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The Yankees Need a Reliever

Note: There is a key at the bottom of the article for unspecified stats and acronyms. Some of the stats used can be quite advanced, so please check the list beforehand.

In my last article titled “Early Trade Predictions for the Yankees”, one of the conclusions I came to was that the Yankees did not need a reliever. For those of you that missed the article, here’s a brief recap. The Yankees have four elite relievers in Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle. Following this overpowering group, they have Jonathan Holder and Chad Green. Holder was better than his ERA indicated, and Green turned his season around in his role as an opener. If either of the pitchers struggled, then Stephen Tarpley can step up, and later Dellin Betances can fill when he comes back from injury. Then, the last reliever would be a long reliever, which can be rounded out by Nestor Cortes Jr. or David Hale. Later on in the season, the Yankees pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga and Jordan Montgomery will return from injury and can act as that long reliever. In addition, if the Yankees add a starter, then one of their many pitchers that start (Tanaka, Sabathia, Happ, Paxton, German, Severino, and a possible new starter) can pitch out in long relief when the playoffs come around. One of the starters in the relief role is the most probable scenario in October, especially with German expected to be on an innings limit, and Severino expected to make his first start this season late August, or early September. So why exactly do the Yankees need another reliever, especially since the bullpen appears to be in good hands?

For starters, the Yankees 2019 bullpen has not lived up to the expectation of being the best bullpen ever. That hype was somewhat justifiable considering that Chapman, Betances, Britton, Ottavino, Green, and Kahnle would all be put in the closer role on various teams throughout Major League Baseball. Having so many elite arms, many analysts predicted that their bullpen would be the deadliest in all of baseball. Turns out, the Yankees have a very good bullpen, but not the best bullpen. According to ESPN, the Yankees relievers are 10th in ERA (4.05), 8th in IP (3.89 IP/G), 13th in walks (3.53 BB/9), 20th in homers (1.26 HR/9), 9th in OPS (.716), 10th in WHIP (1.32), and 9th in SV% from all relievers including those that do not close games (67.39%). The Yankees bullpen really only becomes elite with their strikeout rate where they are ranked 3rd with a 10.00 K/9 ratio. As a result, the Yankees do not even have a top-5 bullpen in baseball.

As mentioned in my last article, the Yankees starting pitching has been slightly above average at best. In fact the Yankees’ rotation might be their biggest flaw as a team. To overcompensate for their pitching staff, the Yankees rely heavily on the bullpen. As a result, their bullpen needs to be one of the best if they want to survive offensively driven teams such as the Astros, and Twins in the playoffs.

In addition, the individual statistics of the Yankees relievers also show reason for concern. For starters, Jonathan Holder was sent down. Despite having a 1.3 fWARon the season, Holder never had a month where he had an ERA under 4.50, which is downright awful for a reliever. In June, Holder’s poor pitching got out of hand. In 8.0 IP, Holder had a 14.63 ERA, gave up 16 H, 2 BB, a 2.25 WHIP, and hitters slashing .361/.422/.833 against him. As a result, the Yankees had every reason to send him down on June 24th. The next reliever up as expected was Stephen Tarpley, who has not fared well since being called up. Despite having an 11.57 K/9 rate, Tarpley also has a 9.64 ERA, 8.14 FIP. 3.86 HR/9, and a -0.2 fWAR. All of these numbers are very below average.

Then there is Dellin Betances. The Yankees would really love to have him back in the pen, but unfortunately the 4x All-Star will not be back until mid-late August. Even when Betances returns, their very well could be a grace period until when he comes back to form—hopefully before the playoffs in October.

Furthermore, the Yankees elite four is more of an elite two. In the month of June, Kahnle has pitched 9.0 IP with a 8.00 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, and hitters are slashing .289/.372/.553 as well as having a .386 wOBA. Zack Britton performed better than Kahnle in the month of June, but still struggled. In 10.0 IP, Britton has a 4.86 ERA, 9.00 BB/9, and hitters are slashing .182/.386/.273 against him. Meanwhile, Chapman (10.1 IP, 0.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .243/.293/.297, .259 wOBA), and Ottavino (10.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, .189/.318/.405, .313 wOBA) both remained elite during the month of June. At least Chad Green has flipped the scriptin June. He had a 0.69 ERA in 13.0 IP with a 13.85 K/9, and a .286 wOBA.

