Monday, August 19, 2019

Yankees Middle Relief Brings No Relief

Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Indians really highlights a huge issue for the otherwise juggernaut team. If the starting pitcher has a bad day, the Yankees do not have pitchers who can stop the bleeding. The team's strength, of course, is the team's offense and the back end of the bullpen. But since the Yankees rely on all four members of the back end in games where they are ahead and they are never asked to pitch more than two games in a row, the middle area of the bullpen must close the gap. And they cannot.

The problem begins with the starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka and Domingo German average slightly above five and two-thirds of an inning per outing. JA Happ, CC Sabathia and James Paxton average just slightly above five innings per outing and less than five and one-third. Everyone who follows the team knows that the lack of length (in innings) by this starting staff is a huge weakness. But since the Yankees did not (or would not) address the problem at the trade deadline, it is what it is and cannot be fixed.

If the Yankees are ahead in the game, then Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman must all pitch to cover the last four innings of the game. If the Yankee starters could go seven innings, then you could split the four and use two a night. That does not happen with this 2019 version of the New York Yankees. If you use all four two nights in a row, then the rest of the bullpen has to get the outs. They cannot. And sadly, the rest of the bullpen cannot even hold big leads forcing the back end of the bullpen into action when things seemed to be a done deal.

Let's look at the list of long relievers, middle relievers and the sad sacks of the rest of the Yankees' bullpen:
  • Jonathan Holder did a great job last season but has been a disaster this season. Now he is injured. His ERA is a bit inflated, but his FIP is not sterling and sits at 4.45. The strikeout rate is good, but he allows too many hits and homers.
  • Nester Cortez Jr. was cute for a while and heaven knows the Yankees' radio broadcasters love him. The cuteness has worn off and Cortez Jr. cannot seem to stop those tack-on runs from the other team that put games out of reach. He now has a 4.56 ERA and a FIP of 5.05. His WHIP is rapidly approaching 1.4.
  • Chance Adams did not work out. As much as Yankee fans who love prospects rooted for him, Adams does not look like a MLB pitcher. His numbers are simply horrid.
  • Stephen Tarpley has gotten a lot of air time and, at times, looked very good. But they have been too few and too far between. His WHIP is over 2, he walks too many batters and he gives up (like all on this list) a startling number of homers. He is now on the injured list.
  • Jonathan Loaisiga has only pitched in five games. And he has the proverbial "great stuff." But he cannot harness that stuff. His ERA is 5.94 and his FIP is slightly lower. His lack of command makes him unattractive. He has the stuff of a Luis Severino or a German. But until he can figure out some consistent way to make it work, he is not a good option.
  • Luis Cessa is a personal pet peeve. The ONLY reason he made the team out of Spring Training was that he was out of options and the Yankees did not want to lose him. That reality has made him like a Rule 5 player selection where the Yankees must keep him as part of the team all season. His ERA is 4.36, but his FIP is closer to five at 4.92. Cessa's most maddening trait is to get the first two outs of an inning and then walks a guy and all hell breaks loose.
  • Joe Harvey, Joe Mantiply and Brady Lail. Thanks for trying. We rooted for you.
  • David Hale is the only middle reliever that has gotten the job done. But he has a back issue and that is never good. He is out of action until, at least, the end of the month.
  • Chad Green has been a puzzle. At times he looks brilliant and then at times he is a mess. His overall numbers are bad. His ERA is 5.59 but his FIP is 4.19. His strikeout to walk rate is sparkling. But his WHIP and hits per inning are ugly. He was doing well as an "opener" and then he was not. 
What options do the Yankees have at this point? On the immediate end, there is not much. The team will probably give Loaisiga and Domingo Acevedo a shot at some point. The latter is intriguing. He has put up great strikeout rates an does not walk many (2.4 per nine). But he has given up a boatload of hits and homers for the Railriders in his first ten games. He is already on the 40-man Roster. And at some point, the Yankees will see what they have with Ryan Dull. Dull is also on the roster.

In the longer term, the Yankees can hope that Luis Severino can get back soon. He could pitch the remainder of the season in the bullpen, be an opener and add some quality innings. The same could be said of Jordan Montgomery. But Montgomery does not seem as close to returning as Severino. And, it would be great if Dellin Betances was ever available and can pitch close to his usual dominance.

It could not hurt things to try Loaisiga, Dull and Acevedo right now and DFA Cessa and Adams. The former has had four years to make his mark and has not. The latter simply does not seem to be a prospect any longer. Keep Chad Green and hope you get more good than bad. Hope that Hale comes back soon and limit Nester Cortez Jr. to one or two innings.

The reality is that the starting rotation will not get better. They cannot seem to limit the pitches per batter and per inning to get longer into games. The Yankees have to get a combination of relievers that can hold the other team to whatever damage the starters have allowed and give the offense a chance to get back in the game. Sabathia left after giving up four runs on Sunday. The Yankees scored four runs. Unfortunately, the bullpen coughed up another four runs making things a moot point and a loss.

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