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.

Yankees should seek late-season bullpen help

The Yankees could probably trade for one of these guys right now. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
The Yankees could probably trade for one of these guys right now. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

The last week or so has been total hell on the Yankees bullpen. David Robertson (shoulder) and Boone Logan (biceps, elbow) are both banged up and Shawn Kelley (triceps) spent a few days on the sidelines as well. Joba Chamberlain has been forced into high-leverage work and that just isn’t a good idea. Mariano Rivera, who clearly isn’t the Mo of old right now, has been asked to record more than three outs three times in his last four appearances and figures to see even more multi-inning work before the season ends in 19 days.

Robertson is expected to rejoin the team this week — perhaps as soon as today — and hopefully that is the case, but you never know with the Yankees and their recent history of setbacks. Pretty much everyone has one. Logan’s test results will be reviewed by Dr. James Andrews and that’s never a good sign. The Yankees re-signed journeyman Mike Zagurski yesterday, which is an indication they are at least somewhat concerned Logan will not be returning anytime soon.

A trade in September is not something you see all that often, but New York swung one last night to acquire infield help in the form of Brendan Ryan. They should also consider trading for bullpen help at this point. Like Ryan, whoever they acquire at this point would not be eligible for the playoff roster since they weren’t in the organization on August 31st, but there probably won’t even be a playoff roster in a few weeks if Yankees don’t get help. Here are three bullpen arms on non-contending teams who could be available in a trade at this unusual time.

Burke Badenhop, Brewers
Milwaukee is one the very worst teams in baseball and they don’t have a whole lot of desirable tradeable chips — aside from untouchables Carlos Gomes and Jean Segura, that is — which is why their deadline sell-off featured only Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford changing addresses. The 30-year-old Badenhop was rumored to be on the block as well, but he ultimately stayed put and has a 3.60 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 60 innings this summer. He’s essentially a righty specialist — has held righties to a .251 wOBA while lefties have tagged him for a .377 wOBA (more walks than strikeouts too) — who limits walks (1.80 BB/9 and 4.9 BB%) and gets ground balls (51.6%) but doesn’t miss many bats (6.15 K/9 and 16.8 K%).

If used correctly, Badenhop can be a real weapon against right-handed batters in the later innings of a game. He pitched with the Rays last season and was pretty effective (3.03 ERA and 3.62 FIP), so the AL East and a postseason race and all that won’t be new experiences. Badenhop is only owed approximately $240k the rest of the season and, as an added bonus, he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2014. The Brewers took Grade-C prospects for K-Rod and Axford, who had much sexier track records than the sinker/slider guy Badenhop, so the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Frank Francisco, Mets
Frankie Frank missed almost the entire season with bone spurs in his elbow and, according to Adam Rubin, there are some in the organization who think the 33-year-old had a “lack of urgency” during his rehab. He did return this past weekend and has pitched in two games, facing four total batters while allowing a single and recording a walk, a strikeout, and a ground ball. Francisco managed a 5.53 ERA (3.90 FIP) in 42.1 innings while missing time with oblique and elbow problems last season. He’s always been a high strikeout (career 9.92 K/9 and 25.6 K%), high walk (3.98 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%), low ground ball (34.4%) guy.

One team official told Rubin it is “certainly possible” the Mets will look to trade Francisco before the end of the season just to save some of the $715k they still owe him. That same official responded “Why wouldn’t we work something out with them?” when asked if they’d be open to trading with the Yankees. Francisco has late-inning/closer experience and will be a free agent after the season, plus the Mets would probably give him away at this point. Remember, we’re not talking about replacing Robertson or Kelley here. We’re talking about replacing Jim Miller or Matt Daley.

(Rich Pilling/Getty)
(Rich Pilling/Getty)

Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
Lindstrom, 33, has very quietly been one of the most effective relievers in baseball over these last three years. He has a 2.89 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 56 innings for the ChiSox this season and a 2.87 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 157 innings since the start of 2011. After coming up has a super-hard-thrower who didn’t always know where the ball was going, Lindstrom has scaled things back in recent years and now uses a mid-90s sinker/low-80s slider combination to generate a ton of ground balls (53.9%) and infield pop-ups (10.4%). Both his walk (3.70 BB/9 and 9.7 BB%) and strikeout (6.91 K/9 and 18.1 K%) rates have taken steps back this year, however.

As we saw firsthand last week, the White Sox are truly awful. Worst non-Astros team in the AL awful. They acknowledged that by trading away Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, and Matt Thornton at the deadline, so it stands to reason that Lindstrom would be available as well. He is owed roughly $355k through the end of the year with an affordable $4M club option ($500k buyout) for 2014 season in his contract. The Yankees need relievers, both right now and next season with Rivera and Joba (and Logan) due to become free agents, and Lindstrom is the kind of guy who can help both situations. He’s no bullpen savior, but if nothing else, he sure and the other two guys in this post would add useful depth — as opposed to the Daleys and Millers of the world who are just there because they’re warm bodies — to the bullpen down the stretch.