The Bullpen Shuttle [2016 Season Preview]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have done a good job finding interesting bullpen prospects in different places. The late rounds of the draft, waivers, minor league free agency, whatever. These guys are not future ace closers or anything like that, but they look like serviceable bullpen options, so the Yankees put them to work last year. They cycled relievers in and out as part of their bullpen shuttle. They called someone up, got a few innings out of him, then sent him down for a fresh arm. Over and over again.

The Yankees will again employ a bullpen shuttle in 2016, perhaps even moreso than last year. They have multiple open bullpen spots and a small army of relievers with options, so they can send these guys up and down as much as they want this summer. And they will. We’re going to see pitchers come up, throw in a game or two, then get sent down. Big league stints will be measured in days, not weeks. Here are the main bullpen shuttle candidates for the coming season, presented alphabetically.

The Spring Standout

An offseason ago the Yankees flipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres in what was widely believed to be a cost-cutting move. Kelley was solid, not great, and he figured to be a key piece of the 2015 bullpen. Instead, the Yankees traded him for a Double-A relief prospect with a balky elbow. That prospect: Johnny Barbato. And one year after the trade, Barbato is in position to make the bullpen.

“Definitely came in trying to open some eyes,” said Barbato to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “Just worked my butt off this offseason to get ready, and I think I did. I think coming in here feeling confident, feeling comfortable — I lost a bunch of weight — just came in feeling good, and I think I’ve done well enough to open some eyes.”

Barbato, 23, had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate in 67.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. The concerns about his elbow blew over. He’s been healthy since the trade. This spring he’s allowed two runs (both in the same game) in 8.2 innings with an 11/1 K/BB. Barbato’s done it with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball …

Johnny Barbato curveball

… and a little slider/cutter thing. The Yankees added Barbato to the 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and while taking Grapefruit League numbers to heart is a fool’s errand, Barbato has clearly opened some eyes in camp. With most of the other shuttle relievers struggling, he has put himself in very good position to be on the Opening Day roster. Either way, Opening Day roster or not, we’ll see Barbato in the big leagues this summer.

The Offseason Pickup

It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Last offseason this Yankees traded someone we all thought would be a big part of their 2015 bullpen (Kelley) for a prospect, and everyone said they were doing it to save money. Now that prospect looks pretty good. They did the same thing this past offseason, sending Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects, one of which is righty Luis Cessa.

Cessa, a former shortstop, has been traded twice in the past eight months. The Mets sent him to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, then the Tigers sent to the Yankees for Wilson. The 23-year-old Cessa has been solid in limited action this spring (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Brian Cashman has praised his work thus far. The GM could just be pumping up a recent addition, though ultimately the words do not matter. What matters is what happens on the mound.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

In all likelihood Cessa, who is starting tonight’s game against the Tigers, will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Don’t think that’s significant? Four of the five pitchers who opened last season in the Triple-A rotation ended up in the big leagues at some point. (Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa. Jaron Long was the exception.) Cessa, who is on the 40-man roster, is a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with surprisingly good command for a converted position player, though he still needs some fine-tuning.

After Ivan Nova, Cessa could very well be the first pitcher to brought up from the minors to make a spot start in 2016. Mitchell started last season in the Triple-A rotation before getting some extended time in the MLB bullpen, and a similar path is a definite possibility for Cessa, though I think the Yankees really believe in him as a future starter. I’m sure he’ll reach the show at some point this year anyway. Similar to Barbato at the time of his trade, Cessa’s true coming out party may be a year away.

The Minor League Stats Guy

You’re not going to find a shuttle reliever with better minor league numbers than Nick Goody. The 24-year-old righty missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, then, in his first full season with his rebuilt elbow, Goody had a 1.59 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate in 62.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. He also threw 5.2 innings in the show.

Goody was on the shuttle last year and he’ll be on the it again this year. He hasn’t had a great Spring Training (8.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) but the Yankees have not yet reassigned him to minor league camp, so his Opening Day roster hopes are still alive. Goody is a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy, so since he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, his presently shaky command probably isn’t good enough for high-leverage work. Perhaps his command can improve the way David Robertson‘s did. For the timing being, he’s the quintessential up-and-down middle reliever.

