For better or for worse, the save is the hallmark statistic for a reliever. Over the years, many relievers will earn at least a handful of saves, even if they never actually serve as their team’s closer.
Many relievers, but not all.
Numerous players have seen their careers pass through the Yankees bullpen in the past decade, but were never placed in a position to earn a save, either filling in for an unavailable closer or pitching the final three innings in a blowout. To qualify for this list, you had to pitch for the Yankees for at least the better part of a season (sorry, Rich Hill), and you had to be able to pitch to both right-handed and left-handed hitters (so LOOGYs such as Matt Thornton and Clay Rapada were excluded, as was ROOGY Cody Eppley).
Branden Pinder (2015-2016; 3.45 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 26 G, 28.2 IP, 26 K, 15 BB)
Perhaps more known for his distinction of being the Yankees’ OPS leader, tied with five others with an OPS of 1.000, Pinder actually looked to be a potential breakout reliever following the 2015 season, when he posted a 2.93 ERA in 27.2 IP. He did, however, struggle with his command, particularly in the second half of the season.
His 2016 season ended almost as soon as it begin, as after one game it was revealed that he had a partially-torn UCL, and he received season-ending Tommy John surgery. Pinder never made it back to the majors.
David Huff (2013-2014; 3.18 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 41 G, 73.2 IP, 54 K, 25 BB)
Huff had two separate stints with the Yankees in back-to-back seasons. Originally claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians, Huff served as a piggyback starter along with the struggling Phil Hughes down the stretch in an attempt to try and salvage the spot in the rotation, while trying desperately to make a bid for a Wild Card spot. The following year, after a brief stint with the San Francisco Giants, Huff returned in a more traditional long reliever role.
Both tenures with the Yankees saw Huff pitch much better than he had throughout the rest of his career, with his ERA being a full two points lower than his career ERA. His use as a prototype follower and as a long reliever, however, kept him from finding much of an opportunity to earn a save.
Cory Wade (2011-2012; 4.23 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 79 G, 78.2 IP, 68 K, 16 BB)
It was a tale of two seasons for Wade, who put together a dominant stretch in 2011 to post a 2.04 ERA in 40 games, striking out 30 and walking eight. Despite increasing his strikeout rate the following year, however, he struggled, although his 4.51 FIP suggests he was not quite as bad as his 6.46 ERA. Nonetheless, he was optioned to Scranton to make room for Chad Qualls, and was designated for assignment following the season. He never made it back to the big leagues.
Luis Ayala (2011; 2.09 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 52 G, 56 IP, 39 K, 20 BB)
The Yankees took a chance on Ayala, who spent the 2010 season bouncing around the minor leagues after two straight seasons with ERAs above 5.50. He showed why they should have faith in him, giving up only 13 earned runs in 56 inning. He greatly outperformed his 4.19 FIP, and walked a lot of batters, which perhaps makes it understandable that he appeared to be (as far as I can tell) a favorite punching bag among Yankees bloggers nine years ago.
Justin Wilson (2015; 3.10 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 74 G, 61 IP, 66 K, 20 BB)
The rare player with whom I was angry when the Yankees traded for him (I was a big believer in Francisco Cervelli) and when they traded him (the Yankees needed relief pitching), Wilson had one largely successful season in pinstripes. You’d be forgiven, however, for forgetting that he ever pitched for the Yankees, as despite starting as a LOOGY and becoming a trusted arm in front of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, his biggest contribution to the Yankees has been in the acquisition of Chad Green and Luis Cessa, two prominent members of the Yankees’ bullpen the last couple of seasons (both of whom have recorded saves).
Kerry Wood (2010; 0.69 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 24 G, 26 IP, 31 K, 18 BB)
The oft-injured Wood was traded to the Yankees at the trade deadline in exchange for Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick, and he immediately made an impact in the Yankees’ struggling bullpen, which was dependent on Joba Chamberlain’s 4.40 ERA and Chad Gaudin’s 4.50 ERA among its most-used arms. Wood gave up only two runs in pinstripes, and made 21 straight appearances without giving up a run as the bridge to Mariano Rivera. It truly is a shame that the 2010 Yankees were unable to get Wood a World Series ring.
Jonathan Holder (2016-current; 4.30 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 139 G, 155 IP, 151 K, 42 BB)
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Holder has not actually recorded a save for the Yankees, despite being a major part of the bullpen for three seasons now. How rare is that? In that time, Bryan Mitchell, Giovanny Gallegos, David Hale, Chance Adams, and Stephen Tarpley have all recorded at least one.
Part of that has been the Yankees’ elite relief options in his time in pinstripes — even when at his best, he was still low on the bullpen’s totem pole. Part of that, however, has also been his inconsistency, as even in his best season, Holder had a tendency for random awful appearances, such as his seven-run, no-out appearance against Boston on August 2, 2018. Perhaps not surprisingly, Holder has been kept out of save opportunities.
Of course, he still has time to change that.