Yanks bullpen in good hands

Managers have changed the way they use their bullpens over the last 25 years. In that time the percentage of non-save relief appearances that last at least one inning has increased 20 percent, from about 25 percent in 1984 to about 45 percent in 2009. Andy chronicles this trend at the Baseball-Reference blog. Late-inning specialization surely has something to do with the shifting numbers, with multi-inning appearances declining in the same period. Over the past few years we’ve been accustomed to analysts talking about the strength of a bullpen in terms of its setup men bridging the gap to the closer.

Specifically, we’ve seen teams employ the three-headed monster scheme. The 2003 Astros had Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel setting up for Billy Wagner. In 2004 Joe Torre used Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon extensively in setting up Mariano Rivera. These were all one-inning roles, with the pitcher entering the game in his specific inning, if the game was within three runs, a save situation. Analysts called it shortening the game. Have three lights out one-inning relievers, the idea went, and you made it a six-inning game.

Beyond the obvious — no pitcher, not even Mariano, is perfect — this bullpen scheme has a flaw. It assumes those three pitchers can pitch every important endgame. As Torre learned in 2004, relievers wear out, especially when the rotation averages under six innings a start. In order to properly construct this endgame, a team needs at least four reliable arms for the back of the bullpen so it can spread the load more evenly. The 2009 Yankees appear to have just that.

As it currently stands, Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain will act as Rivera’s primary setup man, which essentially means pitching the eighth. But, again, the Yankees will encounter many situations where they lead by three or fewer runs in the eighth inning. Joba Hughes can’t pitch in all of them. That means the seventh-inning man has to step into the role. But the seventh-inning man figures to face just as many within-three-runs situations. What happens then?

In addition to Joba Hughes setting up Rivera, the Yankees will carry two other highly regarded relievers, David Robertson and Damaso Marte. Either can pitch the seventh and even the eighth if needed. It gives Joe Girardi more options, allowing him to rest his best guys and make sure they’re not pitching with tired arms. Al Aceves helps here, too, as he showed the ability in 2009 to take the ball in a setup role.

Thankfully, this won’t be a big worry for the Yankees this season. Different people have different takes on Joe Girardi’s bullpen management tactics, but I think most agree that he does spread the load evenly. As in the second half of last season, he’ll have the tools to achieve this in 2009. Not only do the Yankees have five quality guys in the back of his bullpen, but also swingmen like Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin along with a handful of guys at AAA waiting for a shot. Bullpens are volatile, and anything can happen, but as it stands now the Yanks don’t need to concern themselves with bullpen construction.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The Boss stops by

So here’s an interesting if typical late January story: George Steinbrenner stopped by Steinbrenner Field late last week and spent four hours in the office. He said he is “feeling good” and is excited for the upcoming season. It’s a typical story because this seems to be the extent of the media’s exposure to George. It’s interesting because this is the first we’ve heard from Steinbrenner since the season ended. Clearly, the Boss is not at full strength anymore. His days of roaring are over.

Rosenthal: Hairston close to deal with Pads

On July 31, Brian Cashman sent Chase Weems to the Reds in exchange for Jerry Hairston, Jr., and for three months, Hairston got the job done. He served as a versatile utility player with decent speed and hit .237/.352/.382 over 93 plate appearances. He scored the winning run in Game 2 of the ALCS and filled in during the World Series when both Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon went down with leg injuries. Today, Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Diego Padres and Hairston are “closing in on [a] deal.” Hairston will be joining his brother Scott who arrived in San Diego yesterday, and the Yanks will be out a potential bench player.

Football Open Thread: Jets at Chargers

With 11 wins in their last 11 games, the Chargers are the hottest team in football. The Jets, however, come in with some momentum, beating the Bengals twice to make it this far. Can Darrelle Revis shut down Vincent Jackson? Can the defense that allowed the fewest points this year stop the offense that scored the fourth most? Well, they say defense wins championships. Let’s see if the Jets’ takes them closer to one.

Football Open Thread: Cowboys at Vikings

We have a few Cowboys fans who read RAB, so there will be some interest in this one. We also have some Jets fans who are a bit bitter over the way Favre ended last season. Any Vikings fans in the house?

Implicit advice to Posada regarding Joba

While Jorge Posada‘s compatibility with A.J. Burnett came into question during the 2009 season, that’s not the only pitcher-catcher combo on which we commented. Jorge also had a hard time working with Joba Chamberlain, though many of us pinned that on the younger of the pair. That was understandable. Joba spent too much time shaking off Jorge’s calls, and not enough time throwing strikes.

In his blog entry today, Buster Olney points us to the blog of former catcher Brent Mayne, who has been writing about catching. It’s promotion for his book on the subject, but he does offer up useful tips for catchers. Today has to do with the basics of setting up around the plate. His advice for catchers:

This is how you can help. Work fast. Put the signs down quickly and intuitively. Get the pitcher in a good tempo and remember the less time he has to think, the better. DO NOT set up too far on the corners! Unless your pitcher’s name is Greg Maddux or Cliff Lee, setting up away from the plate is an excellent recipe for a walk-a-thon. Only split the corners of the plate with your crouch when you are way ahead in the count. Make the pitcher throw good low strikes yielding weak ground balls. Set up around the plate and make the offense put the ball in play right now.

Easier said than done, of course, and your pitcher can always mess up the rhythm by shaking off too many signs. Still, it’s advice I like. Whether it actually works I’m not sure. But I’d feel a lot better about Joba if Posada handled him like this.

Lower deck removed from old Yankee Stadium

Tom Kaminski of WCBS 880 has done a good job of keeping us apprised of the latest in the destruction of Yankee Stadium. The above photo comes from his latest gallery. As you can see, the lower deck appears almost gone. Tom has some up close photos of the empty space where the lower deck used to be.