About that bullpen


Much has been written about the Rafael Soriano signing and for most part it’s been for all the wrong reasons. The contract itself has been criticized, the way ownership drove the deal has been criticized, Brian Cashman‘s comments at yesterday’s press conference have been criticized, you name it and it’s been criticized. Let’s move away from the criticism for a second and look at something that hasn’t gotten much attention since Soriano agreed to come on board: the Yankees have a fantastic bullpen right now.

Say your prayers little one. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Barring trade or injury, the Yanks will open the season with Mariano Rivera filling his customary closer’s role and Soriano serving as his primary setup man. That pushes both David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain into middle relief roles, essentially filling the gaps between the starter and Soriano. Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano will take care of the tough left-handed batters. The seventh man in the pen figures to be a low-leverage long reliever, ideally Sergio Mitre. We know what Mo brings the table and there’s not much to say about him that hasn’t been said over the last 15 years. He gives the Yankees a clear advantage over every other team in the league, so let’s focus on those middle innings instead. That’s where a ton of games are won and lost anyway.

The table to the right has the strikeout rate of the team’s three right-handed middle innings guys over the last three years, as well as their rank out of the 171 qualified relievers (min. 100 IP). Robertson trails only Carlos Marmol (12.99 K/9), Billy Wagner (12.41), and Jonathan Broxton (11.94) in strikeout rate, and those three are all closers. If we remove the now retired Wagner, just five teams will go into the 2011 season with more than one of the top 25 strikeout relievers (Yanks, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, Padres), but the Yankees are the only club with three. You’d have to stretch the list to the top 33 if you want to find another club with three top right-handed strikeouts guys, and that’s the Padres.

If we look at just overall reliever FIP with the same 100 IP minimum, the Yankees own two of the top ten over the last three years. Joba (2.71) is ninth and Soriano (2.78) is tenth, but remember, we’re not counting Rivera here, and his 2.56 FIP is sixth best over the last three seasons. The Padres are the only other team with two of the top ten FIP’s when you remove the closer position. Robertson isn’t exactly an FIP fiend because he does walk quite a few, but his 3.40 mark since 2008 is 39th best in the game. Among the top 40, the only clubs with at least four relievers on the list are the Yanks, Padres, and Rangers, and two of Texas’ guys are lefty specialists. The Yanks and San Diego are the only clubs with four right-handed relievers in the top 40 FIP over the last three seasons. Clearly, those two clubs are heading into the season with some dynamite righty relief.

Shifting over to the lefties, well, we can’t do much with Logan. His record of big league success is basically the second half of 2010, about 12% of his career innings. He’s just as likely to tank in 2011 as he is repeat that second half performance, and that uncertainty is why the Yankees went out and got Pedro Feliciano. Over the last three seasons, only three lefty relievers can top Feliciano’s 2.80 FIP against left-handed batters (Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Thornton, Randy Choate (grrr)) and only eight can top his 9.61 K/9. One of those eight is Logan at 10.34.

There are obviously quite a few benefits to having so many relievers of this caliber, and an important one is rest. Not that Joe Girardi has had a trouble spreading the workload around in the past, but now he can back off guys and not sacrifice much, if any quality. This will come in handy particularly with the 41-year-old Rivera, who can forget about working back-to-back-to-back days or multiple innings until the playoffs. That was a big part of Joe Torre’s problem, he’d wear his top relievers down during the summer and they were toast come playoff time.

In the past, before Cashman altered his bullpen building strategy, we watched as the Yankees chased that elusive bridge to Rivera, often focusing on one quality setup man while the middle relief suffered. That should not be any problem this year, as Girardi will be able to employ what amounts to two above-average, high strikeout setup men in the middle innings while mixing in one of the game’s top lefty specialists as needed. Once those innings are taken care of, it’s hammer time with Soriano and Mo. Of course this is all on paper, we know who quickly a bullpen situation can change, but right now the Yankees are remarkably deep in quality relief arms.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
  • http://www.twitter.com/HulkHeyman HulkHeyman

    You are not supposed to tell people that the Yankees have a great bullpen! Boston is supposed to have the best bullpen in Major League Baseball! Shame on you Mike..

    • Mike M

      The MSM is too interested in Theo’s “masterstroke” to worry about bullpens!

      • Mike HC

        The Red Sox have gotten plenty of MSM crap for operating just the like the Yanks for years now. Bill Simmons himself, Mr. MSM Red Sox fan, has called out the Sox for this over and over again. The Yankees clearly have the largest target on their back due to their success, but the Sox get it too.

        • The Three Amigos

          Just a small critique, Bill Simmons is about the only person I have heard in the MSM call out the Sox for spending like the Yanks. Maybe that is just me though.

          • Mike HC

            Well, he is just about the only guy I read in the MSM when it comes to baseball, which he rarely writes about anymore. So you may be right, I would not know.

  • http://www.twitter.com/vscafuto Vinny Scafuto


  • pete

    I think the rest thing is the biggest advantage out of all of this, besides the obvious high level of talent. Girardi has always been excellent at getting the majority of his relievers regular work and rest, and this year could prove to be fantastic in that regard.

