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.