The New Bullpen Era


(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

For the first time in 15 years, the Yankees have someone other than Mariano Rivera closing the door in the ninth inning. The Sandman tore his right ACL shagging fly balls before last Thursday’s game, thrusting David Robertson into the closer’s role on a full-time basis. As we saw last night, things are going to be very different at the end of the game going forward.

As he usually does, Robertson created a bit of a mess against the Rays on Tuesday before striking his way out of the jam to secure the win. It’s what he does, make jams so he can pitch his way out of them. Unfortunately, that act is far less enjoyable in the ninth inning than at any other point of the game. If Robertson can’t wiggle his way out of trouble and a run(s) scores, the Yankees now have three outs to respond. That’s it. If he does the same in the eighth, they’ll have six outs to recover. Not much, but better than three. The margin for error is tiny.

This probably sounds stupid given how things turned out, but I thought last night’s game was a perfect example of why I believe that at the very least, Joe Girardi needs to be a little more flexible in the late innings. The Yankees were up two runs going into the eighth, but the top of the order was due up. That’s a pretty good spot to use Robertson given the degree of difficulty, allowing Soriano to finish the game against inferior hitters in the ninth. If the bottom of the order was due up in the eighth, then by all means go to Soriano. In a perfect world, you’d have Robertson pitch to the toughest batters.

Obviously pulling that off is much easier said than done. Pitchers do like knowing their specific role/inning and bouncing them around could have some negative impact. Might be a lot, might be negligible. Who knows. Girardi can play coy all he wants, but we know that Robertson will be his man in the ninth inning going forward. He’s certainly earned it and I’m not going to ding the manager for marrying relievers to specific innings when literally every other manager in baseball does it. This isn’t just a Girardi thing, but it will be more noticeable with Rivera on the shelf.

“What I think is Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches, broke a bat and we would have been gone 20 minutes ago,” joked Robertson following last night’s game, though there is some truth there. We’ve been spoiled by Mariano’s stress (and walk) free ninth innings for a baseball lifetime, and we’re going to be in for a serious culture shock over these next six months or so. I have full confidence in Robertson doing the job, but he is going to test our patience and raise our blood pressure along the way. This is a new era of Yankees baseball, and to be quite honest, it makes me nervous.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. GardnergoesYardner says:

    This is a pretty weird time, as this is a situation that we only talked about in jest before the year. However, I feel like Robertson is the perfect guy to take over the job. He’s an easygoing, honest, and likeable guy, and as opposed to Soriano, probably won’t hide from any critisicm. None of this is ideal, but it’s as ideal as we could have hoped for post Mo.

    My hope is that Hughes pitches decent, than the Yanks sign Oswalt/other assorted veteran presents and Hughes either takes the seventh or fills in as needed. Cash is right in not looking for another reliever. Most teams are lucky to have even one of So/Ro and we have two.

  2. Robinson Tilapia says:

    I don’t know if Robertson can actually grow to become more effective in the role as time goes on, or if this truly is what he is, but I’d actually argue that the role needs to be his, no matter how he gets there. We’ve been spoiled. Many of the closers considered to be the best there are put themselves in nail-biting situations often. I like the idea of having DRob know the job is his and his alone, unless things truly don’t go as we think they are.

    I should also disclose that Rafael Soriano is my least favorite Yankee since Carl Pavano, so take that for what it’s worth.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Can he really be any more effective?

      • TheOneWhoKnocks says:

        He’s been the best(or pretty close to) reliever in baseball the past 2 years, and I don’t think a lot of yankee fans realize it.

        • LarryM.,Fl. says:

          The problem is the man who he is replacing. 15 years of near perfect closer work. 608 regular season saves. Robertson will have to be his own person out there in the 9th. We the fans will have to grow and learn with him.

          I believe that he will do fine and learn from this transition into Mo’s spot.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        Wrong word choice there. I actually probably meant to type “efficient.”

    • jsbrendog says:

      hate. soriano.

  3. TheOneWhoKnocks says:

    It was a lot of fun to see Robertson close it out. Haven’t seen anyone but Mo for 15 years. Really makes me appreciate him even more.

    You could totally tell that Robertson sensed it was a big moment too from his reaction. Not necessarily a passing of the torch, because Mo will be back but something like that.

    maybe bringing Robertson in the 8th would have given us a better chance to win by the percentages, but baseball at it’s heart is an old-timey sport and moments like that matter to the fans, to the managers and more importantly to the players themselves. The closer role exists and Robertson earned that moment yesterday by pitching his ass off the past couple years, Girardi has to worry about 25 ego’s and confidence levels and as someone who spends 20-30 hours a week looking at fangraphs I hate to be THAT GUY, but human emotion is part of the game and sometimes we forget that.

