Aroldis Chapman, Aaron Boone, Chad Green
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

For years, the New York Yankees have put a strong emphasis on the bullpen, utilizing it regularly as a weapon. To finally return to the top, they may need to rethink that strategy.

During the 2019 season, the New York Yankees had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The bridge from the starting pitcher to Aroldis Chapman was long and nasty.

If manager Aaron Boone had to, he could lift his starter in the fourth inning and feel confident that the game might as well be over. He turned it over to Chad Green, who used his electric fastball to push the Yankees through multiple innings. Tommy Kahnle could sprint in from the bullpen with tight pants and a power changeup that makes lefties dizzy.

Adam Ottavino dominated righties with the best frisbee slider in the game. Zack Britton‘s bowling ball sinker was harder to hit in the air than an actual bowling ball. And to close it out, Chapman would show teams why he earned the nickname “The Cuban Missile”.

Utilizing the full strength of the bullpen was a recipe for success in the regular season.

Unfortunately, when the games really mattered, the bullpen was running on fumes. The arms that had locked down the Yankees’ first AL East division title since 2012 were exposed in the postseason. Green surrendered two costly three-run shots in the ALCS. Ottavino was an unmitigated disaster, surrendering a game-tying home run in what became a pivotal Game 2. In Game 6, Chapman hung a slider destined to end the magical season just as momentum shifted in the Yankees’ favor.

Now, I know how this is going to sound. It’s going to sound like I’m an old man up on my soapbox shouting “back in my day starting pitchers threw 15 innings every day and walked to work uphill both ways through a blizzard!” But I can assure you, this has nothing to do with me going against the plethora of statistics that support the effectiveness of utilizing the bullpen the way Boone and the Yankees did.

This is about recognizing that the bullpenning approach was so effective for the Yankees, that Boone may have overutilized it.

Part of the problem stems from injury concerns that no one could have predicted. Luis Severino, expected to be the unquestioned ace of the staff, didn’t throw a pitch for the team until September. Dellin Betances, arguably the most dominant reliever on the roster, appeared in one game and immediately tore his Achilles. J.A. Happ was preposterously ineffective after a strong end to the 2018 season. CC Sabathia gave everything he had but was inconsistent through his constant injuries.

Relying so heavily on the bullpen during the regular season became a necessity rather than a luxury. Unfortunately, Boone needed the bullpen far more often than originally intended and it eventually cracked under the pressure.

However, an easy solution to this problem exists. In order to ensure that the bullpen is firing on all cylinders all season long, the New York Yankees need a true, old school ace in the rotation. Someone who can give Aaron Boone seven innings of two-run ball on any given day. A pitcher that can string together long outings alongside Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka to give the bullpen a lot of rest.

Of course, all eyes jump to Gerrit Cole. Following one of the most dominant seasons we’ve ever seen from a pitcher, Cole will become a free agent with a lot of leverage. He’ll more than likely walk away from 2019 with a Cy Young in his back pocket.

He is the perfect pitcher to stabilize the Yankees’ starting rotation.

Cole’s stamina makes him uniquely qualified to address the bullpen fatigue issue. His proclivity for the strikeout makes him uniquely qualified to minimize home runs. His gruff demeanor makes him uniquely qualified to handle the New York media pressure.

Simply put, Cole fits the rotation like a glove. Adding him, along with the full return of Severino, makes the pitching staff lethal. Combine that with Paxton, Tanaka, and the most dominant bullpen in baseball and the unbelievable offense won’t need to do too much to win ballgames.

General manager Brian Cashman needs to go all-in now. Take all the chips, push them to the center of the table, and sign Gerrit Cole. Then sit back and dare the rest of the league to keep pace.

That seems like a recipe for success.


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