The Slightly Leaky Bullpen

Tyler Austin: A scouting report and the future
The next great Yankee reliever
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Yankees put an end to the four-game losing streak with an offensive outburst yesterday, on the heels of going 13-13 in July despite a +18 run differential. Lots of close losses — seven one-run losses, three two-run losses in July — will throw a wrench into the ol’ pythag record. Bullpens play a major role in close games, and the Yankees lost a number of those one-run games because their usually reliable relief corps came up short. Just look at the Red Sox series, both Rafael Soriano and David Robertson took losses in that one.

The injury to Mariano Rivera was obviously significant, but Soriano has stepped in and done a marvelous job as his ninth inning replacement. The problem is that the middle relief weakens because he’s no longer throwing the seventh inning. Cory Wade‘s implosion left those key middle innings in the hands of a number of specialists, namely Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, and Boone Logan. Those guys did a fine job for a while, but all of these close games have started to expose their weaknesses against batters of the opposite hand. Here’s a look at the bullpen’s month-by-month stats…

IP ERA FIP BABIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
April 76.1 2.00 3.28 0.267 26.4% 9.8% 47.1% 9.0%
May 67.1 3.48 3.13 0.325 23.1% 8.3% 47.2% 7.4%
June 68.0 3.97 3.63 0.286 22.0% 8.4% 38.6% 9.5%
July 65.0 3.60 3.42 0.316 24.2% 10.7% 47.5% 9.4%
Season 276.2 3.22 3.36 0.299 24.0% 9.3% 45.0% 8.8%
AL Avg 0.0 3.67 3.84 0.290 21.7% 9.2% 45.2% 10.5%

That’s a 3.68 ERA since the start of May — Mo’s last appearance was April 30th — so exactly league average as far as I’m concerned. That’s good, rock solid, but a notch below what the Yankees have gotten from their relievers in recent years. The bullpen pitched to a 3.29 ERA from 2010-2011 and a 3.59 ERA from 2008-2011, otherwise known as the four full seasons of the Joe Girardi era. This isn’t a fatal flaw kind of performance, but these guys haven’t been quite as automatic as we’ve grown accustomed too of late.

Joba Chamberlain officially returned to the bullpen two days ago, adding the kind of non-matchup reliever that I felt was an essential addition over the last few weeks. He showed his rust yesterday and therein lies the problem — we really have no idea what Joba will give the team going forward. It could be two months of utter dominance, it could be two months of replacement level production, it could be two months of something in the middle. Those were two very serious injuries — Tommy John guys tend to struggle with command during the first six or eight months after surgery anyway — and we shouldn’t downplay their potential impact. It’s going to take a few weeks before we get an accurate measure of his effectiveness.

The Yankees have been getting plenty of length out of their starters recently, with just eighth starts of fewer than six innings in the last 27 games. That dates back to the Adam Warren disaster. Only once during that stretch did a starter fail to complete at least five innings, and that was the David Phelps spot start in St. Pete (4.2 IP). The best way to improve the performance of the bullpen is to get even more length out of the starters so the specialists aren’t exposed. The offense blowing a few games open like yesterday wouldn’t hurt either. Girardi has done a really good job of mixing and matching with his middle guys, but the more relievers you use in a game, the more likely you are to run into someone having an off-night. That’s why all the specialists and matchup work can be dangerous.

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Tyler Austin: A scouting report and the future
The next great Yankee reliever
  • Jacob

    just hope Joba is really good and if needed we can pick up a man pn the waiver wire

  • Aluis

    Joba? Meh. Yesterday he was consistently throwing 92 mph. I sure hope for all our sakes that his velocity comes back otherwise the bullpen situation is going to get even worse than it is now.

    • Jacob

      Can you throw 92? It can get a lot of people out

      • Steve

        What does that have to do with anything? Yesterday 92 wasn’t getting people out, whether Aluis can throw 92 or not. And it’s doubly disappointing when every beat writer and blog author who will listen would gladly tell you that Joba was throwing 100 mph and living at 97-98 mph all throughout rehab.

        • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

          Cashman himself was the one who said last week that Joba was ” hitting 100 with remarkable stuff.”

          • Steve

            Even better. So when people expect to see him flashing remarkable stuff and living in the high 90s, it’s natural to question and be disappointed that he was throwing 92, leaving sliders up and getting slapped around.

