The 2015 Yankees and the Hardest-Throwing Bullpens

The Yankees have a few question marks going into the 2015 season, the biggest of which is what to do with a certain third baseman/DH/elephant in the room. After that, it’s the structural integrity of Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, and then a distant third is probably Mark Teixeira’s new gluten-free home run diet. However (or whoever) you think the Yankees will be on the field this year, there’s one fact that can’t be denied about this iteration of the team: the bullpen is going to throw really hard, and the odds are it will be very good if everyone stays healthy.

With all of the press the Royals received in 2014 for their cadre of power arms from the 7th to 9th inning in the form of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, the Yankees built a bullpen almost on their level this past offseason. The breakout of Dellin Betances in 2014, along with the acquisitions of Andrew Miller and David Carpenter, has created a back end with great strikeout ability and excellent peripherals. Add the improved Adam Warren (who may possibly start) to the mix, and you have the security blanket for a rotation with a lot of health concerns.

That’s a main reason for compiling this bullpen. When you have a rotation comprised of Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), Nathan Eovaldi (awesome), and some combination of Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Chase Whitley as possible fifth starters, you need both late game insurance and help limiting innings, if necessary. There’s also Ivan Nova, who is due back from Tommy John surgery in late spring or summer, who fits the current mold of the rest of the rotation.

Today we’re going to look at both projected WAR for all of the final three relievers in all bullpens, then look at some velocity numbers from last season for the current bullpen set ups. How does the Yankees bullpen back end stack up to the others in the league? Let’s find out.

August did great work on projected bullpens last month, compiling lists of the most likely final three pitchers in the back-ends of the bullpen for each team. Yes, this will fluctuate, and people will get injured, but let’s assume the pitchers he selected are the guys. The line has to be drawn somewhere, so for a moment, let’s put ourselves in a fantastic world in which UCLs are made of elastic carbon fiber and everyone keeps their job for the entire season.

To start with, I’ve taken the three likely pitchers from each team and charted their projected combined Steamer WAR below:


It’s no secret the Royals are really good. The 2015 Yankees are projected to be second, however, and they would be higher if I hadn’t swapped out Adam Warren for David Carpenter as the third reliever alongside Betances and Miller. There’s a possibility that Warren is the 7th inning guy, but I’m not counting on it: much more likely he starts and/or provides long relief. Steamer has some of Warren’s WAR from starting, so Carpenter in the third relief spot makes more sense for our purposes.

A side note: Steamer obviously doesn’t like the Angels very much, projecting Huston Street for -0.2 WAR to lead the Anaheim bullpen. That’s certainly because Steamer expects his peripherals to regress, like his incredible LOB% (93.3% in 2013 and 99.5% in 2014), low BABIP, and high HR/9. They didn’t regress last year, so maybe they won’t again. We’ve already heard that Huston doesn’t like FIP, and this is one of the reasons why. At least we know what’s behind the projection.

Now let’s look at the velocity numbers. With those same groups of three pitchers per bullpen, I’ve pulled all the individual fastball velocity data for the 90 pitchers and averaged them per bullpen with a weight based on fastball usage. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for our purposes, mostly because watching people throw baseballs really hard is fun, and this should be too. Onto the graph!


Unsurprisingly, we see a lot of the same teams at the top of this velocity graph as we do at the top of the WAR graph. Velocity increases margin for error, and having it is better than not having it. For those who are more inclined to tables, let’s look at both projected WAR and velocity side by side:

Team 2015 Projected WAR 2015 Projected Velocity (MPH)
Angels 0.1 89.5
Astros 0.8 90.8
Athletics 1.3 92.0
Blue Jays 1.3 92.5
Braves 1.8 94.3
Brewers 1.1 92.7
Cardinals 1.2 94.3
Cubs 1.4 94.9
Diamondbacks 0.8 89.7
Dodgers 0.7 91.7
Giants 1.1 90.9
Indians 0.7 93.5
Mariners 1.2 92.9
Marlins 1.2 92.6
Mets 0.2 95.1
Nationals 0.8 94.0
Orioles 1.2 93.7
Padres 1.1 93.6
Phillies 0.8 93.1
Pirates 1.0 93.0
Rangers 0.5 92.9
Rays 2.3 95.2
Red Sox 2.0 91.2
Reds 1.9 94.7
Rockies 1.3 93.4
Royals 2.9 96.0
Tigers 1.1 91.9
Twins 1.2 91.9
White Sox 1.3 90.5
Yankees 2.4 95.4

There is the obvious exception of the Mets, who are projected for the 4th-best velocity but 2nd-worst WAR. Beyond that, there aren’t a ton of surprises near the top of the velocity list. The Rays bullpen will be great if Jake McGee makes it back to full strength and Brad Boxberger continues his breakout from last year; the Cubs are primed to be sneaky good, after Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and newcomer Neil Ramirez combined for great numbers in 2014; Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel will be themselves, so long as they stay healthy.

Finally, there are the Yankees and the Royals, shutdown incarnate. We know about the Royals, and the only questions concerning the Yankees at this point are about roles: does Betances close, or does Miller get some chances as well? Where does Warren fit in if he doesn’t get the fifth starting job? In the end, most of the answers to these questions aren’t going to make or break this bullpen. The bottom line is that the Yankees have an embarrassment of end-game riches, and that shows in both WAR and velocity predictions. No matter the other question marks about the Yankees personnel, it must be nice to know the game is yours to lose from the 7th inning on.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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JC Denton
9 years ago

The middle-relief could be great too. This could be a bullpen without a bad arm.

Buctober 2015
9 years ago
Reply to  JC Denton

Wilson is very hit or miss but throws gas