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Yankees vs. Rangers ALCS Breakdown: The Bullpen, Final Thoughts

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At long last, here is the final part of my four-part head-to-head breakdown of the Yankees' and Rangers' ALCS rosters. The first three parts can be found here:

Part 1: The Lineups
Part 2: Bench and Fielding
Part 3: The Starting Rotations

As I did for the ALDS, I'll compare the closers head-to-head, then the remainder of the two bullpens as collective units.

Closer:

R – Mariano Rivera (1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 4.09 K/BB, 33 SV, 3.722 WXRL)
R – Neftali Feliz (2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.94 K/BB, 40 SV, 4.667 WXRL)

Neftali Feliz is a young stud and the likely AL Rookie of the Year, but he pitched more like a rookie than a stud in the ALDS. (AP)

Feliz is a former, and hopefully future, starter with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball who set the rookie record for saves this year, sailing by Kaz Sasaki’s previous mark of 37, and is thus the odds-on favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. Saves may be a bit of an empty stat, but as his WXRL (Win eXpectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted, Baseball Prospectus’s cumulative win-expectancy-based statistic for relief pitchers) shows, his was not an empty record.

Feliz was eighth in the majors in WXRL, effectively making him the eighth most valuable reliever in the game this season. Rivera, by comparison, was 16th. Feliz’s other peripherals compare favorably to Rivera’s, and Feliz had the better stretch run, not allowing a run, inherited or otherwise, over his final 16 regular-season appearances dating back to August 23. Rivera, meanwhile, blew three of his nine save opportunities in September, one of those resulting in a loss to the Rangers on a walk-off hit-by-pitch of all things. On the month, Mo posted a 4.38 ERA despite a favorable BABIP, though his peripherals remained solid.

Feliz is a 22-year-old fireballer with excellent control (2.3 BB/9). Rivera is a 40-year-old who has been pitching through side and knee injuries. Call the Yankee closer Joe Shlabotnick and this seems like a clear advantage for the Rangers, but he’s not Joe Shlabotnick, he’s Mariano Rivera, and when the postseason bell rang, he turned back into the Great Rivera, facing just one more than the minimum number of batters in closing out all three ALDS games, starting with a four-out save in Game One. The rookie Feliz meanwhile, retired just four of the nine batters he faced in the Division Series against the Rays, allowing his only inherited runner to score and giving up a solo dinger to Carl Crawford along the way. Making a judgement based on experience and reputation rather than performance goes against my baseball belief system, but when it comes to Rivera, I’ll make an exception. He has more than earned "I’ll believe he will until he proves he can’t" status.

Edge: Yankees

Yankees:

R – Kerry Wood 3.13 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 1.69 K/BB, 0.375 WXRL
L – Boone Logan 2.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 1.90 K/BB, 0.422 WXRL
R – David Robertson 3.82 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 2.15 K/BB, 1.845 WXRL
R – Joba Chamberlain 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 1.289 WXRL
R – Sergio Mitre 3.33 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 4.8 K/9, 1.81 K/BB, 0.064 WXRL
R – Dustin Moseley 4.96 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.5 K/9, 1.22 K/BB, -0.377 WXRL

The Yankees needed just seven innings from their bullpen in the ALDS, just 3 2/3 of them from pitchers other than Rivera, so I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I wrote in my preview of their bullpen in that series. Here, then are those comments again with updates regarding ALDS performances:

Kerry Wood posted a 1.344 WXRL and 0.69 ERA with the Yankees, but he also walked 18 men in 26 innings. He was lucky. Opponents hit .236 on balls in play against Wood after he came over from Cleveland, and just 3.1 percent of his fly balls left the ballpark, down from a career rate of 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, he gave up fly balls and line drives more often than he had previously in his career. Sure, he strikes out a lot of guys, but the worm is going to turn on Wood if he keeps pitching the way he has been. Update: Wood pitched a perfect eighth in Game Two, but needed to be rescued from the eighth in the other two games, retiring just three of the nine batters he faced in those other two outings. Wood had become Girardi’s automatic eighth-inning guy down the stretch, but he’ll need to be more discerning with his use of Wood in this series. That said, he'll be helped by the fact that this Rangers team doesn't wait around for ball four, the same applies to David Robertson below.

