The Yankee Optimist Series- Part 2 (Bullpen)
By: Frank Mello-Morales
When talking about the Yankee bullpen in 2015, there may not actually be a need for optimism. On paper, it is clear that this current assemblage is among baseball’s best. In a recent ESPN article, Buster Olney ranked them as high as number two in the sport. Relative to the other facets of the roster, it is clear that the bullpen is the Yankees greatest asset heading into the season. Give New York a lead through six innings of play, and Yankee fans will have every reason to feel good about their chances. When breaking down the particular components of the ‘pen, it is easy to justify my own and many others’ high expectations.
Next we have Andrew Miller, who, at best (aka his 2014 season), can put up numbers ever so slightly less mouth dropping as that of the guy I presume he will be setting up for (see previous paragraph). Being that this is an optimistic series, let’s just not bring up what an “at worst” situation might actually mean. Miller, whom the Yankees signed via free agency to a 4yr/$36mil contract this offseason, stands an enormous 6’7 (yes, he’s just one inch shorter than Betances!) and compliments that with a lanky build and a big, sweeping stride and follow through. Pin-point accuracy with both his fastball and slider has help to make him one of the better strikes out relievers in the game. Better yet, he comes at you from the left side, increasing his value enormously (especially considering the ballpark he will now call home). Overall, Yankee fans can make a very good case that their team’s back end of the bullpen in second to none.
The next guy I’d like to talk about is David Carpenter, whom the Yankees recently acquired from the Braves for Manny Banuelos. Carpenter is one-half of what I deem to be the “Two to Surprise You” group (please excuse my cheesiness…I’m begging you). He won’t be talked about nearly as much as the names I’ve briefed upon so far, but I don’t believe Carpenter should be grouped with the likes of a guy with simply a minor league contract and Spring Training Invite. His stats, despite a drop-off last season relative to 2013, have earned him more respect. At 6’2 and 230lbs, he is a traditional right handed power pitcher. He certainly presents an upgrade over Shawn Kelly, the guy he appears most likely to replace as far as his role status. A season statistically in between that of his superb 2013 campaign and still decent most recent year would certainly be a welcoming site, and one that would add depth to the back end of the ‘pen, something that is especially vital on a team with a rotation with as many injury concerns as that of the Yankees.
The other member of the “Two to Surprise You” group is Andrew Bailey. You may remember that we actually acquired Bailey prior to the 2014 season, knowing that he had been recovering from an injury but anticipating the potential for him to be useful during the stretch run. While this ultimately did not come to fruition, he is healthy now and stakes claim to an impressive resume- including having won the ROY in 2009 while an Oakland A’. Barring a disastrous and injury riddled 2012 (health concerns have always been a constant with Andrew), his ERA has never approached four, and he has experience as a closer and set-up man, so high pressure situations don’t pose a dilemma. Having been kept out of the game for over a year has lowered many people’s expectations of him; however, I feel that this may be a blessing in disguise as with this tempered down anticipation he is no longer in the spotlight and is free to find himself again in Spring.
Both Andrew Warren and Esmil Rogers are subjects of this paragraph, as both fall into the category of long-man/middle relief. Typically, it’s hard to get excited about whomever it is filling these roles, and that is no different here. Rogers simply oozes “average”- you’ll get some good, and you’ll get some bad. Warren on the other hand was a major piece to the ‘pen and as Yankee fans, we should hope for that same continued success this season. I will say, at their best they are desirable assets, eating up innings in an efficient manner. It’s hard to call any pro-athlete “durable” anymore as we’ve entered a period in athletic competition where a stubbed toe equates to a 15 day DL stint (with setbacks), but as far as durability goes, I guess these guys fit the bill- so there’s that. All in all, look for them both to eat up innings and only pitch in high pressure situations in one-of-three-situations: better guys are injured, better guys need a day off, or better guys have already pitched. Whatever reason it may be, your confidence will likely not be as high as Betances, Miller and Carpenter- even for me, the optimist! But once again, considering the depth of the back end of the ‘pen, we likely won’t have to face this situation all too often where they are in their present roles is where they appear best fit to be of value to the team.
Finally we have the two lefty specialists (Miller can face both lefties and righties, effectively), Justin Wilson and Jacob Lindgren. Wilson was acquired for Francisco Cervelli early on in the offseason from the Pirates- a team where in two seasons existed two Justin Wilsons. Following an excellent 2013, 2014 saw no such luck- and by season’s end his ERA exceeded four. If he can emulate the former of the two campaigns, New York has a real prize. But even if he can rebound just somewhat from last year, the trade should be considered a win. With regards to Lindgren, this is a guy I am extremely excited about. A second round draft pick, at just 21, he appears to have a bright future. His nasty stuff anchored by a wipe out slider even had some suggesting the possibility of a September call up last year. I think it’s important not to rush it however, and I have no problem with the south-paw starting the season in AA or AAA- allowing him to better polish his stuff. Then again, an outstanding spring certainly will give the pro-squad just another guy to consider when assembling the ‘pen.
In summation, the New York Yankee bullpen is good…really good…potential to be baseballs best good. A combination of youth and experience, left and right, power fastball and junk, and so on gives the Yankees depth and diversity. It will be interesting to see how this bullpen matches up to those around the league as well as relative to those of the recent New York past (1996 may come to mind). I hope I have made clear to all as to why we as Yankee fans have every reason to be excited about the potential that exists out of the ‘pen in 2015.
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All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com