May
04

The unnecessariness of a 12-man bullpen

By

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Before the Yankees called up Greg Golson this afternoon they boasted a 13-man pitching staff. Granted, it was in reaction to a free roster spot and a slightly short bullpen, but that doesn’t make it any more necessary. The staff is now down to 12 men, but even that seems like a bit much when considering the Yanks’ starters. While I understood the necessity of a 12-man bullpen through the mid-00s, I just don’t get why they’re doing it this year.

The staff has pitched 217 innings this year, 158 of which have been handled by the starters. That’s good for fourth in the AL, though the Yankees have played fewer games than most of the teams surrounding them. They also had that rain shortened game, which deprived them of up to three starter innings. The staff ERA sits at 3.36, third best in the AL. These stats also include Javy Vazquez, which further illustrates just how dominant CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have been this year.

Unsurprisingly, Yankee relievers have pitched the fewest innings in the AL. Even further to the point, the Yanks have seen CC Sabathia negate the need for the bullpen in two games, so the bullpen innings per game drops even further. In the Yankees 25 games the bullpen has thrown 59 innings, just over 2.1 innings per game. This means that the late-inning relievers, Joba Chamberlain most prominently, eat up most of the remaining innings. He leads the team with 12 appearances.

One of Joe Girardi‘s strengths is his ability to spread the work among all the pitchers in his bullpen. Yet with the team’s starters pitching out of their minds, he’s had few chances to deploy many of his bullpen weapons. David Robertson, for instance, has alternately struggled and thrived this season, but he’s never gotten a real chance to get into a groove. He has lasted just 5.2 innings in eight appearances. With more consistent work perhaps his results would start to reflect his excellent peripherals: 8 K and 2 BB.

This might seem like a good problem to have, and for the most part that is the case. I’ve long said that the best way to build an effective bullpen is to assemble a top-flight starting staff, and the Yankees have done just that. In fact, it makes me further wonder what this situation would look like if Vazquez had some semblance of a fastball. Would Sergio Mitre have ever gotten into a game? He’d have maybe an inning or two in a Yanks blowout, but not much more than that.

Might the Yankees be better off carrying just 11 pitchers? The 12th pitcher is, in essence, an insurance guy. He’s there in case the starter flops. The Yankees starters, though, haven’t been known for flops. Javy accounts for almost all of the rotation’s poor performances, meaning Mitre is only necessary on those days. If Javy ends up pitching well, he might not even be needed then. True, one of the top four is likely to throw a stinker at some point, but Al Aceves can cover multiple innings if necessary.

For now, we likely won’t see the Yankees stray from their 12-man staff. This is not only because it has become standard operating procedure to carry 12 pitchers, but also because the added spot on the bench doesn’t seem necessary. Does having Greg Golson or Kevin Russo on the bench present a more valuable option for the Yanks than a 12th pitcher? At this point probably not. Later in the season, however, perhaps the Yankees can use that flexibility to pick up a bat off the bench and eschew the 12th pitcher. Hell, if the Braves continue to founder maybe they can even get back Eric Hinske.

Because the team doesn’t have much need for a 12th pitcher, and because it has even less a need for a long man in non-Javy starts, maybe Girardi will start trying Mitre as a short reliever. He’s not going to sustain his current hit rate, just 2.1 hits per nine, but with consistent work maybe he can prove a serviceable part of the bridge to Mo. If Girardi keeps Mitre and Aceves on different schedules he can then keep one free for long man duty if need be. That ability increases even more once Chan Ho Park returns.

The Yankees essentially have a free 25th roster spot. They don’t need it for a 12th pitcher, and they don’t really need another player to hit off the bench. It does allow them flexibility, something Cashman has preached for years. At this point, though, it seems more like a dormant spot that is waiting for a need to arise. We haven’t quite seen one yet, and considering how well this first month has gone I think I’d be fine if one never did.

Categories : Death by Bullpen

34 Comments»

  1. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    The Yankees essentially have a free 25th roster spot.

    I smells a RABbi “Make-A-Wish” dream coming true.

