This is the third in a series of five Yankeeist 2009 Season in Review recaps. Please be sure to check out 2009 Season in Review: The Infield and 2009 Season in Review: Starting Pitchers if you haven’t already done so.
As happens every year for every team in baseball, the Yankees’ opening day bullpen was a considerably different beast than the unit that finished the season with the team and that manager Joe Girardi took into the playoffs. It’s easy to forget that the Yankees began the year with the likes of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Brett Tomko in the ‘pen, none of whom would make it through to the end of the season. In fact, the only two pitchers that spent all 162 games in the bullpen were Mariano Rivera and Phil Coke.
The bullpen was of the few things that went right for the 2008 incarnation of the Yankees. As Mike Axisa notes, last year’s bullpen posted the seventh-lowest ERA (3.79) and second-lowest FIP (3.82) in the league. The 2009 bullpen wasn’t quite as lockdown but still very effective, pitching to a 3.91 ERA, good for 5th-best in the AL, and a 4.33 FIP.
As in seemingly every year this decade, the bullpen didn’t start the year out particularly well, with five pitchers — Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Jonathan Albaledjo, Damaso Marte and Anthony Claggett — posting 5.00-plus ERAs in April. Granted, Claggett’s 43.20 came in only 1 2/3 innings of work, but I was there to see it, making it that much more painful. The bullpen ERA for the month of April was an unsightly 6.46, second-worst to only the Angels.
After the arrival of Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson, May saw significant improvement, with a 4.04 mark. Phil Hughes was sent to the bullpen in the beginning of June, and combined with the merciful DFAing of Jose Veras, the ‘pen became a force to be reckoned with, tossing to a 2.63 ERA over 82 June innings. The bullpen ERA and FIP jumped up a bit in both July and August before settling back down during the last month of the season to 2.87 and 3.30, respectively.
The ‘pen seemed like it would be an advantage for the Yanks heading into the playoffs, although sadly Hughes didn’t have much left, turning in a 4.83 FIP and really not fooling anyone. Joba — switched to the ‘pen due to the three-man rotation — was also erratic, but mostly kept the damage to a minimum to the tune of a 3.41 FIP. Longman Aceves, who was excellent for much of the regular season though seemed to tire down the stretch, was also mostly ineffective out of the ‘pen in the playoffs, and Phil Coke was just flat-out awful.
Thankfully for the Yankees, Mariano Rivera continued to defy logic by pitching even better in the postseason than he did in the regular season, surrendering one earned run in 16 innings. Damaso Marte also finally justified his contract in the playoffs, allowing zero earned runs in four innings of work.
Mariano Rivera, RHP
162-Game Averages: 2.25 ERA, 202 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
2009 regular season: 1.76 ERA, 243 ERA+, 0.91 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 2.89 FIP
2009 postseason: 16.0 IP, 14K, 0.94 WHIP, 0.56 ERA, 2.28 FIP
I’m not a religious person, but if I did worship a deity it would be Mariano Rivera. For starters, Mariano has, by far, the highest career ERA+ in baseball history (second-best is Pedro Martinez’s 154). Additionally, he pitched to the tune of a 243 ERA+ in 2009, and that was only the sixth-best mark of his career!
In addition to being his usual beastly self in the regular season, unsurprisingly leading the Yankees in FIP, Mo continued to be superhuman in the postseason, with an October FIP of 2.28. Superlatives begin to lose their meaning when discussing the almighty Mo, so let’s just say that without Mariano Rivera, there is no championship #27. And probably no championships numbers 23 through 26, either.
Phil Hughes, RHP
As starter | 2009 regular season: 7 starts, 5.45 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
As reliever | 2009 regular season: 1.40 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 11.4 K/9
162-Game Averages: 4.20 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
2009 regular season: 3.03 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1.12 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 3.22 FIP
2009 postseason (as reliever): 6.1 IP, 7K, 2.37 WHIP, 8.53 ERA, 4.83 FIP
I wrote about Hughes ad nauseum in my review of the starting rotation last week, so feel free to click here to see what I had to say about him.
David Robertson, RHP
162-Game Averages: 4.14 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.39 WHIP, 12.0 K/9
2009 regular season: 3.30 ERA, 130 ERA+, 1.35 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 3.05 FIP
2009 postseason: 5.1 IP, 3K, 1.31 WHIP, 0.00 ERA, 3.66 FIP
Robertson was the fourth-most valuable Yankee out of the bullpen after Hughes, Rivera and Aceves. Not bad for a guy who would have posted the best K/9 ratio in the American League had he qualified. The only rub on Robertson is a relatively high walk rate, which he seemed to improve upon as the season wore on. Robertson was also excellent in the postseason, squirming out of a bases loaded no-out jam in the top of the 11th of Game 2 of the ALDS and ended up being Girardi’s third-best option out of the bullpen, even if Joe for some reason seemed hell-bent on ignoring that fact.
If D-Rob can continue to reduce his walk rate, he could be a valuable piece of the bullpen puzzle for years to come.
Alfredo Aceves, RHP
162-Game Averages: 3.24 ERA, 134 ERA+, 1.05 WHIP, 6.7 K/9
2009 regular season: 3.54 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.75 FIP
2009 postseason: 4.1 IP, 2K, 1.85 WHIP, 4.15 ERA, 4.25 FIP
Ace was the unsung hero of the Yankees for the first half, and while the wheels started to fall off some as the season wore on, he turned in a fantastic overall campaign. Ace gave the Yankees pretty much whatever they needed in relief whenever they needed it — one inning, multiple innings, one batter, spot start — putting up a 121 ERA+ over 80.2 innings.
