Masahiro Tanaka was once again the headliner of a New York Yankees victory and rightfully so as he struck out 11 batters during an “off” night. But, the bigger story in my view is the continued excellent performance of the men manning the crucial late innings out of the bullpen.
Adam Warren and David Robertson combined for 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief allowing for a suddenly sluggish offense to claw out two runs over the Yankees final two at-bats and earn a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
During Saturday’s 4-3 victory, the Yankees bullpen stifled the Angels across 4 2/3 innings, also allowing zero runs. At first thought to be a deficiency of the team, the bullpen has performed well beyond expectations and late-inning roles have been clearly defined.
Below is a statistical breakdown of the bullpen’s relievers mostly used by manager Joe Girardi thus far when the game has been close in the late innings through Sunday's game.
These are very good to exceptional numbers across the board; something the Yankees and many across the game might not have been expecting.
Robertson, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton entered spring with assured spots at the back end of the game. Despite that, each of them carried at least one big question mark on their back.
Robertson has the unenviable task of filling Mariano Rivera's shoes. Could Robertson transition from a dominant eighth-inning set-up man and close out games? Will his notable Houdini acts continue in the ninth inning? So far, he has looked outstanding and comfortable as the Bombers’ closer.
Kelley was handed the eighth-inning role after a very nice spring and by virtue of being one of the few returning relievers from last season’s team. Kelley surprised many in 2013, settling in as a seventh-inning option, and the question coming into 2014 centered on the possibility of regression. So far, Kelley has answered the call, even showing great poise as the closer while Robertson was on the disabled list.
Reservations regarding Thornton related to age and diminishing productivity in recent seasons. He’s done exactly what the Yankees signed him for so far; get lefties out.
Dellin Betances may be the bigger “surprises” on the young season.
Warren, who racked up 73 innings in 2013, mostly as a long reliever, has asserted himself as a viable seventh/eighth inning set-up man. He’s able to let loose just a bit more as a reliever (Warren might still be considered as a starter at some point in his career) and it has allowed him to overpower hitters at times.
Betances was truly the great unknown of the bunch. While holding the distinction as a former prospect, it was as a starter and he was failing. Betances received one last chance with the organization as a reliever in 2013. He has made the most of it, got a long look during spring training and flashed dominance which has carried over into the regular season, gaining Girardi’s confidence along the way.
This bullpen is still a work in progress. One very good month does not make a season, but there is serious potential here for further growth and success. Having multiple choices during the latter parts of games will help Girardi manage innings which could be an issue if the Yankees starters continue to exit before the seventh inning.
This crop of late-inning relievers has been the biggest surprise of the Yankees’ season and they have completely earned a day of rest.
Photo of David Robertson courtesy of Keith Allison.
Thanks to the YES Network for highlighting my tweet shown above on their 'Yankees Extra Innings' show Saturday, April 26, 2014.
Statistics compiled via FanGraphs.com.
Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.