With just under seventy-hours separating us from Opening Day, the Yankees bullpen is mostly settled. Andrew Miller will be the closer (assuming he can pitch through his injury). Dellin Betances will be the fireman (assuming that Miller is able to pitch; if not, he'll be the closer). Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and (probably) Kirby Yates will be the bridge from the starters to Deldrew Millances one-two punch. And Ivan Nova will (probably) be the long man. There are still several issues to be sorted out, it seems, but CC Sabathia, Nova, and Yates are the only pitchers remaining in camp that do not have a set role with the team at this juncture. The smart money is on Sabathia being named to the rotation, so the rest is simply an educated guess.
Earlier today, Twitter user @detectorsarcasm asked that we offer a bullpen breakdown - and we aim to please. However, given the above, I felt that we needed at least a bit of exposition before getting underway. With that out of the way, let's dive right in.
Miller was light's out in his first season with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.16 FIP) while striking out 40.7% of the batters he faced, converting 36 of 38 save opportunities along the way. Surprisingly (insofar as fastball/slider LHP are concerned), he was far more effective against RHH, limiting them to a .130/.227/.217 slash line - though, to be fair, lefties only hit .227/.277/.326. Miller is a two pitch reliever, working with a fastball that sits around 94 mph and an 84-ish mph slider. As per PITCHf/x, batters hit only .092/.172/.123 against his slider last year ... so it's probably a reasonable that his dominant breaking ball represents 54.1% (!) of his offerings.
Would it be too much of a cop out to call Betances a right-handed version of Miller? Dealin' Dellin's fastball has more velocity, averaging 97 mph last year per PITCHf/x, and he struck out slightly fewer batters (39.5%) - but their pitch usage was virtually identical, and both are big, intimidating presences that flamed out as starters and found great success in the bullpen. And, most importantly, both are among the very best relievers in all of Major League Baseball.
Acquired last off-season (along with David Carpenter - remember him?) in exchange for Manny Banuelos, Shreve was excellent for most of his rookie season. Through the end of August (52.1 IP), he posted a 1.89 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB. His last month, however, looked like this: 6.0 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 5 K, 4 HR, 13.50 ERA, .500 BAA. To say that Shreve struggled down the stretch would be putting it very, very lightly. The 25-year-old lefty is a true three pitch reliever, working with a low-90s fastball, splitter (possibly his best pitch), and a slider. The reasoning behind Shreve's struggles can't easily be explained, as his stuff (at least in terms of velocity) was there throughout the season. The best case scenario is that it was a small sample size and/or fatigue related issue, which doesn't seem unlikely.
Barbato was also acquired last off-season, in exchange for Shawn Kelley. The 23-year-old righty has worked his way through the minors slowly but surely, spending at least half a season at each level since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He missed time in 2014 and 2015 due to an elbow injury that did not require surgery, else he may have made it to the show already. Barbato features a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking curveball in the upper 70s (a legitimate swing and miss pitch). His command and control are more good than great, but he tends to keep the ball down which mitigates his occasional bouts of wildness. He fits the Yankees mold of flamethrowing relievers to a T.
Cessa and fellow RHP Chad Green came over from the Tigers in this off-season's Justin Wilson deal. The soon to be 24-year-old was signed by the Mets as a shortstop in 2008, but was converted to pitching in 2011 due to his inability to hit a baseball. Cessa has surprisingly solid mechanics and a consistent delivery that belies his relative inexperience, and he has three usable pitches in his low-90s fastball, change-up, and slider. No one pitch stands out as a plus offering, but he commands all three fairly well, and keeps the ball on the ground. Cessa profiles best as a middle reliever or back of the rotation starter, but he has shown incremental improvements over the years, so the best may be yet to come.
I first heard of Kirby Yates (which I was certain was a made-up name) in this FanGraphs post, which explores some potential bargain-level relievers. Despite some disconcerting numbers in 56.1 IP at the big league level (including a 5.27 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 2.24 HR/9), Yates has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his career on the strength of a low-90s fastball and a couple of big breaking balls. He's a flyball pitcher, which may not play well in Yankees Stadium - but he has big time strikeout potential and has earned a shot at the last spot in the bullpen (particularly with Bryan Mitchell shelved for three months or so).
Nova has only 16 relief appearances in his professional career, so coming out of the bullpen will be a fairly new experience for him. He has averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball for his career, so there's a good chance that that plays up significantly in relief, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch when it's working. Stacey already predicted that he would pull a 2009 Phil Hughes, and he certainly has the stuff to do so. For the time being, though, I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up as a handcuff for Sabathia so that he can remain stretched out in case the Yankees need a spot start.