading to Green’s demotion less than a month into the season. The numbers for Green show that he has his highest ERA and opponents have the highest OPS against him when he is working on one day of rest. Green’s best work has come when the Yankees have chosen to use him less often, even if it means a longer outing.
When Luis Cessa came into Game Six of the ALCS with the Yankees' season on the line, Yankees fans let out a collective groan. In parts of four seasons, Cessa has not established himself as a reliable option as either a starter or reliever. Moments of potential were almost always matched with frustrating moments of inconsistency.
Despite his shaky history, here, on the big stage of the playoffs, Cessa cruised through the Houston lineup for two innings, only allowing an infield single that was quickly erased by a double play. It was his second appearance in the series, and he pitched well in both. When Cessa entered Game Six, he was on three days rest after.
Over the course of his career, Cessa’s numbers have dramatically improved when he works on three days of rest or more. With two days of rest, opponents have a .845 OPS off him; with three days, that drops to .742. For context, that essentially turns the opposition from Luke Voit into Austin Romine with that one extra day of rest.
Cessa has the capability to work multiple innings, and it's been shown that his optimal usage involves being used is for the Yankees to bring him in less often. 2019 was his first season working exclusively out of the bullpen, and not being pushed into a swingman type role. He was better on the year, and now the Yankees can hone in on how to best utilize his arm moving forward.
Aaron Boone has a tough task ahead managing the Yankees' bullpen with not just an eye towards winning the division or making the playoffs, but also getting the team ready to win multiple playoff series. Finding the optimal usage for his cadre of elite bullpen arms is a constant mission that will lead to scrutiny from fans and the media alike. When it comes to Chad Green and Luis Cessa, Boone should avoid the urge to deploy them more often, as he can coax the same amount of innings out of them by using the pitchers only once a series throughout the year.