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

    Same picture used in two consecutive posts?

    • Virginia Yankee says:

      It’s not the same picture, look at the hands. One was taken probably a fraction of a second before the other.

      • Mike HC says:

        ha, good call. Two different photographers too.

      • Dummies Playing With Balls (formerly Rainbow Connection) says:

        Still, pretty lazy.

        • vin says:

          You’re right, we should get our money back.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          Go. Run. Your. Own. Blog.

        • Slugger27 says:

          how? its still the same number of clicks on a mouse?

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            “It’s wrong when everyone on RAB complains and shouts down opinions that aren’t theirs, except for when I do it.” – The Angry RAB Commenter Mantra

        • pat says:

          You do a good job of trolling. Tip of the cap because I literally want to reach through the interwebs and punch you.

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            Well, we’ve now replied seven times to him, including three from me. It works.

          • Slugger27 says:

            see i actually disagree. he was refreshingly funny back in late 2010. now instead of hilarious suggestions to stop impending yankee doom, he just comments sarcastically on things people dont care about. the responses he used to get have gone from a long list to 1 or 2 per post over the past 2 years. this is probably the most responses hes gotten to a post in several weeks, and its still not even a big turnout.

            hes still pretty good at generating traffic/outrage, but hed get more going back to his old style. just my 2 cents.

            • Havok9120 says:

              The thing is, when he was doing that in 2010 and even most of 2011, he’d throw in some actual constructive dialogue in between the nonsense and bad jokes. He’d even comment completely seriously on topics once in awhile. He was even doing that in parts of the offseason.

              Now its just him being a jackass to try and get a response. Well, either that or he’s just a sad, lonely soul looking for attention.

  5. Mike HC says:

    Soriano has to step up. He has to be dominant like he was on Tampa. If he can do that, losing Mo won’t be such a bit hit. If it gets to complete disaster level, we can always move Hughes to the pen and be pretty confident he can get the job done. Or maybe trade one of our lower end AAA starters for an established mlb bullpen guy.

  6. JohnC says:

    Soriano will be fine. He hasn’t had a lot of work lately. Needs more steady work and he will OK. Good chance that Yanks get Aardsma back in July and Joba by August to boost the pen. They just need to hold the fort down til then which they are more than capable of doing.

  7. KeithK says:

    Should Girardi use his best reliever against the toughest hitters regardless of the inning? Of course. But the same was true a week ago and for the last twenty five years since Larussa ushered in the era of the one inning “closer” as opposed to the previous “fireman”. But it’s not much more likely to happen now than it was before because Girardi will follow the “book” on this. It’s common wisdom now that “relievers need to know their specific roles”, which means pitching in certain innings. It’s absurd, but it is what it is.

    Not to mention the fact that relievers are measured based on Saves, which you don’t get in the eighth. Dumb stat or not, it is what it is.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Yep. Getting paid for saves shapes the incentive structure.

    • Havok9120 says:

      “Relievers need to know their specific roles” isn’t really what most people say. Its more like “Players very much prefer knowing their specific roles,” which seems to be true from everything we’ve seen. If it makes them more comfortable and allows them to be better prepared for when they go in, I’m down with it.

  8. Pete says:

    Those of us who lived through the years where Righetti was the closer are used to this – we just got a nice break for 15+ years while Mo did his thing.

    • Manny's BanWagon says:

      The decision to make Righetti a reliever was as dumb if not dumber than the decision to keep Joba in the pen.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        In retrospect, it was absolutely asenine. I was nine at the time, so I didn’t know any better.

      • Kosmo says:

        Although I agree to some extent with what you say, those of us who were alive in 1984 knew at the time NY had nobody to close out games. Jay Howell developed in 1984 into NYs setup role and was great but alas was traded to the As for Henderson.
        I wonder what kind of career Righetti would have had as a SP.

        • Manny's BanWagon says:

          I agree they had no one to close out games but that doesn’t mean you take a young potentially front line starter and stick him in the pen. Those teams had lousy starting pitching too.

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            I’m sure there was an aging reliever past his prime they could have traded a young Mattingly for.

          • Kosmo says:

            It was a dilemma AND during the offseason NY trades Howell, Birtsas, Plunk and Rijo for Rickey essentially robbing NY of any potential bullpen arms and of course Rijo became an excellent SP for a 1/2 dozen seasons.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      The crackerjack memory involved with being in grade school at the time makes me only remember Rags as being perfect every time.

