The Yankees spent mightily this past offseason to revamp their bullpen, and despite a pair of left-handed bumps in the road, the first half of the season appeared to vindicate their decisions. Mariano Rivera was his usual stellar self, and newcomers Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill gave the Yankees the reliable pair of setup man they had lacked in 2003.
But injuries to front-line starters Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina and ineffectiveness on the part of their replacements as well as Jose Contreras (and to a lesser extent Mussina) placed a heavy burden on the bullpen. Prior to the All-Star break, the starters were averaging 0.65 fewer innings than they did all of last season, a difference that projects to 105.2 innings over the course of a season — more than the workload of one extra top-notch reliever.
GS IP IP/GS
Vazquez 18 118.2 6.6
Lieber 13 83.0 6.4
Brown 13 80.2 6.2
Mussina 18 107.1 6.0
Contreras 14 68.2 4.9
Others 10 45.0 4.5
TOTAL 86 506.1 5.9
2003 163 1066.0 6.5
The failures of southpaws Gabe White (traded in June) and Felix Heredia (finally demoted in August) to pitch effectively and absorb some of those innings, and the glacial speed of Steve Karsay’s rehabilitation left the Quantrill-Gordon-Rivera triumverate gasping for breath at the break, despite — or perhaps because of — their fine performances:
G IP ERA PG PIP
Rivera 42 45.1 0.99 79 85.1
Gordon 44 50.2 1.78 83 95.1
Quantrill 47 56.0 3.05 89 105.1
Total 133 152.0 2.01 250 286.1
Those last two columns are the pace, in games and innings, which the relievers were on as of the ASB. Since the break, the starters’ shortfall has held steady, though its distribution has changed, with Javier Vazquez the suddenly ineffective one and Orlando Hernandez the staff savior:
GS IP IP/GS
Contreras 4 27.0 6.8
Lieber 11 72.1 6.6
Brown 7 45.2 6.5
Mussina 6 38.1 6.4
Hernandez 11 67.1 6.1
Vazquez 10 54.1 5.4
Others 10 40.1 4.0
TOTAL 59 345.1 5.9
Yankee dollars may buy depth, but that depth seldom goes to seven starters, and if the team should be criticized for its craptacularity in the spot-starter-lurking-in-AAA department, then imagine where they’d be without the foresight to sign El Duque (answer: looking up at the Red Sox and fighting for the Wild Card, most likely).
The continued burden has taken its toll on the bullpen’s Big Three. Since the break:
G IP ERA
Rivera 25 26.1 3.08
Gordon 27 29.1 3.38
Quantrill 32 33.1 6.48
TOTAL 84 89.0 4.45
Quantrill’s next appearance will be his 80th, setting a franchise record, but it rings hollow given his lack of effectiveness. He tweaked his knee in a collision with Alex Rodriguez on Opening Day, and while he appeared to have overcome that, the numbers tell the story of a pitcher falling apart. His ERAs by month: 3.14 (March/April), 5.51, 1.04, 3.44, 6.19, 10.29. His most recent appearance, which broke Mike Stanton’s club record, came in Tuesday night’s drubbing by the Kansas City Royals and was one of the ugliest. Entering a lost-cause game in which the Yanks already trailed 12-3, he faced four batters, retiring only one and giving up two hits and a walk, and was charged with three of the five runs the Royals tacked on in the seventh. Fugly.
Quantrill has a reputation as a workhorse — his next appearance will make him the first pitcher ever to string four 80-appearance seasons in a row, but the Yankee brass’ capitulation to his gung-ho refusal to take a 15-day rest is yet one more thing that will likely come back to haunt them in the postseason, if not sooner. And as for their ability to straighten him out before the playoffs? I’ve been beating that joke — which involves Jeff Bridges and some Creedence tapes — and the numbers behind it like a rented fifth starter lately, so I’ll just say “Mel is hell” and leave it at that.
• • •
On the subject of Yankee pitching woes, a few of my pals have weighed in as well recently. In his latest Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman is his usual pithy self concerning the staff’s back end:
If at any time Bret Prinz, C.J. Nitkowski, Tanyon Sturtze, Felix Heredia, or, for that matter, Paul Quantrill appear in a Yankees postseason game, something will have gone terribly wrong. As Abraham Lincoln said, if this is tea, please bring me some coffee, but if this is coffee, please bring me some tea. If this is Tanyon Sturtze, please bring me some Bret Prinz. If this is Bret Prinz, please bring me some rope and a sturdy rafter beam.
Elsewhere, pitching-wise, Goldman checks in on the Duke of Deception and the man who got away, Yhency Brazoban.
Meanwhile, Alex Belth recently chatted with author and former minor-league pitcher Pat Jordan (A False Spring, A Nice Tuesday). Barricaded inside his Florida home for the hurricanes, Jordan appears to be a more astute observer of Javier Vazquez than the men on the bench:
Vazquez is throwing across his body, like many left-handers do. He’s following through towards third base and not first base. When a righty follows through, his left leg and left shoulder should be pulling toward a left-handed batter, which generates power with his right arm. When a righty follows through towards a right-handed batter, all his power is spent and he’s just flinging the ball with his arm… If a pitcher has proper balance he can stand in that one-legged Flamingo pose all day. Vazquez can’t because his body is already leaning toward third base or a right handed batter, and he’s rushing to throw the ball before he falls to his right.
Typically, Jordan minces no words with regards to the Yankee braintrust’s inability to right their pitchers: “The only reason Bill Connors is not the Yanks pitching coach is because he’s too fat, not the proper Yankee image. I’ve forgotten more about pitching that Stottlemeyre will ever know.” Ouch.
Finally, Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll weighs in with a report that the much-maligned Yankee pitching coach is good for something these days:
Thanks to all who pointed out that Kevin Brown used Mel Stottlemyre as his glove over the weekend. Wait, that sounded wrong. During Brown’s throwing session, Stottlemyre caught the ball from the catcher and handed it to Brown. Until Brown can catch the return throw and credibly field his position, the Yankees can’t put him on the mound. His arm will be ready the second his glove hand is, which, according to sources, could be two weeks away.”
That might be the most help he’s given a Yankee starter all year…