Damaso Marte: Setup man or LOOGY?

The Yankees bullpen composition changed today when they signed Chan Ho Park to a major league contract. Mike went through the implications, including who could be the odd man out, but this focus on the bullpen has made me think about someone else’s role. No matter how the bullpen shapes up Damaso Marte will be a part of it. Given the team’s other options for the remaining five spots, he also figures to be the only lefty in the pen. Does this mean Marte will be used primarily as a LOOGY, or will he play more of a setup role for the team?

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

Part of Marte’s appeal is his historical success against both lefties and righties. Since 2002, the beginning of the FanGraphs era, Marte has faced 1,057 righties, allowing 344 of them, 33 percent, to reach base while striking out 23 percent. He takes a while to retire them, it seems, over four pitches per plate appearance, but the results have been solid, a 4.14 FIP against a 4.22 ERA. He’s not a guy you bring into a game with three righties due up, but he can certainly handle the righty residing between two lefties.

As expected, he’s fared much better against lefties. He’s face 784 of them since 2002, allowing just 201 of them, 26 percent, to reach base while striking out 30 percent. Surprisingly, he takes just as long to retire lefties as he does righties, though he throws strikes a bit more frequently. This leads to a lower walk rate. Against righties he’s walked one in every 8.6 batters, while he walks just one in 10.18 lefties. That, combined with a greatly reduced home run rate, brings his FIP against lefties down to 2.77, against a 2.02 ERA.

Another advantage Marte holds over lefties is his ability to induce the ground ball. Over his career he’s induced a ground ball on 41.1 percent of balls in play against lefties. That drops to 33.3 percent against righties. The difference mainly goes to fly ball rate, which is compounded against righties because of a higher HR/FB ratio. So when Marte does allow fly balls against lefties, they don’t leave the park as frequently as against righties.

The Yankees have a number of relievers who can pitch multiple innings. In fact, all of their relief candidates, outside of Rivera and Robertson, have recent experience pitching multiple innings. Even Robertson can pitch an inning plus when necessary. Might that push Marte into more of a LOOGY role? In lineups with one key lefty, or, as with the Twins, key lefties batting back-to-back, might the Yankees prefer to deploy Marte for short stints, using the other relievers to cover the rest of the lineup?

As Chad Jennings notes, Marte’s shoulder is feeling better this year than last, when he missed 117 days with what was termed tendinitis. The Yanks are playing it cautious, limiting Marte’s bullpens since, like Rivera, he needs only 10 or so innings to warm up in the spring. Hopefully Marte’s full recovery allows the Yankees to deploy him as they see fit, rather than relegating him to one specific role.

Surprise! Tabata might be older than expected

Via The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington admitted that former Yankee prospect Jose Tabata might actually be in his mid-20’s, instead of the 21 he’s believed to be. If you’ve stuck with me throughout all of my blogging adventures, then this shouldn’t be a surprise. There were rumblings Tabata was older than he claimed to be way back when he was in Rookie ball. “I mean the body… it’s hard to argue with the skeptics,” said Keith Law.

If true, Tabata’s prospect status would take a major hit given his complete inability to hit for power at such an advanced age (his best IsoP is .122, and came four years ago). The Xavier NadyDamaso Marte trade would look that much better as well.

Open Thread: You say tomato, I say Tabata

Prospect season is in full swing these days, and Baseball America is in the middle of posting their top ten prospects for each team. The Yankees list won’t be released until December 18th, but the Pirates’ list came out today, and old pal Jose Tabata checked in at number two behind Washington Heights’ own Pedro Alvarez.

You probably all remember Tabata as the talented, yet troubled outfielder that would tantalize you with his natural ability but frustrate you with his childishness. The Yanks shipped him to Pittsburgh in the Xavier NadyDamaso Marte trade after having to suspend him twice for insubordination, and the now 21-year-old has enjoyed a bit of prospect rebirth with the Pirates. He hit .293-.357-406 between Double- and Triple-A in 2009, easily his best season since playing with Low-A Charleston back in 2006.

