Yankees’ bullpen shines in tight contests, silences cynics by conquering chaos

Juan Soto is in a lighter moment with Yankees bullpen member
Sara Molnick
Tuesday May 7, 2024

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Among the 15 pitchers who logged 14 or more innings in relief for the Yankees in 2023, only six returned for the 2024 campaign. Notable departures included Michael King (3.08 ERA in 64 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2023), Wandy Peralta (2.83 ERA in 54 innings), and Keynan Middleton (1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings), and others.

With the trade of lefty Nick Ramirez to the Dodgers, the placement of veteran Tommy Kahnle on the injured list to start the year, and the addition of Jonathan Loáisiga to the IL following his latest arm-related injury (one that is expected to sideline him for the entire season and potentially end his Yankees tenure), only closer Clay Holmes and setup man Ian Hamilton remained before the conclusion of the season’s inaugural road trip. Ron Marinaccio, coming off a sophomore slump, found himself in Triple-A at the time.

Despite these challenges, the Yankees have seamlessly continued their success from the 2023 season.

Through the first 36 games, 27 have been decided by a margin of three runs or fewer, the highest total in baseball. The Yankees have emerged victorious in 16 of those 27 closely contested battles. Engaging in fewer nail-biting affairs and receiving more consistent offensive firepower would certainly aid their cause. The Yankees lead the league with 26 of their 35 games being determined by three runs or fewer, and 23 have been decided by a slim two-run margin.

Each game of the weekend sweep against the Tigers was characterized by such narrow margins, with the bullpen delivering strong performances following impressive outings from the starting pitchers and the offense coming through in clutch situations.

Juan Soto underscored the importance of emerging victorious in tight and demanding contests. He emphasized that these wins are vital for a team’s postseason aspirations, as they ultimately shape their playoff destiny. Soto acknowledged that while the significance of these games may not be fully appreciated at the moment, their impact becomes increasingly evident as the season unfolds.

Yankees bullpen delivers rendering preseason doubts meaningless

As of Sunday, the Yankees boast the lowest bullpen ERA in Major League Baseball at 2.30. While it’s still early in the season and some of their numbers are undoubtedly bolstered by Clay Holmes’ unprecedented start to the year – more on that later – the statistics speak for themselves.

Ian Hamilton of New York Yankees

The Yankees’ pitching staff has once again demonstrated their excellence. Over their last 12 games, Yankees relievers have posted a minuscule 0.65 ERA. Despite struggling to accumulate strikeouts (ranking 23rd in MLB with only 107), they have limited opposing hitters to a meager .196 batting average this season, the second-lowest mark in baseball.

Ian Hamilton emerged as a hidden gem, transforming from a non-roster invitee to a dynamic late-inning weapon in 2023. Similarly, Lucas Luetge experienced a resurgence with the Yankees a few years ago, revitalizing his career while donning the pinstripes.

However, many doubted the Yankees’ bullpen heading into the season. In fact, MLB omitted the Yankees from their ranking of the top-10 bullpens in the league before Opening Day. Moves to acquire left-handers Caleb Ferguson and Victor González from the Dodgers, along with the decisions to bring along Luke Weaver, Dennis Santana, and Nick Burdi, have all proven successful thus far.

Clay Holmes has been in a class of his own this season. The sinkerballer notched a four-out save against the Tigers on Saturday, his American League-leading 11th of the season. He has yet to allow an earned run through 16 total appearances, marking the sixth-longest scoreless streak to begin a season in franchise history.

While Gonzalez has excelled in high-leverage situations and Burdi (hip inflammation) is nearing a return from the injured list – he’s slated to pitch on a rehab assignment with Double-A Somerset on Sunday – it was Luke Weaver who stole the show on Saturday. Entering the game in the sixth inning, Weaver stranded two runners on base in relief of Ferguson, preserving a two-run lead while tossing 2 1/3 scoreless frames and striking out four batters.

Among the four relievers, Dennis Santana boasts the lowest ERA at 3.45, and the former Mets right-hander has not allowed a run in his last six appearances.

If there’s a potential downside to the bullpen’s hot start, it’s the collective workload they’ve shouldered. The Yankees rank 12th in baseball with 125 1/3 innings pitched by their relievers thus far this season. It’s imperative for the starting pitchers to consistently pitch deeper into games, otherwise the Yankees risk overworking and potentially burning out some of their key bullpen arms.

Tommy Kahnle (shoulder inflammation) is progressively nearing his season debut, while those recovering from Tommy John surgery – Scott Effross, Lou Trivino, and newcomer JT Brubaker – are expected to return over the coming months.

The Yankees’ bullpen currently leads the majors with an impressive 2.27 ERA, and since April 23, they have surrendered a mere three earned runs across 43 innings of work.

The relief corps hasn’t allowed an earned run in their last 23 ¹/₃ innings, and the Yankees (23-13) team ERA of 2.99 ranks as the third-best in the game.

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