The Yankees bullpen

The Yankees’ bullpen (and the Mets’, for that matter) typically gets bashed by the media for performing poorly, but lately the Yankees bullpen has been so flawless the media has had to direct their attention elsewhere. Instead of overpaying for free agent relievers like Kyle Farnsworth, the Yankees have amassed a group of relative unknowns that have proved to be surprisingly effective.

For fantasy owners, Yankees relievers are particularly appealing not because the closer in front of them is likely to get hurt or lose his job, but because they have a higher chance of getting wins and holds (for leagues that count them). Most of these Yankees relief arms have remained under the radar and so this is meant to be a primer of those guys who are currently are doing an effective job of keeping those Yankee leads.

Alfredo Aceves (and Joba)

Alfredo Aceves is the most versatile Yankees reliever, pitching well against both lefties and righties. He has the ability to go multiple innings, having served primarily as a starter in the Mexican League and in the minors. He has great control and a decent ability to strike batters out, most notably with his change-up. Even in shallow leagues like 12-team mixed, Aceves makes a good add since I think it likely he joins the rotation and does well. And even during his time in the bullpen, he can provide value as a ratio helper and occasional win-getter in his role as the long reliever.

Aceves is actually going to start today for the Yankees, though according to manager Joe Girardi this is merely a spot start, not a full transition into the rotation. Despite the Girardi’s words, taking a glance at the current Yankee rotation shows that besides Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte no one else is a lock to stay in the rotation. Chien-Ming Wang is oft-injured and particularly ineffective, Phil Hughes is apparently going to remain banished to the bullpen for the time being, and Joba Chamberlain, well, let’s take a closer look at him.

| Season | Player      | IP    | W | ERA  | K/9   | BB/9 | xFIP |
| 2008	 | Chamberlain | 100.1 | 4 | 2.60 | 10.58 | 3.50 | 3.21 |
| 2008-S | Chamberlain | 65.1  | 3 | 2.76 | 10.19 | 3.44 |  --- |
| 2008-R | Chamberlain | 35.0  | 1 | 2.31 | 11.31 | 3.60 |  --- |
| 2009	 | Chamberlain | 84.2  | 4 | 4.04 |  7.87 | 4.36 | 4.47 |

Note: 2008-S are Chamberlain’s numbers as a starter, 2008-R are as a reliever

With his play of late, Joba might be answering the unanswerable of whether the rotation or bullpen is best for him. (Icon/SMI)

Joba, you could say, has been effective so far this season. His ERA sits at a decent 4.04 and for most of the season it was around 20 points below that mark, at about 3.80. In contrast are his peripheral stats, which include a dramatically decreased strikeout rate and an increased walk rate this season. Even the rates taken only from games in which he started last year are noticeably better than this year’s lackluster ones.

The biggest problem with Joba this year, in my opinion, is that in his 16 starts he has thrown only 84.2 innings. That is an unexceptional average of about 5.1 innings per start and leaves the bullpen to finish the other 3.2 innings. The sacrifice in effectiveness the Yankees are making by putting Joba in the rotation does not make up for whatever advantage they gain from having him pitch a few more innings every five days. Again that is just my opinion and there is no saying Chamberlain would regain all of his effectiveness of 2008 if he moved to the bullpen anyway.

Why this matters is because the Yankees may soon get tired of Joba in the rotation, furthering Aceves’ chances of securing his spot. While a possible move of Joba to the bullpen would not probably happen before August, it could come at the perfect time to keep Aceves in the rotation if Wang or even Hughes earns a spot.

Phil Hughes

Speaking of Phil Hughes, the touted prospect struggled (again) in the rotation in the beginning of the year, owning a 5.45 ERA after seven starts. Hughes then reinvented himself as a reliever with a 1.23 ERA in his 10 relief appearances since.

