For much of the season, the bullpen has operated as the strength of the Yankees, though this changed somewhat in the latter parts of the season. With a rash of injuries (like Efross, Britton, King, etc.) and odd choices (looking at you Chapman), the bullpen has lost some of its luster.
The Yankees have included several of their starters in the bullpen for the first postseason series. Jameson Taillon, Clarke Schmidt, and Domingo Germán offer the Yankees a lot of flexibility in how they can pitch a game. The question is, how should the Yankees utilize these starters in the bullpen?
These starters could be important for the Yankees during the postseason. If one of their relievers start to lose an inning, the Yankees can turn to one of these pitchers to fill in for a short stint. On the other hand, these stretched out pitchers could also offer relief in the event that a starter has a truncated start as a result of injury or ineffectiveness. As it’s the postseason, the Yankees will use their pitchers in any way that they think will be beneficial to their chances of winning the game, conventions be damned. So, how do these pitchers stack up against each other, and who should be the first pitcher used?
Taillon is the most established starter on this list. He has a roughly league average ERA on the year at 3.91, and has the longest track record of competence. His hard hit percentage remains in the top 36 percent of the league, which pairs well with his excellent control (top 6 percent in walk percentage). As a consequence, his expected on base percentage is in the top half of the league.
Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends. Most worrying is the fact that his xERA rests well above his actual ERA at 4.20. Batters seem to be able to effectively hit his pitches with both the correct launch angle and velocity to produce barrels at a surprisingly high rate.
This means that he does give up extra-base hits and home runs on the occasions that hitters produce quality contact against him. At the same time, he has never pitched out of the bullpen in the Major Leagues. It might behoove the Yankees to use him in the position where he is most comfortable. His performance does not indicate that they should rush to put him to use in the bullpen (though that’s just what they did in the tenth inning of Game 2!). Taillon looks like the best choice to hold in reserve in case of an ALDS Game 5, presuming the Yankees are comfortable with starting him after he threw a handful of pitches yesterday.
One of the surprises of the season has been how well Domingo Germán has pitched. In just 72.1 innings, he has pitched to the tune of a 3.61 ERA. Even better, his xERA sits within spitting distance of his actual ERA at 3.78. This results from a low walk rate and solid contact quality metrics.
The Yankees have mostly limited his usage out of the bullpen this year (just 1.2 innings), but he has been generally effective in the past in this role. Over 49.0 innings as a reliever in his career, his ERA sits at 3.31, with an OPS allowed of .609.
This would all seem to indicate that Germán could be an excellent option out of the pen. He can limit home runs and walks. Yes, hitters have been able to hit the ball hard against him and he does not strike out a ton of batters, but he should be able to limit the damage done in multi-inning stints.
If anyone epitomizes always being the bride’s maid, and not the bride on the 2022 Yankees, it would be Clarke Schmidt. Is this a weird metaphor? Perhaps. But Schmidt has never really gotten the chance to start for an extended period of time or be a relief ace. With that being said, the ping-ponging between the bullpen, starting, and Triple-A has not seemed to effect his performance.
In 57.2 innings out of the bullpen and starting, Schmidt has a strong 3.12 ERA, with an xERA at 3.51. In a lot of ways, he profiles as a very good option out of the bullpen. He can generate whiffs at a high rate, and can run his fastball in the 96 mph range in relief stints.
Schmidt will give the Yankees the best opportunity to keep a game close out of the bullpen. There are some risks with him that he will let up a huge home run or extra-base hit, but this is mitigated somewhat by his ability to get whiffs and strikeouts. In that same vein, he has the most recent experience in the bullpen with 46.0 innings there this year (and a 2.74 ERA in that job).
The Yankees do not really have a bad choice when it comes to using regular season starters as relievers. Taillon and Germán could both probably provide some valuable innings during the postseason, with the former quite possibly in line for a start. Schmidt, however, offers the best combination of risk and reward out of the bullpen. If a game is about to go sideways, calling Schmidt should be one of the first options. Any way you cut it, the Yankees certainly have buttons they can push in the case of emergency.