By Chad Jennings
In theory, what the Yankees have created is absurd. Five lefties in the bullpen? It makes no sense. Not if you’re starting from scratch and trying to choose the proper pieces. Hard to imagine any team would go to the drawing board and elect five left-handed relievers.
But teams are never choosing pieces. Not two months into the season, anyway. At this point it’s more about putting the pieces together, which means working with what you have. And what the Yankees have right now is Adam Warren in the rotation, David Carpenter designated for assignment, and a bunch of relatively unproven guys in Triple-A.
For at least the time being, the Yankees have put the pieces together, and as absurd as it might look on the surface, they’ve come up with five lefties in a seven-man bullpen.
“You don’t see that very often,” the best of the lefties, Andrew Miller, said. “But honestly, all those guys can get right-handers out. We’re just starting to see what Lindgren can do. Cap’s been a starter. It’s something that I’ve felt like I had to prove, but I proved I can do it, and Shreve’s been really, really good lately. That’s important, and Joe can feel comfortable using those guys against right-handed hitters, or in a 50/50 mix. I think we’ll be fine.”
Hard to imagine the Yankees will stick with this alignment for long — at least partially because they don’t need this many long relievers — but it doesn’t have to be a total mess in the short term. If recently converted starter Chris Capuano can be the primary long man and Esmil Rogers can become a reliable middle reliever from the right side, the Yankees could have a fairly traditional bullpen that just happens to lean to the left.
Closer: Andrew Miller
Setup man: Dellin Betances
Go-to lefty: Justin Wilson
Middle-innings righty: Esmil Rogers
Long man: Chris Capuano
Flexible bullpen role player: Chasen Shreve
Rookie breaking into the bigs: Jacob Lindgren
Those roles really aren’t unusual, it just so happens that five of those spots are being fill by guys who throw with their left arms. It could certainly became a matchup issue in certain situation — there are a lot of right-handed hitters around there, and many of them can feast on lefties — but Wilson actually has fairly neutral splits in his career (though this season he’s been quite a bit better against lefties), and Shreve has dominated righties this season. Lindgren is projected to be much more of a setup man than a situational lefty, Miller has already performed well beyond a matchup role, and Capuano’s a long-time starter who’s used to facing both lefties and righties.
Actually, the biggest problem with this experiment might not be the lefties, it might be the second righty.
Betances is exceptional, but Rogers has struggled, especially in the month of May. Girardi tried to use him in a short-relief situation on Sunday, and Rogers retired only one of the three batters he faced. If Rogers can’t get himself back on track, the Yankees are going to have to find someone — either right-handed or left-handed — who can change that roster spot for the better.
For now, they’ll roll with a bunch of lefties and see what happens.
“I think it’ll change somewhat when you continue to get pitchers back,” Joe Girardi said. “But it is what it is, and you have to adapt to it. Cappy’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen, Esmil’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t consider Lindgren a real long guy, he’s more of a one or two inning guy in a sense. You’ve just got to adapt.”