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The Yankees bullpen: What went wrong and where to go from here

Entering 2020, the Yankees seemed to be favorites for the American League and able to make a legitimate push for the World Series. They had a lineup that had no easy outs in it. Signing Gerrit Cole helped bolster their rotation and their bullpen appeared to be a staple for the team like it was in 2019. Fast forward seven months, and the Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS. There is plenty of blame to throw around, but the truth is, their bullpen did not perform near the expectations set in 2019 and it was a major reason for their downfall.

So what went wrong with the bullpen? Last year, they stepped up and held leads and kept games close time and time again. This year was a different story. Let’s take a closer look at the 2019 bullpen versus the 2020 bullpen and what they should do moving forward to improve it.


In 2019, through the first 60 games, the Yankees bullpen ranked as the best in the league. The Yankees were injury riddled for much of 2019, however, they were 38-22 in through their first 60. Considering all the injuries they had in the lineup and starting pitching last year, their bullpen was the main reason for their success early last year.

Through the first 60 games of 2019, their bullpen posted a 3.74 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .291 BABIP and a 3.6 WAR. Several players stepped up in a big way including Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Holder.

Adam Ottavino had a tremendous first year in pinstripes. He posted a 1.27 ERA with a .241 BABIP, 1.24 WHIP and a 0.5 WAR through the first 60 games of 2019.

Tommy Kahle also had an excellent first 60 games and season overall. Through the first 60,he posted a 1.48 ERA, .216 BABIP, 0.86 WHIP and a 0.6 WAR.

Although they fell short of their goal in 2019, their bullpen was one of the biggest reason they had the success they had.


This was a weird, unprecedented season. Players had little time to warm up for the shortened season and starting a season in July can throw players off. However, we saw other teams like the Rays and Dodgers step up, there was no reason the Yankees couldn’t do the same.

In 2020, the Yankees bullpen had a 4.51 ERA, .274 BABIP, 1.34 WHIP and a 0.7 WAR. The bullpen pitched 205.1 innings compared to 226 through the first 60 in 2019. However, they gave up 103 earned runs and 32 home runs compared to 94 and 26 respectively the previous season. The injury to Kahnle was a big reason for the struggles, but the rest of the bullpen was unable to step up when needed.

Adam Ottavino underperformed compared to 2019. In 2020, he had a 5.89 ERA, .375 BABIP, 1.58 WHIP and a 0.2 WAR. Boone lost trust in him late in the season. He only appeared in 1 Post Season game and pitched 0.2 innings and gave up 1 run.

Jonathan Holder also had a rough season yet again. He posted a 4.98 ERA with a .301 BABIP giving up 13 earned runs in only 18 appearances.

Outside of Zack Britton, none of the Yankees big four relievers has an ERA below 3.00. Having an unstable bullpen on top of an already unstable rotation was a recipe for disaster for them. The bullpen blew several leads and struggled holding leads when they had them.

Losing Kahnle for the shortened season and Ottavino unable to get back to his former self  ultimately played a big factor in the way the season ended.

Moving Forward

They need to make a move or two to get the bullpen back to what it was in 2019. If they can dump Ottavino’s $9 million salary, it would free up money for other moves.  The Yankees non-tendered Kahnle last week and there will be plenty of question marks surrounding their entire pitching staff. No one stepped up and was able to mirror Kahnle’s presence, they should look in free agency or trades to replace him. Liam Hendricks, Blake Treinen and David Robertson are all intriguing options this offseason to reload their bullpen.

If the Yankees want to get back on track, they need to bolster their bullpen once again. In 2019, it was a major reason the Yankees won 103 games despite their never ending injuries.

What do you think the Yankees should do with the bullpen this offseason? Leave a comment or tweet me @SashaLueck and let me know!