Oct
15

ALCS Preview: The Bullpen

By

With plenty of time between the end of play Sunday and the start of the ALCS on Friday evening, we’ve been taking our time previewing the series. We’ve already looked at the infielders, the starters, and the managers, so now we’ll hit the relief corps.

The Yankees bullpen was rock solid last year, so fans expected more of the same this year since the cast of characters was largely unchanged. Things didn’t go as planned in April, and soon guys like Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, and Jon Albaladejo were jettisoned in favor of younger players, who proved to be up to the task. The only two relievers to stay on the team’s active roster wire-to-wire were Mariano Rivera and Phil Coke. The rest of the group came aboard around May.

As a whole, the Yankees bullpen thoroughly outperformed their haloed counterparts. Let’s break it down…

Angels Yankees
ERA 4.45 4.28
FIP 4.45 4.32
WHIP 1.41 1.35
K/9 6.61 7.82
BB/9 3.26 3.56
HR/9 1.12 1.12
AVG .271 .253
GB/FB 1.06 1.11
WAR +16.6 +18.7

The Yankees have the Angels beat, or at least tied, in every category but walks per nine innings, and even there the difference is just one free pass every 30 innings. That doesn’t even take into consideration the division each team plays in. It’s safe to say the Yanks come into the series with a superior bullpen, though let’s break it down on an even deeper level anyway.

The Angels carried just ten pitchers on their ALDS roster, four of them starters. That leaves just six relievers, whereas the Yankees rolled with eight in the Division Series (eleven pitchers total, three starters). That makes for a tricky comparison, but we’ll manage.

Closer: Mariano Rivera vs. Brian Fuentes
Well, there’s not much debate here, so I’ll keep it short. Mo again defied age this year, posting a phenomenal 72-12 K/BB ratio in 66.1 IP. Fuentes got the job done for the Angels, but he allowed 78 baserunners in just 55 IP and was rather shaky all season. Mike Scioscia can say he has confidence in his closer all he wants, but the fact of the matter is that no one in Yankee Universe will feel the good guys are out of it until that 27th out is recorded.

High-Leverage Guys: Joba Chamberlain & Phil Hughes vs. Jason Bulger & Kevin Jepsen
The Angels relief core suffered a huge blow in late May when their ultrareliable and long-time setup man Scot Shields went down for the season with a knee injury. Jose Arredondo got the first shot at replacing Shields, but faltered and wound up back in Triple-A before being left off the playoff roster. Not only did Plan A get hurt, but Plan B failed as well.

Luckily for Scioscia, Bulger stepped up his game and was fantastic pretty much all season, posting a 1.99 ERA and a .172 AVG against while striking out 52  in 54.1 IP from May 2nd to Sept. 23rd (we won’t count four subpar outings to end the season against him). The problem is that he walks more guys than you’d like a late inning reliever to, 30 in 64.1 IP this year. Baseball America ranked Jepsen the team’s 6th best prospect coming into the season, and even though he struggled in the first half, he finished the year strong: .245-.302-.274 against after August 8th, with a 2.24 FIP. Both Bulger and Jepsen can bring it, dialing it up to the mid-90′s, and they’ve been effective late game options for the Angels down the stretch.

The Yankees have their own pair of hard throwing setup men now that Joba Chamberlain has joined Phil Hughes in the bullpen for the playoffs. Hughes was simply masterful as a reliever this season, putting up a 1.93 FIP and a .456 OPS against in over 50 IP (51.1, to be exact). Joba has looked good in a tiny sample after going back into the bullpen for the playoffs, and while it’s unreasonable to expect him to repeat his 2007-2008 bullpen performance, all he needs to do is throw strikes with his stuff to be effective. Easier said than done, of course.

Edge goes to the Yankees because of Hughes’ utter dominance in baseball’s toughest division, however no one should sleep on Bulger and Jepsen, they could open some eyes this series.

Lefty: Phil Coke vs. Darren Oliver
Darren Oliver, the ageless wonder, enjoyed a fantastic season at age 38, allowing just 83 baserunners in 73 IP against 65 strikeouts. He pitched in all three ALDS games against Boston, allowing just one hit in 2.1 IP. Mike Scioscia uses him as more than just a lefty specialist, often asking Oliver to pitch full innings late in close games. Oddly enough, he has a reverse platoon split, so the Angels don’t have an obvious weapon against lefty batters in the bullpen. Maybe the Yanks can loan them Damaso Marte for the series.

Phil Coke, on the other hand, should be used strictly as a lefty specialist this series, and in fact his sole purpose in the ALCS will be to get Bobby Abreu out. Coke held lefties to a .195-.218-.366 batting line this year, and even though he worked full innings – facing both lefties and righties – at times this year, the Yanks have plenty of other options that will relegate Coke to LOOGY status this series. It tough to give anyone edge here because we’re talking about two different pitchers in two different roles, but I guess if I had to pick, I’d go with Oliver because he’s just flat out been better this year.

