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Aaron Boone’s bullpen management still leaves something to be desired

I have to admit: Aaron Boone’s bullpen management during Thursday’s game is still bugging me.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ win today marked their third in a row, tying their longest streak of this young season. That streak might’ve been quite a bit longer without Thursday’s loss to the Royals, which is admittedly still on my mind.

In the top of the seventh, the Yankees trailed 3-1. Domingo German turned in six good but not great innings, and the offense didn’t have much to show except for a handful of loud outs. Win expectancy statistics indicate the Royals had over an 80% chance to win that game, but regardless, a two-run deficit at home can still feel like a winnable game. At least, that’s how I felt until the top of the seventh when Jonathan Holder entered the game.

Holder struck out his first batter, but that was the only out he recorded. After three hits and two runs, Aaron Boone brought Zack Britton out to clean up the mess. The game went from relatively close to essentially over.

According to Win Probability Added, Holder’s performance hurt the Yankees’ chance at winning more than any other individual player that night. Prior to that appearance, Holder owned a 5.19 ERA and had allowed at least one run in four of his five appearances so far this year. Given that, I wasn’t surprised his struggles continued on Thursday night. I was surprised he was even in the game until I saw this tweet:

Essentially, these statistics mean when the game is most on the line, the Yankees have turned to Holder more than any other reliever so far this season. Smyth tweeted those statistics out prior to Thursday’s game. Since the tweet, the numbers have shifted slightly, but Holder is still near the top spot.

Holder’s poor performance is on him. He’s shown to be a much better pitcher than he’s appeared so far this season, but he doesn’t have any control regarding when he enters the game. That’s on Aaron Boone, and this isn’t a new criticism against the Yankee manager.

Questions about Boone’s bullpen management have come up before, and this was just the latest example of it. Conceivably every Yankee reliever was available that night, but the first person called upon wasn’t the best option. Sending out Holder before Britton during that game just doesn’t make much sense. By the time Britton came in, the game was basically out of reach.

Of course, bringing Britton into the game before Holder doesn’t guarantee anything. The Yankees’ offense wasn’t exactly killing it that night either, but not going to the best available arm in the tightest spot of the game just doesn’t make a ton of sense.

To Boone’s credit, it’s not exactly easy to manage a bullpen that hasn’t shown a ton of consistency. I remember reading Matt Ferenchick’s article on this very topic last year, and I thought of it again before I started writing this one. In some regards, some of last year’s early-season bullpen woes seem to be playing out again this season. Outside of Adam Ottavino, the big-time Yankee relievers haven’t exactly been lights-out. Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman have both had their struggles finding the zone at times, despite good enough stat lines. Holder and Chad Green have been wrecks, and the other arms don’t exactly have the best track records.

Matt was right in assuming the Yankees would start to find some consistency. The team did end up with the best bullpen in the league in 2018 after all. However, questions about Boone’s bullpen management haven’t exactly stopped, and now more than ever he needs to improve. With such a depleted roster, the Yankees absolutely need to take any advantage they can get. A big part of finding that advantage is having the best players in at any given moment, and the bullpen is the least-injured section of the team. Obviously, players need days off over the course of a long year, but when everyone’s available, the best arm should be in the game.