The Shutdown Bullpen


(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Everyone knew the bullpen would be one of the Yankees’ greatest strengths coming into the season, just as it has been over the last three or four years. The David Robertson and Rafael Soriano setup tandem were going to bridge the gap to Mariano Rivera while Cory Wade and Boone Logan handled miscellaneous innings. Clay Rapada and David Phelps won the last two spots with excellent Spring Trainings. Joba Chamberlain‘s ankle injury means his midseason return is extremely unlikely, but the Yankees have more than enough depth to survive the loss.

Mo blew the save on Opening Day, turning a one-run lead into a one-run loss and leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. The Yankees lost the next two games but have since rebounded to win three straight, and the one constant through it all has been stellar bullpen work. Since that blown save, the relief corps has allowed just three runs in 19 innings, and all three came when a left-handed specialist was left in to face right-handed batters. They’ve given up just eleven hits and four unintentional walks during that time, striking out 28. That is, as the kids say, stupid good.

Robertson has been his usual superb self and Rivera shook off that blown save to pitch well in three other appearances, but the headliners so far have probably been Phelps and Wade. Phelps has retired all nine men he’s faced so far, five on strikeouts. Wade was a disaster in Spring Training — 23 baserunners and 11 runs in 12.2 IP — but has thrown five scoreless innings in the regular season, allowing just two hits, one intentional walk, and one hit batsman against nine strikeouts. His 42-pitch effort on Tuesday night allowed the Yankees to win in extra innings.

The bullpen will get a much needed rest today after the last two games have gone longer than expected, and they deserve it. The starters have been generally ineffective through six games, putting even more pressure on these guys keep games close and winnable. Relievers have a way of being tossed aside and forgotten — as we always say, the bullpen right now is the not the bullpen they’ll have at the end of the season — but these seven guys have been the steadying force in the late innings and are a big reason why the Yankees are 3-3 and not 2-4 or 1-5 or worse.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. PhillyMatt says:

    Will this pen remind us of the 98 pen of mendoza, stanton nelson, and young mo?

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      Based on these early results it could be even better. 98 was actually a down year for Stanton. Their bullpen wasn’t all that great either. The starters were. Three guys who tossed >200 innings at with both Cone and Wells > 120 ERA+. Duque threw another 140 innings at 142 ERA+. Fricken’ Hideki Irabu tossed 173 innings at a 109 ERA+.

  2. Brian says:

    How does wade do it? He just throws junk 86mph 2seamer, changeup, and slider…. it doesn’t like he has the best control either, does he hide the ball well? I figure he was going to be booted from the staff with that horrid spring.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Wade does have really good control, the guy never walks anyone.

      • Typical MIT Nerd says:

        Perhaps the most underrated skill of a reliever. It’s like he’s Bizarro Robertson.

        How is it possible that he’s been so much better in the majors than he ever was in the minors? It’s hard not to see how he’s not riding a good/lucky streak. But if he keeps this up all season long he’ll have earn a spot in major league pens for many years to come. Brian Bruney he is not.

      • Brian says:

        Im going from a limited sample size for the control. The few games I’ve seen him pitch the balls up left up. I like that he is doing so well, I can’t complain.

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      Agreed. He’s a classic ride until he’s done reliever. He gets results. When that changes I really hope they waste no opportunity to dump him.

      Does he have any options?

    • nick says:

      well thats why you dont make decisions for the yankees.

      • Typical MIT Nerd says:

        You assume Wade is a mainstay for years to come?

        • blooper says:

          I wonder if excellent control without excellent stuff can hurt you in the minors? We’re always complaining about minor league hitters learning the strike zone and swinging at everything. Maybe when they’re swinging that way, it’s better to miss the strike zone a little more often.

  3. JoeyA says:

    It seems 2012 is the year of the defensive shift, especially when playing the Rays. seems they have a shift for almost every player and other teams seem to be catching on to this trend, which leads me to my question…

    When will the Yankees start playing the CFer 20 ft. behind 2B when Mo is pitching?

