If there was one thing the Yankees were the best at in 2018, it was hitting home runs. But the bullpen comes in a close second. This area of the team has been considered an extreme strength and was practically the lone bright spot in the postseason.
The Yankees had a wealth of high-powered arms, many of which could give Aaron Boone multiple innings when needed. For simplicity’s sake, we will only focus on the players who were staples of the bullpen (or who were expected to be) and who finished the year on the team. Without further ado, here are the grades for the pieces that graced the team’s bullpen in 2018, tailored to their expectations.
David Robertson: B+
Robertson continued his legacy as a jack of all trades reliever, pitching in a multitude of scenarios and parts of the game. He was a bit up-and-down, with rough months in May, July, and September, but overall he was more or less the same trustworthy reliever he has always been while in pinstripes. There’s not too much more to say about D-Rob other than the fact that it should definitely be strongly considered to bring him back.
Chad Green: B
While Green enjoyed another strong season, he did regress a bit. This was likely to be expected after his otherworldly 2017. Hitters only mustered a .145 batting average against him one year ago, and that jumped to .227 this past season. He threw his fastball a lot more this season (86.5 percent vs. 69.4 percent) and consequently his slider much less (10.2 percent vs. 22.1 percent). And on his fastball he was getting fewer whiffs per swing: 27.3 percent compared to 37.9 percent in 2017. Perhaps it was just hitters seeing more of him, as his velocity and spin rate were close to what they were last year.
What a difference a year makes. Betances was moved way down in the pecking order last postseason, only to regain his status as one of the game’s elite relievers in 2018. His K/9 was more or less the same as it was in 2017 (15.08 vs. 15.53), but his control was much better, as he walked only 3.51 per nine innings in 2018 compared to almost double that amount at 6.64 last season. His walk rate improvement was best in the league among pitchers who pitched at least 50 innings the past two seasons. He was also second in the league in terms of biggest strike rate improvements, leaping up to 65.2 percent from 58.6 percent. One the same note, he was among the leaders in biggest first-pitch-strike improvements, from 51.3 percent last year to 61.0 percent this year.
Betances’ stature and delivery sometimes make it difficult for him to consistently repeat his mechanics and keep them in check. If he is able to control that aspect of his game, he can continue to prove that the end of 2017 was merely a fluke.
Jonathan Holder: A-
Holder was to the Yankees in 2018 what Chad Green was to them in 2017. At least for the first half of the season when he pitched to a 1.85 ERA over 39.0 innings pitched. Take out a rocky March/April and he was even better – he allowed only one run in May and June combined (0.38 ERA). He really struggled in August, though, and that inflated his numbers. Barring a surprise, he will be in the bullpen on Opening Day in 2019 and will be looked upon to be another reliable arm for Aaron Boone to turn to.
Aroldis Chapman: A-
Chapman had a solid season – much more consistent than a year ago. The minus in his grade stems from the fact that he was hampered by tendinitis in his left knee that sidelined him for nearly a month. Additionally, he continued to struggle against the Red Sox, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on eight hits while walking two over six innings. Overall, he saved 32 games out of 34 opportunities, good for seventh in the league.
Zach Britton: B
Britton was acquired a week before the deadline to give the Yankees a quality left-handed arm out of the pen to pair with closer Aroldis Chapman. While it is virtually impossible for him to ever replicate his 2016 season in which he posted a 0.54 ERA (lowest single-season ERA by a pitcher with more than 50 innings pitched) and a ridiculous 803 ERA+, he has still been an above-average bullpen piece. He missed the first half of 2018 with a ruptured Achilles tendon but was solid with the Yankees. He had a 2.88 ERA over 25.0 innings, striking out 21, but he did walk 11, leading to a rather high 4.0 BB/9.
Tommy Kahnle: F
Kahnle did not have a lengthy track record of success, and so his regression shouldn’t be all that surprising. What was surprising, however, was his dip in velocity. His average fastball velocity fell over 2 miles per hour from 97.8 to 95.3. His secondary pitches also featured lower velocities: 86.3 miles per hour to 83.0 on his slider and 90.4 miles per hour to 88.6 on his changeup. Focusing on his fastball, opponents hit a whopping .383 against it in 2018. His fastball’s pVal/C was 1.2 in 2017 and -2.6 in 2018 – meaning he gave up 2.6 times the amount of runs per 100 pitches than the average.
A.J. Cole: C-
He had a few good outings but is not expected to be anything significant for the club moving forward.
Luis Cessa: D-
He once again has failed to solidify himself as an MLB piece.