Predicting the 2012 Bullpen

Questioning batting average, 96 years ago
Open Thread: Jaret Wright
Pretty sure I know when he's coming in.
(Photo Credit: Flickr user BrainNY08 via Creative Commons license)

I know, it’s early. But considering the internet is buzzing with excitement over Jamey Carroll, let’s talk about the Bombers.

One of the strengths of the 2011 Yankees was the bullpen. Even though the team signed a big-name, big-money arm to help in the later innings, the ‘pen in March was quite different from the way it ended up being in September and/or August. Baseball nerds talk a lot about the volatility of relievers, but it seemed that New York was extremely capable of figuring out how to put the pieces together in just the right way. The ERA of the bullpen in 2011 was 3.12, good for fourth in baseball, and topped by only hitting-depleted National League teams (Atlanta, San Diego, and San Francisco). They held opponents to a .239/.319/.358 with a 2.32 K/BB ratio. Last year’s bullpen craziness only prove the futility of predicting baseball, but I am going to do it anyway.

Helping me on this is knowing Girardi loves a good bullpen role. I can’t hold it against the guy: it makes for a great excuse when something goes wrong and eliminates most of the questions be asked about bringing in Robertson into a high-leverage situation in the fourth inning. Let’s say Girardi goes with a six-man bullpen broken up as follows: Closer, eighth inning guy (EIG), seventh inning guy (SIG), one LOOGY, a fireman, and a mop-up man/long reliever/spot starter.

I don’t think we need to discuss who comes in for the ninth inning, but it’s fun to talk about, so there’s this: Rivera continued to make time and opposing batters his bitches, putting up his usual ERA under two (1.91) for the fourth year in a row with a WHIP under one (third year in a row). He walked 8 unintentionally in 61 IP while striking out 60 with a FIP of 2.19. In the meantime, he broke the all-time saves record, cured the sick and opened the eyes of the blind. Just your usual year for the ERA+ leader min. 1000 IP.

It’s in the eighth inning that we begin to see a logjam. Even if we only talk about who will be on the 25-man to begin with, there’s still a conflict between Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Soriano is being paid the money of a closer ($11M in 2012) but he’s stuck as eighth inning guy for obvious reasons. Despite that, he put up his weakest year since 2002 with Seattle and was on the 60-day DL with shoulder soreness to boot. His career numbers are still great, even with his awful 2011, and he’s certainly capable of EIG duties.

Our other alternative is David Robertson. The man faces arbitration this offseason for the first time, but he’ll still be making relative peanuts ($1M-1.3M) to an organization like NYY. For every depressing note in Soriano’s year, there’s an amazing one for Robertson: His ERA+ for the season was 410, he struck out 100 in 66.2 IP, he gave up 8 ER all season, and he managed a k/9 of over 13. In 19 bases-loaded PA, he allowed one hit. In 127 high leverage PAs, he held hitters to a .129/.236/.171 slash line. He wears amazing high socks too.

If the bullpen is a year-to-year meritocracy, then Robertson obviously wins the EIG spot, of which he occupied for most of 2011 after Joba and Soriano went down. He was clearly the better of the two, despite his lack of closer experience, younger age and super cheap price tag. That being said, my gut feeling is that Soriano will probably start the year as the EIG simply because that is what he was signed to be. Robertson’s best role is probably high-leverage fireman, so it’s probably better for both of them if the eighth becomes Soriano’s.

If Soriano becomes EIG and Robertson takes the fireman spot, then that leaves Cory Wade (team control and not up for arbitration untll 2012-13 offseason) or Phil Hughes (if he doesn’t make the rotation) to man the seventh inning.

Having both a fireman and a seventh inning guy in a six-man bullpen means you’re probably going to only have one lefty, and everyone knows it’s gonna be Boone Logan. Despite generally being not that great – at times he was actually better against righties than lefties even though he’s considered a LOOGY – number 58 seems to show up at random times for match-ups. This is the reason he’ll show up in 2012: the lefty reliever free agent list. This is it: Darren Oliver, George Sherrill, Mike Gonzalez, J.C. Romero, Horacio Ramirez, Trevor Miller, John Grabow, Arthur Rhodes, and Damaso Marte. Thrilling, I know. Not only that, but the Yankees are a little empty in the farm for lefty relievers. Unless they’re making Banuelos a LOOGY (which would make me tear my ponytail out), the only vaguely prospect-ish possibility is Steve Garrison, who we saw briefly in pinstripes, or maybe even Shaeffer Hall. Though only having one lefty is risky, it gives Girardi the flexibility to have a fireman with his eighth and seventh inning guys, allowing Robertson to slot into his true role and letting the binder have a man for every inning.