    If the ball goes over the CFers head, then so be it. but all the more likely is the batter getting tied up and dunking the ball into shallow CF.

    Grandy already plays a shallow center, but IMO it makes a too much sense to have the CF play very shallow during Rivera innings.

    Just a thought

    • V says:

      I would love this permanent ’5 man infield’ but only when Gardner and Swisher (too bad we don’t have Maxwell or a similarly fast right fielder on the bench) in the outfield. Have Gardner shaded in between the normal LF/CF spots.

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      What does this have to do with the bullpen?

      • JoeyA says:

        Mariano Rivera is the Yankees closer and comes out of the bullpen in the 9th inning to close the game. I brought up an idea about the defensive alignment of the Yankees while Mariano Rivera, a bullpen pitcher, is pitching.

        I’m sorry the comment didnt conform to your rigorous standards of addressing only the specific topic stated in the post’s title.

        My apologies.

      • Havok9120 says:

        Lighten up Francis.

    • blooper says:

      Mo does give up a lot of bloopers in front of the OF’s, but with only 2 outfielders you’d see a lot of the routine fly balls that we don’t pay attention to dropping in for doubles. Anyway, it’s not as if he’s been hurt too bad by it the last fifteen years, is it?

    • Steve (different one) says:

      Sooo….at the end of the game, when you are usually trying to prevent one run from scoring, you want to increase the probability of an extra base hit for the opportunity to reduce the probability of a single?

      Does that sound right?

  4. Typical MIT Nerd says:

    The bullpen has been fantastic. With the emergence of Phelps and Nova, I really wonder if the Yankees do themselves a disservice by keeping all these very good arms locked up in AAA. Even as Phelps is unlikely to be even half as good as his numbers so far, that would be far preferable to Sweaty Freddy and perhaps even Hughes. Shifting Hughes back to the pen would mean an even better end game every day of the week. And with very good RHP, you don’t need the lefty specialist.

    Should be interesting once Pettitte and Pineda are ready. Trade Freddy and what’s the other move?

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I don’t think that they’re keeping anyone “locked up in AAA,” just developing them. Phelps had all of 107 AAA innings before debuting. Warren has one AAA season and only 2.5 pro seasons, it’s not like he’s wasting away in purgatory. Mitchell has a bit over one season, but he a late bloomer who started pitching late and is sort of a fringe starting prospect to most. Banuelos and Betances had a combined 55 IP in AAA last season. Noesi had all of 43 AAA inning when promoted. Nova had 1.5 seasons in AAA. The “Big 3″ all got rushed right through the whole minors.

      The Yankees keeping pitchers “locked up” in AAA and not letting them get to the bigs is largely a false narrative.

      Rapada will probably be cut and Phelps will probably be optioned so he can start in AAA. I wouldn’t assume Freddy gets traded. Might, but I don’t know if they’ll get the necessary value to trade him.

      • CJ says:

        What is the necessary value to trade Freddy Garcia? Even before that ugly start, I think yanks will be lucky to trade Freddy without having to eat salary.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          They still need his approval to trade him. I also think that 150 years of baseball history has taught GMs to not judge a guy’s worth on one start.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Look at all the crappy SPs who got similar deals this offseason. I think $4 million is plenty fair market value for Garcia.

  5. ethan jf says:

    The bullpen has been the difference between us and the Sox so far — they’re not hitting much either, like us (see: Rodriguez, A.; Teixeira, M.; Cano, R.), their starting pitching has been similarly ineffective, but our bullpen has been lights-out and theirs has been terrible. Papelbon jumping ship and Bard moving to the rotation is a lot for any ‘pen to survive and so far… theirs hasn’t. Happily! :)

    side note: does anyone else’s spellchecker want to change “Teixeira” to “Terapixel”?

  6. Jimmy McNulty says:

    I don’t think we’ll see Phelps in the pen for much longer, I have a feeling he’ll be getting a few starts here soon.

