Bullpen workload a big concern due to banged up rotation

The River Avenue Blues Podcast: Episode 10
Murphy helping the Yankees now and emerging as a building block for later
Dellin's awesome, but we need to start seeing a little less of him. (Presswire)
Dellin’s awesome, but we need to start seeing a little less of him. (Presswire)

For the first time in his three big league starts, Chase Whitley completed five full innings of work yesterday afternoon. Usually five innings isn’t anything to celebrate, but for a recently converted reliever who had thrown 4.2 and 4.1 innings in his first two starts, five full innings was definitely nice to see. Whitley started the sixth inning as well, though he failed to record an out and the bullpen was pressed into action.

The bullpen has been pressed into action quite a bit of late, especially on the road trip. The Yankees have played three extra innings games on this trip through Chicago and St. Louis, totaling nine additional innings. They’ve played an extra game on the trip, basically. The Yankees did win all three of those extra innings games thanks to some strong relief work, so there’s no complaints there, but all that extra work is starting to tax the bullpen.

Through the first 50 games of the season, the late-inning duo of Adam Warren and Dellin Betances are on pace to throw 94 and 98 innings this year, respectively. Nine of Warren’s last 13 appearances have been for multiple innings while Betances has been asked to get more than three outs six times in his last seven appearances. In fact, of his 21 appearances this year, Betances has thrown one inning or less only seven times.

Of course, both Warren and Betances were starters their entire careers up until last season, but throwing 150+ innings in a season while on a five-day routine is much different than throwing 90+ innings when you’re pitching every other day in relief or something like that. It’s fewer total innings, yes, but they’re pitching more frequently as relievers. Warren and Betances have shouldered most of the workload, but the bullpen as a whole has been worked hard this year. Check out the first 50 games of the last few years:

Starter IP Reliever IP Starter IP / Reliever IP
2014 289.1 165.1 1.75
2013 297.2 150.1 1.98
2012 298.2 143.2 2.08
2011 302.2 145.2 2.08

The bullpen has already thrown 15 more innings this year than last through 50 games, and roughly 20 innings more than 2011 and 2012. Fifteen innings doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about one extra inning every three games or so. That adds up in a hurry, especially since these Yankees tend to play close games (only 14 games decided by 5+ runs), which means more work for Joe Girardi‘s primary late-inning guys.

Obviously injuries have a lot to do with this. Shawn Kelley has been out for a while and he would have definitely taken some of those innings away from Betances and Warren. The same applies to David Robertson when he was on the disabled list last month. Losing CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova — two starters the Yankees were able to count on for 6+ innings every fifth day in the not too distant past — to significant injuries has trickled down and added pressure on the bullpen since guys like Whitley and Vidal Nuno aren’t innings eaters.

The Yankees will hopefully get Kelley back soon. He played catch yesterday and will do so again in the coming days, reportedly, plus Michael Pineda is on the mend and a few weeks away. (The Yankees were very careful with Pineda early on, but he is still a better bet to get you through five innings than some guys in the rotation right now.) Those two will help lighten the load on the current relievers, at least somewhat. Every little bit will help. It wouldn’t kill the offense to break a game open every now and then either.

Girardi’s strength has long been his bullpen management, and I can’t remember another time when he worked two relievers as hard as he has Warren and Betances these last few weeks. You know he doesn’t want to do it — ““We’re trying not to kill Betances,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday, after Betances threw two more innings — but Kelley’s injury and the thinned-out rotation have forced his hand. The Yankees are really pushing the limits of their pitching depth right now.

Until some guys start getting healthy, Girardi will have to rely on Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley and yes, even Alfredo Aceves in higher leverage spots — at least higher leverage than they deserve — to avoid overworking his normal late-inning relievers. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Betances, Warren, Kelley, and Robertson dominating at the end of games, but at their current pace, Warren and Betances will burn out by August. The rest of the roster has to pick up some slack and give these guys more rest in the coming weeks.

The River Avenue Blues Podcast: Episode 10
Murphy helping the Yankees now and emerging as a building block for later
  • CountryClub

    The way they’re using Betances is a best case scenarios IMO. It would be worse if he was pitching 1 inning an appearance 3 out of 4 games or 4 out of 6.

