The Bullpen Workload

(Steve Ruark/Getty Images)

The bullpen has been, by far, the most dominant aspect of the Yankees this season. Their relief corps leads the league in ERA (2.05), strikeout rate (10.44 K/9), homerun rate (0.47 HR/9), and is second in FIP (2.60). They’ve also thrown the seventh most innings in baseball (57.0) thanks in large part to the generally underwhelming performances turned in by the starting rotation. Lots of innings from the bullpen is usually bad news, but the team’s current crop of relievers is both highly effective and well-rested thanks to Joe Girardi.

Other than David Phelps, the long man whose role is specifically designed to soak up innings, no other reliever on the team has thrown more than ten innings and only two have thrown more than eight. Cory Wade leads the short reliever crew with 9.1 IP while Boone Logan of all people is second at 8.2 IP. I say “of all people” only because he’s thought of as a one or two-batter specialist. With nine games pitches, Logan is the only reliever on the team that ranks among the top 40 in baseball in pitching appearances, so despite all those innings being thrown, the workload has been spread out very well.

The Yankees have been able to survive this hopefully temporary period of high bullpen usage for two reasons. The first is just the quality of the players in the bullpen. Outside of the recently-recalled Cody Eppley, no one out there qualifies as filler. They’re all big league caliber pitchers that if anything, are overqualified for their current roles. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are setup men who could both close, Wade and Logan are middle relievers who could setup, Clay Rapada is a second lefty specialist who could be a primary lefty specialist, and David Phelps is a long man who could start. It doesn’t matter who Girardi calls upon in a given spot, he’s bringing in a quality arm.

That’s the second reason why the bullpen has been so good so far, Girardi is the master at deploying his relievers. It’s by far his best on-field quality as a manager. He not only ensures that everyone out there is rested both for the short-term and long-term, but he also makes sure no one starts to collect cobwebs. Seeing no game action for two weeks at a time is just as damaging in terms of on-field performance than running a guy into the ground. We know too much work is a bad thing, but so is too little work.

Thanks to the performances of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda these last two nights, the bullpen is very well-rested for tonight’s series finale against the Rangers. With the off-day tomorrow, Girardi could probably extend his core relievers a little longer than usual, maybe asking Soriano and Robertson to get four or five outs each instead of just three. Expectations are rightful low for Phil Hughes against a great lineup, so this is a pretty good night to have that extra bullpen versatility. Regardless of how many outs are left to get, the Yankees will be in pretty good hands if Hughes managed to turn over a lead to the bullpen at some point tonight.

2012 Draft: High School Bats

Dante's already got the big league elbow guard stuff down. (Chris Welch/

The Yankees have drafted a high school position player with their first pick in each of the last three drafts and in four of their seven drafts under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. That target demographic has stayed the same but the preferences have changed over the years. The Yankees went for raw tools with guys like C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson years ago but now lean more towards polished types like Dante Bichette Jr. and Mason Williams. With that in mind, here’s a quintet of prep hitters who could be options for the Yankees with their first pick in this year’s draft, #30 overall.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Coral Springs High School (Florida) (video)
One of the best athletes in the draft at 6-foot-4 and 180 lbs., Brinson is a legitimate power-speed prospect. He’s shown big raw power from the right side throughout his high school career and has also fared well against high-end pitching on the showcase circuit. Brinson does need to work on his approach and has been both overly aggressive and overly passive at the plate in the past. A standout defender in center fielder because of his speed, he also runs well on the bases. Committed to Florida, Baseball America ranked Brinson as the 38th best prospect in the draft in their recent midseason update while Keith Law had him 50th. I recommend watching the video, that’s some impressive workout.

D.J. Davis, OF, Stone High School (Wiggins, Mississippi)
Arguably the fastest player in the draft, Davis knows his game and focuses on getting on base. He’s a left-handed hitter who can bunt for hits and beat out infield singles, plus he works deep counts and has continued to show better selectivity as the spring has progressed. Davis is a top flight defensive center fielder, getting good reads that make his speed play up even more. He’s never going to hit for much power and frankly, there’s a whole lotta Brett Gardner in his game. Davis is committed to Meridian Junior College in Mississippi and was recently ranked as the 39th best prospects in the draft by Baseball America.

(Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)

Carson Kelly, 3B/RHP, Westview High School (Portland, Oregon) (video)
Oregon isn’t a traditional baseball hotbed, but Kelly has a chance to be the state’s first player drafted in the top three rounds in 15 years. He’s a legitimate two-way prospect who has performed well both on the mound and in the field, though he’s likely to come out as a position player with pitching as a fallback option down the road. A right-handed bat with a smooth line drive swing, Kelly has power and figures to add more once he adds some meat to his 6-foot-1, 180 lb. frame. His athleticism serves him well at the hot corner. On the mound, he’ll sit in the low-90s with his fastball and mix in both a curveball and a changeup. Kelly is committed to Oregon and draws raves for his makeup, work ethic, and baseball aptitude. He’s a personal fave, and Law and Baseball America ranked him as the 34th and 48th best prospect in the their midseason updates, respectively.

