Crafting an elite bullpen out of ex-Yankee relievers

I am impressed with the bullpen that Brian Cashman has put together this season. I am not a Yankees fan by any means, but that final trio is the baseball version of a video game final boss. Aroldis Chapman threw 102 MPH yesterday. Andrew Miller has been absurdly good and has already accumulated 0.7 fWAR in one month of work. He has 23 strikeouts and one walk over 12.2 innings. And they have Dellin Betances. His career K/9 is 14.03.

But even though this bullpen is great, the Yankees have also been really good at developing relief pitchers in the recent past. Perhaps it’s the aura of Mariano, or some brilliant work from Brian Cashman, but whatever the case, Yankee relievers turn out to be very good. Sure, they haven’t really been able to develop a consistently above-average starting pitcher for a while, but even their failed starters have worked out as bullpen arms. In fact, the Yankees have so many relievers that they actually cannot keep them all. Baseball is dotted with random ex-Yankee pitchers in key bullpen roles. It’s really weird. There certainly aren’t many ex-Met relievers from 2010-2013 in key bullpen roles (someone make sure Scott Rice still has an arm).

While the Betances/Miller/Chapman/Shreve/some scrub combination is undoubtedly great, I have cobbled together another elite bullpen of very good relievers who have left the Yankees since 2010. The Yankees could have kept these guys and created an equally effective bullpen. Instead, they bought and developed a whole new bullpen. So typical. Anyhow, the hypothetical bullpen is still interesting to look at from a historical perspective.

The Hypothetical Ex-Yankee Bullpen

MR 1: LHP Adam Warren (Chicago Cubs)

Warren was the main piece in the deal that sent Starlin Castro to the Yankees, and he’s been effective for Chicago thus far. He has a 1.93 ERA, even though his peripherals suggest regression is coming. He currently has a high-leverage spot in the Cubs bullpen. The Cubs bullpen is also the weakest part of the team, if it can even be considered a “weakness”. Warren was an above average pitcher last year and slots in well at this spot in the “Hypothetical Yankees Bullpen.

MR 2: RHP Shawn Kelley (Washington Nationals)

Kelley was drafted by the Mariners but was traded to the Yankees for Abraham Almonte before the 2013 season. Technically he wasn’t a homegrown player, but we’ll give Cashman some credit because Almonte was awful for the Mariners and got traded for the equally terrible Chris Denorfia. This trade goes down as a win for the Yankees. Kelley underperformed his solid peripherals for the Yankees, and he eventually got traded for current fringe Yankees bullpen piece Johnny Barbato (who has not been good).

However, this year, Shawn Kelley has had an electric start to the season for the Nationals, who signed him to a $15 million contract. His 12.34 K/9 is the highest of his career and he has yet to allow an earned run in 11.2 innings.

MR 3/LOOGY: LHP Boone Logan (Colorado Rockies)

Every bullpen has to have a LOOGY, and Boone Logan fits the bill for this hypothetical one. Logan holds lefties to a .305 wOBA and a .689 OPS, which is solid. He is really not good against righties. However, his overall numbers have been badly hurt by having to pitch in Coors Field. After a terrible post-Yankees debut year in Colorado, he’s improved and currently has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.59 FIP. Again, pitching in Coors is really hard, and Logan’s five consecutive seasons with 11 K/9 and good numbers against lefties should earn him a place in the HYB.

MR 4: RHP David Phelps (Miami Marlins)

Hey, former mediocre Yankees starter David Phelps is currently a lights-out setup man for the Marlins. By now, you’ll realize this is not surprising. After coming over in the Prado/Eovaldi deal, Phelps has been extremely effective as a setup man for A.J. Ramos so far. He’s upped his strikeout rate to 10.35 K/9 and he has a 1.80 ERA and 2.14 FIP. Not bad. He’s next in line for the closer’s role if Ramos goes down.