    • Mike HC

      The Yanks have also seemingly been more careful with Mo as time has gone on, and for good reason. So more depth can only help there too.

  • Mike HC

    Much needed article. Well done. I think we are all itching for actual baseball to begin so we can do what we really love to do, root for the guys in the Yankee uniform no matter their salary, personal lives, role, etc … All this fan GMing is no good for the health.

    The bullpen will be great, and can even sustain an injury or two and still be top of the line. Regardless of how much they are getting paid, and regardless of if their value is being diminished there.

    • Jake

      Well said.

  • rek4gehrig

    Hear Hear

  • Preston

    We probably have the best closer and the best set-up man in baseball. Although “ideally” I’d like to see Alfredo Aceves get healthy re-sign and be the long man, not Mitre.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Aceves is greatly missed. I would love to see him back and return to form

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    In the playoffs this bullpen advantage will really come into play. As long as the Yankees get there, they are going to be tough with shortened rotation and a lights out pen.

    • whozat

      I think the point you’re missing is that the playoff bullpen last year was just as deep as this one, and it didn’t require a long-term, big money commitment to an inherently volatile kind of player. There’s just not that much advantage to be got by having Soriano for the first three months of the year.

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

        The playoff bullpen wasn’t as deep last year. It had no Soriano and Logan was the only LHP. Huge difference from last year’s bullpen to this years.

        • whozat

          it had Wood instead of Soriano who, if you’ll remember, was incredibly dominant after coming to the yanks. I also think that you’re over-selling the delta between Logan’s performance in 2010 and Feliciano’s expected performance. it’s absolutely true that it may not be a good bet to think Logan will repeat, but he was very effective down the stretch last season.

          The point is that a damn fine bullpen can be built on the go. Doing what they’ve done this year just increases the likelihood that they’ll have more dead money in the pen as someone sucks or gets hurt (like Marte) and you can’t just cut him loose. That dead roster spot ties your hands in other ways, if ownership is less willing to take on salary mid-season, that ties your hands…

          The point is that Soriano will pitch in probably 15 high-leverage spots before July (when the trade market will pick up). How much better will he be than Robertson over those 15 innings?

          • Mike HC

            The point is not that Pedro is going to outperform Logan, but having two lefty specialists in the pen is better than only having one.

          • Ted Nelson

            No one could have predicted Wood’s success with the Yankees. After being a (highly paid) mediocre reliever for a season and a half in Cleveland he was suddenly the most dominant reliever in baseball. If the Yankees traded for Kerry Wood 100 times, it would only play out that well maybe once. No one believed his success was anything near sustainable, or he’d have gotten more money as a free agent.

            Soriano, on the other hand, is 31 this season and has been good mostly his whole career when healthy. His probability of success are a lot higher than Kerry Wood’s last season or anyone being given away like Kerry Wood was last season. If you want to trade for someone whose been pitching as well as Wood finished, you’re going to pay through the nose.

            • Ted Nelson

              See the reported Montero AND Banuelos asking price for Soria if you think proven top relievers are available on the cheap…

      • CS Yankee

        think were talking apples and oranges here…

        Last year, we needed SP come the stretch (with AJ & Javy pitching poor, Hughes limits & Andy being injured) but going into the season they looked stacked at SP. Wood was unreal, pitching so-so with the Tribe but got lucky with the .69 ERA. You cannot expect a Wood to showup every year.

        This year, they don’t look good (with AJ’s 2010, AP likely gone, no 2009-Javy looking #4 starter, etc) going into the season, but Hughes did real well for the “5th” SP. They are likely to be quite a few closer games due to the SP projections and Soriano could equate to 3-4 added wins if you have a Joba & Drob option in the 6-7th innings versus Chad or CHoP.

        If money is not an object, this is a great move. Cashman in not agreeing with the deal might of said something like “…come June, don’t whine and talk budget as I’m picking up a huge contract like Johan’s”

        • Ted Nelson

          “Cashman in not agreeing with the deal might of said something like “…come June, don’t whine and talk budget as I’m picking up a huge contract like Johan’s””

          Obviously total speculation, but I agree. It would be really irrational for ownership to be willing to spend $12 mill per because they’re uncomfortable with Joba as the #2 reliever without recognizing that the starting pitching is very questionable and might require a substantial investment sooner than later. I mean who are you more uncomfortable with? Joba/Robertson or Hughes/Burnett/Nova/Mitre? I can’t imagine ownership would honestly answer the former.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Why do people keep bringing up Johan? He just had major shoulder surgery and won’t be back until midseason. He’s just not a realistic trade target.

          • CS Yankee

            like Johan’s…I couldn’t think of another huge contract from a team that would be 15 back come late June.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

              Ah, my bad. People email about him all the time, it’s gotten annoying.

              • CS Yankee

                One of the top non trades of all time looking back.

                The Johan & Lee deals not happening, to me at least, were good things, but I was also really high on the Grandy & Javy deals (but Grandy could/should be ok).

