The Yankees were supposed to ride the strength of their bullpen to many victories this season, but instead it is coughing up leads on a regular basis.
With right-handed reliever Dellin Betances on the injured list, the Yankees pen has been somewhat porous, creating some short term issues and -- worse -- setting the stage for potentially long term affects.
The most obvious effect of Betances' absence is that the bullpen loses one of its best performers. Betances is one of the top relief arms in the game -- let alone within the Yankees' bullpn -- a pitcher that can be relied on to hand off games to closer Aroldis Chapman.
Second, with Betances missing, the options for Aaron Boone drop considerably. Yes, this bullpen is supposed to be lock down throughout, but with Betances removed from the equation, someone else is pitching in circumstances they may not otherwise.
With Betances out, middle relievers like Jonathan Holder, Chad Green and Stephan Tarpley are being asked to handle situations they would rarely be in when the bullpen is completely healthy. Holder and Green were the most recent culprits in the inability to hold leads, allowing one run and three runs respectively in Tuesday's loss to the Astros.
For as good as Holder and Green were in 2018, neither has the track record that would distinguish them as high-leverage relievers as a rule, which is what they've been asked to be with Betances out. Neither has had much success, with Holder carrying a 5.40 ERA and Green hung with a 9.00 ERA. Tarpley (6.75 ERA) has proven to be inconsistent in 2019, which could be attributed to inexperience at this level.
Betances being unavailable for the eighth inning plus the ineffectiveness of Holder, Green and Tarpley has placed added pressure on Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino and Chapman. Britton and Ottavino coughed up a lead Monday in a loss to the Astros. Britton has battled performance issues, while Ottavino had been stellar until Monday.
Where the middle relievers should be more than able to handle the extra work, Britton and Ottavino might suffer the consequences of added appearances as the season progresses. This could also hold true to a lesser extent with Chapman.
Part of the luxury of having four high-leverage relievers is the ability to fluctuate work between them. Yes, there would be days when all four relievers would be asked to pitch. But more often, at least one would be able to find rest. In the early going this season, Ottavino has been the pitcher forced to get the brunt of the extra work.
Again, Ottavino has been quite good in his six appearances (he hadn't allowed a run until Monday), but they were over a 10-game stretch. Pitching in high pressure situations creating that kind of ratio surely weighs on a pitcher more and more as the season progresses.
Betances is set to throw it batters this week, with the potential for rehab appearances in the minors to follow. That means if all goes well, he could be back with the Yankees in a couple of weeks, which means that much more extra effort for the bullpen to endure.
The short term results have been evident, costing the Yankees games in the standings that might otherwise have been gained with Betances available. Worse, the long term impact of missing an important reliever like Betances could deter the Yankees from maximizing a presumed strength because the high-leverage relievers become overly taxed early in the season.