Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bullpen)

(Best in the world.  Courtesy of The AP)

Infield's done, outfield's done, rotation's done.  Now onto the relief corp.

What We Know- The Bullpen Pecking Order

The merits of having defined roles in the bullpen can be argued, but that's the way Joe operates and those roles for 2012, at least heading into the start of the season, are pretty well set.  Mariano Rivera is the closer and official 9th Inning Guy, and only injury or the end of the world will change that.  Behind him, Dave Robertson will be the setup man and official 8th Inning Guy after his dominant 2011 season and Rafael Soriano will slot into the 7th inning role.  Boone Logan will retain his spot as top lefty ace, although Joe has talked about expanding his role if the Yankees decide to carry a 2nd lefty.  Cory Wade is in place as the Middle Inning Relief Guy and the loser of the 5th starter competition, most likely Freddy Garcia, will be the long man.

What We Don't Know- How Quickly It Will Become Subject to Change

Mo is set in stone, but behind him there is always opportunity for change and that change could come pretty early.  D-Rob certainly earned the right to hold the setup role this season after the way he pitched last year, but he's had very little time on the mound this spring thanks to his foot injury and could get off to shaky start if he's still working the kinks out.  His history of wildness and Soriano's big contract could lead to a swap of spots if Robertson is ineffective.  Cory Wade, who has struggled this spring and likely would have been the first out of a job when Joba or David Aardsma returned in the summer, should also be on notice.  Even Freddy could get forced out of his spot when Andy returns and kicks someone from the rotation into the bullpen.

More after the jump

The NY Spring Training Double Standard

Lost in all the talk about Ivan Nova's command, Andy Pettitte's return, and Michael Pineda's velocity is the rather pedestrian spring being had by another Yankee starting pitcher. This pitcher has made only 4 official starts this spring and in those 4 starts has thrown 14.0 total innings. In those 14 innings, he has allowed 7 earned runs on 19 combined hits and walks while striking only 10. As a back-of-the-rotation candidate, these numbers could be acceptable. For a guy being paid top dollar who is expected to anchor the starting rotation of the New York Yankees they are hardly encouraging and yet there hasn't been a peep from anybody in the media about him or his performance this spring.

As you probably guessed, the pitcher in question here is CC Sabathia. CC has reached almost Mo-like levels of media non-coverage this spring, as the only time his name has been mentioned is on the days he's scheduled to pitch. His ST stat line suggests that he's had problems commanding his stuff and locating his pitches during his outings, and Sabathia himself has admitted that he had issues with his changeup earlier in camp and his 2-seamer still isn't where he wants it to be. On the surface, these should probably be just as important as MSM talking points as Pineda's velocity is. A team's ace, who also happens to be the highest paid pitcher in baseball, giving up more hits and runs than you'd like to see and heading into his final start of the spring before Opening Day without full command of his pitches should be a big story, especially with the New York sports media involved. They normally can't jump all over a story like this fast enough.

What prevents that from happening in this situation is track record. CC has spent 3 seasons in New York and has been a beast in all 3 of them. He's made 101 starts in a Yankee uniform, won 59 of them, pitched over 230 innings in each of his 3 seasons, and finished top 4 in the Cy Young voting in each of his 3 seasons. Oh, he's also got a World Series ring on his finger too. All things being equal, CC probably deserves to have his ST performance dissected just as much as Pineda's if not more given his role on the team. After all, Pineda has given up fewer runs and struck out more batters per 9 innings in his ST outings than CC has. But when you've got the kind of resume in New York that CC has, that pretty much takes equality out of the equation.

In a perfect world, Michael Pineda would probably be getting a little more credit for how well he's pitched this spring without his top-shelf velocity and CC would probably have a few more stories written about him and his command issues. That would be fair. But things are hardly ever fair in the world of the New York sports media and this is just the latest example. They've seen CC get the job done on a consistent basis over the past 3 seasons, they expect him to do the same this season regardless of how well or how poorly he pitches in Spring Training, and so he gets the free pass from them. Pineda doesn't have the track record in New York to fall back on, so he gets put through the meat grinder.

Perhaps we in the blogosphere, even those of us going to bat for Pineda, are just as guilty of feeding this double standard by writing about Pineda and not about Sabathia. I know I'm not concerned at all about CC based on his ST performance and fully expect him to deliver this season just like he has the past 3. For better or worse, this is how it is in New York and Michael Pineda is finding that out firsthand. At least he can take solace in the fact that if he follows CC's path in his first couple years here, he'll never have to hear any griping about his fastball velocity in March ever again.

Austin Romine's Back Is Killing Me (And Probably Him Too)

Austin, bro, you're killing me.  I had faith in you.  I stood by you after a rough 2011 season and kept the faith.  I ranked you #4 in my Top 30 Prospects when nobody else even had you in their top 5 because I honestly believe you can be a good Major League catcher.  I put myself out there for you and this is how you repay me?  By hurting your back again?  It's bad enough that you haven't done jack shit in ST because of your back injury, and then when you're on the cusp of returning you tweak it again and now you're going to miss the start of the Triple-A season.  You're a young man for crying out loud!  You shouldn't have back problems.  Clean that shit up, dude.  A catcher with back issues is not a good look.

Somebody get this guy a Shiatsu massage chair, one of those big metal back braces like the one Sweet Dee wears in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," and some Icy Hot back patches, stat!

P.S.- Russell Martin's agent must be loving this.