The bullpen for the Yankees has been the one piece of the puzzle that manager Joe Girardi has been able to count on all season. The starting rotation has been decimated by injuries. The lineup has been anemic and incapable of hitting for power or with runners in scoring position. The infield defense has been abysmal and depending on how you view the success the overshifting employed by the Yankees, could actually be even worse than what we have seen thus far. However, the bullpen has been the rock upon which Girardi has been able to lean on all season.
That rock, however, may be starting to show some wear and tear. Because of injuries to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the starting rotation, with the notable exception of Masahiro Tanaka, have not been able to pitch deep into games. The trio of Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Chase Whitley are only averaged just over five innings per start. That leaves the bullpen to get the other four (or more) innings in a game. All of that work adds up.
The Yankees lead the majors in relief appearances lasting over one inning, with 80 such appearances. Dellin Betances leads the way with 22 such appearances. For the sake of perspective, the Yankees only had 101 such relief appearances over the whole of the 2013 season. (h/t Michael Axisa, River Avenue Blues)
The Yankees need to keep Betances, Adam Warren, David Robertson and Shawn Kelley sharp and not work them to death. After throwing four innings in two days, Girardi stated that Betances was unavailable for last night’s game and perhaps today’s matinée as well. That leaves the Yankees short handed in the pen. Fortunately, Hiroki Kuroda finally gave the Bombers some length, pitching eight strong innings in last night’s loss.
Girardi is known for his mastery of managing a bullpen. While he predecessor, Hall of Famer inductee Joe Torre, would run the same arms out to the mound every night without regard for anyone’s long term health or the team’s long term plans, Girardi has taken a more measured approach in recent years. Many Yankee fans remember the “Joba Rules” that were put in place to restrain Torre from abusing the wunderkind Joba Chamberlain. Girardi has developed an approach that still uses the spirit of those guidelines. But this season has been unique in the sheer magnitude of outs that the bullpen has been tasked with providing. Someone has to work these innings and get these outs everyday.
The answer for Girardi may come in the form of a new bullet for his bullpen gun. While the middle and set up men have been suberb this season, Kelley’s recent struggles since his return from DL notwithstanding, the back end of the bullpen has been revolving door between the Bronx and AAA Scranton. Alfredo Aceves, Jose Ramirez, Matt Daley, Wade LeBlanc, Jim Miller, Preston Claiborne, and David Huff have all rode the shuttle due to ineffectiveness in the role. The acquisition of another reliever would provide some stability to the back end of the pen in addition to providing Girardi another weapon to use instead of beating Betances and Warren into the ground.
Of course, getting more innings out of the starting staff and more runs on the board would help ease the strain on the bullpen too. But considering the age of this lineup and the lack of game changers on the trade market, picking up an extra arm to shore up the bullpen seems like the least expensive and most likely way to prevent the bullpen from blowing up due to overwork.