Stop the (bullpen) madness.

For one thing, sooner or later it is going to bite him. Relievers can be volatile things and there’s no way to know what days are the days when they’re simply not going to have their best stuff. In a way, making pitching changes is like playing a weighted game of Russian roulette, and the more relievers you use the more chambers you’re loading. I’m not advocating for a Torre-esque strategy of riding the hot middle relief arm until it falls off by any means, but once a guy is in the game there’s no real reason to remove him until you have to if he’s pitching well. That’s true of both Robertson and Joba last night, both of whom threw just 11 pitches in getting 5 total outs (3 of them via strikeout) and allowing no base runners.

But another, more ominous problem is the more straight-forward one; this strategy is putting a lot of stress on the back end of the bullpen. After last night’s game, Mo and Joba have both pitched in 10 of the Yankees’ 15 games, and Soriano has appeared in 8. David Robertson has pitched in 7 games, but for a total of just 6 innings. Which is a shame, because with a 10.50 K/9 and a K:BB ratio over 3.0, Robertson is pitching pretty darn well (and that’s not even counting all of the perfect innings he’s thrown in the bullpen!).

To be charitable, I’m hoping that the early season usage pattern we’ve seen has been a result of the absurd number of off-days the Yankees have had thus far and that things will change starting Friday. Frankly, they almost have to, because there’s just about no way this bullpen could hold up to this workload playing 39 games in 41 days between Friday and June 2nd.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

15 thoughts on “Stop the (bullpen) madness.

  1. It also sort of begs the question: Which is healthier, 20-30 pitches every other day, or 10-15 every day? I don't think it's number of appearances that will stress the arms so much as number of high-leverage pitches, but that's a shot in the dark.

    • It is not just the pitches in the game. The whole process of warming up is wear and tear on a pitcher as well. I think once he is in there better to leave him in then "save" him for tomorrow.

    • Adding in the factor of warming up, it's definitely harder to pitch more days in a row regardless of pitch counts. Leverage does fit into it though. I could see the argument that because Robertson threw 11 high leverage pitches you might want to lift him for Joba, but then there's no real reason to go to Soriano after Joba pitches a perfect 7th on just 11 pitches.

  2. Why does there have to be a robot mentality when it comes to bringing these guys in the game. If Dave Robertson is mowing people down, he needs to stay in the game. If Joba is doing the same, why not throw him for the seventh and eighth? I understand Soriano and Mo in the eighth and ninth every game, but Robertson and Joba can be either interchangeable. They don't have to pitch just one inning. Sometimes it takes a full inning to get the arm going. There needs to be more flexibility or these guys won't be able to pitch at the end of the year.

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  3. Robertson has lost his share of games; he's looked lost his share of times. Just not lately. Part of that could come from the fact that he HAS been used sparingly. There have been times in the last few years when putting in Robertson was just as much "waving the white flag" as calling for Boone is now.

    Mo and So are being paid as if they can come in and do an innings work on a regular basis. If they could do it as efficiently as they could in their prime, consecutive days wouldn't be an issue. As you noted, Robertson and Chamberlain did their work with a minimum of pitches – its not their fault that Mo was throwing 4 pitch walks, and taking over 20 pitches to lose the game.

    I dunno – whatever. If Mo is no longer physically capable of throwing more than one or two games a week, why did we resign him? And if he can, then I have no real complaints with Joe and the bullpen.

    • At the current pace, both Mo and Joba would make 108 appearances and throw roughly 100 innings. Obviously that's not going to happen. Another way of looking at it is this; regardless of the outcome, Girardi used all 4 of his best relievers last night for a game he almost certainly only needed 3 of them for, at most. Obviously you can't keep managing that way over a 162 game season.

      • Agreed – that's a lot of games; but I still think there is a logic to it; he's trying to win winnable games – the starts by CC and AJ. Along with any other game started by the 4 dwarves that ends up winnable.

        I hate to say it, but I'm afraid there will be plenty of opportunities NOT to use the big 3 (or 4) relievers. Like, say, tonite. Or Nova's next start. Or when Garcia turns back into Garcia, or when Hughes comes back. There was a stretch last year when Rivera flat didn't come in for over a week – maybe longer. The games were all blowouts, one way or the other – as I recall, Mo even pitched a few "useless" innings, just to keep the rust off.

        They'll get their rest; sooner, rather than later.

        • I can cut him a bit of a break with regards to Mo (though if the trend of playing more close games than usual continues, someone else is going to have to protect the occasional 3-run lead in the 9th), but he's doing a terrible job of managing the use of Robertson, Soriano, and Joba by any means, and as far as I can tell it's because he's pigeon holed them into well-defined roles he's sticking to hell or high-water.

          And it's the pace that worries me more than the total workload now. Not only are you risking making them ineffective due to overuse, you're risking an injury when you're pushing bullpen arms that hard, especially this early.

  4. Yeah, I agree and this has been a problem for a lot longer than Joe Girardi has been at the helm. Torre used to do the same thing and I suspect other managers around MLB are just as guilty. It's the conventional wisdom in baseball and the mindset is that it's better to get burned by following the conventional wisdom rather than trying something different (ignoring, of course, that what is now conventional wisdom was once a different idea).

    Someone, I forget who, once compared this strategy to a search for the one guy on your pitching staff who is having a bad enough night to cost you the game. Of course, last night the guy was Mariano Rivera so we can't kill Girardi for that. Still, the strategy has a big downside – say Joba or Soriano had blown up the game. The obvious question would have been "why did you pull Robertson (or Joba) after just 11 pitches?" And Girardi would respond "because he's my Xth inning guy". QED.

  5. Since George has died, the Kids have been busy and hadn't noticed that we don't have a manager for the team. Last night a "MANAGER" would not have put Ivan Nova in the game, he would have put in Lance Pendleton who four days ago came in and got 9 up and 9 down in three innings. Girardi saves Lance for when we have a totally losing situation. Therefore, he can lose more games by bring Ivan in the 10th. I bet Bobby Valentine would not have brought in Ivan. He would want to win and would have given Lance a chance to win his first major league game. People like Valentine are winners, not losers like Joe Girardi.

  6. Is a middle ground between Girardi's style and Torre's style the best fit? It's hard to argue against success, and each Joe has reached the highest level of success with completely divergent bullpen approaches. I do not get to watch any other team enough to find a coach who fits the somewhere between the two Joes. Any thoughts?

    • Actually Girardi has been pretty good at managing workloads through his first 3 seasons. I don't know what about this season so far has changed, but hopefully it's only temporary.

  7. maybe he hasn't done the math – I was surprised when you extrapolated the numbers across the season…then again, I don't think the Yankees will hit 230+ homers either. I really think it will even out, one way or the other. Not having Feliciano has to hurt – he wasn't hired as a Loogy, but as a reliever – and a good one, at that.

  8. i agree with the wear and tear of the back of the bullpen guys. I would like to see a little more "torre-esque" style of letting your mid relievers throw a bit more if they are doing fine. I agree with the post and I have always said that Girardi does somewhat micro manage, especially regarding his bullpen. If robertson throws a 10 pitch 6th why not let him go. Or let joba throw 7 and 8. Especially when dealing with joba who has the strength to go for more pitches. if it aint broken dont fix it type of deal.