The Bullpen Workload

2012 Draft: High School Bats
The timing's right for Raul
(Steve Ruark/Getty Images)

The bullpen has been, by far, the most dominant aspect of the Yankees this season. Their relief corps leads the league in ERA (2.05), strikeout rate (10.44 K/9), homerun rate (0.47 HR/9), and is second in FIP (2.60). They’ve also thrown the seventh most innings in baseball (57.0) thanks in large part to the generally underwhelming performances turned in by the starting rotation. Lots of innings from the bullpen is usually bad news, but the team’s current crop of relievers is both highly effective and well-rested thanks to Joe Girardi.

Other than David Phelps, the long man whose role is specifically designed to soak up innings, no other reliever on the team has thrown more than ten innings and only two have thrown more than eight. Cory Wade leads the short reliever crew with 9.1 IP while Boone Logan of all people is second at 8.2 IP. I say “of all people” only because he’s thought of as a one or two-batter specialist. With nine games pitches, Logan is the only reliever on the team that ranks among the top 40 in baseball in pitching appearances, so despite all those innings being thrown, the workload has been spread out very well.

The Yankees have been able to survive this hopefully temporary period of high bullpen usage for two reasons. The first is just the quality of the players in the bullpen. Outside of the recently-recalled Cody Eppley, no one out there qualifies as filler. They’re all big league caliber pitchers that if anything, are overqualified for their current roles. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are setup men who could both close, Wade and Logan are middle relievers who could setup, Clay Rapada is a second lefty specialist who could be a primary lefty specialist, and David Phelps is a long man who could start. It doesn’t matter who Girardi calls upon in a given spot, he’s bringing in a quality arm.

That’s the second reason why the bullpen has been so good so far, Girardi is the master at deploying his relievers. It’s by far his best on-field quality as a manager. He not only ensures that everyone out there is rested both for the short-term and long-term, but he also makes sure no one starts to collect cobwebs. Seeing no game action for two weeks at a time is just as damaging in terms of on-field performance than running a guy into the ground. We know too much work is a bad thing, but so is too little work.

Thanks to the performances of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda these last two nights, the bullpen is very well-rested for tonight’s series finale against the Rangers. With the off-day tomorrow, Girardi could probably extend his core relievers a little longer than usual, maybe asking Soriano and Robertson to get four or five outs each instead of just three. Expectations are rightful low for Phil Hughes against a great lineup, so this is a pretty good night to have that extra bullpen versatility. Regardless of how many outs are left to get, the Yankees will be in pretty good hands if Hughes managed to turn over a lead to the bullpen at some point tonight.

2012 Draft: High School Bats
The timing's right for Raul
  • Dan in Atlanta

    Nailed it with girardi and excellent use of the pen

    • Typical MIT Nerd

      It’s a bit of a chicken and an egg, but is the difference with these bullpens the quality of the arms or the way Girardi manages them? I’m inclined to believe the latter. When we look at the current pen, it’s not like they’ve stocked it with firebreathers. Mo is a given. Soriano is a vet. But Robertson is a Girardi creation. Corey Wade was good but never this good or consistent. Boone Logan has never been this good.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Girardi gets credit for sure here. There’s certainly a slight tendency to overmanage the bullpen with frequent changes, but I’ve seen much worse out there, and anything Girardi does with the bullpen is an improvement over the later years of Joe Torre.

        Credit has to go to Brian Cashman as well for finding guys like Cory Wade and Luis Ayala off the scrap heap.

        • Plank

          If Torre were still the manager, what’s the over under on Robertson IP so far this year? He’s at 8 IP in 8 G through 17 team games. I would say under Torre the line would be 16.5 IP and 13 G.

          I left Soriano out since he would have undoubtedly pitched until his arm fell off last year and would never come back the same.

    • http://yes jim

      Yes they all might have less than ten innings pitched….but, except for Rivera, it seems like they all get up twice before entering a game…if they enter. Also, nice to see where Damon(Indians), Matsui(Rays), and Hall(Orioles) all signed minor league contracts. I’m sure we saved money with Ibanez and Jones.

  • Bonnie Parker

    The weak link is Soriano. He was injured so hopefully he can get back to being good. Otherwise, he should be demoted in favor of a Wade/Logan platoon in the 7th. This is the best bullpen in baseball if Soriano is effective. If Pineda were able to come back along with Andy then we could put Hughes down in that pen to make it stronger.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      On a bullpen currently featuring Clay F’ing Rapada and Cody Eppley, Rafael Soriano is the weak link?