    • Yangeddard Solarte

      I think they’re using him just fine. None of that Joba rules nonsense but Joe will not use him back to back days when he goes 1+ innings. You don’t want him out there every other day pitching 2 innings so that’s where Pineda and Kelly will help.

      • MB923

        Pineda? Pretty sure he’ll be back in the rotation when he returns. Then it’s likely Nuno or Phelps to the bullpen.

        • Yangeddard Solarte

          Yeah but Pineda gives us another 7 inning pitcher in the rotation and boots one of the 5 inning pitchers to the pen.

          • MB923

            Right but that contrasts to what you said in the latter part of your original reply

            “You don’t want him out there every other day pitching 2 innings so that’s where Pineda and Kelly will help.”

            Pineda will be a starter so how will he helpful in the bullpen? I’m also not sure why you’re comparing him to Kelly who’s strictly pretty much a 1 inning pitcher.

    • mitch

      Yeah i agree. Plus he’s been pretty efficient with his pitch totals. If he was throwing 40-50 pitch outings i’d be more worried.

  • viridiana

    Burawa would help — but would require 40 man roster move.
    Unrealistic to compare anyone with world-beating Betances at this point but Burawa resembles him in a couple of ways. High velo, obviously. Also — too many walks but so few hits allowed that BBs not as important as they may seem — at least in AAA. I thought he might be brought up for tonite, but 2 IP yesterday. Coello — slso not on 40 man – pitching well too. Ramirez spotty, prob not ready just yet.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    They need Kelley back and healthy bigtime. I feel like either Warren or Betances are out there just about every night, if not both. Agree completely that this won’t be a strength come July if we continue at this pace.

    I like Claiborne and Aceves as the ass-end, with Thornton alternating LOOGY work with lower-leverage innings. I’d need to see more of Daley in order to see where he fits in all this but, if he doesn’t, like others said, one of Ramirez, Montgomery, or Burawa (as well as the assorted vet fodder we’ve got in AAA) could do just fine.

    I am concerned, though. They both don’t need to pitch 90 innings. I’d like for them to remain effective this season, as well as not show up tired as hell next season.

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    The starters are doing just fine. Whitley’s done a phenomenal job for a 5th starter, better than CC. 2.57 ERA will be just fine. BGDP has a sparkling 3.18 ERA and he could get that under 3 tonight pitching in his old stomping grounds. Nuno’s been the worst of the 3 and I think he’s gone once Pineda returns. The biggest culprit is Hiroki. They need him to go deeper and pitch better. Kelly will help solidify the 8th.

    • CS Yankee

      BGDP has a 2.87 ERA as a starter this year.

  • MB923

    “(only 14 games decided by 5+ runs)”

    Not sure why you say Only 14 games. That’s quite a large number (28%) if you ask me to have a game decided by 5+ runs, considering the average team in the league only scores slightly above 4 runs a game.

    For the past 3 years, here’s how many 5+ run games the Yankees played in

    2013 – 38/162 (23%)
    2012 – 36/162 (22%)
    2011 – 47/162 (29%). Though that’s when they were 2nd in the AL in runs scored and 3rd in the AL in runs allowed (as in 3rd fewest)

    But overall, I agree with what you’re saying about the bullpen workload. Could fault the offense too not scoring in the later innings much (though as of late that is not the case). Yankees score the most in the 1, 2, 4 and 5th innings. They score the fewest in the 9th (only 39 games though where they batted in the 9th due to 11 home wins), 3rd, and 6th. Basically I’d just say 3rd and 6th innings. Not sure if that’s any relevant but I’d point it out anyway.

  • Kvothe

    The answer is clear- Ichiro! to the bullpen.

  • mt

    Daley has pitched pretty well this month – maybe he will be able to lighten the load a little bit on Warren until Kelley comes back.

    It is hard right now but on the bright side because of their injuries and DL stints Robertson and Kelly should go into the post ASB pretty with pretty good innings pitched levels. Thornton who has been very sketchy at times also has not been taxed very heavily.

