First Half Review: Relief Pitchers


At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. First up we looked at the starting pitching, now it’s time to take a look at the relievers.

The expectations

The 2008 bullpen was one of the best in the business – ranking second in baseball in both FIP (3.82) and K/9 (8.66) – and the relief corps was expected to approximate that performance in 2009. The cast of characters was essentially unchanged, save a contract extension to southpaw Damaso Marte. Brian Bruney was set to join him as the primary bridge to Mariano Rivera, while rookie Phil Coke was primed to assume a key role. The rest of the pen was going to be filled out by a series of interchangeable parts, including Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Jon Albaladejo, and David Robertson.

The results

The results so far have been a mixed bag. The bullpen was dreadful in April, better in May, and flat out dominant in June. They currently rank second in the majors with a 1.26 WHIP (just one baserunner every 100 IP out of the league lead), yet their ERA (4.19) is just 22nd best in the game. The relievers have thrown the fourth-most innings in the American League, a number that has to come down to avoid a second half burnout. That burden falls on the starting rotation, however.

The bullpen’s revival is the result of the the massive turnover in personnel from April to June. Let’s touch on the major pieces.

Mariano Rivera

Coming off a fairly major shoulder surgery, Mariano has been as fantastic as ever in 2009. Of course he did experience a rough go of it early after giving up some homers, but since May 21st he’s posted a 1.86 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. Mo’s 14.33 K/BB is far and away the best in the game (next best is Scott Downs’ 8.06 mark) and the best of his Hall of Fame career. It took a little longer than usual, but Mo’s in midseason form and is as good as ever. He’s the least of the team’s concerns right now.

Brian Bruney & Damaso Marte

Bruney came out of the gate pitching like a man on a mission, out to prove all the B-Jobbers wrong about the lack of a solid 8th inning option. He struck out 12 and allowed just three hits over his first nine appearances, but went down with an elbow injury in late April. After being out for four weeks, Bruney lied about being healthy and came back too soon, ultimately landing himself back on the disabled list for another four weeks. He’s been nothing short of terrible since returning, allowing opponents to tattoo him for a .930 OPS. Right now, he’s a part of the problem and not the solution.

Marte’s season is just 5.1 ugly innings long, as a shoulder injury has shelved him since late April. When he was on the mound he was terrible, but how much of that is because of the injury we’ll never know. Currently rehabbing in Tampa, there’s still no timetable for his return.

Phil Coke & Phil Hughes

After a dynamite showing last September, Coke looked like he was poised to become the shutdown lefty reliever the Yanks have lacked for years. Coke’s overall numbers are rock solid, as are his splits against lefties, but his season has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. He was very good in April, pretty terrible in May, but fantastic since June rolled around. The only member of the bullpen to stick on the 25-man active roster all season besides Mariano Rivera, it’s no stretch to call Coke the Yanks’ second most reliable reliever of 2009.

The other half of Michael Kay’s stupid little Philthys Club, Hughes moved into the bullpen after Chien-Ming Wang appeared ready to become an effective starter once again, and has done nothing but dominate. His numbers out of the bullpen (18.1 IP, 0.65 WHIP, .379 OPS against) are better than Joba Chamberlain‘s first 18.1 innings of relief in 2007 (0.82 WHIP, .467 OPS against), more evidence that if you put a good starter in the bullpen he’d be a damn good reliever. There’s not much to say here, Phil Hughes the Reliever has been tremendous.

Al Aceves & David Robertson

The dramatic turnaround of the bullpen coincides with Aceves’ recall from the minor leagues. His 40 innings of stellar relief work have been just what the doctor ordered, as he’s pitched in every role and succeeded in every situation. Robertson has had his moments, mostly in low leverage spots, but he’s been an effective super-high strikeout arm that can go multiple innings if need be. He’s been pretty much everything you could want your fifth best reliever to be.