      Soriano’s easily my least favorite guy on the team, but I wouldn’t even go as far as saying that.

      • jsbrendog

        not one comment from bonnie up there has been devoid of at least one completely insane statement.

    • Ro

      “so hopefully he can get back to being good”

      Not so sure I agree with that sentiment, Bonnie. Soriano has actually been very good since his return last spring. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that Soriano has given up a homer, if any at all, or consecutive multi base hits. His strike out rate is right where is should be and he in not walking players at an alarming rate. In fact, I’d argue, that Soriano is probably on the list of better relief pitchers across the league.

      A lot of people can’t get his contract out of their heads and I understand that. When you look past that, Soriano has been everything the Yanks could have asked for up to this point. And unlike perhaps 28 other teams, should Mo be DL’d for 15 days, the Yanks have an immediate and legitimate person to take the role of closing, in addition to Robertson, who likely would get that job anyway. The point still stands.

      I just don’t get the Soriano hate among the fans. Perhaps everyone would feel better if we made an even swap with the Sox, contract dollars and all, for Matt Albers. Now there’s food for thought.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It’s the contract. It’s what he didn’t do right off the bat last year. It’s the seeming lack of accountability for when he did badly when a mic was put in front of his face. It’s the typical Yankee fan stuff. It even gets me. It’s why some of us can even be forgiving of *shudder* A.J. Burnett. He would practically cut “I WILL NOT HAVE A BAD INNING” into his arm in front of Kim Jones.

        I agree with you, though. In all this meaningless emotional stuff, we probably underrate Soriano.

        • Ro

          I always forgave AJ Burnett. The guy helped win us a WS, pitched near 200 innings or better all three seasons and for the most part, always took accountability for his results and I can’t remember one time where he called out a team mate for a misplay, etc that cost him runs or win. AJ just wasn’t the right fit the Yankees, their media and their environment. Consider also, at the time, coming of the 2008 season and a lot of money coming off the books, their weren’t “better” options available. The Yanks did what they needed too and now he is gone.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Completely agree.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Bullpen’s been great, and that’s without many of the names that we’d expect there, depth such as Aardsma waiting to recover, and whatever comes out of the rotation battle. It’s very possible that what we see now could be even better, with many rested options, as the year wears on.

    Throwing a question out there: Would Phil Hughes’s career, in your eyes, be considered redeemed if he wound up settling into something which more resembled 2009 Hughes?

    • BigDavey88

      Sure. It’s certainly better than the value he gives now. And as it’s often said on this website, most relievers are failed starters, so there’s that.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Right but, if, by age 31-32, Hughes’s peak was a very solid set-up guy, perhaps even closer, would you say, “he turned out well after all,” or would you still think back to that night in Texas with a tear in your eye?

        Just a fun hypothetical. I don’t throw those out there often.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          I’d consider that success, but still look back and think “what if…”. However, solid value for many years in any role is a good thing. Better a solid set-up guy or closer than a 3-year starter & then flame out all together.

        • jjyank

          I’d call it successful. Just based on realistic prospect expectations, I think most teams out there would be thrilled if a top prospect became a lights-out set up man or even a closer, given how many of them flame out.

          Sure, I’ll always wish he was the starter we thought he could have been, but but if I had to choose between a dominant bullpen arm or an unknown starter, I’d go with the former.

          • thenamestsam

            I mostly agree with you as I said below. I just think part of the difference with Phil, and the reason so many are so attached to him is that he seemed like he’d moved beyond the potential flame out zone.

            When we look at a guy like Campos, it’s easy to dream on what might be, but we all recognize that it’s not likely and that 5 years from now we’re all more likely to be struggling to remember what his name was than savoring his success. If you told me he’d become a top reliever I’d obviously be thrilled.

            But Phil seemed to make it past that stage, and that night in Texas represented that. He didn’t feel like a prospect any more because we saw him dominate at the major league level and it made it more real. Even though rationally one start shouldn’t change your opinion of a guy at all, it really changed the feeling about him for me at least. If you’d offered me the deal that night there’s no way I take it, as irrational as that might be.

            • jjyank

              That’s a fair point. I’m not sure I would take that deal on that night either. I was thinking more along the lines of if I was offered that deal when Hughes was in AA or something. It’s a tough question, everyone wants their top prospect to be their eventual ace, it’s just natural. If Hughes can’t cut it in the rotation, I hope he rediscovers some potential in the bullpen. But I obviously hope he can cut it in the rotation too.

