Pinch hitting: Kevin Seefried • 01.30.11
Our next Pinch Hitter, Kevin Seefried, spent his early years in Westchester County before moving to Colorado at the turn of the century. He’s now a freshman at Claremont McKenna College, and he co-founded 6pound8ouncebabyjoba.com back in 2008. Kevin is often featured at the Claremont Sports Connection where his Sports Disconnection series recently debuted, and he’s a regular on The Nightcap sports talk radio show in Claremont, CA.
Kevin spends his free time listening to Mitch Hedberg and Daniel Tosh albums to feed his stand-up comedy addiction. In his more serious hours, Kevin is an Economics major — for whatever it’s worth, I actually minored in economics at Mizzou — and he’d like to land a gig in the sports industry at some point. For his guest post, the self-described “Joba-idolizing character” looked into what it takes to build a winning bullpen.
Okay, so the Yanks’ signing of Rafael Soriano sort of lit the blogosphere ablaze with debate and disagreement and yada, yada, yada. Questions arose. Should teams spend big dollars on set-up men and lefty-specialists? Or should the bullpen be an assemblage of minimum wage (by MLB standards) journeymen, rookies, fading stars and failed starters?
Well, I’m going to start by apologizing for not taking a staunch hold to either side and settle in the middle.
Brian Cashman has it right: You can have extreme success in the bullpen by throwing a bunch of guys out there and seeing what sticks. Phil Hughes electrified the Yanks’ endgame in ’09 when he unexpectedly stepped into a setup role. David Robertson wasn’t the biggest name on the farm, but he’s proven important over the past couple years. Heck, even Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras saw some success in the ‘pen.
That said, wasn’t Hughes one of the game’s best starting pitching prospects? His dominance in a one-inning role wasn’t all that surprising. Robertson was a K-master in the minors before his promotion, posting a 15.34 K/9 rate at AAA in ’09, a 13.11 rate in 35 AAA innings in ’08, and a 12.54 rate in his other 18.2 ’08 innings at the AA level. So, it shouldn’t have been shocking that MLB hitters flailed at his pitches too. As for Veras and Ramirez, they essentially flunked out of the bullpen in ’09, right?
The Yankee bullpen’s 4.06 FIP in 2010 placed last among playoff teams. With Kerry Wood back on the North Side of Chicago, the team needed to add some insurance to their late-game staff. Sure, you can hope and pray that an eighth-inning messiah arises from the mess of relievers fighting for time in the Bronx, but how likely is that to happen?
Among Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Prior, Robert Fish, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Brian Schlitter, and Daniel Turpen, do you really see anyone that’ll remind us of Mariano circa 1996? The lights-out talents that manned the eighth inning for the Yanks’ last three playoff teams were all former top-prospects: Joba, Hughes and Wood. With a not-so-full rotation, the Yanks can’t be plugging top young starting talents into late-inning roles when those guys would be much more valuable taking the hill for six or seven innings at a time. Even before Soriano signed, it was pretty clear that any gems like the 2007 Joba or the 2009 Hughes are going to be asked to start, not take on a set-up role.
When it comes to the game’s last two innings, it’s nice to have a little insurance, but when patching together the rest of the bullpen, Cashman’s approach can be effective. I’m fine watching Veras/Ramirez/Robertson/Coke/Aceves types in the middle innings, because someone is bound to play over their head for the year and make the stat-lines look good. You don’t need a Mariano-type in the sixth inning, but come the eighth, knowing that your lead is safe is a big deal.
Relievers are volatile, which is why generally it’s not smart to dish out the big bucks to a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. When a guy is coming off one good year, with an injury-laden past or without a strong history of success, dishing out dinero is silly.
Folks with proven records are worth the extra couple mill, though.
Arms like Scott Downs, Ryan Madson, Matt Thornton and — yes — Rafael Soriano proved dominant consistently for two-plus years and thus deserve to be paid accordingly. Sure, some deals won’t work out, but hey, that’s true at any position. The best way to look at relievers is to examine the marginal upgrade of a signee over whatever arms would otherwise take up a roster spot. The difference between a 3.50 ERA/1.30 WHIP veteran and a bunch of rookies that might put up those same numbers isn’t enough to merit a seven-figure salary. If the veteran in question will post a 2.00 ERA/1.10 WHIP, however, he’s worth the investment. That’s a big upgrade over a spring-training standout.
The only way to run a baseball team is with an open-mind to all philosophies. You don’t have to embrace them all or completely abandon a strategy that has worked, but GMs need to constantly reevaluate each situation. Yes, letting a hodgepodge of relievers duke it out for bullpen spots can work. Yes, paying a veteran millions of dollars to join that ‘pen can work too, just ask Tom Gordon. But you can’t just choose one path and never make exceptions.
