With just days until the Division Series opens, we still don’t know how the Yankees will organize their bullpen for the game.
The team has their top five relievers — Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman — set in stone behind their three main starting pitchers. Starters CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ are likely to join the bullpen. However, it’s still a mystery which other relievers the Yankees will roster and just how many.
The Bombers could go with as few as 11 pitchers — just one more pitcher — or as many as 13 arms, most likely in the 12-13 range. The respective absences of Dellin Betances and Domingo German made the last few weeks an open competition for the final spots.
Of the other pitchers on the 40-man roster (sorry, Deivi), here are the top candidates: Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Cory Gearrin, Ben Heller, Tyler Lyons and Stephen Tarpley. Here’s how they rank by leverage index entering games in September:
- Cessa: 1.12
- Lyons: 0.65
- Gearrin: 0.59
- Heller: 0.51
- Tarpley: 0.42
- Loaisiga: 0.36
From that alone, you can tell that the team has trusted Cessa to bigger spots, allowing him to pitch in high-leverage spots three times in the last month alone, including once in extra innings.
Now, here are some of the basic stats for each pitcher out of the Yankees’ bullpen this season, ordered by ERA:
- Heller: 7.1 IP, 1.23 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 32.1 K%, 10.7 BB%, 1.23 HR/9
- Loaisiga: 19.2 IP, 3.20 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 28.4 K%, 11.1 BB%, 1.37 HR/9
- Cessa: 81 IP, 4.11 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 21.9 K%, 9.0 BB%, 1.56 HR/9
- Lyons: 8.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 5.98 FIP, 35.3 K%, 5.9 BB%, 3.12 HR/9
- Gearrin: 14 IP, 4.50 ERA, 4.79 FIP, 13.1 K%, 6.6 BB%, 1.29 HR/9
- Tarpley: 23.2 IP, 5.70 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 30.1 K%, 4.14 BB%, 1.14 HR/9
Outside of Cessa, these were some small samples, particularly the long shot Heller, who was working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He’s worth mentioning as a possibility, but he hasn’t worked in high leverage spots. Let’s disregard him for now, though he’s looked good this month.
Meanwhile, this leaves out Loaisiga’s brief stint as a starter in April, as well as Gearrin’s numbers in Seattle, which improve his overall line.
The Top Tier
Cessa, Loaisiga and Gearrin. None of the trio distinguished themselves down the stretch as they each gave up runs in the last week of the season. Still, the three righties each bring something to the table.
Cessa has been the team’s designated innings eater this year. He led all Yankee relievers in innings pitched (81) and served as both a mop-up man and bulk pitcher, with the occasional high-leverage spot mixed in. You won’t mistake him for an elite reliever, but he can give the team length and had a strong outing against the Twins in July.
Loaisiga is the most talented pitcher on the bubble. As I detailed two weeks ago, his stuff is electric, but his command is sub-par. I’d grind my teeth if he’s pitching high-leverage, but he has the makings of a back-end reliever with some refinement. That might not be this season though.
Gearrin is the veteran with the most experience. At 33, he’s in his eighth MLB season and has a 3.64 ERA across 302 innings. The Twins hit him well in a small sample, but Gearrin is most effective as a ROOGY. Have him face lefties and you tempt fate, but he can get righties out at a decent clip (.252/.338/.341 in 154 PAs this season).
Tarpley and Lyons. They’re under consideration for one reason: Their southpaw status. The two lefties could be deployed, particularly on 13-man pitching staff, as LOOGYs to attack Minnesota’s left-handed hitters. Presumably, Sabathia would serve a similar purpose in October, so these guys could be superfluous.
Lyons didn’t excel against lefties in pinstripes. Lyons allowed two homers to lefties and had a .267/.313/.667 mark against same-sided hitters, though he also struck out eight of the 16 he faced. Tarpley, who was hit around by righties, held lefties to a .200/.289/.300 mark over 11 2/3 innings with just one homer and 18 strikeouts.
Tarpley has been the better of the two, but he’s been asked more often to work as a full-inning reliever to his own detriment. He’s a fringe candidate for the postseason roster, but he’s a better one than Lyons.
With a crowded group of position players, the Yankees should go with just 12 pitchers in the five-game Division Series. Even with some key lefties in the Twins’ lineup, the Yankees can get by with Sabathia as their LOOGY and stick with their top arms to get through the lineup.
That should leave two spots for the bubble candidates mentioned above. Of those, I’d go with Cessa for mop-up duty, with either Gearrin and Loaisiga as your 25th man. In an ideal series, none of these guys see the mound (or they exclusively see the mound, but you get what I mean). This choice shouldn’t make or break the Yankees’ roster, but it’s an important one nonetheless.