It’s been rough going for the New York Yankees since the All-Star break. Despite maintaining a sizable AL East lead, they own a 7-14 second half record. They now trail the Houston Astros by half a game for the best record in the AL. Given recent postseason history, it is essential for New York to have home-field advantage over Houston in a potential October meeting. This recent slide has set the Yankees back, and a major reason why is the mismanagement of bullpen personnel.
Yankees Bullpen Needlessly Undermanned
With closer Clay Holmes struggling lately, one would think the Yankees’ top priority is having the right relievers ready to go to protect late leads. Instead, it’s been quite the contrary. Within the last two weeks, New York sent both Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio down to the minors. Both righty relievers were filling key roles in the bullpen. Schmidt pitched to a 2.40 ERA in 16 appearances, with a career-best 161 ERA+. Marinaccio, a rookie, was even more impressive this year. In 23 games, he had a 2.03 ERA with 32 strikeouts and a 0.863 WHIP. Over his last 19 appearances dating back to May 22, Marinaccio surrendered only one run.
These numbers should allow both pitchers to stay at the major-league level, but the Yankees had other priorities. Namely, not wanting to cut a veteran loose. So they sent down two younger pitchers with minor league options instead, despite their superior numbers. The Yankees made similar moves earlier in the season, including with Schmidt. The decision isn’t completely unjustified in that sense, but it comes at the cost of the team fielding the best bullpen possible.
Pen Struggling in Recent Weeks
Schmidt and Marinaccio’s absence has been palpable. Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners was a prime example. After a prolonged offensive drought dating to the previous night, the bats finally broke through in the seventh inning, giving New York a 3–1 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Nestor Cortes surrendered two hits, and manager Aaron Boone pulled him after a very good outing. Having a pitcher on a hot streak available in this spot would’ve been useful. Instead, they went to Albert Abreu, who is currently on his third major league club this season. After recording a strikeout, Abreu surrendered a go-ahead two-run homer to Carlos Santana. That score held, as the Yankees lost 4–3.
Going with Abreu
Going with Abreu in that spot was not the only questionable bullpen decision by the Yankees recently. Last Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals, Aaron Boone went to Clay Holmes in the eighth inning with the Yanks clinging to a 3–2 lead. Holmes’ rough patch dates back about a month, and entering an unfamiliar spot didn’t help. He surrendered a two-out, two-run double to Paul DeJong to give the Cards the lead, which they held.
Two varieties of bullpen issues are plaguing the Yankees. Sending down two of the top performers out of the pen this season has forced the Yankees to use guys such as Abreu and Jonathan Loaisiga in those high-leverage spots. Generally, that hasn’t gone well. Second, the questionable use of top-tier relievers, such as Holmes, in earlier innings has led to undesirable results. If you take a pitcher out of their comfort zone, it can throw them off. This pen mismanagement is contributing to the Yankees’ recent slide. If they don’t figure it out in a hurry, the slide will likely continue.
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