Joe Girardi‘s bullpen was the team’s strength last year, as unheralded arms like Brian Bruney, Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez stepped up and exceeded expectations. Kyle Farnsworth was surprisingly effective before being jettisoned off to Detroit, while Damaso Marte finished strong after coming over in a trade of his own. Mo, of course, was Mo.
However, given the natural volatility of relief pitchers, it’s not a given that the Yanks’ pen will repeat it’s 2008 performance in ’09. Mo is a given, and Marte’s track record is long enough that you have a good enough idea of what he’ll give you, but the rest of the guys are all wildcards. Bruney’s command could desert him again, the league could adjust to Edwar’s change, and/or Jose Veras could just suck. It’s the nature of the beast.
Brian Bruney, RHP
Projection: 3-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 49 G, 52 IP, 45 H, 36 BB, 52 K, 5 HR
Dominant when not on the DL last season, James sees Bruney reverting to his pre-2008 form, with walks again serving as his Achilles heel. Even when he was at his best last season, there was still a bit of uneasiness about seeing Bruney march out of the pen to face a hitter in a big spot, and I suspect it will always be that way.
Damaso Marte, LHP
Projection: 4-2, 3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 67 G, 56 IP, 46 H, 25 BB, 60 K, 4 HR
That oh so important, must have or else the World Series is unattainable lefty reliever, Marte projects to have a solid, representative season. Better than your typical lefty bullpener because he can face righty batters without embarassing himself, Marte is the clear number two in the pen behind Mo going into the season.
Edwar Ramirez, RHP
Projection: 4-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 56 G, 53 IP, 39 H, 24 BB, 74 K, 6 HR
Ah good ol’ Edwar. The one trick pony projects to have a very good season thanks to an absurd strikeout rate (that’s 12.57 Kper9 right there) and a damn fine WHIP. As always though, you don’t know if you’re going to get Good Edwar or Bad Edwar on a given day until he gets out on the bump. There’s just no middle ground with this guy, it’s either flat-out dominance or unbearable ugliness.
David Robertson, RHP
Projection: 3-2, 4.39 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 40 IP, 39 H, 16 BB, 35 K, 4 HR
D-Rob was having a fine start to his big league career last year, but after a while it seemed like everytime Girardi brought him into a game, it was with two or three runners on and no one out. Situations like that are tough for any pitcher, let alone a young one to succeed in, so it’s no wonder Robertson struggled and was eventually shipped back to Triple-A. It looks like Robertson will be a servicable middle relief option next year, but not a guy you’d expect to see out there with the game on the line. He’s only 23 though, so there’s plenty of time for him to grow into that role.
Jose Veras, RHP
Projection: 4-3, 3.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 65 G, 62 IP, 57 H, 30 BB, 62 K, 6 HR
Veras was outstanding for the first four months of 2008, posting a 2.54 ERA & 1.15 WHIP while pitching in crucial situations. The wheels kinda came off in August though, and he put up a 5.79 ERA & .958 OPSA (Hanley Ramirez-esque) the rest of the season. James sees a solid 2009 season in Veras future however, one that would set him up as a main cog in the bullpen. Let’s just hope he keeps it up all season this time.
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Projections aren’t available for guys with a minimal amount of big league time, like Jon Albaladejo, Phil Coke, Dan Giese, and Humberto Sanchez. Minor leaguers like Mark Melancon and Steven Jackson are also out of luck, but the six guys above represent the core relievers that should be a factor all season.
Based on James’ projections, it looks like Damaso Marte and Edwar Ramirez – not Brian Bruney – will serve as the primary bridge to Mo next year. The one thing that sort of bothers me is all the walks: excluding Mo, those projections combine for 4.43 BBper9. Yikes. Good thing these are just projections, so don’t put much, if any stock in them.
Really, the best way to build a bullpen is to have plenty of options. Stockpile a horde of unheralded guys with decent stuff and the willingness to throw strikes, and hope a few of them stick. If not, they’re all easily replacable. This, of course, is much easier said than done.
Next Monday, in the final installment of this little mini-series: everything else (the bench, guys on minor league deals, etc)