The Yankees have consistently had strong bullpens every year, but this year’s bullpen looks to stand above the rest. Last year the bullpen ranked 3rd in ERA (2.97), 1st in GB% (49.7%), and 5th in Win Probability Added (6.80), making them one of the best units in the sport. They did this in spite of a myriad of injuries to key pieces of the bullpen like Michael King, Scott Effross, Ron Marinaccio, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Clay Holmes throughout the season.
Two of their worst pitchers in, Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, are out of the mix, and they’ve added a familiar friend in Tommy Kahnle and can expect Michael King to return for Spring Training.
With depth at the MiLB levels and established MLB talent, we could be looking at their best batch of relievers in a while. This bullpen is revamped and reset for the 2023 season, and they’re looking like the best unit in the game right now.
The Unstoppable Postseason Trio
The Yankees have a new identity in terms of handling the last innings of a baseball game, as Aroldis Chapman is no longer the default to close games. Clay Holmes assumed closer duties for most of the season, but they gave the trio of Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Wandy Peralta looks at closing roles towards the end of the season and the playoffs. They all had their moments of looking mortal, but each of them project favorably for the 2023 season. Aaron Boone has no shortage of guys to go to for closing out big games or escaping a big jam early in the season when everyone’s still a question mark.
Wandy Peralta was an unsung hero for the Yankees all season, being arguably their most consistent reliever in 2022. His worst ERA in any month was a 3.97 ERA in August, and his 1.16 WPA suggests he was able to perform extremely well in very tense situations. The Yankees initially didn’t view Peralta as a big part of this bullpen, but injuries and underperforming relievers pressed Peralta into action in mid-May, where he’d finish the year with a 2.72 ERA and 2.86 FIP. He did this with elite batted ball management, generating a GB% of 53.9% and an 85.5 MPH Average Exit Velocity.
This is due to an elite changeup that he’s adopted as his primary pitch (42.5% Usage), and with a 132.1 Stuff+, it’s no surprise that he held batters to a .198 BA and 3 XBHs on the pitch all season. They whiffed 38.1% of the time on the pitch, and it’s become his bread-and-butter for any situation, any count, and any batter due to its sharp tailing action and good vertical drop. At 17.3″ of horizontal movement, Peralta’s changeup is tied for 18th among all qualified changeups for horizontal run, giving it devastating versatility away from righties and into the hands of lefties.
Peralta pairs this with a sinker that generates nearly identical horizontal run but with less drop and more velocity. It tunnels well with his changeup, and it induces soft contact at just 84.2 MPH for average exit velocity and a 2° Launch Angle. His sinker had just a .259 wOBA against and was part of why batters had just a .256 BABIP against Peralta since his two most frequently used pitches manage launch angles well, thus yielding contact that rarely leads to any damage at all.
We also saw him incorporate a slider that let him down in 2021 but generated a lot of whiffs in 2022. While he only used it 15.7% of the time, at 87.6 MPH, it’s a harder slider that relies less on movement and more on the fact that it’s the only pitch in his arsenal with glove-side break. It profiles more like a cutter, but it generated a 47.6% Whiff% and could be used to completely baffle hitters sitting on something with arm side run.
Peralta simply had everything going for him in 2022, and it was a continuation of a trend we saw late in 2021 when he returned from injury and began using his changeup as his primary pitch. The Yankees are excellent at identifying what pitchers do well and optimizing that talent well. Since returning from the IL in August 2021, where he made that shift to a changeup-heavy approach, he’s posted a 2.31 ERA and has had iconic saves such as the heartstopper in Atlanta, the nailbiter against the Mets, and the ALDS series winner in game 5. He’s the Yankees’ best left-handed reliever, and he’s a key component to this trio.
Clay Holmes had a weird 2022, starting out as the best reliever in baseball until an outing against the Reds seemed to throw him off his game for a while. The Yankees seemingly lost Holmes, posting a 5.92 ERA and 12.5% BB% in his final 24.1 IP, but the postseason showed us he’s still that guy. In his 5 outings, he sparkled for a 21.7% K-BB% and 66.7% GB%, with 0 ER in the process. He was vital for the Yankees’ run to the ALCS in 2022, where he used his sinker over 90% of the time and just carved through any lineup he had to face.
Clay Holmes still put up excellent regular season numbers with a 2.54 ERA and 2.28 SIERA, but the postseason seemed to be the confidence booster he sorely needed. He’s a groundball master, with by far the best GB% in baseball (75.8%) among qualified relievers, something that makes him such a unique reliever. His “demon sinker” is truly one of the best pitches in baseball, using it 80.8% of the time for a -10 Run-Value and .257 wOBA against. With a 137 Stuff+, it’s an absolutely gross pitch that will allow him to succeed for a very long time as long as he doesn’t go haywire again.
