As the Yankees head west in an effort to continue their run of amazing baseball, the team is dealing with a few consequential injuries. While Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are nursing HBP-induced bruises, Mariano Rivera is out with a cranky shoulder.
For Rivera, as Joe wrote last night, the mid-August slump-and-injury is an annual rite of passage. What the real deal is, no one knows. In his Under the Knife column today, Will Carroll claims that Rivera’s shoulder is “inflamed and a bit sore.” Rivera is, after all, 49 innings removed from off-season shoulder surgery.
While I believe that Phil Hughes would inherit the closer mantle were Rivera to be unavailable this weekend, what struck me about Carroll’s coverage of the Yanks’ pen was his claim about Joe Girardi‘s reliever usage patterns. “The back of the bullpen,” he wrote, “is being treated like Joe Torre never left, and that could be an issue.”
Carroll’s claim directly contradicted a Baseball Prospectus article from Wednesday. In that piece, John Perrotto praised Girardi’s mixing and matching out of the pen. Wrote Perrotto:
In the course of getting there, Girardi is being lauded for turning a bullpen that, beyond closer Mariano Rivera, was perceived to be a weakness to many mainstream observers coming into the season into a strong point. Girardi has pieced together a quality bullpen without having any of his pitchers ranking in the top 10 in the AL in relief innings pitched.
“The bullpen, to me, is something you really have to watch,” Girardi said. “You have to be careful that you don’t fall in love with one guy because then you wear him down and he can no longer be effective. The key is to be effective for the whole year, not just two weeks or a month.”
As we attempt to assess Joe Girardi’s managerial efforts, let’s try to figure out which BP author is telling the truth. Submitted for your approval are a few select years of Yankee bullpen usage. I’ve chosen this year and last year to see how Girardi employs the pen and three years of Joe Torre’s recent tenure — 2007, 2004 and 2002. I picked 2007 because it was his last year in the Bronx, 2004 because he killed a few arms that year and 2002 in memory of Steve Karsay. To me, those bullpens are what Carroll means when he writes that “Joe Torre never left.” The cutoff for innings was 30 by game 114, the current point in the 2009 season.
From this, we can see that Joe Torre really liked to overuse his relievers. Mendoza, Karsay and Stanton were utterly overworked by game 114 in 2002. Two years later, Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera had all thrown their fair shares of innings by mid-August. In 2007, Joe Torre loved him some Luis Vizcaino and Scott Proctor.
With those three years in mind, examining the last two years is a breath of fresh air. While none of us wanted to see Kyle Farnsworth too often, Joe Girardi had used six pitchers for 39 innings or more at this point last year, and none had thrown in excess of Mariano’s 49.1.
This year, things have been a bit less spread out. Because of some early-season moves involving Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez, only three Yankee hurlers — Al Aceves, Rivera and Phil Coke — have exceeded that 40 innings mark, and all have reached the upper 40s or low 50s. For what it’s worth, Coke is on pace to throw just 68 innings despite his team-leading 55 appearances.
Lately, Girardi has been spreading the wealth. Phil Hughes has been getting the ball in key situations, but Girardi has been willing to rest his overworked pitchers. Brian Bruney, not on this list due to his mid-season injuries, has earned some bullpen trust lately, as has David Robertson.
In the end, I am comforted by this list. When Joe Torre left New York, one of the key criticisms pertained to his bullpen usage patterns. As the Dodgers already have one pitcher with 66 innings pitched this year, Torre’s bullpen abuse has continued on the West Coast. Joe Girardi, though, has tempered the calls to the bullpen, and the eventual return of Damaso Marte could further even the load. As the Yanks head into the stretch drive nursing a six-game lead and a sore shoulder for Mariano Rivera, the bullpen should be both fresh and effective.