Little chance Bruney makes the postseason roster

It’s no wonder the Yankees have shown so much patience with Brian Bruney. Dominant relief pitchers don’t come around that often, and in 2008 and early 2009 Bruney appeared to be just that. He pitched well both before and after a lisfranc injury last season, and opened 2009 with a bang. Two injuries later and he’s just not the same. The Yankees continue to give Bruney chances, but each one is a reminder that this is not the guy who struck out five straight Rays over two games.

Even in August, when he had a 0.87 ERA, Bruney still didn’t look reliable. He only allowed one run over 10.1 innings, but that might have been a string of reliever’s luck. He struck out only five in that span and walked seven. Opponents reached base 37.5 percent of the time. He threw 201 pitches, almost 20 per inning. With peripherals like that, it’s no wonder he’s struggled in September.

This month Bruney has appeared in nine games, the same number as August, though has pitched 4.2 fewer innings. He’s throwing fewer pitches, but not many, around 19 per inning. Opponents get on base 41.4 percent of the time. His strikeout to walks ratio sits at 4:5. The difference is that teams have gotten to him this time around, going deep twice for a .583 slugging percentage.

Over the course of 2009, Bruney has gone from lights out setup man to questionable postseason roster candidate. The Yankees will take only 10 pitchers to the ALDS, and Bruney doesn’t appear to be one of the 10 best on the roster. Can they trust him in a playoff appearance? Certainly not the way he’s pitching now. He’ll have to show considerable improvement in the season’s last 10 games, and even that might not be enough to convince the Yankees to take the chance.

Bryan Hoch examines Bruney’s woes which, the Yankees think, relate to a mechanical issue. There are plenty “I feel good” quotes in the article, but perhaps the most interesting paragraph reads

The question is if the Yankees have enough time to allow Bruney to continue ironing out what he said have been season-long mechanical problems — bad habits on the mound that have plagued him relating to his hip rotation.

That doesn’t sound like an easy problem to fix. Bruney will have a maximum five games to work it out, and even then he’ll likely only get into three or four more before the regular season ends. Some improvement would be encouraging, but would it be enough to put him on the postseason roster? Not quite, I would think. There are certainly 10 more deserving candidates, especially with David Robertson slated to return this weekend.

It’s a shame what happened to Bruney this season. It appeared he was coming into his own, and then we found out he was unavailable for the first game of the first Boston series. It’s been downhill from there. There’s a chance Bruney could recover, but he probably won’t get a real chance again until 2010.

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The unreliable Brian Bruney

Brian Bruney wondering where it all went wrongSmall sample sizes can be cruel. Just four, four-and-a-half months ago there was a big chunk of Yankee Universe that thought, that knew Brian Bruney was the answer to the Yanks’ perpetual 8th inning question. After all, the guy had just rattled off an unreal April: 8 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K. In the middle of the month, he had a stretch where he struck out 12 in just 6.2 IP over seven appearances without allowing a baserunner.

But then Bruney got hurt, as a balky throwing elbow landed him on disabled list. He came back about four weeks later, presumably healthy, and fired a perfect inning against the Orioles in what appeared to be the first attempt at easing him back into that 8th inning role. Next thing you know, Bruney’s back on the DL with the same elbow problem because he wasn’t truthful with the organization, telling them he felt good when he really didn’t. Classic meathead syndrome, the guy thought he could pitch through it and still be a positive contributor to the club.

Four weeks after the setback, Bruney returned, this time for good. Except now the Yankees weren’t looking for an 8th inning guy – Phil Hughes took that and ran with it. They didn’t even need a 6th or 7th inning guy really, because Al Aceves had been masterful in the middle innings. Bruney was just another guy in the pen, but if he performed like he had earlier in the season, those high leverage late inning opportunities would eventually fall into his lap.

Except Bruney never returned to his April highs, not even close. Since returning from the DL on June 16th, Bruney’s allowed 41 baserunners in 20.2 IP, giving up five homers in the process. Opponents are hitting .310-.416-.548 off him in that time, so he’s turning everyone into Chase Utley. After a particularly dreadful stretch in July, Bruney didn’t allow a run in 8.2 IP from August 7th to the 31st. The problem is that he handed five inherited runners over to whoever relieved him in that time (three of those five were left in scoring position), and somehow none came around to score. Bruney gets no credit for those scoreless frames, he left a mess that someone else had to cleanup.