Jon Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Brett Tomko & Jose Veras

Edwar and Veras were two stalwarts in last year’s pen, providing rock-solid middle relief all summer. This year was a different story, as the two combined to allow 28 runs and 70 baserunners in 43 IP. Edwar soon found himself back in Triple-A while Veras found himself with the Indians after being designated for assignment. Albaladejo has been up and down while Tomko was mostly down, but both guys have mostly acted as the last man out of the pen. Neither has been great nor horrible, they’re just kind of there.

The Up and Down Crew

Anthony Claggett was terrible in his one outing and doesn’t figure to be back up anytime soon. Stephen Jackson didn’t even manage to get into the game in his eight days on the big league roster before ending up in Pittsburgh. Mark Melancon has been meh in his limited showings. Zach Kroenke, Romulo Sanchez, Amaury Sanit and others are stashed away in the minors awaiting their turn.

Expectations for the second half

With the success the bullpen has experienced over the last month or so, it’s tough not to be optimistic about the second half. However, a key piece in Hughes or Aceves (or both if it comes to it) could be lost if their services are needed in the rotation. Don’t be surprised if the team seeks out another relief arm at this year’s trade deadline. Regardless, the Yankees will need the bullpen to do the job consistently in the second half if they plan on making the postseason.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Zach Kroenke, Romulo Sanchez, Amaury Sanit and others are stashed away in the minors awaiting their turn.

    As are Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova, who are pitching well enough to also merit second half bullpen consideration, plus Mike Dunn and WLDR, who, as lefties with good K rates and enough age and minor league time, should get a taste of September ball.

    • Reggie C. says:

      I still think a July 31st pickup is the best way to go.

      Your short-list of relief trade candidates of thoughts on them, especially your little breakdown of those Oakland A’s pitchers, would be a nice addition to this thread.

      The Yankees havent had a sidewinder in a while. Do you like him the best?

      • You want it, you got it.


        Best options, but probably not available:
        Huston Street, COL
        Jose Valverde, HOU

        Other options that probably are available:
        Michael Wuertz, Brad Ziegler, and Craig Breslow, OAK
        Rafael Betancourt, CLE
        Danys Baez, BAL
        Arthur Rhodes and David Weathers, CIN
        John Grabow, PIT

        Possibly available but has questionable medicals:
        Chad Qualls, ARI

        Other options that are probably going to be too pricey:
        Matt Capps, PIT
        Bobby Jenks and Matt Thorton, CHW (Kenny Williams is a wildcard)

        My preference is Wuertz, then Ziegler, then Baez, then Breslow.

        • A.D. says:

          I don’t want any of the Cinci relievers.

          I would like me some Wuertz or Ziegler, and figure Beane is going to be in full sell mode.

          • FWIW, Arthur Rhodes has a 226 ERA+ from the start of the 2008 season to now. Good peripherals, too (8.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 6.3 H/9, 0.3 HR/9). He’s kind of a LOOGY, though: he still faces a lot of righties (65 PA’s against righties in 2008 vs. 81 PA’s against lefties) but doesn’t really handle them all that well (.708 OPSA vs. RHB against .453 OPSA vs. LHB).

            Weathers, meanwhile, has a 127 ERA+ in Cincy over the past 4.5 seasons. 6.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. Solid if unspectacular.

            If they’re cheap, they may not be bad. Rhodes, at least, would be a valuable LOOGY that would free us to use Coke more liberally (since we’d have the two lefties in the bullpen we originally wanted when we reupped the now absent Marte).

        • Reggie C. says:

          Damn… Wuertz has put up comparable numbers to Valverde. Is this a situation where Oakland doesn’t want to pay Wuertz more than the measly $1MM he’s getting? Looks like he’s under arbitration for a couple more seasons.

          If it came b/w Valverde & Wuertz, i’d rather stay with the AL reliever. IDEALLY, i’d rather see the Rox hit a jetstream and go in a tailspin after the All-star break forcing them to make a tough decision.

          nonetheless, a couple guys on that list would definitely ease Hughes’s departure.