The last spot left to be assigned in our hypothetical bullpen is the longman/mop-up guy. Last year, Hector Noesi was here, though it seems like there’s a definite possibility he will be in the rotation come 2012. AJ Burnett is a possibility, but given Cashman’s repeated statements that the man will be in the rotation, it’s unlikely. If Noesi does make the rotation, he might be taking Phil Hughes’ job, but I don’t the Yankees organization has given up on Hughes so much that they make him the mop-up guy.

The problem with being the mop-up guy is that the work is generally inconsistent and not good for a prospect. This is why Noesi occupied the spot rather than anyone else. Due to this, it’s hard to say exactly who could end up here. If Cashman wants to build from within (probably safer, given the inflated reliever market), he could pick out any of the AAA guys like Whelan, Kontos, or DJ Mitchell. There’s also the infinitely useful minor league deal to one of the hundreds of minor league free agents. Mitchell threw 161 IP of 3.18 ERA ball in Scranton, so he gets the spot for now.

Here are some possible combinations.

Hughes makes the rotation and Noesi doesn’t.
Closer: Rivera
EIG: Soriano
SIG: Wade
Fireman: Robertson
LOOGY: Logan
Mop-up: Noesi

Neither Hughes nor Noesi make the rotation.

Hughes doesn’t make the rotation but Noesi does.

Both Hughes and Noesi make the rotation.

As I said earlier, the thing abut bullpens is that they’re extremely chaotic. We know that Joba will be coming back soon, though we don’t know when, and we don’t whose job he’s taking. Alternately, Soriano could get injured, giving Joba his spot. Or, anyone else could get injured. That’s what relievers do. They get hurt and are randomly unpredictable. Besides Mo. Mo will be the best and unhurt forever and ever.

Questioning batting average, 96 years ago
Open Thread: Jaret Wright
  • Dino Velvet

    The 20120 Red Sox have the greatest bull pen ever assembled.

    There’s at least 5 closers in their pen.



  • William

    Reliever year by year are unstable. Robertson is really good, but he’s no Mariano. Watch out.

    • whozat

      No reliever is a Mariano, so take him out of the equation. The comparison is between Robertson and Soriano. The latter has a longer track record of both excellence and poor health. There’s a high likelihood that Robertson is less good in 2012 than he was in 2011, it’s true. But there’s also a higher likelihood that he’s available all season than there is with Soriano

      Either way…I think it’s clear that the Yanks need at most a lottery ticket in the bullpen and should absolutely not give a big guaranteed contract to a big-name relief pitcher again. Incentive-laden deal for Broxton? Sure! 4 years for Madson…please no.

    • Steve S.

      Right, which is why I like Gonzalez or Grabow on a 1 year deal. If they’re really bad, you could pull a LaTroy Hawkins on them and DFA them by July.

  • Matt DiBari

    Sign me up for only one lefty

  • Rich in NJ

    All the more reason to re-think using Joba in the pen.

    • whozat

      They have shown a preference for rehabbing pitchers as starters in the past…here’s hoping he looks so dominant that they re-visit their decision :-)

  • well you know

    Recent history says Yanks will carry 12 pitchers with a 7-man pen, so that’s one more spot to play with. I would expect Wade to be one of the seven in any scenario, at least until Joba comes back.

    • SteveD

      Agreed. Wade will be there.

      • Jesse

        He better be there.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    This article makes you think about the present 40 man roster and the implications from within but if the Yanks make any moves to bolster the rotation.This will change most of the scenarios indicated. But to play along I like Hughes and Noesi making the rotation. Warren mop up man if Joba can make it back moving the least effective reliever in the pen to slowly return to strength.

  • Golson

    Don’t the Yankees usually go with a 7 man bullpen though? I think if it is 7, then that would be a spot for a second lefty if they sign one or more likely, another long man Ayala type

    • Mike Axisa

      Yeah, but that last spot is always a revolving door. Guys get hurt, suck and get sent down, etc.

  • Bronx Byte

    Cashman has said he wants another LH in the bullpen to push Boone Logan and have another mix / match situation if Logan is used early.

  • your mom

    What would it cost to trade for Sean Marshall or Sean Burnett?

