2010 Season Preview: Set up for success

Report: Yankees place Gaudin on waivers
Pleading the fifth

Building a bullpen is a far from an exact science. After enjoying the left-right tandem of Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson in front of Mariano Rivera during the late-90’s, the Yankees stumbled through the overpaid (Steve Karsay, Kyle Farnsworth), the overworked (Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino), and the overmatched (Tanyon Sturtze, Juan Acevedo) before going back to the drawing board. They left the overpriced retreads in the past, and instead began hoarding interchangeable (and cheap) relievers with good stuff. Now in it’s third year, the bullpen plan has yielded some long-term pieces, and allowed the team to bring in establish veterans to fill in the gaps rather than carry the torch.

Joe Girardi will have his choice of relievers to use in the late innings this season, perhaps led by the soon to be 25-year-old David Robertson. Part of the epiphany draft of 2006 that has already produced five big leaguers, three pieces of trade bait, and one other player on the team’s 40-man roster, Robertson came into his own once he was called up from Triple-A Scranton for good last May. After getting his feet wet by striking out four batters and allowing just one hit in his first four innings following his callup, Robertson struck out 15 of the next 34 batters he faced, and by the end of August he was sporting a 13.28 K/9 and an ERA around 3.50 (3.28 FIP).

Because of the depth in the bullpen, Robertson was routinely used in the 6th and 7th inning of close games and to finish off contests when the team had a bit more of a cushion. He led the American League with a 12.98 K/9 (min. 40 IP), and only twelve AL relievers bested his 3.05 FIP. Although he appeared in only five games during the postseason, Robertson escaped a bases loaded, no out situation against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS, and won Game Two of the ALCS with an inning-plus of scoreless relief.

The biggest negative about Robertson’s game is that he can get a little too liberal with walks, though his 4.7 BB/9 last year was a full walk worse than his 3.6 minor league mark. It’s worth noting that he did cut his walk rate down to just three batters per nine after July 24th last year, covering his final 21 innings (out of 43.2 total, so basically half his season workload). Robertson’s strikeout rate is right in line with his minor league performance, though his .347 BABIP in 2009 was pretty high, so maybe his .226 batting average against stands to come down some. He also shows a reverse split (3.70 FIP vs. RHB, 2.74 vs. LHB), which is always pretty nifty.

Here’s what the projection systems say…

That’s a quality relief pitcher right there. The walks are still high because of his limited big league track record, but the strikeouts are through the roof as well. As a fly ball pitcher, Robertson will always be a bit homer prone, though that’s hopefully something that can be improved with age. The projected performance is better than what most teams have available for their 8th inning, but there’s a chance K-Rob won’t be anything more than a 7th inning guy in the Bronx this year.

After pitchers and catchers showed up for work in Tampa, the Yankees jumped all over an undervalued free agent and signed 36-year-old Chan Ho Park to a one year deal worth just over a million bucks. A middling starter for most of his career, Park has posted a 3.29 ERA (3.70 FIP) with a 7.55 K/9 and a 2.30 K/BB ratio in over 120 innings as a reliever in the last two years. His velocity clearly plays up in relief, and last year he stranded all but four of the 21 runners he inherited (81%). Let’s look at the projections…

Park’s projections are a little screwy because of the time he spent as a starter in recent years, but rest assured, the Yankees will use him exclusively in relief (unless there’s a meltdown of biblical proportions in the rotation). Even if Park were to pitch to his projection, the Yankees could deploy him in low leverage situations or easily boot him off the roster. However, I suspect Park will outperform his projection, and will likely fill a role similar to what Al Aceves provided in 2009.

In addition to Robertson and Park, the Yankees also carry one of the game’s best lefty relievers in their bullpen. After battling shoulder trouble and general ineffectiveness early in his stint in pinstripes, Damaso Marte proved his worth and showed everyone what he was capable towards the end of 2009 and into the playoffs. He posted a 5.62 ERA after coming off the disabled list in mid-August, but that’s misleading because four of the five runs he allowed came in one disastrous outing. Overall, he had a 2.58 FIP and a 7.88 K/9 after returning, and went on to be nearly perfect in the postseason, retiring all but the first two men he faced.

