Last week, we evaluated the Yankees starting rotation and the six different options the Yankees could consider to fill their postseason rotation. This week, it is time to look at the team’s bullpen and determine who will be in – and who will be out – as the playoffs approach. Once thought to be the clear strength of this team, the bullpen has taken a much different shape than it had at the beginning of the year, thanks in part to Mariano Rivera’s ACL injury suffered in May and Joba Chamberlain’s struggles since returning from Tommy John surgery.
It is safe to figure that the Yankees will carry just 11 pitchers into the postseason. The Yankees have five slots already locked down in the bullpen. Coupled with the four-man rotation projected last week, there are just two slots to predict to fill out the postseason pitching staff. Before making those predictions, let us look at who the locks are for the Yankees bullpen in the postseason.
Rafael Soriano – The Yankees closer since Mariano Rivera went down with an injury in May, Soriano has recorded 42 saves in 46 opportunities and holds a 2.10 ERA this season. He ranks third in the major leagues in saves.
David Robertson – He has not been the same pitcher lately, but Robertson is unquestionably the pitcher Joe Girardi will turn to in the eighth inning.
Boone Logan – His implosion on Tuesday notwithstanding, Boone Logan has been reliable all season long for the Yankees. Logan currently leads the majors in appearances with 77, and sports an ERA of 3.83 while left-handed hitters are batting just .235 off him this season. Logan will serve as a left-handed set-up pitcher in the playoffs.
Clay Rapada – If not for a spring training injury to Rule-5 selection Cesar Cabral, Rapada would not have even made the Yankees roster. Now, six months later, he is a lock on the postseason roster after serving as one of the Yankees most reliable relief pitchers this season. The 31-year-old has pitched to a 2.87 ERA this season, and left-handed hitters are batting just .190 off him. Rapada will serve as a lefty specialist in the playoffs.
David Phelps – Some will dispute Phelps as a lock, but there is no question that he will make this roster. Phelps’ ability to pitch in any role out of the bullpen or the rotation likens him a modern day Ramiro Mendoza, a role which the Yankees will desperately need on this postseason roster. Phelps has pitched both as a starter (10 games) and reliever (21 games) this year, and has filled both roles adequately, recording a 3.21 ERA.
Cody Eppley – After being shuttled back and forth to the minor leagues early in the season, Eppley has established himself as a reliable arm in the bullpen. I do not think he is quite a lock for the roster, but with a 3.45 ERA and opponents hitting just .265 against him, Eppley could secure a spot on the postseason roster.
Joba Chamberlain – Perhaps it just took Chamberlain longer than most to knock the rust off in his return to the major leagues. Recovering from Tommy John surgery and a dislocated ankle, Chamberlain looked terrible upon the Yankees rushing him back to the major leagues after trading Chad Qualls. From his return just before the trading deadline through September 6, Chamberlain sported an 8.71 ERA, allowing 10 runs in 10.1 innings pitched and leaving many fans, writers, and scouts wondering if Chamberlain was fully recovered. Since facing the Orioles on September 6, Chamberlain has been much more efficient, allowing just an unearned run and six hits in his last nine outings. While the fan base loves Chamberlain, he may miss the postseason roster because of his disastrous August.
Ivan Nova – The odd man out of the rotation battle, Nova may struggle to make the postseason roster because of both inexperience out of the bullpen and recent ineffectiveness. As was detailed in last week’s rotation evaluation, Nova has been terrible since the all-star break. It looked like the Nova of old was back after an eight strikeout performance in his return from the disabled list on September 15, but the outing was quickly proved to be an outlier as Nova was hit hard in his most recent start against the Oakland A’s, a likely playoff team. As bad as he has been since the all-star break, it may be difficult to justify putting Nova on the postseason roster.
Derek Lowe – Signed in August after being let go by the Cleveland Indians, Lowe has been a reliable arm out of the Yankees bullpen. Through 14 games, opponents are hitting just .264 off the converted starter, and Lowe has shown the ability to pitch as a long reliever or in short relief situations. For a mop-up arm, the Yankees could surely do a lot worse.
Joe Girardi has four options to choose from for two spots, and each of which has a different combination of skill set and experience. It is likely that Derek Lowe, who has played in twelve postseason series and has the ability to pitch multiple innings, makes this squad. He would provide a good veteran presence for someone like David Phelps and his postseason experience could make him a valuable asset. The final spot in the postseason bullpen will likely go to Cody Eppley. Though Joba Chamberlain has been very good in the past two weeks, Eppley has been consistent and reliable all season long. When David Robertson was on the disabled list, Eppley saw work against right-handed hitters in the eighth inning. He is not a lock for the roster, but Eppley has proven his worth to Joe Girardi this season, and his reward should be a postseason roster spot.