Aceves wasn’t very good in the playoffs, although between being tired and sporadically used, it was hard to get too up in arms over his performance. My one concern with Ace is that he seems unlikely to be able to be that good again, although if the rest of the bullpen pitches to its ca
pabilities then he may have a bit more margin for error.
Damaso Marte, LHP
162-Game Averages: 3.46 ERA, 130 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP, 9.6 K/9
2009 regular season: 9.45 ERA, 45 ERA+, 1.58 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 5.65 FIP
2009 postseason: 4.0 IP, 5K, 0.50 WHIP, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 FIP
Marte was putrid in limited regular season action, and landed on the DL in May for what would wind up being most of the season. He didn’t return until the end of August and was still bad, tossing 5.2 innings of 7.94 ERA ball. Then October happened, and just like that, a switch seemed to go off and Marte was a highly effective pitcher again. Though accomplished in only 4 innings of work, Marte still had the lowest FIP of anyone in the bullpen in the postseason, and one hopes he can build on that and be a key cog in the 2010 bullpen, perhaps as part of the Bridge to Mariano that the team has had to renovate on an annual basis.
Phil Coke, LHP
162-Game Averages: 3.74 ERA, 116 ERA+, 0.99 WHIP, 7.6 K/9
2009 regular season: 4.50 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.07 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 4.68 FIP
2009 postseason: 2.2 IP, 3K, 1.88 WHIP, 6.75 ERA, 11.72 FIP
Full disclosure: I’m not a big Phil Coke fan. He was a fairly effective reliever for a decent portion of the season, but I seldom felt comfortable when Coke came in with a lead to protect. Maybe it’s irrational, but I just didn’t trust Coke at all in a big spot. For me, whatever shred of confidence I may have had was completely eviscerated when Girardi went to Coke in the top of the 8th inning of the Sunday, August 9, game against the BoSox, with a potential four-game sweep and 6.5-game division lead for the Yankees a real possibility and the team leading 1-0. Pettitte had just given the Yankees seven more innings of shutout ball against Jon Lester and the Red Sox, incredibly bringing Boston’s scoreless streak that weekend against the Yankees to a ridiculous 31.
Coke managed to get Jacoby Ellsbury to strike out, but Dustin Pedroia then singled, bringing up Victor Martinez as the go-ahead run. As I was watching this game with my family up in Cape Cod, all I could do was curse Girardi to the high heavens because I just knew Coke was going to give up a home run in that spot. I knew it. Though I wasn’t at the Stadium, I bet everyone in attendance knew it, too. Apparently Hughes was unavailable, and Joe clearly thought Coke could neutralize the lefty in this spot, but of course Martinez ended up hitting one of the most obvious home runs of all time. Down 2-1, it seemed unlikely that the Yanks would be able to pull this one out — even with all of 2009’s comeback wins — because beating the Red Sox in four straight games is a herculean task as it is, not to mention the fact that they hadn’t scored in ages up to that point. Needless to say, I was supremely dejected.
Thankfully, the best thing ever happened in the bottom of the 8th. After quickly retiring the first two Yankee batters, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeria went back-to-back on supposed closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard, and the Yankees would add two more runs off Hideki Okajima to go on to win the game 5-2 and complete the wonderful four-game sweep of the team’s archrivals.
Of course, Phil Coke ended up with the win in that game, which is a disgrace. Coke was actually very good in September, giving up no runs in 7.1 innings, but was an absolute joke in the postseason. I don’t expect much out of Coke for 2010, although Bill James is somehow forecasting a 3.86 ERA and 4.03 FIP for Coke next year, which would be dual miracles.
Brian Bruney, RHP
162-Game Averages: 4.27 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.54 WHIP, 8.9 K/9
2009 regular season: 3.92 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.51 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 5.10 FIP
2009 postseason: 0.1 IP, 0K, 9.00 WHIP, 54.00 ERA, 3.10 FIP
Bruney began the year looking like the Bridge to Mariano the Yankees have been trying to build for ages. Bruney tossed a 3.38 ERA and a microscopic 0.85 FIP in 8 innings, but hit the DL in late April. Bruney came back earlier than he probably should have and was bad, hit the DL again, and when he came back for a second time he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher. The Yanks gave him a handful of opportunities to reclaim the 8th inning role from Hughes, but Bruney just couldn’t do it, and wound up getting buried in the bullpen.
Despite his struggles, he still somehow managed a 109 ERA+, although that 5.10 FIP is ugly, and for much of the second half it seemed like he was just grooving his fastballs right over the middle and giving up home run after home run.
He wasn’t any better in limited duty in the postseason, and though many suspected he would be non-tendered, the Yankees apparently want him back. If he can regain even some of his dominating April 2009 form it’s probably worth the chance as a pretty low-cost investment for the ‘pen.
Jonathan Albaladejo, RHP
162-Game Averages: 4.19 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.40 WHIP, 6.6 K/9
2009 regular season: 5.24 ERA, 82 ERA+, 1.66 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, 5.81 FIP
Albaladejo didn’t have a huge role on the 2009 Yankees, though he did get into 32 games while giving them 34.1 innings. They weren’t particularly good innings, although I do have a vague memory or two of Alby getting himself out of a big spot here and there, but clearly they weren’t all that memorable because I don’t even recall what games they came in.
I can see why the Yankees continue to give Albaladejo opportunities — when his sinking stuff is working, he can be hard to hit. But during his Yankee tenure he gets tagged more often than not, and has yet to establish himself as a reliable bullpen piece. Still, he’ll be in the mix come this spring, and it’s possible we haven’t seen the best of young Albaledejo just yet.