At 35-years-old and a veteran of 540 big league appearances, Marte has proven to be death to lefthanders. He’s held them to a .197-.294-.287 batting line against during his career, and was even better than that in 2009 (.120-.214-.280). If he stays healthy, which is admittedly far from a given (shoulders are scary), Marte will be a major weapon in a division that features such lefty mashers as Adam Lind, Nick Markakis, Carlos Pena, and the corpse of David Ortiz. His performance against righties has improved as his career has progressed, but with guys like Robertson and Park aboard, Girardi shouldn’t have to deploy him against hitters of the opposite hand too often.

Let’s see what the five freely available projection systems have in story for Damaso…

Clearly, the projections see Marte working primarily as a lefty specialist, hence the low innings totals but relatively high number of appearances. Much like every other pitcher, limiting Marte to specific and specialized situations will only increase his effectiveness. At $4M, he’s the sixth highest paid pitcher on the team and most expensive non-Mo reliever, so he’ll be expected to pitch more than capably in whatever capacity he’s used.

The Yankees head into the 2010 season with a three-headed monster at the back of their bullpen, and that doesn’t even include Aceves or the loser of the Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain fifth starter battle. It’s clear that the team views Robertson as a long-term fixture, maybe even a future closer, while Park is just a short-term fill in, the product of a market inefficiency. Marte is under contract for at least the next two years, but contract status is a mere formality. All three of those guys are capable of handling late inning duties by themselves, yet the Yankees have the luxury of being able to deploy all three.

Photo Credits: Marte via Tony Gutierrez, AP; Robertson via Matt Slocum, AP; Park via Kathy Willens, AP

Report: Yankees place Gaudin on waivers
Pleading the fifth
  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    I can see Robertson cutting his BB rates by just getting better, and likely getting more respect from the umps as he gets older. Young pitchers often have high BB rates for a litany of reasons that make sense. Mo/Nathan/Maddux all struggled with walks when they were young. If Robertson can cut back at least a walk per inning, and a little bit more long term, he just might be the future closer (though I still think Melancon).

    The Yankees bullpen philosophy shift has been huge. Get a bunch of cheap flamethrowers, mix in a few veterans, and let the cream rise.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      Bonus: By constantly re-auditioning for those last few spots in the bullpen each year, we get to give young kids opportunities to get their feet wet with big league innings AND keep everyone’s individual IP totals down, leaving our key bullpen cogs well rested when the playoffs come around.

      Sure, we may blow a few April and May games with an occasional Veras/Edwar/Albaladejo/Farnsworth/Claggett implosion, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

  • paul

    It is going to be fun watching the chess moves Girardi makes throughout the year. Nice to have so many weapons. I just hope he doesnt outsmart himself like he did a few times last year. They have done a great job of building an effective pen.

    • pete

      well even when he does appear to “outsmart himself” bear in mind that many Girardian bullpen moves are designed to boost overall, season-long, full-bullpen performance, rather than simply lock up the game in question. He often makes moves that “jeopardize” the teams chances to win (jeopardize in the sense that there may have been a better bet out there, not in the sense that the team’s likelihood of winning exhibits a precipitous dropoff) the game in which they are made, but their collective ripple effect improves the entire bullpen over the course of the season (and postseason), which more than makes up for the couple of games along the line that get blown.

      I think Girardi’s bullpen philosophy is that the optimal scenario is one in which no reliever gets overtaxed, and all are performing at a high level by the end of the season (or at least for a majority of it). Where Torre used to see two or three relievers as his “main guys”, and then have those guys fall apart in august/september, Girardi likes to have five or six “main guys”, recognizing that even if a couple of them are not performing at the highest levels, a blown save here and there won’t hurt the team as much as having his best relievers burn out would.

      • Jammy Jammers

        I agree. Girardi keeps the big picture in mind.

        Torre destroyed a lot of arms and let many others essentially atrophy. Maybe it was his lack of knowledge or maybe it was a lack of available talent. I’m sure the people here would know better than I.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          Maybe it was his lack of knowledge or maybe it was a lack of available talent.

          Probably a combination of the two.

          I’d say that Cashman is doing a better job of giving Girardi a steady stream of decent-upside young arms to throw to the wolves (and picking slightly better veteran imports to round out the pen), but at the same time, it’s hard to tell how much better since Torre basically never used anyone from the minors in the bullpen, he just constantly asked for more veteran retreads (like Felix Heredia, Tanyon Sturtze, Armando Benitez, etc) rather than ever trust a single BP appearance to an unproven youngster.

    • Bo

      watching Girardi outsmart himself and go by his book is no fun at all.

