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July 16, 2019

The Yankees could feature the best bullpen in baseball history … on paper

February 12, 2019

TAMPA – Luis Severino hesitated. The Yankees ace had to temper his natural instincts a bit and understand what the future may hold for him – and the other starters. While every rotation ace wants to be a workhorse and go out and give their team as many innings as possible, baseball is trending away from long outings by their starters. The Yankees are no exception – and Severino sees the writing on the wall.

“When they give me the ball, I want to be there the whole game,” Severino said. “But, some days, if they say they want to save my arm, I know we’ve got a great bullpen too.”

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That may be an understatement. Last season, the Yankees bullpen posted a 9.7 WAR, the highest of any group of relievers in major league history, according to Fangraphs. Many observers feel the Bombers’ bullpen has only gotten better. With the addition of Adam Ottavino and the potential for a full season of a healthy Zack Britton to go along with closer Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder as the expected core, the Yankees could not only have the best bullpen in baseball for 2019, but of all-time.

“That’s a scary thought,” one rival talent evaluator said. “Ottavino is an upgrade over David Robertson. Britton only had a few weeks where he looked like he was himself. This season, if they stay healthy, they can shut down a game very early.”

That is the plan.

A healthy Zack Britton can help deliver a bullpen for the ages for the Bombers. (Frank Franklin II / AP)

In fact, it seems to be the plan for most of baseball these days. For the fourth straight season, starters across baseball have seen their workload decrease. Teams are becoming more stringent on the idea that two times through a lineup is the most a starter should work. So last season, starting rotations averaged 816 innings pitched. That’s down considerably from the major league average of 940 in 2015.

The Yankees’ starters threw 861.2 innings last season, the 18th most in the majors, and down from the 910.1 they threw in 2017.

The always conservative PECOTA projections have the Yankees starting five putting together under 800 innings pitched this season. While the PECOTA projections are usually on the very low side, the way that GM Brian Cashman has been building his bullpen since last summer, it’s pretty sensible that the Yankees will be unleashing it earlier in games.

While there have been complaints from some Yankee fans about their seemingly financially stingy ways this offseason for failing to go out and land one of the two big-boppers in Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, they have seemed to pivot in the direction of investing in their bullpen to counteract those power-laden lineups (like the one in Boston). This winter, Cashman invested $22 million of his 2019 payroll into Britton and Ottavino and has $46 million committed to five back-end relievers. While Chapman still holds the title as the Yankees “closer” and the mantle of the highest salary back there at $17.2 million this year, the bullpen now has five arms with closing and high-leverage experience. The Yankees are investing shrewdly to be able to flood the late innings with dominant relievers.

Britton worked out at the Yankees minor-league complex for the first time this year. He said he was excited about the 2019 Yankees bullpen because of the talent and high-leverage experience they have. He is also excited because for the first time in three years, he feels healthy.

But, Britton also tapped the brakes a bit on the “best bullpen” talk so early in the year.

“It looks really good on paper. The track records are good, but we gotta go out and do it.”

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