We last looked at the Yankee bullpen almost two months ago, at which point we concluded that the team could benefit from giving Mark Melancon, Romulo Sanchez and Ivan Nova extended looks to see what they might be able to offer the big league club. Neither Sanchez or Nova have come back up from the farm since that time, and Melancon has been banished to AAA as well, while the likes of Chan Ho Park and the corpse of Chad Gaudin have somehow remained with the team despite an almost complete inability to enter games without giving up runs.
We all know the bullpen has been one of the weakest segments of an otherwise very strong Yankee team, but just how bad have they been? Here are some cumulative season numbers, sorted by FIP:
Outside of Mariano Rivera, that's a pretty scary picture. Joba Chamberlain, despite flashes of brilliance, continues to underperform his peripherals and hardly inspires confidence that he can protect any lead in the eighth inning. Outside of those two no other relievers on the staff have FIPs below 4.00. David Robertson's been arguably the third-best reliever on the team, but he's still putting way too many men on base, which has basically been the problem with the entire bullpen.
Surprisingly, despite the bullpen's woes, it's still in the top half of American League 'pens -- its 4.10 FIP ranks 6th in the league -- although that's primarily a function of the starting rotation consistently working deep into games and enabling Mo to work the majority of high-leverage innings.
However, that doesn't mean that the team shouldn't do what it can to improve the 'pen -- while I'm sure Brian Cashman is monitoring any and all trade possibilities with non-contenders, the easiest fix for the Yankees is to look internally as they've done the last few seasons. I can't believe I'm recommending this, but Jonathan Albaladejo has been Scranton's best reliever, posting a 1.01 ERA(!) in 44.2 IP along with a minuscule 0.83 WHIP. As inconsistent as Alby's been in the Majors, it's time to give him another shot -- it's hard to imagine him faring much worse than Park and Gaudin. Aside from Alby, no one else at AAA appears to be lighting the world on fire -- Jason Hirsh might be worth a look, with a 4.15 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 84.2 IP as a starter.
Nova and Sanchez have probably been Scranton's two best starters, but for whatever reason the Yankees don't seem to be in a rush to bring either back up. Maybe it's time to see whether Zach McAllister -- who was at one point viewed as possible rotation fodder while dominating in double A but has since appeared to be fairly pedestrian since moving up to AAA, apparently making him expendable in the failed Cliff Lee deal -- has anything to offer at the big league level. I know his season isn't anything to scream about (4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) but at least he doesn't walk too many people.
Assuming the back end of the bullpen continues to post 5.00-plus FIPs, I have to figure we'll see at least one of these minor leaguers get a shot or two to come up and help. While the Yankees don't need every single pitcher in the bullpen to be lights-out, the team does need at least one other pitcher in can count on besides Mariano, and the less dead weight in the 'pen, the more likely that player will emerge.
Of course, it could be a lot worse -- the Yankees could have Boston's relief corps, which actually has the worst FIP in the AL (4.87), 2nd-worst ERA (4.71) and an equally scary 4.60 xFIP. Given these numbers it's rather remarkable that the Sox still have the third-best record in the AL -- I don't know whether that speaks to Boston's other strengths or the general ineptitude of the rest of the league to ever bother to actually play well against the Red Sox, but either way it's somewhat comforting to know the Yanks' bullpen hasn't been that bad.