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Bullpen Banter

   by ASA - 07/14/2009

Thriving – New York Yankees

The Yankees loaded up on numerous big names over the off-season spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett were expected to give New York the top starting staff in all of baseball. However, the one concern most fans and experts had was the bullpen. As a whole, the Yankee relievers didn’t look up to par compared to their A.L. East brethren, Boston and Tampa Bay. That being said, this group of relievers was on an up tick entering the All Star break putting up very solid numbers.

The Yanks were swept in LA entering the break and all facets of their pitching staff blew up, in a bad way that is, during that series. That includes the bullpen. However, in the nine games leading up to that series vs. the Angels, the relievers were as solid as they had been all season long. In that nine game span, the bullpen did not allow more than one earned run in any game and featured an ERA of just 1.42.

A glance at New York’s ERA numbers out of the bullpen and you won’t have much to write home about. They are 22nd in the league with an ERA of 4.19. However, that number was much higher over the first few months of the season and has been dropping as of late. A closer look at the overall reliever numbers actually shows me that this bullpen has the potential to be very good just as they were leading into the break. They have the second lowest batting average against at just .228. The only team that tops the Yankees in that category is the L.A. Dodgers. They are third in the Majors in bullpen strikeouts at 258. They have successfully saved 25 of their 33 attempts this year. Closer Mariano Rivera remains elite with 23 saves in 24 attempts.

Actually getting to Rivera with a lead looks as if it is also an improving situation. After failing as a starter, Phil Hughes has reinvented himself as a solid set up man. His ERA is 3.91 including five holds. Phil Coke and Jonathan Albaladejo lack overall great numbers but they have been pitching much better as of late. There are rumblings in New York that current starter Joba Chamberlain may move to a relief role which will really bolster their bullpen.

Not only that, New York’s starting situation is bound to improve which will really help the bullpen. C.C. Sabathia is a “second halfâ€쳌 of the season pitcher so look for him to improve on his 3.86 ERA. A.J. Burnett really kicked it in gear over his last five starts (1.35 ERA) so look for that to continue. Chien Ming Wang can’t be any worse than he has been and fill in starter Alfredo Aceves has a chance to be really good. Finally, the Yankees are always looking to add players so picking up another solid starter soon would simply strengthen the bullpen by moving another arm to relief.

While I’m not about to compare this bullpen with arch-rival Boston’s, they have the potential to be pretty good. Their ERA numbers were coming down as we neared the All Star break and I look for that to continue.

Struggling – New York Mets

While the Yankees bullpen was thought to be a liability but is now on the rise, their cross town counterpart is currently in the exact opposite situation. The Mets bullpen, with several high priced additions, was thought by most to be a big time strength. In truth, it has been just that for much of the season, however as of late, this group of relievers has not been reliable.

The Mets have had enough problems with injuries to their everyday line up, they did not need to see their bullpen falter. Again, unfortunately for them, that has been the case as of late. In the last 10 games leading into the break, the New York relievers have allowed 15 earned runs. They are 7th overall in bullpen ERA at 3.69, however they were in the top three until recent weeks so the numbers have been slipping. Their bullpen record has been quite poor in comparison to their ERA numbers. The Met relievers already have 16 losses on the year compared to only 9 wins. While K-Rod has been a very good acquisition with 23 saves in 26 attempts, the rest of the relievers have a combined two saves while blowing nine.

Speaking of Francisco Rodriguez, even he has not been pitching up to his lofty standards in recent appearances. Despite his 1.90 ERA on the season, he has actually allowed at least one earned run in four of his last six appearances. Another key bullpen acquisition, JJ Putz is on the disabled list and will most likely remain there for at least a few more weeks. New York’s top reliever in appearances is lefty Pedro Feliciano and he has been very good. However, Bobby Parnell (4.37 ERA, 1.77 WHIP) and Sean William Green (5.54 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) are second and third respectively in appearances and their numbers leave a lot to be desired.

The bullpen struggles recently have not been stand alone in nature. Let’s face it, the Mets’ starters have contributed to the problem. Santana has been very good but his numbers aren’t even up to what they’ve been in the past. Other than Santana, Michael Pelphrey has been inconsistent at best, Livan Hernandez eats up innings but has an ERA north of 5.00, John Maine is hurt and Tim Redding and Oliver Perez have been disasters. Fernando Nieve has been a pleasant surprise, however he hasn’t been able to make up for the other problems in the starting rotation.

A team hitting .270 as the Mets are, should not be sitting three games below .500 at the break. That is unless their pitching isn’t coming through. It seems as if at least once every series, a Met starter gets shelled and they have to waste a good portion of the bullpen because of that. If that doesn’t change in the second half of the season, an already over worked relief corps could slip even further.

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