Sucka Got No Juice leads off today’s column with a bit on the Yankees bullpen. As is typical of national columnists, and even some in New York, Rosenthal leads with the Joba issue. Thankfully, it includes a quote from Cashman, in which he points out the obvious: “But right now, [Chamberlain] is needed even more in the rotation than ever.” With Chien-Ming Wang out indefinitely, Cashman is certainly right. With the next best options being Alfredo Aceves (5.74 ERA despite decent peripherals in AAA) and Ian Kennedy, it seems that in terms of both long-term development and immediate team need, Joba’s optimal role is as a starter.
Yet this leaves an enormous question mark in the bullpen. With Brian Bruney on the 15-day DL and with many of the mainstays struggling, the Yanks could use some reinforcements. They’ve got an immediate band-aid in the forms of Mark Melancon and David Robertson, but there still remains the collective issues of Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Damaso Marte, and to a lesser extent Phil Coke. So what are the Yankees going to do to patch things up? Rosenthal has the word from a Yanks official:
“Nobody wants to hear it, but you just have to let ’em pitch.”
It’s not easy to stick with that mindset amid a few bullpen blowups and a four-game losing streak, but it appears that’s what the Yankees will do. As Cashman says, the bullpen is “talented and gifted and probably undersold.” I’d mostly agree with that, though that doesn’t mean that every underperforming reliever will right himself. It means that the Yanks have enough flexibility to ouster the truly bad and bring in fresh arms.
The problem with evaluating the bullpen right now is that there is almost no sample to draw from. Jon Albaladejo and Jose Veras lead the team in reliever innings pitched, and they only have 10 each (Alb has 10.1). How can we judge the effectiveness of a pitcher based on a measly 10 innings? We can say that he hasn’t pitched well to this point, but to project the season based on 10 innings is mostly pointless. Yes, Veras could maintain his 6.30 ERA through 70 innings this year, but it won’t be because of what he demonstrated in his first 10 innings.
Veras has one outlier appearance, which came during the home opener. I’m wary of removing this outliers, because to remove them is to imply that they don’t matter. Outliers do occur, so they do matter. Still, without that one stinker of an appearance, Veras’s ERA is down to 3.60. We could try to even things out and take out his positive outlier, the 3.1-inning, no-hit performance against Oakland, but then we’re working with a sample of 6.2 innings, hardly worth analyzing (though his ERA would be a still-terrible 5.80).
More than justifying Veras’s performance so far, I hope the preceding paragraph illustrates the randomness of small samples. We have his actual ERA (6.30), his ERA with his outlying terrible appearance removed (3.60) and his ERA with his outlying terrible and outlying appearance removed (5.80). All this drawn from a measly 10 innings. Veras’s next 10 could be just like that, or they could be completely different — or he could go on a tear like he did from June 5 through July 5 last year, in which he pitched 17.1 innings and allowed one earned run. This is just the nature of most relief pitchers.
Remember, too, that not all is lost because the bullpen had a poor April. Damaso has a long track record of success and should turn it around. Bruney should be back in a few weeks. Melancon could give the Yanks another late-inning setup man. Veras and Edwar could both go on tears like they did last year. The Yanks bullpen could easily follow up a horrible month in April with a stellar May. And just as April isn’t an indicator for the next five months, May will not be an indicator for the next four — unless it’s equally as terrible, and then we can start to wonder, even though the sample will still be small.
As a final thought experiment, imagine the bullpen locks down the rest of the month without allowing a run. With Hughes, Joba, and A.J. set to go over the next three games, let’s figure the bullpen gets eight innings (hopefully that’s a high estimate). That would give them 72 innings with 46 earned runs, or a 5.75 ERA. Last year Boston’s bullpen had a 5.23 ERA in April, and they recovered just fine, keeping the bullpen ERA below 4.00 for every month except September. The Yanks could certainly do the same this year, especially once their starters go deeper into games.