The Yankees have experienced setback after setback this season, but have surprised the league, winning 11 of their past 13 games. Their weakened lineup has turned back the clock a bit to a time before the three-true-outcomes era, racking up hits with a rag-tag cast of characters.
Yet through this impressive patch of winning, perhaps the strongest part of their team has under-performed. The bullpen, considered to be the league’s best bullpen in baseball entering the season, has imploded several times throughout the first month of competition. One day it’s Zack Britton, another day it’s Adam Ottovino, the next day it’s Chad Green. There always seems to be one players that doesn’t have their stuff that day.
The Yankees obviously have reasons for the way they’re utilizing their bullpen, but despite what the scouting reports say, the box score is not supporting their decisions. In most games, we’ll see a starter go five or six innings, then three or four relievers are brought in to pitch from roughly the sixth inning to the ninth.
The most recent example may be back on April 25th, when the Yankees played the Angels. Masahiro Tanaka had a rough outing, letting up six runs in 5.2 innings. At this point, the score was 6-4 Angels. Jonathan Holder came in and only got the last out of the inning and then was taken out of the game in favor of Stephen Tarpley. Tarpley pitched 0.1 innings and gave up two earned runs on two walks. After this, he was replaced by Joe Harvey, who pitched 0.2 innings, giving up three earned runs on two hits. To get through just the seventh inning, the Yankees used two relievers and gave up five runs, blowing the game open. Why not just bring Holder out for the next inning?
Let’s take a look at another game back on April 21st against the Royals. James Paxton pitched six shutout innings and was replaced by Tommy Kahnle in the seventh. Kahnle recorded three outs with two strikeouts while giving up no hits. Next inning, Green entered. Green didn’t record an out and allowed three runs. Getting Green out of there was the right decision, but he was replaced by Ottavino, who yielded another three runs. The bleeding did not stop until Chapman came in as the Yankees blew a 5-0 lead in the eighth inning. This seems like an issue that could have been prevented if Tommy Kahnle was sent out for another inning of work.
Obviously, there is no telling what would have happened to Kahnle, but sending him out for another inning after striking out two batters and giving up no hits feels like a fine decision. Instead, in one inning, the Yankees used two more relievers, neither of whom had it that day. It’s just simple math to recognize that the more relievers you use, the higher the chance is that one of them just won’t have it that particular day. This was a series finale against a bad team that the Yankees should have easily beaten, but ended up having to tie the game late and win it in extra innings.
The analytics team will pull the righty-lefty card, and other unforeseen points to point to why a pitcher should exit the game in a certain scenario. Yet, there has to be some human aspect to these decisions. If a guy comes in the game in the sixth and is blowing the ball past hitters and making them look silly, why rush to get the next pitcher in? Because he’s right-handed and a left-handed batter is leading off next inning? That’s not good enough. It’s easy to trust the numbers, but it’s also easy to blame them. In situations like this, it almost seems illogical to trust them.
Just take a look at the April 24th game against the Angels. CC Sabathia had rough outing, giving up five runs in five innings. However, he was replaced by Jonathan Loaisiga, who pitched three strong innings, giving up no runs and keeping the Yankees in the game as they came back and won taking the lead in the ninth inning. What would have happened if Boone and the analytics team brought out two or three more relievers instead of keeping Loaisiga in who clearly had good stuff that day? Maybe they would have pitched fine. And maybe, just one of the handful would have been off that day.