Building a strong bullpen is both the easiest and hardest thing for any Major League GM to accomplish. It is easy because solid relievers can come out of nowhere. Most, like Wade Davis last year or even the great Mariano Rivera, were failed starters who flourished when moved to short relief.
There are a collection of minor league pitchers who can throw 60 effective innings for an MLB team in any given year. However, due to the small sample of innings, these relievers are also subjected to the vagaries of random variation more than starting pitchers. Just a few more balls in play finding holes or fly balls becoming home runs can drastically alter a reliever’s stat line. Additionally, relievers get hurt very often and can see a drastic drop-off in performance without warning. They burn hot and fast. This makes it very hard to know if a given team’s bullpen will be above average going into the year. In fact, it is so difficult to project bullpens that it is most effective to project each bullpen to be league average. Despite the difficulty in projecting bullpens, the Yankees seemed to have gathered a deep stable of power arms in the bullpen going into 2015.
Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Chasen Shreve, and Esmil Rogers project to start the year with the team. That is 4 righties and 3 lefties. None have drastic platoon splits to the point where they are xOOGYs. All of them miss bats. Other 40-man relief pitching options include Chase Whitley, Jose Ramirez, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, newly acquired Chris Martin, and the Yankees’ 2014 first draft pick Jacob Lindgren.
Purposefully or not, the Yankees seem to be copying the Royals model: above average defense with an elite bullpen to limit the weight on the offense and starting pitching. Of course, the Royals outperformed their 3rd order win percentage by 10 games. Having an elite bullpen that doesn’t allow other teams to score in innings 7-to-9 can hide a lot of other team flaws. The Yankees might have that going for them in 2015.
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The roles for these pitchers are not yet determined. Pitchers like to know what inning they will be pitching, which is completely understandable. However, it would be cool if Joe Girardi was able to mix and match based on handedness and leverage rather than marrying pitchers to innings. Girardi will inevitably name a closer heading into the regular season and the rest of the pieces will fall into place. The roles will almost certainly be a fluid thing as players get hurt or overperform/underperform expectations. Regardless, the Yankees’ bullpen will somewhat mitigate the injury risk in the starting rotation and should shorten games for opponents, limiting their opportunities to score runs. It’s very close to fool proof. Whoever Girardi summons from the bullpen will be able to effectively record outs against righties and lefties.