Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Bad Has The Yankees' Bullpen Really Been?

The Yankees' relief pitching has left a lot to be desired over the last two games. On Sunday, their two best relievers - Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera - combined to turn a two run lead into a three run deficit against the Twins. Last night, Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park allowed three home runs between them and if wasn't for the heroics of A-Rod and Marcus Thames, would have allowed the Red Sox to steal a game the Yankees had a stranglehold on starting in the first inning.

There have been other notable failures by relief corps throughout the year as well. Chan Ho Park gave up the lead on a two run homer to Dustin Pedroia on Opening Night. Kendry Morales hit a go-ahead, two run bomb off of Chamberlain in Anaheim that led to another Yankee loss. David Roberston coughed up the lead in Baltimore and combined with Damaso Marte to blow a game against the White Sox.

Of course, injuries have been a problem as well. Alfredo Aceves is on the DL with back problems and Chan Ho Park has just returned from a hamstring injury. Mariano Rivera was sidelined with a pulled muscle in his side and went nearly two weeks between appearances - not a DL stint, but in terms of his lack of contributions to the team, it nearly was.

This morning, Mike from River Ave. Blues talked about the Yankees "bullpen problem", Larry from the Yankeeist called the unit, save for Rivera and Chamberlain, "downright deplorable", and E.J. from TYU called the 'pen (aside from Mo) "a glaring weakness".

But has the bullpen really been that bad this year, especially considering the amount of injuries they've suffered?

Right now, the Yankees are roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of ERA with a mark of 4.02. In terms of Win Probability, they have about twice as many shutdowns as meltdowns but have cost the Yanks approximately one third of a victory overall.

Importantly, though, the Yankees have had the second fewest innings pitched out of any team in the MLB with 96 1/3 through their first 38 games, which averages out between 2 1/3 and 2 2/3 per contest. As a result, they have allowed the fourth fewest runs per game, which is possible given their middling ERA because they aren't being asked to shoulder very much of the load.

All told, I wouldn't say the bullpen has been all that bad this year. At worst they've been about league average. However, on a team with the second most wins in baseball, a part of that whole that functions as average is probably holding them back somewhat. And of course, any failure by the bullpen is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Which is probably why RAB, TYU, The Yankeesist and we are all talking about it today, on the heels of two very poor performances. When the bullpen gets the job done, no one bats an eyelash. When they fail to shut it down, everyone gets anxious, us Fackers included.

Going forward, it's tough to say if the Yanks' bullpen are going to get better or worse. There are two different forces at work which should more or less neutralize each other. They are near the bottom of the league in FIP, which suggests that they've been somewhat lucky to have given up as few runs as they have. On the other hand, that inflated FIP comes as a result of the fact that the Yanks have the 4th highest HR/FB rate in the Majors at 12.6% (driven by Park at 30.8% and Robertson at 23.1).

Robertson has been unsustainably bad in general. He might not improve on his dreadful 8.49 ERA and 2.314 (!!) WHIP, but if he doesn't, he'll be replaced by someone like Mark Melancon, resulting in a net upgrade one way or another. Eventually we may see Boone Logan optioned to AAA as well.

Furthermore, many of the innings that have been pitched so far have gone to guys who are replacing first line relievers who have been injured. Rivera, Park and Aceves - ostensibly three of their best five bullpen arms - have missed time.

If you are still dissatisfied with the Yanks' performance out of the 'pen, look no further than the space between the bleachers and left center field tonight. The Red Sox relievers have been absolutely dreadful this year, giving up 19 more runs than the Yanks and have the second worst FIP in the league.


  1. Great post, Jay -- helps put it into perspective.

    I also love that RAB and TYU are restrained enough to refer to the bullpen as a problem and weakness, while I couldn't help myself and just went straight to deplorable.

  2. Thanks, Larry.

    I absolutely understand the frustration. Having a bullpen blow a lead is worse than having a starting pitcher implode early or the offense fail to score runs. And because of that, I think people tend to look at the bullpen as worse than it actually is.

    One of the tags I used was "sushi theory" and it's something I came up with last year. You can go to a sushi place (or or restaurant, really) 100 times. If the first 99 times are awesome and you get a bad piece of fish that last time, you'll probably never go there again, despite the fact that you've basically figured out that there is only a 1% chance the meal won't live up to your expectations.

    Basically, we tend to take the good experiences for granted and focus on the bad ones when we assume something should go smoothly.

  3. Absolutely, and Sushi Theory happens with basically everything, not just restaurants.

    Humans always react strongest to whatever happened most recently; we're seemingly incapable as a species at remembering that something good happened at a particular point in time when the most recent occurrence in the timeline of X event was something negative.

    We were all ready to crush the Yankees last night as they appeared on the verge of a painful loss, and two swings of the bat later all was well. At least until the next day, when several of us decided to take the bullpen to task in spite of the win.

    Additionally, a large chunk of the fanbase will almost certainly be disappointed this coming October if the Yanks don't repeat as champions, despite having just won it all the previous Fall in about as convincing fashion as possible. The past just can't compete with the present.

    I'm sure there's a name for this in psychology, but despite holding a psyche minor I have no idea what it is.