    Warren and Betances are definitely a concern but I am sure Joe is relying on the fact that they have been starters before who pitched more than 100 innings. The post definitively states that 150 innings as a starter every five days is less strain than 90 innings every two or three days – is that true necessarily for someone who has trained all their life at the 150 inning level (remember the 150 inning starter also has bullpen sessions and side sessions that are not counted in his inning total so they are used to pitching every two or three days. On the other hand, relievers also do have warming up in the bullpen without getting in the game which is not counted – from data Warren and Betances do not seem to warm up a lot without getting in the game.)

    Three other things would help, one of whiich is surprising:

    1) not surprising – a better long reliever than Aceves – he has been pretty shaky it seems every time since his first relief appearance againt Tampa.
    2) not surprising – better offense/run production so high leverage relievers do not have to be called on as much.
    2) surprising – a true back-up first baseman – this applies to minimizing starter innings also (remember the White Sox game where Kuroda threw like 20-30 extra piches because of Kelly Johnson’s poor 1B plays therefore also requiring more innings from bullpen.) Our defense is poor enough in general (I cringe every time lollipop Roberts or sidearming Jeter have to throw to first) that the easy solution of having a standard fielding back-up first baseman who can competently field their position at ML level is the least Yanks can do (of course also being able to give Teix – coming off major wrist surgery – more off-days while leaving Ryan available to susstitute for Jeter at SS would also pay dividends.) Ryan made some good plays yesterday at 1B but we are playing with fire. It is a real killer when we use Betances and we do not win – just imagine if Ryan had botched either of those plays yesterday and we would have lost (certainly understandable if he had botched either of those plays given his lack of experience)

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Ideally, you want your long man to soak up innings when your starter gets knocked out, but doesn’t let the game get out of hand too much so that, if your team actually starts scoring runs, you may wind up right back in it. Aceves can go the five innings, if need be. I’d just like to see him not give up several runs each time in the process.

      That being said, mop-up guys who shut the door down every time don’t wind up being mop-up guys for long. Not so easy to upgrade there.

  • CS Yankee

    I’m more of a pitch count guy than innings guy as to how much it taxes the pitcher.

    If a RP is kept under 15 pitches in an inning and is on (not giving up deep flies) you might as well roll them out for the next inning. Keeping them under 30 pitches total also seems to shorten the recovery.

    It also makes it easier with a Warren or Betances due to their conditioning as a starter versus a Drob. Joe knows bullpen management well, hopefully he doesn’t make dellin the 8th inning guy but keeps him as a true fireman.

  • pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    Really pleased with Dellin. The decision to throw his curve alot was a wise one and has given him confidence. He no longer overthrows his fb as his outpitch and he can still reach 100 mph. I was impressed with the Cardinals bpen too.

  • Ross F

    These guys are the right age for it. There arms are past the most dangerous years. Mariano Rivera was converted to a reliever during his age 25 season. His age 26 season was his breakout year and he went over 100 innings that season, used similarly to how they are using Betances. Betances and Warren were also both converted from starting to relieving during their age 25 seasons, and are breaking out at age 26. David Robertson was always a reliever, but also broke out at age 26. After 3 seasons of a 3.99 ERA (and a best of 3.30), Robertson had a 1.08 ERA in his age 26 season. I’ve already given up on Banuelos being a Yankee starter. He’s 23 right now, so move him to the bullpen in 2016 and he should have his breakout season in 2017.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I don’t follow at all on Banuelos. He’s still two years younger than the Mariano example you gave and possesses a much greater ability to start than any of the guys you mention. He’s still recovering from two lost years AND surgery. You also skip over 2015 completely in your timetable for him. What exactly do you have him doing there?

      We need to let Manny be Manny.

  • Dr TJ Eckleberg

    Really wish they would’ve signed Hanrahan. That would have helped a lot.

  • TWTR

    I don’t think you can rely on Aceves at all. Adding a bat could increase every pitcher’s nargin for error.

