Logan could adopt new role amid injuries

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It might be Rafael Soriano‘s time to shine, but he’s not the only member of the Yankees bullpen whose role will change. With both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson on the shelf, the entire bullpen moves up two pegs. For Boone Logan, that could mean a change in roles from left-handed specialist to setup man.

When Logan debuted for the Yankees in 2010 he was essentially useless against right-handed batters. In 78 PA that season righties hit .279/.372/.471 against him, the virtual equivalent of Mark Teixeira that year. Yet his role was to get out lefties and he did that very well, holding them to 15 hits, and just one for extra bases, in 79 AB. Combined with a 3:1 K/BB ratio, he looked like a pretty solid lefty specialist.

In 2011, however, Logan found more success against righties than lefties. H held them to 16 hits, including just five doubles and no homers, in 61 AB, good for a .262/.328/.344 line — the virtual equivalent of Robert Andino. Lefties hit him a deal better in terms of power, socking 12 of 27 hits for extra bases. That led to the myth that Logan had somehow become better against righties than against lefties.

While Logan’s results against righties were better than those against lefties, his peripherals against lefties remained superior. That is to say, this year we could have reasonably expected him to come down to earth against righties. At the same time, we could have expected his extra base hits against lefties to regress as well, leaving Logan as mostly a lefty specialist.

As expected, this has mostly come true. He has held lefties to a .661 OPS, with a 5:1 K/BB ratio, while righties have a .824 OPS against him. Yet Logan still does have a 3:1 K/BB ratio against righties, and one of those walks was intentional. In fact, he has struck out 34.6 percent of righties faced, while striking out 35.7 percent of lefties. His unintentional walk rates are also similar. Perhaps, given more chances against righties, Logan’s numbers could even out a bit, giving the Yankees another viable late-inning option.

To date we’ve seen a big spike in Logan’s strike out rate — 35.3 percent, against a 20.6 percent career rate. While some of that is small sample noise, there are some indicators that he’s changing his approach. For instance, he’s throwing far more sliders than ever before: 48.9 percent against 32.8 percent for his career. It has clearly been his most effective pitch, fooling both righties and lefties into swinging wildly. He has also used a two-seamer, which breaks away from righties, with some success this year.

Having a lefty setup man does provide the Yankees with some advantages. Logan is still superior against lefties, so Joe Girardi could choose to deploy him in either the seventh or the eighth, when the opponent has two or three lefties due up in the next four batters. He could also, as we’ve seen a few times this season, deploy him to get outs at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the eighth. That allows Girardi to emphasize his strengths while using him to cover multiple batters in late innings. A LOOGY he is not.

It’s difficult to tell now what’s real and what’s just sample size noise. But given his results over the last season-plus, combined with the recent injuries, Logan seems in line for a much more significant role in 2012. He clearly has the weapons to succeed. If Girardi deploys him in a way that emphasizes his strengths, the Yankees just might have another late-inning reliever on their hands.

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The two LOOGY problem

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The season is only three games old, but we’ve already seen the Yankees get burned by letting a left-handed reliever face a right-handed batter on two occasions. Clay Rapada gave up a double to Evan Longoria (and a walk to switch-hitter Ben Zobrist) in Saturday’s game, then Boone Logan gave up a homer to Jeff Keppinger yesterday. Stuff like that will happen over the course of a season, but it’s still a reminder of how problematic a two-LOOGY bullpen can be.

“It’s 6-2 and you’re down,” said Joe Girardi after Saturday’s game. “It’s the [seventh] inning. We’ve got a lot of days early on. We have one day off in the first 16 or 17 days, so we can’t burn these guys out in the first two days.”

First of all, let’s just ignore that Girardi basically said he doesn’t think his team could come back from four runs down. That’s an asinine statement we could facepalm over at some point in the future. The important thing is that he doesn’t want to burn out his bullpen, which is obviously very good to hear. Managing the bullpen’s workload is Girardi’s best trait, and it’s not particularly close. The problem is that the bullpen isn’t well-suited for two lefty specialists.

