Yankee relief pitching over the years: A graphical look

Mailbag: Josh Hamilton, Part Deux
RAB Live Chat

In the comments of my graphical look at Yankee starters’ ERAs over the last several years, reader Mike Myers asked if I could do a headshot graph for the Yankee relievers or bench players. Well, in the spirit of the holiday, ask and ye shall receive, and as a follow up to our graphical look at the Yankee benches from earlier this week, today comes a graphical look at the primary players the Yankees have employed as members of their bullpens since the 2003 season.

However, before we get to the headshots, here’s an updated chart showing how the Yankee relief corps have fared since the advent of divisional play:

With a 3.12 ERA, the 2011 relief corps was the best the Yankees have fielded in at least a decade, and represented the 8th-lowest lowest bullpen ERA a Yankee team has put up since 1969. The lowest? The strike-shortened 1981 team’s absurd 2.26, though that was of course compiled in only 107 games. The lowest full-season relief ERA since 1969 was the 1970 team’s 2.34 mark. However, this is extremely weird when you consider that the very next season the Yankees recorded both their worst ERA- and FIP- of all 43 teams surveyed here. I don’t know if they either blew the bullpen up following 1970 or all of the holdovers simply forgot how to pitch come 1971, but that is a pretty crazy one-year increase.

The next-best relief corps of the last 20 Yankee seasons was the 2001 ‘pen, which put up a 3.42 ERA, and they don’t check in until 18th on the list, which really drives home just how great the 2011 Yankee bullpen was. In terms of ERA relative to the league, the 2011 team checked in tied for 5th, with a 74 ERA-, with the 1981 and 1970 teams again at the top. In terms of FIP, the 2011 team fared a bit less impressively, with its 3.65 mark coming in at 18th-best (1972 led this list with a 2.85 FIP, which further begs the question what on earth was going on with the Yankee bullpens from 1970 through 1972? One year they’re incredible, the following year atrocious, then back to incredible), though its FIP relative to the league (88 FIP-) was tied for 10th-best, with 1982 topping the list with a 76 FIP-.

Now on to the individuals who comprised recent Yankee bullpens. In order to define who made the cut, seeing as how the Yankees can go through up to 30 pitchers (or more) over the course of the season between cuts, trades and September call-ups, I initially used 30 innings pitched as a benchmark. While I mostly stuck to that parameter, I did end up getting a bit lenient so that I could include some memorable names that perhaps didn’t quite reach that threshold, but came close enough. I did not end up using anyone below 20 IPs, so this should at least be a fairly representative sample of the primary players the Yankees utilized in relief during their respective seasons.

As for how I graded them out, I decided to go with FIP-, as neither ERA nor WAR are particularly great at telling us how effective relievers were. Focusing solely on what the pitcher was responsible for and comparing it against the league seemed like the most intuitive way to show just how good (or bad) the Yankee relief corps have been over the years.

(click to enlarge)

A few observations:

  • The Yankees, like every team in baseball, have had a lot of crappy relievers.
  • My primary memory of Juan Acevedo was of him botching one of Roger Clemens’ 8,000 attempts at getting his 300th win in a blown save against the Cubs on June 7, 2003.
  • Remember Felix “Run Fairy” Heredia, Felix Rodriguez and Luis Vizcaino?
  • I still hate Phil Coke, even though the 38 FIP- he put up in 14.2 innings in 2008 tops the list. Even though his ’08 season didn’t make the 30-IP innings cutoff, his 2009 season obviously did, and I wanted to show how bad he actually was in comparison.
  • The Yankees had a lot of crappy relievers in the middle of the aughts. Between bad pitching and awful defense, it still amazes me that the 2004-2007 teams still made the playoffs every year.
  • If you lower the innings cutoff to 20, Joba Chamberlain‘s 42 FIP- in 2007 is the second-best FIP- on this chart after Phil Hughes‘ 41 in 2009. In fact, those two are the third- and second-best relief seasons in all of Yankee history (going all the way back to 1871) in terms of FIP-. The best? Why, Mariano Rivera‘s 1996, in which he put up a 40 FIP- in 107.2 innings.
  • David Robertson‘s 2011 FIP- was the 5th-best relief season in all of Yankee history on the aforementioned list of 258 relief seasons of 20 innings pitched or more.
Mailbag: Josh Hamilton, Part Deux
RAB Live Chat
  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I am not surprised that the 2011 bullpen was one of the best ever. Rarely during the season did one member fail his assignment more than two or three times in the whole season. I am glad that we are getting all of them back.

  • http://www.twitter.com/james_dasilva James d.

    I never get tired of finding yet one more creative way of showing how Mo is awesome. Love this graphical series, especially the floating heads.

  • monkeypants

    Straight ERA is perhaps not so revealing, given the massive difference in offensive context between, say, 1970 and 2000. How different would the graph look, I wonder, using ERA+?

    • http://yankeeanalysts.com Matt Imbrogno

      That’s what ERA- and FIP- are for. They work on the same principle as ERA+, just under 100 is better.

  • Monteroisdinero

    AND we recently (2010) had the all-time International League/AAA single season save leader.

    Alby-we hardly knew ya.

  • CJ

    Girardi manages the bullpen way better than torre ever did. After the Mariano Stanton Nelson combo, torre was a mess.