            • Ted Nelson

              It was one disappointing outing…

              • Steve

                Did anybody say otherwise Ted? I certainly didn’t…

                • Ted Nelson

                  You were surprised that his velocity varied from one outing to another… From one radar gun to another, which may or may not be taking a reading at the same point. From one weather condition to another. Against two different levels of competition.

                  • Steve

                    That’s assuming that all of these magical radar readings came from one gun, which is asinine. I couldn’t care less about his results in a blowout, but when you’ve been told all along, multiple inning outings, middle of the inning, etc. that he’s throwing 98-100, yeah I’m surprised. It’s not like he was throwing 95, which would have been down. He’s throwing a full 8 mph slower in a game where you figure adrenaline is pumping at its highest. So yes, I’m surprised he was throwing as slowly as he was. But I’m sure I’m wrong so please enlighten me.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      I never once assumed that. Nice strawman.

                      He was touching that high, not sitting that high. I am trying to enlighten you. Some readings are taken at the hand and others at the plate, that’s a difference of several MPH. Weather plays a role. Might have been told to take it easy after going back to back days. Might have been more concerned with command against more advanced hitters. Or there might be a problem. It’s just one of many possible explanations.

                      Again… One outing.

                  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

                    A gun can be off a few MPH but 100-92 is a hell of a big difference.

                    You’d think that the GM of a billion dollar corporation would have better information on a major asset.

                    Shame on Cashman if the hype on Joba (that he created) was a fallacy resulting from a hot gun.

                    • YanksFanInBeantown

                      Or maybe it was a cold gun yesterday, combined with Joba taking it easy due to the truly awful pitching conditions.

                      It’s one game.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      It’s not just the gun. A scout might take a reading off a guy’s hand while a stadium gun might be at the plate. That’s several MPH. Then there’s weather and going all out in rehab vs. trying to control your stuff more when it counts. There also might be cruising in a blowout in your first outing after pitching back to back days.

                      As I said originally… It’s one outing. Way to much variability to even think about.

      • RI$P FTW

        Wow. Amazing logic.

  • NYCSPORTZFAN

    TO many scrap heapers who are and were bound to be more like there recent history suggests, then the knock outs they’ve been with us..

    • vin

      Listen, I never usually do this… but there’s value in learning the difference between to/too/two, there/their, and then/than. With those errors, your incomplete sentence is that much more incomprehensible.

      • RI$P FTW

        Time well spent considering most people are posting from a phone, which constantly screws up everyone’s words. That ship has sailed, dude.

        • Jim Is Bored

          Yeah God forbid they take an extra second to correct the word. I’m sure the world would end.

          • NYCSPORTZFAN

            sorry man, i could care less about to-two-2-too being placed in the right spot or place.. My keyboard is screwed up and my phone screen is ridiculously small, so sometimes i just put in the easier of the words, figuring that people will know what i mean, without being so pathetic to comment on it..

            I figure “the world woulden’t end” by my writing to instead of two..lol People are pathetic on here sometimes…

  • Eddard

    Mariano’s absence will be felt the greatest in October. We could always count on him for 2 innings if needed and now we have to rely on two guys that don’t have a lot of experience in October to close out ballgames. Joba needs to get back to his old form and dominate the 6th and 7th innings if we’re to win the WS.

  • Typical MIT Nerd

    Exactly league average is NOT rock solid for a club that dreams of championships. That’s a club that struggles to get a post-season slot.

    Losing Mo obviously hurts. But the Yankees were supposed to have the minor league depth to cover for any loss. Phelps has been great and now? He’s stuck behind three starters who are far worse. Trading Mitchell was clearly a mistake for the suckfest that is Ichiro.

    I say call up Montgomery. Why baby a relief arm? It makes no sense. It’s not like he’ll ever be a starter. They should have already dumped Garcia. Slide Phelps into a starting role. That frees the bullpen slot for MM.

    • 28 this year

      Eh, league average isn’t that big a deal during the regular season. In the postseason, Soriano and Robertson are going to account for almost all bullpen innings as the two of them combined will be responsible for 3-4 innings in game. If one of Phelps or Joba shows that they can shutdown the other side, thats the postseason bullpen right there. Rapada or Logan might match up against a lefty or two but other than that, that’s the extent of the bullpen and those guys together would be well above average since crappy guys like Qualls/Wade won’t see any time in the playoffs unless there’s a massive blowout.