The Yankees’ three best relievers are tied to very specific innings. Rafael Soriano is the seventh inning guy, David Robertson the eighth inning guy, and Mariano Rivera the closer. Those are their innings when the Yankees have a lead, the game is tied, or when they’re behind a run or maybe two. That’s it. David Phelps is a rookie and the mop-up man, so his appearances figure to be sporadic and generally low-leverage. That leaves Logan, Rapada, and Cory Wade for the middle innings. Unless Wade can magically re-enter games at opportune times, Girardi is going to forced to use the two lefties in spots he normally wouldn’t. That’s how Jeff friggin’ Keppinger winds up hitting a homer and reasonably close games become blowouts.

“I can’t use Mo, Robertson and Soriano every day, and when we’re losing, we try to get some innings out of some other guys down there,” said the skipper yesterday. Like I said, I understand not wanting to overwork guys and I commend Girardi for it, but Logan and Rapada should not be used against righties at all. Unfortunately, they will be unless Phelps takes on more responsibility or Girardi becomes a little more flexible with his end-game trio.

Update: MRI negative on Logan’s back

Update (2:11pm): Via Bryan Hoch and Carig, Brian Cashman said the MRI came back negative. It’s just back spasms and not a DL situation. Logan will be on the roster come Opening Day.

11:43am: Via Marc Carig, Logan is now headed for an MRI on his back. That can’t be good.

10:00am: Via Mark Feinsand, Boone Logan showed up to the ballpark with an achy back today and has been sent to the doctor. There’s no word on the extent the injury yet, but we’ll find out soon enough. Clay Rapada was a virtual lock for the roster anyway, but now there’s a chance he’ll end up the primary left-hander by default. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and the Yankees won’t have to dig up another reliever to start the season.

Injuries change Yanks bullpen outlook

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Coming into spring training, the Yankees had a pretty solid plan for their bullpen. With Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and Corey Wade already in place, they needed to fill just two spots. Given the number of pitchers they brought to camp, finding worthy candidates didn’t seem like a difficult task — especially given that Freddy Garcia was a favorite to slide into a bullpen spot due to the starting pitching surplus. Yet as we see nearly every spring, injuries have altered the picture.

While a few relievers suffered injuries of varying degrees this spring, the staff remained mostly in tact and ready for Opening Day. That is, until last Friday. That’s when Michael Pineda revealed soreness in his shoulder that turned out to be tendinitis. It’s also the same day that Cesar Cabral suffered a stress fracture in his elbow, shelving him indefinitely. Today we learned of another bullpen casualty: Boone Logan will visit a doctor to examine his aching back. Backs ailments are never to be taken lightly. Losing Logan for an extended period could seriously alter the Yankees bullpen outlook.

Pineda’s injury already had the Yankees pulling from their pitching depth. Instead of having Garcia in the bullpen as the long man, it appears that they’ll now use David Phelps. Now with Logan’s injury they’ll have to choose yet another pitcher who they did not plan to carry. That could be George Kontos if Logan’s injury is serious enough to warrant a DL trip, but not serious enough to worry about long-term. If Logan will miss significant time, the Yanks might look at other lefty options — Mike Gonzalez is still unemployed, and has been working out for teams.

The Yankees, of course, will be just fine with however this situation plays out. They did, after all, survive a stretch last year in which they carried both Amaury Sanit and Pants Lendleton in the bullpen. But their outlook has certainly changed in the past week. The Logan injury could potentially cause a few significant roster changes. Thankfully, the Yankees have enough options to fill the void.

2012 Season Preview: Left-on-Left Production

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Only 10% of the population is left-handed, and I don’t think any industry rewards southpaw-ness more than baseball. Lefty hitters are typically at the platoon advantage 65-75% of the time while lefty pitchers will get chance after chance to contribute something, anything at the big league level. It’s good work if you can get it.