    • Jesse

      Who knows, but I don’t see Sean Marshall getting traded.
      But, he was fantastic last year. He’d be a perfect LOOGY option. And something of non-relevance. I was in Chicago for my 18th Birthday this past June to see the Yankees and the Cubs. We had these special passes that allow us to meet a Cubs player. We got to meet Sean Marshall and I got an autograph and picture with him and he’s a very nice guy.

      But, I don’t know if you were present during the chat yesterday, but I proposed the idea of the Yankees acquiring Glen Perkins. He had a very good year last year and his fastball velocity and strikeout rate spiked. It’d make some sense that the Twins would trade him considering they’re rebuilding. He’d be a good option as well.

      • Mike Axisa

        Marshall is way too good to be stuck in a LOOGY role.

        • Jesse

          Fine. He’s perfect lefty setup guy option.

  • Steve S.

    Good piece as usual, Hannah.

    Just one note, on what was probably a throw away line (I often get myself into trouble on those) you said “maybe even Shaeffer Hall” could be a LOOGY. Hall is a Mark Buerhle-type soft tossing command and control guy. He’s a starter through and through, not the type you send to the bullpen.

    I’m also not as down on the FA market as you seem. If I can get Mike Gonzalez on a 1 year deal due to his spotty health record, I’d jump on that. He was very good down the stretch. I might even take a flyer on Grabow for 1 year, he was pretty good before he went to CHC and his H/R splits suggest Wrigley didn’t agree with him. I also throw out 2010, he was pitching on a bad knee. Other than that, like you I’m not interested.

  • Jesse

    I bet the bullpen will look like this:

    Closer: Rivera
    Setup: Robertson
    7th inning: Soriano
    6th inning: Wade
    Lefty: Logan
    insert revolving door guy(s) or second lefty
    Long Man: Noesi, could be someone else if they want Noesi to start

    • M

      Agreed, the idea that Robertson won’t be allowed to continue pitching as setup man is ridiculous. Soriani settled into the 7th inning just fine.

    • Sabes

      Revolving door guy should be a swing guy… capable of throwing a low leverage inning or maybe 2 innings if the long man is not available… the hand he throws the ball with should not be important

      There is no need for 2 situational lefties with the quality the Yankees have at the end of the bullpen (not to mention Wade gets lefties out pretty well too). If you are managing the 5th and 6th innings with 2 LOOGY’s, in all likelihood you are overmanaging in the reg season and will fry the rest of the pen.

      Plus you also have Joba coming back mid season, if there are no injuries, the 2nd LOOGY is the odd guy out anyway

  • Craig Maduro

    Maybe I’m just caught up in traditional bullpen specialization, but I think I like David Robertson preventing fires instead of putting them out. I mean, if the starter finds himself engulfed in flames, I don’t mind seeing Robertson come to the rescue even if its the fifth or sixth inning, but generally speaking I’d prefer to see him consistently deployed in the 7th or 8th instead of playing the fire extinguisher role.

    Besides, if you watch any movie/tv show with a fire extinguisher, it’s never used to put out fires.

    • Steve S.

      If it’s D-Rob, I like to have at least one base to play with. He does walk a ton of guys. I can live with that, I’m simply saying you go to him sooner rather than later.

      And there’s nothing wrong with bullpen roles. You assign them based on the players skills, setting them up to succeed. I wouldn’t want Luis Ayala coming in with the bases loaded and it would be a waste to have D-Rob eat up an inning facing the bottom of the opposing team’s lineup. If you know your players, it’s really just common sense.

      • Craig Maduro

        I feel like bullpen management can be a little bit like fantasy draft prep and execution. You want to have a basic blueprint to guide your strategy, but you want to be open and flexible enough to zig and zag as needed.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      That is what I thought Hannah was implying when she placed Robertson as the fireman. In any case, I was going to ask her if that is what she meant. This idea is not new. I have seen it suggested before. The gist is that the ballgame can be lost in any inning. The idea is to douse the fire when it begins no matter the inning.

  • Robert

    The yankees continue to their mess up all their young players by putting them into the bullpen.Where would Joba and Hughes be if they would have left them alone.Please leave ManBan,Dellin B to develop in the minors.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      It wouldn’t surprise me if they put Manny in the pen to be a lefty reliever down the stretch.

  • Carlosologist

    Darren Oliver has actually been really good for the last five seasons. He’d be perfect as a LOOGY, seeing as LHB hit .227/.269/.318 last year. If used correctly, he’d be a great asset.