      • Gonzo

        I like this line of thinking.

      • Typical MIT Nerd

        No, that’s not true in the least. When has Girardi ever thrown those two for three innings combined? Or in two consecutive nights?

        It ain’t happening. They need two more lights out arms, at least.

        Worse, Girardi should have a very quick hook if any non-CC starter gets into trouble before the 5th inning. Then they absolutely need length of from their bullpen.

        • 28 this year

          He hasn’t but in the playoffs, you ride your best arms no matter what. Thats the way it works. With Phelps or Joba that the 4-5 innings a night you might need from the bullpen.

          • Typical MIT Nerd

            And yet he hasn’t done that either. Look at the 2009 playoffs.

            • Gonzo

              Can we get an MIT/RAB study on the 2009 playoff bullpen usage? Total used relievers. Usage in close games. Usage in Mariano appearance games. Usage in extra non-extra inning games. Usage in games where the starter had a “short” outing.

              • Gonzo

                “used relievers”
                I wonder if that was a Freudian slip.

        • Get Phelps Up

          They need two more lights out arms, at least.

          Not really. If you look at the main bullpen pieces: Soriano, DRob, Phelps, Rapada and Logan, they have a 2.76 ERA in 154 innings (Joba too, but I didn’t count him because of SSS). Nobody other than them or the starter is going to pitch in a non-blowout game in the playoffs.

          • Typical MIT Nerd

            The match up guys can’t be counted on, especially against balanced lineups. That’s exactly the problem – three arms for matchups.

            • Get Phelps Up

              Who cares how balanced the opposing lineup is if their only job is to come in and get out one big lefty bat?

              • Typical MIT Nerd

                That’s how you get Coffee Joe and walks from those same relievers. They screw up that one hitter and now you’d burned an arm AND have a guy on base. It’s not a good strategy long-term. That’s where Mike is right in needing another true arm.

                • Get Phelps Up

                  They have Phelps, Joba (probably), Soriano and Robertson who can go multiple innings and be effective. And let’s not act like there’s not a single lineup that doesn’t have 2 LHB in a row.

                  • Typical MIT Nerd

                    Phelps won’t be used properly and Joba hasn’t proven he should be.

                    • Get Phelps Up

                      Phelps won’t be used properly

                      “properly” as in starting? There’s no way I’d want David Phelps to start a game in the playoffs.

                      Joba hasn’t proven he should be.

                      See the (probably) after Joba in my comment.

        • Ted Nelson

          Point is just that the BP shrinks in the playoffs. It does. The Soriano/Robertson getting 4 IP per game was over the top, but that doesn’t invalidate the overall point.

          How many playoffs have you watched exactly? How many WS teams have had 4 dominant relievers? Did MIT teach you about volatility in small samples?

      • vin

        Please don’t lump Wade into the “crappy guys” category with Qualls. He was very effective with the Yanks until he was worn down by picking up the slack of a missing Mo and Robertson.

        In his first 29.2 innings this year, he held opponents to .237/.285/.421 with a 3.34 ERA. He was fine. Problem was his last three outings – 13 ER in 3.2 innings. Trust me, if he didn’t have any options left, he would still be in the Bronx. Also, he probably would’ve returned to form by now, since his performance in AAA has been very good (meaning he’s probably not injured).

        • 28 this year

          Fair enough, I can agree. I am just talking strictly in the numbers that show the Yankees as league average, Wade’s numbers weigh pretty heavily because how bad he struggle. But totally, he’s definitely better than Qualls.

        • Ted Nelson

          His melt down seriously skews their averages, though. And overall he was ineffective this season. He might have gotten another couple weeks or maybe they could have faked a DL stint… But you can’t carry a guy who is so totally useless if you want to contend. Something would have had to change quickly.

          Also, Qualls is generally effective against RH.

        • NYCSPORTZFAN

          How u can think that is beyond me? The guy pitched alot better for the Dodgers (2.77era), over a much longer sample size(71.1inn) in 2008, and was given the boot the following yr after posing a lower ERA then he had with us while he was still up..

          There is no chance u can tell what Wade would be doing up here, because hes shown in the past, that the very high ERA is not that unusual.. He did the exact same thing while with the dodgers in the NL, and i’m sure the yanks have seen enough to realize the AL is now on to him as well, just as it happened to him in the NL

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      3 starters?