Given the short right field porch at both the old and new Yankee Stadium, the team’s history has been dominated by power left-handed bats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, and Don Mattingly. Left-handed pitchers are also at a premium to help prevent the other team from capitalizing on the right field dimensions, which is why the club’s all-time best pitchers are southpaws like Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Ron Guidry, and Andy Pettitte. The current incarnation of the Yankees is no different, with a group of left-handed guys who do their very best work against same-sided players.

Robinson Cano
The best hitter on the Yankees also happens to be one of the very best left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching in all of baseball. Since the start of the 2009 season, only Joey Votto (.402 wOBA) and Chase Utley (.390 wOBA) have outhit Cano (.371 wOBA) against same-side pitchers (min. 500 PA). His 31 homers against southpaws over the last three years are the third most in baseball among all hitters, regardless of hand. Only Albert Pujols (40) and Mark Teixeira (34) have more.

Cano’s ability to hang in against left-handed pitching stems from his freakish contact skills, which allows him to get the fat part of the bat on both fastballs in and breaking balls away. He uses the entire field and is basically un-matchup-able. That’s why he’s one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

Curtis Granderson
Once upon a time, Granderson was completely useless against left-handed pitchers. From 2006 through mid-August 2010, Curtis hit just .208/.264/.326 with a 24.5% strikeout rate in 767 plate appearances against lefties. That all changed 20 months ago, when hitting coach Kevin Long revamped the center fielder’s setup and stroke. Since then, Granderson has hit .275/.354/.575 in 275 plate appearances against lefties, which is almost identical to his .255/.366/.545 line against right-handers.

No hitter — right-handed or left-handed — hit more homers off lefty pitchers in 2011 than Granderson, who had 16. Teixeira had 15 and no one else had more than a dozen. Jay Bruce had the next highest total by a left-handed hitter at 11, so none of those fellas was particularly close to Curtis. Granderson’s transformation from platoon player to MVP candidate has been just remarkable, and there are going to be a lot of opposing managers tricked into using inferior LOOGYs in the late innings when Grandy and Cano are hitting back-to-back in the 2-3 spots this season. It will be glorious.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC Sabathia
One of the two or three best left-handed pitchers on the planet, Sabathia has been tormenting same-side hitters with his fastball-slider combination for a decade now. He’s held lefty batters to a .221/.272/.322 batting line with a 30.3% strikeout rate in 692 plate appearances during his three years in New York, which looks a whole lot like the old version of Granderson. Only eleven of the 55 homers he’s given up since the start of 2009 have come off the bat of lefties.

Because of his dominance of left-handed hitters, opposing managers often stack their lineups with right-handers whenever Sabathia starts. Only 22.3% of the hitters he’s faced in pinstripes have been lefties, well below the ~50% league average*. Thankfully Sabathia is very effective against right-handed batters as well — .249/.308/.371 over the last three years — thanks to his knockout changeup. CC’s best work comes against his fellow southpaws though, and he’s one of the best in the business.

* The RH-LH split for pitchers is approximately 75-25, but it’s just about 50-50 for hitters when accounting for switch-hitters.

Andy Pettitte
Pettitte’s surprise return last week will give the Yankees a second left-handed starter assuming he comes through his preparation fine and wants to see this comeback thing through. He’s held lefty batters to a .246/.286/.352 batting line with a 25.5% strikeout rate during the New Stadium era, which obviously includes no data for 2011. Andy is a bit more saavy than Sabathia, relying on three different 80-something mile-an-hour fastballs — four-seamer, sinker, and cutter — and a curveball to neutralize same-side hitters. Whether or not he retains that effectiveness after a year-long hiatus remains to be seen.

Boone Logan
The Yankees only true lefty specialist at the moment, Boone’s performance against lefties last season wasn’t exactly special. They tagged him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 2011, far worse than his career performance coming into the year (.248/.322/.355). The good news is that his underlying performance was very strong, featuring a 28.8% strikeout rate, a 5.9% walk rate, and a 40.6% ground ball rate. That will typically lead to excellent results, so Logan really doesn’t have to chance much going forward. Keep missing bats and limiting walks, and the results should fall in line.