    • mattb

      I think with Ace, a combination of nostalgia and his looking pretty legit good in his first long outing got some irrational exuberance working. I’m agreeing with you, so obviously this isn’t meant at you, but this is one where you need to be watching the games – Aceves was getting ripped yesterday, a great Gardner play away from game over (whether or not the ball goes out), a great Ryan play, really just rope after rope.

  • adjust batting gloves

    Andrew Bailey says hi from Tampa!

  • tom t

    I think it’s plausible that this is the new way of using your bullpen. It is somewhat arbitrary that starters should pitch X amount of innings. Sloan sports conference I believe had a research piece on the merits of having your starters only pitch several innings.

  • CapitalT

    Venditte your time is coming.

    They need more relievers in Scranton getting used to pitching 2 innings at a time

  • mick taylor

    the problem with this team is not the bullpen, but the lack o f power hitting. one of the reasons the bullpen is so taxed is the low scoring close games. if yanks scored more runs and had bigger leads in games,, girardi would have more cushions to leave pitchers in. if tex and beltran cannot play 100 percent or go down for the year, this team has no power. mccann and soriano are it. so that is why idiot cashman needs to sign kendry morales. otherwise, he will have to give up the farm system in a trsde

  • Wayne

    We need to make a trade for a starter our bullpen is going to wear out! It sucks unless whitley starts throwing 7 innings eventually. Pineda is unpredictable. I would keep nuno in rotation. Keep whitley in aaa rotation when Pineda comes back. Somebody who is a major prospect on the yankees is getting traded. I expect Aaron Judge And Ramón Flores to get traded and Rafael Depaula,Brady Lail, Jose Ramirez and Chase Whitley. I can’t expect that Chicago will ask for more than that. We are screwed either way because to give up any of these prospects for something less than Samardzija is just awful And we are giving alot of depth if we get Samardzija. Position players starting pitching and dominant relievers who could be dominant closers. That is alot for a dominant starter who is 30 years old next year. !!!!

    • mattb

      As I note below, there is a part of me where, if a world existed where I could have Feldman or a Hammel today, if the overpay weren’t extraordinary, I’d do it. But at the moment, assuming Kelley and Pineda are back within a month – and those aren’t safe assumptions, esp. the latter – it’s a manageable problem. Best case is getting those two back, McCann hitting, Beltran somehow being effective rather than under the knife, and get to game 81 with around 44-45 wins. Lets the pitching market develop and allows the Yanks to deal from, if not a very strong position, certainly not the awfully weak place they;d be bargaining from if they tried to do a deal today.

      Not to mention, time is going to tell us more about how good this team is. Is it good enough where, if a deal can be made for a Samardzija or a Cliff Lee, or a Masterson (each of whom, in my view, bring certain pluses and minuses, not as much Masterson, lost velo and a GB heavy pitcher is a bad fit for this club, but I do wonder about the possibility of acquiring Cabrera along with him – not that he’s the end all, be all; I think Lee is flat out better and will require slightly less in talent assuming the Yanks pay, the ask on Samardzija is gonna be ridic, and Cubbies don’t need to trade him mid-year).

    • Jorge Steinbrenner


  • Dick M

    I’m a defined roles guy.

    Give Betances the 7th, Warren the 8th and DRob the 9th. Lots of 15 pitch innings.

    It’s the 30 pitch outings that eventually affect health and effectiveness.

    • TWTR

      What if a starter is pitching well in the 7th with a decent pitch count?

      What if the Yankees have a big lead or a big deficit in the 7th or 8th?

      What if the game is on the line in the 6th and the starter has a high pitch count?

      All these consideration make defined roles nice in the abstract, but problematic in practice.

      • Dick M

        In all 3 instances, they don’t even warm up.

  • TopChuckie

    Let’s say Betances carries this performance throughout the whole season, do the Yanks resign Robertson or let him walk and make Betances the closer?

    Not what do you think they should do, i.e. keep Betances in the fireman role, but what do you think they will do?