The Former Top Pick

Less than a year after being the Yankees’ top selection (second round) in the 2014 draft, left-hander Jacob Lindgren was in the big leagues, getting a chance to show he belonged long-term. (When they needed a roster spot, the Yankees cut the veteran David Carpenter and kept Lindgren.) Lindgren struggled in his seven MLB innings and eventually had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, ending his season.

Lindgren, 23, was the very first 40-man roster player and Opening Day bullpen hopeful reassigned to minor league camp this spring. His numbers were not great, though it was basically one disaster outing in three appearances:

Jacob Lindgren stats

Joe Girardi said the Yankees felt Lindgren was pressing because he was trying to make the team, so they sent him down to clear his head and get regular work. Lindgren’s calling card is his wipeout slider, though he lacks command, lacks a big fastball (mostly 89-91 in pro ball), and has just good enough control to make it work. That’s the recipe for a frustrating reliever.

That slider gives Lindgren the best chance to be a late-inning reliever among the shuttle guys, though he’s going to have to throw more strikes going forward. That’s the goal this season with elbow surgery in the rear-view mirror: more strikes. A wipeout breaking ball is no good if you’re behind in the count. Lindgren is definitely a shuttle candidate, but I wonder if the Yankees will leave him in Triple-A for an extended period of time to iron out that control.

The Starter Turned Reliever

Real Talk: If the fifth starter competition was a real thing, Bryan Mitchell would be winning in a landslide. He’s been fantastic this spring (14.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and he was very good out of the bullpen for the Yankees last year before taking a line drive to the nose. At this point it’s hard to believe Mitchell won’t be on the Opening Day roster. How could he not be?

The stuff as never been in question. Mitchell, who will turn 25 next month, has a mid-90s heater and a knockout curveball, and his third pitch is a cutter. He’s never been able to pick up a changeup, so he has to use the cutter against lefties. That lack of a changeup and career long command issues are Mitchell’s biggest flaws. One of those will have to improve — ideally both — for Mitchell to hack it as a starter at the next level.

For now, Mitchell is certain to open the season in the bullpen, and Girardi has talked about using him in the Adam Warren role. That versatile reliever who can go multiple innings and even pitch in the late innings on occasion. The Yankees shouldn’t close the door on Mitchell as a starter and I don’t think they will. For now, they need him in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the big leagues for good. Mitchell may be too good to shuttle up and down.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Lefty Specialist

Every year the Yankees (and every other team) make a series of small pickups in the offseason, and those small pickups can be easy to overlook. Left-hander Tyler Olson, who came over in a minor trade with the Dodgers, was one of those easy to overlook pickups this winter. He’s a pure left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, a mid-to-upper-80s heater, and a loopy breaking ball, so his usefulness is limited.

Olson, 26, has had a pretty strong spring up until his last appearance or two. Having a spare lefty specialist you can bring up whenever you’re getting set to face a lefty heavy lineup is nice, but of all the shuttle relievers, I think Olson is most in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have other lefties and they have other relievers who can throw full innings. Chances are we’ll see Olson at some point this summer. I would be surprised if he carved out a role and stuck around long-term, however.

The Other Lefty Specialist

The Yankees really seem to like James Pazos. He was reportedly on their list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline — I refuse to believe that. It can’t possibly be true, can it? — and the club called him up last September before he had to be added to the 40-man roster. Pazos is a hard-thrower — PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 94.5 mph last September — though he lacks consistency with his slider and seems to be prone to bouncing pitches in the dirt.

Pazos was sent to minor league camp this past weekend, taking him out of the running for an Opening Day bullpen spot. But, like I said, the Yankees really seem to like him, and I have little doubt we’ll see him this season. Improving that slider will be his focus in Triple-A for the time being. Pazos seems to be the middle man between Olson (short-term fill-in) and Lindgren (potential long-term solution) among the shuttle lefties. Regardless, he’s going to get an awful lot of chances in this game because he’s a lefty and he throws hard.

The Shuttle Veteran

None of the shuttle relievers threw more big league innings (27.2) or made more up-and-down trips (six!) than 27-year-old Branden Pinder last season. The fastball-slider right-hander was called up at least once each month last season, so he’s a pro at this by now. He is well-versed in this shuttle reliever thing after only one year and that’s good, because he’ll be riding that shuttle again in 2016.