          • The Oakland troika cuts both ways: None of them are dramatically overpaid like Valverde, so Beane’s under no pressing need to move any of them, but Oakland’s firmly out of it, so he won’t hesitate to move them if he can get value.

            I wonder if something like Melky would work for Wuertz. Oakland needs position players… With Hinske in the fold, we now have enough outfielders again to possibly move one of our surplus.

            • Reggie C. says:

              For a team that doesn’t have a “wow” factor to its lineup, you’d think that Beane would shop the lesser 2 relievers of that troika. I think other squads would offer more than a 4th OF to land Wuertz and his two seasons of team control. Wuertz could be worth losing Melky, Melancon, and … J.Vazquez? man.. i have no idea how to construct that trade.

              The Yanks have to pull the trigger on a ‘pen upgrade. Otherwise, i see Hughes in the ‘pen for the remainder of the year which would just plain suck for him in 2010.

  2. I’d just like to point out that Rivera has faced 143 batters this season and has walked three of them. One of those was intentional. So 142 batters, two unintentional walks. That’s unreal.

  3. Marte’s season is just 5.1 ugly innings long, as a shoulder injury has shelved him since late April… Currently rehabbing in Tampa, there’s still no timetable for his return.

    Marte did throw BP over the weekend, FWIW…


  4. Joba-to-the-pen says:

    Hughes better then Joba?Of course ths site doesn’t list the facts that Hughes isn’t the set-up man,hasn’t pitched back to back games.Hasn’t had any holds.Of course he’s numbers look good.When was he’s last high pressured game he had to keep the lead?

    Joba was a set-up man in 2007 and 2008.Hughes is a long man reliever who hasn’t been in any high pressured game.Get off the bandwagon.Two months ago you guys were looking at Brian Bruney as our savior.

    Hughes has been a good reliever not great because relievers tend to pitch back to back days not 2 innings every 3 days.

  5. I was at the one game Mo pitched vs Tampa and lead to a four run ninth. We couldn’t believe it…and then we found out that Mo had been pitching dead sick.

    My respect for him went from regular worship to fundamentalism, yo.

    Also, is it me or can we consider Aceves the midseason team MVP?

  6. Sweet Dick Willie says:

    The success of any bullpen is in direct relation to the success of the starting staff.

    Ask any bullpen, even the vaunted Sux pen, to pitch 4-5 innings per game, and they’re gonna suck.

    Remember, pitchers are usually in the bullpen because they’re not good enough to be in the rotation.

    If a team has a member of the bullpen (other than its closer) who is demonstrably better than a member of the starting rotation, something is seriously amiss.

  7. Joba-to-the-pen says:

    Joba shown he can’t pitch in the rotation and Wang is hurt yet Hughes stays in the bullpen and pitches every three days and Aceves starts.

    Everybody thinks anyone can pitch in the bullpen.But I guess Mariano is ovrrated because anyone can pitch like him.And people actually think that.Hughes has shown nothing to be a set-up man.

  8. Salty Buggah says:

    The only teams that have more innings from their bullpen are in last place so our starters need to start throwing more innings. Early in the season, you could see they were getting fatigued and struggled. When they started averaging a bit more, our pen got hot in July.

  9. Peter Lacock says:

    I’m not counting on Bruney or Marte (or Wang) this season. When you miss so much time it’s hard to round into midseason form (maybe Bruney can) and others are already there. There’s enough healthy talent here to work with. They can be part of the reinforcements next season.
    I’d be in favor of an expanded trade for Betancourt that includes Lee.

  10. Frank Fernandez says:

    The pen is fine. The rotation, not so much.

  11. Little Bill says:

    The bullpen is the best in baseball. If I had to vote in a confidence poll just for the relievers, I would vote 10/10 just like I have voted for the whole team every single week. This is a sick pen, one of the best we’ve had in a long time. And we don’t have that traitoress rat Joe Torre screwing it up.

