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How Stephen Tarpley could play into the Yankees bullpen this year

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The 26-year-old got a little playing time towards the end of 2018, but could see a lot more this season.

Stephen Tarpley averaged 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched for the Yankees in 2018. Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees bullpen is hailed as one of, if not the, best in the league. Most of that praise comes from the sheer number of relievers who could be closers on other teams. It’s not going to be a fun day for any opposing lineup when, after chasing the starter from the game, they have to then get through some combination of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, and Chad Green.

Unfortunately, it would be in the Yankees' best interests if they didn't unload their entire bullpen arsenal on opponents every night. At least in the regular season. Burning out the bullpen before October is always an imminent threat to teams, and the Yankees have to be especially careful because it is an area to which they have dedicated a significant portion of their resources. It won’t do them any good to shut the door on hitters in May if several of their arms are down by August, and maintaining that balance will be a critical part of playing out the six-month season.

Thus, it is still very important that the Yankees' bullpen floor remain still, and there are a couple names that could give them decent production there. One of the most interesting is Stephen Tarpley, a rookie who got his first taste of the major leagues in a pennant race last season. Tarpley didn’t play much, just tossing nine innings for the team across ten games, but the Yankees saw enough in him already to add him to the postseason roster.

Tarpley didn’t contribute much to the run there either, appearing only in mop-up duty in easily the most putrid game of the year. Contributing wasn’t the priority then, the experience was. Now, however, he may be set up to contribute in a sizeable portion for 2019. Steamer projects Tarpley to put in 30 innings of work in this year, a not-insignificant amount for a rookie to get playing along such established names.

Tarpley has the tools to make those innings low-stress and effective. He offers a different view from the flamethrowers that the Yankees keep in the back of the ‘pen, sitting around 93 mph with his fastball and pairing it with a sharp slider and the occasional curveball or changeup. His pitch speed doesn’t change drastically, put his movement is enough to fool hitters and avoid big blows.

There’s another value to Tarpley that the Yankees lost a chunk of over the past year. Tarpley still has minor-league options, something that pitchers like Luis Cessa who used to function in this role no longer have. This allows the Yankees to have a rare bit of flexibility in a mostly lock-tight roster, for times when Tarpley is burned throwing an extended outing. It also means that if Tarpley underperforms in spring, the Yankees don’t have to carry him into Opening Day and can instead roll with Cessa or Tommy Khanle to start until Tarpley works out the kinks in his game.

Tarpley's remaining options provide the Yankees some needed flexibility on a stacked roster, and his left-handedness brings a different element to a bullpen whose only big-name southpaw is Chapman. Perhaps he will be forced to ride Scranton Shuttle on occasion, but he stands to help the team on margins throughout the season.