In 34 appearances since his mid-July recall from the minors, Boone Logan posted a 2.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and struck out 25 men in 21 2/3 innings against just eight walks and two homers. Over that stretch, opposing batters hit .182/.264/.273 against him. That’s everyone, not just lefties (though surely most of those batters were lefties). As impressive as all that was, however, he did it with a .235 BABIP and gave up four runs in his last 4 2/3 innings, suggesting that perhaps his luck is beginning to run out. Update: Logan retired three of the four men he faced in the ALDS, the exception being a single by Joe Mauer. Sure, Mauer is a lefty, but he’s also Joe Mauer. I can’t hold a Mauer single against Logan, even if his job is to get the opponents’ big lefties out.

Since giving up four runs in 1 1/3 innings to the Blue Jays on July 2, David Robertson has posted a 2.06 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 and allowed just two home runs. That last seems like luck, but the rest is legit. Robertson’s big problem is that he walks too many men. Way too many men, as in 4.8 BB/9, an alarmingly consistent rate across his major league career. Update: Robertson faced three men in the ALDS. One reached base, via a walk, of course.

Over his last 30 appearances, Joba Chamberlain has posted a 2.15 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and struck out 30 men in 29 1/3 innings against just five walks. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but he’s done it with a lot of luck on balls in play (.227 BABIP), so it’s hard to trust. Update: Chamberlain didn’t see any action in the ALDS, supposedly because the Twins hit sliders better than curveballs (Joba throws the former, Robertson the latter). Still, one wonders what effect that inaction, both in terms of rust and a sense of losing his manager’s confidence, will have on Chamberlain, who will be needed at some point in this series.

We tend to think of Sergio Mitre as a spot starter, but he made just three spot starts all season. He also posted a 2.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in his 24 relief appearances, but, again, did so with the benefit of a .204 BABIP.

If Sergio Mitre claimed one of the last two roster spots with BABIP mirrors, Dustin Moseley did it, I can only assume, with the proverbial incriminating photos of his manager and general manager. Moseley can give a team an emergency start without risking total disaster, but as a reliever, his combination of a low strikeout rate and high home run rate can be deadly. If he, or Mitre for that matter, gets into a game in this series with anything less than a five-run Yankee lead, something has gone horribly wrong.

Update: Neither Mitre nor Moseley pitched in the ALDS, nor should they have. That last line still applies to both.

Rangers:

L – Darren Oliver 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 4.33 K/BB, 1.944 WXRL
R – Darren O’Day 2.03 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, 2.192 WXRL
R – Alexi Ogando 1.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.44 K/BB, 0.588 WXRL
L – Michael Kirkman 1.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 1.60 K/BB, -0.010 WXRL
L – Clay Rapada 4.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 0.71 K/BB, -0.002 WXRL
L – Derek Holland 4.08 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.25 K/BB, 0.258 WXRL

Darren Oliver is the only current Ranger who has been to the postseason with the team prior to this year. He started Game Three of the 1996 ALDS against the Yankees in Arlington and pitched eight strong innings only to see the Yankees rally in the ninth, handing him a hard-luck loss. Oliver was traded prior to 1998 rematch of that series and seemed to pitch his way out of the majors in the first half of the last decade, but he reemerged in 2006 as a long-reliever for the Mets and has gone 20-6 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 2.98 K/BB in 286 relief appearances and one start over the last five seasons for the Mets, Angels, and Rangers. Though he did average less than an inning per appearance this year for the first time since his resurrection, Oliver is no match-up reliever. He’s a full-inning set-up man and, despite turning 40 last week, still one of the better set-up men in baseball.