He’s also producing the same fWAR as Eovaldi has produced so far this year. Also, Prado has a .391 BA for the Marlins. The Yankees also had to start Stephen Drew at second base last season. They also had to trade Adam Warren to get a reliable second baseman to replace Drew. Also, they now have to start Chase Headley at third for this season. As of today, I would say this is a short-term and long-term loss for the Yankees. But when you have oodles of long relievers, you might as well use them short-sightedly.

Setup: RHP Mark Melancon (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Mark Melancon had 51 saves last year and was one of the best relievers in baseball. He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past three seasons. The Yankees dealt him in 2010 for the dying embers of Lance Berkman. He didn’t really become elite until he got to Ray Searage and the Pirates, but Melancon is easily a top ten fantasy and real-life closer right now after taking the job from Jason Grili a few years ago. If his velocity hadn’t dropped last year, he would be the closer. As of now, he’s only the setup man for this Hypothetical Yankeees Bullpen.

Closer: RHP David Robertson (Chicago White Sox)

While David Robertson was worse by ERA than Melancon last year, he was better in every other metric, which puts him as the man for the HYB closer role. Robertson has been significantly better than Melancon to start the year, and he has a 1.23 ERA to go along with a 2.00 FIP. Robertson was the Yankees’ closer but left to sign with the White Sox after the 2014 season. By fWAR, he was just as valuable with the Sox as he was with the Yankees, and ended 2015 as the 10th most valuable reliever in baseball according to fWAR.

Conclusions:

Overall, this bullpen is absolutely stacked and its depth and top-line ability would rival any other team in baseball. It’s also very affordable for a team like the Yankees. Alas, these ex-Yankees are all scattered to the four winds, even though they were all in the same organization in 2010. I still find this collection of pitchers to be rather incredible though. If you collected all the Mets pitching assets from 2010, you’d have four really good young starters who currently anchor the franchise. Okay, that’s a bad example, but all the mediocre bullpen arms from that team are not relevant anymore.

If you collected all the Reds pitching assets from 2010, there are one or two decent relievers remaining, depending on your opinion of Travis Wood. The Padres won 90 games in 2010. The only relevant pitchers left from that team are Mat Latos, Luke Gregerson and maybe Ryan Webb.

Relievers are fungible. Relievers are volatile. Many are good for one or two years and then crash and burn. Crafting a successful bullpen is quite difficult. And yet the Yankees had an elite 2016 bullpen that was essentially expendable over the next few years, and then built an entirely new bullpen that is among the best in baseball in time for 2016. Sure, Warren and Phelps could drop off soon. Kelley and Logan haven’t exactly been fantastic. But overall, I think at least 25 teams in baseball would take that bullpen. That’s pretty good.

It’s also really weird that to develop so many good relievers. Normally, the goal of a farm system is to develop good starters. While the relief glut is a testament to how bad they’ve been at developing starting pitching (hi Ivan Nova!), you gotta credit them for developing like, 9-11 elite relievers over the past 6 years that are all still pretty good today. The Royals are the only other team who can claim to have such a good track record with relievers. That being said, I’m pretty sure the Yankees would have traded all of these HYB guys for someone like Jose Fernandez.

There are also several other ex-Yankees who have been rather successful in 2016. Joba Chamberlain has a 0.87 ERA in 2016 for the Indians (I’m just as shocked as you). I didn’t include him because he’s actually bad, but he’s pitching well right now. Vidal Nuno has a 1.80 ERA and has not walked a batter in 10 innings for the Mariners. The Yankees also had Zach McAllister in 2010, who has a 1.59 ERA for the Indians through 11.1 innings. And although Chien-Ming Wang was not on the Yankees in 2010, he has been an okay mop-up guy for the Royals this year. Caleb Cotham is the big failure. He’s part of the horrendous Reds bullpen and has a 6.48 ERA.

Once the 2016 Yankees are out of the playoff race in August, at least their fans can take solace by rooting for their old pitchers.

 

 

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