Thursday, May 23, 2013

Surprise Bullpen Arms Getting the Job Done Again

            Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay have gotten the most credit and attention for the Yankees’ 28-18 start and rightfully so. The Yankees would be in serious trouble without those bargain basement pickups. However, the Yankees’ bullpen has been the biggest strength of the team and is probably the biggest reason the Yankees find themselves on top of the AL East. This seems like an every year of occurrence, but Joe Girardi has done an outstanding job of managing the bullpen and he has found some more unexpected contributors.

It was Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada and David Phelps last year and this year it has been Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley Vidal Nuno, and Adam Warren. Those four relievers have combined for a 2.68 ERA and a 3.44 FIP. Those numbers could be even better if not for Kelley’s early season struggles. Combine those guys with what may be the best bullpen duo in MLB, in David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, and you have an outstanding bullpen. It will be interesting to see what happens when Joba Chamberlain returns because he was pitching very well before he got hurt, but if he falters the Yankees have solid options in Claiborne and Kelley.

Claiborne allowed his first run of the season last night when he allowed a three-run home run to Matt Weiters, but he has still been outstanding so far, as he has a .82 ERA and a .818 WHIP in 11 innings. Claiborne has done a great job of going after hitters with his fastball that has averaged 93.3 MPH. Throwing strikes and attacking with your fastball is a great quality for a reliever to have. The next step in his development is to better develop his slider and changeup.

Kelley has put his early season struggles behind him and has been absolutely dominant of late. He has only allowed one home run since April 19th and just one walk since April 24th. His 42.9% K rate leads all MLB relievers and he has struck out an incredible 15.91 batters per nine innings. Kelley is not an incredibly hard thrower (91.7 MPH average fastball), but he locates it very well has and has a 30.30% called strike rate with his fastball. His swing and miss pitch is his slider, as Kelley has a 20.38% whiff rate with it this season.

Warren has bounced back after his disastrous Yankees debut last season. It will be interesting to see if he may be more suited to be a reliever than a starter with the success he has had. Warren has taken over Phelps’ role in the bullpen with Phelps in the rotation for Ivan Nova. He has a 1.14 ERA and a 2.91 FIP in 23.3 innings this season. Warren has been very flexible, as he had success in short appearances and multiple innings appearances. He still only has 6.46 K/9 and a .275 BABIP, so there has probably been some of his success has been due to luck. However, he has done a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (57.1 GB%) and has used all four of his pitches well to keep hitters off balance.

The Yankees have been outstanding at protecting leads this year, and with their limitations on offense that has been very important. They are 21-0 when leading after six innings and 24-0 when leading after seven. Also, they are 17-7 in games decided by one or two runs. Obviously, Rivera being perfect in his save opportunities helps, but these middle relievers have been a huge part of the team as well.  These guys can also help the Yankees in their quest to keep their payroll under $189 million because none of them make much money. Rivera and his $10 million will be off the books and they can let  Chamberlain and Boone Logan walk, which would allow them to save $5 million.

In the meantime, the Yankees have an incredible deep bullpen that has and will continue to be the backbone of their success.


  1. Nice job Matt. I have said for years that Cashman and Girardi's #1 strength has been building/management of their bullpens. They realized that RPs were the most inconsistent players in baseball and that it wasn't wise to spend big money. With the exception of the immortal Mariano, they have used players from their farm system and low cost retread/journeymen types. They like high strikeout, aggressive pitchers and they are always very deep knowing that some players will fail or get hurt every yr.

    Many guys have been successful for a yr or less before struggling and they just go to the next man in line.

    Kelley's Slider has been very impressive lately and will give Joba competition for that top guy behind Mo and DRob. The depth of the pen has allowed the team to stay on games and give the offense a chance to come back. In most cases when a team gets into your long and middle relief you will lose but Warren, Nuno, Claiborne, etc have been as good as you can hope for.

  2. Fishjam, I totally agree, the relief pitching has been exceptional this year. It has given the Yanks one of the top pitching staffs in the AL. They still have Demel and Monty should anyone faulter.

  3. The Yanks have also gotten by without missing Hughes and Nova, Warren and Nuno have filled in well in those spots.

  4. Phelps has been huge also. He has really been a pleasant surprise the last 2 years. He wasn't very highly regarded as a prospect but he's been a successful and versatile arm for the Yanks. He's RAISED his K/9 quite a bit in the Majors which is rare.

  5. fishjam, it just shows that you never know from year to year with most pitchers. Phelps has been great, while Nova and Hughes haven't been as good as expected. I just heard that Nova is back on the roster and Betances was sent to AAA. I also heard that Nuno will be starting tomarrow. It's nice to have these options if you are the Yanks. Soon Youk will be back and I would rotate him with Adams at third and Overbay at first. He might even be a DH once in a while. I am excited with the play of Adams, I want to see more of him to see if he can be a full time player. There is a lot to look forward to, we have Pineda and Tex in June, Joba, and then A-Rod and Jeter. It should be an interesting year. I just hope the team keeps rolling so we can keep the vutures from circling.

  6. I'm not really expecting much from Nova this year!

  7. Grandy has broken finger, Phelps gets hits with a liner, what the heck is going on!

  8. Yanks seem snake-bit with all these f-ing injuries. I just hope Phelps is OK and isn't effected by the "bruised forearm". He's really pitching well and starting to give them length at the back end of the rotation.


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