Wyatt Mathisen, C/SS/RHP, Calallen High School (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Mathisen is an interesting prospect, one who’s spent time pitching, catching, and at shortstop over the last year or so. Catcher is his natural position and he plays it well because of his footwork, athleticism, and strong arm, though he’s played primarily shortstop this spring because that’s where his team needs him. Mathisen can really hit from the right side, using all fields and offering lots of power to the pull side. At 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., he’s going to slow down as he gets older and will have to keep an eye on his conditioning. Committed to Texas, Mathisen has big upside behind the plate but also a lot to learn after splitting time between so many positions. Law ranked him as the 31st best prospect in the draft recently.

Rio Ruiz, 3B, Bishop Amat High School (La Puente, California) (video)
A fringe first round talent coming into the year, Ruiz hadn’t performed well early in the season before a blood clot in his neck required hospitalization and ended his spring. The bat is his calling card as a left-handed hitter with contact skills, and his power will come once his 6-foot-2, 190 lbs. frame starts to fill out. Ruiz also pitched in high school, but he’s a better prospect at third base where his athleticism serves him well. There’s a chance he could wind up in a corner outfield spot down the road, and he obviously has a strong arm. Not only is his stock way down because of his sluggish performance and the blood clot, but Ruiz is also a top football recruit with a scholarship to play both sports at USC in his back pocket. Keith Law ranked Ruiz as the 47th best prospect in the draft in his midseason update, but a team is going to have to have a lot of faith in his talent to spend enough to keep him away from college.

The importance of tonight’s start for Phil Hughes

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The early returns have not been all that good for Phil Hughes this season. He labored through 4.2 IP of two-run ball against the Rays in his first start, got pounded by the Angels in his second start, then had a disaster first inning against the Twins before settling down for the next four innings in his third start. About the only positive you can take from his overall performance is his strikeout rate, though his 22.7 K% does a better job of reflecting his performance than his 10.13 K/9.

Tonight’s start against the Rangers will be both Hughes’ toughest assignment and most important start of the season to date. A scoreless first inning would be a great start, something he’s been unable to provide in two of his three starts. In the one exception, he had men on the corners with one out before escaping the jam. He escaped that mess with two strikeouts on his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball.

“My velocity is good and hopefully I can keep it going,’’ said Hughes yesterday. “The second and third time through the lineup you need something else, but at the same time I like to work the fastball a lot and try to [use] that as long as I can.’’

The velocity has been a non-issue; he’s sat in the 91-94 range and averaged 92.41 mph with his four-seamer according to the manually classified data at Brooks Baseball. Hitters have come up empty on 27.62% of the swings they’ve taken against Phil’s fastball, which is pretty awesome. As Joe explained last week, the curveball has been a problem. Batters aren’t missing the pitch — 11.76% whiff/swing — and although the changeup has been encouraging this year, it hasn’t developed to point of being a true third pitch, nevermind a potential second pitch. Man can not live on fastball alone.

Hughes and Freddy Garcia are both on the rotation bubble with Andy Pettitte — who will throw 80-85 pitches for Double-A Trenton today — on the way. The Yankees aren’t going to use tomorrow’s off-day to skip Garcia, so apparently they want to see as much of him as possible before having to make any kind of decision about who to replace. Hughes has thrown two gems in Texas, but those games were a long time ago. Hanging in against a Rangers team that has scored a dozen runs in their last 44 offensive innings would go a long way towards helping him keep his starting job. If he doesn’t at least hold his own, then the ball will be in Freddy’s court on Saturday.

Yanks have no answer for Darvish, get shutout by Rangers

The seventh matchup of Japanese-born starting pitchers in MLB history certainly made the fans overseas happy, but not the Yankees. The Rangers took Tuesday night’s game 2-0.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

As Advertised

So apparently all it took for Yu Darvish to break out in the States was a matchup against the best offense in baseball in his bandbox home ballpark. Go figure. The latest and greatest Japanese import befuddled the Yankees for 8.1 innings, striking out ten batters while walking just two after posting an ugly 14/13 K/BB ratio in his first three starts. Darvish retired 16 of 19 before Nick Swisher ended his night with an opposite field single in the ninth, one of seven hits they mustered off the right-hander.

Most Japanese-born pitchers cover over with the promise of six-pitch repertoires and command so fine that it makes wolverines purr, but Darvish actually lived up the billing. He threw his 91-97 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone, mixing in a wide array of offspeed pitches that included a sharp power slider, some kind of splitter/changeup, and big slow get-me-over curveball. Twenty-two of the 25 outs he recorded came on the infield. After about the fourth inning, the Yankees no had chance. Nothing you can do other than tip your cap, Darvish was on point.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Escape From Los Angeles

You’ll have to forgive Hiroki Kuroda if he had flashbacks to the last four years of his career and thought he was pitching for the Dodgers again. He pitched well against the best non-Yankees lineup in baseball but didn’t get a lick of run support and walked off the mound in the seventh inning in line for the loss. Two runs on five hits and two walks across 6.2 innings? I’ll take that every five days thank you very much, and so will the Yankees.

