Part Two of a Four-Part preview of the Yankees 2011 season.
As mentioned in the previous segment, although the Yankees starting rotation has a number of question marks, the team also has the offense and bullpen to compensate for potential shortcomings.
Any discussion of the Yankees bullpen must start with Mariano Rivera, who at 41 years old remains one of the best closers in baseball. Rivera showed no signs of decline in 2010, with 33 saves, a 1.80 ERA, and a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) of 0.83.
Behind the legendary closer is Rafael Soriano, arguably the team’s best offseason acquisition. With Tampa Bay last season, Soriano led the American League with 45 saves, and posted a 1.73 ERA and a WHIP of 0.80. With Soriano setting up Rivera, the 2011 Yankees appear to have a formidable late-inning duo comparable to their 1996 championship team, in which a young Rivera was the setup man for John Wetland.
The team also added Pedro Feliciano this offseason, a left-handed specialist who has led the National League in appearances in each of the last three seasons. For his career, the former Met has held lefties to a .214 batting average. Feliciano gives manager Joe Girardi another capable left-handed option in the bullpen, complementing fellow lefty Boone Logan.
The addition of Soriano and Feliciano bolsters what was already a relatively strong bullpen. In 2010, the Yankees had the third best bullpen ERA in the American League, and the team’s relievers were fourth in the majors in terms of opponent’s batting average, according to ESPN.com. Key contributors including Logan, David Robertson, and Joba Chamberlain will return in 2011. Logan had a sub-3 ERA last season, allowed only 34 hits in 40 innings pitched, and held left-handers to a .190 batting average. Robertson appeared in 64 games in 2010, with a 3.82 ERA.
Following a dominant rookie season, Chamberlain has been inconsistent to say the least, partially because of being moved between the starting rotation and bullpen a number of times in his career. Spending 2010 as a full-time reliever, he began the season poorly with a 5.79 first-half ERA, but finished the season strong, posting an ERA of 2.88 and a WHIP of 1.08 in the second half. With this split in mind, the Yankees will hope Chamberlain can pick up 2011 the same way he left off 2010.
As SB Nation New York notes, Mark Prior and the hard-throwing Romulo Sanchez could also compete for spots on the Yankees staff. Prior, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training whose once-promising career was derailed by injuries, has not appeared in a major league game since 2006. Sanchez was acquired by the Yankees in a 2009 trade, and has since spent the last two seasons in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was also called up twice for brief major league stints during the 2010 season, appearing in two games. A scouting report on Sanchez from Pending Pintsripes, a Yankees minor league blog, notes that he “is a huge guy, standing 6’5″ and weighing at least 250 pounds,” with a fastball that reaches the high-90s.