Very quietly, a bullpen turnaround

Pondering roster moves for the returning pitchers
Pettitte's simulated start pushed back a day

After its stellar work during the 2009 season, most figured that the bullpen would once again be a strength for the Yankees in 2010. For the most part the personnel remained the same and we figured their roles would as well, so it was reasonable to expect similar results. Naturally, the opposite happened, and the Bullpen of Doom resurfaced in April.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The strikeout heavy squad from last year (8.44 K/9 in ’09, second best in the biz)  struck out just over seven batters per nine innings through the season’s first two months, and unsurprisingly their overall performance suffered. On a macro-level, the bullpen had a 4.55 ERA (4.53 FIP, 4.40 xFIP) through the end of May and ranked towards the bottom third of the league. On a micro-level, there simply was no one reliable in the bullpen besides the great Mariano Rivera.

Dubbed the 8th inning setup man barely a week into the season, Joba Chamberlain was shaky right from the get-go despite strong peripheral stats. The underlying data suggest a rebound at some point, but the Yankees couldn’t afford to wait around for that happen in the ultra-competitive AL East. David Robertson, the natural alternative for high-leverage work, was battling consistency issues himself. Al Aceves, last year’s do-it-all relief stud, went down with a back injury in early May, and of course Phil Hughes had been successfully moved into the rotation.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Chan Ho Park, the late offseason roll of the dice, was a complete bust, serving up gopher balls like they were going out of style. Damaso Marte was utterly dominant against southpaws (.146/.200/.268 against) but shaky versus righties (eight walks, just one strikeout) so he wasn’t a viable option in anything other than matchup work. Sergio Mitre had a nice go of it early on, but he served as the de facto long man until Andy Pettitte‘s barking elbow forced him into the rotation for two turns and an oblique injury landed him on the shelf. Up and down went names like Mark Melancon, Romulo Sanchez, Ivan Nova, and Jon Albaladejo, none really given an opportunity to establish themselves with the big league team.

Unlike last season when it was easy to pinpoint exactly when things started to turn around for the relief corps (the mid-to-late May makeover, dumping Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez in favor of Aceves and Robertson, shifting Hughes to the bullpen), this year’s resurrection has been a bit more subtle. There haven’t been any wholesale personnel changes, just a few minor tweaks here and there and some injuries. Really, it’s not the bodies that are different, just their performance.

Joba has lost exclusive rights to the 8th inning job, since demoted to middle relief until he finds his way. In seven appearances since the demotion, he’s allowed just two hits, three walks, and zero runs against six strikeouts while rediscovering some velocity. The lessening of Joba’s role wouldn’t have been possible if not for Robertson’s turnaround. The diminutive righthander has held opponents to a .188/.310/.200 batting line against with 10.44 K/9 since the start the June, and he’s been ever better of late: .091/.216/.091 against and a 12.51 K/9 over the last 38 days. He hasn’t allowed an extra base hit since the series with the Diamondbacks.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With Marte on the disabled list with a shoulder issue, Boone Logan has stepped in as the lefty specialist and stepped up his game. Most of us wanted him nowhere near the team in the early parts of the season, and why would we? Opponents tattooed him for a .286/.390/.400 batting line until his latest demotion to Triple-A, but in Marte’s stead he’s been straight money. Overall, he’s holding batters to a .100/.156/.200 line since returning, and get this, lefthanded batters are 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts and a hit by pitch during that time. He and Robertson have really been the central figures of this turn around, they’ve stepped up in a big way and solidified the late innings.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the addition of Kerry Wood. First and foremost, it was an obvious upgrade over CHoP, but it also gave the team a veteran guy with experience in high leverage work. He’s certainly not the Kerry Wood of old, but he still strikes out a ton of batters and is effective enough to be a viable middle reliever, if not more. His work in last night’s comeback win should not be understated.

Overall, the bullpen has gone from those unimpressive numbers in April and May (once again: 4.55 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 4.40 xFIP, 7.15 K/9) to being one of the better relief outfits in the game since (3.07 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 7.98 K/9 since the start of June). The improvement has largely been under-the-radar since there were no major moves, it’s just a matter of the guys that were already here turning things around and getting back to being the players we expected them to be.

Pondering roster moves for the returning pitchers
Pettitte's simulated start pushed back a day
  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime-Jesus & Maquinito FTW

    Midseason bullpen suddenly coming together is apparently the hallmark of Girardi’s Yankee tenure thus far

    • YankeeDudel

      Exactly. Girardi has shown a deft hand in manuevering the bullpen after early season failures. It takes him a while, but he eventually rights the ship. The reason, I think, that it has taken so long this year, is that the starting pitching has been so good that the bullpen has not gotten the amount of use it needs in order to determine the best way to use it.