Bruney hasn’t struck out at batter since August 11th, seven appearances and six innings ago. His walks were always offset by his high strikeout rate, which coming into this year sat at exactly 9.0 K/9. The velocity is still there, but he’s just not making his pitches these days. He’s a liability whenever he enters a game, but the Yankees have such a large lead in the division (99.96542% chance of making the playoffs) late in the season that they can afford to keep running Bruney out there in an effort to get him back on track.

As it stands now, Bruney is no better than on the playoff roster bubble. There’s no fewer than three righthanders ahead of him on the relief pitcher depth chart, and there’s a distinct possibility he could be left home in October if favor of a long man or an extra lefty reliever. There’s really no need for the team to carry seven relievers in October just to stroke Bruney’s ego, the Rays left Edwin Jackson home in the ALDS and ALCS last year, and he was far more important to Tampa’s team last year than Bruney is to this year’s Yankee club.

Furthermore, with a glut of relief options in the majors and minors, Bruney may not have a spot on next year’s team. He’s out of options and entering his second year of arbitration, and the Yanks may not want to keep a rather expensive, ineffective reliever around when they have kids coming up who at the very least can be equally as unreliable at a fraction of the price. A nontender is always a possibility, but with that kind of power arm you’d think they could get at least something for him, even if it’s a Grade-C prospect. His salary could be prohibitive, though.

Of course, Bruney could render those last two paragraphs moot if he turns it around in the next month. We’ve seen him get hot, and when he’s on a roll he can make batters look silly. Right now though, I cringe whenever I see him walk through the bullpen door.

Photo Credit: Keivom, NY Daily News

Cano, half of the bullpen clears waivers

Via MLBTR, Robbie Cano, Brian Bruney, Mark Melancon, and David Robertson all cleared waivers yesterday, so they could now be traded to any team. AJ Burnett, Melky Cabrera, Al Aceves, Phil Coke, Sergio Mitre, Edwar Ramirez and Shelley Duncan represent the second group of players placed on waivers when they hit the wire yesterday. If anyone is claimed, the Yanks could do one of three things: a) pull him back, b) let the claiming team have the player and his entire contract, or c) negotiate a trade with the claiming team.

In case you missed it, the White Sox have apparently put a claim in on Alex Rios. They Jays have the opportunity to unload the $60M or so left on Rios’ deal by just giving him to Chicago, or they could work out a trade to launch a full blown rebuild. If nothing comes of it, they can just take him back like nothing ever happened.

Almost every player on every team’s 40-man roster will be placed on waivers this month. Teams will use this as an opportunity to gauge interest in their players, and create some flexibility for potential moves later in the month. For example, say the Yanks and Jays get close on a Roy Halladay deal in a few weeks, Melancon wouldn’t have to be placed through waivers again to be included in the deal. It’s just procedural, don’t get all hung up who gets put on waivers and who doesn’t.

Yanks topple Os for sixth straight

For the Yankees, life is good. They’ve gotten contributions from all ends in the six games since the break, and have taken all six contests. The latest came earlier this afternoon in the series finale against the Orioles. The Yankees sent out A.J. Burnett, hoping he’d replicate the success he’d had leading up to the break. They were not disappointed.

Burnett scattered six hits and three walks over seven innings of work, tossing 104 pitches and getting 68 over for strikes. That’s a bit more than we’re used to seeing from Burnett. He ran into trouble a couple of times, both on out of the ordinary plays. In the third Nick Swisher dropped a fly ball led to a first and third, none out situation, and then a second and third, one out situation. Swisher got his redemption, though, running down a line drive by Ty Wiggington to end the frame.

The jam in the seventh didn’t end so painlessly. Robert Andino, the Orioles No. 9 hitter, bounced one sky high in front of the plate. By the time it came down neither Posada nor Burnett had a chance to make a play. Adam Jones later doubled, and Nick Markakis knocked in the Os first run with a sac fly. The Yanks were out of the inning when Aubrey Huff hacked at strike three in the dirt, but it bounced away from Posada and Jones scored. That’s quite a painful way to surrender two runs.

