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?