It’s all too easy to look back and judge trades in hindsight. Heck, the evaluation of Tabata trade has been a roller coaster since it was made. When it was made, everyone love it and called it a steal. When Tabata and Ross Ohlendorf were doing well for the Pirates while Nady and Marte went down with injuries, it was an awful move. When Marte turned Chase Utley and Ryan Howard into Corey Patterson and Yuniesky Betancourt en route to the World Series, it was pure genius. It doesn’t require any brainpower to judge a move in hindsight, nor is it an accurate way to do things.

The reality is that it was a move the team had to make and a move Tabata needed. The Yanks were just two games out of a playoff spot at the time of the trade, and adding an everyday outfielder enjoying a career year plus an accomplished lefty reliever made all the sense in the world. Meanwhile, it’s clear that Tabata was frustrated by the season he was having in 2008 (.248-.320-.310 before the trade), pulling himself from a game and leaving the park (suspension #1), then slamming his bat at the plate and showing up an umpire after looking at strike three (suspension #2). I can’t see Tabata making that kind of turnaround with the Yanks. He needed a change of scenery, and in the end it worked out for both parties.

Anyway, that’s my evening rant. Use this as your open thread for the night. The Knicks are in LA taking on the Lakers, while the Nets’ drive for 0-82 will continue out in Denver. Anything goes, just don’t be a jerk.

The rise of Damaso Marte

Damaso Marte in Game FourWhen the playoffs started, the question wasn’t whether Damaso Marte would be the first or second lefty reliever out of the bullpen, it was will he even be on the playoff roster? Three-plus weeks later, he’s morphed from an “only in an emergency” option to a bonafide weapon out of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen.

It’s no secret that Marte’s Yankee career started off in inauspicious fashion. After being acquired along with Xavier Nady at the 2008 trade deadline, Marte put 24 men on base in just 18.1 IP to close out the year, though his 3.02 FIP and 3.71 tRA disagreed with his 5.40 ERA. Then, in a somewhat surprising move, the Yankees declined Marte’s $6M option for 2009 only to re-sign him to a three-year, $12MM deal a week later. It was surprising because the team took on much more risk, rather than being able to walk away after a year if things didn’t go as planned. And they didn’t go as planned, at least as first.

Marte returned from the World Baseball Classic with shoulder inflammation, and then proceeded to serve up three homers and allow nine runs in his first seven outings of the season, covering just 5.1 IP. His velocity was down, and he ended up on the DL in early May with a sore shoulder. With CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher performing so well, Marte certainly looked like the token dud offseason move.

After getting cleared by Dr. Andrews, Marte’s rehab experience started way down with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees. He ultimately made 13 rehab appearances, 11 with Triple-A Scranton, which is an unusually high number. It seemed like the team was in no rush to get him back up to the big leagues, and sure enough when he did return in late August, he was used sparingly in low-leverage spots. His season numbers were pretty awful (9.45 ERA, 5.65 FIP, 5.30 tRA), but he held lefties to a .120-.214-.280 batting line and got his postseason spot because of the presence of Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel in the middle of Minnesota’s lineup.

Since the playoffs started, not only has Marte usurped Phil Coke as the primary lefthander out of the bullpen, he’s also jumped ahead of several righthanders in the setup crew pecking order. After allowing a pair of singles to Mauer and Kubel to start his 2009 postseason, Marte has retired the last 10 batters he’s faced, three on strikeouts thanks to a ridiculous 79.4% strike rate (yes, I know it’s in a small sample). He’s completely neutralized NLCS MVP Ryan Howard (0-for-3 with a strikeout in the World Series, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts career coming into the series), and pretty much everyone else that stood in the box.

Yankee fans crushed Marte all season long, saying he couldn’t handle the pressure of playing in New York, the usual shtick like that. A few of us stood by him, noting that his long and impressive track record indicated that he’s not just a good reliever, but one of the better and more consistent relievers of the century. Judging players on small sample sizes, especially when they were dealing with an injury, is never a good idea, and now Marte is rewarding Girardi’s faith by getting crucial outs in the late innings of October November. Remember, he’s the only reliever in the bullpen aside from Mariano Rivera with World Series experience.

