By Jason Light
Aroldis Chapman has brought a lot of attention toward the Yankee bullpen, with descriptors like “dominant” and a “three-headed monster” being thrown around. But as good as Chapman and the other two stars of the pen have been, there are a few causes for concern about the scary-on-paper group.
Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were truly outstanding last year out of the Yankee bullpen, with Miller living up to his $9 million annual salary and Betances following up a breakout 2014 season with an equally impressive 2015. Adam Warren, despite being continually yanked from the pen and into the starting rotation due to injuries and performance issues, posted an impressive 2.29 ERA and 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year in relief. Justin Wilson and rookie Chasen Shreve posted ERAs in the low threes, and the top part of the Yankee pen lived up to its dominant billing last year.
With five pitchers who posted seasons in the very good – elite ranges, how did the Yankees finish only 14th in bullpen ERA at 3.70? The simple answer is that for as good as the above five pitchers were, the remaining lot were absolutely abysmal:
The rest of the Yankee relievers in 2015 posted a 5.35 ERA, allowing 10 more home runs and nearly twice as many runs as the above five did – in 70 fewer innings. As a result, the team was forced to prop up the poor performance of the bullpen’s bottom half with the brilliance of Miller and Co. And with Adam Warren departing for Chicago and Justin Wilson being shipped off to Detroit, the Yankees just put a lot more stress on the top of that pen.
That stress could shift entirely to Betances, Miller, and Chapman next season. Despite a solid rookie season where he posted a sparkling 3.09 ERA, advanced stats suggest that Chasen Shreve is prime for a sophomore slump:
Shreve’s high WHIP, coupled with a low batting average on balls in play and a fielding-independent pitching statistic almost a full two points higher than his ERA all seem to suggest that Shreve was lucky to avoid ending the season with a much higher earned run average. The kid is 24 years old with plenty of talent, but his impressive rookie season may have set him up for a decline in 2016.
With these issues in mind, the Yankees sought out an elite fireman to bolster the pen. With Chapman, they clearly found their man:
Chapman has consistently put up elite numbers throughout his career, and although his walks per nine innings and hits surrendered per nine innings snuck up toward career highs, he still posted an elite ERA and an impressive season. The most intimidating part about Chapman is his age – at only 27 years old, the dominant flamethrower possibly hasn’t even reached his prime yet.
The question isn’t about whether Chapman is talented – he clearly is – but whether this talent is enough to overcome New York’s shortcomings. In the best case scenario for New York, Betances and Miller lead a bridge to Chapman, turning games into a season-long six inning affair. Worst case scenario is that Chapman gets suspended for domestic violence abuses, and the latter two heads of the three-headed monster are unable to overcome a shaky bullpen and a shaky rotation as the Yankees settle for another season of mediocrity.