The backend of the Yankees bullpen is going to get a majority of the press when bullpens are compared team by team. As dominant as those relievers might be, the Yankees middle relievers are just as critical to the team's ability to reach the postseason in 2018.
We've discussed the five starting rotation members already in this series, and the common thread between each of them -- except maybe Luis Severino -- is their inability to consistently pitch deep into games. This is not uncommon in starting pitching around the league and the Yankees will have the benefit of leaning on its relief crew, but all of the pressure cannot go straight to the endgame crew.
We'll begin with Adam Warren, who produced an extremely under-the-radar performance in 2017. This is partially due to the time he was injured as well as the fact that Warren is the least flashy of the bullpen arms. Warren tossed 57 1/3 innings to the tune of a 2.35 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9. Warren held batters to a stingy .173 average, .491 OPS and allowed just four home runs.
Warren's importance to the club is his ability to provide lengthier appearances when required. Warren can come into a game in various spots and help the Yankees hold an early lead that the starter is unable to handle as well as enter into a tight ballgame with the intention of keeping the Yankees close enough for the offense to rally.
Warren, 30, should remain a consistently reliable reliever for the Yankees in 2018. In 60 innings, a 2.80 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9 seem like reasonable projections.
Despite the Yankees' contention they will test Chad Green in the rotation, we'll profile him here, where I believe he will ultimately end up. Green's value to the Yankees was tremendous in 2017, and there is little reason to believe he would not be able to replicate in this season.
In 67 innings as a reliever last season, Green registered a 1.61 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9 and a whopping 13.4 K/9. Green held batters to a ridiculous .143 average and .440 OPS, and allowed four home runs. Green came into games in various high-leverage spots early in ballgames in an effort to bail out the starter. As the game has progressed, this is an integral part to any club's structure.
Green was spectacular in the role, to the point where if any of the perceived late-inning relievers begin to falter, he will climb the ladder rather quickly. Green, who turns 27 in May, can be kept in the same role in 2018 provided all else is working smoothly throughout the bullpen, but in due time the right-hander could easily become the top set-up man to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.
Even with slight regression in 2018, Green can be projected to generate all-star level results. Across 80 innings (a notable increase in work), I'd expect Green to record a 2.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9 and a 12.9 K/9.
The Yankees will likely carry eight relievers for much of the season meaning there will be two spots available in the bullpen. One will likely be for a lefty and the other for either a long-man or a rotation of relievers from the minors.
They have the benefit of a deep 40-man roster filled with relievers. The Yankees might add more non-roster invitees -- they already have added lefty Wade LeBlanc and righty David Hale to minor-league deals -- to get into the mix with some of the holdover candidates.
Looking back to 2017, the Yankees used Chasen Shreve for 45 1/3 innings and Jonathan Holder for 39 1/3 innings. Shreve doesn't have the lefty spot locked down just because he maintained a role throughout much of 2017. Shreve's 3.77 ERA last season, proclivity to walk batters (5.0 BB/9), allow home runs (1.6 HR/9) saps his stellar strikeout rate (11.5/9). Shreve's main competition as of today would seemingly come from LeBlanc, as he's the only lefty reliever invited thus far to spring camp. There is a solid chance the Yankees add one or two more lefties on minor league contracts with spring training invites as well.
Holder (3.89 ERA, 1.8 BB/9 and 9.2 K/9) is in the same boat as Shreve in that there is no assurance he will be provided a constant presence in the Yankees' 'pen. There are right-handers -- Giovanni Gallegos, Ben Heller and Luis Cessa -- each with relief experience for the Yankees that maintain spots on the current 40-man roster, and minor leaguers J.P. Feyereisen and Cody Carroll will be righties to watch at the outset of spring training.
It's hard to speculate who those final spots will go to, so keep an eye on spring training performances as the Yankees will likely go with the hottest relievers early on considering the extensive strength of the six bullpen regulars.