Moral of the story: You have to adjust for your budget, your situation, your in-house options, your out-of-house options and your rotation. Sticking with one theory because it worked in a different time and different situation just won’t fly. Billy Beane moved away from OBP and poor fielders, Roger Clemens stopped relying solely on his fastball, and Brian Cashman must consider alternate bullpen theories. That’s the game. That’s life. Adjusting to the situation is the only way to see success.
Associated Press photos
A year of trades for the Yankees • 12.23.10
One year and one day after last winter’s trade for a Javier Vazquez, a look back at the Yankees trades from December to December.
December 7, 2009
RHP Brian Bruney to the Nationals for OF Jamie Hoffmann
Why? Because Bruney was due for an arbitration raise and the Yankees outfield depth was woefully low.
Good move? Didn’t really matter. Bruney probably would have been non-tendered anyway, and the Yankees at least got to take a look at a guy who’s now on the Dodgers 40-man roster. No harm done. Hoffmann was a Rule 5 pick who didn’t stick. Bruney was a reliever on his way out.
December 8, 2010
RHP Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks, LHP Phil Coke and CF Austin Jackson to the Tigers for CF Curtis Granderson
Why? Because the Yankees were worried about Jackson’s holes and didn’t have a spot for Kennedy. In Granderson, they seemed to be getting a proven player who basically represented Jackson’s best-case scenario.
Good move? Little too early to say. Jackson, Coke and Kennedy each had good years, but Jackson showed the holes that the Yankees expected — a ton of strikeouts, not much power — and Kennedy might have benefited from the change of scenery. If Granderson continues the strides he made in the second half of last season, he’ll be better than any of the three players the Yankees sacrificed to get him.
December 22, 2009
CF Melky Cabrera, LHP Mike Dunn and RHP Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan
Why? Because the Yankees needed consistency and durability at the back of the rotation, and those had been trademarks of Vazquez for 10 years.
Good move? No. Vazquez was a complete disappointment, but Cabrera wasn’t very good either, and Logan for Dunn was basically a wash. This seemed to be a big trade, but in the end, the left-handed relievers were the best pieces. Even Vizcaino took a step back, making only 17 starts because of a torn ligament. The Yankees got a compensation pick when Vazquez signed the Florida, so that helps make up for the loss of a very young prospect.
January 26, 2010
INF Mitch Hilligoss to the Rangers for OF Greg Golson
Why? Because the Yankees needed outfield depth much more than infield depth.
Good move? Sure. Hilligoss had a nice year — .296/.365/.370 between High-A and Double-A — but Golson played a role in New York, and he should be around to do the same next season whenever the Yankees need him. Hilligoss would still be no higher than fourth or fifth on the utility depth chart. Golson is probably at the top of the outfield call-up list.
March 9, 2010
RHP Edwar Ramirez to the Rangers for cash considerations
Why? Because Ramirez had been designated for assignment to make room for Chan Ho Park.
Good move? At least they got something for him. Ramirez actually didn’t do much more than Park. He was ultimately traded to the A’s, pitched 11 innings in the big leagues and he’s now floating through free agency, probably destined for a minor league deal somewhere.
July 30, 2010
RHP Zach McAllister to the Indians for OF Austin Kearns
Why? Because McAllister was quickly becoming overshadowed in Triple-A, Kearns was hitting pretty well in Cleveland and the Yankees needed a right-handed fourth outfielder.
Good move? Looked good for a little while, but ultimately no. Through his first 17 games with the Yankees, Kearns hit .275/.373/.451 and was especially helpful during that August road trip through Texas and Kansas City, but he was dreadful in September. McAllister didn’t pitch any better for Triple-A Columbus than he had for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he was passed by a ton of talent coming through the Yankees system, but it wasn’t worth losing him for three good weeks from Kearns.
July 31, 2010
RHP Mark Melancon and INF Jimmy Paredes to the Astros for DH Lance Berkman
Why? Because the Yankees needed to created a platoon at designated hitter, and Berkman gave them someone who could legitimately hit lefties. Melancon’s time and come and gone, and Paredes was an afterthought in the Yankees system.
Good move? Yes. Berkman got off to a slow start, but when he came off the disabled list he hit .299/.405/.388 through the month of September, and he was better than most of the Yankees hitters in the playoffs. I’m one of the few Melancon believer still out there, but he had his chances to prove himself in New York and never did. Unless Paredes significantly exceeds expectations, this will have been a worthwhile trade.
July 31, 2010
INF Matt Cusick and RHP Andrew Shive to the Indians for RHP Kerry Wood
Why? Because the Yankees had a chance to solidify the bullpen without losing any key pieces of the farm system.
Good move? You bet. No offense to Cusick and Shive, but they were pretty far off the prospect radar in the Yankees system. Wood, meanwhile, seemed to magically bring the bullpen together to make it one of the Yankees absolute strengths down the stretch. If the Yankees had continued their playoff run, the Wood trade would have been considered one of the great turning points of the season.
