Feb
13

On the volatility of relief pitchers

By

As part of ESPN’s sometimes entertaining, something head-scratching (runs? I mean really, runs???) Hot Stove U. series, Jayson Stark wrote about the volatility of relief pitchers with proof to back it up. But as Yankee fans, we’ve been watching the proof for years. We’ve witnessed high-priced imports like Steve Karsay and Kyle Farnsworth fall on their faces as the Yanks tried to build a good bullpen behind Mariano Rivera, and it wasn’t until they scrapped that approach and went into small market mode that their bullpen became a certifiable strength.

For the last few years, GM Brian Cashman has stockpiled cheap, live-armed relievers with minor league options remaining. The idea was that if you have enough bodies, some of them will stick at certain points and give you quality relief, even if it’s just for a few months. If someone stinks, just swap him out with someone else. Believe it or not, there was a time guys like Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, and Ross Ohlendorf were contributing quality innings out of the Yanks’ bullpen.

Last year we started to see some long-term relief pieces like David Robertson and Al Aceves emerge, but even if they can’t repeat their 2009 success going forward, the team has plenty of arms waiting to replace them in Triple-A. The Yanks recently brought Kevin Towers aboard, who for years worked magic with the Padres bullpen on the cheap, and that’s only going to help the bullpen corps going forward.

There’s no right way to build a bullpen; sometimes the big money thing works, sometimes the scrap heap approach works. As the Yankees have discovered, the best thing to do is have enough depth in case Plan A, Plan B, or even Plan C fails. And just to wrap this up, here’s the money quote from Stark’s article:

“The first thing you’ve got to remember,” said another GM, “is they’re relievers for a reason. The reason they become relievers in the first place is because they have some flaws. They don’t have a third pitch. They can’t repeat their delivery. They’ve got an unorthodox arm angle. So we made them relievers — because if we had a choice, we’d make them starters. Just the fact that we made them relievers means you’re looking at an imperfect crop to begin with.”

Hmmm … sounds applicable to a certain debate in Yankeeland, no?

Categories : Death by Bullpen
  • Randy A.

    Yeah about the runs…he is the same guy who wrote this retarded piece:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn.....ortCat=mlb

    He’s obviously extremely witty and smart.

  • teddy

    curious gm said that. cause bos put jon p in the pen, when they needed starter. mriners put morrow in the pen, despite having ace type stuff.

    yanks put hughes in the pen, instead of hughes developing in the minors.

    now both joba and phil should start, problem there only 1 spot left at the moment

    • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Boston didn’t put Papelbon in the ‘pen, they kept him there. He was a closer in college. They tried him a bit as a starter in the minors, didn’t like what they saw, and put him back into the role for which he was better-built.

      The Yanks put Hughes in the ‘pen not because they were giving up on him as a starter, but because they felt he could help the MLB team and they felt that the ‘pen was the best place for him to do that last year. By all indications the long-term plan is still to develop Hughes as a starter (Joba, too).

      Morrow I’m not as familiar with, but I believe there were some health issues there, and I also think the way the Mariners treated him had a lot of people scratching their heads.

      So… The GM was right. There may be random exceptions but, for the most part, even with the examples you cited, teams try guys as starters before relegating them to reliever-status.

      • Zack

        Yeah the whole Morrow thing is just weird.

        He was a starter in college, they gave him 16 innings in the minors after he was drafted, and he won a job in the bullpen out of ST. Then in 2008 he was a reliever in AA, starter in AAA, filled in the rotation for Bedard, filled the closer role for Putz.

        Morrow didnt want to be in the bullpen (what starter would) but then when Putz was traded he saw the closer role open and wanted to fill that. Plus he’s a diabetic and they said that it’s easier for them to monitor if he’s a reliever instead of a starter.

        http://sportsillustrated.cnn.c.....index.html

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      While I agree they likely put Papelbon in the pen too early, they didn’t think he had the repertoire to make it as a starter. The Yankees put both Joba and Hughes in the pen strictly out of a need at the major league level, yet have been steadfast all along that these guys are starters. The Yankees only having one spot for Joba or Hughes has nothing to do with putting them in the pen at one point, it has to do with them have 4 good starters ahead of them.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      curious gm said that. cause bos put jon p in the pen, when they needed starter. mriners put morrow in the pen, despite having ace type stuff.

      yanks put hughes in the pen, instead of hughes developing in the minors.

      now both joba and phil should start, problem there only 1 spot left at the moment

      “I find that quote by that GM curious–Boston put Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen when they needed a starter; the Mariners put Morrow in the pen despite him having ace-level stuff.