      There’s Garcia and I guess Nova, but who else is FAR worse than a 25 year old with no major league track record beyond this season?

      And Mitchell’s is basically Chad Gaudin, so there’s that.

      • MannyGeee

        Chad Gaudin takes offense.

      • Typical MIT Nerd

        Yeah, the two homeruns Hughes gives up for every 9 innings is a mark of long-term success.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          Whereas having a worse K/BB ratio as a 24 (almost 25) year old repeating AAA than Hughes has in the majors this year is the sign of a world-beater…

          • Typical MIT Nerd

            Who said Phelps is that? But I’ll take the better K rate with fewer hits and homers, especially against better lineups.

            This nonsense with Hughes’ pedigree needs to stop. He’s never been even a league average performer for any extended stretch. And that homer rate is god awful as an indicator for long-term success. The Play index is really helpful at highlighting that sad fact.

            • jjyank

              Hughes had had longer stretches of above average performance than Phelps has, and Hughes is pitching well right now. So why is Phelps such a slam dunk?

              • Typical MIT Nerd

                Imma gonna guess you’re distracted by the shiny ERA.

                His last two games? .809 OPS against.

                No one said Phelps is a slam dunk. But he’s at least better than than Garcia and Nova and Hughes.

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

                  Two games? Weren’t you just trying to look smart yesterday by calling me out for ~70 PA and now you’re using two games to back up your point? Hilarious.

                  • Typical MIT Nerd

                    What does “lately” mean to you? The last two games? Four games ten games? What?

                    Context is everything. You were arguing for Martin being good against LHP. I’m arguing here against the notion that Hughes has been better “lately”.

                    • Typical MIT Nerd

                      Excuse me – the actual sentence was:

                      “Hughes is pitching well right now”

                      That’s false once you get past the slightly above average ERA.

                    • YanksFanInBeantown

                      a 94 ERA- is pretty solidly above average.

                    • jjyank

                      Hughes hasn’t given up more than 3 ER in over 2 months. Is he an ace? No, but there is plenty of reason to believe he is doing better than Phelps could do.

                    • YanksFanInBeantown

                      And that’s including his nightmare April. Since May his ERA- is just under 81.

                    • Gonzo

                      Gentlemen, gentleman. Can we all at least agree that Phil Hughes is no Yu Darvish?

            • YanksFanInBeantown

              But Hughes’ K rate in the majors is higher than Phelps’ in AAA…

              • Jim Is Bored

                Shhhhhh…he’s on a roll, let him keep going

        • jjyank

          One less-than-ideal peripheral stat does not make the rookie immediately a better option. Hughes has been pitching well for a couple months now.

          • Typical MIT Nerd

            While giving up homers in bunches. That should be fun against the Rangers and Angels and White Sox. He just put 11 men on-base in 6 innings against the Orioles.

            Hughes is giving up a .220 IsoP this year. That’s disgusting.

            • Get Phelps Up

              Phil Hughes on July 1st in 95 degree YS against the White Sox – 8IP, 2ER. And 0 HR allowed.

              • Typical MIT Nerd

                And the four games after that?

                27 innings, 6 HRs.

                • Get Phelps Up

                  And those 6 HRs resulted in 6 runs.

                  • Typical MIT Nerd

                    You think that’s intentional? Heh.

                    • YanksFanInBeantown

                      Well, when you don’t allow many baserunners because you get a lot of flyballs, you are less likely to have runners on base when there’s a home run…

                    • Get Phelps Up

                      OK, going back even further 19 of the 25 HRs he’s allowed are solo homers and he’s only allowed one homer with anyone on base since May 17.

                    • jjyank

                      Hell yeah it’s intentional. He’s intentionally trying to keep guys off the bases.