    It was announced today that the New York Yankees have signed Ben Kabak to be their 3rd string catcher. The Yankees originally wanted to sign Joseph Pawlikowski but he, of course, failed his pre-screening drug test.

  2. UWS says:

    Great. Now AJ won’t get out of the 2nd inning tonight. Thanks a lot, Pawlikowski.

    /kidding…or am I?

  3. steve s says:

    Excellent point about only needing to carry 11 pitchers. Yanks need to be carrying 3 catchers on a more or less regular basis as long as Posada is still catching.

  4. dkidd says:

    how many mlb teams are carrying 12 pitchers? is 12 the default setting unless (like the yanks) your starters are dominating?

  5. ADam says:

    Here we go… Put Joba in the rotation and and Javy in the pen… Yup I said it… since all the B-Jobbers think he can;t start… Why not see what Javy can do in the pen as the ever important eighth inning man

    Just a thought, won’t happen, but damn would like to see joba log some innings as a starter so hes ready for next year.

  6. Tank Foster says:

    Great post. I think it brings into question the whole issue of roster composition in baseball today.

    In-game strategy in baseball today is largely about pitching changes. With most teams carrying 12 pitchers,this leaves 5 bench players, one of which is a backup catcher. So, effectively, all teams have just 4 players available for substitution in any game.

    Pitching changes are often made to create more effective matchups for the pitching team. And, with each team usually having only 4 available pinch hitters – which may be inferior hitters to the starters – the matchup strategy tends to work for the pitching team.

    One way teams could “evolve” to counter this strategy would be to try to live with a 10 man pitching staff. This would require relief pitchers who can pitch more innings during the course of a season. With only 5 relievers, one being a closer and one a long man/mop up, you have, effectively, only 3 middle relief pitchers.

    While I think a team could survive with this kind of staff, it would require some changes in usage. Obviously, you can’t make 3 middle relievers do what 5 or 6 middle relievers do now. They can’t make (m)any more appearances than they do now, which means they’d have to be conditioned to throw more innings than usual.

    This would mean a typical game would have maybe 2-3 pitchers used total, as opposed to 5-6 now.

    So, fewer pitchers would be available for the managers to play the matchup game.

    However, they would have more position players – more hitters – available to negate the matchup game from the offensive side.

    I’m not saying this is a good idea. I’m just pointing out that there has been a trend to have more and more pitchers, which means you have to get them in the games, which means more pitching changes. What gets forgotten, though, is that this expansion of pitching staffs comes at the expense of offensive options for managers.

    I wonder which way is better….big pitching staff, fewer offensive players, or smaller staff, more offensive options?

    • ROBTEN says:

      In principle I agree with this. I think that one of the limits of modern bullpen construction is that the increasing specialization essentially means that more pitchers are being used which also means that with every new pitcher brought into the game there is more of a risk that one of them will have a bad game, requiring even more relievers to be brought in. Most of the time, a pitcher can get three outs without giving up a run. It is frustrating to watch a pitcher who is dealing come out for “match-up” reasons, or because their one inning is up.

      At the same time, it would probably require an overhaul in an entire organization’s planning, in order to develop relievers who can pitch multiple innings. There’s also the question of whether or not this would actually be detrimental to the development process as a whole. Perhaps there are studies on this, but I would be interested to know whether increasing the workload of relievers also increases the stress on their arms beyond what can be realistically maintained over a sequence of a few years.

      There is also the issue of whether there are a wealth of backup position players that would be worth carrying. That is, in the same way that bullpens are full of lesser pitchers, how many teams are carrying good, spare hitters around? Outside of pinch-hitting for your catcher or “9th” hitter from time to time, it seems like it wouldn’t come into play very often except to provide the opportunity to give your starters more days off.

      Perhaps a solution is to essentially have both by expanding the roster from 25 to 26 or 27 during the regular season. Although the owners would be against it, it would give you the room to maintain the (high) numbers associated with modern bullpen construction while also allowing teams to carry an additional bench player.

