Who should pitch the eighth inning for the New York Yankees?

In the world of baseball, circumstances within an organization have the tendency to change over the course of the season. Going into the 2017 regular season, the Yankees had their bullpen roles lined up pretty easily. The 86-million-dollar man, Aroldis Chapman, would close games in the ninth, the Dellin Betances would be his set up man, and the veteran, Tyler Clippard, would get seventh inning duties. This trio was not to the caliber of  last year's “No Runs DMC,” but there should have been minimal issues shortening games and securing victories.
Photo Credit: NJ.com
While this stood true for the first two months of the season, the Yankees bullpen was an obvious scapegoat for their tailspin in the win column through June and up until the All-Star Break. Aroldis Chapman missed a month with an arm injury and was ineffective when healthy, Betances was fantastic in his absence but pitched horrendously after his return, Tyler Clippard had one of the worst stretches ever for a Yankee reliever in recent memory, and the middle relief was mediocre at best.

With the Yankees contending for a playoff spot, Brian Cashman swung a deal with the Chicago White Sox to acquire two lock down late-inning options in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to revitalize a crumbling bullpen. Even though it is a small sample size, the Yankees are 7-2, have regained first place in the division, and have had the bullpen pitch nothing short of stellar, since the trade. With this new revamped bullpen, the Yankees have a solid group of pitchers who are all more than capable of giving the team quality innings at the end of a game. This strong plethora of pitchers gives Joe Girardi a problem many managers wish they could have on their plates: Out of all these more than qualified pitchers, who should be given the ball in a given situation? With Aroldis Chapman not moving out of the ninth innings unless he has a Tyler Clippard-like implosion, the eighth inning is the most enticing role to be discussed.

On Twitter, we asked our followers who they felt should be the eighth inning man for the Yankees. 

Here are the results:

The BBB Twitterverse picked David Robertson at an overwhelming 58%. He was followed by Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green. While Robertson and Kahnle have been shut down since their arrival, Betances has started to show signs of his old self, and Chad Green is in the midst of a career year, are any of them truly the answer for the eighth inning? Technically the answer is yes, however, a few of our Twitter followers decided to write-in their own option: “the hot-hand.”
Photo Credit: SI.com
The term hot-hand was most recently used by Joe Girardi, when he declared that the rookie, Clint Frazier, was going to be receiving at-bats over the healthily paid veteran, Jacoby Ellsbury, due to Frazier’s hot bat. Frazier has been scorching the ball, so Girardi naturally is going to pencil him in the lineup over a scuffling Ellsbury, who has not been an above average hitter, since he returned from his concussion.

Shifting back to the bullpen, this theory of putting the “hot-hand” into the game’s most crucial situations is exactly the approach the Yankees need to utilize for their late inning relievers. Similar to how the Cleveland Indians used Andrew Miller in the 2016 World Series, the relievers on the Bronx pitching staff should not have a specific inning assigned to them. Baseball is very accustomed to having a set depth chart in bullpens that start with the closer that pitches the ninth and usually end with a long man that can log multiple innings or give the team a spot start. While these roles are probably not going anywhere, there is no reason that the Yankees and Joe Girardi cannot follow suit with Terry Francona’s Indians and have their pitchers prepared to come in at any moment in a given game.
Photo Credit: USA Today
Not all teams are able to adapt to this new type of bullpen organization, due to the skill gap of their pitching staffs. However, the Yankees have three pitchers in their bullpen with closing experience, two relievers with Major League starting experience who have sub 2.00 ERAs as relievers, and many viable Minor League options in case of an emergency. This versatility and flexibility of the Yankees’ pitching staff can allow for Girardi to make pitching decisions based on the in-game situation rather than the established role of the player.

Girardi has displayed that he isn’t afraid to go with the hot-hand in the bullpen in certain circumstances over the past few games. Chad Green has gone on an insane run of success in July as he has pitched in nine games, six of them for more than one inning, and has managed to allow only two runs and strike out 23 batters. Due to Green’s impressive string of outings, Green was the first pitcher Girardi went to, in CC Sabathia’s shortened outing against the Rays on Thursday. While he gave up the lead, the Yankees came back and won the game and this decision proves that Girardi is willing to go to a hot pitcher in a game changing situation.
Photo Credit: AP
In the same game, Girardi went with Dellin Betances in the eighth inning, when the team was losing. Betances has been the “eighth inning guy,” but was pitching in a game that was not set up to be a Yankee win at the time. Betances has had issues with control over the past month and odds are that Girardi wanted Betances to pitch in a low leverage situation to gain some of his old form back. Some may argue that this would then make Betances possibly unavaialbe in a subsequent game, however, with a bullpen as deep as the Yankees', this team can afford to have another reliever step up on a given night.

Whether this type of methodical and “hot-hand” based approach can be done on a nightly basis with the whole staff is still to be seen, but with a bullpen so stacked with talent, it would be foolish to restrict its potential by limiting each individual to a set inning or role. To answer the title of who should be the eighth inning man for the Yankees I have subsequent questions: Who has pitched well as of late? Who's pitch arsenal can best get the Yankees out of the situation? Who wants the ball?

Article by: Ryan Thoms 


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