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The Yankees’ X-factor lies in the middle innings

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With the starting rotation weaker than desirable, it’s up to the middle relievers to carry this team to the promised land.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Yankees’ bullpen has been known for its late-inning, shutdown relievers, with the quartet of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle serving as the backbone. Even so, the bullpen has received major contributions from a variety of other relievers, ranging from expected arms such as Chad Green to surprising revelations such as Nestor Cortes Jr. and David Hale. These secondary relief arms provide another dimension that the team has begun to explore, but has still not unlocked to its full potential: the multi-inning reliever.

Aaron Boone has a number of arms in his bullpen who have been employed for multiple innings throughout the year. In his 30 appearances so far this season, Luis Cessa has gone at least two innings in 16 of them, including eight games where he provided the Yankees with three innings or more.

Nestor Cortes Jr., working primarily as Chad Green’s follower in bullpen games, has gone at least three innings in nine of his 19 appearances, and has gone more than one inning in all but five of them. Although currently on the injured list, David Hale has pitched at least two innings in twelve of his 19 outings this season. In decidedly limited opportunities, Chance Adams has only gone fewer than two innings twice, when he went .2 of an inning against Boston in the second game in London and 1.2 innings yesterday in Toronto.

Furthermore, other pitchers have been tapped for long outings on occasion, as Stephen Tarpley went three innings against Colorado on July 19, while Jonathan Holder attempted to pitch three innings as an opener on August 6. And waiting in the wings is the rehabbing Jonathan Loaisiga, who will likely be able to go multiple innings on a regular basis due to his experience as a starter in the minors.

All of this combines to tell us that, in addition to the multiple high-leverage firemen at the back of their bullpen, the Yankees have a number of middle and long relievers able to eat up innings in various situations. And yet, the Yankees have primarily used these multi-inning arms in bullpen games and to wrap up blowouts. These relievers, however, may hold the key to the Yankees’ plans down the stretch and into October.

It is no secret that the Yankees’ starting rotation has been...lacking, to say the least. Yankees starters have collectively averaged fewer than five innings per start, and they have routinely struggled the third time through the order. While the Bombers have overcome such performances routinely over the course of the season, allowing Boone to try and push his starters as deep into the game as possible, such caution will not work when the calendar turns to fall.

When chasing home-field advantage throughout the month of September or battling with top teams such as the Astros and Twins in the postseason, the Yankees cannot afford to give away runs by trying to let pitchers work their way out of trouble. The presence of these multi-inning relievers will allow Boone to go to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble, even if that’s in the first or second inning. And that could be the difference between a parade and an offseason of “what if.”