    • TWTR

      I would hope not. They don’t have a lot of high-end, young ML assets, so why let a really good one like Robertson go for free, especially when money is their greatest asset? As long as Betances is cost-controlled, they should keep both, unless they are absolutely blown away in a trade.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner


  • mattb

    Assumptions (which one hates to make): they’ll use a 7 man pen virtually all the time, and they get Kelley back reasonably soon.

    Kelley obv helps tremendously just in bringing back a high-end late game guy. Given the lack of length from the starters – and I think you’re reasonably talking a month until that improves – you must have the long guy, so in my view, Aceves stays, Claiborne keeps his spot for now vis-a-vis Daley (with an eye toward replacing Preston with a Ramirex or a Burawa as circumstances indicate.)

    Another huge assumption, that Pindeda is back on the big club in a month, healthy, pitching well (at least better than one of Whitley, Phelps or Nuno)- while I certainly don’t see him as an innings eater, even just averaging 6 IP/start is huge and it’s double barreled – Pineda back means one of Whitley, Nuno, or Phelps, becomes the long man – for me, it’s Nuno, think Phelps has the most potential as a viable starter this year, and let Chase continue developing in AAA if circumstances allow it. So now your pen is:

    [Claiborne][Ramirez][Burawa]- or, if you prefer, a guy who can go multiple innings [Aceves? Whitley? As nice as he’s looked, still think Whitley is a reliever – a good one].

    It’s going to be an interesting rotation situation to navigate, as so much depends on Pineda. You need both innings and high end. If the Pineda we get back looks like the Pineda we got a glimpse of, then suddenly you have a real front of the rotation again w/Tanaka-Pineda, with one hoping that Kuroda is able to perform as a viable 3 and/or that the CC they eventually get back is a viable 3.

    I think it goes without saying that they’re going to need to try and acquire a starter – if it could be reasonably, probably can’t, you could sign me up for either Feldman (and his contract) or Hammel today, neither aces, neither even historical innings eaters – but more realistically, if you get a nice looking Pineda, and some hopeful signs from Hiroki and/or CC, these are the kinds of guys you need to target, not a Samardjza or a Lee.

  • Matt Nokes

    Where’s Ramiro Mendoza when you need him?

  • The Great Gonzo

    Don’t know if we mentioned anywhere, but a pair of extra innings games this week hasn’t helped matters.

    All told, “when people start getting healthy” is the easy answer to this. But, if history is any guide, when people get healthy doesn’t really solve issues all around. Look no further back than 2012 when getting Joba back from TJS was our lone trade deadline move. Now multiply that ‘reward’ times 4 with CC/Pineda/Kelley/possibly Bailey(?).

    Not a very rosy outlook from a typical Polyanna, but this team should explore the possibility of best/worst case scenarios. I feel like they rarely do.

    Also, don’t overpay for relievers. It sucks. If you’re gonna overpay on the trade market, make it a starter at the very least.

  • SamVa

    Obviously you could claim ‘exception not the rule’ on this, but didn’t Rivera throw 100+ innings the year after being converted from starter to reliever? (I know Betances has a gap year)

  • Mike HC

    You definitely got to keep an eye on it, but I think having these guys go 85-90 innings is fine. And with Pineda, CC and Kelley out, and Phelps and Whitley being stretched out, this is when we need to lean on them a little more than usual. Girardi has done an A+ job with the pitchers he has had available of late.

  • EndlessJose

    Now we know why Joe Torre blew up those bullpens from 2004-2008.He never had starting pitching in those years.Joe Giradi has had it a little easier and this must be fixed.

  • Wayne

    Or if yanks don’t trade Jose Ramirez.

  • Wayne

    If Jose Ramirez comes up and is succesful he could give Dellin Betances a rest. That also depends on Jose Ramirez health.

  • Wayne

    If we don’t make a trade is it possible Rafael DePaula, Jose Ramirez, and Dellin Betances are in our bullpen next year sometime . Especially if we were to convert Rafael DePaula into a reliever right now! He is not a starter to me. Then you do a sign and trade with David Robertson in offseason or get draft pick for him which if a trade is not made is likely to happen. We might not need David Robertson next year. But again that is only if Jose Ramirez and Rafael DePaula are not traded.