      That, and striking out Boggs on July 4th to finish his no-hitter as we were driving back from the Jersey Shore. Good times.

    • Tom Q says:

      For us old timers, Goose Gossage was just as nerve-racking. It seemed like the tying run was always on third when he got a swinging third strike to end the game. After a while, I learned to Zen myself; I kept thinking to myself, he always does this, and he almost always gets out of it.

      And remember: Gossage was so good, fans of other teams thought he gave the Yankees a unfair advantage. That Mo was a cut above even that tells you how truly spoiled fans have been for, essentially, a generation.

  9. Yank The Frank says:

    Both Robertson and Soriano threw around 25 pitches each last night so I would guess that both will not be available tonight with Phelps going.

    • vin says:

      That’s the big concern… David tends to throw a lot of pitches, which will prevent him from going back to back and three out of four games. It’s not just the stress imparted on the fans, but the mileage on the arm.

    • Manny's BanWagon says:

      For one night only, Boone Logan as closer.

      Hide your women and children.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        I miss Jose Vazquez, who introduced the idea of Boone Logan as starter on here. I defended him, not because I thought the idea would work, but because it was an actual original idea at the time when everyone was arguing the same two or three topics.

        • Manny's BanWagon says:

          What makes you think he can be an effective starter?

          • jsbrendog says:

            I defended him, not because I thought the idea would work, but because it was an actual original idea at the time when everyone was arguing the same two or three topics.

            • Robinson Tilapia says:

              The gist of his argument, as well, was that Logan was a LOOGY at the time (we can argue that he still is, sure), LOOGies grow on trees, what’s there to lose.

              Again, I didn’t think it’d work, but his argument was convincing enough.

              I really don’t want to argue the merirs of that again. I was just being tangential. Bad Robinson.

        • Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

          I am still around. Appreciate your comments very much. I like your well thought out comments very much. Also Ted Nelson v. Plank is a blast. Right now I spend much of my time teaching my one year-old grandaughter how to walk and talk, but I still read River Avenue Blues every day and all the comments. As for our Yankees, it worries me that soon they will be called the Geritol squad and that they will fade away as they did in the late sixties.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      More likely they’d be available tonight and get the night off tomorrow with the big man on the mound.

      DRob’s come back out the next night after nights in which he threw 20+ pitches before.

  10. Manny's BanWagon says:

    I think Soriano should close and let Robertson pitch the 7th or 8th innings in high leverage situations since he’s our best reliever.

    • vin says:

      I think 90% of us agree, but that kind of radical ideology won’t come from the Yankees.

    • Jim Is Bored says:

      Or the 9th, if that’s the highest leverage, I assume. I think the 7th, depending on the game, is a little early to assume it will be the highest leverage situation you face.

      I do agree with the idea though, that there should be more flexibility.

    • Slugger27 says:

      8th inning if its 234 or 345 in the lineup yes…. im not sure i want robertson in the 7th, too much can happen later on.

    • MannyGeee says:

      let me guess. you also think Yankees should be allowed to have facial hair below the lip too?

      goddam hippie.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I agree that there should be more flexibility, but the highest leverage situation often arises mid-inning.

  11. mt says:

    Should be interesting to see but I think they will use both Soriano and Robertson tonight (if necessary) and then roll the dice with CC and no SoRo tomorrow.

    The other thing that may happen is that Phelps does not have a long night and we see a lot of Wade, Logan, Rapada, Eppley (even Freddy!) mix and match. All of them have at least 2 days off.

  12. chcmh says:

    It’s going to take a long, long time to get over Mariano Rivera.

  13. Schteeve says:

    Robertson gets the save, the Yankees win by 2 and you’re whining? Spoken like a true, spoiled Yankee fan.

    • pat says:

      I must have missed the part where the author was whining. I guess I was focusing on the part where he said watching someone besides Mo try and close games will be a little more tense.

  14. Ramondo says:

    I think Wetteland, um, Robertson will be fine.

  15. Alkaline says:

    ..What? How is this whining? It’s the truth. He’s not going to be as efficient as Mo, but he gets the job done. Plain and simple.

  16. eephus_pitch says:

    When Sean Rodriguez hit that ball in the 9th, I was sure it was a game-ending double play.
    Then I remembered who he hit it to. Very frustrating.

    • handtius says:

      glad you’re complaining about the guy who is hitting close to 400 and has been the best player on the team this year. good call.

      • eephus_pitch says:

        Jeter’s hitting has nothing to do with his lack of range. I can love his hitting and still wish he got to more balls in the hole.
        Making weak apologies for a middle infielder’s lack of range because he’s on a hot streak with the bat. Good call.

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