With the lefty Oliver as the primary set-up man, sidearming righty Darren O’Day has become the match-up reliever, the elusive ROOGY (Righty One-Out GuY). Righties hit just .181/.233/.309 against O’Day this year, which makes him a key weapon likely to be deployed against Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter (the latter of whom continues to excel against lefties, but vanishes against right-handers) in a big late-inning spot.

Beyond all the Bewitched jokes the two Darrens prompt, it’s interesting to note that O’Day also pitched for the Angels and Mets immediately prior to joining the Rangers via a waiver claim in late April of last season. More significant is the fact that, despite the manner in which Ron Washington uses them and O’Day’s side-arm delivery, it is Oliver who has the larger platoon split as righties hit .281/.344/.421 against Oliver this year, but lefties hit just .229/.289/.271 against O’Day. That misuse could work in the Yankees’ favor, as could the fact that O’Day benefitted from an absurdly low .221 BABIP this season.

Alexi Ogando turned 27 the day before Oliver turned 40. Originally signed by the A’s as an outfielder, he was a minor league Rule 5 pick by the Rangers in December 2005 and moved to the mound, but spent the next four seasons in the Dominican Summer League due to immigration problems related to a human-trafficking scam that entrapped 30 Dominican minor leaguers. Finally granted a work visa this spring, he dominated in Double-A in his state-side debut, then sailed through Triple-A and joined the major league team in mid-June and has been just as dominant, though Washington has shied away from using him in high-leverage situations.

Lefties Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada were not on the ALDS roster, but have been added for the ALCS despite combining to throw just 25 1/3 major league innings this year and posting negative WXRLs in those brief opportunities. Clearly, Ron Washington is eyeing late-game matchups against lefties in this series, though that seems misguided given how well Curtis Granderson has hit lefties since fixing his swing (.286/.375/.500 in 64 PA during the regular season and 2-for-5 with a walk and a big Game One triple off Francisco Liriano in the ALDS), how well Robinson Cano has always hit lefties (.297/.341/.466 career), and the fact that the only other exclusively left-handed hitter in the Yankee lineup, Brett Gardner, isn’t hitting anyone right now. The rookie Kirkman throws ten miles an hour faster than the former Tiger Rapada, so at least the Rangers’ LOOGies vary their looks.

With Kirkman and Rapada around and Dustin Nippert off the roster, fellow lefty Derek Holland settles into the long-relief role. Expectations are that Holland and Feliz will be powerful front-of-the-rotation starters for the Rangers in the near future. For now, Holland is something like the Rangers’ Joba Chamberlain or 2009 version of Phil Hughes, a hard-throwing starter with huge promise exiled to the pen due to roster crunches and his own struggles. As the last man in the pen, he’s a tremendous improvement on Mitre or Moseley, but if he had fully harnessed his talent by now he’d be starting Game Four rather than lurking in the pen.

Edge: Rangers

Conclusion:

So I gave the Rangers the edge in their starting rotation, bullpen, and bench, and the Yankees the edge in their lineup and fielding, but I’m still picking the Yankees to win the series in six games, which is not only exactly what Jay foresees, but puts me in the overwhelming majority among my SI.com colleagues as well. Tom Verducci makes a great point, comparing Cliff Lee’s presence to Mike Scott’s in the 1986 NLCS, when the Mets knew they’d have to win in six lest they lose to Scott in Game Seven. The difference being that Game Seven would have been Scott’s third start in that series. Lee only pitching two games in this series is a large part of why the Yankees are the popular pick. The only SI.com writer to pick the Rangers is Albert Chen, who it must be pointed out nailed his regular season AL picks this spring, but I disagree with his assertion that the Rangers have the better defense (though Tim Marchman says the same). Most surprisingly of the 11 SI.com “experts,” four think the Yanks will wrap this up in five games. I’m not that confident, but I could see it happening. I suppose the big question is, are the Yankees as good as the Twins made them look in the ALDS. I actually think they are, but they’ll have to prove it starting tonight.