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  • E.J. Fagan

The Yankees Bullpen is Thin

by E.J. Fagan

January 18, 2024

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NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.


Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.

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A decade ago, Mariano Rivera retired. The Yankees rarely had a deep bullpen during Mo’s tenure, but they still had the GOAT. It would have been easy to expect a significant step back without such a consistent anchor in the 9th inning. Instead, the Yankees have consistently built the best bullpen in baseball since 2014. Since then, the Yankees have had one of the best bullpens in baseball almost every year.


Will that change in 2024?


Right now, the Yankees are set to start the season with Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loiasiga, Tommy Kahnle, Scott Effross, Ian Hamilton, Victor Gonzalez and Luke Weaver in the bullpen, with one spot up for grabs. Let’s talk about them individually.


*For all these players, I am going to focus on their xERA. Reliever ERA is a problematic statistic, because it doesn’t account for inherited runners. If Wandy Peralta walks three guys and Mike King comes into to end the inning, Wandy isn’t credited with any runs. But, Wandy had a bad outing. In contrast, xERA estimates ERA based on the result of plate appearances, similar to looking at the opposing batting lines.


Clay Holmes

Holmes’ full season numbers were pretty strong. His xERA was 2.84, in the top 5% of the league. His other numbers check out pretty well too:




Holmes is the best soft contact relief pitcher in baseball. His control is average-ish, although I’d say his command is probably well below average. When Holmes can land his sinker in the zone, he’s basically unhittable. When he can’t, batters don’t swing. His outings were real ugly early in the season, but he was absolutely elite by the end. He probably got a little unlucky in some of his early September blow ups.



The bottom line is that I’m really confident in Holmes right now. He’s a strong closer. I hope the Yankees have a good backup for his inevitable cold streak, but I’d take him over all but 5 or 6 closers in baseball.


Jonathan Loaisiga

Part of me thought that Loaisigia would be non-tendered this Fall. He completely lost the ability to strike batters out in 2023. His strikeout rate has been a straight line down to the right for two years:



Even with his incredible hard sinker, it is impossible to be a success relief pitcher when you allow so many balls in play. He didn’t get burned for it too badly in 2023, posting a strong 2.67 xERA thanks to one of the best walk rates in the league. Still, Loaisiga is playing with fire.


I think the Yankees tendered him a contract because the ceiling is so high. When Loaisgia was on the top of his game in 2021, he was one of the top two or three relief pitchers in baseball. I got real Mariano Rivera from how hard it was for batters to make solid contact. But like all non-Mo relief pitchers, the high didn’t last very long.


Maybe he can get back to that level, or at least stay healthy and strike out a few more batters, but it’s a real gamble. While he’s listed as the 8th inning guy on depth charts, I don’t think that’s his realistic role to begin 2024. He can’t be the second best relief pitcher if the Yankee bullpen is going to be elite.


Tommy Kahnle

It sure didn’t feel like Kahnle put up a 2.79 xERA 2023. I had zero confidence in him by the end of the season. That said, I didn’t watch a lot of games once the Yankees were out of it in September and Dominguez was injured. Kahnle only allowed earned runs in one outing after August 27th, a two run outing in late September. Batters were sitting on his changeup, so Kahnle responded by throwing more fastballs:



I think Kahnle is probably a good setup guy next year for an elite bullpen. He’ll be their 7th/8th inning guy depending on how many lefties are due up. I’m a little nervous based on how bad he was in late July and August, but his recovery is encouraging.


Ian Hamilton

Holy cow, Hamilton was a revelation last year:




The dude had filthy stuff. He looks mean. He is better against lefties than righties. He was sneaky shaky late in the season, allowing two big blowups in August and September. Still, I am probably more confident in Hamilton than any of the three more experienced guys. A real coup for the Yankees front office and coaching staff. He’s an elite 7th/8th inning guy.


Scott Effross

I forgot how good Effross was in 2022:



2.51 xERA! Not bad! He’s about as different of a pitcher as it gets from Hamilton, but the results are similar. His injury was probably the final blow to the 2022 playoff roster.


