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Assessing the 2024 Yankees, Part 1: The Bullpen

Assessing the 2024 Yankees, Part 1: The Bullpen

Mid-September Thoughts by Cary Greene

September 17, 2023


I thought it might be fun to project which 2023 Yankees will be likely to stick around and be part of the plan for 2024. Since the Bullpen was really the only marginally bright spot on the entire roster, leading off with the pen made sense. Perhaps FanGraphs quantifies the performance of the Yankees relief corps season to date the best when they evaluate the Yankees relievers as being worth 3.6 f-WAR. Based on this metric, the Yankees bullpen was the 14th best in baseball. Certainly there is a ton of room to improve and perhaps shuffle the deck as well.

Perhaps the main problem with whomever is managing the Yankees, said because I’m not altogether convinced that Aaron Boone really decides much of anything, is that the Yankees bullpen is used too heavily. This problem stems from Yankees mostly right-handed starters not lasting far enough into games, but it also seems to be rooted in the Yankees analytics driven approach.

For example, contrast MLB’s number one ranked bullpen, which belongs to the Orioles, versus that of the Yankees. The Orioles bullpen has thrown 501.6 innings, season to date, whereas the Yankees pen has thrown 550 innings which is the ninth most innings in the League. The Yankees haven’t even been playing meaningful games since the Trade Deadline either, so what gives? How are most contending teams using their bullpens and - is this something Hal Steinbrenner ought to understand as he plots a course to rebuild the Yankees?

While the Rays pen has tallied 588.1 thus far and the Dodgers pen has tossed 555.1 innings, placing both of these contenders ahead of the Yankees in bullpen usage, 83% of the other current playoff teams have taxed their bullpens far less. The Phillies (472.1), Mariners (472.2), Twins (481.2), Brewers (484.1), Astros (485.0), Blue Jays (486.1), Cubs (503.2), Braves (504.2), Diamondbacks (518) are all getting much more length out of their starting rotations than the Yankees do. These usage trends indicate there is

a festering carbuncle adorning the right arm of the Yankees analytics crew. If I was Hal Steinbrenner, some heads would have already rolled. This is a serious problem for the Yankees and it needs to be fixed.

I would think that an analytics driven organization that will be tasked by Hal Steinbrenner to do a self evaluation this offseason would be all over these bullpen usage trends and hopefully, the report is already fully prepared and ready for presentation to Hal Steinbrenner, since the Yankees front office doesn’t have to worry about prioritizing planning for the playoffs and should be just about done figuring out what casual observers like myself are already writing about.

Sporting exactly two left-handed relievers this season, Wandy Peralta (148 ERA+) and Nick Ramirez (157 ERA+) and factoring in that the Yankees play half their games in a stadium with a short porch in right field, it stands to reason that adding more left-handed relievers (and starters for that matter) this offseason would be advantageous. Shockingly, Brian Cashman seems to ignore the need for left-handedness in his rotation, in his bullpen and even in his lineup. Personally, if I owned the team, I’d have replaced Cashman long ago because of this, but instead of beating a dead horse to death today, I’ll focus on evaluating this year’s bullpen while trying to speculate not only on which relievers should be brought back, but also I’ll look at some potential upgrades that exist outside the organization.

The Most Valuable Yankees Reliever this Season was…

Starting with the reliever who wins the MVP of this season’s bullpen, Clay Holmes (1.3 f-WAR / 1.6 b-WAR / 142 ERA+) has been the most effective reliever for the Yankees this season. Per FanGraphs, if Holmes was a free agent this season, he’d have been worth a $10.5 million contract. Since he only cost the Yankees $3.3 million this season and since he has a final season of arbitration eligibility in 2024, before he hits free agency at the end of next season, keeping him around seems not only obviously prudent, but it should be a bargain for the Yankees as well. Very few Yankees are worth their contracts and then some and Clay Holmes is certainly one of them!

Possessing elite ability to deny opposing batters the ability to square balls up against his electric sinker and sweeping slider, Holmes sported a miniscule Barrel Percentage Against of 2.8 percent this season, compared to the League average of 6.9 percent - per StatCast. Furthermore, his .280 wOBA against was well under the League average of .316 and very much in line with the “expected results” that the contact against him produced - as evidenced by his .272 xwOBA.

Based on opposing batters' contact against Holmes, he is in the top nine percent of the League and there's really no way to understate this point. Opposing batters simply don’t have an easy time facing Holmes, although, when they do square balls up against Holmes, they tend to hit them very hard, which was illustrated this season by his 43.8 Had-Hit-Percentage, given that the League average is a much lower 36.2 percent.

