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Can the Yankees’ bullpen usage tell us how they plan to adjust the roster on May 1st?

Roster sizes are returning to 26 on Sunday.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

One of the main stories over the first month of the season has been pitching. Because of the shortened spring, teams began the year with two additional roster spots, and the 13-pitcher cap was temporarily suspended. This allowed teams to open the season with massive pitching staffs, with the Yankees carrying 16 pitchers for the first ten games of the season.

Despite these precautions, pitcher injuries have been extremely common throughout the league this year. The Dodgers have lost both their No. 5 starter Andrew Heaney (who looked a lot better than he did in pinstripes) and bullpen ace Blake Treinen. The White Sox are missing Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly, while Liam Hendriks is currently pitching through back problems. At various points, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Taijuan Walker have been injured for the Mets (although Scherzer, for his part, didn’t miss a start). Because of this rash of injuries, the league and the Player’s Association agreed to suspend the 13-pitcher cap for the month of May; because the roster size is still dropping to its normal 26, this effectively means that teams can carry a 14-man staff if they carry a short bench.

With this is mind, I’ve been thinking about how the Yankees have employed their pitching staff over the month of April. Specifically, I set out to see whether or not the Yankees would benefit from keeping an extra arm — somewhat similar to what I did two weeks ago right before they dropped JP Sears and recalled Tim Locastro to bring the bench back up to full strength.

At time of writing, the Yankees had an open spot on the active roster, Ron Marinaccio joined JP Sears in Scranton after his outing yesterday afternoon; no corresponding move had yet been announced. What that move ends up being could say a lot about the Yankees’ plans: if it’s Aaron Hicks, who spent the Orioles series on the paternity list, it likely means the team is looking at a traditional, 13-man staff, as they would actually have a five-man bench while in Kansas City; if it’s another arm, that question is still up in the air.

Looking at this data, I can’t help but notice that the Yankees have worked to balance the amount of innings their relievers have thrown without becoming reliant on the extra arms. After Sears was sent down on the 17th, Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, and Marinaccio have essentially split the long reliever role, with King taking the high-leverage innings, Schmidt pitching low- to mid-leverage innings, and Marinaccio working exclusively in garbage time; in fact, both Schmidt and Marinaccio appeared to disappear from the roster for large stretches, with the former last appearing on the 19th and Marinaccio not pitching from April 11th to the 24th. It’s almost as if Aaron Boone pretended has largely pretended they weren’t there except in significant circumstances — i.e., when Cole could not handle the cold on the 19th and in a getaway day game after a night game yesterday.

On the flip side, the Yankees have made extensive use of their bench. Locastro has appeared in every game since he joined the roster, mostly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement for Giancarlo Stanton late in games. Marwin Gonzalez, meanwhile, gives the Yankees a backup shortstop not named Gleyber Torres. While it’s not out of the question that the team might drop one of them, either by optioning Locastro or DFAing Gonzalez, it seems unlikely that they would want to shed players that have been on the field regularly — especially since the possible replacements for Gonzalez in Scranton, Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza, have gotten off to slow starts (.642 and .481 OPS, respectively).

In the end, I think that’s what makes the decision. The bottom of the bullpen has been much less integral to the team than the back of the bench. Should the team need an extra arm or two, King, Wandy Peralta, and Jonathan Loáisiga all have at least one option remaining; while such a drastic move is probably not something the Yankees would like to use, it is still an option on the table that gives them some flexibility out of the pen. And that is why, once the roster size returns to normal on the first of May, it’s likely that Schmidt and either Miguel Andújar or the pitcher that gets called up today are the ones that will receive the ticket back to Scranton.