Optimizing the bullpen with another righty

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

A disabled list trip that was originally supposed to be nothing more than an early season precaution has morphed into a multiple week hiatus with no end in sight for Chan Ho Park, whose bum hammy has yet to improve. The Yankees originally called up Boone Logan to replace him in part because CHoP was expected to be out just the minimum two weeks, but also because he left a solid enough impression during Spring Training. At the same time, Mark Melancon would remain with Triple-A Scranton and work on a regular schedule, rather than be buried as the sixth or seventh man in the bullpen. Now that Park’s return has entered into “indefinite” territory, it might be time for the Yankees to swap out Logan and Melancon.

Logan has put five men on base in his 2.1 innings of work so far despite his new mechanics, but we’re talking about three games, which are meaningless to base an evaluation on. Sure, last night’s episode of walking the sole lefty batter he brought in to face was frustrating, but that happens to everyone. The real reason why I’d like to see Melancon brought up to replace Logan is the upcoming schedule.

The Yanks’ next eight games come against the Orioles and White Sox, who have .316 and a .299 team wOBA‘s against righthanders. The Orioles has several lefthanded bats in Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Rhyne Hughes, but Markakis is the only one who is demonstrably worse against southpaw pitching (.328 wOBA vs. LHP, .377 vs. RHP). Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera have the 8th and 9th innings exclusively, so Damaso Marte can be used against him as needed in the 6th or 7th inning. Good righty relievers like Al Aceves and David Robertson (last night notwithstanding) should be able to neutralize the other two.

The White Sox have four lefty batters in their regular lineup, but three of them are named Juan Pierre (.243 wOBA), Mark Kotsay (.193), and A.J. Pierzynski (.172). The fourth is Mark Teahen who is having a fine year (.390 wOBA), so that makes him Marte’s designated guy for the series. The other three are awful, and burning through relievers just to get a platoon advantage against them is the height of foolishness.

Once the eight games against those two clubs are through, the Yanks head back to Boston, whose top lefty batters are David Ortiz (.240 wOBA) and J.D. Drew (.271). Drew is a high quality player with a platoon split (.349 wOBA vs. LHP, .394 vs. RHP), so that’s the guy you sic Marte after. Ortiz can’t catch up to even average fastballs anymore, so any thought about bringing in a lefty specialist to face him is based only on the scars of the damage he’s done in the past. He’s not worth it any more, Drew’s the only lefty in their lineup worth fearing.

After the Red Sox series is a four game set at Detroit, who bring very little offensively beyond the top four of Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, and Miggy Cabrera. Damon’s the only lefty, and Yankee fans are well aware of his platoon split after his time in the Bronx. Again, there’s only one lefthanded bat in the lineup worth saving a lefty reliever for. A second lefthander really won’t be a true necessity until after that Tigers’ series, when the Twins bring Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome to town for a weekend set from May 14th to 16th. The next 15 games are against predominantly righthanded lineups.

That’s where Melancon comes in. The schedule allows the Yankees to only carry one lefty specialist, instead stacking the bullpen with righthanders that create better matchups. Melancon has a negligible platoon split in the minors, and has pitched to a 3.23 FIP against righthanders during his career. He has been good yet not overwhelming at Triple-A Scranton (4.33 FIP, 1.89 GB/FB, 8.78 K/9), but we all know that his track record is exceptionally strong. He’s the logical call-up for that spot currently occupied by Logan.

If the Yankees go this route, Joe Girardi has to commit to being more liberal with not just Marte, but Melancon as well. He has to show a willingness to bring Marte into the 6th inning of a game if the situation calls for it, and he can’t bury Melancon for a week or more. Joba’s the 8th inning guy, we may not like it but they officially announced it to the world, so show some confidence in the kid and let him face a lefty if they come up in his inning. Girardi and the Yanks will have close to three weeks to evaluate Melancon before the Twins series, so they can adjust accordingly from there.

There’s no reason to double up on lefty relievers over the next few weeks, so why not tailor make the relief corps to fit the opponents?

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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 drop an ugly one to ChiSox

In a few ways, the Yankees and White Sox played similar games last night. Both had starters who pitched poorly. Both racked up a ton of hits, including two doubles and a homer each. Both drew five walks. Yet one number separated them: hitting with runners in scoring position, and especially with two outs. The Yankees were just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, and the White Sox were 6 for 13. The Sox also drove in four runs with two outs, while the Yankees drove in none. Those were the differences in the 10-5 loss.