      • Jack

        Speak for yourself. I had a blast last year.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          In terms of actual baseball knowledge:

          Girardi’s book >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> SBGL’s shocking lack of books

  • Accent Shallow

    Here’s a list of potential members of the Yankees’ pen, and their Contact%, per Fangraphs:

    Aceves: 79.7%
    Chamberlain: 76.3%
    Gaudin: 79.7%
    Hughes: 80.9%
    Marte: 74.6%
    Mitre: 81.4% (83.8% in 2009)
    Park: 80.3%
    Rivera: 78.9%
    Robertson: 75.7%

    I still don’t want Park anywhere near a high leverage situation. No homeruns allowed in relief last year? That’s going to change, especially for someone who allows only 44% groundballs.

    • pete

      isn’t 44% a pretty solid GB rate though?

      • Accent Shallow

        It’s not bad, but it’s not enough to be known as a groundball type pitcher, or enough to really limit home runs.

        • bexarama

          as a reliever, his Contact% was 76.9% and he had a 1.62 GB/FB

          I agree that HR rate (as in, 0) isn’t sustainable, but we’d say that for pretty much any pitcher that gave up 0 home runs the year before.

    • Zack

      Well Mo, Joba/Hughes, DRob, Ace and Marte are all in front of Park. So unless a bunch of guys are unavailable, I doubt you’ll see him in big spots.

  • pete

    I’m much more concerned with having a deep bullpen full of solid to good arms getting regular work that can ease the load on the starting staff than having a bullpen that never blows a game. If you’re forcing your starters to go 7+ innings every start because you only want the most trustworthy relievers to ever pitch (like torre did), then you’re just going to have a ton of games blown late by the starters themselves, which is no better than having them blown by lesser relievers. A lesser pitcher who only has to pitch one inning and is facing hitters who have been facing a different pitcher all day probably has an advantage over a starter who is tiring and facing a lineup the third or fourth time anyway, even though the starter is probably a much better pitcher.

    I guess what i’m saying is, don’t freak out when the bullpen blows a game here and there. Just be happy in August when they’re all pitching just as well as they did in June.

    • Bo

      how is that a problem?

      name me a team in history that has ever had that issue

  • Sal

    I have to admit that for 1 year and 11 months I’ve been hoping Joe Girardi get dumped. I hatedthe way he handled the Bullpen. Now after watching what he’s done I can see what he was doing by brng in David Robertson in with the bases loaded in 2008 and a few other times in places I didn’t understand.

    I would love to know if anyone keeps track of MGR’s removing a pitcher with two out no one on. Joe Girardi Seems to bring picters in with two out more then any other MGR in the 40 years I’ve been watching the game.

    Am I the only one to notice this?

    • pete

      Joe Girardi is like UZR – most informative when judged in 3-year samples

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H


    • Bo

      A-Rod and Mo saved his tush in the post season. His moves were head scratching and over thought.

  • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

    I’m not sure how Park is going to work out. I really only got to see him pitch live a few times last year, all in the WS.

    I guess he was pretty dominant as a reliever last year though:

    His low WHIP was beautiful and if he could keep it in the Park in Philly, he should be able to keep it in the Park in YSIII.

  • http://bathroomdrafter.typepad.com/blog/ Steve S

    I really don’t like this one of Joba/Hughes in the bullpen. I think the Yankees are being short sighted with that decision. Who knows how much these trips to the bullpen for short innings stuff is going to stunt their development.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size
      • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

        Well, the loser of Huba was mentioned in the last paragraph.

      • Bo

        The topic Nazi.

        How is talking about set up men and joba/hughes not related???

      • http://bathroomdrafter.typepad.com/blog/ Steve S

        Tommie that is totally on topic. They are discussing bullpen depth and I am concerned that the concern for bullpen depth is impacting the long term health of the organization. Was I only supposed to discuss the quality of the bullpen for this year? Thats not fair.

    • pat

      Who knows how much these trips to the bullpen for short innings stuff is going to stunt their development.

      So then what are you complaining about?

  • Reggie C.

    If Damaso can stay healthy, the ‘pen is practically Operation Shutdown incarnate, especially at the back-end.

    • pat

      True that man. Unfortunately all the media has been telling me is that Boston has the best bullpen and defense evah. Therefore I’m disinclined to acquiesce with your astute observation.

      • Bo

        why do u listen to the media??

        • pat

          Because it is full of professional writers who have inside access and no bias whatsoever.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            You only answered one of Bo’s questions.

            As clearly indicated by the punctuation, he asked TWO questions.