We are now one month into the 2011 baseball season and it has certainly been an exciting thirty days. Relievers are always one of the most important parts of a team--after all, you can't lose if the other team doesn't score.
Two teams whose bullpens drew much interest during the offseason were those of the Blue Jays and the Yankees. After one month of the season, here is an analysis of both 'pens.
Hitting is usually the first thought to come into one's head when s/he thinks of the "Bronx Bombers". However, after the team's starting pitchers struggled to such a great extent last season, many people have been forced to look at the 27-time World Champs' backup--the men who many Yankees fans worried would be pitching much more often than would be preferable.
Through one month of the season, Rivera (1-0, 2.13) is pitching up to normal standards...or so it would seem. The 41-year old right-hander is nine for eleven is save opportunities. Rivera blew just two saves all year in 2009 and one in 2008. Last season, he blew five. Some may argue that, over his career, the 568/619 pitcher did not have a below-average season (he blew a career high seven saves in 2001). In fact, Rivera averages just 3.64 blown saves per season, not including this season, 1995 (when he was a starter), or 1996 (when he had just five save opportunities). Even though he has saved nine games already, the major question is whether or not fans should worry about his failure 18.18% of the time. Despite the fact that, right now, he is averaging a 12 BSV season, Yankees fans should not be concerned--at least not this year. Rivera will, likely, settle down and pitch fairly well for the remainder of the season. Next year, there is more need for concern (a 42-year old is always unpredictable).
Robertson's past shows that he may eventually falter; however, he is the strongest pitcher out of the Yankees bullpen so far this year. He has gone 1-0 with the miniscule ERA of 1.93 over 9 1/3 innings. His twelve K's are impressive for a man who pitches one or fewer innings per game. He does, however, have one stat category which will come back to bite him if he does not improve in the area. His WHIP is 1.39. Though not terrible, no pitcher wants to give up as many baserunners as he has. A player cannot score from the bench, but there are hundreds of ways to bring him home if he is on the basepaths.
MOST VALUABLE RIGHT HANDER:
Rivera can still save games--but his most valuable trait is the ability to strike fear into opponents. No matter how well he is pitching, the batter will always lose confidence--("I'm facing the best closer in the league, maybe ever. I'm not going to get a hit.") And confidence most certainly has an effect on a player's ability to perform.
MOST VALUABLE LEFT HANDER:
This is sort of by default seeing as Logan is the only lefty in the Yanks' bullpen. However, he showed last year that he has the potential to be a solid pitcher (his previous seasons aside [5.78 ERA over 127.2 innings]). He is strong against lefties and, therefore, fills the position the Yankees need. In other words, he does exactly what he is asked to do and, so, he is valuable to his team.
This is the easiest title to hand out. Signed to be a star set-up man who could potentially fill in at closer in Mariano Rivera faltered, Soriano has been the falterer. He is 1-1 with a 7.15 ERA and a WHIP of 1.85 over 11 1/3 innings pitched. People are beginning to understand why he could not find a team to sign him to be their closer during the offseason. His career 2.86 ERA is the only hope the Yankees have that this deal will not be a complete bust.
After a pathetic 2010 season, the Jays acquired three proven closers to help out in the back end. So far, the bullpen has been solid--some of the production coming from the least expected sources. The Jays may not be quite there yet, but it is starting to look more and more promising.
Jon Rauch & Frank Francisco
Jon Rauch emerged as the closer early in the year. At this time, however, Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel were both on the DL. He has remained solid throughout the month, getting the save in all five of his opportunities. He also has a 2.45 ERA. When Frank Francisco returned, he showed that the Blue Jays have more than one closer. After giving up a first pitch home run to his first batter of the year, Francisco has kept opponents to only one hit since. Through 5 1/3 innings, he has an ERA of 1.69.
How can a pitcher who was sent down in the middle of the month, only to be recalled as an injury replacement, be the team's best reliever. Let the numbers speak for themselves: 0.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 6K's, .237 Opponent's Avg., 10 1/3 innings pitched. Once a starter, Janssen has translated well into a strong reliever. It is fairly safe to say that, if he can keep this up, he will not be sent down again. (One must remember that he was only placed in Triple-A because he had options left.)
MOST VALUABLE RIGHT HANDER:
Acquired for cash early in the offseason, nobody expected Villanueva to make the team. When multiple pitchers began the year injured, many assumed that he and Casey Janssen would be the first players sent down. In 14 2/3 innings, Villanueva has posted a 1.84 ERA and has given up runs in only two of his 8 appearances. His WHIP is 0.82 and his opponent's average is .093. Villanueva, being a former starter, can go multiple innings and is, by far, the most valuable pitcher on the staff. He finishes a close second to Janssen for Best Pitcher. If not for his outing against Tampa Bay on April 23rd, the title would have been his.
MOST VALUABLE LEFT HANDER:
Like with the Yankees, this choice is by default. However, also like Boone Logan, Rzepczynski deserves praise. He is the most versatile pitcher in the 'pen. Sometimes used as a lefty specialist, sometimes used as a long-relief man, Rzepczynski has made the translation from the rotation to the bullpen with ease. In 12 2/3 innings, he is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, and an opponents' average of .103. Even if there was another southpaw in the bullpen, Rzepczynski would likely still be the best left hander.
His opponents' average of .179 and 9 K's make one wonder how Octavio Dotel could possibly be the greatest disappointment out of the 'pen. The answer: a 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. In other words, the Blue Jays have a very strong bullpen. No one is very close to Dotel for this title. And Octavio has shown some promise to Jays fans this year (he went 1-2-3 in his first outing). Also, one must remember that he was injured at the start of the year. His career numbers: 3.76 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, Opponents' Avg. .218. Dotel has never been the best pitcher, but Blue Jays fans can count on his improvement later this year--even if that improvement is small.
So who wins the battle of the bullpens? Right now, the Jays are a mile ahead, but one must remember that the season is young and the Yankees always battle back. This competition is far from over. It will be interesting to see who is winning after next month.