Moving on From Dellin Betances: A Look at the (Lesser) Yankees Relievers
Seeing Dellin Betances sign with the New York Mets this week was definitely a let down, especially considering that the move occurred on Christmas Eve as I was celebrating with family.
It is a substantial loss, especially considering how Betances was one of the top relievers in the game from 2014-2018. But, the Yankees still had a top bullpen last season with Betances only making one short appearance.
However, even with that disappointing turn of events, the Yankees still have an extremely good bullpen- if not the best in the Major Leagues- for the 2020 season.
With the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle as their Top-5, with other solid producers behind them, it’s hard to see a team that has as much top talent in their bullpen. However, it’s the next crop that truly makes a good bullpen.
In this post, we will quickly look the lesser Yankees reliever options heading into 2020.
Luis Cessa, over his 4 year career has pitched to a 4.50 ERA over 232.0 innings. While this doesn’t necessarily look that great, during the 2019 season, Cessa improved on his career averages by pitching to a career best 4.11 ERA with an ERA+ of 108, while pitching 81.0 innings- the most in his career.
Cessa has definitely been a polarizing pitcher at times, as he has been often called on in a big spot instead of overusing a different but more effective reliever, and often his poor performances in those spots have unfortunately led to a mischaracterization of what he can do.
However, considering his cheap price- he is still under a rookie contract, and will make approximately $600,000 in 2020- and even including his terrible 2018 campaign (ERA of 5.24), he has been just about an average pitcher during his time in the bigs, with an ERA+ of 97.
Cessa will almost definitely have a spot in the bullpen come 2020, especially as a go-to long-relief arm.
Ben Heller, over the past four seasons has logged only 25.1 innings in the major leagues, while pitching to a 2.49 ERA and an ERA+ of 185. When he has been on the mound, he has been incredibly effective, but his big problem has been his ability to stay on the mound.
In both 2018 Heller ended up on the 60-Day IL for problems with a bone spur in his right elbow. This eventually led towards requiring Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for most of the 2019 season. The Yankees have been patient with him because he has proven to be fantastic in his very short stints over the 2016, 2017, and 2019 seasons, with ERA+ of 70, 568, and 378 respectively.
If healthy, expect to see Heller on the big league mound as the Yankees look to see if his career 185 ERA+ is legitimate or a fluke of small sample size.
What an unfortunate season that Jonathan Holder had in 2019, pitching to a 6.31 ERA (!) with an ERA+ of only 71 over a significant 41.1 innings as a reliever. Definitely a season he’d like to forget, especially considering how the two prior seasons he was great for his role.
In 2017 and 2018, Holder pitched to a 3.89 and 3.14 ERA and a 117 and 134 ERA+ respectively over a combined 105.1 innings. He was mostly used as mop-up and/or long-relief help, and showed off his talent in that role. But, in 2019 he fell back to average quickly, moving his career ERA+ to 102.
This may have been due to a problem with his right shoulder, which landed Holder on the IL in early August and ended up sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
Holder has a lot to prove going into the 2020 season, but given his solid performances in prior seasons, he may be able to squeeze out one of the final spots in the bullpen come late March/early April.
Michael King made it into a singular one game in 2019, where he pitched 2 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, and recorded 1 strikeout with no walks.
He started the 2019 season on the IL before moving to the GCL and up the minors on rehab assignments from July through August. This greatly reduced his innings and appearances, but definitely shouldn’t find himself in a bullpen role any time soon.
Over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, King started 49 games, totaling 310.1 innings, and ERA’s of 3.14 and 1.79 respectively. If anything, King could find himself making a few spot-starts for the Yankees over the 2020 season in case of injuries, and carving out a bullpen role for King at this point would be a waste of his talent.
Like all pitchers on the 40-Man Roster, there’s a good chance he’ll make some appearances in 2020, I would just not expect them to be via a bullpen/relief role. However, I would expect the Yankees to slot King in as a starter at Triple-A to start the season.
Jonathan Loaisiga is a little bit of both Ben Heller and Michael King combined. He is seen much more as a starting pitcher, but has yet to prove in his career that he can stay healthy for any serious period of time. He has tremendous potential, even making the MLB Top-100 prospect list in 2018 after years of injuries, but has yet to show that potential at the big league level. (Correct me if I am wrong.)
He managed to pitch 24.2 and 31.2 innings in 2018 and 2019 respectively, to unfortunate ERA’s of 5.11 and 4.55 in each year. In all, that comes out to a career ERA+ of 91. His role on the team is also a bit unknown, with decisions about whether or not he can be a starter looming.
I believe he still has options remaining, and would expect him to start the 2020 season at Triple-A to work on/prove he can stay healthy and show his potential again. If so, he’ll be called upon as a shuttle-arm in between the MLB and Triple-A over the 2020 season.
Albert Abreu has yet to pitch in the major leagues or even Triple-A. He was added to the 40-Man Roster last offseason as a way to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and is a piece that is currently in progress on a journey towards the MLB.
In 2019, he pitched 96.2 innings to a 4.28 ERA while at Double-A while working around a minor injury that kept him away from late July to mid-August. Like Michael King, Abreu is much more of a potential starter than a relief arm, but could be used as a reliever just to break into the MLB if necessary.
In regards to being a piece that will be used in 2020, I would hedge my bets, but it could definitely happen. If he starts the season lighting up opponents in Double-A and forces a move to Triple-A, anything is possible. At this moment, I’d wager he still has another year to go, but anything can happen.
Stephen Tarpley may have had one of the worst introductions into the big leagues that somebody could have as a reliever. In 21 games, he pitched to a 6.93 ERA (!), a 65 ERA+, and recorded -0.5 bWAR over only 24.2 innings. All this is to say that his 2019 season was not good.
His season at Triple-A was much different however, pitching to a 3.13 ERA over 31.2 innings, which was much more in-line with what he had shown over his career. His breakout year was 2018, where he pitched to a combined 1.94 ERA over 36 games and 69.2 innings at both Double and Triple-A ball.
Again, he’s another pitcher that will most likely be starting the season at Triple-A to work on his craft, and if he continues his excellence in the minors will find himself as one of the first players called up to the bigs if necessary.
With a 26-Man Roster for the 2020 season, the Yankees will be going with a 13-Man pitching staff.
Set aside 5 pitchers as the starters- at time time this looks to be Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ- this allows for 8 relievers to make the team.
That number quickly shrinks down as Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle quickly take 5 of the remaining 8 spots.
If I was to build the 2020 roster, my final three choices would be:
Luis Cessa, who has proven himself to be a dependable long-relief arm,
Ben Heller, who has shown great potential at the Major League level
and Jonathan Holder, who had a very rough 2019 but was previously a top relief option in very similarly stacked bullpens.
Of the remaining 4 players, I’d like to see Michael King and Albert Abreu continue their work in the minors as starting pitchers. They both have good to great potential and there is no reason to mess with that with a switch to relief pitching.
For Jonathan Loaisiga and Stephen Tarpley, 2020 should also start in the minor leagues as they work towards staying healthy and honing in on their craft respectively.
Is there anybody I’m forgetting or something you’d do differently? Let me know in the comments below.