Pitching Staff

Forecasting the 2019 bullpen

The Yankees added a significant piece to their bullpen on Saturday by signing Zach Britton. Having Britton for a whole season gives manager Aaron Boone a different look out of the pen for the late innings. The addition of Britton will not only shore up the back end of the bullpen, but it will probably shift Chad Green back to a multi-inning “fireman” role where he has been so valuable in the past.

Let’s take a look at the bullpen forecast for next season.

Fangraphs currently has the Yankees bullpen projected for 6.1 WAR, and that’s without Britton. Adding in Britton’s projection gives them 6.9 WAR, which is the best in the game by a wide margin. The next closest team is the Brewers at 4.7 WAR. That’s more than a two win difference from just the second best bullpen.

The Yankees have done a really excellent job in the past few seasons squeezing out extra wins via their bullpen deployment, and it’s no secret that having 4-5 closers on the roster helps to accomplish that. This is the main reason the Yankees have been able to contend with a middling rotation the last two seasons.

Now that the Yankees have acquired James Paxton and resigned J.A. Happ, the overall run prevention from the pitching side of things looks a lot rosier than it has in the past.

Middle Inning Relievers:

Perhaps the quietest high quality reliever the Yankees had last season was Jonathan Holder. Holder broke out last year and pitched to a 3.14 ERA over 66 innings. His 1.3 WAR was a pleasant surprise and isn’t too shabby for the team’s fifth reliever.

It remains to be seen if Holder can replicate that type of production, but he is certainly a valuable commodity to have. The farm system keeps producing great complimentary players for the Yankees.

The other option the Yankees have in middle relief is Chad Green. The fact that the Yankees can utilize a reliever of this quality in the sixth or even fifth inning is a luxury that other teams just don’t have. Green could close for most any other team in baseball, but due to the depth the Yankees have, he is further down their depth chart.

Last season was another good one for Green. He threw 75.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, amassing 1.8 WAR. While Green’s strikeout rate was a tick down from his 2017 levels, he posted the best walk rate of his career with only 1.78 BB/9.

The Set-Up guys:

Britton, as we talked about, is a power lefty, with excellent ground ball rates. He gives the Yankees a completely different look from the left side. I can see him being deployed as the seventh inning-man, but also Boone can go to him if there is a jam and he needs a double play ball. Britton’s SMALLEST ground ball rate the last four years was 72.6% in 2017, which is bonkers. Bowling ball sinker, indeed.

Coming into last season, there was a lot of talk about Dellin Betances being “done,” although this writer never believed that. Because Betances is so tall, he will occasionally lose his control and that’s exactly what we saw at the end of the 2017 season; He was basically unusable in the postseason that year.

Luckily for the Yankees, a little off-season rest allowed Dellin to get back to his old dominating self. Betances threw 66.2 innings of 2.70 ERA ball in 2018, while posting a career high 15.53 K/9 strikeout rate. He is simply one of the best in the game. Look for him to reprieve his role as either the seventh or eighth inning-man next season.

The Closer:

Aroldis Chapman was having one of the best seasons of his career in 2018 before being sidelined with a knee injury. In the first half of the season, Chapman threw 40 innings with a minuscule 1.35 ERA. The second half? Only 11.1 innings with a bloated 6.35 ERA.

Chapman is still an elite closer, but his knee issues are a bit of a concern, because he came back with reduced velocity. See below for his average velocity by month:

Due to his reduced velocity, Chapman went to his slider 25.4 percent of the time last year which was the highest in his career. I think the fact that his velocity ticked back up in October is a good sign, and hopefully the off-season will give him the rest he needs to return to his first half form.

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