Considering how recent postseason performance can inflate salaries on the open market, the Yankees may have actually saved themselves some money by re-signing Marte semi-long-term last offseason instead of just picking up his option and letting him hit the market again this winter. Funny how these things work out.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham, Getty Images

So far, so good for Marte

With so much frustration surrounding last night’s game, it’s easy to let something positive fall through the cracks. There was something of that nature last night for the Yanks, and his name is Damaso Marte. After retiring the only two batters he faced Friday, he came in to record the last out of the seventh and then retired the Rangers in the eighth. He did this with aplomb, striking out two batters in those 1.1 innings while issuing just one walk — a strategic one of the four-pitch variety, putting the dangerous Michael Young on in favor of Josh Hamilton, whom Marte fooled with a breaking ball for strike three.

The Red Sox just picked up Billy Wagner to help strengthen their bullpen. The Yanks have added Marte. On their best days, Marte isn’t at Wagner’s level, but their recent injuries might level the playing field a bit. Wagner, after all, is just 11 months out from Tommy John surgery and was concerned about his potential workload in Boston. Marte is also coming off injury, though of a less defined nature. He’s battled shoulder inflammation most of the year, but by all accounts the ailment wasn’t serious enough to consider surgery.

It’s tough to pin too many hopes on Marte. We’ve only see him throw two innings, but those two innings were pretty impressive. His fastball has been working, hitting 93 much of the time, though last night he did drop down to about 91 for a few pitches (on Friday he threw 93 most of the time) and his breaking stuff seems just fine. By all early appearances, Marte might be the guy the Yanks hoped he was when they signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract this off-season.

Yanks could go 13 pitchers for next 10 games

On Tuesday, we got the latest word in the Damaso Marte saga: the lefty could rejoin the team in Boston this evening. Yes, Joe Girardi said “might,” but why would he say it at all unless it was the likely move? Marte, if healthy, could even further upgrade a bullpen that’s been among the best in the league over the last few months. In fact, because the bullpen has been so good, and because the Yankees need some extra arms in order to accommodate Joba Chamberlain‘s innings limit, they might have some difficulty shuffling things around in order to make room for Marte.

The only two options for demotion in the pen are David Robertson and Phil Coke. Robertson’s been pitching awful well lately, and it’s doubtful he goes at this point. Coke has had his struggles, but he’s also been an effective option out of the pen. Plus, both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have expressed their desire to have two lefty options, something they’ve essentially lacked all season. With Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre needed in the rotation, it looks like no one on the pitching staff will get demoted.

That leaves one name: Ramiro Pena. He’s a useful player to have around. He can play all around the infield, and the Yanks think he can handle the outfield. His bat isn’t anything to brag about, but he doesn’t look completely lost up there. He can also pinch run. In other words, he’s a serviceable utility guy. The Yankees have another player like that, Jerry Hairston, and they might opt to use just one utility player for the rest of August rather than deplete their pitching staff.

Thankfully, the month is almost over. The Yanks play three in Fenway, then have a day off before playing the final seven games of the month. After that they can have up to 40 men on the active roster, meaning they can recall Pena if they so desire. It might hurt to have a short bench, but it’s only for 10 games. With the off-days surrounding the Boston series, the starters should be fresh enough to handle it. Even if they’re not, the Yanks can deploy super-sub Hairston.

The most interesting part of the next 10 games will be how the Yankees use Marte. No, they won’t use him in a tight spot over the weekend, but they’ll have to get him some work so they can gauge how useful he’ll be down the stretch. We’ve been saying it since the man went on a rehab assignment: a healthy Marte makes this bullpen perhaps the best in the league.

Marte excused for personal reasons

Via PeteAbe, currently DL’ed reliever Damaso Marte has been excused from the team indefinitely for “personal reasons.” Earlier this morning we talked about how Marte hasn’t yet returned to the team even though his 30-day rehab assignment ended yesterday, but this move essentially acts like another DL trip. No word on what said personal reasons are, but you have to imagine Mr. Cashman is kicking himself in the behind for his decision to re-up Marte for three years last winter rather than just pick up his option.