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      For whom? It’s not like they’re going to skip CC or Kuroda. And Freddy will be gone soon enough.

      Phelps looks like this year’s Noesi, only better.

      • Jimmy McNulty says:

        I’m guessing Freddy, I have a feeling Hughes will get hurt or falter before Pineda and Andy are back here 100%

    • Ted Nelson says:

      He’ll probably be getting a few starts for the Empire State Yankees…

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        The question becomes if a guy needs to miss a start before Pineda/Pettitte are ready. Does Phelps get bumped up to the rotation, or do they go with someone already stretched out (start of the season notwithstanding)?

      • Jimmy McNulty says:

        I mean in 2009 eight players got starts, I think we’ll see at least that this year. Given that Pineda started the season on the DL, Hughes being Hughes, and the nature of Pettitte’s slow return. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Kuroda saw some DL time.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          If someone gets hurt short-term, yeah. My guess is that he gets sent down when Pineda or Pettitte returns, though, with Rapada getting DFA’d when the other one does. Then later in the season he might get the spot start or replace someone, but Garcia and Hughes (or whoever) might be sitting in the pen waiting… i.e. the 6th and 7th starters already appear to be Pineda and Pettite. And the two seasons since 2009 they’ve only really used 6 or 7 starters for more than a spot start or two.

          Kuroda has made 31 or 32 starts in 3 of his 4 MLB seasons, so I don’t think he’s particularly brittle.

  7. Monterowasdinero says:

    And Joba? I think he won’t be pitching in the bronx this year. Shut down until 2013. No room for him anyway until Mo retires and everyone moves up a slot.

  8. dean says:

    I just hope that somewhere in the depths of Yankee stadium the brain trust isn’t sitting there thinking….”.you know what would really make the bullpen awesome…….Hughes and Pineda “.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Hughes definitely might end up in the pen again this season. No track record and a bad first start isn’t inspiring much confidence yet. He’ll probably survive Pineda coming back, but maybe not Pettitte coming back.

      • handtius says:

        hughes had the second best start first time through. I know he came just short of 5, but he didn’t pitch badly, just not efficiently

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          If the assumption is that Kuroda, barring Trout-esque implosion, is safe in the rotation, that leaves either Hughes or Nova if both Pineda and Pettitte’s returns go as planned.

          I don’t think Hughes was horrid the first time out either, but he didn’t do much to erase whatever doubts exist about him, while Nova did quite the opposite with his first start. Someone is going to get squeezed out here if the chips fall correctly, justly or not.

          • jsbrendog says:

            until phil hughes shows he can put away a hitter with 2 strikes or go more than 5 innings on 100 pitches consistently then he is most likely the odd man out once pineda AND pettitte come back (since one would assume el freddy de sweaty would be first)

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Getting through 5+ IP is part of being a starter. If you’re not efficient enough to do it or can’t get through a line-up multiple times, you usually end up in the pen. So I would call that a bad start. CC has been hit around a little, but I think between luck and settling in that should disappear quickly. Kuroda is also a veteran with a track record of success.

          I didn’t mean to get hung up on one start, though. CC isn’t going anywhere if healthy. Kuroda doesn’t seem to be, either. Nova performed last season and had a good first start. Two guys have to be bumped if Pineda and Pettitte are going to start, and Hughes seems to me to be next in line after Garcia.

  9. Cy Pettitte says:

    Reds released Clay Zavada. Need to sign him so we can have a Clay Rapada/Clay Zavada LOOGY tandem

  10. Dummies Playing With Balls (formerly Rainbow Connection) says:

    Holy SSS.

    • Sweet Dick Willie says:

      You are either a troll, or you don’t understand the post.

      SSS refers to referencing a small body of work, and exptapolating those results into the future.

      All Mike did in his post was mention how great the bullpen has been so far, and that it is a big reason why the Yankees don’t have a worse record than they do. He did not say they would continue to preform as they have over the first 7 games.

  11. CJ says:

    Anyone else think San Francisco is wishing they offered more for Phelps than Chris Stewart?

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