New York Yankees

Many consider the strength of the 2016 New York Yankees to be the lights out bullpen, but their biggest question mark may have an enormous effect on how the ‘pen performs. 

By Christian Kouroupakis

The good ‘ole “five and fly” method just won’t cut it for the New York Yankees this season.

Of course, taking into consideration how the cold weather has affected New York and Detroit, we weren’t expecting a ton of innings out of their starting pitching thus far.

Regardless, through the first five games of the regular season, only one pitcher has pitched six innings (CC Sabathia). Unfortunately, this problem is something New York is very familiar with.

The narrative of 2015 was how inconsistent, unhealthy (every starter endured a DL stint), and dismal the starting rotation was.

Despite marvelous breakouts from Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino, Yankee starters in 2015 had 5.7 innings per start, which finished 23rd in the league and well below league average.

The Yankees were also the first team in Major League Baseball’s Wild Card Era (1995) to ever make the postseason while none of their starters qualified for the ERA title.

An obvious result of the lack of length that came from Yankee starters is the load the bullpen had to bear. New York’s bullpen pitched 530.2 innings in 2015, good enough for the third-most in the American League.

In the first half, those innings were effective. Going into the midsummer classic last year, the Yankees bullpen had a 3.45 ERA (5th in AL), 10.1 K/9 (2nd in MLB), .8 HR/9 (3rd least in AL), and a 4.0 WAR (1st in MLB).

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Thanks to the late game dominance, the Yankees were sitting at 57-42 and led the American League East by seven games prior to the trade deadline.

This unit was the foundation of the team’s success through the first half, striking out batters at a startling rate thanks to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

However, as the starters continuously failed to make it past six innings of work, we started to witness the demise of one of the Yankees’ greatest commodities.

We all know that if you grind a tool for too long, eventually it wears down. It gets dull, loses its edge, and could even break when not taken care of properly.

After the All-Start break, the bullpen pitched 249 innings and the deterioration of the flamethrowers of the bullpen was evident after they experienced an insane drop in production.

Their ERA dropped to 3.87 (16th in MLB), their WAR fell to 1.4 (11th in MLB), their BB/9 rate rose to 4.08 (worst in AL), and they surrendered the second most home runs in all of baseball.

Why? A huge factor of the decline in bullpen success has to do with the fact that Betances (84) and Miller (61.2) pitched in 27% of the Yankees’ total innings.

Tacking on innings not only led to worse numbers, but it had two members of the newly formed “three-headed monster” experiencing a great deal of deficiency.

Although many people point to velocity to justify fatigue, Betances’ average fastball actually increased from 96.7 MPH to 97.4 MPH so that does not help us comprehend what caused his second half struggles.

We turn to pitch values to see how “successful” each pitch was over the course of the season. This statistic gives us a retrospective look at which pitches were hit hard by the opposition, and which were effective.

In the first half of 2015, Betances’ fastball was the second most effective fastball in the majors with an 11.3 wFB in the first half, but after the pressure on his cannon of a right arm finally had it says, his effectiveness with his heater dipped to -4.6.

This statistic, simply put, means Betances’ fastball was hit extremely hard because his heater simply wasn’t painting the corners like he did in the first half.

One of the major signs of fatigue is decreased accuracy, and Betances simply left his fastball out over the plate to get smashed throughout the second half of the season more than the first.

25-year old middle reliever Chasen Shreve also hit a wall in 2015.

The left-hander put up stellar numbers in the first half (2.02 ERA), but pitched in 35.2 innings, the most of his young career.

Ask any baseball expert and they’ll tell you fatigue is more likely to occur in a younger arm compared to an older arm. And Shreve learned that the hard way.NYY_300_250_v1

Pitching with a declined velocity, Shreve owned a 4.76 ERA in the second half highlighted by September in which he had a 13.50 ERA.

With the young, and unproven talent in the bullpen like Johnny Barbato and Luis Cessa, you have to avoid using these guys every day too. Ivan Nova is also two years removed from Tommy John surgery and his workload must be monitored as well.

It’s not Betances and the rest of the bullpen’s fault he was used so much, and it sure wasn’t manager Joe Girardi‘s fault either. The starting pitching being unable to last more than five innings on a daily basis does not allow the bullpen to perform at its max potential.

Now, Michael Pineda has made it publically known that his goal is 200 innings, and Eovaldi is hoping to get close to the  199.2 innings he pitched for Miami in 2014.

However, the Yankees have not had two starters contend for 200 innings since 2012, when Girardi used the bullpen for 31% of the Yankees’ innings (Miller and Betances pitched 27% alone in 2015). In that year, the Yankees won 95 games and played in the American League Championship series.

The 2016 New York Yankees are structured to dominate with their bullpen, which features three of the best relief pitchers in baseball today.

Sure, Aroldis Chapman will make his way into the ‘pen in May, but if the bullpen is going to clear the path en route to a World Series, innings from the starting rotation are imperative in order to lighten the weight on their dominant shoulders.

NEXT: CC Sabathia’s Comeback Goes Beyond Baseball