Pinder has had an steady but unspectacular spring (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and he remains in big league camp, giving him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. That said, even if he makes the Opening Day roster, he’s a candidate to be sent to Triple-A whenever a fresh arm is needed. Pinder lacks a reliable weapon against lefties and he’s prone to missing over the plate, limiting his ceiling. Still, his stuff is good, and I feel like he’s going to carve out a lengthy career as a journeyman middle reliever. A Chad Qualls/Jason Frasor type.

Rumblin’ Rumbelow

Aside from Lindgren, no minor league reliever climbed the ladder as quickly as Nick Rumbelow in recent seasons. Rumbelow went from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton in 2014, then he made his big league debut in 2015. He threw 15.2 mostly forgettable innings with the Yankees a year ago, and over the weekend he was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning he’s not going to be on the MLB roster to start the new season next week.

Rumbelow, 24, has three pitches, unlike most of the other shuttle bullpeners. PitchFX had his average fastball at 93.3 mph last year, and he also throws a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. The curveball was Rumbelow’s go-to secondary pitch when he first signed as the team’s seventh round pick in 2013, but nowadays he prefers the changeup. He’ll double up on the change and throw it to righties.

Three pitches, a funky delivery, and good enough control are a nice recipe for a big league career. Rumbelow has fine-tuning to do before he sticks long-term — anecdotally, he seems prone to overthrowing and leaving pitches up in the zone — but the tools are there, and he’ll surely get plenty of chances to show what he can do this year. Rumbelow figures to see lots and lots of shuttle time this year. He might supplant Pinder and be the top shuttle guy in 2016.

The (Temporary) Seventh Inning Guy

I’m not sure anyone in camp needed a good spring more than Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who is still only 25, was very good for the first four and a half months of 2015, but he crashed hard down the stretch, and no one really knew why. There was talk he was tipping his pitches, talk the league figured him out, stuff like that. Most with the Yankees said they believe it was fatigue, which sounds like a cop-out, but it was a plausible explanation.

So far this spring Shreve has been untouchable: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The only base-runner against him came on an error. The numbers are great, but, more importantly, Shreve looks comfortable on the mound and he’s throwing with conviction. His body language wasn’t so great late last year and that was understandable. Opponents made him pay for every mistake. Shreve looks rested and he’s been aggressive. It’s been a good spring.

At the outset of camp, Girardi talked about Shreve like one of his regular relievers, as if he had a bullpen spot locked up. Fans were understandably skeptical given his finish last season, but if the Yankees felt the same way, they weren’t showing it. Shreve is not only a lock for the Opening Day bullpen at this point, it seems likely he will assume seventh inning work while Aroldis Chapman serves his suspension. Shreve held that role last when Andrew Miller was on the DL.

It’s probably unfair to lump Shreve in with the other shuttle relievers at this point given what he did last year. He wasn’t just pretty good, remember. He was dominant from April through mid-August, using his low-90s fastball/low-80s splitter combination to neutralize both righties and lefties. If the Yankees have to send Shreve down to Triple-A at some point in 2016, something went wrong. I think he’s up for good.

The Darkhorse

Similar to Olson, right-hander Kirby Yates was a nondescript offseason pickup who was easy to overlook coming into camp. Now, with Opening Day a week away, the 29-year-old Yates appears to have a legitimate chance to make the team, especially since so many of the other shuttle guys haven’t had good Grapefruit League seasons. He’s been very good in camp (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he has big league experience, throwing 56.1 innings with the Rays the last two seasons.

Yates is a generic low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy, so lefties give him a problem, which limits his ceiling. That fine though. We’re talking about a possible low-leverage middle reliever who gets shipped in and out whenever the team needs a fresh arm. If nothing else, Yates opened some eyes this spring and cemented himself as a shuttle candidate. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position to be among the first called up.

Yates. (Presswire)
Yates. (Presswire)

The Non-40-Man Roster Options

In addition to all the 40-man guys, the Yankees have several non-40-man roster pitchers who could see time on the shuttle this season. Remember, guys like Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy and Joel De La Cruz went from afterthoughts to big leaguers a year ago, simply because they were available. Journeymen like lefty Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Swarzak, Vinnie Pestano, Tyler Cloyd, and Diego Moreno could all be temporary call-ups in 2016.

