We’re nearing the end of this eternal offseason, and pitchers and catchers are set to report in just two weeks. The roster, barring any sudden shift in the market, is set and ready to go compete for a 28th World Series championship. The Yankees put a lot of effort into shaping this 2019 squad. One of the areas that saw a volatile shift over the past year has been the Yankees bullpen, where the team has continued to focus on assembling the best set of relievers in the game.
There aren’t a whole lot of new faces, but the overall strength of the ‘pen has definitely shifted compared to the last time they toured the Grapefruit League. The two most recent additions to the team, Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino, have given the Yankees more flexibility with handling the later innings of any ballgame. Britton obviously was a midseason addition, but with his Achilles injury fully behind him now he can really make a difference in a full season in New York. Aaron Boone has the comfort of going to a fresh elite arm for as many as five innings in a single game, with confidence that they can bail out any starter in a jam.
On the other side, one area that they did get weaker in was their ability to shift mid-inning and escape trouble. David Robertson’s departure exemplifies this the most, because while Houdini was great at creating his own jams to escape he was also great at escaping with other pitchers’ runners stranded. They also suffered in that regard from the lost season that Tommy Kahnle endured, who now has to prove his worth to be on the roster come Opening Day.
Fortunately for the Yankees, more of their relievers are coming into this year on a higher note than they did last season. Dellin Betances is the biggest example, as he was the lost man in the 2017 postseason and appeared to be more of the same early on last year. Betances righted the ship, and earned back his reputation as a stud reliever coming out of the back end of the ‘pen that could now see him entering games in the sixth, seventh, or eighth innings.
Aroldis Chapman (when healthy) was filthy in fulfilling his role as closer, and brought back some confidence in his longevity. Chad Green showed that his breakout 2017 season wasn’t a flash in the pan, racking up 94 strikeouts in a career high 75.2 innings. Jonathan Holder didn’t have the high expectations that the others carried, but he turned into a solid middle relief option for when the game doesn’t warrant bringing in the big guns.
It’s simple enough to say that the Yankees have improved simply because have a net positive on quality arms compared to this time last year, but the improvements are much deeper than this. They also dropped some dead weight in the form of Chasen Shreve (and, later in the season, A.J. Cole). Despite their setbacks, the team looks improved at every slot in the ‘pen, both in terms of who can pitch in each inning and how they’re carrying themselves into 2019.