The Yankees bullpen has been stellar all season. Before action began on Monday, it was third in MLB in WAR with 3.4, fourth in ERA with 2.95, and third in FIP with 3.19. The eye test returns equally good results.
One can argue, however, that a good chunk of the unit’s success so far can be attributed to a couple All-Star candidates: Michael King and Clay Holmes. The former owns a 2.41 ERA in 37.1 frames, with an incredible 35.7 percent strikeout rate. The latter? He recently broke Mariano Rivera’s franchise record of 28 consecutive scoreless appearances and even that run ended last night, he still has a 0.55 ERA in 32.2 innings.
Both pitchers have been excellent all year long, but it’s worth considering when the Yankees will begin to push the brakes on each player’s respective workloads. Before Monday’s games, King was second among MLB relievers in innings pitched, and Holmes was 14th. They rank second and ninth in the American League, respectively.
After King and Holmes, no Yankees reliever had thrown more than 25 innings through play on Sunday. A series of circumstances have combined to make sure that both are among the league leaders in innings pitched; first, they have been extremely dependable, and second, several key bullpen contributors have gone down with injuries.
Chad Green is lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, while Jonathan Loáisiga and Aroldis Chapman have been out for a while now. Include Zack Britton and you have four of the most dependable Yankees relievers of the last few seasons. Manager Aaron Boone needs arms he can trust, and he can be sure that King and Holmes will always perform, or at least be competitive. It’s understandable to push them a little bit right now, when the bullpen is at its most vulnerable, but the long game must be considered as well.
If the Yankees somehow got back the 2021 version of Loáisiga; and the pre-2021 version of both Britton and Chapman in the next few weeks, they could start giving some of King and Holmes’ high-leverage innings to them. But they will have to show on the field that they are both healthy and effective.
All three seem to be inching closer to a return to action. According to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, Britton and Chapman will pitch at the minor league complex in Tampa on Tuesday, while Loáisiga played catch at 110 feet yesterday at Tropicana Field. At least a couple of them could conceivably be a part of the Yankees’ bullpen within the next month.
Updates from #Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake:— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) June 20, 2022
⚾️ Domingo German will pitch Wednesday for @TampaTarpons.
⚾️ Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman will pitch at Minor League complex in Tampa tomorrow.
⚾️ Jonathan Loaisiga played catch at 110 feet today at Tropicana Field.
Another way of better managing King and Holmes’ workloads would be easing some pitchers into high-leverage roles. Wandy Peralta has stepped up recently, but Ron Marinaccio in particular has a 2.77 FIP and a 31.1 percent strikeout rate in 14 frames and has thrown 10 shutout innings of one-hit ball since being recalled on May 21st (even before then, he flashed potential). Additionally, Clarke Schmidt boasts a 2.82 ERA and a 22.5 percent strikeout rate in 22.1 innings. He’s worked with Matt Blake to create some nasty stuff.
At the moment, King projects for about 90 innings pitched, while Holmes would finish the season at nearly 79 at his current pace. That’s a lot of innings, especially for King, who threw 69 last year between the majors and minors — his high-water mark since 2018. Ideally, the Yankees would keep both guys a little more fresh for the stretch run and, potentially (barring a monumental collapse, to be honest), the postseason.
There is still time to work Loáisiga, Chapman, and eventually, even Britton back to their best versions so that King and Holmes don’t have to be relied upon so heavily all year long. There is also time for another arm to win a more important role. In any case, the team shouldn’t abuse King and Holmes’ right arms and burn them out in August. The Yankees have shown that they keep a close eye on their top arms, so we have confidence in them to appropriately handle each pitcher; now, it’s just a matter of affirming it.