Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half - The Bullpen

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Since this is the last post in the series, I'll provide you with an index:

The Rotation
The Lineup, Part 1
The Lineup, Part 2
The Bench

Now it's on to the mother of all things Yankees:

The Bullpen

To do this post justice, one has to figure out who should be included, and who might be a little more expendable--since bullpens are fluid and change so much over the course of a season.

In this instance I'm going to settle around the "core" of Mariano Rivera, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Brian Bruney, David Robertson and Brett Tomko--the guys that have been around (or should have been around) all season. Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo will get passing nods, but we'll go ahead and pretend that Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez were not utterly awful.

As a whole, the bullpen struggled early--when most of the rotation did, as well--but the call-up of Alfredo Aceves seemed to work miracles. That one move allowed for the short relievers to remain short relievers, for Coke and Hughes to basically claim the eighth between them and for Robertson and Tomko not to be faced with undue pressure.

When Aceves was moved from the bullpen for a spot start, we saw the 'pen fall apart again--though, this time, fortunately, the All Star break came at exactly the right time.

As long as Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte are utterly ineffective, look for Aceves to remain in the bullpen.

(The so-called bullpen core in alphabetical order)

Alfredo Aceves

The statistics will tell you that Alex Rodriguez, and not Alfredo Aceves is the more valuable of the two Yankees to make their first appearance this season in early May, but Aceves' value lies in far more than just the numbers he's posted.

The easiest way to explain what Aceves has meant to the Yankees in 2009 out of the bullpen would be to say that Aceves is pitching in a role similar to that of Ramiro Mendoza, but his numbers out of the bullpen are actually closer to what Mariano Rivera posted in 1996.

Since Aceves can pitch multiple innings at a time without getting worn down, the short relievers--especially guys like Phil Coke and David Robertson--do not have to pitch nearly as much as they otherwise would. This not only saves their arms from, uh, being Proctor'd, but helps keep them more effective over the long haul.

Look for Aceves to remain in the bullpen for now--after the disaster in Anaheim, the Yankees probably don't want to mess with the bullpen too much--but if Mitre, the presumed new fifth starter, bombs and the Yankees decide not to go after Halladay (or another, you know, more attainable starter), Aceves could end up the fifth starter.

In which case we will all have to hold our breath in the second halves of games started by Chamberlain and Pettitte.

Brian Bruney

The season that, for Bruney, started with so much promise has quietly turned into a disaster. He'd earned himself the eighth inning role before going down on the DL with an elbow problem, worked his way back only to go back on it after just one appearance, and now seems to have lost the command that had been so important in the first place.

In short, it's the return of the 2007 version of Brian Bruney.

The Yankees really want to get him right--if he can somehow recover his arm strength and command, the Yankees could consider, more seriously, the idea of sending Hughes down to AAA to stretch him out as a starter (although I explain here why I don't think it would work), but even if Bruney did recover, the risk inherent in relying on a power pitcher who's twice been on the DL in the same season with elbow problems is an enormous one.

It's a shame, really, because Bruney showed so much promise in 2008 before hurting his foot, and then again in early 2009.

I don't know what happened for Bruney to have such awful karma, but something apparently did.

Going forward, Bruney will likely be used in low-leverage situations until his command improves, or he will be used in mop-up like roles after the starters (yet again) are inefficient. He'll have to work his way back to the 8th and even then there is no guarantee.

Phil Coke

The battle between Good Coke and Bad Coke may be as addicting to watch as the battle between Good Melky and Bad Melky. Actually, the entire reason to want to see him pitch is to watch the postgame interviews afterward.

Coke struggled in the beginning, found a groove, and then struggled again in his most recent appearance in Anaheim.

On the whole, he's been fairly dependable, but tends to give up too many hits--6 HR in 38 IP is not a portent for good things to come--so the Yankees are best served if he is used very sparingly, which, thanks to Aceves and Hughes, he now is.

Should Dámaso Marte stop playing catch and start playing baseball, he could help ease some of Coke's LOOGY duties, and provide some relief for the Yankees, who are playing with fire.

Phil Hughes

Probably the most controversial reliever, not because he's pitched poorly, but because he probably should have never been in the bullpen in the first place.

As a starter, Hughes wasn't exactly dominating anywhere outside of Texas, but he was getting better, and showing improved consistency and efficiency. Considering that this is his first healthy season since all the way back in 2006, that's not something to be taken lightly.

As a reliever, Hughes has just dominated. You can see the splits here, but to sum:

Hughes' ERA is 0.98, his BAA is .115, OBPA is .182 and WHIP is 0.655.

Hughes has only pitched 18.1 innings in relief, and his BABIP is an insane .147, so there's certainly a case to be made that the law of averages will catch up to him, but with relievers much of the time, you only have a small sample size to use, so you ride the hot arm as long as it stays hot.

If the Yankees have learned only one thing here, it's that if Hughes, for whatever reason, loses his value as a starter next season, he still has plenty of value as a reliever.

Look for him to keep the 8th inning role in the second half unless the Yankees have utterly no choice but to stretch him out again. If that happens, than the Yankees will probably have bigger issues than what they do about the eighth inning...

Mariano Rivera

He's Mo. Really.

He was getting hit more often in the beginning of the season, which had some worried, but this seems to have been a result of recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and perception, since what he did last season was simply historic.

He's back to his old Mo self now, notching his 500th save and 1st career ERA in the same game.

In the second half, the Yankees probably won't want anything more than for him to keep doing his thing. Wearing number 42, he is, after all, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

David Robertson

The easiest way to explain Robertson in this: when he throws strikes, he's unhittable. When he doesn't, he's unwatchable.

When Robertson comes into a game in low-leverage situations, he throws strikes.

When Robertson comes into a game in high-leverage situations, he throws balls.

You can see why this is a problem.

In a mop-up type role, Robertson is fine for the bullpen, but the problem is that the Yankees play a lot more close games than they do blowouts, and they need relievers that can either protect a lead or keep another team's lead within reach.

Look for him to stick to low-leverage situations, and don't be shocked if some combination of Chien Ming Wang getting healthy again and Sergio Mitre pitching well sends him back on the AAA bus--though likely not before Melancon or Albaladejo.

Brett Tomko

The problem with Tomko is that when he gets hit, he gets hit hard.

Though a former starter, right now he can't really pitch more than two innings at a time, and he's seldom seen in anything other than a mop-up role or in an extra inning game when all other pitchers have been used.

That said, I think he does get a bit of a bum rap--for what it's worth, Coke has given up more home runs. Then again, Coke's pitched 38 innings and Tomko's only pitched 20...

Although Tomko is a DFA candidate, it would seem more likely that Mark Melancon or Jonathan Albaladejo would be sent back down to Scranton before the Yankees parted ways with Tomko. We shall see.

Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo

Melancon, once hailed as the future Mo, was probably called up from AAA Scranton too soon. He's struggled in AAA since being sent back down, and again since being called up. There's too much talent to write him off, but he does need some more time.

Albaladejo didn't pitch well early and got sent down, has pitched lights out when recalled after Wang got hurt the second time, but then got sent back make room for Melancon.

If Girardi is riding the hot reliever, right now he should stick with Albaladejo.

dude, if you made it this far, I kind of want to hug you...