Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Balancing The Bullpen

Good morning Fackers. Lost in all the wailing and rendering rending of garments over Javier Vazquez' first four starts is that the Yankees have been getting damn good starting pitching from the rest of their rotation this year. Entering play yesterday the Yankees tied for the League lead with two complete games and tied for for fifth in quality start percentage (56% overall, 71% non-Vazquez division). Perhaps most noteworthy though, the club is third in the AL in innings per start, averaging 6.3 IP per outing, just a tenth of an inning off the league lead.

The flip side of that is that there are far less innings to go around for the bullpen, particularly when you consider that the Yankees have lost five road games this year in which they didn't have to pitch the ninth inning and have had one game shortened to six innings due to rain. The bullpen has logged just 42.1 IP through the first eighteen games, easily the lowest total in the League.

In the age of the 12 man pitching staff, that just isn't enough innings to go around, especially when the team has had four relief appearances of two innings or more thus far. It's a nice problem to have no doubt, and one that will likely rectify itself as the season wears on. While I easily get annoyed at Joe Girardi's love of late game match ups and his proclivity for making one move too many, he has utilized his bullpens rather well in his two plus years as Yankee manager. In the early going in 2010 however, Girardi has not been spreading the load too evenly.

Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and Damaso Marte have borne the bulk of the appearances thus far. Marte is the LOOGY, and for much of the season was the only lefty out there. Chamberlain is The Official Eighth Inning Guy and has shown flashes of his former brilliance (while looking more ordinary in his other appearances). Rivera is without question the best reliever in the pen. So it's no surprise that these three top the list, even if each of their appearances haven't been absolutely necessary.

But the Yankee bullpen is deep, and the remaining relievers have struggled to find enough work. Consider:
  • David Robertson, who was needlessly and disastrously pulled after two thirds of an inning in Game Three of the ALCS last year, has seen similar usage patterns this year. He's made six appearances this season. Four of them have been less than one inning; three of them have been six pitches or fewer. I'd love to see him and his obscene K-rate utilized more often.

  • Alfredo Aceves' appearance in Sunday's game was his first in in eight days. Prior to that, he had thrown just one third of an inning since April 14th. With any luck, Aceves' lack of use is a result of lack of opportunity and not at all related to the back and shoulder problems that have bothered him intermittently since last July.

  • Sergio Mitre is clearly the last man in the pen. There's no point in using him just for the sake of using him, but as a sinkerballer, Mitre needs regular work to keep sharp. His appearance Sunday was just his second of the season and his first in sixteen days. Just for comparison's sake, between Mitre's two appearances the following happened:

    • The starting rotation went through two and four fifths turns.

    • CC Sabathia made three starts, one of them a near no-hitter and the other two complete games.

    • Phil Hughes made his second simulated start at the minor league complex, rested for four days, made his first start of 2010, rested four more days, nearly threw a no-hitter in his second start of the season, and was a game away from making his third start of the season.

    • Chan Ho Park appeared in a game four days after Mitre's first appearance. Three days later he was placed on the 15 day DL and is eligible to be activated as soon as Thursday.

    • Joba Chamberlain made seven appearances; Mariano Rivera made six; Damaso Marte made five and added his sixth shortly after Mitre's second appearance of the season.

    • Boone Logan made two appearances for Scranton and two more for the Yankees.
These things have a way of working themselves out. I certainly hope that the Yankees starters continue to work deep into games. I understand that the twelve man staff is a given these days and I don't advocate dropping any of the current pitchers from the staff. But if the Yankees are going to carry a seven man pen, the guys further down the pecking order need to see the mound a little more often to both justify their presence and ensure they're ready when needed.


  1. I think you mean "rending" of garments, not "rendering" of garments, unless you plan to boil the fat out of them.

  2. I also think it's worth noting that the Yankees have had a handful of off days this season, giving them plenty of time to rest their relievers. In the next couple of weeks, where they only have one day off, we should see everyone joining the party.