What is going on with the Yankees bullpen?

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 27: Chad Green
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 27: Chad Green /

Coming into the season I don’t think there was any doubt that the Yankees would have the best bullpen in baseball. Eventually, that still may be the case but 11 games into the season they’ve really struggled and have yet to look like the dominant force they were a season ago.

The Yankees have only played a minimal 6% of their schedule this season, but so far the bullpen has a collective ERA of 5.16. Last year they had 3.34 over the course of a full season and in the second half, around the time they acquired Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, the pen was second best in the game with a 3.01 ERA.

Coming into the season you could argue that the Yankees had as many as four guys in their pen who could be closers for a lot of teams. A case could even be made for the always reliable Adam Warren but so far this season many of them have had a hard enough time just being quality set-up men.

In fact outside of last night’s 14-1 blowout against the Red Sox, every other Yankees loss this season could have been won if not for late-game blunders from their highly acclaimed pen. Of course, a lack of offensive production and clutch hitting has also contributed to the slow start but the Yankees have put themselves in a position to win 10 of the 11 games they have played.

Top relievers Chad Green (3.60 ERA) and David Robertson (5.40 ERA) have each seen their ERA’s rise with one poor outing in the early going, but for Tommy Kahnle last night wasn’t his first poor showing. After posting a career year between the Yankees and White Sox in 2017 he has looked like a shell of what he was over the first couples weeks of the season. His ERA is up to 7.11 after giving up three earned in last night’s series opener. During the outing, his velocity was down and his control has been way off (9.9 BB per 9) which makes you think he could be regressing after such a dominant season a year ago.

The same can be said for Dellin Betances (4.50 ERA) who has at times looked completely lost dating all the way back to last September. He’s recovered a bit since his brutal performance during the opening series in Toronto, but he still doesn’t look like a guy the Yankees can trust in late game situations. The same can be said for Warren (4.91 ERA) who took the loss in Sunday’s extra-inning game. Really other than Aroldis Chapman closing things out, nobody in the Yankees pen has been consistent with preserving leads.

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Since both Green and Robertson have only delivered the one poor outing it’s too early to panic about them. However, with all the other set-up guys struggling right now to get through innings cleanly there is a reason for concern.

Part of what made this bullpen so overpowering last year and in the postseason was the collective effort from top to bottom.

No matter what inning each reliever pitched in they would get the job done and pass the baton along to the next guy to do the same. This season we have yet to really see a complete shutdown performance from multiple relievers over the course of the same game.

Despite the poor start, one positive to look at is the fact that the Yankees bullpen is striking out more batters per 9 than anyone else in baseball by a wide margin (13.30 per 9). That’s no surprise when you look at all the power arms throughout their pen and it tells you that the stuff they’re throwing out there is still elite at times. However, they’ve also given up the third most home runs per 9 (1.39) so opposing teams have made them pay with the long ball when they’ve put runners on base.

Because of the high strikeout rates thus far and the outstanding numbers most of these Yankee relievers have posted in the past it should only be a matter of time before we see a turnaround. However, as a collective unit, this pen may never get back to being the overpowering force we saw them be down the stretch of last season. As I said before, it’s hard to have all of your relievers going well at the same time and there’s a chance that some of the guys in this pen could be candidates to regress moving forward.

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That’s not to say this bullpen won’t be the main strength of the team down the road, but to expect them all to be unhittable and carry them to a World Series may not be as realistic as we once thought.