What Went Wrong: Aceves & Marte

What Went Right: The Cliff Lee Non-Trade
Mazzone expresses interest in New York job

The 2009 Yankees were a club that relied heavily on its bullpen, and for the most part to great success. Chien-Ming Wang was horrific before being sidelined with a shoulder issue, Joba Chamberlain was perpetually bumping up against some kind of limit, and the fifth starter conglomerate of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin were hardly reliable. The bullpen picked up the slack, and the Yanks were able to ride that bullpen right to a World Championship.

The bullpen was again a strength in 2010, especially in the second half, but two key contributors from the previous year were essentially non-factors after the first few weeks of the season, and the Yankees suffered because of it.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Al Aceves

Maybe not the most valuable member of the 2009 bullpen, Aceves was certainly the most versatile and relied upon. His 80.2 relief innings were by far the most on the team (Mariano Rivera was second at 66.1 IP) and he pitched in every possible role. Long-relief, righty specialist, middle relief, setup man, four-inning closer, you name it and Aceves did in the 2009. The Yankees penciled Ace in for a similar role this season, but it was not meant to be.

The Mexican Gangster missed the end of Spring Training with a stiff lower back, a sign of things to come. He was healthy enough to crack the team’s Opening Day roster, and proved his value in the second game of the season, firing two perfect innings in a tie game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on just 23 pitches. He was used somewhat sparingly through April and early May, perhaps held back because of lingering issues with his back that we didn’t know about, but when he pitched he was pretty good: nine games, eleven innings, and just four earned runs allowed, all of which came within his first three outings of the season. The only concern was his lack of strikeouts (just one compared to four walks), but that early in the season no one thought much of it.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The Yankees were again in Fenway on May 8th when a rain delay forced starter CC Sabathia from the game. Aceves was brought in to pick up the slack, his third appearance in five days, and after recording the final out in the fifth, he went back out for the sixth. Kevin Youkilis led off the frame with a single, and two batters later J.D. Drew singled as well. Boston was mounting a mini-rally with the Yanks up by three. Jeremy Hermida stepped to the plate with men on the corners and two outs, and one pitch later Aceves was done for the season.

A first pitch curveball to Hermida dropped in for a strike, but it also dropped Aceves to the ground. Okay, not really, he never went down. But he did buckle at the waist and limp off the mound in a way that made you think it was a hamstring or quad or something like that. Aceves immediately left the game with what turned out to be the same thing that hampered him in March: a stiff lower back. Three days later he was placed on the disabled list with a bulging disc, and two weeks after that he reaggravated the injury while rehabbing in Tampa. Aceves had a few epidurals throughout the summer but nothing worked, and he was eventually shut down for the year after re-injuring himself in a minor league rehab start.

The Yankees were never able to replace Aceves in that jack-of-all-trades role, instead relying on several pitchers to pick up the slack. Gaudin and Mitre were given opportunities to do it, but they just couldn’t replicate the Gangster’s success. The Yankees had a solid setup crew for the seventh and eighth innings, but the gap between them and the starter was largely a revolving door all season.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Damaso Marte

Marte’s absence wasn’t as damning as Aceves’, nor was it as unexpected. After all, he did miss a huge chunk of the 2009 season with a shoulder issue before returning for that brilliant playoff run. The 35-year-old lefty specialist not only managed to stay on the field into July this season, he was also pretty effective. His overall numbers (4.08 ERA with a dozen strikeouts and eleven walks in 17.2 IP spread across 30 appearances) don’t really tell the story given the nature of his job. Marte faced 45 lefty batters in 2010 and just nine reached base. They hit just .146/.200/.268 against him, which works out to a .227 wOBA. He did a fine job neutralizing lefthanders, exactly what he’s supposed to do.

Marte pitched a scoreless inning in Oakland on July 7th, but that was the last time we’d see him this season. He was placed on the disabled list the very next day with shoulder inflammation, an issue that just kept lingering all summer. The Yankees eventually ruled him out for the season in early September, and he had surgery to repair a torn labrum just last week. Damaso won’t return until after the 2011 All Star break at the very earliest.

* * *

The Yankee bullpen managed to survive the injuries to Aceves and Marte, but there’s no denying they would have been a better team with those two healthy and performing like they’re capable of. We already know that Marte is basically a no-go next season, but Aceves’ status is still up in the air. Given the nature of back injuries, it’s wise to expect nothing from him in 2011 and treat whatever he gives the team as a bonus.

What Went Right: The Cliff Lee Non-Trade
Mazzone expresses interest in New York job
  • Esteban

    Damn you bulging disk of Al Aceves’ lower back, you made sit through the torture of 30 appearances of Chad Gaudin.

  • Anthony Murillo

    It would be terrific to have Alfredo Aceves back in our bullpen.

    We’ll always have 2009 World Series Marte in our hearts.

