[image title="chan_ho_park_kick" size="full" id="16234" align="center" alt="Chan Ho Park's greatest MLB moment" linkto="full" ]The current Yankee bullpen lineup of Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Sergio Mitre, Chan Ho Park, Alfredo Aceves and Joba Chamberlain. A lot has been written about how formidable this group looks going in to the season. The Yankees probably have the most reliable, deep group of relievers that they’ve started the season with in years.
What is less written about is something that we don’t see all that often in baseball these days. The 2010 Yankee bullpen sports four different relievers who could genuinely be considered long relievers, and one more capable of going multiple innings. Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, and Sergio Mitre all showed their starting skills in spring training. Chan Ho Park is a former starter who frequently went multiple innings last year, and David Robertson averaged over 2 innings per appearance in the minors.
I’m not too sure what the implications of having a bullpen capable of going so long are. The Yankees have a pretty steady starting rotation – they don’t need to worry about constantly having to go to the bullpen in the 5th inning. They really could have used the deep bullpen in the dog days of the mid-to-late 2000s when any game not started by Chien-Ming Wang made you hold your breath. The team shouldn’t need a lot of multiple-inning appearances to get through the 2010 season unless things go catastrophically wrong.
One thought: if the Yankees want to impose some sort of innings-saving rules on Phil Hughes, they have the opportunity to do so with this bullpen. If Hughes is limited to 5 innings for a month or two, they won’t destroy their bullpen. While I hope the Yankees don’t concern themselves too much with this (I’d rather just let Hughes pitch until he hits his ~180 inning limit, and then move him to the bullpen for the playoffs), I think that its an option open to them.
Furthermore, the Yankees will be well set up for those weird rain delays, double-headers, or early starter exits that come up over the course of the season. I think that this flexibility is worth real wins. The Yankees have an offense to come back if the starter lets up 6 runs in the first 3 innings. If they can remove that starter with some confidence that it won’t destroy their bullpen they should be able to salvage a few games that they wouldn’t have otherwise. It wasn’t that long ago that we were all holding our breaths and praying that our starting pitcher went 6 innings just to keep reliever’s arms from falling off.
Relievers who can go the distance represent an effective Plan B that MLB teams often lack. You’ll find a lot of bullpens that have more guys likely to come in for one out than who are capable of pitching two or more innings. Its a nice luxury to have, and I hope Girardi has thought about how to press home his advantage.
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