    • Out of curiosity, if you’d give the Mo-Aceves-Hughes-Coke-Bruney-Robertson-Tomko bullpen a 10 out of 10, what would you give the Mo-Aceves-Coke-Bruney-Robertson-Albaladejo-Tomko bullpen? An 8 out of 10?

      Point being, how much does it really hurt the bullpen to pull Hughes out of it and slide everybody forward one slot and add Albaladejo on the back end? Even if it takes it from 10 down to a 7, isn’t that worth the increase of a Hughes as the fifth starter over the injured Wang, green Mitre, or fill-in-the-blank?

      • Frank Fernandez says:

        Forget it. Hughes stays in the pen. It goes downhill in a pennant race without him. We’ve gone from overrating the abilities of last year’s pen and hoping Bruney would be a set-up man to finally getting everyone settled into a role that makes sense and having enough depth to weather plenty of storms. The bullpen is working; don’t mess with it.

        We’re going to have to trade for a veteran starter before the end of the month, which is a good move for this year and next. No more Andy after this year, and who knows with Wang.

        • The bullpen is the bench. The rotation is like the starters.

          I have zero qualms about negatively impacting a portion of the team that plays a smaller role to positively impact a portion of the team that plays a larger role.

          • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

            i…i just dont get it.

            Starter E goes six strong innings and fiddlefucks around for a bit in the 7th, then alberladingo/robertson finishes, coke/aceves/bruney 8th then Mo saves.


            Starter E sucks through 4.1, then alberladingo, robertson, coke, aceves, NICK SWISHER then tomko finishes the game.

            either way, nobody can pitch tomorrow except one Unused Reliever, Mo and NICK SWISHER, and in the first example we win. in the second example, i dont know if we won, because i started drinking when tomko came in to pitch in the 8th with us down 8 runs.

            hughes can either be Starter E or Unused Reliever.

            why doesnt Starter E make more sense?

        • Reggie C. says:

          If Hughes is the safety pen keeping the ‘pen from blowing then just pull it. I’d rather see this get fragged than keep Hughes in a role that’ll hinder his 2010 and 2011 contribution.

          Besides … (to be less dramatic) … there are relievers on the market or who will be on the market come July 31st who could kill it in a high leverage role.

          • Frank Fernandez says:

            You guys assume Hughes can just roll into the rotation and kick butt as a starter…Um, OK. I disagree.

            You want to win a World Series this year, you’re going to need another starter. And not a kid who’s still learning how to pitch. We already have one of those in the rotation.

            • Reggie C. says:

              I’m not saying that Hughes has a straight line, cleared path to the rotation. Hughes is at a point where he must hone his starting skillset (stuff, tempo, game planning) and most importantly, get ready for a 2010 starting gig that is likely his to lose.

              As to your point that this team needs another starter – you might be right. We’ll see what happens with Wang and Pettitte. Nonetheless, that has nothing to do and should have nothing to do with whether Hughes should stay in the ‘pen. Simply put (IMO of course): No.

              • Frank Fernandez says:

                I’m all for Hughes in the rotation next year. But we should leave him be until then, let him live through some high-leverage, high-drama situations that will be just fine for his overall development and help the team as well. Adam Wainwright got the Cards a ring in the pen and he went straight to the rotation the next year. It can be done.

      • Little Bill says:

        Hughes needs to be in that rotation. I’ve been saying it since he got pulled for Wanger. Wang should have stayed in the bullpen until someone got hurt. Good starting pitching is more valuable than good bullpen relievers. Hughes is a wasted talent in the bullpen.

        • Lanny says:

          Why should Hughes be in the rotation? He did nothing to warrant it. It’s because he has been lights out as a reliever that people are even discussing it. Why not let him stay where he has been really successful? Remember hes 23 yrs old here. Why rush him?

  12. Tom Zig says:

    I see rational ideas here, but don’t see rational actions by the Yankee brass. Do the Yankee brass not see it? Do they overvalue the bullpen?

  13. Lanny says:

    The only thing more overrated than Melancon the relief pitcher has been Joba the starter.

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