Yesterday’s loss gave Yanks fans a chance to vent on the bullpen, and Phil Coke in particular. Yes, it was a horrific performance, and yes, Coke blew the game. That doesn’t mean, as one friend emailed me, that he’s a bad pitcher. It means that he’s been tattooed in two out of three appearances so far. That might prove to be the first signs of Coke’s ineffectiveness, but taken in isolation it doesn’t mean much at all.
Relievers are the most volatile players on a team in terms of results. One year a guy will be lights out, and the next he’ll struggle to record an out. Not only does this fluctuation happen on a year-to-year basis, but it happens from month-to-month, week-to-week, and even game-to-game. There’s just so much randomness that comes along with their individual one-inning samples that it’s tough to get a true grasp of a reliever’s true ability.
So far we’ve seen Coke toss up two stinkers and one brief but stellar performance (striking out the only two batters he faced) after dominating Spring Training. That’s far too small a sample to make a reasonable judgment. I liked what I saw from him in Spring Training, and clearly the Yankees did, so it’s best to let this one continue to play out, withholding judgment until Coke gets a few more appearances under his belt. After all, as Pinto notes, Phil might just have been the victim of insanely poor luck: “My problem is that the more a manager goes to the pen, the more likely he is to bring in someone having an off day.”
In reviewing the first six games, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to counter the preseason notion that the Yanks bullpen is a strength. They’ve allowed eight runs in 17 innings this season, but the bulk came in just two of their six games (there was that one throw-away run in the ninth of a KC blowout). So in two thirds of their games the bullpen has turned in a scoreless performance (caveat added). Of course, this isn’t evidence in itself that they are and will be a strength for the team. It does, however, help strengthen the preseason hypothesis, even if two bad performances stand out.
As the title says, no team will have a bullpen ERA of 0.00. Even Toronto, with their 2.94 team bullpen ERA, allowed 148 runs in 2008. Again, this is because of the inherent volatility of relievers. There’s still a chance that Phil Coke does, in fact, stink and that the Yanks need to replace him. Thankfully, they have a slew of live arms in the minors waiting for a chance. That’s the sign of a quality bullpen.