Over the course of the past six seasons, the Yankees relied on Dellin Betances heavily when rolling out their bullpen. He was there for it all, as the lone stud rookie in 2014 to the four-time All-Star anchor of a few super bullpens. He, along with Aroldis Chapman, has long acted as the centerpiece of the game’s best and most overpowering relief corps.
From 2014 to 2017, Betances was one of if not the best reliever in all of baseball. Over those four years, Betances ranked first among relievers in strikeouts and innings pitched, fourth in K/9, second in WAR, fifth in FIP, and sixth in ERA. He was an integral part of the Yankees’ bullpen no matter what role he was used in, whether he was setting up for Andrew Miller, Chapman, or even closing for himself. There were times where he would pitch multiple innings if need be, and there were many others when he simply shut down the opposition in the eighth inning ahead of whichever dominant reliever happened to be the closer at the moment.
Obviously, over the past few seasons, the Yankees traded for and added multiple relievers to their bullpen, and it has gotten to the point where even without Betances, the Yankees still have an elite bullpen. With the likes of Chad Green, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and Chapman still on hand, there is nowhere Aaron Boone can go wrong. With Betances missing basically the entirety of 2019 on the IL, it was mostly Britton who took over his set-up man role. In terms of production, there was little to no drop off in that transition, and I wouldn’t expect there to be much in the future. Britton has proven he’s still an elite reliever even after a number of injuries have shelved him at various points.
While Betances was nearly unstoppable when he was on, he did have some flaws. First, he was often wild, and could occasionally completely lose control of the strike zone. On top of that, he became much more of a one-inning pitcher in recent years as the Yankees tried to avoid stressing him the way they did during his 95-inning rookie campaign. This is where his absence may affect how the Yankees utilize their bullpen in the future.
With the possible exception of Chapman, every reliever listed above is capable of providing multiple innings of solid relief. Even if you want to give Britton the set-up role, he can still come in earlier and give you four-to-six outs. Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle are both middle relievers who are used to multiple innings of work, and Ottavino acts as a jack of all trades who has pitched both multiple innings or to just one batter in the past. With 2020’s new rule requiring relievers to face at least three batters and without the worry of Betances’ limits, it is safe to assume Yankees relievers will be coming out for longer outings in the future.
The addition of Gerrit Cole will also play a role in how the Yankees utilize their relievers. Adding an arm that can go eight innings on a good day gives the whole bullpen a break. However, on an average day next season, I would expect the starters to go either five or six innings. After that, the bullpen usage order will probably look something like this: Green, Kahnle, and then Britton or Chapman.
Hopefully, things shake out so that the arms still on hand have to pitch both more and less, in a sense. Some relievers may have to take on some longer outings, but the presence of Cole, and the prospect of full seasons from Luis Severino and James Paxton, could give the bullpen more off-nights. We’ll see for sure how it all adds up soon enough.