As for actual prospects, lefty Tyler Webb and righties Chad Green and Brady Lail seem most likely to be called up this summer. Maybe Mark Montgomery too. Green, the other prospect acquired in the Wilson/Cessa trade, and Lail are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation. Webb is going to return to the RailRiders’ bullpen. Depending on their Triple-A performance and the big league team’s needs, those guys could see the show this year.

Calling up someone like Bleier or Pestano is no big deal because the Yankees could drop them from the roster no questions asked. Call him up, get whatever innings you need, then move on. You can’t really do that with someone like Green or Lail because they’re actual prospects and you can’t simply drop them from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed. That’s a serious roster consideration. Is it worth clogging up a 40-man spot (and burning an option year) to get, say, two innings from Lail on a random June afternoon because you played 15 innings the night before? Probably not.

For now the Yankees appear to have plenty of bullpen shuttle candidates on the 40-man roster. I have ten 40-man relievers listed in this post even without counting Shreve. The Yankees are going to cycle through those pitchers all year, and with any luck, one or two will stand out from the pack and earn extended opportunities in the big leagues. With the Yankees unlikely to get much length from their starters, the extra bullpen arms will again be very important in 2016.

Guest Post: The bullpen has the potential to be special, but will it be better than last year’s?

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places. He’s previously written guest posts on Chris Capuano and Ike Davis.

The new closer. (Presswire)
The new closer. (Presswire)

The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman to go with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, giving New York all three of the relievers who struck out at least 100 batters in 2015 and arguably the strongest 1-2-3-relief punch since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds “Nasty Boys” trio of Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble.

Last year, the troika of Chapman, Miller and Betances threw 212 innings, with 347 strikeouts and a 1.66 ERA. They ranked 1-2-3 in strikeouts per nine innings among all major-league relievers, all finishing in the top-7 for lowest opponents’ batting average, and there is no doubt that Chapman has brought a lot of attention toward the Yankee bullpen.

By talent and what you hear on sports-talk radio, the 2016 Yankees bullpen should be one of the best ever and better than the 2015 Yankees bullpen. But on performance, it’ll be hard for this coming year’s group to improve on the group that was. In fact, the Yankees last season were 66-3 when leading through 6, 73-2 when leading through 7, and 81-0 when leading after 8. Joe Girardi’s bullpen was tied for second in all of baseball with 5.3 fWAR. Additionally, by WPA (Win Probability Added), the Yankees bullpen ranked third, at +8.5.

The loss of Adam Warren and Justin Wilson, who combined for 96 1/3 quality relief innings and were worth 3.7 WAR last season, should not be underestimated and one could argue that the addition of Chapman is not as huge as it could have been, with Warren departing for Chicago and Wilson being shipped off to the Tigers.

Moving Warren hurt somewhat, but made sense because of the return. The North Carolina graduate made 17 starts last year and appeared in 26 other games out of the bullpen. He had a 3.29 ERA, the lowest of any pitcher on the team with over 100 innings. Despite yo-yoing between the bullpen and starting rotation, Warren posted an impressive 2.29 ERA and 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in relief.

While trading Warren for Starlin Castro was necessary to plug a hole at second base, moving Wilson to the Tigers for two mediocre Triple-A starters – Luis Cessa and Chad Green – seemed questionable. Certainly the two youngsters are under team control for a combined 12 seasons, but Wilson was also a key cog in the 2015 bullpen, posting a 2.69 FIP in 61 innings. He went 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 66 strikeouts. He was also able to get both lefties and righties out.

It’s also important to note that Chapman is essentially replacing Wilson. Both are hard throwing lefties with excellent strikeout numbers and the difference between their performances may not be as big as many might think. Wilson finished with a WPA of 2.58, while Chapman finished with a WPA of 2.59. While Chapman was worth 2.5 fWAR last year, Wilson wasn’t far off at 1.5 fWAR. Their Steamer projections also predict a similar one WAR split next season.

On Friday, Chapman and the Yankees avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $11,325,000 — or more than seven times what Wilson will make (with two fewer years of control). Chapman is an upgrade, no question, but by losing the Warren and Wilson, the Yankees will be putting a lot more stress on the top of that pen. And that stress could shift entirely to Betances, Miller, and Chapman. With the two 28-year-olds gone, the question becomes who are now the Yankees’ middle relievers?