There are a number of second lefty reliever candidates in camp, highlighted by Clay Rapada at the moment. He’s stood out the most from a group that includes fellow non-roster invitee Mike O’Connor and Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral. With one bullpen spot up for grabs, Rapada is the favorite right now should the Yankees decide to take a second southpaw given their April schedule. Even if they take another righty, the Yankees will have plenty of left-on-left firepower in 2012.

2012 Season Preview: The Strikeout Kings

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

A pitcher can do nothing better than record strike three. Strikeouts take the defense right out of the equation, meaning hits, errors, weird bounces, and everything else is impossible. It’s not an accident that pitchers with high strikeout rates traditionally have lower ERAs since keeping the ball out of play means nothing bad can happen.

The Yankees had the American League’s best strikeout staff in 2011, leading the circuit with 7.54 K/9 and 19.7 K%. At 8.46 K/9 and 22.2 K%, the bullpen missed more bats than any other unit in the league, which is a great way to protect leads in the late innings. At least part of that high strikeout rate had to do with the arrival of pitching coaching Larry Rothschild, who has a history of improving strikeout rates. The Yankees figure to again have a dominant strikeout staff in 2012, one that could be even better than last year given a new arrival and good health.

CC Sabathia
After posting a mid-7.0 K/9 in each of his first two years in pinstripes, Sabathia had the second best strikeout season of his career in 2011. His 8.72 K/9 and 23.4 K% were the sixth and fifth best marks in the AL, respectively. During one stretch from late-June to late-July, CC struck out 72 batters in 54.2 IP across seven starts, good for an 11.85 K/9 and 35.5 K%. He tied his career-high by striking out 13 Brewers on June 30th, and just about a month later he set a new career-best by fanning 14 Mariners.

The strikeout boost appears to have come from an increased usage of his slider, as Sabathia broke out his top offspeed offering 26.6% of time in 2011 after using it no more than 18.5% from 2008-2010. Batters did not make contact on 40.9% of the swings they took against the pitch (54.6% vs. LHB), which is just ridiculous. His changeup drew a swing and miss 33.2% of the time as well. That’s just silly, the guy’s offspeed stuff was just unhittable last year. With any luck, that’s something Rothschild has instilled in Sabathia and it’ll carry over into this year.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michael Pineda
Few pitchers were better at getting strike three last season than Pineda. The young right-hander struck out 9.11 batters per nine with a 24.9 K%, the seventh and sixth best rates in all of baseball. Right-handed batters had a three-in-ten chance of being struck out by Pineda, which isn’t terribly surprising given his lethal fastball-slider combo. Even his 20.7 K% against left-handers is pretty strong, impressive for a guy that doesn’t really have a changeup. Batters missed 39.3% of the time they swung at his slidepiece.

Pineda is working on that changeup now, but maintaining a strikeout-per-inning rate is a very tough to do regardless of ballpark or division. His strikeout rate might take a step back in 2012 just because it’s hard to ring up that many guys each time out, but Pineda has more than enough stuff to miss bats regularly. An 8.0 K/9 and 22.0 K% going forward is more than doable. If he improves that changeup to the point where it’s a usable third pitch, the sky is the limit for team’s new hurler.

Boone Logan
This might be a bit surprising, but Logan has missed a ton of bats during his two years as a Yankee. Last year he posted a 9.94 K/9 and 24.9 K%, the former of which was a top ten mark among AL relievers (min. 40 IP). His strikeout rates against left-handed batters — 11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K% — were among the very best by southpaw relievers. Over the last two years, Logan owns a 9.26 K/9 and 23.7 K%. Boone can be maddening at times, but he uses his fastball-slider stuff to regularly prevent hitters from putting the ball in play. There’s not much more you can ask from your lefty specialist.

