Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano to what was already a strong bullpen, is the team in a position to use this strategy? With a bullpen this strong, will it matter if pitchers such as Sergio Mitre and A.J. Burnett are consistently pitching only into the fifth inning if David Robertson, Soriano and Mariano Rivera are waiting to shut the lid on a lead?
The data below are taken from Baseball-Reference. While I've provided stats such as ERA (and WHIP and WXRL for the relievers, because they are particularly important for them), the main component of this analysis is innings pitched. I've also provided innings pitched per game (not per game started, which will become clear shortly). Rather than calculate innings pitched directly as IP/G, I've rounded an output such as 5.38 to 5.1, because that is the convention most people are used to when looking at pitching statistics.
Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova, assuming they keep their roles as starters for most of the season.
These data inform three conclusions. First, the Yankees have a ridiculous bullpen. Mariano Rivera was phenomenal last year and Rafael Soriano matched him, which is incredible. While that was a career year for Soriano, he remains an excellent pitcher and the best set-up man the Yankees have had since ... Mariano Rivera.
While the rest of the bullpen (which includes Joba Chamberlain until the team announces otherwise) isn't quite on par with the G.O.A.T. and the team's newest acquisition, that is a respectable cadre of pitchers entirely capable of getting the team from the sixth to the eighth inning, when the big guns take over. With a lead in the later innings the Yankees will be tough to beat in 2011.
The second conclusion, however, is that the Yankees may not often see the late innings with a lead. I analyzed this before, but it warrants repeating here: The Yankee rotation is incomplete. CC Sabathia is a legitimate ace who has been as-good-as-advertised in a Yankee uniform. Phil Hughes had a solid season in his first year as a regular starter. The rotation is full of question marks after these two. Even if A.J. Burnett does get better, it remains hard to believe that the Yankees think they can compete next year with Mitre and Nova in the rotation. One has never pitched more than 149 innings in his career, while the other is still a rookie. If the minimum number of innings a starter can give his team and still be considered replacement-level (never mind adequate) is 150 then these two have a ways to go in 2011.
Which brings us to the third conclusion: 203.1. That's the number of innings the current Yankee pitching staff comes up short. Even if Mitre and Nova manage to add 100 innings to each of their 2010 totals without completely killing their rate stats while the rest of the pitchers on the list contribute in total the same number of innings in 2011 that they did in 2010, the Yankees would still be short 203.1 innings of a full season with no games going into extra innings.
Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett can add 50 innings to the team's total if one continues his progress in 2011 and the other earns his salary, but the team would still have a considerable mountain to climb. Every season there's a Dustin Moseley, or an Alfredo Aceves, but even if that unknown middle reliever emerges to give the Yankees 80 more innings the team comes up short of a season. The 70 innings the Bombers are missing are, unsurprisingly, the difference between the best-case scenario anyone expects them to get from Nova or Mitre next season, and the innings total the team got from A.J. last year, a bad season for him, but a full season nonetheless from an experienced starter, precisely what the team is lacking, twice.
In theory it's nice to suggest that a team can load up on relievers if it is short starters to shorten the game and find another way to win, but the truth is that the first six innings of a game are harder to come by than the last three. The Yankees are all over the last three innings of just about any close game like a rash, but the team still needs legitimate starters who can pitch into the sixth inning every five days if Soriano and Rivera can expect to see the ball. By my count, the team is still down at least one starter. Pitchers and catchers may report in less than a month, but the Hot Stove Season is far from over.