    • 28 this year

      In the same paragraph, you say the Yankees have depth and that they should have dumped Garcia. The fact that they still had Garcia was a saving grace when they lost Pettitte and CC. The fact is, you don’t get rid of depth until absolutely necessary and none of that is necessary now. Look at the Red Sox, they traded outfield depth adn then paid the price. There’s no real reason to definitely start Phelps right now. He hasn’t proven that he can definitely start and he’s still a work in progress in the bullpen. Plus, Garcia hasn’t done anything to warrant being thrown out of the rotation, he’s given them innings. The Montgomery thing, I say wait till September and reevaluate. If they want to give him a taste, then go for it. You don’t want to prematurely start digging into your depth because there’s still a whole lot of chance for injury. Phelps serves a strong need in the bullpen to give multiple innings. And also, trading for Ichiro was a calculated move that is probably has a domino effect. Giving Ibanez and Jones rest from the field will probably increase their production as well as improve the defense. Mitchell wasn’t doing anythign for the Yankees and woudl never be more than a middle reliever for them. Now, they have three guys who combine to form a deadly LF/DH combo that is rested and ready to go.

      • Typical MIT Nerd

        “Now, they have three guys who combine to form a deadly LF/DH combo that is rested and ready to go.”

        Heh:

        Jones – .226/.303/.482
        Raul – .243/.304/.461
        Ichiro – .260/.287/.354

        Deadly indeed. Where the offense goes to die.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          Are you referring to Raul’s 111 wRC+ against righties or Andruw’s 107 wRC+ OVERALL, despite a severe recent slump?

      • Typical MIT Nerd

        I disagree on Phelps. Clearly he’s throwing well. Swapping him out with Garcia is a no-brainer at the very least. The problem is, Sweaty isn’t a reliever either.

        • Get Phelps Up

          What has Garcia done to say that he needs to be replaced? If anything, Nova should be sent down to AAA and replaced with Phelps.

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      And the only AL playoff team with a lower RA/9 is Oakland, if you consider them a playoff team. We’re tied with the Angels.

  • Typical MIT Nerd

    On Montgomery, what the hell more does he have to prove? He’s thrown 76 professional innings with a WHIP of 0.95 and almost a 15 K/9 and zero homeruns. Why they are babying him is absurd, even the slow pace that they’ve been using to promote him is idiotic. And don’t give me innings cap nonsense. He threw 63 innings in his first year of college.

    • Ted Nelson

      Not calling a guy up a year after he was drafted is not the same as babying him. Guy could reach MLB within 2 years.

      That you’re referring to innings limits with Montgomery emphasizes how little attention should be paid to your comments.

      • Jim Is Bored

        But people feed him anyway.

  • the Other Steve S.

    “the more relievers you use in a game, the more likely you are to run into someone having an off-night.”

    Nice to hear someone finally say this. Also, if you use five relievers to get thru nine innings you basically have no chance to win if a game goes 13 or 14. Can Ichiro pitch>

  • billbybob

    Isn’t David Phelps a potential solution? The guy has pitched well against both lefties and righties this year and has been on fire lately.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    Phelps is terrific with great mechanics.

    Joba is a headcase with lousy mechanics, injury-prone and if his name was Justin Chamberlain we wouldn’t even be talking about him :-)

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Maybe I’m late to this, but I think we’ve asked a lot of too many specialists and that, yes, we’ve seen some regression from guys who were pitching lights-out. The Joba hate/concern has to be some of the most nonsensical stuff I’ve ever read on here. The guy is one MLB appearance into a return from two surgeries. It’s completely within the realm of possibility that we’re not going to see what he can really do before 2013. No screaming and yelling about velocity or maturity on here will change that.

    Hopefully, though, that’s not the case and he and Phelps can be a stabilizing shot in the arm to this bullpen, which, in the grand scheme of things, has held up surprisingly well.

    • Jim Is Bored

      But if we can’t scream and yell, what else are we going to do?

  • jay

    Stop feeding the trolls

  • Austin’s Bat

    The bullpen is probably not as average since May when you subtract out Cory Wade. 200.1 bullpen innings since May at 3.68 ERA becomes 177.2 innings at 3.04 ERA. That actually pretty decent.

  • cranky

    Joba looked terrible yesterday.
    If he’s throwing 92-93, his slider needs to be not merely good, but exceptional, for him to be
    successful.
    In other words, if his heater is just what it was yesterday, he has little margin for error.
    I don’t know if the minor league rehab reports that had him throwing 96+ were factual. But, if
    Joba isn’t throwing exceptionally hard–like he used to–he’s a Jeff Nelson-type on his good days, and not the fire breathing monster he was when he first arrived in the bigs.
    Jeff Nelson was a good reliever for 8 years, or so, and by any measure had a good ML career.
    But that would feel like a disappointment to most Joba fans, who figured he was going to be a star.