Part of the success of this pitch, besides its elite shape and velocity, is the angle he releases it, with an extremely steep -6.76° Vertical Approach Angle that makes it hard to get under the ball. What is vertical approach angle? It’s the angle at which a pitch crosses the plate, with a flatter angle (closer to 0°) being ideal for pitches like Gerrit Cole’s fastball that has a lot of induced vertical break, and a steeper angle (farther away from 0°) being better for pitches that drop a lot like Holmes’ sinker.
Batters can’t tell just how much it’ll drop, and by crossing the plate at such a steep angle, it makes getting a bat path that’ll induce any loft nearly impossible. His slider has had some tinkering in 2022, throwing a sweeping slider and a gyro slider at various points throughout the season, but I think the sweeping variant is the one he should stick with going forward as he continues to build on his command of the pitch. At a 146 Stuff+ and over 11″ of run, it’s an incredible breaking ball.
The Yankees can expect Clay Holmes to continue his excellence in pinstripes, as he holds a career 2.26 ERA and 2.24 SIERA as a Bronx Bomber. He won’t just have the closer job handed to him, as the Yankees will probably go closer by committee in 2023, but he’s certainly the one with the most experience as a full-time MLB closer for the Yankees. He could easily be the best reliever in this bullpen if he clicks the way he did to start the season, but even if he’s more like what he was in 2021, he’s still going to be one of the 20 best relievers in baseball in any given season.
Jonathan Loaisiga was the best reliever on the Yankees in 2021, but 2022 was a rocky road for him. By the time July rolled around, Loaisiga’s season looked like it would be lost to injury, and he wouldn’t recover in time to make an impact in the postseason. To say he rebounded is an understatement, what would be more accurate to say is he ascended into being a white-hot reliever that no-hitter could fathom touching. Known as the “Nicaraguan Nightmare” (coined by the great Tyler Hu), Loaisiga was absolutely dominant in the second half. With a 1.76 ERA and just one (1) barrel allowed in his final 30.2 innings of the regular season, he became a contact managing king.
Loaisiga maintained a GB% of 63.4% over those 30.2 innings, and while his K% was way down (14.6%), it didn’t seem to matter much as in the postseason, he continued his stretch of dominance. With a 0.96 ERA and 76.7% GB% in 9.1 innings of work, Loaisiga was the anchor of this bullpen down the stretch, and batters just couldn’t figure out a way to find success against him. That’s 40 innings of a 1.57 ERA with a .223 wOBA and .228 SLG against, and that’s with a limited usage of his elite breaking ball.
His best pitch in terms of Stuff+ and Pitching+ was his curveball (which could also be classified as a slider), and I imagine he has better command of the pitch next season and doesn’t feel inclined to use his fastball over 60% of the time, which should promote more strikeouts and help for more sustainable run prevention. His changeup took a huge step forward in 2022 as well, with Loaisiga seeing it return to 90+ MPH form and seeing batters muster just a .103 wOBA and 40.3% Whiff% on the pitch.
Out of this trio, Loaisiga has the best Pitching+ in the group and looks to have the best rebound in terms of full-season ERA in 2023. He’s one of the premier relievers in baseball when he’s healthy, and the Yankees can expect that he continues his elite play we saw when the Yankees desperately needed someone to step up as Holmes slowed down and become the top arm in the bullpen.
With the trio that speared the Yankees’ postseason run established, what about pitchers who didn’t feature in the postseason that look to become permanent fixtures among baseball’s best relievers?
Getting Back Two Elite Relievers From Injury
Michael King somehow led the Yankees in fWAR among relievers despite not throwing a single pitch after July 22nd. To say the Yankees missed Michael King is an understatement, as he was so dominant and integral to the success of their bullpen. Whether it was pitching in extra innings with a runner on 2nd, relieving a struggling Chapman in the 9th, or being asked to handle the 7th and 8th inning, King was everything the Yankees needed him to be. His pitch mix is arguably the best in the Yankee bullpen, boasting his super-sweeper alongside two elite fastballs and a strong changeup as well.
With a 33.2% K% to go alongside a 47.0% GB%, it’s no surprise that he had just a 2.29 ERA and 2.23 FIP in his 51 innings last season. King boasts a stellar sinker that keeps the ball on the ground and can generate whiffs, using it mainly against RHBs with great success. His other fastball is his four-seam fastball, which generates a good amount of Induced Vertical Break that allows it to play up in the zone and generated a 33.7% Whiff% with. Using it against LHBs gives him a fastball for any type of hitter he may face in game situations.
