Close games and a worn out bullpen

Yanks give one away at the Trop
Freddy steps in, doesn't miss a beat
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Yankees went into last night’s game against the Rays with a team 112 wRC+, tied with the Cardinals for the second best in baseball behind the Rangers (113). Their 373 runs scored were only the sixth-most in baseball though, thanks in large part to their struggles with men in scoring position. That has started to correct itself a bit — they hit .304/.370/.609 with RISP during the recent homestand and went 3-for-9 last night — but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done in that department.

As a result, the Yankees have played an awful lot of close games in recent weeks. During their 20-7 rampage through the month of June, they won just eight games by more than three runs and only five by more than four runs. Five of their last seven wins have been decided by two runs or less. The Yankees average 4.76 runs per game and they don’t seem to deviate from that too much, especially of late. Only thrice this season have they scored double-digit runs and only ten times have they scored eight or more. That’s about once every ten days.

All of these close games have forced Joe Girardi to use his bullpen a bit more heavily than I’m sure he would like. Boone Logan has already appeared in 40 games this season and is on pace for 82 appearances, which would easily be the largest workload by a reliever during the Joe Girardi era*. Both Rafael Soriano and Cory Wade (before he was sent down) were on pace for 69 appearances prior to last night, and Clay Rapada is on pace for 76 appearances as well. That last one isn’t a huge concern though, Rapada has thrown more than ten pitches in an outing just 17 (!) times this year. Even the recently acquired Chad Qualls is on pace for about 68 appearances this year thanks to his time with the Phillies.

The Yankees have been playing very well for several weeks now and that’s wonderful, but they’ve also been playing an abnormally high number of close games — I’m talking games decided by two or three runs, stuff like that — as well. The team’s core relievers are starting to see their workloads climb — check out the Bullpen Workload page, it’s not just appearances, it’s also all the times these guys warm up and don’t get into the game — and that can be a problem. Hopefully the offense can start breaking some games open in the middle innings and Girardi’s primary relievers can get some extra rest down the stretch in the second half, because the pace these guys are on right now will put them in the danger zone as far as late-season burnout goes.

* The “record” currently belongs to 2010 Joba Chamberlain, who appeared in 73 games. 2009 Phil Coke (72) and 2011 David Robertson (70) are the only other relievers to appear in at least 70 games during Girardi’s four full seasons at the helm.

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Yanks give one away at the Trop
Freddy steps in, doesn't miss a beat
  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    With no intention to comment on the wisdom of the acquisition, I will say that I can see why Philly was looking to get rid of that guy. He appears to be full of suck.

    • Ted Nelson

      Most of his “suck” this season comes from two outings. Those outings are responsible for 1.5 points of his ERA. Obviously those outings did happen, but they aren’t necessarily predictive of the future.

  • Todd

    Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Robertson doesn’t look to have the same confidence that he had prior to the blown save that happened against the Rays before he went on the DL. He looks to be nibbling at the corners afraid to pitch. I don’t know if he’s hurt as well, but they need a confident and healthy Robertson if they want to win the division and deep into October.

    • 7commerce

      No swagger–looks like the little boy we first saw in ’08. FB elevated sincère return from DL.

    • Ted Nelson

      Agree that he’s been struggling. He’s always nibbled on the corners, though, so I don’t think that’s the problem or necessarily indicative of a lack of confidence.

  • MB

    Boy, luckily we’ve had guys like Hughes, Nova and Kuroda to give us 7+ innings many times the past month. CC before he went down and also Andy as well. I don’t use IP as an important stat for pitchers though mostly because it’s a managerial decision stat, but the Yankees starters are ranked 9th in IP in baseball. I can’t find the June splits however but I’m sure it’s amongst the tops in the league (could be even the top in June).

    If the pitching holds up (and that’s a big if) and when this team finally starts scoring 6+ runs a game hopefully at least 3 games a week (easier said than done), then we don’t have to see guys like Robertson and Soriano out there like back to back to back days each time.

    I am not all that concerned though about the bullpen due to Joba and Aardsma returning at some point. I’m more concerned over the loss of Andy however, but I think Freddy pitched fairly well last night except for 2 pitches. 0 BB’s and 5 hits allowed (unfortunately 2 for HR in 5.1 innings is job well done). I mean I don’t see Freddy continuing to do that though each and every time. Sometimes he’s lucky to give up even less than 5 runs.

