The Yankees bullpen has the overall effectiveness and depth necessary for Aaron Boone to reconfigure the situational usage of his available relievers. Using the Fangraphs measurement, Leverage Index (LI), and the more precise, gmLI, the actual usage of their relief pitchers will be examined against the proposed method of situational usage.
There has been more speculation in recent years about the potential for managers to reconfigure their bullpen usage. Instead of the traditional sort of reliever usage that stacks a bullpen’s top three arms in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings, the Yankees should start deploying their top relievers in the highest leverage spots throughout every game.
An optimal measurement of reliever leverage situations is the aforementioned gmLI, produced by Fangraphs to measure a pitcher’s average Leverage Index when he enters the game. Leverage Index itself is an attempt to measure “how on the line the game is at that particular moment.” The higher the gmLI a reliever possesses, the higher intensity and leverage situations they enter the game too.
From Fangraphs’ statistics charting gmLI one can see that the 2018 Yankee bullpen had arguably their top four relievers (Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green) with the highest gmLI scores. In 2019, however, Jonathan Holder has the third highest gmLI score; well ahead of Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, and Tommy Kahnle.
The premise of this theory is that the last six to nine outs are not always the most strenuous, high-leverage outs of a game. The tipping point of a game could happen in the fifth inning. If there is a high-leverage situation in the fifth inning of a game, for instance, bases loaded and one out in a tie ballgame, the Yankees should look to deploy someone like Britton or Kahnle instead of someone like Stephen Tarpley or Jonathan Holder.
Using one of a team’s top three or four relievers to extinguish a fire, so to speak, earlier in the game gives the team a better chance to stay in the game, and ultimately have a better chance to win. Once the metaphorical fire is extinguished, the Yankees can deploy someone like Cessa or Holder to pitch the sixth and/or seventh.
The Yankees want to use their most trustworthy relievers in the most important parts of the game. Not everyone can come into a bases-loaded jam and have the confidence to execute their pitches and get out of the inning with little to no damage.
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Choose one of Britton, Adam Ottavino, Kahnle, and hopefully Betances at some point to get out of an early jam in the fourth or fifth while letting Holder, Cessa, etc. start a clean sixth or seventh inning. Spare the ninth inning, there will be less stress, pressure, and leverage on a reliever if they come into the game with no outs and no runners on.
This strategy has been used before, but never consistently during the regular season. In the 2016 Playoffs, the Cleveland Indians ran out Andrew Miller, arguably their top reliever, as their situational arm no matter the inning. If there was a high leverage jam early in the game, Terry Francona did not hesitate to bring in Miller to get out of it.
The Yankees used their bullpen depth in a similar way during the 2017 Playoffs, most notably in the AL Wild Card Game against the Twins. Joe Girardi brought in Chad Green with one out in the first inning, down 3-0, with runners on second and third to get out a huge jam. The game could have been blown open and lost right then and there.
Two years later the Yanks still have a deep and versatile pen to use this formula on a day-to-day basis during the regular season.