clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Yankees don't need a right-handed reliever

New, comments

The Yankees seem to think their bullpen isn't complete with five lefties and only two righties. But their need for right-handed relief is an imaginary one.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week a lot has been made - some of it from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman himself - over the team's lack of right-handed bullpen arms after jettisoning David Carpenter and his flimsy craftsmanship. The bullpen currently features only two righties - Dellin Betances who's used in a second closer type role, not as a match-up option, and Esmil Rogers, who as we were reminded Friday night, has little business being on a big league roster. As Jason noted earlier on Friday, Cashman told MLB Network Radio that he considers righty relief a need that has to be addressed.

"We lined up a lot of moves this winter to give ourselves a really deep bullpen. Some of which have really paid dividends. Others, recently with the designation of David Carpenter, haven't. So, I need to probably find a right-handed arm. Not probably, I do need to find a right-handed arm for the bullpen here at some point."

While he did mention farmhands Diego Moreno and Nick Rumbelow, Cashman's use of the word "find" suggests he intends to go outside the organization. But the Yankees' "need" for a right-handed reliever is really an imaginary one. Their bullpen, if used correctly, would be just fine with a minor in-house tweak or two. Pursuing another pen arm shouldn't distract attention or assets from filling the team's actual holes.

Matching righties against righties and lefties against lefties out of the pen has long been considered something you just do in baseball, but it's really meant to cover up a weakness that the Yankees don't have. The classic Simpsons episode Homer at the Bat features probably the best parody ever of the over-managing that "playing the percentages" yields. With the game on the line and the bases loaded, Mr. Burns pinch-hits Homer Simpson for Darryl Strawberry, explaining that Homer bats right-handed and that there's a lefty pitcher on the mound. It all works out when Homer delivers a walk-off hit-by-pitch, but the idea of using a lesser righty instead of Chasen Shreve or Jacob Lindgren, or even Justin Wilson just because of the hand he throws with is nearly as absurd.

The Yankees have five lefties in their bullpen, but we're not talking about Mike Myers or Clay Rapada here. Shreve has held the 62 right-handed batters he's faced this year to a ludicrous.155/.213/.263 line. Wilson, too has been quite alright vs. righties, at .205/.311/.282. And while he's still getting his feet wet in the majors, righties hit .232/.325/.362 against Lindgren in the International League this season and struck out in over 40 percent of their at bats.

The Yankees hoped their bullpen would be a strength this season, and it has been, primarily because it features arguably the best eighth and ninth inning combo in baseball. Nobody cares which hand Betances and Andrew Miller throw with when they're the first and fifth most valuable relievers in the sport respectively, according to fWAR, and when they've combined to allow just four earned runs all year. In most close games, Miller gets the ninth and Betances the eighth, meaning the opportunity for match-ups to even happen isn't what it is for many other teams.

The Yankees have righty relievers in house who are potentially better than what they'd be likely to bring in from other clubs at this stage. Chris Martin lost his big league job due to injury, but he was solid early on with a 2.01 FIP and 9.24 K-rate through 12 2/3 April and early May innings. Joe Girardi seemed to prefer him to Carpenter even back then. Replacing Rogers with Martin would be an instant and simple upgrade. Adam Warren was excellent in relief duty last season and despite his success in the rotation is likely to end up back there at some point. Ivan Nova is due back in less than a month and Warren has to be on some kind of innings limit having not started regularly since 2012. Minor league options like Rumbelow and Moreno along with Brandon Pinder, Jose Ramirez and Danny Burawa could eventually be of some use also, and the Yankees may even temporarily try out Luis Severino in the 'pen late in the season as he nears his own innings cap, though whether or not that's wise will certainly garner some debate.

For Cashman, worrying about which hand his relievers throw with is getting too bogged down in the micro, when he should be focused on the macro. In all likelihood, any relief pitcher the Yankees acquire, even if he's a very good one, is going to be at best the team's third best and he'll be pitching mostly in the sixth and seventh innings. If it's Aroldis Chapman, then maybe it's worth the trouble. If not, there's no reason to give up prospects or cash that could go toward filling bigger needs.