Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Yankees Don't Need A Sacrificial Lamb

"Wait? I'm the sacrificial 'what'?"

Yankees Fans Unite conducted an interview with Wally Matthews, who writes about the Yankees for, which you can read here. They cover various topics such as Cano's slow start, how Girardi is as a manager, and his routine as a writer, so it's worth the read. But there was one response he gave that I wanted to address.
Q: You wrote a column in Spring Training about how Rafael Soriano should be the closer when Mariano Rivera retires instead of David Robertson. Can you elaborate on that? 
WM: Whoever follows up Mariano will have trouble. That spot should be used more for a sacrificial lamp, which is why Soriano would be better for the job than Robertson. Since Robertson will be a part of the Yankees future for many years to come it does not make sense to give him the almost impossible task right away. If Soriano succeeds he will get a big contract to close elsewhere and Robertson can then become the closer. Robertson will soon realize it is better to be the guy after another a guy takes over for Rivera. A pitcher with Robertson’s future should not be exposed to the wrath that the pitcher who succeeds Mariano will get.
I don't buy into the "sacrificial lamb" thing. This isn't the first time I've heard that term either, so Wally is not the only person guilty of bringing it up. Not that I don't understand what they're talking about, though. The majority of Yankee fans are not exactly rational folks, who will surely boo the hell out of the next closer that happens to blow a save.

Heath Bell, who the Marlins signed this past offseason to a 3 year/$27 million deal with a 4th year option, has blown 3 saves in his first 6 opportunities. This was a guy that was an all-star the previous 3 seasons, and averaged 44 saves a year, with San Diego. So if the Yankees needed a new closer for 2012, there's a really good chance Bell would have been on their radar. You can imagine the death threats being hurdled at Heath if he were in New York rather than Miami.

But Heath Bell is not a bad closer. His triple-slash against for his career is .235/.303/.328, and right now it's way above that at .313/.452/.438. Bell's career BABIP against is .307, and it's currently at .333. He's walking way more batters (9.4 to 3.1 per 9 innings), and he's striking out way less batters (5.9 to 9.2 per 9 innings), than he has in his career. So I think Heath is going to be just fine. It's just a good thing he's in the calmer Miami environment, as opposed to the amped up and oftentimes crazy environment of New York.

I addressed a similar thought from a person at the Yankee forum at The Fanatic, who didn't like the idea of David Robertson taking over, since David isn't the ideal guy in his mind. My response was short... we're not going to get another Mariano Rivera, so stop being so picky.

Jonathan Papelbon, who is currently leading MLB in saves with 9, has a BABIP against of only .200. Not to mention his LOB% of 100. Both of those numbers are going to even out so that is .82 ERA is going to go up.

Javy Guerra is tied for second in saves in MLB, but he is walking 3.18 batters per 9 innings, which is higher than Robertson's current mark of 2.5 batters per 9 innings.

Chris Perez is tied for third in saves in MLB, and not only does Perez walk to many hitters (4 per 9 innings), but he doesn't strike out enough either (7 per 9 innings).

The point is, all relievers not at Rivera's level (meaning everybody) have flaws that can make Yankee fans say "no" to them being the heir to the closer's thrown in New York. And going back to an earlier point, which is that some Yankee fans are going to go insane when the bullpen doors open in the 9th inning and Mariano Rivera isn't walking out of them. But that doesn't mean the team should use a "lesser" reliever in the closer's role. It makes absolutely zero sense to put a worse pitcher in that role. The only reason they should do so would be to baby a pitcher into that role later on, but that is exactly what some fans are up in arms about when it comes to developing starting pitching. Where's the consistency?

Put the best pitcher available into the closer's role the year after Mo retires. If that guy can't handle the fact he gets booed the first time he blows a save then he's not our guy. Because although New York will be a little more insane than normal following Rivera, it's not like this town is going to be okay with a pitcher that can't handle the pressure sometime down the road.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)