Starting pitching goes a long way towards determining how a team does in the playoffs, but having a strong bullpen can mitigate weakness in the rotation. As the Yankees move towards the ALDS and a matchup with Detroit or Texas, I thought it might be useful to see how their bullpen compares to the bullpens of other contenders around the league. I’ve tried to pick out each team’s best relievers, since the playoffs are an “all hands on deck” time in which the big guns get used early and often. Judge for yourself which team has the strongest bullpen. I’ll provide the numbers and note an interesting fact about an individual reliever or the bullpen as a whole.
Since July 30th when he came off the disabled list, Rafael Soriano has thrown 22.1 innings, allowed 6 earned runs, walked 5 and struck out 25. That’s a 2.69 FIP and a 5:1 K/BB ratio. He’s finally looking like the guy the Yankees expected to get when they signed him to his big contract, and if this level of performance holds it doesn’t seem unreasonable to argue that the Yankees have the best trio of relief arms in the American League.
Matt Albers has the kind of arm that scouts dream on. He throws very hard, and he gets ground balls at a good clip. Early in the year, it looked like Boston had picked up a nice cheap middle innings arm, and at the end of June he had pitched to a 3.03 ERA in 29.2 innings with 12 walks and 27 strikeouts. For whatever reason, the bloom came off the rose. Since the first of July he has a 6.21 ERA in 33.1 innings. While he has struck out 38 batters over this span, he’s walked more than a batter every other inning. He’s no longer a reliable option for Francona, which means the Sox will be leaning heavily on Papelbon and Bard in the postseason.
As mentioned yesterday, the Rays have one of the weaker bullpens in recent memory. Farnsworth has great numbers for the Rays this year, but he’s currently trying to overcome elbow soreness. He did appear last night for Tampa, so his troubles may be behind him for now. Peralta has been more than solid, but that’s really where the strength ends. Cruz, Ramos and Howell all have walk rates over 5 per 9 innings, and Gomes is over 4. It’s true that Maddon uses these guys as situational relievers, but the fact is that the Rays middle relief is simply soft. This is why it’s important for the Rays to get length out of their starters, and this is why Matt Moore could be such a huge factor for them in the next week.
*Edit: Adams’ ERA and FIP are 1.51 and 2.48, respectively.
If anyone is going to give the Yankees a run for their money out of the bullpen, it’s the Rangers. Texas made two fantastic moves at the trade deadline this year, adding Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara from Baltimore. Both relievers strike out loads of batters, and both relievers are stingy with the free passes. They’re exactly what you’d want from your relief pitchers. The weakness here is like Neftali Feliz. While his ERA is close to his 2010 number, his peripherals have deteriorated significantly. He’s striking out fewer guys and struggling with the walks. He’s been better since the start of August, but he’s still handed out 10 walks in 21 innings.
Provided Valverde doesn’t blow a save over the next few days, a lot is going to be made by various analysts and TV announcers of the fact that Valverde’s save record is perfect this year. As someone who resents his mound antics, I can only say with the upmost sarcasm: “good for him”. Fortunately, Valverde’s peripherals don’t suggest that he’s the type of reliever who could maintain such a level of dominance. He hands out more walks than the reliever who precedes him in the eighth inning and he’s not exactly a groundball machine like Alburqurque. It’s true that he has a nice arsenal of pitches and a tremendous fastball, but if I had to wager on a closer blowing a game in the playoffs this year, I’d go with Feliz first and Valverde second. Fingers crossed!