As you know, the Yankees have had a revolving door in their bullpen all season, using the last reliever spot or two — sometimes more, they’ve had an eight-man bullpen at times — to shuttle in fresh arms as necessary. Every team does it to some extent, but the Yankees have done it to the extreme this year, and it’s all by design. The plan coming into the season was to use the Triple-A and Double-A depth to constantly bolster the bullpen.
“(We had) from Double-A on up a lot of really interesting power arms from the left and right side that were under control, with options,” said Brian Cashman to Joe Lemire recently. “We talked all winter about where we could be in a situation where we’re really taking a guy every ten days. Call a guy up, max him out, send him back out and get a new guy up. It’s just kind of a revolving door.”
According to Lemire, the Yankees had made 106 transactions — that’s call-ups, send-downs, and designate for assignments — heading into last Tuesday’s game, easily the most in baseball. The other 29 clubs were averaged 67 such transactions this year. That’s kinda crazy, but it was the plan all along. The depth is there, might as well use it, right? No sense in going short-handed for a few days when you have capable pitchers a phone call away.
I count a dozen pitchers who have been on the bullpen shuttle this season, not including Chris Capuano, who always seems to find his way back onto the roster even though the Yankees keep trying to stick him in their Triple-A rotation. Of those 12 pitchers, eight have been called up multiple times. Here are how those eight relievers with multiple call-ups and send-downs have fared this season:
|MLB RP AVG
Just to be clear, this includes Mitchell’s time as a reliever only. Overall, the eight up-and-down relievers have been below-average at pretty much everything other than limiting walks this year. You can play with the numbers if you want — remove Ramirez because he’s no longer with the organization and it’s a 3.83 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 84 innings, for example — but I don’t see the point in that.
Overall, this group of eight pitchers have collectively performed worse than the league average reliever. They aren’t replacing the league average reliever, however. They’re the last reliever in the bullpen, and the last reliever in the bullpen is generally very bad. The Blue Jays, for example, have gotten a 6.80 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 41.2 innings out of Todd Redmond, Scott Copeland, and Jeff Francis this year. The Royals and Pirates have used Joe Blanton. See what I mean?
By last reliever in the bullpen standards, the revolving door has been serviceable this year. Not great — out of all these guys, the only one who has really stood out and made you think he could an impact pitcher long-term is Mitchell, who is a starter by trade — but serviceable. The advantage is always having a fresh reliever. That’s the whole point of shuttling them in and out, to make sure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm available.
How do you value something like that? I’m not sure we can put a number on it. Have a fresh “last guy in the bullpen” every night ensures the regular relievers won’t have to pick up any mop-up innings throughout the year, which can happen from time-to-time. Sometimes these guys get exposed — remember Pinder against the heart of the Blue Jays order in extra innings a few weeks ago? — but that happens with every mop-up man.
All things considered, the revolving bullpen door has succeeded at giving Girardi a fresh bullpen arm while providing the team collectively competent innings. These guys haven’t been great by any means — they’ve had their moments, but so does everyone — but the Yankees haven’t needed them to be. Soaking up innings in low-leverage spots is a thankless job. Rather than have one or two guys do it, the Yankees have used eight.