Effross finished his Tommy John rehab, was shut down, and now is working a normal offseason. If he comes all the way back, Effross could settle into a steady relief role for the Yankees for the next three or four years. But he’s still a question mark until he does it, and will have to be handled a little bit with kid gloves in 2024. Tommy John recoveries aren’t automatic.


Victor Gonzalez

Is he the next Wandy Peralta? Maybe. Wandy was really good for the Yankees from 2022-2023. Gonzalez has big shoes to fill. The Yankees are great at realizing the potential of hard throwing pitchers, but I can’t count on that outcome until he happens.


Luke Weaver

Are you shocked that Weaver got a major league contract? Me too. His mother is shocked. I don’t get it. Weaver has been of the worst pitchers in the major leagues for some time now. Why not let Ryan Webb do this job again? I wonder if Matt Blake has a plan here.


The Other Guys: Marinaccio, Beeter, Gil, Poteet, Krook, Morris, Ramirez, Underwood, Warren, etc.

Can the Yankees find another Hamilton in this group? Maybe. Like with Gonzalez, I’ll believe it when I see it. One problem that the Yankees have is that because they traded away so much pitching depth, they pretty much need to keep their starting pitchers starting. They can’t try Beeter or Warren or Morris immediately in a short role.


Bottom Line

There’s definitely a potential elite bullpen in this group, but there is a ton of uncertainty. Only Kahle and Holmes are easy bets to be elite relievers in 2024. Hamilton has only done it for one year. Effross is coming off health problems. Loiasiga is a bit of a mess. Gonzalez is a question mark. I’m concerned, especially given how the Yankees rotation might need some volume out of the bullpen.


I think this group looks a lot deeper if the Yankees sign Hector Neris, or someone similar. They need a reliable, solid late-inning relief pitcher to stabilize the bullpen. Then, they can tolerate a bad season from one or two of their veterans. If they don’t sign someone like Neris, they are betting on Matt Blake and co. finding two top relief pitchers out of their pile of raw material.

13 Comments


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Jan 19

Here is why the Yankees should seriously consider signing Josh Hader. Last season, the Yankees had a total of 19 blown saves. Hader had just five blown saves in 2023, and averages three blown saves a season over his eight-year career.

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Jan 18

The Yankees most likely aren't finished adding to the bullpen. Now that they have addressed their left handed hitting offense issues and their starting pitching issues with new acquisitions, they will be turning their attention to the bullpen. The one I would most like to see them acquire is Josh Hader, because the HUGE thing the Yankee bullpen has been lacking for many years is a bonafide 9th inning CLOSER, which they haven't had since the "pre-regression" Aroldis Chapman, who afterwards regressed into a no longer reliable bullpen piece. Clay Holmes is more suited for a "setup" role for the 7th and 8th innings leading up to a dominant 9th inning CLOSER. If Hader can't be had, or if…

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Jonathan Silverberg
Jonathan Silverberg
Jan 18

Fyi: Curry on Yankees Hot Stove last night: his sources tell him the Yanks aren't signing Neris...Kaye: Yanks still thinking about Peralta, Stephenson...

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Jan 18
Replying to

Robert Stephenson would be a great pickup. He was phenomenal last year with Tampa Bay. I would also like them to bring back Peralta.

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yankeesblog
Jan 18

I don't like Kahnle. He throws changeup after changeup until batters are sitting on it and launch one out of the park.

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Jonathan Silverberg
Jonathan Silverberg
Jan 18

You are shocked by the Weaver signing because you stopped watching at the end of the year. The Yanks picked him up the second week in September, and he STARTED three games in the final two weeks: 13.1 innings, 1-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3 BB's,16 k's...the win was the middle game, over the about-to-go-to-the-WS Snakes (at the stadium; the other two were in KC and Toronto), 5.1 scoreless...I watched all 13.1 innings; he looked good...the loss was to Bassitt's 16th, a shutout...he gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, the bullpen gave up 4 more...I assume when he got to NY, Blake told him to change his pitch mix, because those results are nothing like his previous performance with…

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Patrick Kissane
Patrick Kissane
Jan 18
Replying to

Great post and not just because l totally agree with it.

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