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Green, O’Day among reasons Yankees don’t need to add lefty reliever

The Yankees took an early hit to one of their biggest strengths Tuesday. It was announced left-hander Zack Britton will need arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip in his pitching elbow. Britton, arguably the Yankees’ best reliever, is expected to be out until mid-June at the earliest.

Nobody the Yankees can sign will be able to replace Britton’s production and value to the team. Not many relievers in the league could. The Yankees will have to replace him, however, and that will probably be an in-house option to start the season. Brian Cashman and company shouldn’t feel like they need to carry an extra lefty to replace Britton though.

Good lefty relievers are not easy to find in this league, but the Yankees have been fortunate to run out Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in recent years. More than that, the organization has made it a priority to target relievers that can get both lefty and righty batters out, no matter which arm they throw with.

The 2021 Yankees are no different in their diverse options in the bullpen. Chapman is a lefty that will close and Justin Wilson is another lefty who was signed this offseason, leaving the Yankees with two above-average to great options from that side; which is two more than many teams have. But a handful of right-handed relievers for the Yankees are just as lethal against lefties, some even more so.

Two of the biggest names in the Yankees’ bullpen are Chad Green and Darren O’Day and it’s no surprise both pitchers can dominate batters from either side of the plate. The two were going to split setup duties with Britton anyway, but now they’ll have to carry more of the load while Britton is out. If past experiences are any indication, they will be more than up for the task.

For his career, Green is holding lefties to a paltry .214 batting average against (BAA) with 6.57 strikeouts per walk (SO/W). Compare that to his .217 and 4.14 numbers against righties and you can see how great he is at limiting lefties to reach base. His OBP against righties sits at .276 and an even better .267 against lefties. The only blemish for Green against lefties is home runs allowed. He’s given up two more home runs in around 100 fewer at-bats to lefties.

O’Day on the other hand is more effective against righties, but still holds his own against lefties and can be trusted to get them out. It would be nearly impossible to top O’Day’s .193/.262/.287 line against righties. However, his .228/.299/.411 line against lefties is more than adequate. Like Green, O’Day can struggle with the long ball to lefties. O’Day’s career 2.88 SO/W rate versus lefties isn’t something that jumps off the page, but his strikeouts have increased across the board the last few seasons.

The dominance of Britton isn’t easily replaced, but his numbers against lefties aren’t much different than Green or O’Day. Britton, more of a sinkerball pitcher, has a 2.76 SO/W rate versus lefties–similar to O’Day and well short of Green. Britton’s .214 BAA is the same as Green and his .288 OBP sits in between Green and O’Day’s figures. The one thing Britton is able to do against lefties is to neutralize their power. In eight seasons, Britton has given up 12 home runs to left-handed hitters. He has given up 138 hits against lefties in his career, but only 192 total bases.

In a moment we will get to what makes Green and O’Day so effective against lefties, but first, let’s add two more names to our list of Yankees relievers who perform as well against lefties as righties: Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa. Both are interesting this season cause they may be relied on to pitch in a handful of capacities for the Yanks.

With Wilson, Green, O’Day and Chapman holding down the late innings, the rest of the bullpen will be fighting for outs at various points of the game. Loaisiga, Cessa, Michael King, Nick Nelson and possibly Deivi Garcia or Domingo German may all see themselves shuffled from middle relief to long relief to starting rotation to spot starter and even opener in 2021. That’s not even to mention Albert Abreu or Clarke Schmidt.

Loaisiga has a pedigree he hasn’t lived up to yet, but he’s faced just 30 fewer lefties than righties thus far in his career, meaning Boone doesn’t see him as a platoon man. His 3.50 SO/W to lefties compared to 2.17 against righties shows he can be deceiving to lefties, though he’s much more hittable with a .289 BAA compared to .235. Overall, his .784 OPS versus lefties is slightly under his .790 OPS versus righties.

Cessa might upset fans because he’s not one of the big names in the back of the ‘pen, but he’s been reliable, if unspectacular, for four of five seasons in pinstripes. As with the others on this list, Cessa can go at lefties as good as righties. In fact, most stats paint the picture of him pitching better to lefties. For his career, Cessa has more strikeouts per walk and lower BAA, OBP and SLG percentages against left-handed bats.

There are some lefty non-roster invitees in camp that the Yankees would be wise to keep around as depth if possible, but the front office shouldn’t feel pressured to carry one of them out of the gates. Tyler Lyons, Nestor Cortes, Trevor Lane and Lucas Luetge are the main lefties fighting for a bullpen spot, but Cashman and Boone have plenty of intriguing options currently on the 40-man roster.

If the Yankees have to rely on Loaisigia, Cessa or any other of their bullpen carousel to get the most important outs against lefties they may be in trouble, but they can at least feel good in knowing they have Green and O’Day at the ready.

Brooks Baseball is a great place to find all kinds of data and charts for pitchers and hitters. They can create some really detailed and modern stats. Here are two simple charts to detail what makes Green and O’Day effective against lefties. The first chart is the percentage of pitches Green has used his fastball against righties and lefties. Before the truncated 2020 season, Green had been steadily increasing the number of fastballs he threw lefties while decreasing that percentage against righties. Without a changeup to neutralize lefties, he’s turned to elevating that fastball. Hence the big number of strikeouts, low number of hits but higher rate of home runs.

O’Day on the other hand wants to go low and away with his pitches against lefties, as shown in the heat chart below. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball averages just 86 mph, but his sidearm delivery and backdoor slider, along with staying out of the sweet down and in zone of lefties is what makes him so effective.

With Britton, hopefully, only out a few months, the Yankees can rely on in-house options to attack lefties to start the season. Cessa and Loaisiga are capable righties in the middle innings while Green and O’Day can neutralize lefties in important situations and later in the game. Thus the Yankees shouldn’t feel pressured to carry another lefty when they break camp.