The New York Yankees are off to a thundering start. Currently 22-8, they own MLB’s best record, have lost only one series and recently ran off an 11-game winning streak. New York’s performance is all the more impressive considering they play in a stiff American League East.
For the better part of the last two years, the Yankees’ identity has been power hitting and Gerrit Cole. That identity remains unchanged, but there’s a new ingredient to their success: bullpen excellence.
Here’s how the Yankees’ bullpen is adding a new dimension to their club.
New York Yankees’ bullpen has been elite
Last season, the Yankees’ starting rotation made considerable leaps. This season, it’s their bullpen that’s transforming into a high-caliber unit. Furthermore, it’s winning them games. Manager Aaron Boone is getting quality, efficient innings from his relievers.
Clay Holmes, who was on the Pittsburgh Pirates one year ago, has been the Yankees’ best reliever. He’s keeping runners off the basepaths, painting the strike zone with his sinker and slider and has surrendered one run across 16.1 innings. Acquired from the New York Mets in the MLB offseason, Miguel Castro has been spectacular for the Yankees. He’s working out of trouble, finding success with three offerings (slider, sinker and changeup) and keeping the score down.
Michael King has been a godsend. The right-hander has served as a bridge to the late innings and occasionally an emergency closer. He’s providing depth and posting strikeouts at a high rate. Prior to being sent down to Triple-A, Clarke Schmidt too was providing length. Closer Aroldis Chapman has made matters interesting in the ninth but shut the door more often than not thus far.
- New York Yankees’ bullpen stats entering May 11 (2022): 2.38 ERA (first), 0.40 HR/9 (first), 9.77 K/9 (seventh) and 3.81 BB/9 (21st)
Wandy Peralta picked up where he left off last season, inducing weak contact and jamming left-handed hitters. Chad Green has proven to be a stable long reliever and occasional late-inning option. Southpaw Lucas Luetge has had his moments.
Ironically, Jonathan Loaisiga, the Yankees’ best reliever and most compelling development of 2021, has struggled out of the gate. It hasn’t mattered, though, as everyone else has picked up the pace.
New York Yankees have complementary pitching staff
A dominant bullpen is always going to help make up for any shortcoming a starting rotation encounters. In the Yankees’ case, there hasn’t been an actual weakness.
Cole has been his prominent self. Nestor Cortes is flat-out dealing, owning a 1.41 ERA across his first six starts. Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery are each inducing weak contact and giving the Yankees the chance to win when they take the hill. Luis Severino is the lone starting pitcher somewhat slumping, if you will, but 2022 is also his first time in the opening day rotation in four years due to injuries.
The Yankees’ rotation and bullpen perfectly complement each other. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that either unit is playing to their current tune in two months. At the same time, they’re built to overcome bumps in the road.
If and when those who are thriving taper off in performance and/or injuries hit the bullpen, the Yankees have the depth and upside to make up for the negative development. As previously alluded to, Loaisiga is capable of better performance and has found success in varying roles. Luetge posted a 2.74 ERA across 57 appearances with the Yankees last season. Either reliever can take the closing reins, if need be, or take on a more burdensome role.
Maybe Zack Britton, who’s recovering from an elbow injury, returns to the hill in the waning moments of the regular season, giving the Yankees another arm? Plus, they have plenty of pitchers capable of starting in a pinch like King and Schmidt (if he’s recalled).
Lights-out bullpen is adding a new dimension to the New York Yankees
The Yankees are on year six of trying to win the AL. Something has to change for them to finally break through. Their bullpen appears to be that something.
MLB recently concluded a four-month lockout. This delayed spring training and has resulted in teams having shorter leashes on their starting pitchers to begin the season given the abrupt schedule. The Yankees are no different. When their starters all get up to steam, some outs should come off of the bullpen’s workload; it isn’t even being overworked in the present.
The one element of New York’s operation that has underwhelmed is its offense. That said, a lineup that features the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres is capable of being a force to be reckoned with.
The Yankees are performing like an AL version of the Milwaukee Brewers in leaning on a formidable pitching staff from top to bottom. They can remove a starter in the sixth inning because of the relievers coming out of the bullpen. The comparison is rounded out by the Yankees’ offense being under the weather, but they’ve traditionally been one of the best teams in the sport in that regard.
The Yankees are winning with elite pitching, and they have the resources to continue being such a force. Maybe their offense hitting to its tendencies and their pitching staff becoming an amplified version of itself is what gets the Yankees over the hump?