November 18, 2010
1B Juan Miranda to the Diamondbacks for RHP Scottie Allen
Why? Because Miranda is out of options and had no spot on the big league roster.
Good move? Sure. It’s too early to know whether Allen will turn into anything of value — he’s not even 20 years old yet — but Miranda was completely expendable. With Jorge Posada ready to get most of the DH at-bats and Mark Teixeira entrenched at first base, Miranda had no place in the organization and it was best for everyone involved to send him elsewhere and get something in return.
Associated Press photos of Bruney, Cabrera and Kearns
Tough day for past and present relievers • 05.16.10
My day was mostly about finally buying groceries and finally cleaning my apartment, but I did manage to catch several innings of today’s game, including every pitch from the bullpen.
Sergio Mitre gave the Yankees a quality start and David Robertston went a long way toward redeeming himself — that was a big pitch to Morneau — but Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera proved to be human afterall.
The past 24 hours haven’t been much better for former Yankees relievers.
• Edwar Ramirez was designated for assignment by the Athletics.
• Chad Gaudin was also designated by Oakland.
• Brian Bruney was designated for assignment by the Nationals.
Hard to see any of those three fitting for the Yankees.
Some good news from within the organization, Josh Norris is reporting that Hector Noesi has been promoted to Double-A. Noesi was added to the 40-man roster this winter. He had 53 three strikeouts and only six walks with High-A Tampa.
Change of pace • 04.27.10
As usual, the Yankees are taking some early batting practice on the day after an off day on the road. Robinson Cano just took his hacks. Now it’s Francisco Cervelli’s turn. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are standing around the cage. Looks like Jorge Posada is about to go through some catching punishment drills with Tony Pena.
Still no word on the lineup, but there is word that Nick Johnson has made a change.
Today he changed his uniform number from 26 to 36, which was the number he originally wore with the Yankees from 2002 to 2003. In that time, the number 36 has been worn by five players.
Tom Gordon (’04-’05), Mike Myers (’06-’07), Jim Brower (’07), Ian Kennedy (’07) and Edwar Ramirez (’08-’09).
Ramirez wore the number this spring.
Associated Press photo.
Ramirez designated for assignment • 02.28.10
To make room for Chan Ho Park on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated Edwar Ramirez for assignment. Here’s the full press release announcing the move.
The New York Yankees today announced they have signed right-handed pitcher Chan Ho Park to a one-year Major League contract. He has joined the team today at spring training camp in Tampa, Fla.
Park, 36, owns a career record of 120-95 with a 4.35 ERA in 423 games (287 starts) over 16 Major League seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1994-2001, ‘08), Texas Rangers (2002-05), San Diego Padres (2005-06), New York Mets (2007) and Philadelphia Phillies (2009). He has won at least 10 games in a season at least six times in his career, including three seasons of 15-or-more victories (1998, 2000 and 2001).
He became the first-ever Korean-born player to appear in a Major League game on April 8, 1994 vs. Atlanta (w/ Los Angeles-NL) and is the first native of South Korea signed by the Yankees. His 120 career victories are second-most all-time among Asian-born pitchers behind only Japan’s Hideo Nomo (123 wins).
In 2009, Park went 3-3 with a 4.43 ERA in 45 games (seven starts) with the National League-champion Philadelphia Phillies. He made his season debut in relief, and then made seven starts from April 12-May 17 before returning to the bullpen for his final 37 outings of the season. Overall, Park posted a 2-2 record with a 2.52 ERA (50.0IP, 14ER) as a reliever, tossing more than 1.0 inning in 13 of his 38 relief outings.
Park owns 13 career postseason appearances, going 0-1 with a 2.61 ERA (10.1IP, 3ER), including 3.1 scoreless innings in the 2009 World Series vs. the Yankees. He was named to the 2001 National League All-Star team as a member of the Dodgers.
In order to make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Edwar Ramirez was designated for assignment.
• Beautiful day here in Tampa. Much nicer than yesterday, which means CC Sabathia should finally be able to face some hitters. Not sure which group of hitters he’ll be facing, but he’s scheduled to be the second pitcher throwing on the main field, after Joba Chamberlain and before Phil Hughes.
• As indicated in the previous post, Park will do long toss today and expects to throw a bullpen tomorrow.
• Pitchers throwing live batting practice:
Field 1: Chamberlain, Sabathia, Hughes, Logan, McAllister, Nova, Noesi
Field 2: Igawa, Moseley, Mitchell, Melancon, Bleich, Whelan
• Ramirez was scheduled to throw on Field 2, but I’m assuming that’s no longer in the cards.
• Defensive assignments are the same as yesterday: Granderson LF, Hoffmann CF, Gardner LF, Laird 1B, Winfree LF, Nunez 3B, Thames RF, Winn LF, Golson CF, Corona 2B, Gorecki LF, Pena 3B, Curtis LF, Russo 3B, Weber RF.