Long Man: Chad Gaudin vs. Matt Palmer
Palmer, a career minor league journeyman that finally stuck at age 30, made a few starts early in the season for the Halos (you may remember this game), but moved to the bullpen because a) he sucked (5.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP), and b) because some of the Angels’ regular starters got healthy. Like Gaudin, who’s been better than anyone could have expected since being acquired from the Padres, Palmer figures to only appear in blowouts or as the last reliever out of the pen in extra inning games.

Both pitchers excel against righties but struggle against lefties, however I’m giving the Yankees get the edge simply because Gaudin strikes out way more guys (8.5 K/9 vs. 5.1). Strikeouts are better than ground outs, especially in the playoffs.

Misc. Relievers: Ervin Santana vs. David Robertson, Al Aceves, Brian Bruney/Damaso Marte
Herein lies a considerable difference between the two bullpens. Beyond the five guys we talked about above, the only other reliever in the Angels bullpen is starter turned reliever for the postseason Ervin Santana (ZOMG why won’t they just pick a role for him already?!?1?). Santana battled an elbow injury early in the season, and was just so-so when he was on the mound. He put 204 runners on base in just 139.2 IP, served up one homer every six innings, and his 47 walks tied his total from 2008, when he threw almost 80 more innings. Santana was better in the final two months of the season (3.95 FIP) against mostly crap competition, but he didn’t even warm up in the ALDS. He appears to be Mike Scioscia’s Plan D, at best.

The Yankees, on the other hand, went with quantity and quality to fill out the rest of their bullpen. Al Aceves was a godsend in May, pitching in every role imaginable. His 1.01 WHIP was second best in the league among pitchers with at least 80 IP, behind only Andrew Bailey of the A’s. David Robertson is a strikeout fiend, with 314 K’s in 226.2 career innings, majors and minors. We’re still not sure whether Marte will remain with the club in the ALCS, or if he’ll be replaced by Bruney because of matchups, but either guy figures to be one of the last options outs of Girardi’s pen. Aceves alone makes this a win for the Yanks, but having Robertson available too is just showing off.

As we saw in the stats above, the Yanks have a clear advantage over the Angels when it comes to the bullpen. The Fightin’ Scioscia’s will rely heavily on Jepsen, Bulger, and Oliver in the middle innings, while Palmer and Santana are break glass in case of emergency guys only. The Yankees have depth, with Joba and Hughes forming a powerful bridge in the late innings. At the very least, Coke has the tools necessary to neutralize Abreu, while Aceves and Robertson are looming should trouble arise at any point before the 7th inning.

The Angels starters completed six innings in nine of the ten games they played the Yankees this year, and they have to hope their starters continue to work deep into the games to minimize the bullpen face time. Otherwise, it’ll just be open season for the Bombers.

Categories : Death by Bullpen

63 Comments»

  1. Rose says:

    If there’s a rain postponement…the bullpen changes a bit.

    Aceves becomes the “long man” if Gaudin pitches Game 4…or if Joba pitches Game 4 then the “high leverage guys” may include David Robertson in his place I’m guessing?

  2. Coke’s “progression,” or lack thereof during the year, was interesting to watch. In the beginning of the season, he was effective against RHB, but that just fell apart by the end of the season. I definitely thought that he was going to be able to be more than a LOOGY in the future. Granted, one full season isn’t quite enough by which to judge him, but I don’t see Coke being more than a LOOGY after this season.

  3. dkidd says:

    the angels feel completely different without shields/k-rod

    it used to be, you couldn’t be behind after the 6th inning. not anymore

    yanks in 5!

    • vin says:

      That’s what I’m feeling too.

      The confidence I have in this team is similar to what I had during the dynasty years, as opposed to the delusional optimisim I’ve had since 2003. Hopefully it works out that way.

      If the Yanks lose, it won’t be because the Angels are a better team, top to bottom.

  4. Yankees have Mo. Advantage Yankees. End of story.

  5. dkidd says:

    also, i look forward to scioscia bringing in darren oliver to face damon/cano/matsui

    there will be blood

  6. vin says:

    The shortness of the Angels bullpen sure shows a lot of faith in the starters. Scioscia can get 9 (maybe 10) quality innings out of his guys, but if the game goes into extras then he’s definitely playing with fire.

  7. Bo says:

    The key will be getting lackey and the other starters out of the game early and forcing them to go to this average pen.

  8. …but the fact of the matter is that no one in Yankee Universe will feel the good guys are out of it until that 27th out is recorded.

    You’re wrong. Many people in Yankee Universe have proven time and time again that they think the game is over and done for if we don’t have at least 5 run lead by the end of the third inning.

