Yankees’ demise stems from Adam Ottavino’s lackluster season

Yankees RHP Adam Ottavino (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Yankees RHP Adam Ottavino (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

It was a long 2020 for Adam Ottavino, and it will be a long offseason after the New York Yankees were eliminated.

Adam Ottavino throws two pitches: a fastball and a slider. When he is on, those two pitches move like wiffe balls, fluttering around the strike zone and eluding opposing bats. But when he’s off, the New York Yankees‘ right-hander loses his command, handing out free passes and allowing hits like he’s tossing BP.

Acquired before the 2019 campaign via free agency, Ottavino was coming off the heels of a tremendous season with the Rockies. He had tossed 77.2 innings, finishing with a 2.43 ERA and 112 strikeouts. And he continued to dominate in New York. During the 2019 season, Ottavino owned a 1.90 ERA over 66.1 IP while striking out an astounding 88 batters.

Stepping into last year’s postseason, the right-hander was viewed as a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen. Those lofty expectations were met by underwhelming results, as Ottavino would give up three runs over 3.1 innings of work, good for a whopping 8.10 ERA.

A delayed 2020 should have provided some relief for the New York native, but instead his performance was mind-numbing. Despite his incredible movement, Ottavino could not get hitters out. After posting a 1.08 ERA through his first eight appearances, Ottavino’s troubles began on Aug. 20 against the Rays.

In that outing, he gave up three runs in 0.2 IP, starting a downward spiral that reached epic proportions on a Monday night in Buffalo. Zero swings and misses, four hits, two walks, and six runs later, Ottavino failed to record an out against the Blue Jays. After that outing, Aaron Boone limited his usage for the remainder of the season, pitching him just seven times over the final 23 days.

With the injury Tommy Kahnle in the season’s first series, Ottavino’s role was magnified, and he failed mightily at filling it. Boone essentially halted his usage, a move that left the Yankees two high-leverage arms short in their bullpen. Interestingly enough, Ottavino allowed just one run over his final seven appearances, but the damage had already been done at that point.

The Yankees played seven games this postseason, and Ottavino was on the mound for only two outs. During that lone outing against the Rays, he gave up a run, capping off his 2020 postseason with a 13.50 ERA. But the real damage of Ottavino’s lackluster campaign was felt in the final two games of the ALDS against Tampa Bay.

Fast forward to Game 4, an elimination game for the Bombers, who were up 4-1 with nine outs remaining. Boone decided to get those final nine outs from Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman, as Chad Green had already been deployed. Normally, Boone would like to bridge the gap to Britton and Chapman, but his lack of faith in Ottavino and the injury to Kahnle changed everything.

Though the job got done in Game 4, the story was different on Friday night. In Game 5, the lack of Ottavino’s presence was felt the most, as Chapman was forced into a tie game with the daunting task of getting seven outs. If Ottavino had pitched well, he would have appeared before Britton, pushing both relievers back and potentially avoiding the series-ending home run off the bat of Mike Brosseau.

You can look at the invisible Yankees’ offense in Game 5 as the cause for their defeat, but there’s no question that Boone’s unwillingness to pitch a struggling Ottavino is what ultimately did the Yankees in. The 6-foot-5 reliever has yet to prove his ability as a big-game pitcher in his career, accumulating a 7.04 ERA over 12 postseason games.

And now, the Yankees head home early from the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, the World Series seemingly eluding what is perceived to be a championship-ready team. As always, injuries played a big role in the Yanks’ lack of success, as Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Kahnle were all unable to play come October.

If Ottavino was at all reliable, he could’ve alleviated those losses in some capacity, but instead it was like he was on the shelf like all the aforementioned guys, and that’s part of the disappointing story of 2020.