It's just five games into the regular season, but Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone has a dilemma on his hands. His bullpen is underperforming, and he's having trouble managing it.
The Yankees bullpen entered the season believed to be among the best in the game, however, the crew has performed inadequately to say the least. Yankees relievers have allowed 14 runs in 17 1/3 innings (7.27 ERA), which ranks 27th in the league. They lost back-to-back games in their first series of the season at the hands of reliever implosions, and only Didi Gregorius saved them from another in Tuesday's home opener.
Jonathan Holder doesn't look like a pitcher deserving of a relief spot, and it wouldn't be shocking if he's demoted today as the club needs a fresh arm. Tommy Kahnle, who almost got out of a jam on Tuesday before allowing a big two-run hit, has not looked like he did last season. Dellin Betances looks as lost as he did last season, and David Robertson blew a lead in dramatic fashion. Aroldis Chapman has tossed just two innings, but coughed up a run in the process.
At this stage, only Chad Green has resembled the dominance of last season.
When a collection of players is expected to be the strength of a club, any slip becomes magnified especially when the team is considered among the favorites to win the World Series. We can say it is early and they'll turn it around, but two losses in April count the same as two in September. The Yankees are in a division that touts another very strong ballclub in the Red Sox, and we cannot expect the Blue Jays and Orioles to bow to the "big boys" of the American League East.
One game could easily be the difference for a division title.
It's just a handful of games into the season, so there shouldn't be any panic. That said, underperformance presents a problem for any manager, let alone one with five games of experience. Combine the two and it creates a recipe for disaster.
Boone has already earned the #FireBoone hashtag after a couple of highly questionable calls. His inexperience was certain to pop up as the season opened, so this should hardly come as a surprise. Another unsurprising aspect here is Boone's complete reliance on "the analytics" that are presented to him, rather than a general feel for game. In a sense, Boone has little to rely on besides the numbers, especially since it is an organization steeped in analytical decision-making.
His first issue was leaving Betances in for an extra inning, which was in part forced by Boone's call to pull starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka after just 79 pitches. Tanaka was cruising, and while it is early in the season, he could have been asked to go batter to batter to extend his outing. Betances miserably flamed out, and the Yankees lost the lead and the game.
The next day, Boone had another decision blow up in his face. Robertson, who didn't have his best stuff, faced a scenario of runners at second and third base with two outs and right-handed hitting Josh Donaldson coming to the plate. Donaldson had good numbers against Robertson, yet the veteran right-hander had better results against switch-hitting Justin Smoak.
At issue, Smoak was enjoying a fine day at the plate and the early part of the season. Meanwhile, Donaldson seemed to be struggling, yet when Boone went to the mound to speak with Robertson armed with the numbers, he also allowed the pitcher to aid in the ultimate choice to intentionally walk Donaldson. Smoak launched the last of nine pitches thrown his way into the center field seats for a grand slam, resulting in criticism of the first-year manager.
At the moment, the bullpen results seem to be trapped in a perfect storm, swirling with poor performances and a rookie manager making the ultimate call. We expect the relievers to turn things around based on their track records, however, Boone's pace at which he will climb the managerial learning curve is a subject of concern.