        • BigDavey88

          Oh, I will always have a tear in my eye from that one glorious evening in Texas because I don’t think he can be that kind of pitcher on a consistent basis anymore. If he does become a quality reliever at some point, that tear isn’t going away, but I’ll be content that he can contribute in a positive capacity.

          I’m all for guys succeeding in the majors however they can, personally.

          • jjyank

            I second your last sentence there. At the rate prospects flame out at, a competent major leaguer (even league average) is better than an unknown.

        • thenamestsam

          I agree it is a fun hypothetical, and I think for me the answer would have to be a bit of both. Rationally I think that would be a pretty good outcome at this point. I’m a huge Phil lover, but we’re rapidly approaching the 2 year mark since he had his last effective stretch as a starter, and to me at least it appears settled that he’ll never be more than a back-end 4+ ERA guy with his current repertoire. Could he reinvent himself or rediscover his curve and become what we dreamed of? Could happen but it’s never likely with any player. So given that I’d settle for 6+ years (a long time in reliever world) of very effective relief work.

          However, emotionally I think it’s very hard to give up on Phil and I’d definitely still look back on on that Texas game with a long sigh. So I’d take it, but I’d still be sad.

        • jsbrendog

          i would always have that tear in my eye because what if his hamstring never popped? he couldve either become the dominant guy everyone foresaw or he couldve pitched a no hitter like a lot of other mediocre to mostly terrible pitchers who got lucky throughout history. sadly, we will never know.

  • Greg

    Article hits nail on the head. In general, Girardi uses his entire roster which gives him a lot of options and everyone fresh.

  • mike

    I think he has been really lucky as we have seen, by the mid summer, all of the quality guys getting up not only in appearances, but from continually warming up in the pen.

    I really cant wait for Joba to come back and add to the pe

    • BigDavey88

      I hope he comes back in general.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    Maybe the 2nd opinion on Pineda is a review of the January MRI. Damaged goods and Montero in the Yankee starting lineup this weekend!

    Just covering all the possibilities….

    Oh yes-the bullpen’s been great.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      A boy can dream….

    • BigDavey88
    • Ro

      Good grief. We’re still at it with this, huh? While theoretically possible, the odds of that actually happening are probably as great as me winning the New York powerball tonight. And for the love of God, even if Pineda is hurt to the point where he needs surgery, so what, big deal. He gets healthy, is reconfigured and brought back through the Yankee system. They still have 4 years of him at that point. Having Montero back (which won’t happen) still doesn’t solve the long term issue of him not having a position. The Yanks still should win that trade or at a minimum, realize equal value from the swap over the years.

  • roadrider

    I wouldn’t get too excited about 8 innings worth of work from anyone. More than most players bullpen guys tend to be overrated on the basis of small samples. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some of these guys regress quite a bit as we move forward.

    Rapada, for example, has not actually been all that effective against lefties (which is his job after all) this year so far, 7.1% K rate 14.3% BB rate 5.49 xFIP, and all that with a BABIP of .273 (meaning he’s been relatively lucky) and has been very effective against righties. Of course, that is a small sample and based on his career numbers those numbers will probably reverse themselves. This means he will have to be reserved for 1-3 batter outings and as a result you have to use at least two pitchers for most every appearance he makes. The end result is the 2-LOOGY problem which has been discussed before.

    As far as Girardi being some kind of master bullpen strategist and workload manager. Well, I guess there’s something he has to do well.

  • KDart

    Mariano, the GOAT, is overqualified to be a closer. Can’t forget that.

    • Typical MIT Nerd

      What does that even mean?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It means he’s overqualified to even walk amongst us mortals.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Yeah, but they couldn’t find anything else for him to do. The 7th and 8th inning guys are set already.

      • jjyank

        Rivera to teh 6th!!!??111onez!!

  • http://none Ton Lon ton

    Wasn’t Humberto Sanchez going to be the closer of the future?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I don’t think that was counted on in any sort of way, or even anything more than fun blog chatter.

      Then again, wasn’t Mark Melancon…..never mind.

  • http://none Ton Lon ton III

    Imagine if we had pavano on the staff

    • jjyank

      Imagine if we had pavano on the staffDL.


  • Joel’s left nip

    A few yrs ago I had the 2012 rotation as CC Lee Felix Hughes and Joba
    Not happening

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Just a lil bit off with that one…….