Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Middle Relief Regression Is A Bummer

(They haven't all been "Booooooone" chants this month.  Courtesy of The AP)

Considering the injuries that they've had to deal with, the job the Yankee bullpen has done this season has been nothing short of outstanding.  Rafael Soriano has been even better than he was in his standout 2010 season that inspired the top Yankee brass to offer him his big contract, D-Rob has been quietly awesome again, and there have been big contributions from some very unexpected sources to help soak up middle innings while other guys were out.  It is those middle innings that have become a problem this month, as the 'pen has regressed to a 4.29/3.44/3.55 line in 50.1 combined innings of work.  The problem has been the bulk of the guys pitching in front of D-Rob and Soriano starting to struggle, leaving the pickings slim and risky when Joe has to manage the 6th and 7th innings.  The Yankees didn't make a move to add bullpen depth at the trade deadline, counting on the return of Joba Chamberlain being a stabilizing factor.  That hasn't happened and now the middle relief corps is turning into a weakness at the wrong time of the season.

The biggest regression victim has been Boone Logan, who continues to look overworked and uninspiring with his stuff when he takes the mound.  Early in the season he was the unofficial 7th-inning guy, and his effectiveness against both right and left-handed hitters made him a vital part of the bullpen hierarchy.  This month he's pitched to a 4.91/3.78/3.62 line, his strikeouts are down (8.59 K/9), and he's taken the bulk of his beatings against righties.  The heavy workload that Logan has had this season sure looks like it's taking its toll on him now and he's almost to the point of having to be used only as a LOOGY again to maximize his effectiveness.

Cody Eppley has also seen his platoon luck change this month, and Joe has gotten burned more than once leaving him in to face lefties.  Eppley has allowed 3 ER in 5.0 IP in August, and the BABIP gods haven't smiled upon him in the same way they did in earlier months.  3 ER in 5 innings might not be a lot to draw conclusions from, but when Eppley has put 10 total runners on base in those 5 innings, it's a sign that his contact-heavy ways are starting to catch up to him.

And while I've tried to be the voice of reason in dealing with the Joba situation, there's no way to sugarcoat how poor his results have been.  He's allowed 7 ER and 19 baserunners in 6.2 IP, and his lack of command has led to fewer strikeouts and a 1:1 K:BB ratio.  The decision to count on Joba as a viable bullpen option for this season was one made by Cash and the rest of the decision makers upstairs, so the blame lays at their feet and at Joe's for using Joba in higher-leverage situations, but that doesn't do much to smooth the situation over when everybody else around Joba is failing to get the job done as well.

The good news is that Soriano and D-Rob are still pitching incredibly well in the late innings, and the better news is that there should be some more help coming soon.  With CC scheduled to return this Friday, David Phelps will probably get bumped back to relief duty where his ability to pitch multiple innings can be a big upgrade over Eppley and Joba.  And Derek Lowe, despite getting hit last night, hasn't been bad in his short Yankee career.  A re-organization of the hierarchy is definitely in order, though, and the Yankees might want to go as far as calling Cory Wade back up to see if he can be of service down the stretch.  The 'pen is starting to sputter and the issues in it need to get ironed out before the end of the regular season.

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