Of the organizational products, right-hander Bryan Mitchell and left-hander James Pazos likely will get the best looks. The 23-year old Mitchell can start or come out of the bullpen. Pazos, who appeared in 11 big league games and didn’t allow a run in five innings after Hal Steinbrenner included him in the list of untouchables before the July 31 trade deadline, appears to have a good shot of breaking camp with the big club.

Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren are also left-handers like Wilson. Despite a solid rookie season where Shreve posted a 3.09 ERA, advanced stats suggest that he is good candidate for a sophomore slump and he imploded during the final month of the season. Lindgren, the team’s second-round selection in 2014, has only thrown seven big league innings and underwent elbow surgery last June.

Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody and Branden Pinder, who all made cameos last season figure to be in the mix. Youngster Johnny Barbato, who was acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley, was put on the 40-man roster and perhaps he will get a shot to make the team. It wouldn’t even be shocking to see Kirby Yates, Vinnie Pestano or Anthony Swarzak soak up innings at some point.

Brian Cashman can take a plunge into free agency with a couple of interesting right-handed relievers available. Ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop is still unemployed as March approaches. Veterans Casey Janssen and Ross Ohlendorf can be had. They can extend a minor league contract to Long Island native Joe Nathan, who turned 41 over the winter and underwent Tommy John last April. They can even take a flier on former Met Vic Black, who has battled injuries and control issues.

The Yankees have gotten used to strong bullpens, with Girardi proving himself as a bullpen whisperer. In fact, according to how they’ve actually performed, the Yankees haven’t had a below-average bullpen in two decades. This year should obviously be no different and in the best-case scenario for New York, Betances and Miller lead a bridge to Chapman, turning games into a season-long six-inning affair.

The three-headed bullpen monster creates the potential for an all-time bullpen trio, but it’s no guarantee that this unit will be much better than last years.

Betances looking forward to Chapman helping reduce his workload

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

It’s no secret Dellin Betances has endured a huge workload the last two seasons. He’s thrown 174 innings the last two years, nearly 20 more than any other reliever, and most of those innings were high-leverage situations. Dellin hasn’t just been throwing a lot of innings, he’s been throwing a lot of high-intensity innings.

Betances is a physically massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the workload hasn’t really hurt his performance much. Yeah, he struggled throwing strikes late last season, but he has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary. Fatigue may have been a factor. We just can’t say so definitively.

Either way, ideally Dellin’s workload would not be quite as high as it has been going forward. Relievers don’t throw 85+ high-stress innings year-after-year anymore. Aroldis Chapman will assume some of those high-leverage innings, and Betances said he’s looking forward to having the team’s new closer lighten his load a bit.

“It’s exciting, obviously,” said Betances to Meredith Marakovits when asked about Chapman (video link). “And I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there … I think everything will fall into place. Whatever the team needs me to do to help them win, I’ll be ready.”

I think Joe Girardi and the Yankees would like limit Betances to somewhere in the 70-75 inning range going forward, which is still pretty high by reliever standards. Only 19 relievers threw 70+ innings in 2015. Dellin’s shown he can handle a larger than usual workload, and that’s something the Yankees should take advantage of when possible.

Girardi likes to assign his relievers specific innings and it seems like Betances will take over as the seventh inning guy in 2016. That’s not set in stone, but I think it’s heading in that direction. That’s a good spot for Betances because Girardi can use him to get a few outs in the sixth inning on occasion as well. Justin Wilson didn’t do that much last year.

Betances is a big guy and he will turn 28 during Spring Training, so he’s not a young prospect. That doesn’t mean his workload can be brushed aside either. The Yankees want Dellin to help them win not only in 2016, but also in 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well. He’s a core member of the roster, and using Chapman to help lighten the load on Betances is a big positive.

Girardi confirms Yankees will go into Spring Training with Chapman at closer

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will go into Spring Training with Aroldis Chapman as their closer, Joe Girardi confirmed during a YES Network interview last night (video link). “We’ll go into Spring Training with Chapman as our closer,” said the skipper. Can’t say I’m surprised. This felt inevitable once the trade went down.

Chapman spent the last four seasons as the Reds closer and he was an All-Star all four years. He’s widely considered either the best or second best closer in the game. Those guys usually don’t lose the ninth inning just because they were traded. The only way Chapman wasn’t closing in 2016 was if Mariano Rivera came out of retirement.

