For the first two months of the 2009 season, the New York Yankees bullpen was considered a weakness.
How many stories were written about Mariano Rivera’s age?
How many articles were published that questioned the intelligence of having Joba Chamberlain start instead of relieve?
All along, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman professed that the answers to their bullpen issues would come from within. Few, if anyone, believed this would actually be the case. After all, these are the New York Yankees! You know how they work, they can buy any player they want!
Well, it appears that the Yankees have indeed fixed the bullpen. After holding what amounted to a two-month open audition to fill in the spots between the starting rotation and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have settled on a combination of relievers that has put together a dominant stretch of pitching since June 1.
The new bullpen alignment consists of the following players: Alfredo Aceves, Phil Hughes, Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Brett Tomko, and the ageless Rivera.
Since June 1st, this unit has put together a 2.42 ERA over 93 innings, striking out 94 batters, and allowing just 87 baserunners (57 hits, 30 walks) for a tidy 0.935 WHIP.
Of the seven relievers, only Tomko and Bruney have really struggled during this stretch.
Bruney was recently activated from the disabled list and has allowed 12 baserunners and three earned runs in the 5.2 innings he has thrown since returning.
Take the statistics of Bruney and Tomko away, and the bullpen numbers since June 1st look like this:
1.65 ERA in 76.1 IP, 0.799 WHIP (41 hits, 20 walks), 80 strikeouts.
However one looks at it, the Yankees bullpen, maligned by many for much of the season, has turned into a strength as the team is about to enter the second half of the season. In fact, as of right now, the Yankees have the best bullpen in all of baseball.
Phil Hughes has earned a lot of credit since being converted into a reliever, and rightfully so. He has been almost unhittable, allowing just six hits in 14.2 innings with 16 strikeouts as a reliever.
However, Phil Coke and David Robertson have been equally difficult for opponents to hit. Since June 1st, Coke has allowed just five hits in 15.2 innings, striking out 16. Robertson has given up eight hits in 11.2 innings with 17 strikeouts.
Also, Alfredo Aceves has developed into the team’s most versatile pitcher, a true secret weapon that few teams can boast of having. His masterful performance against the Blue Jays on Sunday (four innings of one-hit relief with five strikeouts, first career save) may finally serve notice to the rest of baseball that he is one of the best relievers in the game.
It also helps that Mariano Rivera is as great as ever as well. He hasn’t blown a save since April 24, and is 21 for 22 in save chances on the season. As usual, Rivera is a deserving All-Star, and has quieted talk that age is catching up to him.
At the mid-point of the season, it is clear that the “Bridge to Rivera,” which has been under construction for several seasons now it seems, is finally complete.
Should the Yankees continue to receive strong pitching from the bullpen, their new Bridge could end up taking the team down the Canyon of Heroes come October.
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