Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Triple-R: The Bullpen

(Any discussion about the Yankee bullpen starts and ends with this man.  Courtesy of UPI/John Angelillo.)

Since I did such a bang up job predicting the rotation that will no longer include almost half of the analyzed members, I figured I might as well see this series all the way through to its conclusion.  With what happened last time, maybe there's some Triple-R karma left over from the Pineda trade and a few days after this is posted the Yankees will somehow add Craig Kimbrel and Sean Marshall to the bullpen before the season starts.  But if not, here's what we can expect from the current members of the Yankee 'pen.

Mariano Rivera- Remain

At this point, history, logic, and conventional wisdom can basically go out the window with Mo.  He is doing things in his 40s and performing at a level that nobody else in sports, save for maybe Nicklas Lidstrom, is doing.  Age doesn't seem to be able to stop him, durability concerns that should come with a professional athlete his age don't seem to be able to stop, and a decrease in velocity doesn't seem to be able to stop him.  He's coming off a year where his IP (61.1), K/9 (8.80), BB/9 (1.17), FIP (2.19), xFIP (2.64), and WAR (2.4) were all BETTER than what he put up in 2010.  In fact, Mo's 2011 FIP was the 4th best of his career; his BB/9 was the 2ND best of his career and the only other time outside of 2008 that he's been below 1.20 in that category.  Mo continues to be the best in the business by being precise with his command and consistent with his approach, and he has successfully combated his decrease in velocity by becoming even more pinpoint accurate with his command.  In what could finally be his last year, Mo has given no indication that he'll be anything less than brilliant again in 2012.  There will be the 3-game hiccup once or twice, but that's it.

Dave Robertson- Regress

The bad news is that D-Rob is a prime candidate to regress in 2012.  The good news is that it has more to do with the fact that his numbers can't get much better than they were in 2011 than it does an actual regression of his skills.  D-Rob benefited from an absurdly high strand rate in 2011 (89.8%) and an absurdly low HR/FB ratio (2.3%), neither of which are likely to be repeatable in 2012 as the law of averages runs its course.  Robertson is also still prone to the occasional bout of inconsistency with his command, and his walks continue to be a cause for concern (4.73 BB/9 last season).  But when you have the shutdown stuff that he has, that will help cover up some of the problem areas, and with another year of high-leverage experience under his belt, I don't expect Robertson to regress much more beyond an ERA and FIP in the mid-2.00s.  He possesses two elite pitches and he attacks hitters with them, and he generated more swings and misses (career highs 13.50 K/9 and 10.8 SwStr %) and less contact almost across the board in 2011 than in his previous years.  The all-world numbers of 2011 probably won't be back, but D-Rob will still be one of the 5 best relievers in baseball in 2012.

Rafael Soriano- Rebound

He's not my favorite player by any means, and I won't be plunking my money down to buy his jersey any time soon, but I do believe that Rafael Soriano's 2011 was not a true representation of the type of pitcher he is and can be for the Yankees.  He was the victim of a couple of really bad outings early in the season that, thanks to his extended injury absence, he didn't have enough time and enough innings of work to correct.  He gave up 9 earned runs and 8 walks in his first 11.1 IP in March and April, and just 9 earned runs and 10 walks over 28 IP for the rest of the season.  Soriano also experienced some issues with command that had not been present in his game in the previous two seasons.  It shouldn't be taken as a coincidence that his 3.97 FIP and 4.12 BB/9 were the highest numbers in those categories from Soriano since 2008, when he posted a 3.92 FIP and a ridiculously high 5.79 BB/9.  When he can locate, he can be very effective, and he showed instances of that in 2011.  And who knows how much the injury contributed to his early struggles and bouts with inconsistent command?  Injuries are still always a major risk with Soriano, but I expect to see a healthier, more consistent version of him in 2012.  Hey, maybe he'll even smile once.

Boone Logan- Rebound

This one may generate some eye rolls from people, and it's understandable.  It certainly seemed like there were more instances of Boone Logan being brought in to face a lefty and either walking or hitting him than there were instances where he got him out in 2011.  But when you look at the numbers, Logan's 2011 was actually better than his 2010.  Career bests in K/9 (9.94), BB/9 (2.81), FIP (3.29), xFIP (3.43), and WAR (0.7) were overshadowed by his uneven performance against left-handed hitting, the job that he's out there to do.  But his peripherals against lefties, especially the better strikeout (11.20 K/9) and walk numbers (2.30 BB/9), suggest that there might have been some bad luck involved with the pitches that got away from him in 2011 and things could have worked out quite differently if a handful of pitches went a different way.  Logan has had the two best years of his career in pinstripes, and he's a pitcher who's still learning and evolving his game to be an effective LOOGY.  I think with continued work on his approach with Rothschild and Harkey and increased familiarity with some of the hitters he'll be facing, we could be in line for a repeat of his 1.87 "vs. LH" FIP of 2010.

Cory Wade- Regress

It sucks to say, because I was a big fan of his work last season, but Cory Wade is the leading candidate for the Edwar Ramirez/Jose Veras Memorial "One-Hit Bullpen Wonder" Award for 2012.  His 3.76 FIP value, almost 2 runs higher than his 2.04 ERA, suggests that Wade was the recipient of some very good luck in 2011, and his 91.2% strand rate supports that theory.  Wade's greatest strength is his ability to throw strikes, but his problem is that his stuff isn't quite good enough to generate swings and misses consistently.  For the roll he's expected to play in the Yankee bullpen, Wade should be more than serviceable.  But the more high-leverage innings he throws, the more the Yankees are at risk of having that plan backfire and blow up in their faces.  There's only so long you can get by throwing first-pitch fastballs in the high-80s in the AL East before teams start getting hip to your jive and depositing those offerings in the bleachers.  And for a flyball pitcher like Wade, that's a dangerous tightrope to walk.  If he can mix up his offerings, he can still be successful.  But even if he does do that, I see Wade taking a step back in 2012.


Joba Chamberlain- Regress

He might not be back until mid-summer at the earliest, and it will be nice to see Joba and his flat-brimmed hat back on the mound this coming season, but coming off of TJS he's likely to experience some tough times.  And it's a damn shame too, because Joba was having a good start to his 2011 season, save for some bad HR luck.  His stuff was back on the upswing, he was starting to be more consistent with his command, and those kind of improvements from him could have been the key to the 2011 Yankee bullpen re-enacting the days of the Cincinnati Reds' "Nasty Boys."  Command has always been Joba's major bugaboo, and traditionally for guys coming back from Tommy John, that's the thing they struggle to regain the most.  If that's the case for Joba, then 2012 will be a rough go, even rougher if his velocity doesn't bounce back quickly.  With that in mind, the Yankees would be wise to use him in lower-leverage situations this season, let him round himself back into form, and then be ready to go full speed ahead in 2013.

Without Joba and without Soriano for a major chunk of time, the Yankee bullpen was still one of the best in the business in 2011.  With both of those guys back in the fold in 2012, hopefully the entire fold for Soriano, they should be just as good if not better, even if other pitchers experience some regression.  The back end of the 'pen still needs to be filled out, but those spots could be a revolving door as the season goes on.  The bulk of the high-leverage work is going to come from this core, and that's a good thing if you're a Yankee fan or Joe Girardi.

I don't think I'm going to bother touching the bench players in this series, so if you feel inclined to check back to the previous versions of the Triple-R Game, even if you're just looking to bookmark them so you can call me an idiot at the end of the season, you can find them all right here:

The Infield

The Outfield

The Rotation (no longer valid.  I should probably update this one.)

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