The pitch we all know King for is his sweeping breaking ball, which has a 152.9 Stuff+, an absolutely ridiculous number for any pitch. It has truly become the difference maker for him as a star reliever, and batters registered just a .180 wOBA and 41.2% Whiff% on 30.5% usage. With 18.7″ of horizontal sweep, it’s one of the grossest pitches you’ll see in the game. His slider is beyond unique, and it’s the reason he’s so dominant.
Michael King looks to rebound from his elbow fracture last year and re-assert himself as arguably the best reliever in this bullpen, giving this team a huge boost late in games.
Ron Marinaccio looked poised to take on a huge role in the Yankees’ pennant push until a shin injury sidelined him for the entirety of the postseason. Marinaccio took huge strides in 2022, and it’s due to his electric changeup. He boasted a 2.05 ERA in 2022, and while he had command issues (13.3% BB%), he has video game movement that makes him remarkably difficult to hit. His fastball and changeup have nearly 16″ of vertical separation, with both pitches having over 12″ of horizontal run to go with it as well.
This fastball-changeup combination made him deadly against LHBs, who struck out 31.2% of the time against Ron with a mere .146 BA and .224 wOBA. He’s going to need to tinker with his slider to help promote more chases against RHBs in 2023, but its sweeping action at 14.3″ of horizontal sweep grades it out as an elite pitch in Stuff+ (135.8) and could play a role in his development in 2023. Marinaccio may have just been a rookie last year, but he showed a lot of characteristics that would suggest he could be donwright unhittable in 2023.
With six relievers projected to make the Opening Day roster that were all phenomenal for the Yankees, let’s take a look at the backend of the bullpen, which has savvy veterans that can handle a variety of different roles in 2023.
No Holes in the Back of the Bullpen
The Yankees brought back an old friend in Tommy Kahnle, and he’s still got the dominant stuff that made him so nasty when he was at his best. His changeup is the pitch that he uses the most in his arsenal, and that’s for good reason. At a 117.4 Stuff+ and .116 wOBA against, it’s one of the best changeups in baseball. He generates 13.7″ of vertical separation off of his FF, which is still solid at a 101.2 Stuff+ but got crushed to the tune of a .633 wOBA in limited action. A fully healthy Spring Training where he can figure out his command should help his FF perform better, so there’s a lot of hope for Kahnle in 2023.
Kahnle induces plenty of groundballs as well, and it’s why he was able to post a 2.84 ERA in his short tenure with the Dodgers. He’ll enjoy pitching behind one of the best defensive units in baseball, and it’ll help him overperform his FIP if he continues his trend of having high HR/9 rates (1.28 HR/9 since 2018). He’s still able to generate strikeouts at a high level, and his pedestrian 100.5 Location+ isn’t much cause for concern since velocity actually stabilizes before command does for a pitcher returning from injury.
Tommy Kahnle looks to give the Yankees the strong production he’s given his entire career, as he has experience in all types of roles. He’s closed out games, he’s pitched in the postseason, and he’s handled the 7th and 8th as well. The Yankees can ask Kahnle to do whatever the game calls for him to do, and with Steamer projecting him for a 3.50 ERA, he looks to be one of the better relievers in the sport at just $5.8 million towards the Luxury Tax.
When the Yankees acquired Frankie Montas at the deadline, Lou Trivino was seen more as a throw-in to stabilize the backend of the Yankee bullpen. Instead, he became a remarkably versatile and dependable arm for the Yankees, posting a 1.66 ERA with the Yankees in 21.2 IP, alongside 3.1 scoreless innings in October. What enticed the Yankees with Trivino was his sweeping slider, which registered a 158.5 Stuff+ (higher than Michael King’s!). He saw nearly a 12% increase in his slider usage with the Yankees, and he saw his quality of contact against improve dramatically.
His K-BB% was under 13% in NYY, which I imagine the Yankees want to correct so he can generate more swing-and-miss action. He fits a lot of the Yankees’ philosophy for bullpen arms, being a strong groundball inducer (52.6% GB%) and having elite-level stuff. He finished the season with a 110.7 Stuff+, and he has a multitude of pitches that grade out well in the metric. His second-best pitch arguably is his changeup, which is a pitch he’ll use to handle LHBs. It keeps his four-seamer relevant in spite of poor shape since there’s 13.6″ of vertical separation, and it’ll allow him to branch out of just being a right-handed specialist.
The Yankees have an unsung hero in Trivino, who could give them strong run prevention and throw a bunch of innings if need be. We’ve seen him go from handling just one RHB to collecting a 7 out save when the bullpen was banged up, so whatever the Yankees need from him, he can provide. He’s another one of those bullpen finds for Brian Cashman and the F.O., and the Yankees’ 8th reliever happens to still be a pretty good one that could close on some teams.
The MLB talent is certainly there, but what about the depth outside of their projected Opening Day bullpen?