Kuroda’s biggest mistake of the night wasn’t the leadoff homer he allowed to Ian Kinsler, but the walk to Elvis Andrus in the third inning. There were two outs in the inning and he was ahead in the count 0-2, but he followed with four straight balls. Andrus then stole second and scored on Josh Hamilton’s single. Andrus came into the game with a .074 ISO (!) in his career, you gotta put that guy away with two strikes. Can’t be walkin’ guys like that.

Like Darvish, Kuroda broke out everything plus the kitchen sink while on the mound, throwing sinkers and four-seamers, curveballs and slider, splitters and probably another pitch or two still in need of a name. Hiroki actually generated more swings and miss (17) than his counterpart counterpart (16), and 18 of his 20 outs came on the infield. It sucks he had to get a loss, but Kuroda pitched exceptionally well and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Their Best Shot

Word, Curtis. Word. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As great as Darvish was, the Yankees definitely had a chance to bust things open early. Eric Chavez (single to right), Russell Martin (walk), and Derek Jeter (push bunt single) all reached base to open the third inning, but Curtis Granderson got caught looking at an outside curveball that may or may not have been in the zone for strike three before Alex Rodriguez grounded into an inning-ending double play. That was, by far, their best chance to not only score runs, but knock Darvish off his game early. Alas.


Jeter’s bunt single extended his hit streak to 14 games, though he also doubled down the left field line later in the game. His batting line now sits at .416/.439/.649 on the young season. Robinson Cano also had two hits — a single and a double into the left-center field gap — for his second two-hit game of the series. Martin was the only other Yankees to reach base twice thanks to his single and walk.

We say this pretty much every day, but big ups to the bullpen for  more scoreless relief. This time it was Clay Rapada (one out), Cory Wade (two outs), and Boone Logan (one out) who did the job without allowing a baserunner. Kuroda and the bullpen retired 13 of the final 15 Rangers to come to the plate.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some more stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Phil Hughes gets the ball in the rubber game of this three-game set on Wednesday night and will be opposed by Scott Feldman. That one has reverse lock written all over it; you’re expecting a 13-11 score but will get 2-1 instead. You watch.

Yanks will remain on rotation, Garcia starts Saturday

Following tonight’s game, Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees will remain on rotation and Freddy Garcia will start Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ivan Nova will pitch Friday and CC Sabathia will pitch Sunday. The Yankees could have used Thursday’s off day to skip Garcia and delay his next start until next Monday against the Orioles. That’s what I would have done given how awful Freddy’s been, but whatever.


Sanchez leads the way in Charleston’s ninth straight win

Slade Heathcott‘s rehab is officially over after the latest round of tests, so he’ll probably spend some time in Extended Spring Training getting up to speed before joining High-A Tampa. In other news, Josh Romanski has been placed on the Double-A DL with a blister while Adam Miller was activated off the Triple-A DL.

Triple-A Empire State (4-3 loss to Pawtucket)
RF Colin Curtis: 1-5, 1 2B, 2 K
3B Jayson Nix, CF Dewayne Wise & C Frankie Cervelli: all 0-4 — Nix struck out thrice and got hit by a pitch … Wise and Cervelli struck out once each
LF Steve Pearce: 3-3, 1 R, 1 HBP — 15 for his last 30 with five doubles and a homer
DH Jack Cust: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K — hasn’t done anything but DH so far this year
1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — first homer of the year
2B Ramiro Pena: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 K
SS Doug Bernier: 0-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
RHP D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 6/3 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) — 54 of 94 pitches were strikes (57.4^%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — just seven of 18 pitches were strikes (38.9%)
RHP Jason Bulger: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K — 16 of 26 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 17: Coming for Yu

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I was one of many fans that wanted the Yankees to sign Yu Darvish this past offseason. I liked that he was young (two months younger than Phil Hughes!) and had power stuff, plus the fact that a large chunk of the acquisition cost wouldn’t count towards the luxury tax. Then again, I also didn’t think the posting free to acquire his negotiating rights would come within $10M of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s, let alone exceed it. The Yankees didn’t bite and the Rangers did, though I have a hard time getting worked up over it after seeing the cost.

Like everyone else, I hope the Yankees pound Darvish into submission tonight. He’s never faced a lineup this good before, so if he continues to show the typical Japanese pitcher tendency of nibbling at the edges of strike zone instead of challenging hitters, it could get really ugly, really quick for him. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

This is only the seventh time in MLB history that two Japanese-born starting pitchers are facing each other. The game starts a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.