The action picked up again in the ninth. Phil Hughes had pitched the eighth, but the Yankees tacked on a run in the bottom, so Brian Bruney came in to close things out. It was his first appearance since July 10, and we’re all familiar with his struggles of late. Things looked good, as he struck out Andino, on three pitches, and Roberts, on a two-two count.

Then Adam Jones homered on the first pitch he saw. Okay. Forgivable. Adam Jones is good, and that was probably a poorly placed pitch. But when Nick Markakis followed two pitches later, that was enough. Girardi made the slow walk to the mound, summoning Rivera for the one-out save. Rivera completed striking out the side, and the Yanks picked up another victory.

We often hear about the Yankees struggling against rookie pitchers they’ve yet to see — in fact, I think it’s brought up in some capacity every time, win or lose. Today they not only got to Jason Berken, but they got to him early. It helped that Brian Roberts bobbled a Robinson Cano bouncer with the bases loaded, but when the frame was over the Yanks had jumped out to a 4-0 lead. That would be enough for Burnett to cruise through the rest of the game.

It’s tough coming up with new things to say after all these wins. The Yankees played well. They hit with runners in scoring position: 7 for 15. They got some timely pitching and made some good defensive plays (even if they were making up for previous blunders). It was an all-around great effort, as it has been since the break (and before). Teams that play like this will win ball games. That’s what they tell me.

It’s back to work tomorrow. A’s are in town for a four-game set. CC Sabathia gets to open things up. Until then, treat this as your open thread. But treat it gently.

First Half Review: Relief Pitchers

At 51-37, with the third best record in baseball, leading the Wild Card and just three games back in the AL East, the Yankees had a fine first half. Yet it was a tumultuous three months, wrought with streaks and injuries and strange trends, causing mass panic at times among Yankees fans. Over the extended All-Star Break, we’ll go over each position to see what went right, what went wrong, and how things look for the second half. First up we looked at the starting pitching, now it’s time to take a look at the relievers.

The expectations

The 2008 bullpen was one of the best in the business – ranking second in baseball in both FIP (3.82) and K/9 (8.66) – and the relief corps was expected to approximate that performance in 2009. The cast of characters was essentially unchanged, save a contract extension to southpaw Damaso Marte. Brian Bruney was set to join him as the primary bridge to Mariano Rivera, while rookie Phil Coke was primed to assume a key role. The rest of the pen was going to be filled out by a series of interchangeable parts, including Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Jon Albaladejo, and David Robertson.

The results

The results so far have been a mixed bag. The bullpen was dreadful in April, better in May, and flat out dominant in June. They currently rank second in the majors with a 1.26 WHIP (just one baserunner every 100 IP out of the league lead), yet their ERA (4.19) is just 22nd best in the game. The relievers have thrown the fourth-most innings in the American League, a number that has to come down to avoid a second half burnout. That burden falls on the starting rotation, however.

The bullpen’s revival is the result of the the massive turnover in personnel from April to June. Let’s touch on the major pieces.

Mariano Rivera

Coming off a fairly major shoulder surgery, Mariano has been as fantastic as ever in 2009. Of course he did experience a rough go of it early after giving up some homers, but since May 21st he’s posted a 1.86 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. Mo’s 14.33 K/BB is far and away the best in the game (next best is Scott Downs’ 8.06 mark) and the best of his Hall of Fame career. It took a little longer than usual, but Mo’s in midseason form and is as good as ever. He’s the least of the team’s concerns right now.

Brian Bruney & Damaso Marte

Bruney came out of the gate pitching like a man on a mission, out to prove all the B-Jobbers wrong about the lack of a solid 8th inning option. He struck out 12 and allowed just three hits over his first nine appearances, but went down with an elbow injury in late April. After being out for four weeks, Bruney lied about being healthy and came back too soon, ultimately landing himself back on the disabled list for another four weeks. He’s been nothing short of terrible since returning, allowing opponents to tattoo him for a .930 OPS. Right now, he’s a part of the problem and not the solution.