  9. Tank Foster says:

    Yankees’ bullpen is much better than the Angels’. But I’ll feel much better when I see Hughes come into an ALCS game and dust the three batters he faces. Don’t like his shakiness lately.

  10. Mode:Theif and Lair says:

    I really like these comparison posts, but I think of the Nick Puntos (and nearer and dearer to my heart the Brian Doyles and Paul Blairs) of the world and read the comparisons as “for fun” as opposed to something to use to gauge potential series outcomes.

    This is because of the RSSSS (Reverse Small Sample Size Syndrome). While SSS is usually used to debunk a historically small set of data, RSSSS tells me that since a PO series is by definition a SSS anyone is apt to have a statiscally huge or crappy series without saying it’s a fluke.

    Derek Jeter’s overall PO series’ numbers are right on his career numbers, but it’s made up of really bad (CLV 07 .353 OPS) types and (ANA 02 1.401 OPS) types along with (his)average (FL 03 .854 OPS).

    IDK, something to make you think a little.

  11. mryankee says:

    Nice to have all these bullpen arms but what happens after this year. Does next year’s rotation setup as CC,AJ,Joba,Phil,Ian? Are the Yankees saving the money for a run at King Felix. I think for thsi postseason the staff and bullpen looks great. For the future I am not sure this would not be athird place rotation behind Tampa and Boston.

    • Mike Pop says:

      One day at a time mryankee, one day at a time.

      • mryankee says:

        I know the reason I mentioned this was I read a post in the Yankee Universe about that topic and it was mentioned we cant expect a big money FA pitcher. My issue is fine if we go with harden type. If they are saving money for King Felix I would feel better. Otherwise we better be scouting Lackey. I said this year this postseason very happy and confiedent with teh staff. Moving forward Iam not positive how I feel.

    • I wouldn’t include IPK in that mix for the rotation. I’d pencil it in as CC/A.J./Andy/Joba/Phil. If Andy retires, then I think a one year stop gap type guy (Hudson if he hits FA? Ben Sheets if he’s healthy? Brandon Webb if he’s both healthy and an FA?).

      • mryankee says:

        That would be better with a full run at King Felix when he becomes a f/a. I am good with that idea. I still like rich harden or even duchescher as well. I guess we dont need Lackey but I do think at least one more pitcher will be needed.

        • One would only be needed if Pettitte retires/doesn’t come back. Also, I wouldn’t be too heavily banking on Felix coming to NY. Like Minnesota with Mauer, I think Seattle is going to do literally everything it can to keep him.

          • mryankee says:

            I would think at 25 he would want to test the F/A waters, hopefully he will be a f/a but if not and Andy retires then a f/apitcher os some kind and quality will be needed. I dont think an overhaul because long term I believe in Hughes and Joba and hopefully ZMAC or Nova. I am all for a young mostly homegrown rotation and the only way I would do Lackey is if he falls well below an AJ contract.However most likely Anaheim resigns him.

            • Mike Pop says:

              Sure. Let’s save it for another day, or in the open thread tonight.

              • mryankee says:

                Fair enough sir-I did get some good feedback so at least I have an idea of some of the possibilities out there. However no time like the present and though I took extreme pleasure in watching the following
                1-Papelbon blow up
                2-Pedroia blame the infield
                3-every Boston homer looking like a fool

                I think this is a very good Angel team and the Yanks have to shatpen up. The same base running mistakes that helped the Yanks out against teh Twinkies will not be made BY Anaheim.

            • Right, if Andy retires, someone needs to fill in and I don’t think it should be someone on more than a one or two year deal.

  12. mryankee says:

    BTW another minor concern is Hughes-he did not have a great ALDS. He could not put away Nick Punto against Anaheim that will be Erik Aybar or Chone Figgins. Hughes needs to step up a bit

  13. Count Zero says:

    While I hate rain delays as much as the next guy, extended rain delays on Friday and / or Saturday could really play in the Yanks’ favor because of the bullpen depth.

    • Mike Pop says:

      True, but I think they’d use their best guys and the Yankees would continue to use their best guys regardless.

      I would of went with, the rain delays don’t matter because the Yankees are an unstoppable force ;)

  14. mryankee says:

    I thought last years angels were a much better team with Tex-Tori-Vlad in the middle of the lineup. This years team though not as potent seems much more proficient and I dont know how to quantify that. I watched their series with the sox alot of clutch hits and good ab’s. I am definitley expecting the Yanks to get by them this year.

    • Mike Pop says:

      I know Morales is no Tex. But when Joe compared the infielders the other day, Morales is pretty damn good.

    • vin says:

      This year’s Angels team is definitely not the most talented they’ve had in recent years.

      They kind of remind me of a higher spending Twins. They have guys with underestimated talent who make significant contributions. Great depth. Capable pitching. Relies more on small ball than other teams (but not as much as advertised).

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