      The Yankees put Hughes in the bullpen instead of Hughes developing in the minors.

      Now both Joba and Phil should be starters, but the problem is there’s only one spot left in the rotation at the moment.”

      You’re welcome.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    And he’s right. Middle relief is, by far, the most volatile position in baseball. And we’re about to prove it.

    Did we really need proof Jason? This article is about on par with “The Earth is round.”

    • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      We might not have needed it. The mouth-breathers who read/comment on Jayson Stark’s articles? They probably did.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        You’re right, but if that’s who he’s writing for, ESPN is paying him way too much money.

    • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com JMK The Overshare

      Is not!

      Signed,

      Thomas Friedman

  • steve (different one)

    that scout said nothing about having a “bull in a china shop” mentality or the ability to “breath fire” so it’s hard for me to take his analysis seriously.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      Is that needed for middle relief, or only teh 8th!!11!!!?

      • steve (different one)

        it is needed for both the 8th and for consideration to be an “heir apparent”. good point though.

  • http://www.thesportsshowlive.com/ Joey H.

    Don’t they say that bullpen arms are like NFL Kickers? Their success can vary from year to year; with the exception of the all-mighty Mo.

  • http://www.thesportsshowlive.com/ Joey H.

    Oh and for what it’s worth, Girardi was on Mike Francesa yesterday and he said(even though I think it’s far fetched) that a possible scenario has both the Jobber and the Hugheser in the pen. Flatly. Frightening.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      Hopefully just a motivation ploy.

      • scooter

        What else can Girardi say to the guys not named Hughes or Joba?

        “Hey guys, we’re having an open competition *wink wink, nudge nudge*… Who am I kidding? You’ve got no shot”

        It’s 99.9% certain that either Hughes or Joba is the 5th starter – but Joe can’t say that.

    • whozat

      Did Girardi volunteer that info, or did Francessa ask (a bunch) and Girardi finally admit that, yeah, that’s a thing that could happen?

      • http://TheSportsShowLive.com Joey H.

        It was actually pretty voluntary. I mean of course Mike asked the question but it was more of a general sense about competing for the back end spot. He said “We have Mitre, Gaudin, Joba, Hughes ect..” (not in that order) and its possible for both to end up in the bullpen. Which we all know isn’t going to happen but I can salivate at the idea of the game being over after 6 innings.

        • Zack

          “but I can salivate at the idea of the game being over after 6 innings.”

          Because Mitre/Gaudin will give the game to the other team before they get past the 6th?

          • http://www.thesportsshowlive.com/ Joey H.

            … every 4 days, then we can drop one. So that’s what? 130 wins?

  • Mike HC

    I think the real key to the Yanks recent strong pen has been Joba and Hughes. Let us see how the build a pen through a bunch of minor leaguers works on a yearly basis when both Joba and Hughes are starting. But, hopefully by then, the Yanks add some more permanent pieces, especially if Mo retires as well.

    Either way, Cashman has really done a tremendous job in every aspect of building the team. You really can’t take him for granted. I mean, look who the Mets have running the show.

    • http://www.thechuckknoblog.com/ JobaWockeeZ

      Either way, Cashman has really done a tremendous job in every aspect of building the team. You really can’t take him for granted. I mean, look who the Mets have running the show.

      Proving that money isn’t everything if you’re a GM.

  • http://mlbnewsrumors.com Johnny

    Relief pitchers are unpredictable. Spending money on high-profile relievers is foolish. Just stock up on minor-league contracts and a few are bound to bust through.

  • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

    Needless to say I know Jim Caple is a moron, but rather go on on I will leave it to an expert.

    “ethan (denver)

    Referring to Jason (StL)’s question…was caple’s article about the run last week a joke (tongue in cheek)? some friends and i have been debating this.

    Klaw (1:54 PM)

    No, it wasn’t. I asked him. He really pushed to write it. Needless to say, I could not disagree more vehemently with his argument.”

    Followed by:

    “Brian (NJ)

    What do you mean “He really pushed to write it.” Like his boss made him do it?

    Klaw (2:01 PM)

    Last question on that article – Jim wanted to write that piece. I asked him after I saw it if it was parody, and he said no.”

    I think we can all read between the lines. When the reaction to your piece is a co-worker calling to ask if it was a joke, you clearly missed the mark.

  • Pingback: Can’t Get Any Relief? Pitchers Struggle to Stay Hot | The Sports Nook™ Blog

  • Pingback: Danny Groner: Can’t Get Any Relief? Pitchers Struggle to Stay Hot « Read NEWS