Yankees' No-Name Bullpen Set To Impress In 2009

Yankee free agent commitments this off-season: $441MM

Percentage of free agent commitments to relievers: 2.7%

Yankee names my mother would recognize: 16

Bullpen names my mother would recognize: Mariano Rivera.

Next to leadership and clubhouse chemistry, talking heads harp on bullpen depth more than any other key to success.  For a team willing to spend $200MM on their payroll, you might have guessed the Yankees would have gone after more big names for the bullpen, guys like Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes.  The good news for Yankee fans, however, is that Mo and the No-Names make for a pretty good and cost-effective group of relievers.  As us saber-geeks like to point out, bullpen depth is overrated and big name relievers tend to be over-priced. The bulllpen is the one spot where New York is underrated and under-paid.

Let's take a look at this merry group, and what value they can expect to provide in 2009.  FIP and IP projections from CHONE over at Fangraphs.  Salary information from Cots Baseball Contracts:

Reliever FIP IP LI RAR Sal (MM)
Mariano Rivera 2.79 63 1.8 24 $15.0
Edwar Ramirez 3.43 64 1.0 9 $.5
Damaso Marte 3.76 50 1.3 7 $3.8
Joba Chamberlain 3.14 20 1.3 5 $.5
Phil Hughes* 3.48 40 0.8 4 $.5
Jose Veras 3.95 60 0.7 4 $.5
Alfredo Aceves 3.96 55 0.7 3 $.5
Ian Kennedy* 3.76 40 0.7 3 $.5
Brian Bruney 4.29 46 0.9 2 $1.3
Phil Coke* 4.02 30 0.8 2 $.5

(* -- FIPs decreased by .75 runs to account for the advantage of pitching out of the bullpen versus starting.  Reliever IP estimated by me and are not CHONE's projections.  Joba's FIP reduced by .25 runs to account for split time between the pen and rotation last year.)

There's some interesting stuff in that table:

  • The overall bullpen FIP projects to be 3.65 over 468 innings.  The actual team ERA will likely be a bit higher thanks to the poor Yankee defensive alignement.  The IP total is significantly lower than in 2008 and is below the AL average, but with the amazing rotation depth, the bullpen shouldn't be stretched too much.
  • 62 runs above replacement would have placed the Yankees third among all thirty teams in 2008.  In a large number of innings last year, the Yankee relievers provided 69 RAR, first in the majors.  This year's team projects to be slightly better in quality, but should provide less value because they won't pitch as much.
  • Only Mo projects to be more than one win above replacement level in 2009.  It just goes to show how unimportant bullpen filler really is.  To put things in perspective, the league-leading team of position players in 2008 was worth 332 RAR (Boston), and the league-leading rotation was worth 216 RAR (Toronto).
  • While it's an overrated strength, the Yankees' no-name bullpen is deep with talented arms.  Replacement-level FIP for the relievers is about 4.71, and nobody -- nobody! -- projects worse than a 4.29 FIP and all but two guys are under 4.00.
  • The total cost of the projected bullpen is $23.5MM.  Without Mo, it's $8.5MM -- about $2.2MM per marginal win.
  • Edwar Ramirez could very well be the Yankees' breakout player of 2009.  He should be quite good, and if Joe Girardi moves him into a setup role, he'll record a ton of important outs and become a Daily News darling.
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