First off, out of pretty much nowhere the Yankees bullpen was actually pretty good last year. The bullpen ERA was 3.79, good for fifth in the AL and 7th in all of MLB. Mariano Rivera’s minuscule 1.40ERA (which translates into a ridiculous 317ERA+) helped with that to be sure, but they got pretty good performances out of almost everyone. Here’s all the pitchers who tossed 30 innings or more for the team last year, plus Damaso Marte (included since he’s cemented in):
I sorted by innings pitched. Other than Mariano, nobody hit 60 innings though Veras and Edwar came close. Giese is included even with the starts he made because of his role as a long reliever. I did not include Joba because he is not ever going back into the bullpen unless disaster strikes. Out of this group Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins and Russ Ohlendorf all exited before the season was over. Farnsworth was surprisingly not completely terrible for most of the time he was with the team in 2008, but not worth keeping around after that anyway.
Beyond the conventional numbers I’ve added two columns–one for The Hardball Times’ Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and one for Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). FIP is a measure of how good a pitcher was in terms of events solely under his control (Home Runs, Strikeouts, Walks) and is a better statistic to look at than ERA when trying to figure out how a pitcher will do the next year. BABIP is exactly what it sounds like, but the purpose it serves is to act as a red flag. Very low BABIPs are pretty much impossible to maintain–for pitchers it normalizes around .300–and can give you an idea of how lucky or unlucky a pitcher was at first glance.
Relief pitchers not named Mariano Rivera are very volatile but looking at this information briefly we can get set some expectations. Keep in mind that these are all very small samples of data, so in reality anything can happen, but here goes:
- Jose Veras will probably worse than he was in 2007. Numbers aside my instincts say a lot worse.
- Edwar Ramirez will be about the same, maybe a little worse maybe a little better.
- Bruney will normalize to pretty good as long as he continues to keep his walk rate down (6.66 BB/9 in 2007, 4.19BB/9 in 2008–both suck but 2008 is much, much better).
- Robertson’s walks combined with his BABIP made it seem as though he pitched a lot worse than he did–if his BABIP normalizes and he can get his walks under control he should be very useful.
- If Dan Giese keeps that low walk rate he will be useful as a long relief guy, but don’t expect him to morph into Ramiro Mendoza.
- Mariano will still be good unless something terrible happens.
- It’s not really worth speculating about Marte yet because that is one tiny sample size. I still hate him for non-logic reasons.
The other thing to take away from looking at this list is that the Yankees bullpen is going to need some arms to replace the departures and such. The team is still looking at Phil Coke as a starter, so he’ll be start in AAA in that role and Chris Britton is gone forever (yay). So for right now the bullpen is: Rivera, Marte, Bruney, Veras, Ramirez, Giese, Robertson. That doesn’t really leave much room for some of the arms hanging around in AAA so there will probably be some shuffling.
What arms in AAA am I talking about? Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon, JB Cox (maybe), Jonathan Albaladejo. Sanchez pretty much has nothing left to prove in the Minor Leagues, Albaladejo is pretty steady and the only reason he wasn’t around in 2008 was his arm injury (I did see him rehabbing a few times at Staten Island–thrilling!) and Mark Melancon is just about ready as well. Cox is more of a questionmark because of his injuries in 2008. But anyway, these guys will all be on the team at some point though for how long it’s not clear (I don’t think any of them will be on the Chris Britton Express, however).
I can see Giese getting bumped (perhaps for Aceves?) if they feel the need for a long reliever or if they want to go in without a long reliever like last season. He’s maybe a tick or two above replacement level but is useful because he is cheap.
My dream scenario involves Jose Veras getting traded (either alone or in a package with say, Nady, I don’t care). He has good stuff but absolutely no idea where it’s going and he is going to hurt himself during his follow through sooner or later. I just have no faith in the guy, but maybe I’m wrong. I could live with that.