Marte’s season is just 5.1 ugly innings long, as a shoulder injury has shelved him since late April. When he was on the mound he was terrible, but how much of that is because of the injury we’ll never know. Currently rehabbing in Tampa, there’s still no timetable for his return.

Phil Coke & Phil Hughes

After a dynamite showing last September, Coke looked like he was poised to become the shutdown lefty reliever the Yanks have lacked for years. Coke’s overall numbers are rock solid, as are his splits against lefties, but his season has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. He was very good in April, pretty terrible in May, but fantastic since June rolled around. The only member of the bullpen to stick on the 25-man active roster all season besides Mariano Rivera, it’s no stretch to call Coke the Yanks’ second most reliable reliever of 2009.

The other half of Michael Kay’s stupid little Philthys Club, Hughes moved into the bullpen after Chien-Ming Wang appeared ready to become an effective starter once again, and has done nothing but dominate. His numbers out of the bullpen (18.1 IP, 0.65 WHIP, .379 OPS against) are better than Joba Chamberlain‘s first 18.1 innings of relief in 2007 (0.82 WHIP, .467 OPS against), more evidence that if you put a good starter in the bullpen he’d be a damn good reliever. There’s not much to say here, Phil Hughes the Reliever has been tremendous.

Al Aceves & David Robertson

The dramatic turnaround of the bullpen coincides with Aceves’ recall from the minor leagues. His 40 innings of stellar relief work have been just what the doctor ordered, as he’s pitched in every role and succeeded in every situation. Robertson has had his moments, mostly in low leverage spots, but he’s been an effective super-high strikeout arm that can go multiple innings if need be. He’s been pretty much everything you could want your fifth best reliever to be.

Jon Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Brett Tomko & Jose Veras

Edwar and Veras were two stalwarts in last year’s pen, providing rock-solid middle relief all summer. This year was a different story, as the two combined to allow 28 runs and 70 baserunners in 43 IP. Edwar soon found himself back in Triple-A while Veras found himself with the Indians after being designated for assignment. Albaladejo has been up and down while Tomko was mostly down, but both guys have mostly acted as the last man out of the pen. Neither has been great nor horrible, they’re just kind of there.

The Up and Down Crew

Anthony Claggett was terrible in his one outing and doesn’t figure to be back up anytime soon. Stephen Jackson didn’t even manage to get into the game in his eight days on the big league roster before ending up in Pittsburgh. Mark Melancon has been meh in his limited showings. Zach Kroenke, Romulo Sanchez, Amaury Sanit and others are stashed away in the minors awaiting their turn.

Expectations for the second half

With the success the bullpen has experienced over the last month or so, it’s tough not to be optimistic about the second half. However, a key piece in Hughes or Aceves (or both if it comes to it) could be lost if their services are needed in the rotation. Don’t be surprised if the team seeks out another relief arm at this year’s trade deadline. Regardless, the Yankees will need the bullpen to do the job consistently in the second half if they plan on making the postseason.

Bruney taking everything in stride

When the Yankees demoted Brian Bruney on August 8, 2007, to make room for Joba Chamberlain, the then-25-year-old reliever didn’t take it too well. He explicitly denied comment to reporters, and knocked over a chair on his way out the door. It was a childish maneuver, but something that didn’t catch many Yankees fans off-guard at the time. While as fans we don’t get an up-close look at these guys, it always seemed like Bruney had an attitude problem to go along with his lack of pitching control.

Bruney apparently had an epiphany that off-season and came into camp much slimmer in 2008. On top of that, he seemed to have chilled out — something that, I can say from experience, tends to happen when one progresses through one’s 20s. It started to show in his results. He pitched very well in April, allowing runs in only one of nine appearances. He was striking guys out at a good clip, and his walks, while still a bit high, were down for him. It looked like the Yankees decision to tender Bruney a contract over the winter was paying off.

Then came April 22. Bruney slipped while rushing to cover first base against the White Sox, and came up hobbling. The Yankees initially called it a sprain in his foot, but it ended up being an injury to the Lisfranc joint. Early word was that he’d need surgery and would miss the season. Not wanting to let his newfound persona — and relative accuracy — go to waste, Bruney opted for rest and rehab. He made it back on August 2, a month and a half after another Yankee suffered a similar injury.

