Yanks bullpen in good hands


Managers have changed the way they use their bullpens over the last 25 years. In that time the percentage of non-save relief appearances that last at least one inning has increased 20 percent, from about 25 percent in 1984 to about 45 percent in 2009. Andy chronicles this trend at the Baseball-Reference blog. Late-inning specialization surely has something to do with the shifting numbers, with multi-inning appearances declining in the same period. Over the past few years we’ve been accustomed to analysts talking about the strength of a bullpen in terms of its setup men bridging the gap to the closer.

Specifically, we’ve seen teams employ the three-headed monster scheme. The 2003 Astros had Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel setting up for Billy Wagner. In 2004 Joe Torre used Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon extensively in setting up Mariano Rivera. These were all one-inning roles, with the pitcher entering the game in his specific inning, if the game was within three runs, a save situation. Analysts called it shortening the game. Have three lights out one-inning relievers, the idea went, and you made it a six-inning game.

Beyond the obvious — no pitcher, not even Mariano, is perfect — this bullpen scheme has a flaw. It assumes those three pitchers can pitch every important endgame. As Torre learned in 2004, relievers wear out, especially when the rotation averages under six innings a start. In order to properly construct this endgame, a team needs at least four reliable arms for the back of the bullpen so it can spread the load more evenly. The 2009 Yankees appear to have just that.

As it currently stands, Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain will act as Rivera’s primary setup man, which essentially means pitching the eighth. But, again, the Yankees will encounter many situations where they lead by three or fewer runs in the eighth inning. Joba Hughes can’t pitch in all of them. That means the seventh-inning man has to step into the role. But the seventh-inning man figures to face just as many within-three-runs situations. What happens then?

In addition to Joba Hughes setting up Rivera, the Yankees will carry two other highly regarded relievers, David Robertson and Damaso Marte. Either can pitch the seventh and even the eighth if needed. It gives Joe Girardi more options, allowing him to rest his best guys and make sure they’re not pitching with tired arms. Al Aceves helps here, too, as he showed the ability in 2009 to take the ball in a setup role.

Thankfully, this won’t be a big worry for the Yankees this season. Different people have different takes on Joe Girardi’s bullpen management tactics, but I think most agree that he does spread the load evenly. As in the second half of last season, he’ll have the tools to achieve this in 2009. Not only do the Yankees have five quality guys in the back of his bullpen, but also swingmen like Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin along with a handful of guys at AAA waiting for a shot. Bullpens are volatile, and anything can happen, but as it stands now the Yanks don’t need to concern themselves with bullpen construction.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. Charlie says:

    well said. i’m not worried about the pen at all either. im hoping that mitre doesn’t make the roster (though i’m not sure if he has options). also, i’m disappointed in the use of “Joba Hughes.” It’s Jobaphil, or Chamberhughes, or Philberlain or something like that but Joba Hughes just isn’t gonna fly

  2. jim p says:

    Don’t forget, tied for career leading ERA, Nick Swisher.

    Seriously, what do we do if Starter 1-4 goes down, and we’ve got Joba & Phil starting? Or do they keep one in the pen and let Gaudin or Mitre start?

  3. I think Joba/Hughes should be getting innings in @ AAA until the postseason.

    Thats why I was hoping for Matt Capps signing…

  4. Drew says:

    I really hope the ST loser goes to AAA. That is, if the Yanks haven’t already decided that Jober is the man.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      It’s such a waste though. Getting experience against big leaguers is more important than building innings at this point for them.

      • Mike Bk says:

        that is probably true in the full season sense of things, but with all the offdays in April even the winner could go down for the first two weeks and throw a couple times in Scranton to stay fresh and the loser maybe the first month if they trust the rest of the pen enough just to get say 25-30 innings and be up by May 1.

      • JMK THE OVERSHARE's Glenn Beck Complex says:

        I think you’re simplifying it far too much. For argument’s sake, let’s say Hughes is the “loser” of the ST battle. If you’re hoping he becomes a viable starter in 2011 for the Yankees and beyond, it’s critical that he develops his secondary pitches. It’s highly doubtful that he’s able to do so throwing fastballs 85% of the time in a set-up role. It’s also another year he hasn’t built up his arm to be a starter.

        While it may help the short-term needs of the club, having one of the two in a bullpen role again may actually be a long-term detriment. It’s not as simple as saying, “Oh, what a waste it would be. He’ll just mow down AAA hitters.”

      • Ed says:

        Getting experience against big leaguers is more important than building innings at this point for them.

        I really can’t agree with this.

        We know that both Joba and Hughes can completely dominate major league hitters if they’re pitching one inning at a time, going max effort using only their two best pitches.

        They’ve got issues working at less than max effort and relying on their 3rd/4th best pitches. Hughes has now gone 3 straight seasons of ~100 IP. Joba finally passed that mark hitting 150 IP this year, but he had nothing left once he passed his old high of 110. Hopefully that was just part of stretching him out, and not a sign that he’s not capable of more than that. Either well, I’m expecting issues late this season.

        Putting them in the bullpen will help the team, sure. I can understand that argument. But I can’t see how any further time there will them developing towards being effective starters.

