Toward the end of his last post on bullpens he wrote:
“Relying on your starter to go far enough consistently to limit your bullpen’s
exposure … that way lies madness.”
Is that what the Yankees are doing? Are they trying to cover up a major weakness in the bullpen? Have they once again fallen into the trap of old-fashioned baseball thinking? Are they channeling the spirit of Billy Martin?
Then I remembered something I saw in “The Yankee Years” by Tom Verducci and Joe Torre. The book, by the way, is a must read for any baseball fan. In addition to a look at the Yankees under Torre, the book provides a great look at changes in the game, revelations about PEDs and great insight into the impact of statistical analysis and how it helped the Red Sox win two world championships.
On page 460 the is a chart that illustrates the decline of the Yankees starters from 2001-2007. I’m going extend that from 1998 to 2008.
New York Yankees Starting Pitchers (1996-2008)
Year W-L ERA IP SO/9 IP
1998 86-36 3.85 1061.1 6.96
1999 71-50 4.33 1002.2 6.96
2000 68-58 4.81 976.2 6.31
2001 64-48 4.34 974.1 7.79
2002 79-41 4.34 1024.2 7.32
2003 83-42 4.02 1066 6.91
2004 70-46 4.82 942.1 6.55
2005 70-51 4.59 965.1 6.11
2006 74-42 4.54 933.2 5.84
2007 65-47 4.57 921 5.61
2008 59-53 4.58 898.1 6.19
There are three things I notice from this:
- On the five World Series teams (1998-2001 and 2003), the starters pitched no fewer than 974-1/3 innings and as many as 1,066. And no one in their right mind would say those teams had a poor or mediocre bullpen. Those bullpens were among the best in the league.
- Since 2003, the number of innings the starters have been eating has dropped consistently, place a bigger burden on the relievers
- The rotation was an absolute disaster last season, failing to throw 900 innings and accounting for only 61.9% of the team’s 1,451-2/3 inning — or less than 5-2/3 innings per start. An average of 6 innings per start translates to 972 innings for the starters for the season.
That is simply too much to ask from your relievers. Any bullpen, even one as deep and talented as the Red Sox, would struggle and become exposed. The relievers’ roles become expanded and they are forced into unfavorable matchups.
Clearly with the acquisitions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees are trying to rectify a growing liability with their starters. But are they trying to hide a problem with their bullpen?
The answer is no, not with Joba Chamberlain in the rotation. Chamberlain, after pitching 100 innings last season, will be limited to 150 this year. That’s not enough to get through the season as a starter. Once he gets to about 125 innings — roughly 20 starts — he’ll be moved back to the bullpen for the remainder of the season and playoffs. The Yanks are planning on turning to Phil Hughes for the remaining 10 or so starts, or about 65 innings.
That’s going to make it hard to hide the bullpen. But the rotation will put the Yankees’ staff back into the balance it had during its World Series runs.