Yankees – Any relief coming their way? part 1

So in the next part of the survey of the Yankees in 2008, we’ll look at the relief pitchers. As the Yankees used 24 relief pitchers during the season, we’ll take these in bite-sized portions of which this will be the first.

Mariano Rivera (64 games). All 64 games came in relief. Rivera is a phenomenon. Nothing short of a phenomenon. He is perhaps the best pitcher I’ve ever seen. Every time he loses his way for a few games, the gainsayers say that age has caught up with him and every time he regathers himself and continues as before. This year was a classic case in point. He was outstanding in save situations. 39 saves in 40 opportunities. However, this year he struggled in situations when he came into a game with the scores tied. He had a significant run of games when he was unable to hold these situations. It was hard to find the logic in this. But I have no doubt he will rebound. His ERA of 1.40 was the second best of his career. Another outstanding season for him with a few flaws. He will be the closer for the Yankees another season yet.

Jose Veras (60 games). All 60 games came in relief. Veras had his best year, in this his third year in pinstripes. He pitched 57.2 innings and finished with a 3.59 ERA. He failed in both save opportunities he had but was credited with 10 "holds". Having started the year without a win at the major league level and opening the season at Scranton-Wilkes Barre (he had an outstanding 1.38 ERA in 13 appearances there) because of injury, he showed his development with 5 wins and his ability to douse an opponent down and give the Yankees batters time to gather runs made up for Mariano’s psychological difficulties in games that were tied. He should be a backbone for the relief staff in 2009 once more.

Edwar Ramirez (55 games). The gaunt, bespectacled Ramirez had another inconsistent year. At times in charge of his repertoire and able to be amongst the strongest tools at the coaches’ disposal. Other times allowing runs in blocks and looking uncomfortable on the mound. His ERA of 3.90 was a massive improvement on his 2007 form but if he could find that dependability and consistency, he could be so much more. As a consequence spring training will be even more of a lottery for him than it always is for a relief pitcher. He should make the major league roster but this is by no means guaranteed.

Kyle Farnsworth (45 games). I’d been very lukewarm in my enthusiasm for Farnsworth since he came to New York in 2006. So when all the talk of Girardi being able to revive his career and confidence began prior to 2008, I didn’t believe a word. Having begun the season in a very indifferent way it seemed evident that talk is just talk. But then Farnsworth hit his stride and his pitching showed a finesse I’d not seen before. It was then something of a bolt for the blue when at the end of July he was traded away to Detroit for Pudge Rodriguez where his season somewhat came apart at the seams. I was very critical of Girardi’s coaching staff during 2008 but their handling of Farnsworth shows there was some diamonds to be found in the rough and gives me much hope for 2009. I was sorry to see him go, the trade really was a bad move for the Yankees. Farnsworth should have stayed and hope he does well for Kansas in 2009.

LaTroy Hawkins (33 games). All 33 games in relief. Hawkins was a disaster for the Yankees. He squabbled over shirt numbers before the season began and annoyed the fans with his choices. His pitching performances never seemed likely to regain their sympathy. He was consistently bad. When the Yankees cut him loose, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he didn’t find any takers. But Houston offered the Yankees a minor league second baseman of little consequence in exchange for his talents. At Houston he proved a revelation and was consistently dominating. How do you explain these things. Perhaps the fans put him off his stride. Perhaps he couldn’t handle the city. Anyway, he is re-signed for Houston for 2009 where he seems to have re-found his niche.

Brian Bruney (32 games). 31 games in relief. Bruney’s inconsistency had been his undoing in previous seasons. I was surprised when he made the roster in 2008. But this year, he began the season well. He had lost some weight and perhaps sensing that his chances were running out, he had a new determination. All was going well until he suffered a bizarre injury to his foot in late April. It seemed like such bad luck and it seemed likely judging by past history,  that he would not find it easy to regain his stride. However, he managed just that. His ERA of 1.83 was a fair reflection of his form throughout. Whether he can reproduce this form in 2009 is still something of a question mark but he should be in the bullpen come April and deserves every chance.

Joba Chamberlain (42 games). 30 games in relief. Chamberlain is so dominating as a reliever and as yet to prove himself as a starter. It’s a mystery to me why the Yankees are so hellbent to make him into someone who can produce that dominancy and consistency over 6 innings rather than 1 or 2. Rivera started out as an indifferent starter and has been no less valuable because he had to drop down into the bullpen. Chamberlain could do for Rivera what Rivera himself did for Wetteland not so many moons ago and then when Rivera’s retirement comes (as regrettably some day it will) perhaps Chamberlain can dominate as a closer. All of this seems sensible but the Steinbrenners seem to know better. Consequently, they will continue to force him into a mold that he might not fit. Only time will tell but I hope he is a reliever come April – but I very much doubt it.

Ross Ohlendorf (25 games). All games in relief. Ohlendorf began the season as he had ended 2007 – as a more-than-competent right hand reliever out of the bullpen. But as the season went along, he gradually came unwound as so many of the Yankeees’ pitchers lost their way during the year. As in the case of those others, the coaching staff could do nothing to turn it around. Ohlendorf moved to Pittsburgh who fancied him as a starter but that doesn’t seem to have worked out and whilst he seems like to start the year as a Pirate, his future is uncertain. It is the pitching coaches at New York who need to up their game in 2009.

So those were the major players in the bullpen in 2008. I will continue to survey their cohorts in a later report.

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