Having Too Much Talent to Roster
The Yankees are so loaded as a team that they had to DFA Lucas Luetge to make roster room, which speaks to this team’s depth. Pitchers who were heavily featured in 2022 that aren’t anything more than depth right now include Domingo German, Clarke Schmidt, and Albert Abreu, who all provide on-the-field value to a pitching staff and would get a roster spot if they played for any of the 29 other franchises arguably.
Domingo German settled nicely into being the 5th starter after the trade deadline, posting a 3.61 ERA after a rocky start. He had a career-worst 13.1% K-BB% which resulted in middling peripherals, but as a spot starter/reliever, he could see an increase in strikeouts and overall effectiveness. Personally, I view German as a trade piece for any team looking for a backend starter, as he’s out of MiLB options and isn’t better than any of the eight options ahead of him. League-average SPs are still valuable on the trade market, and German is just that.
Albert Abreu had a rocky finish to his 2022 season, but overall he still boasts impressive velocity and high-end talent. With the Yankees, he cut his BB% to just 5.6% and had a 3.16 ERA to go with a 2.92 FIP. Also, out of MiLB options, the Yankees are going to have to trade him since he just doesn’t have the value other relievers do to this bullpen. The stuff is undeniably very good, and his ability to induce groundballs while maintaining a K-BB% between 18-19% should entice a team to take a flyer on him.
Clarke Schmidt does have MiLB options, and he has the highest upside out of these three arms as well. He showed off impressive stuff as a reliever and starter, finishing the season with a 3.12 ERA and 107.3 Pitching+ in 29 outings (57.2 IP). He was a multi-inning reliever and spot starter this season, and his wicked slider and curveball combination makes his arsenal devastating. He has to polish his sinker command to keep the ball on the ground more, and his K-BB% has room to improve, but he definitely has tons of value for the Yankees, who might be getting calls about the 2017 1st Round Pick.
With their MLB depth out of the way, the final aspect of a great bullpen is the ability to plug in young arms from the farm to fill in for injuries, so let’s meet their top bullpen talent.
Rookies To Watch Out For in 2023
The Yankees are loaded with MiLB talent, I could write a textbook about the guys that they have ready in the wings, so let’s discuss the most exciting arms that could make an impact in 2023. Injuries happen all the time, and it’s only a matter of time before the Yankees will have to dip into their farm to find a reliever.
Greg Weissert showed that he can really make pitches move with a wicked slider that had a disgusting 190.6 Stuff+ in 2022. His four-seam fastball is very underrated as well, with a 109 Stuff+ and 110 Pitching+, as it’s released from a lower slot and generates a -4.2° VAA. Remember VAA from earlier with Clay Holmes? Well, since Weissert has a flatter angle, it means when thrown up in the strike zone, it’s harder to get on top of the ball, thus resulting in pop-ups and whiffs. It also gets 13.8″ of vertical separation off of his changeup, and that’s why LHBs struggled against the Fordham alum.
Carson Coleman was dominant in 2022, boasting a 30.3% K-BB% and 2.13 ERA across 63.1 IP in High-A and Double-A. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, but both of those pitches are nasty. His best pitch is his fastball, which he threw 80.2% of the time, and batters whiffed 35.7% of the time against the pitch. It’s no surprise as to why, with 16.4″ of Induced Vertical Break and a ridiculous 18.7″ of Horizontal Break at 95.1 MPH, it would have the most run of any FF in baseball in 2022. Couple that with a sweeper that has 11.8″ of horizontal sweep in the opposite direction and over 19″ of vertical separation, and you can see why he’s so good.
Matt Krook has spent his entire career in the Minor Leagues, but this could be the year he cracks the Majors. He’s an LHP with command issues, but if he moves from an SP role to a bullpen role, we could see an uptick in stuff and better pitch usage that generates better results. He’s a groundball machine that can get 55-60% GB rates, which should balance out a K-BB% that’ll hover around 13%. The Yankees don’t have many lefties, so Krook could fill in if any of them go down. He’s got tons of Triple-A experience, and with a sweeper that generates 14.5″ of sweep and a solid sinker, he’ll fit in nicely with the Yankees’ organizational philosophy.
The Yankees come at you from a variety of different angles with a plethora of high-octane arms that can handle opposing batters in a myriad of ways. Whether it’s explosive velocity from Jonathan Loaisiga, unhittable sliders from Michael King, or changeups that drop off the table from Marinaccio, they’ll keep hitters off balance all year. They have incredible talent, from players not on the 40-man just yet, like Carson Coleman, to established All-Stars like Clay Holmes.
There’s not one arm without elite-level stuff in sight that has a shot at pitching for the Bronx Bombers in 2023. If there’s one hot take about the Yankees I’m sure of, it’s that they’re going to have the best bullpen in baseball next year.