Monday, March 28, 2011

AB4AR 2011 Season Preview: The Bullpen

(No.  That's not the guy who's replacing Feliciano.)

Next up in our Season Preview series is the bullpen.  And while there are a few issues and changing bodies in there right now, this should still be the first season in quite some time that the Yankees are entering the season without the bullpen being any kind of a question.  We'll make our way through this collection of arms from the bottom to the top.

Bartolo Colon is penciled in as the long man right now, as it was determined by Joe that he is a better fit for that "flex" role that used to be handled by Aceves than Sergio Mitre was.  Given the way his stuff has looked in ST, I can agree with that assessment, but I still think it's risky move handing this position to Colon given his recent history of health issues.  If the Yankees monitor his workload and conditioning, Colon could excel in this role and give them the confidence in the long man role that Aceves used to give them. If he falls apart, they will have to go back to the drawing board.

The lefty spot is next, this year providing 2 of them instead of just one.  Pedro Feliciano will join Boone Logan to give the Yanks a solid 1-2 punch from the lefty spot.  Logan, after being awful in the first half of 2010, came back to be very good in the second half, but it still remains to be seen if he can replicate that success.  When he's on, he has the makeup and the stuff to be a lockdown-type stopper as a lefty specialist and just enough to get by and pitch effectively to righties if needed.  Feliciano is less effective against righties, but can also completely shut down lefties with his stuff.  His reputation as a rubber arm, though, is already coming into question as he has dealt with arm issues all spring and looks to be starting the season on the DL.  Steve Garrison would be the most likely candidate to take Felciano's spot.

Now we get into the meat and potatoes of the 'pen, the 4-headed righty monster that is the Yankee setup crew.  Starting it off is the always-talked about Joba Chamberlain.  After coming into camp looking a bit heavy, Joba impressed early with improved velocity.  But an oblique strain has slowed his spring progress and he will likely start as the 3rd in the pecking order.  If he can get healthy and maintain that velocity, he could take a step back towards being 2007 Joba and show that he's worth considering for high-leverage innings.  But, the Yankees could use that to boost his trade value since they now have a surplus of good righties in the 'pen.

Just above Joba in the hierarchy is strikeout machine Dave Robertson.  He also had a rough start to his 2010 campaign, but rebounded nicely to be just as effective as he was in '09, if not more so, down the stretch.  D-Rob still has great swing-and-miss stuff with his fastball-curveball combo, but it's his inconsistent command that gives him problems and he still walks more guys than you'd like to see.  If he can tighten up the command this year, he could put up closer-type numbers.  As it is right now, he could probably be closing for a few teams in the Majors, so to have him as the 7th-inning guy in the Yankee 'pen is a luxury that should not go unnoticed.

After D-Rob comes the new (grumpy) kid on campus, former Tampa closer Rafael Soriano, who took a boatload of money and a bunch of opt-clauses to come be Mo's setup man and possibly replacement as future closer.  As much as I've poked fun at Soriano and his mopey-ness since joining the Yankees, there's no denying his talent level.  His fastball-slider combo is absolutely devastating and perfect for a shutdown bullpen role, and Soriano has shown to be that type of shutdown pitcher when he's on.  The Yankees would be wise to use him as much as possible this season, as long as he's pitching well, both to give Mo enough rest to stay healthy and to drive up his value on the open market.  If he decides to leave after this year (presumably after helping the team win their 28th title), the Yankees are freed of his contract and get a few compensation draft picks to boot.

Closing out this potentially dynamic group is the G.O.A.T., the greatest individual athlete at any one thing in the history of professional sports, Mariano Rivera.  Yes, he's 41 this year, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down so I'm not even going to bother saying anything about him other than he's Mariano Freaking Rivera.

The depth and overall skill of the Yankee bullpen makes it one of the team's greatest assets this year.  The beauty of having so many above-average guys is that not all of them have to be on the top of their game for the Yankees to be successful.  Even if just 3 or 4 of them are, that still gives the Yankees tons of late-game options to mix and match, shorten the game up, and help cover the presumed weak back end of their rotation.  If the Yanks are up after 6 innings this year, there's no reason they should ever lose a game.  Knowing that, other teams are going to have to change their approach against the Yankee starters, and that's a benefit to the Yankees.  If things fall into place, this could be the best bullpen since the Nasty Boys, and that's not a stretch to say.

Projected Bullpen

- Mariano Rivera- RHP
- Rafael Soriano- RHP
- Dave Robertson- RHP
- Joba Chamberlain- RHP
- Pedro Feliciano- LHP
- Boone Logan- LHP
- Bartolo Colon- RHP