Last night we saw the worst of Sergio Mitre. It was bound to happen. We know Mitre isn’t a world beater. Clunkers are expected from time to time. To borrow a term, he’s Ponsnerian. Thankfully this year it’s only one rotation spot. It still stings, though, especially on nights like this. Despite the 2 for 10 with RISP mark, the Yanks did put up five runs. You’d like to see them win those games.

Thing started off so well, too. The Yanks put up three runs for Mitre in the first, taking advantage of fill-in starter D.J. Carrasco. Mitre then proceeded to record the first two outs of the first seemingly with ease. The wheels then came off, and it was a shaky ride the rest of the way. Mitre limited the damage to just one in the first, though he left the bases loaded. He wouldn’t be so lucky in the second.

The inning started off with a walk, never a good sign for a pitcher like Mitre. After another play in which the Yankees pitcher slipped on the infield grass, the White Sox had the bases loaded with none out. That netted them three runs, a sac fly and a two-run single. The Sox capped their scoring off Mitre on a Carlos Quentin homer to lead off the third. Mitre did induce three straight ground outs to follow, but even that was not enough to salvage his night. Joe Girardi had seen enough.

David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves, and Mark Melancon all pitched in relief and faced varying degrees of highs and lows. Robertson pitched a quick scoreless fourth, but got into trouble by allowing the first three batters of the fifth reach, the last on an RBI double. He figured it out, though, getting the next three in order. Aceves pitched a 1-2-3 sixth, but like Robertson got into trouble in his second inning of work. Both walked the leadoff batter.

Mark Melancon didn’t experience those lows. He came in and got Gordon Beckham to finish off the seventh for Aceves, and then handily finished off the Sox in the eighth. Prior to Tuesday night, Melancon hadn’t pitched since July 10. In his two recent appearances he’s pitched 3.2 innings and has allowed just two hits. They haven’t been particularly high-leverage situations, but considering his potential perhaps it’s time to start moving him up in the pecking order. It’s worth a try, at least.

On the offensive side, the only runs the Yanks scored after the first came on an Eric Hinske two-run homer, his fourth as a Yankee. The whole offense didn’t do poorly — they did rack up 12 hits, after all, and had at least one baserunner in all nine innings. It all comes back to their hitting with runners in scoring position. And the pitching. It always comes down to those two.

The Yanks will send their best two at the Sox in an attempt to salvage a split. A.J. Burnett vs. John Danks. Both have been pitching well lately, and we should get a bit better matchup than we did last night.

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.

Melancon up for bullpen relief

After the Yanks’ victory-by-bullpen over the Twins this afternoon, Joe Girardi hinted that he would ask Brian Cashman for some bullpen relief. The Yankees have obliged, and as Chad Jennings reports, Mark Melancon will rejoin the Big League club in Anaheim. No word yet on the corresponding move, but assume it will be either David Robertson or Jonathan Albaladejo. More on this after Mike’s DotF post.

First round of Friday roster moves

We expected the Yankees to make a number of roster moves today, and via RotoWorld we find the first of them (you might have to scroll down, depending on when you see this). On the ledger now: Melancon down, Molina disabled, Cash up. With two players removed from the 25-man roster, that leaves one for A-Rod. However, purchasing Kevin Cash’s requires a 40-man roster move. That will more than likely be the DFAing of Angel Berroa, which would open up yet another 25-man spot. Here’s to hoping that Juan Miranda gets the call to deepen the bench a bit. He’d be valuable as a PH with two backup catchers on the roster.

Hyping Mark Melancon

It’s easy for us to overhype the Yanks’ prospects. We want every young kid to be the second coming of Derek Jeter or Bernie Williams, but more often than not, these youngsters end up being the fiftieth coming of Ricky Ledee. But this year might be different for the Yanks have a reliever earning a lot of pre-season buzz. As Chad Jennings writes, the Yanks are expecting big things out of Mark Melancon this year, and they view the 23-year-old as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. Those are some lofty expectations for a pitcher with just 20 AAA innings under his belt, but he sounds as though he’s up for the challenge.