Rafael Soriano
The world’s most expensive setup man battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness during his inaugural season in New York, but at least Soriano missed bats regularly. His 8.24 K/9 and 22.0 K% were essentially identical to his strikeout rates with the Rays in 2011 (8.23 K/9 and 24.1 K%) thanks to his fastball-cutter-slider repertoire. Right-handed batters swing and missed with 30.5% and 34.5% of the swings they took against his four-seamer and slider, respectively. That’ll work. With career marks of 9.49 K/9 and 26.4 K%, there is absolutely no reason to think a healthy Soriano will do anything but generate whiffs in the late innings this summer.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

David Robertson
The king of the strikeout heavy staff, Robertson’s dominant 2011 season was built on his career-best strikeout rates: 13.50 K/9 and 36.8 K%. Both rates were top five among all big league relievers and the second best among AL relievers behind only Al Alburquerque (min 40 IP). Batters came up empty on 35.0% of the swings they took against his curveball, which is just ridiculous.

Robertson’s strikeout ways are nothing new. He’s never whiffed fewer than 10.40 batters per nine or 26.0% of the batters he’s faced in a single big league season, and he doesn’t discriminate either. Robertson’s strikeout rates against right-handers (11.19 K/9 and 28.9 K%) and left-handers (12.98 K/9 and 33.7 K%) are both through the roof. He’s already had a minor injury scare this spring, but assuming Robertson comes out of this bone bruise fine, he’ll again be counted on to lead the setup staff in 2012. The strikeouts will come pouring in.

Mariano Rivera
The greatest reliever of all-time saw his strikeout rate take a huge dip in 2010 (just 6.75 K/9 and 19.6 K%), but Rivera rebounded in a big way last season: 8.80 K/9 and 25.8 K%. Mo’s strikeout rate has actually improved with age, and his K/BB ratio has been quite literally off the charts for years now…

Rivera’s famed cutter has generated a swing and miss just 20.8% of the time during the PitchFX era (19.8% in 2011), which is relatively low compared to the primary pitch of most high strikeout relievers. Of course Mo has historically great command and generates an ungodly amount of called strikes; ~20% of the pitches he’s thrown during the PitchFX era have been called strikes, well above the ~16% league average. A little less than 11% of all the plate appearances against Rivera have ended with a called strike three during that time, again well above the league average (~4.5%). Strikeouts are great, but they’re even better when the hitter doesn’t bother to take the bat off his shoulders.

2012 Season Preview: After the Starters

Garcia could play a significant role out of the pen (via Reuters Images)

When we talk about bullpens, we’re usually speaking of the closer and his one or two primary setup men. Rarely do we have time to dive into the guys who bridge that gap between the starters and the setup men. That’s largely because we expect the starters to bridge their own gaps. But it’s also because these middle relievers just aren’t cut from the same cloth as their late-inning counterparts. Still, they can prove valuable, or detrimental, during the course of the season.

In the past few years the Yankees have built up their bullpen. That includes not only their setup men, but their middle relief corps. This year they could have an especially strong crew, thanks, in large part, to their fifth starter competition.

The Long Man

The Yankees will choose the winner of the fifth starter competition by the end of spring training, but that doesn’t mean the competition will cease. The loser will head to the bullpen and take on the role of long reliever. The best chance for him to get innings will come when a starter gets knocked out of a game early. Who is the most likely Yankees starter to get knocked out early? Chances are, it will be the winner of the fifth starter competition.

A long reliever can be more than a mop-up man early in the season. Managers tend to go easier on their starters in April, often lifting them after the sixth inning. Last April that happened all too often. It led to an incredible burden on the bullpen. With the long man this year the Yankees can ease that burden. That’s not only because they’ll have a bonafide multi-inning reliever in the pen, but that reliever will actually be good (unlike most long man/mop-up men).

Sure, the starter’s role will be more important in both the short and the long terms. But if the long man can go two innings twice in a single rotation turn, he can provide plenty of value. That will help the Yankees bridge the gap between the starter and the endgame. The longman can also, in some instances, finish off the game. In games where the Yankees are losing, or are winning by four or more (since Girardi plays it by the save rule), the long man can pitch those final three innings, giving the rest of the bullpen the day off.