      • Tank Foster says:

        At the same time, it would probably require an overhaul in an entire organization’s planning, in order to develop relievers who can pitch multiple innings.

        Exactly. But what has basically happened over the last 20 years is that baseball clubs have overhauled their organizations to develop more pitchers to throw fewer innings, to meet the demand of managers. I think if managers began using pitchers differently, the minor league clubs would develop the players accordingly.

        I would be interested to know whether increasing the workload of relievers also increases the stress on their arms beyond what can be realistically maintained over a sequence of a few years.

        Clearly, if a guy pitches 85 innings making 75 appearances in a season, it IS going to stress his arm to ask him to pitch 125 innings in 75 appearances. So obviously, they would pitch more innings per outing, and probably more innings overall, but make fewer appearances (more rest between starts). Less game usage also means fewer times the pitchers have to warm up; often they warm up and don’t enter the game. Through baseball history, relievers have been used in many different patterns; one such pattern was to have relievers pitch from 1 up to 3 innings, depending on the needs of the game, and to have fewer relievers. (Bill James did an article on this in one of the abstracts a few years ago).

        You’re right that the issue would have to be studied…We know that pitchers can throw, say, 110 pitches, pitch every 5-6 days, and finish a season with 200 or so innings, and usually this will not ruin an arm. Similarly, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you can have a closer make 70-85 appearances, throw maybe 80 innings, and also stay healthy. So, there must be a formular for all points in between.

        If a pitching staff gets, say 500 innings spread over 7 relief pitchers, that’s 70/pitcher. If staffs reduced to 5 relievers, you’re talking about 100/pitcher. Should be doable, somehow.

        There is also the issue of whether there are a wealth of backup position players that would be worth carrying. That is, in the same way that bullpens are full of lesser pitchers, how many teams are carrying good, spare hitters around? Outside of pinch-hitting for your catcher or “9th” hitter from time to time, it seems like it wouldn’t come into play very often except to provide the opportunity to give your starters more days off.

        So true, with today’s rosters. Most teams pinch hit rarely, because, as you say, often there isn’t a bench player who can hit better than someone already in the lineup (excepting pitchers in the NL). Of 5 bench players, maybe only 2 are average to above average hitters….certainly on average to below average teams this is true.

        However, I think you are sort of “begging the question.” The reason there aren’t more good position players and good spare hitters is that (maybe) minor league teams don’t develop them, because player development is skewed toward developing the bumper crop of pitchers needed for a MLB team. If demand for pitchers falls, and it rises for position players, you’ll start to see more good hitters on minor league rosters.

        Maybe, anyway.

        I just think it’s a fun mental exercise.

        • ROBTEN says:

          The reason there aren’t more good position players and good spare hitters is that (maybe) minor league teams don’t develop them, because player development is skewed toward developing the bumper crop of pitchers needed for a MLB team.

          I agree that it can work both ways–more emphasis on pitchers perhaps means less on developing hitters. However, I think that there are differences in developing hitters versus pitchers.

          Specifically, we’re talking about developing hitters who are not good enough to start, but good enough to call upon to pinch hit over someone who is starting, versus developing pitchers who can get three outs or less on a semi-regular basis. It may simply be easier to develop marginal-to-good bullpen pitchers than spot-starter/pinch-hitting position players.

          The problem also is that if we reduce the bullpen and, in turn, the need for extra pitching, this doesn’t necessarily translate into increasing the need for pinch-hitters/back-up infielders. In other words, we haven’t yet increased the likelihood that they would play any more than they currently do. Of course, their availability on the bench makes it a possibility, but this also doesn’t translate it into a necessity either. You would still have to weigh the relative strength of removing a starter for a pinch-hitter. In most situations, the starter is still going to be the better hitter.

          I mean, we’re talking about players on the level of Pena/Winn/Thames…and, again, how often they would be called upon to pinch-hit or substitute for a starter.

          Now, perhaps in the post-”greenies” age players will require more rest than in the past and thus more position players will be needed. That’s where I think a good argument could be made for carrying additional position players (as well as the current bullpen management I mentioned earlier).

