The Yankees spent hundreds of millions of dollars on players outside the organization this winter to improve their starting rotation and their lineup. Yet they spent zero dollars on players outside the organization to improve the bullpen. For some, this might be cause for worry. We’ve seen the Yanks have some pretty bad bullpens in the past half decade, and one year with a solid pen might not do much to alleviate concern. However, as we’ve said repeatedly in this space, the Yankees have little to worry about with their 2009 relief pitchers.
The argument we most frequently employ is that the Yankees are going with the San Diego Padres method of building a bullpen: find as many capable arms as possible and make sure you have some flexibility with them. If some guys stumble out of the gate, they can be replaced by eager relievers in AAA. In other words, there are cases like Heath Bell out there, and you don’t find them by signing big-name relievers to fill your pen.
(Also, go me for picking three guys who put up above-average numbers out of the pen in 2008, including one monster year from Balfour.)
There’s another argument to be made for the Yanks’ above-average and underrated bullpen. Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Boxscore takes care of it for us. It revolves around FIP and Runs Above Replacement, so it covers the sabermetric ground where our argument does not. The bad news: Joba Chamberlain is on his list. The good news: The list also contains a number of players projected to have quality FIP numbers, as well as Runs Above Replacement figures.
As is always the case with BtB, the whole article is worth a read. Sky mentions that the Yankees had the best Runs Above Replacement total from their relievers in 2008, though they did pitch the most innings (higher is better in this situation). He then uses that league-leading figure to show how the bullpen is overrated. The team with the leading RAR in offense was Boston with 332, and the leader from the rotation was Toronto with 216. So the best rotation saved over three times as many runs above replacement as the best bullpen. Hmm…I wonder if we can apply this stat to any other argument…