Therefore, the Yankees have three amazing relievers (Chapman, Ottavino, and Green), two relievers with a successful career who very well could do better in the second half (Britton and Kahnle), two inconsistent relievers (Holder and Tarpley), and a pitcher on the I.L. (Betances). Even if six out of these eight relievers remain as solid options in the bullpen, that still leaves one spot open for another non-long reliever. This Yankees team is special as they are currently expected to win 101 games according to FanGraphs. Somehow they improved their team from last year, despite having over 20 players on the I.L. in just half a season. As a result, their pitching needs to be able to back them up, especially once their starter exits games in the postseason. Thus, here are some options the Yankees should look at on the trade deadline:

Will Smith

The Giants lefty closer is a free agent after the end of the season, and is one of the best relievers this year. Smith has been perfect in save opportunities (23 saves in 23 chances), and has been named to his first All-Star team. Furthermore, he has a 1.98 ERA, 2.02 FIP, 13.13 K/9, 0.74 HR/9, 0.80 WHIP, and 1.3 fWAR. The fact that the Smith’s FIP is close to his ERA shows that his 2019 season is no fluke. In addition, his low HR/9 rate will fit perfectly in the hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. The Giants, in all likelihood, will not make the playoffs this year. Therefore, trading Smith makes perfect sense for the Bay Area team. The Giants can use some pitching that is close to Major League ready, and another pitcher that is up-and-coming.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send #11 prospect RHP Nick Nelson (11.61 K/9, 0.81 HR/9 in Double-A) and #29 prospect RHP Harold Cortijo (1.93 ERA, 0.64 HR/9 in Single-A) for Giants RP Will Smith

Odds the Yankees trade for Smith: 3/1

Ken Giles

Similar to Smith and the Giants, Giles has been an elite closer for the Blue Jays, who probably will not play in the postseason. Giles has quietly had an impressive year for the Jays. He has been 13/14 in SVO, has a 1.45 ERA, 1.49 FIP, 15.39 K/9, 0.58 HR/9, 43.3 FB%, and 1.4 fWAR this season. Although Giles has a high FB%, he has a low HR/9, so he can keep the ball within the ballpark in the hitter friendly AL East. Giles is also a free agent in 2020, and he could be dealt along with starter Marcus Stroman to help the rebuilding process for the Blue Jays. Despite Giles being a bit of a head case (he once punched himself in the face right after giving up a 3-Run Homer to Gary Sánchez) there is no doubt he could be effective in the Yankees bullpen. The Blue Jays could use a first baseman since Justin Smoak will be a free agent in 2020, and can use some pitching to help the rebuilding process.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send 1B Ryan McBroom (.940 OPS, 134 wRC+ in Triple-A) for Blue Jays RP Ken Giles.

Odds the Yankees trade for Giles: 5/1

Shane Greene

Greene is one of the best closers in all of baseball and has been selected to his first All-Star team. Greene has 22/24 in SVO, 1.09 ERA. 3.72 FIP, 9.27 K/9, 54.7 GB%, and 1.09 HR/9. There are a lot of reasons why the Yankees want to reunite with Greene. His high GB%, and low HR/9 could make him an excellent reliever in New York. Despite having a much higher FIP than his ERA, Greene has been a solid reliever for the past few years now, and has proven himself in the late-inning role. The lowly Detroit Tigers probably will not make the playoffs this year or next year. Although Greene is not a free agent until 2021, his stock may never be higher because of his incredible year. The Tigers can use a solid outfield prospect to replace Castellanos in the long run and some pitching. This deal should suffice:

Trade Prediction: Yankees send #8 prospect Trevor Stephan (10.37 K/9, 0.72 HR/9 in Double-A) #21 prospect OF Anthony Garcia (10 HRs in 44 G, 126 wRC+ in Rookie Ball) for Tigers RP Shane Greene

Odds the Yankees sign him: 10/1

Sam Dyson

Just like Smith, Dyson can hold his own in the Giants bullpen. Dyson would be a fine substitution if they lose out on the Will Smith sweepstakes. He has a 2.30 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 1.26 BB/9, 8.16 K/9, 0.63 HR/9, 57.4 GB%, and 0.7 fWAR. His elite GB%, low HR/9 rate, low BB/9 rate, and solid K/9 rate make Dyson a poor man’s Zack Britton. Despite Dyson being a 2021 free agent, the Giants will probably not be competitive this year or next year. As a result, the Giants should strike when the iron is hot, and get some prospects for Dyson.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send #19 prospect RHP Chance Adams (8.54 K/9, 0.77 HR/9 in Triple-A) and RHP Hector Cortijo for Giants RP Sam Dyson

Odds the Yankees Sign Dyson: 10/1

Kirby Yates

Yates is the best reliever this year in terms of fWAR (2.1) and saves (30), and for good reason too. Yates does everything right for the Padres. He has a 1.15 ERA, 1.38 FIP, 13.85 K/9, 0.23 HR/9, and 48.0 GB%. The Yankees would love to reunite with Yates, but the Padres have been pretty clear that they want to hold onto Yates for another year. The Padres may not make the playoffs this year, but certainly have a decent shot in 2020. Still, if the Yankees offer the Padres some highly touted pitching prospects, they may not be able to refuse a trade.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send #3 prospect RHP Albert Abreu (8.31 K/9, 0.65 HR/9 in Double-A) and #19 prospect RHP Chance Adams (8.54 K/9, 0.77 HR/9 in Triple-A) for Padres RP Kirby Yates