If unowned in your league, I would definitely take a hard look at the players on your roster and consider adding Hughes because of his current effectiveness as a reliever, his hold on the win-laden 8th inning set-up role, and the possibility of him returning to starting later in the year. Perhaps when he becomes starter again—if he does—he will maintain the success and confidence he found as a reliever.

Phil Coke

Phil Coke is the LOOGY in the Yankees bullpen and has done a great job of late of getting those lefties out. In fact in his last 18 appearances over which he has thrown 16 innings, he has allowed a mere two runs.

I should note that Coke has also had success against righties this year as they are hitting just .167 against him (lefties are hitting .176). However Coke has walked an unusually high number of right-handed batters (10) compared to just three left-handers. In the minors that split was not there so it is probably more a fluke than an actual problem.

Coke should only be looked at in leagues where holds are a category, since I envision plenty of holds in his future and not much else.

David Robertson

David Robertson, a 17th round pick in the 2006 draft, is the hidden gem in the Yankees bullpen. Although his value might not be fully realized this season as a sixth and seventh inning guy, the 24-year-old should remain on your radar for future seasons. He is an absolute strikeout machine with a K/9 of 12.8 in 20 innings in the majors this year (that’s 29 strikeouts) and a career minor league rate not far off.

At times Robertson has struggled with his control but he has never encountered the major control problems that sometimes plague young pitchers. With a little maturity he should develop into a dominant reliever and possibly even Mo’s replacement. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though.

Robertson’s style of pitching reminds me a lot of another young reliever-now-closer who has enjoyed much success this year: Andrew Bailey. Both have good fastballs they like to throw for strikes early in the count, and then a tight curve that leads to many strikeouts.

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It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

In the meantime, all we can do is wait and see if he develops into the pitcher I think he can be.

Concluding thoughts

For what it’s worth, now hopefully you know all there is about the relievers in the Yankees pen and found a pitcher who may help your fantasy team. As a darkhorse pitcher for those in really deep leagues, Sergio Mitre—yes, that Sergio Mitre who was mildly effective for the Marlins in 2007—is pitching well down for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate and could see some action in the bullpen or rotation later in the year.

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Travis M. Nelson
Travis M. Nelson
Not sure I agree with your calling Coke a LOOGy, as almost half of his appearances (19 of 40) have been for a full inning or more.  He can obviously get more than one out, and not just against lefties, as you noted.  He’s got 73 PA against lefties, 64 against righties.  Hughes’ banishment to the bullpen is unfortunate, as he’s the obvious answer to the gaping hole in the rotation now that Wang is on the DL again.  Unfortunately Girardi has missed several opportunities to groom him for this chance, so we have to hope that Aceves (and whomever… Read more »
Paul Singman
Paul Singman

You are right that Coke has evolved beyond the traditional LOOGY role, but the first batter he faces when brought in is almost always a lefty. It is because he has been so good that he stays in to face more than just one or two batters.

Travis M. Nelson
Travis M. Nelson
The fact that they usually start him off with a lefty doesn’t make him a Lefty ONE Out GuY.  That’s what LOOGY means.  It doesn’t mean that he just happens to be left handed.  Coke was used for one or two full innings more often than not last year (8 out of 14 appearances), and he started this year with a 5-out game against Baltimore, so I don’t think you can say he’s “evolved beyond” the lefty specialist role.  He was never used as such in the first place, not in the majors anyway.  In truth, LOOGYs are people like… Read more »

Any thoughts on just-recalled Mark Melancon? He’s been highly touted for a while now, and has great MiLB numbers but no ML success so far.

Paul Singman
Paul Singman

Melancon has proven himself all he can in Triple-A with K/9 rates above 9.00 and BB/9 rates around 2.00 the past two years. He was not given much of a chance in his small stint in the majors earlier in the season, and I think he was simply more jittery than anything else.

When given another shot in the majors, which should come soon, I see no reason for him to pitch decently at the very least.

He has the skills to be a very good reliever and most likely will become one.