I'm glad DV went first for this entire series, because it is helpful for my point in this post. He just spent two paragraphs drooling about the Red Sox bullpen, and rightfully so. The Red Sox are going to have a very good bullpen, it's definitely the best part of their team. Then he essentially dismissed the Yankees bullpen in comparison, talking about the two names every knows (Rivera and Marte), and tossing the rest aside because they aren't "names".
This is going to be the norm, at least early in the season. The Sox have a bullpen that has a chance to be very flashy. Papelbon is one of the better closers in the game. Ramon Ramirez is an excellent set-up man, and if healthy, so is Takashi Saito. You can see a scneario where an awful nickname is developed for these three (which won't be difficult, because Paps is easily the toughest nickname on the ears in all of professional sports, reminding everyone of...). Masterson can shut down righties with the best of them, and Okajima does the same from the other side. Delcarmen is a disaster in any kind of serious role, but as the 6th guy on the depth chart can certainly do his job. But what happens with he and whoever the 7th/long man is won't much matter. It's the first five that are going to make this bullpen as effective as it should be, and is the reason DV is rightfully as head over heels as he is about this bullpen.
The Yankees are not going to be as flashy outside of Rivera - the best reliever on either team - but just because people don't know the names (DV called them Bruney and a bunch of guys from SWB) is not a reason to dismiss them. If you were paying attention last year, then you already know this. The Yankees quitely had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year. They had the 6th best bullpen ERA, but if you follow this blog, you know I'm not a big fan of that statistic when it comes to the pen. What I am a fan of regarding the bullpen, in specific order, is holding as many leads you possible and striking out as many batters as possible. The Yankees bullpen lead baseball in both save percentage and strikeouts last year. Not one bullpen came up bigger in the toughest spots (the most important bullpen attribute for me), and not one bullpen missed more bats. Not only do they have everyone from this bullpen back, but have some pieces added.
The Yankees bullpen may not garner as much excitement because of their lack of names, but that won't prevent them from going toe to toe with the best bullpens in baseball again. They won't garner as much name attention, acting more workmanlike. The great think about workmanlike is that it gets the job done just as much as flashy. That's what this bullpen did last year, and that's what it will do this year. It's biggest strength, especially in comparison to Boston, is depth. Just like the Sox are prepared to replace starters more effectively than are the Yankees, the Yankees are prepared to replace bullpen arms more effectively than are the Sox. This is important for something as volatile as the bullpen. The Opening Day bullpen is Rivera, Marte, Bruney, Ramirez, Veras, Coke, and Albaladejo. Last year, three of these guys had ERA's below 2. Three more had ERA's in the 3's. Only Marte (gasp, a name!) at 4.02 had an ERA north of 4, the worst on the team. Nobody besides Yankees fans care, and I think that's great. The fact that a bullpen that did this is "Bruney and a bunch of guys from SWB" is exactly the way I like it. You may not hear about it, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing the job. And if and when one of them doesn't, they have Mark Melancon, Dave Robertson, and Alfredo Aceves to take a hack. That's not to mention guys like Mike Dunn and Christian Garcia who have a chance to come out of nowhere and help this pen. Like the rest of the Yankees team, there is a lot of balance. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, contact guys, short guys, long guys. Can't hold a candle to Boston? We'll see about that.
"Now hold on, Pat. You like the Yankees' offense and starting pitching more than Boston's, and think the bullpens are on even footing. Yet you like Boston to finish ahead of New York. That makes no sense." Excellent point. But remember I said from the start I like the Yankees more on paper, and paper is what we are talking about here. For me it's a toss up between New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay, and I think health will be the primary determining factor. If you told me health was going to be equal, and the over/under on games the Yankees would win more than everyone else in baseball was 5, I'd take the over. But we all know health is not necessarily going to be equal. And despite how much I love this team on paper - and I love this team more on paper than any team since 2001 - that is where I think the Yankees come up short.