Odds the Yankees trade for Yates: 15/1

Alex Colomé

Colomé has been a pretty successful reliever throughout his career. He led the MLB in saves in 2017 with 47 of them, and still is a good closer with the White Sox. Colomé is 20/21 in SVO, has a 2.02 ERA, 3.99 FIP, .125 BAA, 0.70 WHIP, 42.4 FB%, 2.25 ERA, and 0.4 fWAR this year. On the surface he looks dominant with a shiny ERA, WHIP, and BAA. However, his high FB%, and high FIP as a reliever might scare the Yankees away. Colomé does have good trade value, but the White Sox may wait to deal him in next year’s trade deadline instead. The White Sox should still be able to get a top-20 prospect for Colomé, despite his advance stats indicating he is more of a average than above average reliever.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send #16 prospect RHP Garrett Whitlock (0.51 HR/9, 3.10 ERA in Double-A) for White Sox RP Alex Colomé

Odds the Yankees sign Colomé: 20/1

Greg Holland

The current closer for the Diamondbacks has bounced around the last few years. Once a star for the championship Royals, Holland went to Colorado, St. Louis, and D.C, before finding a home in Arizona this year. Holland is not quite who he used to be for the Royals, but has returned to being a decent reliever. Holland is 14/18 in SVO, has a 3.30 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 10.50 K/9, 40.0 FB%, and a -0.1 fWAR. On the plus side, Holland still strikes out a lot of batters, and has a respectable GB%. On the other hand, his high FIP indicates regression in the second half, and his high FB% might be a problem in Yankee Stadium. Still, the Yankees can probably get Holland for a relatively low price because of his mediocrity, and being a 2020 free agent.

Trade Prediction: Yankees send RHP Hector Cortijo for Diamondbacks RP Greg Holland

Odds the Yankees trade for Holland: 20/1 

The Field

The field consists of relievers in all different types of situations. There is Felipe Vazquez, one of the best relievers in baseball, and on a team friendly contract with the Pirates that can go to the end of the 2023 season. The Pirates are bound to make the playoffs at some point between now and 2024, so they in all likelihood will keep Vazquez. Other pitchers such as Joakim Soria and Liam Hendriks, are pitching on a playoff contending A’s team.

Then there are relievers who are having a down year such as Blake Treinen and Raisel Iglesias. In addition, some relievers have lost their effectiveness such as Sean Doolittle, Jake Diekman, David Hernandez, Tony Watson, and Craig Stammen. All of these relievers are not bad additions, but for the World Series hungry Yankees, most of these guys just would not fit, or may not truly warrant their interest.

Odds the Yankees trade for a reliever in the field: 15/1


AVG(BA)/OBP/SLG: The triple slash line of Batting Average (H/AB), OBP (H+BB+HBP/PA), and SLG (1*1B+2*2B+3*3B+ 4*HR/AB). MLB average in 2018: .248/.318/.409.


AB=At bats

OBP=On Base Percentage

HBP=Hit By Pitch

PA=Plate appearance

OPS= OBP+SLG. MLB Average in 2018: .728 OPS

BAA: Batting Average Against. The batting average of hitters against a specific pitcher. MLB approximate average: .247

WHIP: Walks+Hits in Innings Pitched. 1.00 WHIP means about one runner gets on from a walk or hit each inning. MLB Average: 1.30 WHIP

HR/9: Home runs allowed per 9 innings. MLB approximate average: 1.29 HR/9 for relievers

GB%: Ground ball percentage. Essentially what percentage of balls put in play are ground balls.

MLB average: 44.0%

FB%: Fly ball percentage. Essentially what percentage of balls put in play are fly balls.

MLB average: 35.0%

K/9: Strikeouts per 9 innings. MLB average: 7.7 K/9

BB/9: Walks per nine innings. MLB average: 2.9 BB/9.

ERA= Earned Run Average: The average number of earned runs a pitcher gives up in a 9-inning game. A 4.15 ERA was league average in 2018.

FIP: Essentially an ERA that’s more focuhed on what the pitcher can control without solely relying on his defense (strikeouts, walks, homers, hit batters). MLB Average: 4.20 FIP

IP: Innings Pitched

IP/G: Innings Pitched per Game

1B: First Baseman

SP: Starting Pitching

RP: Relief Pitcher

OF: Outfielder

W-L: Numbers of games won versus numbers of games lost

fWAR: Wins Above Replacement from Fangraphs. For example, If a player has 0.1 fWAR they are worth 0.1 wins more than a replacement level player (0.0 fWAR). During the halfway mark of a season, a starting player with 1.0 fWAR is an average starter.

wOBA: Weighted On Base Average. A more advanced version of OPS where that weighs the various possibilities of getting on base differently. MLB Average: .320

wRC+=Weighted runs created plus. A stat that quantifies total offensive value and factors in the different dimensions of each ballpark. A wRC+ of 100 is replacement level, and anything above that is X% above league average (i.e. a wRC+ of 101 is 1% above league average offensively). 


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