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Aaron Boone open to using an “opener” in 2019

 

A rough week for the Yankee pitching staff took an interesting turn yesterday, when Aaron Boone confirmed to Bryan Hoch that he would consider using an opener during certain points of the season.

“I could see it being something we consider from time to time. I don’t see it a lot, but I could see it coming into play on certain occasions. There’s so many things that for us would go into that.”

The timing of the quote makes sense. On Tuesday, the Yankees announced that an MRI had revealed inflammation in the right rotator cuff of staff ace Luis Severino, who is now expected to miss most of April. Additionally, 38-year-old lefty CC Sabathia will not be ready to start the season either. Sabathia is coming along slowly after an offseason heart scare and knee surgery. With a suddenly thin rotation, it makes sense for the Yankees to lean on their biggest strength: their bullpen.

The Yankees have the best bullpen in baseball. In fact, it’s not even remotely close. Their projected bullpen WAR of 7.9 is the highest prediction ever recorded by ZIPS. If you’re not into projections, the Yanks broke the record for bullpen WAR last year, registering at 9.7 (Fangraphs). Five of the top twenty relievers in baseball reside in the Bronx. Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman are a terrifying quintuplet for opposing teams. Getting the most out of them via using an opener makes sense.

Which reliever is best suited to be an opener? To me, the answer is Green. With one or two days of rest before, he could come out and pump fastballs for 40-45 pitches and up to two innings. Green thrived pitching every third game down the stretch in 2017, and he has shown the versatility to dominate in any situation. Never was this more apparent than when he entered the 2017 wild card game in the 1st inning, shutting the Twins down and saving the season.

Chapman has closed for essentially his entire career and should remain in the ninth inning role. Ottavino is going to be doing enough adjusting in his first year in New York, and putting this on him doesn’t make sense. Britton could be a candidate if a team has a left handed heavy top of the lineup. I don’t love the idea of Betances dealing with speedy guys at the top of the order given his troubles holding runners on.

Part of the reason the Yankees hired Aaron Boone is that he embraces analytics, and the Yanks seem to have concluded that starting a game with an elite reliever over a mediocre starter enhances their chance to win. Last year the Yankees watched Sonny Gray, Domingo German, and especially Luis Cessa kill their chances of winning by getting bombed in the first inning. With the AL East looking like the best division in baseball, they cannot afford to punt games in the first inning again.  Management has realized this, and they will utilize the best bullpen in baseball as they see fit.

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