if we were going to have a discussion about what makes Joe Girardi a good manager, I think the first thing we’d talk about is his bullpen management. He, like all managers, has his bad moments when it comes to relief pitchers; and he, like all other managers, likes to stick to the formula of “#th inning guys.” As much as I’d like him to, I’m not expecting Girardi to be the deliverer of more efficient bullpen usage. He’s essentially stuck in a system so he’s got to work around that, which he does pretty well. No one ever seems to be overworked and rarely dos Girardi put a reliever out there in a situation where he’s not set up for success.
As it has been for the last few years, the Yankee bullpen was strong in 2011. Mariano Rivera did his thing; Joba Chamberlain was effective when healthy. Roster fillers like Cory Wade and Luis Ayala actually turned in good performances and Boone Logan really wasn’t as bad as we all thought he was. And of course, David Robertson emerged as one of the top one inning relievers in all of baseball, throwing up a 1.08/1.84/2.46 ERA/FIP/xFIP split while striking out 13.50 batters per nine innings and racking up 2.8 fWAR, which tied him for third in all of baseball (with Cubs’ releiver Sean Marshall–who pitched 9.0 more innings–and put him just behind Craig Kimbrel‘s 3.2 mark and Jonathan Papelbon‘s 3.0 mark).
Moving into 2012, the bullpen should be a strength. While we can’t count on anything from Joba because of his Tommy John Surgery recovery and I’m not expecting to ever see Pedro Feliciano in a meaningful game for the Yankees, Rivera, Robertson, Logan, and (a hopefully healthy) Rafael Soriano should be back to anchor the late innings. The pecking order is going to be pretty obvious there: Rivera at the top with Robertson and Soriano leading up to him with Logan taking care of those tricky left handers. Assuming a 13 position player lineup/bench and a five man rotation while including those four players, that leaves us with three bullpen spots to play with.
One will definitely be filled by Cory Wade. I may be waiting for the other shoe to drop on him/his performance, but he’s under team control and will be cheap enough that cutting him if he does implode won’t be an issue.
The next spot could be filled by the loser of a rotation spot. Whom could that be? I think there’s a possibility that it’s Phil Hughes or A.J. Burnett if the Yankees sign two free agent starters this Hot Stove season, which is pretty likely.
The third is probably going to Hector Noesi. While it’d be nice to see him get some starts and extend himself in AAA, I think the Yankees like having a swingman around to lessen the burden on the rest of the bullpen. If deployed properly, Noesi could be a very effective tool in 2012.
That leaves Luis Ayala in the cold and, frankly, I don’t care. I’m even more leery of his success than I am of Wade’s. Like we always say, it’s better to let a guy go a year too early than a year too late. Of course we’ll see some minor league players shuffled in and out of the “deck” as injuries happen and spot starts are necessary. The bullpen overall, though, seems pretty locked in. When it’s as strong as the Yankees’ one is, that’s a good thing.
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