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Diamonds in the rough are powering the Yankees bullpen

The Yankees lead baseball in bullpen ERA, in spite of a wave of injuries.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

The Yankees pitching staff as a whole is off to a remarkable start to the season given all the unfortunate circumstances of it. While much has been made of the absences of Carlos Rodón and Luis Severino and pronounced affect they’ve had on the rotation, the bullpen is also down some important names, and nevertheless, it has thrived.

Go back a month, and say you were told that both Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Loáisiga were on the shelf. And that Lou Trivino’s season could be all but over. And that neither of Rodon nor Severino would seem close to returning, meaning that someone like Clarke Schmidt, who has excelled at times when thrust into relief duty, would still be plying his trade as a starting pitcher.

Knowing that, would you have guessed that the Yankees would lead all of baseball in bullpen ERA with a mark of 2.50? Probably not

All the usual small-sample caveats continue to apply at this stage in the season, but the truth is that one of the hallmarks of this coaching staff has been their ability to extract diamonds in the rough on the pitching side. Should it really come as a surprise to see Matt Blake and company at it again?

Michael King and Ron Marinaccio have been phenomenal weapons for this bullpen, combining for 22 innings of work with only four earned runs allowed. Each one’s ability to provide length at any point while maintaining elite performance has proven crucial in the early going.

Nevertheless, the baseball world is well aware of King’s abilities, and his health was the only real question mark looming over his 2023 campaign. Although Marinaccio may not have been a household name coming into the year, the right-hander had a great rookie campaign (44 innings, .236 opponents’ slugging percentage), and his success should come as no surprise.

One way or the other, two men do not a successful bullpen make. What’s made this bullpen great lies even deeper, when you look at names such as Ian Hamilton and Jimmy Cordero.

Here we have two relievers who came about the Yankees organization as dozens come through all big league teams, as non-roster invitees at spring training, just hoping to make a good enough impression to earn a job somewhere. Hamilton did so this season, while Cordero did so last year and turned in a quality season out of the Scranton bullpen.

Hamilton has a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings, and much like Michael King, has been pivotal in eating four or more outs when the situation calls for it. The former Twin has found success upping his slider usage (his best pitch) to over 50 percent, earning great results with a huge 21.4 swinging strike rate. The right-hander had pitched just 12 innings from 2018 to 2022, most recently being released by the Guardians before getting off to a strong start here in New York.

Cordero’s 31.3 K-BB percentage is absolutely ridiculous, and if he manages something anywhere in the vicinity of that by season’s end, it will be a huge win. The hard-throwing righty is excelling with a superb groundball rate (63.2 percent) and 0.84 WHIP. Cordero hadn’t pitched in the majors in multiple seasons before making the team out of spring training, and now he looks like he is here to say, in large part thanks to an overpowering fastball that averages over 98 mph.

As the Yankee offense struggles to get its act together, the club has still won games this April largely because the pitching staff has held up its end of the bargain. Much of that stems from the lower-profile player thrust into the line of fire after a number of big names went down with injuries. The likes of Hamilton and Cordero are following the footsteps of many of the Yankees’ previous pitching reclamation problems (Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes say hello), helping keep the Yankees afloat and showcasing one of the coaching staff’s true strengths.