  7. Mike says:

    I personally hope park doesn’t come back this year. Theonly way he helps the team is by staying on the dl. To me the only thing that would be better is if he comes back and hopefully pitches like crap so we can release him. I believe we repeat this year but it is unfair to the team if we win and he gets a ring and was out the whole year.

    • poster says:

      So you want him to come back and pitch BADLY so that we realease him…?

      Wouldn’t it make much more sense to hope he comes back, exceeds all expectations, and does remarkably well?

      • Mister Delaware says:

        Didn’t you watch opening day? If you couldn’t see that the same guy who was effective all last year out of the pen for the NL champs will be nothing but an failure with the 2010 Yankees, you obviously don’t know baseball. Maybe if he’d only faced 4 batters you could say it was just a bad game, but he faced 5. 5 batters!!!

    • bexarama says:

      Huh? You seem to be saying he sucks and is useless. He doesn’t and he isn’t.

      it is unfair to the team if we win and he gets a ring and was out the whole year.
      He’s not gonna be out the whole year. Also, Nady, Wang.

    • ROBTEN says:

      This makes no sense.

      I personally hope park doesn’t come back this year.

      Why? Did he steal your lunch money?

      Theonly way he helps the team is by staying on the dl.

      I don’t know, call me crazy, but it seems to me that he could also help the team by pitching and fielding. You know, things he’s shown that he’s good at.

      To me the only thing that would be better is if he comes back and hopefully pitches like crap so we can release him.

      So, you’re hoping that he either suffers a serious injury or is fired from his job. That’s nice. Maybe we can set fire to his house too.

      I believe we repeat this year but it is unfair to the team if we win and he gets a ring and was out the whole year.

      Here’s where things just go completely off the rails. Now you’re saying that you don’t think it’s fair if he gets a ring if he’s injured all season, after you just said that the best thing for the team would be if he stayed on the DL the entire year. So, you don’t want him to come back, you don’t want him to get a ring…

      Did he steal your toys? Run over your dog? Are you an apocalyptic theist and you believe he’s the anti-Christ? Help me out, am I close?

  8. godfather says:

    i like a 3-catcher roster better than a dozen pitchers; jorge is much more the man with the bat than with the gear these days, and there’s catching strength in the minors beyond montero; rosters of 25 are a horrible reality because mlb hasn’t the balls to contract a bit (two teams) and upgrade rosters of the survivors to 27

    • Tank Foster says:

      Great point. Romine is knocking the cover off the ball. Why not give him a week on the MLB team and see how he reacts. Give Jorge more time to rest.

      • whozat says:

        Because the most likely outcome is that he’s totally overmatched by jumping 2 levels, it makes no sense to start his service-time clock that early, and he’s never caught any of these pitchers before.

        And those three reasons are just off the top of my head.

    • Mister Delaware says:

      You could expand rosters to 27 without contraction, you’d just have even longer St. Louis Cardinals. I’m sure the MLBPA wouldn’t complain.

  9. Damian says:

    A 12 man bullpen would be really something. Of course you mean pitching staff.

  10. KyleLitke says:

    One problem though is when Park comes back, it would cause a big problem for an 11 man pitching staff. If Robertson is still struggling then that’s fine, but say he’s not. Logan would go down for Park, but who gets cut? Mo, Joba, Park, Aceves, and Mitre (long man) would all be locks in this situation, and so would Marte, because they’re not going to go without a lefty. That’s your bullpen, but how can you really justify that if Robertson is pitching well, just to carry a 6th outfielder or 3rd catcher who will never get into a game?

    I think there would be a very good reason to do it right now, with Posada hurting, Granderson out, A-Rod feeling some aches and pains, etc. But when Park comes back, unless Robertson hasn’t figured it out by then, you almost have to carry 7 guys in the bullpen.

  11. Mister Delaware says:

    I like the 12 man staff. Better chance the 12th pitcher is necessary than the 5th position player off the bench.

Leave a Reply

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

If this is your first time commenting on River Ave. Blues, please review the RAB Commenter Guidelines. Login for commenting features. Register for RAB.