Should Clay Holmes be the Closer in 2024?

Dialing up my Pirates memories during the time Holmes spent in the Buc’s organization, I have to admit I’m quite impressed with Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake for being able to turn Clay Holmes into a very valuable, high leverage reliever. Left-handed batters historically mauled Holmes, while he was almost always devastatingly good against right-handed hitters and the Pirates seemed to struggle with what to do with him based on his career trends.

Enter Matt Blake and the Yankees! It’s at this juncture of today’s piece that I’d also like to remind our readers that Brian Cashman basically fleeced my beloved Pirates when the Bombers traded with the Bucs on that fateful day on July 21st of 2021. At the time, I was a fledgling SSTN writer and I thought it was a bad trade for the Yankees who sent minor league second baseman Hoy Park to the Bucs, along with fellow infielder Diego Castillo. Park was destroying Triple-A pitching with the Yankees Scranton RailRiders affiliate, to the tune of a .932 OPS.

Coincidentally, I attended a number of RalRiders games in 2021 and Park was the prospect I was most enthused with. Opposing managers were issuing him intentional walks left and right and his MiB OBP was .441 and he was a left-hand hitting infielder. I deemed the trade of Park to be a case where Yankees analytics were just dead wrong - the Yankees were starved for lineup balance and I thought he’d make a fine leadoff hitter for the Yankees as he played second base, third base and could also play in the outfield.

Boy was I wrong! Cashman won this trade emphatically. The Yankees analytics department must have seen a number of things that they didn’t like about Park, while also spotting a number of things they liked about Holmes. The trade has to go down as a real stunner and it’s a feather in the much maligned Brian Cashman’s cap for sure.

I dish out a lot of negative Cashman vibes and truth be told, I’ve maintained for years that he should be team president and not the GM. That said, I have long wanted to do a piece where I illustrate how dumb I truly am, so if I’m being totally honest with my readers, Cashman and the Yankees deserve a massive kudos for pulling off the trade for Clay Holmes, as the Yankees won this trade going away. That said, lest we forget that Brian Cashman flushed Trevor Stephan and Garrett Whitlock away in the 2021 Rule 5 Draft, so while he fleeced the Pirates with the Holmes trade, both the Red Sox and the Guardians embarrassed Cashman by obtaining stud relievers basically for free from the Yankees.

If Not Holmes, Who Should be the Closer Next Season?

Nonetheless, it's rather obvious that Clay Holmes, who is in his final year of Arbitration eligibility, will be an extremely important member of the Yankees bullpen next season. However, I think that this offseason, the Yankees should look to execute a trade with the Pirates, for David Bednar. Bednar has three more years of team control remaining and considering his $16.5 MTV per Baseball Trade Values. Per FanGraphs, if Bednar were a free agent this season, he’d have been worth $17.3 million based on his

performance, so seeing as how he’s wort 2.2 f-WAR and he’s controllable for three more seasons, prying him from the Pirates wouldn’t be easy.

Seemingly, the Yankees and Pirates do line up in a possible deal for Bednar. Its no secret that the Yankees will need to examine what went so wrong this season and most of the faithful here on SSTN are already well into doing that. Our Editor in Chief Paul has actually provided some fun coverage on this topic over the past several weeks - yet the Yankees are seemingly moving slowly regarding making a plan. Clearly, Cashman missed a big opportunity to bolster his plan for the future by not making a few deals as a Trade Deadline seller this season. Instead, he did nothing, which left many astute Yankees observers quite baffled.

Trading for Bednar instantly fortifies the back end of the Yankees bullpen. If Hal Steinbrenner agrees to add multiple lefty starters this offseason, which he clearly needs to get on board with, Clarke Schmidt becomes an attractive trade chip, who the Yankees could dangle to the pitching starved Pirates. BaseballTradeValues lists Schmidt as having a $20.8 MTV and the Pirates would find the four-years of team control attached to Schmidt as a very cost effective way to improve their rotation - especially given that they don’t have the resources to go out and fix their pitching problems like the Yankees could (if only Steinbrenner were willing).

A trade proposal from Yankees centering on Schmidt for Bednar would likely captivate the Pirates interest and the Yankees, who presumably will sign at least two left-handed starters such as Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, would be better off having a lock down closer like Bednar, which allows the team to use Holmes more in a set up man, which he’s more suited for.

Should the Yankees Trade Schmidt for a Closer?

