Yankees: What to make of the new-look bullpen heading into 2021


Following the trade of Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox, there were major concerns from the Yankees fanbase about the bullpen.

By moving on from Ottavino, the Yankees were able to repurpose his $9 million salary and use that money to sign two very different bullpen pieces: submarine righty Darren O’Day and lefty Justin Wilson.

By bringing on those two guys, Brian Cashman quickly patched up some significant question marked, all while still achieving the goal of staying under the luxury tax threshold.

The Yankees are building a bullpen based off of the Rays strategy from last season — never let a hitter see the same arm angle or pitch mix more than twice.

If we lay out the construction of the Yankees bullpen going into the 2021 season, there’s even more versatility than there’s been before:

Closer: LHP Aroldis Chapman

Setup man: LHP Zack Britton

Fireman: RHP Chad Green

Matchup based: RHP Darren O’Day, LHP Justin Wilson

Utility: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga

Middle relief: RHP Luis Cessa, RHP Mike King (a combination of Albert Abreu, Deivi Garcia, Brooks Kriske, Nick Nelson, Tyler Lyons and Clarke Schmidt, in no particular order).

To no surprise, Chapman will remain the closer as he continues to diversify his pitch mix by throwing his slider more and developing a split finger.

Britton has had an excellent career as a sinker baller, but his curveball has come along nicely over the past few years. He may very well may be the best setup man in the league.

Green has served as the team’s fireman — a reliever that comes in during a high-leverage situation to prevent runs — since 2017. He’s well known for his high spin on his fastball, and that has helped contribute to his success. His role will likely remain the same going into 2021.

Here’s where things get interesting. The Yankees will likely use Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson primarily as matchup-based relievers — O’Day facing righties and Wilson facing lefties.

O’Day is a right-handed submarine pitcher, one that pitches primarily up in the zone despite low velocity. He releases the ball at a much lower arm angle than any other pitcher in the bullpen. His addition offers a different look that can confuse hitters. His funky delivery limited righties to a .143 batting average, and a .224 slugging percentage during the 2020 season. O’Day will fill Ottavino’s role at a fraction of the price with much more career success.

Wilson will do the same on the other side of the plate. Some of you may remember him from his stint with the Yankees back in 2015, and much of his game is still the same. He still throws really hard and strikes out a lot of guys, but walks his fair share of batters too.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Wilson gives the Yankees an effective left-handed option out of the bullpen outside of the eighth and ninth innings. That’s right. No more Chasen Shreve or Luis Avilan. Wilson should be an effective replacement for Tommy Kahnle.

Now for the intriguing part. Boone recently said that Jonathan Loaisiga will be used in a number of different roles, making him a Swiss Army knife of sorts. He’ll just need to prove effective in one of them, which he’s yet to do. Loaisiga features an upper 90s fastball and a hammer curve, but has had trouble putting it together consistently.

To round things off we have the middle relief crew. These are the members of the bullpen we will expect to see in blowouts or when guys need rest.

Cessa will primarily be in this role, but expect the others listed above (King, Abreu, Garcia, Kriske, Nelson, Lyons and Schmidt) to be up and down from the minor leagues based on their ability to eat up innings.

In the end, the Yankees did a tremendous job addressing deficiencies in the bullpen all the while achieving their goal of remaining under the luxury tax threshold. Some fans might not agree with the limited spending, but at the very least, the right moves were made to take this unit to the next level.