Bullpen Getting Big Contributions From Unexpected Sources (Again)

Shawn Kelley

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod.  Stats have not been updated to reflect last night's game)

Anybody who's read AB4AR for at least a year knows I'm an unabashed sucker for relievers coming out of nowhere and performing well in the Yankee bullpen.  It's been a staple of their overall bullpen success for at least the last 5 seasons running and last year it reached new levels of surprising success when Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley teamed up to provide a major boost to a bullpen in need.  That familiar story is being written again this season by a new group of unheralded, unexpected pitchers, many of them part of that large group of rookies who've made their debuts in 2013.  Unsung bullpen heroes AND they're homegrown?  You betcha.

Before the season started, not one of the group of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne, and Vidal Nuno was expected to factor into the Opening Day bullpen equation.  Then Phil Hughes and Clay Rapada got hurt, forcing David Phelps to the rotation and opening spots for Warren and Kelley.  Claiborne got his opportunity when Joba Chamberlain went to the DL, and injuries to Nova and Pettitte got Nuno his ticket.  Together they've combined to pitch 50.1 of the 136.0 total relief innings for the Yankees this season, a tick over 37%, and in those innings they've allowed just 15 ER, 55 combined hits and walks, and have struck out 56.

If you didn't have time to crunch the numbers, that comes out to a 2.68 ERA and 3.44 FIP.  That FIP value, while still very good, could be even better were it not for Kelley's early-season struggles.  5 of this group's 7 HR allowed have been by Kelley, as have 5 of the 11 BB, but he's given up just 1 homer since April 19th and just 1 walk since April 24th.  Since the start of May Kelley has been outstanding, striking out 17 of the 30 batters he's faced and raising his K rate to 42.9%, tops among all qualified MLB relievers.  He's put on a strikeout performance in Joba's role similar to what we saw from Joba when he first came up in '07, and even though he's the lone outside acquisition of the group he's had no trouble fitting right in.

Claiborne continues to impress with his steady work, albeit not in nearly the stat-stuffing fashion as Kelley, and still has not allowed a run in 9 IP over 7 appearances.  Warren is holding down the Phelps longman role incredibly well, improving his chances of sticking around long-term with each strong outing.  And Nuno, last night's game-losing HR aside, still provides Joe with a multitude of options should Joe ever choose to use him more than once a week.  This crew of unheralded 20-somethings has been a near perfect blend of electric stuff, efficient approach, and role flexibility, allowing Joe to limit the work for his bullpen horses to their pre-defined roles and giving him the confidence to go to his 'pen early and often if the starting situation calls for it.

This routine is nothing new for the Yankees.  It's one they've damn perfected actually.  This season's version has included more homegrown arms than usual, and it's a sure bet that we haven't seen the last of them.  There's bound to be another injury or stretch of ineffectiveness that will open the door for someone else.  When that time comes, hopefully that next pitcher can throw as well as these guys have so far.

P.S.- Yes, I know Brett Marshall isn't included in this sample and yes I know adding his numbers makes things look worse.  I'm not counting Marshall as part of this crew.  He wasn't a real piece of the bullpen at the time, more like an emergency life raft, and his appearance was just him being a sacrificial lamb.  Photo courtesy of Getty Images.