While there’s no denying that a team that has young starters with four years of team control like Schmidt has is very desirable, if the Yankees are trying to build a team that can contend, an established, lights out closer is a key component to making a World Series run. It's true that Yankees are a long

way from being a World Series contender, but both the rotation and bullpen need to be upgraded and trading Schmidt for Bednar is addition through subtraction and the deal is likely one that the Pirates might actually have a hard time not pulling the trigger on, as they desperately need young, controllable rotation pieces.

From the Yankees perspective, why not upgrade from Schmidt, who is really a 5th starter at best, one whom even the Red Sox recently decided not to trade Alex Verdugo for at this year’s Deadline, while also looking to get more left-handed in the primary area of team need – the rotation. The Red Sox decided that ultimately, Schmidt is a “middling” starter and they already have enough of those types around.

World Series champs have averaged a 113.6 ERA+ since 1903. Clarke Schmidt had an ERA+ of 96 this season. True, he eats innings and he’s controllable, but Blake Snell (169) and Jordan Mongomery (123) are far better fits on a team like the Yankees, especially if the Yankees goal is to become a contender. Schmidt is also a poor fit for the Yankees rotation, given the short porch, mainly because left-handed hitters tend to obliterate his offerings, a point illustrated by left-handed hitters posting a .378 wOBA this season against Schmidt.

Given that right-handed batters posted a skimpy .281 against Schmidt, it’s reasonable to conclude that Schmidt might benefit from a change in scenery, pitching for a team that has deep right field dimensions. The Red Sox favor right handed starters for this reason, so it’s no surprise that they kicked tires on trading for Schmidt this season. When the Yankees start Schmidt in Yankee stadium, opposing managers counter with as many left-handed bats as they can muster and this turns the Yankees home field advantage into a disadvantage. I would think a team like the Yankees, as entrenched in analytics as they are, would want to trade Schmidt and replace him with a left-handed starter with solid reverse splits, one who forces opposing managers into starting right handed hitters.

Cashman has done a very poor job in valuing left-handed pitching, not to mention hitting, it’s time for this behavior to stop. The Yankees have a short porch and when you have a shortage of left-handed starters, the visiting team takes the advantage when they stack left-handed hitters into their lineup. The Yankees should be forcing opponents to hit right handed in Yankee stadium as the advantage is one that has helped the Yankees immensely over the years. Why forfeit this advantage?

Bednar, a righty closer himself is meanwhile a tick more effective against left-handed hitters, while also being very tough on right-handed batters as well and his splits make him ideally suited to be the Yankees new closer. In fact, the Yankees should already understand the value of having a right handed closer who is not only tough on right handed hitters, but even better against left-handed bats. Bednar would be a game clinching closer who nullifies the value of bringing in a left-handed pinch hitter with the game on the line.

Therefore in my mind, the Yankees ought to strongly consider using free agency to bolster their rotation, while also looking to trade for the right closer and David Bednar is the obvious choice. Executing moves like these drastically change what the Yankees would be capable of, if they simultaneously upgraded their lineup. Moving along with the bullpen analysis….

The Second Most Valuable Yankees Reliever was a big Surprise!

Moving along and without doubt, the Yankees second most valuable reliever this season was the remarkably effective Ian Hamilton (194 ERA+) and I’m hard pressed to give credit to a single Yankees blogger anywhere, including myself, for identifying Hamilton as a scrap-heap breakthrough candidate in 2023…yet here we are! Cashman signed Hamilton to a Minor-League deal in April this season and there’s little doubt that Ian Hamiltion has been a total stud for the Yankees this season. He has three years of pre-arbitration control and another three of arbitration eligibility remaining, so

his roster spot should free up some serious coin to upgrade in other areas of team need.

Being a righty reliever, what was most amazing about Hamilton’s 2023 season for me was not his ability to squelch out left-handed batters with his reverse pitching splits – oh no! What stood out most about Hamilton’s body of work this season was his incredible ability to rise to the occasion and pitch even better in high leverage situations, in which opposing batters posted a miniscule .149 wOBA against his baffling slider-sinker-four seam fastball mix. Hamilton registered a 30.2 strikeout percentage this season, which places him in the top 10 percent of the League. Suffice it to say, he’s not only a gamer, but a keeper as well.

A Highly Valuable Yankees Reliever who should have been a Starter…

Another lethally effective reliever for the Yankees this season has been Mike King and as we’re finding out recently, his current 1.7 fWAR value would have been maximized even more if he were stretched out as a starter. King’s fWAR has gone from 0.9 to 1.7 ever since he was moved into the role of starter, which is why I often lament that the Yankees play their most impactful players out of position and King is the primary example of this.