    I was concerened about Wade, and they sent him down, now I am a TAD (yes I capitalized it for a reason) concerned about Robertson.

  • Kevin

    Robertson doesn’t appear to have the same confidence he had before the injury and blown saves.
    The Robertson of old would have come into the game last night and went straight after that weak hitter..not nibbled the corners with fear.
    As for the bullpen..I too hope for blowsouts so we can finally give the bullpen some rest. In the same breath..welcome to the NL..where a lot of games are decided by one-two runs.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t really get this sentiment. Second similar comment. Robertson always nibbled the corners.

      • DF

        Agree with you completely. These sentiments crop up every time someone struggles. There always HAS to be a reason, and if people can’t find one, they will invent one. It can’t be randomness or variance, it has to be confidence, or effort, or something similarly vague and amorphous that it can be pointed to without the need for evidence.

        Robertson always nibbled. He was insanely good last year because that never really caught up with him, and he was able to Houdini his way out of almost literally every single jam he put himself in. There was no way that was going to continue forever.

        He is who he is. An excellent pitcher who will sometimes give up runs by walking guys and giving up an inopportune hit.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          “Agree with you completely. These sentiments crop up every time someone struggles. There always HAS to be a reason, and if people can’t find one, they will invent one.”

          …or they will add the word “binder” to it.

  • mt

    This over use of bullpen is largely the result of failure to hit with RISP. I hear a lot of people saying failure to hit with RISP doesn’t matter as long as they win – but bullpen workload is where the chickens come home to roost from lack of blowouts occasionally.

    I think Girardi is going to have to restrain some of his bullpen mix and match tendencies over the next week or so – cannot use everybody as a ROOGY or LOOGY every day. May have to withstand some individual bad match-ups for the greater good or resting bullpen.

    • jjyank

      I don’t think anyone is saying that RISPFAIL doesn’t matter, just that it’s been over blown a bit and will likely correct itself. But your right, the biggest problem with it (when they’re winning anyway) is the bullpen strain.

  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    I take a lot of comfort in the fact that the Yankees are winning close games (for the most part). While I don’t like the taxing of the bullpen, that’s why we have those guys. It makes me feel more confident that should the Yankees make the playoffs they can win those games where the offense may not be shelling an opposing pitcher.

  • NYCSPORTZFAN

    i think the pen is fine, as far as being warn out or whatever, its just u got guys who aren’t nescecarily historically as good as they’ve played.. Logan was terrible in Atlanta, and at any point, could return back to that form, and Robertson hasen’t been doing it for long enough for us to think hes a guranteed stud for yrs to come..

    I love both players, but i gotta see them be successfuol for a bit longer at top notch levels, before it surprises me when a rough patch occurs.. ALl though Logan hasen’t had a rough patch per say, but a rough outing..

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Logan was terrible because he was ridiculously rushed. He’s a very different pitcher than what he was then.

    • Steve (different one)

      How many middle relievers have long, established track records of dominance??

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Not to pile on to what’s been said already, but I also am taking a slight pause whenever Robertson is coming into a tight situation at the moment. Whether that’s due to overuse, not being 100%, or our own over-expectation of the guy is beyond me, but it’s certainly not a feeling I had at the start of the year.

    Other than that, yeah, this is spot on. I don’t see a difference in how Girardi’s using the bullpen, just that he’s needed to do it more often to preserve leads and that the names being used aren’t ones that make fans feel all fuzzy inside, despite how those names may actually be performing.

    For a guy who has pitched 2/3 of an inning in pinstripes, the Qualls hate is reaching ridiculous proportions. Kind of ironic that there was a period a few years ago when people here wouldn’t shut up about wanting to acquire him.

    • CP

      For a guy who has pitched 2/3 of an inning in pinstripes, the Qualls hate is reaching ridiculous proportions.

      And he got out both batters he faced including one strikeout. I could understand if he had given up the game winning run or something…

      • Robinson Tilapia

        People want their middle relief problems solved by acquiring Kimbrel from Atlanta or somethng. This is how you address a hole in your middle relief corps.

    • Ted Nelson

      I know the sheep narrative is controversial, but I can’t help wondering what the general feeling towards Qualls would be right now if Mike’s original reaction to the deal was what a smart, low risk move it was for a guy who outside of two outings is having quite a good year…

  • SMK

    “the pace these guys are on right now will put them in the danger zone”

    Someone better call Kenny Loggins…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....r_embedded

  • yooboo

    If Girardi actually meant to protect Robertson then he should not put Robertson in with runner on base.