      • UncleArgyle

        Agreed. I assumed the bullpen would straighten out. Girardi is the Billy Martin of Bullpen management lol

        • TJ

          Don’t underestimate the value of Dave Eiland’s return.

  • j_Yankees

    Kerry Wood as a Yankees: 6.1 IP….9 Ks

  • JobaWockeeZ

    I guess we should get used to early bullpen sucking then recovering to be one of the best in the game.

  • CBean

    I am ok with living through them sucking in April if they rock in October.

  • Jon Sherick

    I’d say the biggest reason for the turnaround is the difference in pitching statistics as used by the coaches.

  • pat

    As much as we make fun of Joe for going to the book and yanking guys after a batter or two, it seems to keep everyone relatively fresh and sharp.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the addition of Kerry Wood. First and foremost, it was an obvious upgrade over CHoP

    I don’t think you will get many arguements on that.

    But along the sames lines, Berkman and Kearns replaced Miranda and Curtis, and the bitching has been incessant.

    You’d have thought they replaced Damon & Matsui.

    • Esteban

      I’d argue that many of the people who are really criticizing Berkman and Kearns are the same type of people that booed LaTroy Hawkins for wearing #21 and therefore not worthy of engaging in civil discussion.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        You might be on to something.

    • bexarama

      I’m reading someone arguing about how the Yankees should’ve resigned Matsui right now. He’s having a terrible year. Didn’t we just discuss this yesterday? Yeah it’s easy to say he’s stayed healthy so we should’ve signed him over NJ but if you’re going to hindsight GM we should’ve signed Vlad over both of them.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        But Vlad’s not a True Yankee™ or a Playoff Warrior™.

        Vlad didn’t Come Through For The Team™ in a Big Spot™ on the Biggest Stage™.

  • Zach

    Studies show, it’s important to have a bullpen with Mo(mentum) going into the playoffs.

  • Esteban

    I think part of the moral of the bullpen story is that people need to calm down in the early part of the season and realize that Cashman and Girardi have a plan and the bullpen will (probably) be OK

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Zen baseball FTW!

  • Zanath

    You know…I almost forgot Damaso Marte was on the DL. Is there even a timetable for his return? Not that there is urgency…Logan has just been lights out, as you mentioned. Maybe he finally put it all together.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      this is marte’s deal. he’ll come back and n ot give up a hit in october

  • nsalem

    I don’t view Joba now pitching in the seventh inning as a demotion. It’s still 3 very important outs that he must get and in a random fashion many times as not it is a more difficult task (depending on who you are facing that inning). I say if he continues his strong 7th inning performances leave him there and reconsider his role after the season. Strong middle relieve pitching is what often separates the winners from the losers come playoff time.

    • Mattchu12

      His role, should be in the rotation.

      I’ll admit, I get just as excited to see him strikeout two or three batters in a high leverage inning. But I get just as excited when Robertson or Marte or Logan or any of the other relievers do it. It’s not an uncommon thing to be excited about a reliever doing his job.

      What will make me more excited, is to see him pitch a quality game every fifth day.

      Joba still has the stuff to be a major league starter, a damn good one at that. He needs to work on his game plan and execution of said game plan. No more sliders on a 3-2 count to a guy like Marco Scutaro. It’s time for him to nut up or shut up, and it should be in the rotation.

      • moxie

        They will never let him back into the rotation-it would be admitting a mistake.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          Wasn’t putting him back in the bullpen a way of admitting a mistake

      • The Big City of Dreams

        I agree his role should be in the rotation. You made a very good point about seeing him strikout out batters in a high leverage situation and how you get just as excited when you see any other yankee reliever do it. At this point in their careers d-rob is more reliable than joba

  • Bee-Ex

    Not a “demotion”? He was stripped of his 8th inning title–that alone says a lot. Doesn’t matter if he’s pitching in the 7th or not. They wanted him to become the “bridge to the 9th,” and he showed that he’s a grand canyon gap away from that role.

    Maybe he should lay off the twinkies and burgers and do his job. Now that he’s no longer exclusive, he’s calmed down with the mistakes. Spoiled much? Um yeah. I think so.

  • UncleArgyle

    On the flip side you have the Boston Red Sox. As Paplebon blows another save….

    • Zanath

      I was just about to mention that. I enjoyed watching that. Too bad he couldn’t have done that Monday…

      • Zanath

        And now Bard gives up the sac fly. Jays win!

        • UncleArgyle

          Enjoy the plane ride to Texas boys