It's been the anchor of the pitching staff for years, but down the stretch of this season the Yankee bullpen has completely fallen apart. After giving up 4 more runs in 4 innings of work last night, the 'pen finds itself with the worst ERA (6.69) and second worst FIP (5.31) in MLB since the start of September. The collective -0.4 fWAR this month is 4th worst and a comparison of the HR-related stats shines a big bright light on the problem. New York's 12 HR allowed by the bullpen this month is 5 more than the second highest total, accounting for almost 20% of the 64 hits they've given up and few key blown late game leads. From steadying roster force to productivity fallout zone, the Yankee 'pen has joined the rotation and lineup as a major problem area at the worst possible time.
The main cause of this nosedive is, what else, injuries. 3 of New York's top 4 relievers - Boone Logan, David Robertson, Shawn Kelley - have missed time this month with arm troubles. Kelley's and D-Rob's have healed enough to allow them to return to the field, but Logan is still out with lingering elbow problems and is scheduled to visit Dr. James Andrews personally to have it evaluated. With those 3 out, Joe's bridge to Mo has blown up and in an effort to avoid the lesser pitchers as replacements Joe has used Mo to soak up those extra innings. Mo has pitched 8.2 innings in 7 appearances already this month, a workload he hasn't experienced in almost 10 years. It seems risky to handle a 43-year-old pitcher that way, but with Mo retiring and both Kelley and D-Rob struggling to deal with their injuries (8 ER allowed in a combined 5.2 IP this month), what choice does Joe have?
When he has tried to dip into the well of middle relievers behind his studs, he's gotten burned big time. Preston Claiborne has given up 8 ER and 3 HR in 4 September appearances. Phil Hughes bombed in his first relief appearance against Boston 2 weekends ago, laying the tracks for the big 7th inning bombjob. Joba Chamberlain has been handing out free passes like he's a club promoter and giving up untimely 2-out hits. And as for the sub-replacement level group of Cesar Cabral, Jim Miller, Matt Daley, Brett Marshall, and David Huff? Let's just say when they're in the game, you already know how things are going.
In fairness to the 'pen, the rotation hasn't exactly helped them out, pitching to a 5.81 ERA themselves in September in 79.0 total innings, good for 17th in MLB during that span. The rotation hasn't given the team length or solid results to help cover for the depleted bullpen, and that's made Joe's juggling act with the entire pitching staff even more difficult. He's trying to coax as much as he can from a group of generally ineffective starters while trying to stay within striking distance of a Wild Card berth, knowing he doesn't have a lot to work with out behind the right field wall. He's watched his bullpen blow late leads, give up runs in late tie games to turn them into deficits, and extend close deficits to larger ones. Which group of pitchers should he be more worried about and which should he be willing to take a chance on?
It's not like the Yankee relievers have suddenly turned into crummy pitchers. Kelley, Logan, Robertson, and Mo are still a top notch late-game crew. It's difficult for them to produce when they're hurt though, and Mo, for as great as he is, doesn't have the stamina to be an effective multi-inning reliever day in and day out anymore. The root cause of this bullpen meltdown is still injuries, but it's only the results that matter this time of the year and the results from this crew have been abysmal lately. The bullpen is no longer up to the task of covering for the rotation, and with 12 games to play and 4 to make up on Tampa that makes the Yankees' playoff hopes look very grim.
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