                The missing out on Doc I was bummed about after he signed only a 3-year deal. I would of thought he’d end up with a 5-year deal & the Yankees would have Joba as a starter.

                Who knows, maybe Joba will be the best closer in the bigs three years from now versus the 6th/7th setup guy (which is a waste in one hand but a great weapon in the other).

      • Mike HC

        If the Yanks had a dominant set up man from the get go, maybe they win the division and have homefield advantage in the playoffs.

    • Jake

      Assuming their rotation can get them leads to protect.

      • Ted Nelson

        You don’t have to win by defending an early lead… You can also come from behind later in the game.

        • Mike HC

          Tell that Girardi when Mo was sitting on the bench all game waiting for a save opportunity that never came in the ALCS. Now with the added bullpen depth, we have sick relievers no matter who Joe goes to.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Yes, but it’s a lot easier to do the former than the latter.

          • Mike HC

            Also far better for the heart and sanity.

          • Ted Nelson

            I don’t know the #s, so I really can’t say anything definitively either way.

            I would definitely like a stronger starting rotation, just saying that a bullpen’s only job is not protecting leads. And, anyway, even if Mitre gives up 5-7 runs in 5 innings, the Yankees have a line-up that might put up 7-9 in those same innings… so there’s a lead to protect.

            I would say that based on my observations the Yankees line-up sees a lot of pitches (removing starters relatively earlier in theory) and has quality bats that eat up relievers. Again, I don’t know the numbers, but that was thought of as the M.O. of last season’s team.

            I would also say that starter/bullpen isn’t usually a 50/50 split. If you get a quality start, your starter gave you over 2/3 of the game at 3 or less runs allowed. With Burnett, Nova, and Mitre/whoever in their rotation, the Yankees might need their bullpen for 4+ innings on a fairly regular basis. They *might* need more bullpen innings than other strong playoff contenders and they might be able to win some games in their second halves if the pen holds the early deficit to a minimum that they wouldn’t have won if Romulo Shanchez or Mitre or whoever was the first guy out of the pen instead of Robertson or Joba or whoever.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Who cares about the leads everyone says the BP is great with D-Rob and the other one moving from the 7th/8th to the 6th/7th.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    The guy I am really rooting for to make the team as the long man in the pen is Mark Prior. WOuld be a great comeback story.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      prior for 5th starter bahahahahaha. sorry, couldnt keep a straight face for that one. buti agree, it would be a heartwarming story and i hope it happens. i ust doubt it will

      • Fair Weather Freddy

        I saaid long man in the pen, not starter dopey!. Try reading next time before you make a fool of yourself

        • jsbrendog (returns)

          uhm, what?

          1) i didnt make a fool of myself.

          2) I said starter, which is just as unrealistic of an expectation as him being a long man in the pen.

          what is with people around here lately

          • The Big City of Dreams

            “what is with people around here lately”

            That time of the mon…. nah too inappropriate

    • CS Yankee

      Not as great as Jeter batting .350 & playing some serious D.


      • radnom

        Cool point bro.

        It’s not like this post is about the bullpen.

        • CS Yankee

          Didn’t mean to be random, radnom.

          Just pointing out that a Prior comeback as a middle arm would not add as much value as a regular position player would.

  • Ted Nelson

    Great analysis!

  • Jonathan

    Imagine if Aceves/Marte were healthy. Obviously, they wouldn’t have gone after Feliciano if Marte could be counted on. However, there is a chance Marte is ready for the playoffs, and I have no idea what is going on with Aceves. I’m sure we’d like to resign him to a minor league deal. Backs can be very tricky so he can’t be counted on. But just imagine….

    • AndrewYF

      And imagine if Pettitte were back, and Wang had never torn his arm off.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      marte should come nowhere near this team unless logan or feliciano suck or are injured. The guy barely played in the past 2 years. who knows what you’ll get out of him.

      i just dont get how everyone hates pavano so much but cant wait for marte to come back. dude is the new pavano. buncha reverse racists

      • CS Yankee

        Marte added some value in the 2009 postseason, Pavano didn’t add anything beyond headache medicine sales across Yankee U.

        I don’t totally get the Pavano bashing about the ribs deal though as every player keeps them to himself (Randy Johnson and his back, Jeter and his everything, etc.). If they perform and it comes out later that he was injured, he is a gamer. You can’t say he was soft AND complain he’s hiding stuff.

        Now, cutting off a trash truck while wrecking your Porsche on your way home from rehab is pretty stupid. Firing your agent over a 39.5M$ contract versus the 40M$ deal he said you had on the phone is being an ass. Mix those things along with the comments from the team (Moose, Giambi, etc) and I’m glad we passed on him (or him on Cashman).

      • Ted Nelson

        It can’t hurt to have Marte come back. They’re paying him to play baseball, not sit at home.

        Anything he could contribute would be a positive, and if nothing else he could give them depth should one of their LOOGYs falter due to injury or ineffectiveness.

      • Jess

        Two words about Marte. Ryan Howard. For that alone he was worth the money.