    (Didn’t mention his Type A status because draft pick compensation could be eliminated with the upcoming CBA)

    • toad

      Not only that, but he collects Social Security, so he might sign cheap.

  • Grover

    I tend to lean toward Jesse’s bullpen makeup but Joe can always make it a competition in Spring training. Robertson is a prisoner for three more years of arbitration and Soriano can opt out if he performs making the former the more logical setup for Mo. I would like to see another lefty in the pen but enjoy the revolving door of that seventh spot to see the kids get their cup of coffee at the show or Cashman earning his keep by picking up an Ayala or Wade midseason.

  • Now Batting

    Good article but I have one big quibble. Robertson and Soriano will be the 7th and 8th inning guys. Which is which is up in the air.

  • Mickey S

    Rivera continued to make time and opposing batters his bitches

    Yes he did and I’ll be sad if this is Mo’s last season. I feel he has at least a decade left in his glorious right arm.

    • M

      He said he’d like to play until he’s 50 if he feels like he can, so here’s to hoping he has another healthy and dominant season and comes back for a few more.

  • Thomas Cassidy

    Nobody even mentions Chamberlain. Where is he? Do you guys trade him? We won’t get anything back. He was good last year before he got hurt. I think he will be here.


  • LiterallyFigurative

    I really don’t see the need for the second lefty, especially when Robertson, Soriano and Rivera get lefties out very well. Logan is the 5th or 6th inning lefty.

    Joba won’t be ready by ST in all likelyhood, but I think he’d be ready to roll when the games get big.

    long man (insert name)

    Assuming the Yanks get 1 starter via FA or trade:
    New SP (insert name)
    Hughes/Noesi/Phelps/Warren (2nd place=long man)

  • Rob G

    DRob will be EIG – why change what worked for most of 2011…

  • cranky

    the yankees need at least TWO lefties in the bullpen.
    i like dontrelle willis as a reliever. terrific against lefties. can get righties out, too. just can’t start, anymore.
    paul maholm….if he’d humble himself and take less dough, he’d could be a great “6th starter/middle reliever/short reliever” kinda guy.
    mike gonzales as a LOOGY at a LOOGY salary would be a good signing, too.
    don’t count out jeremy bleich for a bullpen role midway through 2012.

    joba joba joba joba joba?

    • Thomas Cassidy

      Jeremy Bleich? Wasn’t he hurt like all of last year? Did he even really pitch?

  • emac2

    Joba should be brought back as a starter.

    There is too much potential value to both him and the team and this is the perfect time. I suspect his shoulder injury was what knocked him out of the rotation in the first place. I hope he gets himself in good enough shape to convince the team.

    If Robertson is as effective next year (or even close) I think the role of coming in early with guys on base is perfect. Shouldn’t even really be a discussion.

    I wouldn’t add anything to the pen unless it was an elite lefty and that would be a real low priority.

  • jack knife

    whats wrong with you people LOOGY josh romanski

  • Bronx Byte

    With all the scenarios presented, no mention is made of A.J. Burnett.

    Why not send him to the Nationals for LHRP Sean Burnett with the Yankees assuming half of AJ’s remaining salary.

  • Tanned Tom

    The bullpen is perfect for blending younger players into the mix, and with so many young pitchers coming up, needs to be used that way. Signing Soriano was a mistake, but one that can be undone. There will be tons of teams looking for closers this year, he can certainly be traded for a left-handed situational reliever. Even if it means paying some of his salary.
    The next move that screams to happen is moving Hughes back to relief, his career numbers are unambiguous about this.
    Finally the team needs to bite the bullet and trade Burnett for a left-handed minor league pitcher. His numbers are garbage. Again they might need to eat some of the salary, but it would be worth it. Which is more valuable? Burnett at $16.5 mil with 190 innings at an 5.15 ERA or Noesi/Warren/Phelps at $10.5 mil (their minor league salary plus the $10 mil paid of Burnett’s salary) for 150 innings at an ERA of 4.70. Or trade him for one year of Zambrano and see what happens.

  • Realist

    Hughes value as a starter > Hughes value as a reliever

    Joba is recovering and won’t be available until the summer

    Noesi is pitching his ass off right now in the Summer Leagues. I think he starts the season in the minors and is the first call up once a starter goes down.

    What are the ceilings for DJ Mitchell and George Kontos?

  • Heisenberg

    I would absolutely take George Sherrill on this team, provided he never faces a right handed hitter.