Andrew Miller did a dynamite job as the closer last season and he’ll now join Dellin Betances to form a stupid good setup tandem. Miller has said he doesn’t care about his role, for what it’s worth. Girardi is pretty darn good with his bullpens and I’m sure he’ll have Miller and Betances (and Chapman) on the mound in high-leverage spots.

Of course, there’s also the matter of Chapman’s ongoing domestic violence investigation. His suspension will likely be announced before camp opens and it is not expected to be lengthy, whatever that means. A week? Two weeks? A month? Who knows. I assume Miller will close while Chapman is suspended with Betances again setting up.

Girardi was asked about the investigation and the possibility of a suspension and basically no commented. He said he supports Chapman and respects MLB’s process. Hopefully the suspension isn’t too long and the Yankees are able to get 60-something elite innings from their new closer. That’s the best case scenario right now.

Chasen Shreve can give the Yanks four dominant relievers with a return to early 2015 form

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For most of last season, Chasen Shreve was one of the Yankees’ best and most reliable relievers. He stepped into the seventh inning role when Andrew Miller visited the DL, then slid back into a more traditional middle reliever’s role when Miller returned. Regardless of role, he was excellent for the first four months. It looked like the Yankees had landed themselves a low-profile bullpen gem.

Shreve had a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) on the day of the trade deadline but struggled in August and totally collapsed down the stretch in September. He finished the season with a 3.09 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 58.1 innings after allowing four homers and six walks in his final five innings. His walk rate in August and September was a way too high 18.8%. Yuck.

Joe Girardi always seemed to be one reliever short down the stretch, which contributed to the Yankees falling out of first place. Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson were pitching every day it seemed. Shreve was no longer trustworthy in big spots. Unsurprisingly, Girardi said figuring out what happened to Shreve is a priority this offseason after the Yankees lost the wildcard game.

“I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself,” said Girardi at his end-of-season press conference. “For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”

Girardi indicated Shreve had a mechanical problem, which is always possible. Fatigue could have been an issue too. Yes, Shreve only threw 58.1 innings after averaging 65 innings per season in the minors from 2011-14, but high-leverage MLB innings are a different animal. They can be much more mentally and physically taxing. It would be silly to dismiss fatigue as a possible explanation for Shreve’s fade.

Whatever the reason(s), Shreve’s fade has caused him to be overlooked for most of the offseason. The Yankees essentially replaced Wilson with Aroldis Chapmanan enormous upgrade despite what many want you to believe — and much of the talk about the remaining bullpen spots has focused on the shuttle relievers. Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Bryan Mitchell, Branden Pinder, guys like that.

Shreve has rarely been mentioned despite having more MLB success than all of those other guys combined. Relievers come and go, that’s what they do, but Shreve’s dominance early last year — and that’s not hyperbole, he was dominant for the first four months — has earned him another chance this coming season. The Yankees have to see if his mechanical issues have been corrected, if fatigue is no longer an issue.

The job Shreve held for much of last season is currently open on the 2016 roster. That is the No. 4 reliever behind the top three guys at the end of the game. Someone to pitch the sixth inning or fill-in when one of the other guys aren’t available. Those three guys for the late-innings are outstanding, that group has a chance to be historically great, but the middle innings are important too.

Given the current options on the roster, the best candidate to fill Chasen Shreve’s old role is, well, Chasen Shreve. He’s had sustained success at the MLB level — at least moreso than the other guys — and at his best, he’s a left-hander who can retire both righties and lefties, and rack up strikeouts. Getting Shreve back on track would take what looks to be a very good bullpen and make it even better.

Thanks to Chapman, Joe Girardi has more flexibility with Dellin Betances

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

In his eight seasons as Yankees manager, Joe Girardi has made it pretty clear he likes having defined roles for his relievers. He likes having a set eighth inning guy plus a set seventh inning guy whenever possible. Every manager makes weird moves from time to time, but considering the Yankees have by far the best bullpen WPA during those eight seasons, Girardi’s reliever management is among the best.

Next season Girardi will have another elite reliever at his disposal. The Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller tandem was as good as it gets in 2015, and now the Yankees have added Aroldis Chapman to the mix following this week’s trade. Those three are among the five best relievers in the world by almost every objective measure. Chapman’s off-the-field history is pretty ugly. On the mound, he’s untouchable.

