Yes, the New York Yankees have compiled one of the best backend of the bullpen combinations in all of baseball. But, in doing so, have the Yankees neglected to pay enough attention to how the club will reach the dominant combination of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman?
We touched on the fact that the starting rotation held some of the responsibility some weeks back, mentioning the importance of each member's ability to pitch deeper into games if they wanted to be considered an ace. Even if this improves across the line, the backend of the bullpen cannot pitch daily.
This makes the relievers charged with providing middle relief innings, as well as aiding the backend of the bullpen when rest is needed, quite important. To that end, the Yankees have decided to take a pretty big chance on relatively inexperienced relievers.
It begins with Ivan Nova, an experienced pitcher, but one with just 17 2/3 innings in relief. Should the rotation consist of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka as expected, Nova will be relegated to long relief. That would allow for three more bullpen spots to be managed by Joe Girardi; though there is a chance the club could rotate another arm in there on occasion by optioning a bench player.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to New York shuttle of last season could surely be used once again in 2016. If we look at the current 40-man roster there are eight relievers who could become a part of that shuttle - Johnny Barbato (right-handed), Nick Goody (RH), Jacob Lindgren (left-hander), James Pazos (LH), Branden Pinder (RH), Nick Rumbelow (RH), Chasen Shreve (LH) and Kirby Yates (RH). There has been some discussion of Bryan Mitchell (RH), a starter by trade, grabbing a bullpen role but that would seem to be only if Nova is needed for the rotation.
The Yanks have two non-roster invitees in veteran righty relievers at spring camp - Vinnie Pestano and Anthony Swarzak - that are being considered for roles as well.
Of the 11 pitchers, Shreve would seem to have the upper hand on getting a spot based on his 2015 season in which he tossed 58 1/3 innings with a 3.09 ERA and 9.9 K/9. Shreve was part of the deal that brought David Carpenter to the Yankees for Manny Banuelos. Carpenter was designated for assignment and Shreve took off. Shreve hit a wall in September after what many believe was a case of overwork. At 25, Shreve could be a big factor in the Yankees pen.
That would leave two spots. Shreve would give the Yankees three lefties, but it would not be shocking if the club still decided to add either Lindgren or Pazos. Lindgren is a hyped-prospect who had a rough go in a short stint with the Yanks in 2015 and then missed significant time due to surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow.
Pazos had a better experience in 2015, tossing five innings in 11 appearances with a 0.00 ERA with the Yankees after working through two levels of the farm system where he tossed a combined 42 2/3 innings with a 1.27 ERA and 10.3 K/9. Neither Lindgren nor Pazos are considered lefty specialists, so adding them to the mix over a right-hander despite the lefty-heaviness shouldn't be a concern for Girardi.
Barbato might be the name least known of the list, but his Triple-A numbers from 2015 - 14 games, 25 innings, 0.36 ERA and a 9.4 K/9. Barbato owns a 3.55 ERA in 317 minor league innings and a 9.3 K/9. Barbato, 23, has had a nifty spring thus far which could put him closer to the forefront when discussing which right-handed relievers might break camp with the Bombers. Important to Barbato's chances to making the club is that he can pitch multiple innings if needed.
Goody, 24, was fantastic climbing three levels through the 2015 season eventually making five appearances with the Yankees. His minor league numbers were stellar - 62 1/3 IP, 1.59 ERA, 12.1 K/9 across Double-A and Triple-A.
Pinder, 27, spent the most time of the returning youngster with the Yankees - 27.2 IP, 2.93 ERA, 8.1 K/9.
Rumbelow, 24, threw 52 1/3 innings at Scranton in 2015 compiling a 4.27 ERA with a 9.7 K/9. Rumbelow made 17 appearances with the Yankees with similar results - 15 2/3 IP, 4.02 ERA, 8.6 K/9.
In considering the veteran relievers at camp, Yates might have a better chance of cracking the roster simply because he is on the 40-man roster, while Pestano and Swarzak would likely have to be fairly dominant combined with poor spring showings from many of the youngsters. Pestano has had the most major league success of the three players, but it goes back to a two-season stretch from 2010-11 with the Cleveland Indians in which he tossed 132 innings with a 2.45 ERA and a 10.9 K/9. Pestano is now looked at as a reclamation project.
One thing that might aid the veterans is Chapman's suspension. For the first 30 games of the season, the Yankees will be down one reliever. So, there is a chance that Girardi wants to have a veteran presence with Chapman out. Not that any of them would receive high-impact innings, but rather provide some balance to the number of youngsters in the bullpen.
Another consideration related to Chapman's suspension is that it is going to force the Yankees to lean on Betances and Miller to close out the final two innings of games until May 9. The one thing the Yankees cannot do is overwork Betances and Miller early on, meaning someone will need to step up to cover the role of the seventh inning.
That same reliever will likely be relied upon throughout the season in an effort to keep Betances, Miller and Chapman from tiring. Girardi will be wise to use some sort of alternation of his top three relievers in an effort to keep them fresh. However enticing it might be to run them out there each night the Yankees have a slim lead in the seventh (or even sixth) inning that might prove to be the undoing of the club come September.
If I was to guess who will be in the group that breaks camp with bullpen roles along with Nova, Betances and Miller I can come up with just one favorite and that's Shreve.
I would not imagine the Yankees would carry both Lindgren and Pazos on the club at the same time without one of the main lefties being hurt. As for the remaining right-handers, Goody has the shinier minor league resume, while Pinder and Rumbelow are a bit more seasoned with more time at Triple-A, not to mention the longer stay with the big club in 2015. My wild card would be Barbato, but he'll have to continue to dominate.
I suspect the final two spots will be rotated often especially early on to accomplish two things; keep the arms fresh and to see to who might stick with the club for the longer term. Again, it would not be surprising if the Yankees sent down a bench player when needed to bump the relief crew to eight strong.
Summing up, the Yankees have a slew of young, slightly experienced arms ready to take charge of the middle innings. At least two of them will have to step up and become consistent options for Girardi to employ in stressful middle-inning situations throughout the season. This is especially true when Chapman is unavailable. After that, the revolving door of fresh arms could once again be a key to the team's postseason aspirations.