Close games and a worn out bullpenBy
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.