The following is a guest post by Rebecca Glass. RAB regulars may know her better as Aunt Becca-Optimist Prime. While not chatting up a storm on RAB, Rebecca maintains her own site at This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes. Any readers interested in submitting guest posts can contact me via e-mail at ben at riveraveblues dot com.
During Thursday’s game, Ken Singleton asked Michael Kay if he remembered Ramiro Mendoza. Kay sputtered for a minute, wondering why Singleton would ask him such an obvious question before Singleton corrected himself and asked after Mario Mendoza.
While the exchange was innocuous, just the mention of the name “Ramiro Mendoza” while Alfredo Aceves was on the mound seemed, at the very least, apropos.
The long man is traditionally the bullpen’s least important reliever: to be used in mop-up duty, low-leverage type situations when the starter’s appearance is cut short due to ineffectiveness or injury, and the manager needs an arm to abuse for an inning or five. Some long men are quite good. Some…well, some you end up with a 20-1 Twins win over the White Sox or that game where Texas scored 30 runs against Baltimore.
Typically, long men are the least acknowledged players on a team because when things are going well, they don’t appear. When a starter gives inning and the set-up men and closer do their jobs, the long man becomes redundant.
Still, the Yankees should know — perhaps more than any other team — that a good long man can make all the difference in the world. Even when things are going right.
The most underrated player of the Yankees during the “Dynasty Years” may very well have been their long man, Ramiro Mendoza. It wasn’t that Ramiro Mendoza was an exceptionally good pitcher–he had a career ERA of 4.30 and WHIP of 1.34 , but that Mendoza was more than a long man.
He didn’t just come in and mop up; he could spot start, throw short relief and do pretty much whatever the Yankees needed of him that day. The day after, he could then do something completely different and perform all of these roles to a standard of general competency.
Mendoza’s number will never be retired by the Yankees and only hard core fans beyond our generation will ever know his name. But I’m not entirely sure the Yankees win three straight, and four of six over all from 1996-2001, without him. (Ed. Note: In 1996, Mendoza made 11 spot starts and one relief appearance, but from 1997-2002, he was a pitching savior for the Yanks. Over six seasons, he won 50 games and had a 3.86 ERA and a 118 ERA+. You can’t buy that kind of versatility anymore.)
So why bring this up? Because if you’ve been watching Yankees baseball at all with the devotion that would bring you to RAB, you’d know that Alfredo Aceves is kinda sorta doing everything that Ramiro Mendoza did.
And he’s doing it better.
Okay, so there’s a giant enormous argument to be made for “Holy small sample size, Batman.” I acknowledge that. And hey, if Sabathia, Burnett, Joba, Hughes, Pettitte, and/or Wang all do their collective jobs, the sample size is probably still going to remain pretty small and not rival Mendoza’s 100+ innings pitched in four of the nine seasons he pitched (and four of his six seasons during the great run in the Bronx).
Still, though, Aceves’ meteoric rise through the minors last season, from high A to the majors, is Joba-like, and while, at 26, Aceves isn’t projected to be a future ace, he did come through as a starter. Given how successful Aceves has been in the bullpen thus far, it’s perhaps hard to imagine that he was a starter so recently.
Yet, few pitchers, starter or reliever, could throw two innings one night and then three the next. It’s different than a closer, who might throw one inning three nights in a row, especially if they are ‘easy’ innings, which many of the elite closers do without breaking a sweat.
Aceves threw two critical innings in the game on Wednesday, when it was still 5-3, and then three innings last night. While those innings were low-leverage by the 6-0 score, they become higher leverage considering that the Yankees needed to fashion so many innings from the pen.
That kind of versatility, especially in light of the relative (lack of) talent of the short relievers with any sort of hair, is invaluable for the Yankees.
Just consider this: Aceves was recalled from SWB on May 5. On that day the Yankees were 13-13 and had lost three straight. Since then, they are 11-4, and have won nine straight. Aceves didn’t win most of those games, and the ones he won, he didn’t do so on his own. But we can’t say that he hasn’t helped.
The sample size is too small right now to be able to do a full comparison — perhaps at the end of this season we’ll have a better idea — but right now, Alfredo Aceves could very well be that ghost of Ramiro Mendoza we have wanted for a while.