“Given the circumstances that exist, the price point on the acquisition has been modified. We felt this was an opportunity to add a big arm to our bullpen,” said Brian Cashman during a conference call following the trade. The Yankees were able to get Chapman without trading a significant prospect and without subtracting from their big league roster. In pure baseball terms, it was a fantastic trade.

It remains to be seen how Girardi will deploy his new end-game arms, though I’m guessing Chapman will replace Miller as the closer. Miller doesn’t seem to care, and really, there’s no wrong answer. As long as both are pitching in high-leverage spots, it’s fine. Girardi’s a good bullpen manager. I trust he’ll have his best relievers on the mound in the most important situations as often as possible.

Beyond the ninth inning, the addition of Chapman allows Girardi to be more flexible with Betances. He was already pretty flexible with Dellin, using him for four or more outs when the situation called for it, and now he’ll have even more freedom in the middle innings. Girardi can use Betances for two innings today knowing he can rest him tomorrow while still having Miller and Chapman available. That sort of thing.

Dellin’s workload the last two seasons and the compounding effect of all those high stress innings does worry me going forward. It’s not cause for panic or anything like that, but Betances has thrown a lot of intense innings these last two years. They take a toll. Adding Chapman does figure to help lighten the load on Betances next year because there are more elite relievers to soak up the innings. Justin Wilson was great, but he’s not Chapman.

A reliever throwing two innings at a time is not a bad thing in and of itself. Doing it as often as Betances has done at times over the last two years is when it can be a problem. Pitching is inherently dangerous. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous. Girardi can still use Betances for multiple innings, but now he’ll have an easier time giving him that extra day of rest when necessary.

In all likelihood, Girardi will use one guy in the seventh inning (Betances?), one guy in the eighth (Miller?), and one guy in the ninth (Chapman?). That’s what his history suggests. Maybe he’ll match up with Betances and Miller from time to time, but assigning innings is his thing. If he’s open to it, the addition of Chapman gives Girardi a little more freedom to use Betances in the middle innings while still giving him the proper rest.

Andrew Miller on Aroldis Chapman trade: “I’m here to help in any capacity that I can”

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in one of their classic out of nowhere trades. The whole thing went down in about an hour, from first rumor to press release. The Yankees added Chapman without giving up significant prospects or dealing anyone off their MLB roster.

Right now the Yankees plan to have Chapman join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, forming the most dominant reliever trio in history. That’s not hyperbole either. The early-to-mid-2000s Astros had a great bullpen threesome in Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, and Brad Lidge, but not even they were as dominant as Chapman, Miller, and Betances.

My guess is Chapman will take over as the closer next season, mostly because he’s been one of the best closers in the game for a few years now. Miller was awesome in that role last season, so it’s not like he’s being replaced because he didn’t do the job, it just seems like Chapman will get the ninth inning based on reputation. And Miller is perfectly fine with that. Here’s what he told Brendan Kuty after the Chapman deal:

“I signed with the Yankees to win and I’m not stupid, he’s a heck of a pitcher,” Miller told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview Tuesday. “This is what I signed up for. I signed up to play for the Yankees, to win championships, and if (general manager Brian) Cashman and the Steinbrenners and whoever is part of the decision-making process thinks this is part of the answer, and that this is the way to go about it, that’s fine by me.”

Miller never did make any kind of stink about being the closer last season. He came to Spring Training and said he would do whatever the team asked, and it just so happened they needed him to close. “For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything,” he said in early-May, after Joe Girardi finally declared him the closer.

Reports circulated saying Chapman wants to close when it appeared he was headed to the Dodgers a few weeks ago, though I’m not sure how true that is. Saves do pay, though I think at this point everyone knows Chapman is great and he’ll get paid accordingly in free agency next winter regardless of his 2016 saves total. That said, even the possibility of losing money due to a lack of saves may be enough to make Chapman uncomfortable.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong answer in the late innings. Girardi could use Chapman or Miller or Betances to close and it would be perfectly fine with me. How could anyone think there’s a wrong answer here? They’re all great. If Chapman is more comfortable closing, then let him close and put him in the best position to succeed. Works for me.

As for Betances, what does he think about the Chapman addition? “I’m thinking about the game where we each pitch an inning and K all nine hitters we face,” he said to John Harper. Mmmhmmm.