Bullpen use is evolving in the Major Leagues and if there is a team that has a chance to utilize one of the "new" nuances, it is the New York Yankees.
I'm not speaking of the best relievers coming into games in the fifth or sixth inning as we saw often during the 2016 postseason. While the Indians' deployment of Andrew Miller demonstrated how effective teams can be when they employ relievers that are not only dominant, but can also last more than one inning in the process, such use throughout the regular season is seen as unrealistic.
The Yankees have two dominant relievers in Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, but each of them should be relegated to one-inning performances for the most part this season. If the club reaches the postseason, they could extend their appearances, but I don't expect it to happen often in the regular season.
From my view, I sense the Yankees will be involved in many close games this season. I believe the offense will be better as a whole in 2017 (with good health), which will help to offset certain issues with much of the starting staff, that will be happy to allow three runs in a six-inning start (4.50 ERA).
Joel Sherman of the New York Post stated recently that baseball seemed ready for the "hybrid reliever," a pitcher that would be used for various bullpen roles -- long man, short man and yes, even as a closer if necessary. While the Yankees will not be stretching their endgame relievers this season, they could make a habit out of rotating and extending as many as three pitchers in the middle innings of the ballgames.
The Yankees could convert up to three pitchers currently vying for the final two rotation spots into multi-inning relievers. I've been imagining that only two of those pitchers will be shifted to the bullpen with the third man out heading back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to remain stretched out.
For our purposes here, I'm restricting Luis Severino from use as a multi-inning reliever at the outset of the season. In my view, Severino is best suited to the Yankees as a starter in 2017 and it seems the club believes the same saying that he would be either make the rotation or head to Triple-A as a starter.
Leaving Severino to the side gives the Yankees four pitchers who have the ability to succeed as hybrid relievers - Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren. I won't get into who should be the Yankees' choice here (I've mentioned Mitchell and Warren in the past) because when it comes down to it, all four pitchers can handle either a starter or reliever role. The importance is that the Yankees will be well-served to work with at least two hybrid relievers in 2017.
The Yankees' rotation has just one pitcher - Masahiro Tanaka - who projects to provide six to seven innings of work on a regular basis. After Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia would be fortunate to average six innings per start, and the pitchers that win the fourth and fifth starter spots should not be assumed to provide any more. My contention is that rotating use of two of the starters as hybrid relievers will become important to the success of the club.
The Yankees' bullpen has four one-inning relievers - the endgame arms of Betances, Chapman and Tyler Clippard, and presumably left-hander Tommy Layne. In addition to the two pitchers who will lose the rotation battle, I would go so far as to say that the final reliever in the Yankees' bullpen should be able to handle lengthier outings as well, and the club benefits from having left-handed and right-handed options at their disposal. Further, this final spot can be used as the "Triple-A shuttle" reliever the Yankees have utilized over the last couple of seasons in an effort to have a completely fresh arm available when possible.
Since Clippard, Betances and Chapman will be relegated to one-inning appearances and Layne profiles as a same-sided pitcher, the cycling of the other three relievers will be critical. Generally speaking, they should not pitch in the same game, unless there is an extra-inning affair or if there is a day off following the contest. Further, if a reliever tosses two or more innings, he will need a day's rest in order to fully recuperate.
The other wrinkle is that there will be circumstances in which one of the endgame relievers will be unavailable after pitching for two or three straight days. This is going to require a separate juggling act by Yankees manager Joe Girardi. The good news is that since each of the hybrid relievers maintain solid fastball velocity and a quality second pitch, they can come in and close out a single inning with the lead while Girardi shifts the roles of the endgame regulars.
As the use of pitchers continues to trend toward shorter outings from starters and more important roles for relievers, the Yankees find themselves in a unique situation. The Yankees can jump to the forefront of the movement by not employing just one, but up to three hybrid relievers that can bridge the gap in middle innings on virtually a daily basis. If the Yankees can manage the process, it could thrust the club into postseason contention.