  • Clay Bellinger

    Besides his fantastic ’09 postseason, it kind of feels like Marte has never been able to stay totally healthy since he threw all of those pitches in Texas the night Joba hurt his shoulder in ’08…really, neither him or Joba have seemed themselves since that game.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      wow 42 pitches. That’s a hell of a lot.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

      Marte more so suffered in that game, because he just hasn’t stayed healthy enough to pitch regularly. Joba, he has performed well at times after that night, and his velocity hasn’t totally vanished. He seemed to screw his arm up a lot less than Marte did.

      Didn’t Marte also hurt himself lifting weights before the WBC? I guess that could have still been related to whatever happened to him in Texas, but I feel as though that was a part of his problem in early ’09.

      • Clay Bellinger

        42 pitches isn’t a crazy amount or anything, but it was hot as hell that night and it’s more than a guy like Marte is accustomed too. I think it was over the course of less that 2 innings too…so he was really laboring. Could have nothing to do with his eventual problems though…just specualting…I think he complianed of elbow soreness or something shortly after that game but pitched through it. Yes, he hurt himself weightlifting in the spring of ’09.

        Joba has shown flashes of the old Joba since then, like earlier this year in Detroit or right after the ASG last year, but going into that Texas game it really looked like he was growing into a solid SP. It was like his 12th start and he seemed to be progressing nicely at the time.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          42 pitches for a reliever is a hell of a lot. Few relievers can pitch that many. Look what happened to Broxton after his 45 pitch outing vs the Yanks.

        • Mister Delaware

          The craziest part is that 30 pitches came in one inning and he was still throwing after 3 walks.

  • Nice

    Why isn’t there as much talent from Mexico and Central America as there is from DR, Cuba, and Venezuela?

    • Poopy Pants

      “Two words. Racism.”

      Joe Morgan

    • Esteban

      Though this is OT, it’s because it’s played a lot more in DR, PR, Cuba, and Venezuela. Most other latin countries prefer soccer (Panama and Nicaragua have a small baseball scene. There’s a growing number of people playing in Colombia

  • theyankeewarrior

    Marte’s contract = annoying

    • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

      Meh, there are worse things than having a reliever on a one year- 4MM deal. 250K opt out for 2012.

      • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

        He’ll be back for the 2011 postseason and will strike out Ryan Howard a couple more times.

        • theyankeewarrior

          it’s the least he could do for 12M

          • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

            It’s really 8.25M. The Yankees will opt out of the last year on his contract for .25M.

      • theyankeewarrior

        That’s just the thing. We did have him on a 1-yr deal. Then we gave him a 3 yr extension.

        • Mister Delaware

          Sure, but the Yankees have the financial leeway to make these mistakes. If he’s good, we don’t have to worry about overpaying via trade for a lefty pen arm for 3 years. If he’s bad, we can certainly eat $4MM annually.

          • Am I the only Kevin?

            This attitude irks me. These dollars flushed down the toilet add up, and the Yanks do not have an unlimited payroll. They’re not Houston, where one ugly contract can kill the franchise on its own, but it has an effect. $4M per year for a loogy is insane, just like $2M for a backup utility infielder (Cairo?), or $1M for Winn. Even with a $200M payroll, bad contracts make even the mighty Yanks scrimp for players from time to time (no Beltran, N. Johnson instead of Damon).

            • Mister Delaware

              But they really don’t add up. If the Yankees want a player and they agree on the value, the Yankees get him. The Yankees didn’t value Damon where Damon/Boras did so he didn’t come back. It wasn’t like they couldn’t spend $4MM more because it was tied up in Damaso, they wouldn’t spend it. World of difference.

  • ChrisR

    Anyone knows if Ace will be ready for ST?

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      I’m willing to bet that Jesus Montero makes his ML debut before Aceves is healthy enough to pitch in the majors.

      • Am I the only Kevin?

        Yeah. I wouldn’t expect much from either Marte or Aceves in 2011. Bulging disks are no joke. I have been suffering from one for the past 6 months and it is nasty. You feel great one day, go out and exercise, and then feel a little bit stiff afterwards. Next morning, you feel like you got ran over by a truck. This scares me about Lee, too.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          Lee’s back injury was much less severe than Aceves’

  • M-Three

    If Aceves healthy for next year, then who should we use as that jack-of-trades type reliever? Some people may not think much of it, but that role is very valuable to a bullpen. I personally would go from within to fill that role because most of the young reliever we have brought up have done very good for us. How about a guy like Hector Noesi? So far i have like what I am hearing about Noesi but I doesn’t see him as a future big league starter. I see him being a reliever and he remind me a lot of Ramiro Mendoza. I think he could fill any role necessary.

  • cuponoodles

    So, assuming a great recovery by Aceves, does he get a shot at the 5th starter role if there’s a slot open?