    • Jim Is Bored

      Despite a lot of my misgivings with Girardi, his fantastic pen management is what keeps me mostly happy with the job he’s doing.

      • CJ

        Watching girardi I never scream “what is he doing?” torre with all the winning made so many frustrating head scratching moves. And they weren’t in hindsight.

  • 42isNotMortal

    The head shot display brings the bad memories back in an instant. I’m guessing the 12′ bullpen ERA will be closer to 4 this year. Don’t know if we’ll get a Wade like contributor this year and I see Loggy pitching himself out of the Bronx.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      I see dead people.


    • CP

      Among Yankee relievers with 4+ relief appearances over the last 2 seasons, Logan ranks third in FIP (Robertson is first and Mo is second).

      Why are people so eager to get rid of him?

  • Gonzo

    Wait until Randy Levine gets permission to sign Ryan Madson!

    • FIPster Doofus

      They clearly need a big-money guy for the fourth inning.

      • Gonzo

        Levine is going to go for the old “bullpen is the new undervalued asset” pitch to Hal.

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

        They’re going to have to keep up with the bestest bullpen evah in Beantown.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Should of traded Montero for Bailey.

    • MannyGeee


  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    I’d forgotten Felix Rodriguez, but the sight of an ineffective Felix Heredia, after watching him be pretty good as a Marlin in previous years, was always a particular wall-punching moment for me.

    I’d almost actually successfully forgotten Tanyon Sturtze. Really, thanks, Larry. I needed that.

    I will always find it funny to watch Pirate fans and Yankee complainers talk about Jeff Karstens as if the Yankees gave up someone of value.

    • JohnC

      and also the ones who were chanting GOOD RIDDANCE!!! when yanks gave up Ian Kennedy in the Granderson deal and now are blasting Cashman for trading him cause he had his first good season

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

        Yeah, although I found the Karstens folks (when they were around) funnier.

        I will never forgive Jeff Karstens for blowing the extra-inning game after Old Timers Day in which I sat in the 400 level n a very hot day without sunscreen. Screw you for that and my sunburn, Karstens.

      • Gonzo

        *I am not a IPK blaster of the FO.

        IPK out fWAR’d and bWAR’d Coal Hammels last year and is a year younger.

      • nsalem

        People were upset about losing Kennedy and Jackson? On this website? I can’t seem to remember anybody discussing ever that. You must be talking about someplace else.

  • nsalem

    I was just reading up about Gossage this morning. 134 innings in 1976 as a Pirate and 133 in 1977 as a Yankee (or close to that). He was a starter in 1975 for the White Sox and was terrible. His K rate was half of what it was as a reliever and he was basically terrible. Guess not all great huge frame relievers can’t be starters (guess thats not relevant with the present though). Goose was also an all star in 1975 with the White Sox according to b reference. He was awful don’t know how that happened.

    • Monteroisdinero

      Goose threw fb after fb. Just reared back and fired. Munson rarely called for anything else.

    • Stottlemyre 68

      Goose joined the Yanks in ’78. ’77 was the year Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young and he went “sayonara” after the ’78 season — incidentally netting Righetti in return.

  • roadrider

    Well, I guess I have to accept what the numbers say but I have a real hard time thinking about the 2011 bullpen being as good (let alone better) than the Nelson, Stanton, Ramirez, Rivera edition of the late 1990s. I hate Logan – OK, I hate the whole LOOGY idea in general – because even though he may have respectable overall numbers he doesn’t really get lefties out that well and has some pretty bad short outings that seem to get lost in the numbers even though they cost games. Wade I have trouble thinking of as anything more than a one-year wonder and while Ayala put up good numbers I’m not impressed by him at all.

    I’m not a statistician but I think perhaps there needs to be a bit more research into the applicability of the pitching metrics to the guys who specialize in short appearances and can make or break a game in the space of the single batter they might face.

    • nsalem

      Corey was also wonderful in 2008. Does that make him a two year wonder or maybe a one year wonder twice?

      • roadrider

        It’s Cory actually (not Corey) and you’re right – his 2008 and 20011 seasons were both good and very close to each other statistically. But we’re talking about 39.1 innings in 2011 and a .222 BABIP. Is that sustainable? Mo’s lifetime number is .262 by way of comparison. I didn’t see anything in Wade’s stuff that makes me think he’s as good as Mo.

  • Mike Myers

    Thanks Larry.

    Mike M is just where he belongs….in the middle of middle relief.

  • Rob

    Missing the best RHP of 2009.Nick Swisher 0.00 era.

    • Monteroisdinero

      Swish is a rhp? and a left handed outfielder?

      dude is better than I thought.

  • Stottlemyre 68

    A huge difference between ’70 and ’71 was Lindy McDaniel. He was lights out in ’70 (along with Jack Aker and Steve “folly floater” Hamilton) but dreadful in ’71. Sparky Lyle became the closer in ’72.

  • bpdelia

    A 41 tip minus in 107 ip……… 107. Gimmee a break. That’s ridiculous. Incidentally the bullpens of my youth were relatively awful. My family and I were always angry that righetti was relieving. And then came the cadret, plunks, farr, etc etc years. I fully expect this years pen tobe as good. Robertson will be worse, soriano better and we will almost certainly get something from the Warren Mitchell type guys at some point. Plus once Hughes implores we will get him. I kid. Im reserving judgement on Hughes. If I didn’t like him as a person so much this would be much easier for me