Brief Banter on the Bronx Bullpen
By Patrick Gunn
January 12, 2022
The Yankees bullpen looked concerning going into 2022. New York lacked the depth behind Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green they had in the past, and offseason additions in in Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson either got hurt or played poorly.
Like the entire team, the Yankees bullpen had a bumpy ride last season. Britton spent the season recovering from injuries, Chapman went from being the best reliever on the planet to the worst in a month, and Green had stretches when he delivered nothing but long balls in late innings. And don’t get me started on Nick Nelson.
Okay, the big three mostly pitched well. But the Yankees bullpen surprised at the season went on because of a breakout dominant season from Jonathan Loáisiga. He finished fourth amongst all relievers in FanGraphs WAR behind just Liam Hendriks, Josh Hader, and Ryan Pressly. He essentially took the Britton route of hard sinkers forcing hitters to bat the ball into the ground (60.9% of contact against him came in the form of grounders). That plus a lot of soft contact (average exit velocity against of 84.0 mph) and a low walk rate (5.7 BB%) and Loáisiga befuddled hitters without ridiculous strikeout numbers.
His 2022 will be key to any success. He would often be asked to pitch the highest-pressure innings and multiple at a time. Some regression may be expected since Loáisiga has never thrown with that kind of control before, nor has he pitched a majority of a season healthy. A upper nineties sinker is hard to find, and if can be half as decent as he was last season, Loáisiga should be a phenomenal reliever.
After him, Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes and Joely Rodríguez proved to be valuable additions. Peralta came to New York for Mike Tauchman (remember him?). Tauchman got released by the Giants, whereas Peralta pitched numerous high leverage innings and tiptoed out of a myriad of jams. Granted, Peralta’s decent peripherals (9.6 BB%, 19.6 K%, 4.31 FIP) suggest Peralta overachieved. He did still force weak contact with his onslaught of changeups, and he still averaged above 95 mph with his fastball, so Peralta can still be a middle innings contributor.
Holmes took after Loáisiga and morphed into a high-control power sinker pitcher within a week of coming from the Pirates at the deadline. He went from walking 25 batters in 42 innings with Pittsburgh (13.2%) to just four in 28 innings (3.9%) while getting a major boost in strikeouts. Like Loáisiga, Holmes needs to prove he can command his sinker consistently given his career 13.2 walk percentage. Again, hard sinkers are hard to come by, and Holmes has the talent to be another stud.
Rodríguez took the most unique route coming in from Texas in the Joey Gallo trade. The Yankees on him being a lefty-specialist and he thrived. The southpaw allowed a .288 OBP and a .271 slugging against lefties on the year, and that continued into the second half. He didn’t throw as high leverage innings as Peralta or Holmes, but he came in to get big outs when needed and he contributed. For a throw-in player, Rodríguez proved to be worthwhile addition to the pen.
The last name to mention is Lucas Luetge, a journeyman who returned to the bigs for the first time since 2015. He stayed on the Yankees’ roster from opening day until the end of the season. Aaron Boone used him poorly at times, and Luetge had his lumps, but he provided a consistent, quality presence with the ability to throw multiple strong innings (2.84 FIP, 25.9 K%).
The key to the Yankees season next year is to keep the breakout performers cooking next season and provide depth. A lot of the Bombers’ best arms either pitched out of their minds compared to their histories or came out of obscurity to provide. Keeping them consistent along with the big names and finding new pitchers to help those pitchers out.
Yes, the Yankees have bigger issues with their lineup to fix, but helping the bullpen improves the team at the margins and the Yankees can be crafty to find improvements, whether that means bargain bin deals or promoting from within (imagine Luis Gil and Luis Medina getting innings out there?).
Regardless, the Yankees’ outlook on the bullpen has still improved drastically over the last year thanks to several unexpected sources.
(Statistics coming from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference).