With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2019 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the bullpen.
The last two seasons have seen the Yankees' bullpen make history, setting all-time records for generating swings and misses. Averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season, the Bombers' bullpen became the first relief crew to strike out more than 30 percent of their batters faced (30.2 percent), and this season's assemblage promises to be just as dominant.
With a powerful mix of hurlers set to advance the ball to closer Albertin Chapman, pressure will be reduced on starting pitchers to get through opposing lineups a third time. The bullpen projects to be a great strength in 2019, coming off a campaign in which they had four relievers record at least 90 strikeouts -- again, the first bullpen ever to claim that accomplishment.
"They were one of the reasons I was trying to come back," said Zach Britton, who finalized a three-year, $39 million deal earlier this month. "Being in that type of bullpen was going to make me better. When you're surrounded by so many good pitchers like that, it makes you pick your game up."
The flame-throwing Chapman will own the ninth inning. An All-Star for the first time as a Yankee, the left-handed Chapman led all qualified Major League relievers with a 16.31 K/9 IP ratio, striking out 43.9 percent of batters faced and converting 22 straight save chances from May 8 through July 31.
One of the team's major winter moves was to retain Britton, a sinkerballing lefty whose performance stabilized after being acquired from the Orioles on July 26, making his recovery from a right Achilles tendon tear less of a concern. Right-handers Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder are also set to return; Betances struck out at least one batter in 44 straight appearances, an American League record.
With Player Page for David Robertson signing a two-year deal with the Phillies, the Yankees moved this month to ink right-hander Adam Ottavino. A 33-year-old Brooklyn product, Ottavino restored his stock by using high-tech equipment to refine his mechanics in the space of what used to be a Harlem shoe store. He is expected to finalize a three-year, $27 million pact this week.
In December, Ottavino boasted on an MLB.com podcast that he "would strike out Babe Ruth every time," and The Bambino indeed would have had trouble with Ottavino's mid-90s fastball and hard-breaking slider. Pitching for the Rockies, Ottavino halved his ERA from 5.06 in 2017 to 2.43 in '18. His 112 strikeouts ranked second among National League relievers, behind only the Brewers' Josh Hader.
Who else could be called upon?
With Chapman, Betances, Britton, Green, Holder and Ottavino on board, manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have no shortage of viable options to call upon. There will be one spot to be filled, though it could be two, as the Yanks carried an eight-man bullpen for extended stretches of the '18 season.
Tommy Kahnle, a prized pickup from the White Sox in July 2017, will be looking to bounce back after decreased velocity and a right shoulder issue which produced a 6.56 ERA over 24 appearances. Luis Cessa and Domingo German could compete for a long reliever role, as the righties combined to make 19 starts for New York last year. Cessa is out of Minor League options, while German has a fourth remaining.
Jonathan Loaisiga will also be in the mix after making the jump from Double-A to enjoy big league time in '18, while rookie Stephen Tarpley pitched his way onto the radar late in the year, striking out 13 in nine innings and earning a spot on the American League Division Series roster.
Who else is in the pipeline? (MLB Pipeline rankings in Yankees system)
No. 3 Albert Abreu (age: 23, highest level: Double-A)
No. 4 Domingo Acevedo (age: 24, highest level: Double-A)
No. 12 Chance Adams (age: 24, highest level: MLB)
No. 17 Nick Nelson (age: 23, highest level: Double-A)
No. 22 Michael King (age: 23, highest level: Triple-A)
Current projected bullpen (2018 stats)
Aroldis Chapman (2.45 ERA, 32 SV, 51 1/3 IP, 5.3 BB/9, 16.3 K/9)
Dellin Betances (2.70 ERA, 66 G, 66 2/3 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 15.5 K/9)
Zach Britton (3.10 ERA, 41 G, 40 2/3 IP, 4.6 BB/9, 7.5 K/9)
Adam Ottavino (2.43 ERA, 75 G, 77 2/3 IP, 4.2 BB/9, 13.0 K/9)
Chad Green (2.50 ERA, 63 G, 75 2/3 IP, 1.8 BB/9, 11.2 K/9)
Jonathan Holder (3.14 ERA, 60 G, 66 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 8.2 K/9)
Domingo German (5.57 ERA, 21 G, 85 2/3 IP, 3.5 BB/9, 10.7 K/9)