His comeback was a smashing success. He allowed runs in just four of his 23 appearances, and none at all in September. His walks were still a bit high, but everything else seemed to be working. Bruney had so impressed the Yankees staff that the idea heading into the off-season was to anoint Bruney the eighth inning setup man for the 2009 season.

That, too, started off well. After a rocky appearance on Opening Day in Baltimore, Bruney was as dominant as can be. He pitched 7.2 innings in eight appearances, allowing just one run, striking out 12, and walking none. This is the same Brian Bruney who seemed to walk a batter an inning two years ago, and who still had some control issues in 2008. Yet only two walks in the month of April — both coming on Opening Day.

We all know what happened from there. Bruney had elbow discomfort which landed him on the DL. He came back for one game, pitched well, and hit the DL again. In his latest stint he’s pitched okay, not great, but not like the Bruney we’ve seen. While he’s allowed runs in three of his eight appearances, the seven walks he’s issued is a bit more of a concern. The Yankees seem concerned, too, as they’ve moved him out of the coveted eighth inning role in favor of Phil Hughes.

Bruney isn’t flipping chairs this time or denying reporters comment. To the contrary, he’s particularly zen-like, talking to reporters with confidence. Pete Caldera has some quotes from the reliever.

“I have lost the eighth inning job,” Bruney said before the game. “But I think the true character of a man comes out when things aren’t going well. I take it as a challenge upon myself…to be the guy people expect me to be.”

Bruney says he’s not concerned with being the 8th inning guy when there are big outs to get in the sixth and seventh, too. “I wouldn’t say losing the eighth was tough,” he said. “Winning games is all that matters.”

There are plenty of big outs to get in the seventh. Bruney’s been working to get back to form, and Caldera has word that he’s optimistic about a recent bullpen session. This is a complete 180 from where we saw Bruney just two years ago. That, and his early season dominance, have moved many fans into his corner.

There’s a good chance, with Al Aceves taking the mound today after having not started since he was at Scranton in April, that Bruney could face a few batters today. If he pitches poorly, I’d expect he’d get back to work trying to figure himself out. If he pitches well, I expect he’d get back to work and try to continue it. That’s what Brian Bruney makes me think these days. At this point, it’s hard not to pull for the guy.

Quick Hits: Bruney, Chipper, Mo

Got a few tabs open that don’t really warrant a post of their own, so let’s stick them all here:

  • Marc Carig reports that Brian Bruney is using a portable hyperbaric chamber for his elbow. Apparently it’s worked for him in the past. They make portable versions of those things now?
  • PeteAbe says that Joba Chamberlain asked Chipper Jones for an autographed jersey. The Braves were really the first team with national exposure because of TBS, so there are tons and tons of people out there who grew up Braves fans.
  • Tyler Kepner has a slew of odds and ends from Atlanta. Although he didn’t reveal the exact amount, Brian Cashman did say that the team received more than the $20,000 waiver fee from the Indians for Jose Veras. Sounds like no one was interested in a player-for-player deal, so Cash took the best offer he could get.
  • T-Kep also notes that the Yanks paid just $1 when they acquired Chris Stewart from the White Sox before the season, and that Phil Hughes‘ birthday present to himself was a tattoo from Nick Swisher‘s tattoo guy.
  • Joel Sherman writes about the amazing Mariano Rivera and the pursuit of his 500th career save. Mo is sitting at 498 after last night. We all know that wins and saves are highly overrated and essentially meaningless stats, but the 500 save & 300 win plateaus are amazing accomplishments just because of the longevity they represent. This was probably worth a mention in Ben’s Mariano Rivera Appreciate Thread, but whatever.
  • In case you missed the late update to DotF last night, Casey Fossum used an out in his contract and elected to become a free agent. It hasn’t been confirmed, but it looks like Ivan Nova might get bumped up from Double-A Trenton to take his rotation spot.
  • Finally, for posterity’s sake, the Yanks DFA’d Angel Berroa yesterday when they activated Cody Ransom. While everyone and their mothers already knows this news, we neglected to mention it yesterday. Berroa will be fondly remembered for making outs in 21 of his 24 Yankee plate appearances and for somehow lasting nearly two months on the team.