    • Stryker says:

      not sure what going to AAA is going to solve. neither hughes nor joba have anything to prove in the minors. they’ll undoubtedly mow guys down left and right. yes, these guys need innings – but they also need to learn how to get out and adapt to major league hitters. hughes and chamberlain can build up themselves up to pitch until their arms fall off, but what good would they do if they get absolutely manhandled start after start?

      • ROBTEN says:

        In terms of adapting to ML hitters, as both Joba and Hughes have shown the clear ability to get ML hitters out fairly consistently one time through the order, if either is relegated to the pen for a significant part (if not all) of another season, when will they learn to adjust to batters who have adjusted to them (i.e. pitch to the same lineup 2-4 times in the same game)?

        Also, if either Joba or Hughes does start the season in the pen, and (as one would expect) is pitching well, what are the odds that either would really be moved to the rotation?

        We talk about the one relegated to the pen as depth, but the team didn’t move Hughes last year because he became such an integral part of the bullpen. If either takes over the “eighth!!!!” inning, I am not really sure that the team would move one to the rotation during the season (especially since it might require a few weeks to stretch out either enough to start, depending upon how long they’ve been in the pen).

        Growing up a fan of Righetti, I always have this fear that like him either Joba or Hughes will end up in the pen not because they can’t handle starting, but because it never seems to end up being the “right time” for them to return to the rotation.

    • Bo says:

      Because its always good for one of the teams better pitchers is getting hitters out in Scranton while subpar pitchers try to get hitters out in the bigs.

  5. Stryker says:

    oh man! quangormo!!!!

    i HATED that – i remember kay and co. going nuts for that meme during the 04 season.

  6. Salty Buggah says:

    Yanks bullpen in good hands

    They’re insured with Allstate?

    • JGS says:

      I guess Cerrano has good hands

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Seriously though, Cashmoney has done a good job with the bullpen construction and Girardi has done a good job handling it. We also have some arms waiting in the minors that could either step in now or will be able to soon.

      If Garcia can’t stay healthy as a starter but keeps his stuff, do you think he’ll be moved to the pen full-time? If that’s the case, he’ll be a pretty damn good option.

  7. billbybob says:

    If you are talking about Chris Garcia, what makes you think he’d be any less prone to injury coming out of the pen? He’s basically made of glass, and I doubt relieving would make a difference.

  8. pete says:

    beyond the necessary 4 reliable arms, I also think it’s important to take the occasional risk with lesser guys out of purely “mopup” duties. you need both to not overuse your arms and also to allow for a lighting in a bottle scenario

  9. YankeeFan says:

    Joe G’s two years of bullpen management numbers from my ‘math skills’:

    1058.1IP 453ER 93 for 116 = 3.85ERA 80% Save Pct.

    Pretty impressive.

  10. kenthadley says:

    Guarenteed by June we’ll need pitching…..maybe it’ll come from AAA, but at least a third of these guys will either get hurt or disappoint to some degree….ultimately, teams need to have a staff of 15 or more to get thru the entire year…..looks like we have some depth for relief in AAA, but not sure Mitre or Gaudin will be the answer if a starter or two goes down……wouldn’t mind Wang at AAA and maybe another…..

  11. [...] Yankees Blog, RiverAveBlues.com thinks the team’s bullpen situation is in good [...]

  12. Think about this. If the Yankees make it to the post season without any major injuries to their starting rotation (which is likely) the bullpen will feature Joba Chamberlain AND PHil Hughes leading up to Mariano Rivera.

    That’s almost unfair.

  13. [...] at RAB believes that the Yankees have a strong bullpen endgame for 2010 (I [...]

  14. Rose says:

    As of right now…who would everybody rather have in the rotation? bullpen? Joba “The Heat” or Phil “The Future”?

    • WIlliam says:

      Its not that simple. I personally like Hughes better. But the options are really free Joba or restricted Phil. In that Case, I want joba. If they are willing to drop the “Hughes rules”, give me Phil.

  15. Hobbes says:

    If something occurs 25% of the time, then later occurs 45% of the time that is an 80% increase, not 20%.

  16. Steve B. says:

    The Yankees bullpen for 2010:

    Joba/Hughes (whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation)

    • pete says:

      dude, like seriously. not to be rude or a douche or anything, but I think pretty much everyone here is fairly aware of that.

      /had to’d

    • AeroFANatic says:

      Joba/Hughes (whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation)

      The only change I could possibly make from this are the following:

      Logan, or other (L) for Melancon
      Gaudin traded, Melancon and Logan or other (L) make it.

  17. [...] position players, four for-sure pitchers plus two youngsters for the final rotation spot, and a solid core of relievers. With Brett Gardner currently slated to start the season in left and Francisco Cervelli tapped as [...]

  18. [...] examining the Yankees bullpen, I lumped Robertson in with the presumed bridge to Mariano, along with Joba/Hughes and Marte. Given [...]

  19. [...] The unspoken upgrade / Yanks bullpen in good hands [...]

  20. [...] roster, other than the final spot or two, seems set. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the bullpen looks especially strong, with not only a number of late inning relievers, but also a couple of long men who can spot start. [...]

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