The only question is of whether Girardi will choose to deploy his long reliever in this manner. If he saves the long man for failed starter situations, it seems like a wasted bullpen spot.

Cory Wade

It might have seemed as though Cory Wade came out of nowhere last year, but he had previously experienced success in the majors. Unfortunately, he followed his successful 2008 season — 2.27 ERA, 3.78 FIP in 71.1 innings — with an ineffective and injury riddled 2009. Those two factors kept him in the minors for all of 2010, after which he became a six-year minor league free agent.

Here’s the kicker, though: the Rays signed him to a minor league contract, which included a mid-June opt-out date. He pitched exceedingly well for their AAA affiliate, a 1.23 ERA and 3.34 FIP, but they declined to promote him. The Yankees snatched him up after the opt-out date, and, well, we can all remember the rest.

Wade will essentially act as the bridge to the bridge to Mariano this year. He’s not a knockout reliever, in that he won’t come in when the Yanks need a strikeout. But he can come in to plenty of situations and challenge hitters. That might be his greatest virtue, in fact. Throughout his career Wade has sported a low walk rate; last year it was 1.82 per nine innings for the Yankees. That is, he doesn’t work himself into trouble too often. That’s a valuable, and uncommon, trait for a middle innings reliever.

Boone Logan

For a guy who throws about 40 innings per season, Logan is quite the polarizing character. Some fans loathe his every appearance. Others take him for what he is, which is a situational lefty. Or, at least, that’s what he had been prior to 2011. Something changed with Logan last year. In 2010 he was quite effective against lefties, hitting them with a fastball-slider combination that resulted in plenty of whiffs. But in 2011 he saw fewer whiffs on his slider from lefties. Instead it was righties who were swinging and missing when he did go to the slider.

It’s one thing to note that Logan performed better against righties than he did lefties last season. It’s quite another to think that this is a repeatable trend. After all, it happened over the course of one season, in which time Logan faced just 185 batters. Additionally, the entire performance difference comes from home runs: he allowed four against lefties and zero against righties. At the same time, he struck out far, far more lefties and walked far fewer. That is to say, Logan is still pretty much a situational lefty.

If, by some stroke of luck, he can continue inducing righties to swing through his slider, he could become more of a bridge piece. He won’t take late inning situations away from David Robertson or Rafael Soriano, but he could toss a sixth inning here and a seventh inning there. Chances are, however, that he’ll continue being the pitcher he’s been his entire career: effective enough against lefties, perhaps enough so that you’d intentionally walk a righty between two of them.

The last spot

If we play with the safe assumption that the Yankees will, as they have in the past, carry 12 pitchers, there is but one bullpen spot remaining. This morning Mike examined one candidate, Clay Rapada. Given the Yankees’ follies in finding that elusive second lefty in the pen, Rapada’s chances probably get a slight boost. There’s also Cesar Cabral, who could have a leg up because he’s a Rule 5 pick.

Brad Meyers, another Rule 5 pick, presents another option. He got a late start to the spring, but seems almost up to speed at this point. George Kontos and D.J. Mitchell are really the only other options, since they’re on the 40-man roster. Essentially, the Yankees have a competition here without many inspiring candidates. It’s hard to see how the Yanks will get much out of this last bullpen spot — which is why I feel they’re more likely to carry the extra lefty.

As Mike said this morning, the spot isn’t of the greatest consequence. The Yanks do have a few guys who could fill in this spot — remember, pitchers such as Lance Pendleton, Buddy Carlyle, and Amauri Sanit pitched out of the bullpen at points last season. Eventually, Joba Chamberlain will return and reclaim this spot. So whoever fills it, should the rest of the bullpen stay healthy, will likely be out of a job by the end of June.

* * *

It’s easy to remember the mid- to late-aughts and cringe at the woeful bullpen behind Mariano Rivera. They had few effective setup men, never mind middle relievers. Now, though, they have the back of the bullpen pretty well set. Even the middle portion of the bullpen has formed nicely. When the only real concern is the 25th roster spot, something has gone right.