Detractors will debate that King may not be able to hold up, but when you play the game as over cautiously as Cashman’s often injured Yankees do, seldom is the reward a championship. Besides not using a six man rotation, Brian Cashman never seems to begin a season with enough reliable starting pitching depth.

An elite reliever who holds opposing batters to a .287 wOBA, against a xwOBA of .285 with an excellent 28.2 strikeout percentage, King also boasted a befuddling hard-hit-percentage of only 30.7 percent, which was in the top seven percent of the league this season. Somehow, the Yankees let King pitch 149-innings at Single-A in 2017, when in the previous 2016 season he had only thrown 30.2 innings innings in the developmental leagues.

Then, in 2018, the Yankees let King throw 161.1-innings as he rocketed from High-A to Triple-A in a single season. The results of the mismanagement were of course calamitous for King, as he suffered a stress reaction that impaired his development as a lights out starter of the absolute most valuable kind. I’ll throw a mismanagement penalty flag here on the Yankees organization, one that results in a significant loss of down!

Here we are in 2023 and the Yankees, because of their losing ways, have finally decided to play him in the right position and thankfully, they’re doing it cautiously by not asking him to pitch the full nine innings every time out, but in fact, he hasn’t thrown more than 65 pitches in his last five outings. Thank the Lord for small mercies! I do humbly declare that the Yankees organization needs systemic overhaul and I’ll cite the mismanagement of Mike King as one of the many exhibits that befuddles the mind.

How could a team plagued by ineffective starts from mediocre starters with ERA+’s below 100 not have thought outside the box sooner. Instead, the Yankees chose to let the season slip away. Next season is a perfect opportunity for the Yankees to revamp their rotation and if Schmidt is traded for a closer, using King in a six man rotation designed to limit innings and protect each starter is an ideal way to right the presently capsized Yankees ship.

In my next article in this series, I’ll continue to evaluate the Yankees bullpen, then I’ll move into examining other areas of the team, as I plot a path forward pertaining to the Yankees offseason strategy. The goal will be to figure out which players the Yankees should keep and which ones they should move on from.



Alan B.
Alan B.
Sep 19, 2023

Thanks Cary, with your in-depth look at Holmes, you've made my point why Blake SHOULD NOT be the Yankees PC in 2024. What he did is exactly what the Astros did with Charlie Morton or Justin Verlander. Analytical or Sports Lab guys should not be in the dugout coaches.

First thing to fix in reality is how they coach/teach the Starters not named Cole or Rondon (their contracts get them a longer leash in the game) about pitch sequence, reading the swings. Asking the catchers what they see the batters freeze on. If a guy can't hit a FB, why throw him anything else? Teach these guys real FB command- in, out, up, & down. Not showing all your pitche…

Alan B.
Alan B.
Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

When SSTN did the 50 man list, i came up with about 38 keepers. But the one guy i gotta put on the 40 is Jesus Rodriguez. Wells, Dominguez, and Florial are already there. Beeter, Barclay, & Ramirez are on it too if the same guys are still in charge.

Aren't Sauer, Narvaez, & Chapparo minor league free agents like the day after the MLB regular season is over?

If i had to keep Bauers or McKinney, im keeping McKinney. But I'd let them both go. Cordero, gone. Abreu, gone. Rortvedt, gone. If they want Middleton back, he signs before the 40 man roster is set. Krook, gone. I want Weissert gone. My opinion, both IKF & Peralta will sig…


Sep 18, 2023

no reason to go begging the Pirates for Bednar

Yankees have relievers stacked up on IL and available for next season

if they want to add a reliever, it should be a big left-handed one who pies up Ks at a rate higher than Bednar.... and the free-agent class might feature one.

only one Pirate should be drawing heavy Yankee interest

and he aint a pitcher, he's a big ole lefty hitter

Sep 20, 2023
Replying to

I think that Cruz has the arm and the co-odination to play 3B, although I originally viewed him at 1B.

and I don't really think that the Pirates want to let go of him...and CERTAINLY don't wanna deal with the Yankees if they do.

and Cashman simply can not deal away young talent that matches Cruz' upside. his leash is a bit short

and my expectation is that Cashman is going to grab what he can in the free agent market prior to making any big-time trades.

I'm of the mind that the Bucs might trade away Hayes ahead of Cruz

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