The Nationals, Astros, and Yankees: What’s the optimal way to build a pitching staff?

Feeling the same way about last night, Max.

Since Houston eliminated the Yankees, and really in the days beforehand, much has been made about the Yankees’ reliance on relievers over starters. On this here blog, Steven examined the subject to some extent yesterday. After seeing the Astros and Nationals (congrats to the Nats!) make the World Series behind stalwart starting pitching (and starters in relief!), it’s easy to say that starters are what win in October. That helps of course, but in reality, having both good starters and good relievers goes a long way.

For the Yankees, what’s the easy solution to getting both of those things? Signing Gerrit Cole this winter, obviously. But considering that the league treats the luxury tax like a soft salary cap nowadays, fitting in Cole could get tricky. We’re going to outline how that can be done in our offseason plan soon. But in the process of compiling our plan, it’s clear that prior deals with relievers have made it difficult for the Yankees to improve elsewhere.

If Aroldis Chapman sticks around for 2020, the Yankees will have roughly $45 million committed to relievers (for luxury tax purposes) next season. That amount could be upwards of 20 percent of total payroll. Since Yankees’ ownership has decided to keep payroll relatively flat in recent years, having so much money locked into relievers has come at an opportunity cost. Meaning: no Justin Verlander, Patrick Corbin, or Manny Machado. Again, this is self inflicted, the Yankees could have spent more, but do not.

If the Yankees continue to keep payroll stable, it would be sensible to allocate more salary away from the bullpen. Chapman opting out and leaving in free agency would get the Yankees closer to that ideal.

Granted, spending less on the bullpen will weaken the Yankees relievers, at least to an extent. In the last decade, they’ve done really well at developing bullpen arms in the system. Think Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and even Gio Gallegos, to name a few. Plus, it seems like someone new is throwing 99 in the minors for them everyday. They could save money trying to build a bullpen within while supplementing it with one or two free agents, not three or four.

If you’re worried about not having a bullpen formula for the postseason, just look at what recent World Series winners have done. Patrick Corbin started and relieved for Washington this year. Nate Eovaldi was a huge piece of Boston’s October bullpen last year. Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers saved the day for Houston in 2017. Those teams did have good relievers, certainly not as good as the Yankees have had. But, by having a deep starting rotation, they were able to shift regular season starters into high leverage relief roles in the playoffs. Perhaps it’s time for the Yankees to shift closer to that model. Or, you know, spend like crazy on both starters and relievers.


How Yankees’ bullpen stands heading into the offseason


Challenge The Paradigm


  1. Wire Fan

    The key is also guys who can go more than 5 innings. One of the reasons for the super-pen is the Yankees living in fear of a starter seeing an order a third time. If you have guys that can regularly go 6 innings you have less of a need for a pen that has 5 great arms that you run out 4+ innings per game.

    This is where the Yankees anti fastball approach is killing them (IMO). By the time a batter does see the starter a third time he has already seen a ton of secondary stuff from that pitcher and can sit on it. So you either need guys with a credible 4th pitch (pretty rare) or someone with two great secondary pitches (also pretty rare).

    Hopefully the shakeup of the pitching organizational folks will lead to change on the development side? Short term they are going to need to acquire the pitching talent from outside the organization.

  2. I’m still trying to figure out why the Astros lost. Must be one of those “you can’t predict baseball” things.

  3. DZB has Cole’s market value at 6 years for $197.9M (apparently the ca. $33M average would be a record for a pitcher). I would think that the Yankees might go that high, but no higher. That contract feels about right and manageable for this team.

    • DZB

      sorry, that’s

    • I feel like that’s conservative, that’s what the Yankees will offer knowing it wont get the job done. Greinke’s average salary is $34m. I am expecting 7/250 to get it done. 7/245 is $35m, but Boras will want the round number. Set the record on AAV (34.4) and on total value (217). Could accomplish both records on a 6 year deal with higher AAV, like 6/220.

  4. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    And give me a lot of credit, Derek. I said yesterday the Nats would win and Max would pitch the game of his life and that’s exactly what happened. The optimal way is the way the winners built theirs. It ain’t hard to figure out. Cashman is going off the blueprint the Royals used 5 years ago and the Royals haven’t been relevant since. Corbin was brilliant in relief yesterday. Sure woulda been nice to have him, Cash. Had Hinch used Cole in relief in the 7th he woulda won but he pulled a Buck Showalter waiting for the save opportunity that never happened.

    We need to sign either a Strasburg or a Cole to anchor our rotation. I’m sick of this “trust the process” nonsense. They sound just like the Ted Thompson Packers that wasted all those years not signing FA’s around Aaron Rodgers and always had $30 million of cap space. This year with a new GM they sign FAs and lo and behold a 7-1 record. Instead of improving an obvious weakness they go out and get Edwin to combat the Astros starters. He only went 0-250 with 249 strikeouts when it mattered the most. We need starters.

    The biggest loss this organization ever suffered was the death of George because the win every year mentality fell by the wayside. All Hall is concerned with is making a buck. Not getting Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Gerritt Cole and Patrick Corbin has cost us at least 4 WS rings and probably many more. I hope Chapman opts out because then ownership might be willing to use those funds to get an ace. The pen is strong without Chapman and as the Nats and Astros proved, you don’t need an elite pen to win.

  5. I think the Yanks are looking at the optimal way to build a sports and media empire. Unless revenue and profits take a significant dip, why should they change their approach?


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