    Robertson’s fastball is usually off when he does not land well mechanically. His injury is not healed 100 percent but he still throws 90 mph.

    I still think Logan should be our full time setup man. Enough with mix and match nonsense.

    • MB

      “Enough with mix and match nonsense”

      That’s all he does. And he mentioned in the post game interview in the game they lost against the White Sox 4-3 when leading 3-1 going into the 9th (I was at that game), that he’s going to continue to do that

      #BinderJoe

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        You do realize that the alternative to mixing and matching is using Rapada against righties and Eppley against lefties, right?

        • yooboo

          Also, Robertson replaced Logan when Conrad the switch hitter was up.

          • Steve (different one)

            And? Robertson vs LHB >> Logan vs RHB. Is this supposed to be a criticism?

            • yooboo

              What is the point to remove Logan when it is a switch hitter at plate?

              • Steve (different one)

                Read the post you just responded to. Robertson does not have a platoon disadvantage, Logan does. Is this a serious question?

        • MB

          Mike, that’s just 1 alternative, there are many alternatives a manager can do. I’m just sick of seeing 3 relief pitchers used in 1 inning constantly.

    • Steve (different one)

      Give me a break. Now Girardi gets ripped for using his best reliever in a high leverage situation?

      I don’t love Girardi, but the criticism is out of control. Basically anytime something adverse happens, it’s his fault?

      Robertson is one of the best relievers on baseball, if he can’t get out one of the worst hitters on baseball, that’s on him. Blaming Girardi is absurd.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It’s insane, isn’t it?

        We blast him on the days it doesn’t work, but call bullpen management his strong point when it does work.

      • Ted Nelson

        I know… when Maddon mixes and matches he’s a genius, but when Girardi does it it’s nonsense.

        • yooboo

          Maddon is a genius? Not really.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I’ve been trying to post a link that explains the use of hyperbole as a literary device for ten minutes now, but can’t, so just picture what that link would say and we’ll all be fine.

    • Steve (different one)

      Gameday had Robertson consistently at 93 MPH last night, so I’m not sure where you are getting 90 MPH.

      • yooboo

        Really? are you upset with that 90 thing?

        My rule for mph is at least speed not best speed.

  • yooboo

    Look at bullpen workload category, Girardi definitely does a lousy job to protect Robertson.

    • jjyank

      I don’t think that’s true at all. Remember the other day when people were calling for Girardi’s head because he tried to avoid using Robertson (and had to bring him in anyway because Logan or whoever was pitching couldn’t get the job done)?

      This is a product of close games, not “Girardi’s lousy job”.

      • yooboo

        Game pitched numbers on both other day games are fine but Robertson was warmed up between the games when Hughes had cruised for a solid 8 innings and Soriano closed the game.

        I did not watch this game but whats up with that?

        • Steve (different one)

          Wait, you’re saying Girardi had his bullpen ready in case someone got on base in a 2 run game with the most homer prone starter in baseball on the mound? That’s crazy!!!

          • yooboo

            Eppley and Rapada are more logical choice if you concern about home run threat. Warm up Robertson for what? Hope to strike this sucker out?

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Like I said in the newer thread, the more we think we know, the less we actually know.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          You wouldn’t have had your guy warming up that day in the 8th? It was well within logic and reason to do so. That’s just reaching for something to back up an opinion you formulated first.

          Last year, we made fun of all this and called in the “dry hump.” Now it’s the end of the world.

          Welcome, folks, to WWWDRW.

    • Ted Nelson

      Girardi is known for his strong BP management. He’s not perfect, but no one is.

  • Tom

    The problem right now is too many specialists. Last year they had 1, this year they now have 3 (and have had 2 for most of the year).

    When 3/7 of the bullpen (Rapda, Eppley, Gaudin) are now specialists who should probably never be throwing a full inning in a close game and you have a long reliever for blowouts – it leaves 3 arms in close games.

    They also really have noone who can go 2 innings when the game is in a winnable range (say down 2 or 3 in the 6th) – that used to be Wade and now all Girardi can do is mix and match (which blows out the pen) or just roll the dice with specialists being asked to do more than they normally can do.

    The construction of the pen is the problem… I’m not sure what the alternatives are but adding guys who can only get 1 side of the plate out is not the answer – at this point is it worth calling up one of the fringe starters to serve as a lower leverage arm (not as a long man)