PP Spring Training Report: 2004 Yankees Bullpen

Once a major strength for the Yankees, the 2003 incarnation of the bullpen was a disaster. Major injuries to key pitchers and ineffectiveness on the part of several others left the relief corps in shambles. That was 2003, this is 2004. Brian Cashman, with the help of Big Stein's Big Wallet, has given the Yankee bullpen a complete facelift. Now, what once was a strength is a strength again.

Projected 2004 Bullpen:
MR: Felix Heredia, LHP
MR: Gabe White, LHP
MR: Paul Quantrill, RHP
MR: Steve Karsay, RHP
SU: Tom Gordon, RHP
CL: Mariano Rivera, RHP

Other names to know: Jorge DePaula, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Proctor, Brett Prinz, Danny Borrell

Felix Heredia, Opening Day Age 28
Heredia and former Reds castoff White will be the only lefties in the bullpen to start the Yankees' season.  Depending on how you look at it, this is a positive thing.  Heredia is very capable most of the time.  He can sometimes be prone to bouts of wildness, but he is generally an effective pitcher.  Heredia is tough on lefties and is likely to be used in situational roles in 2004.  A cause for concern is Heredia's falling strikeout rates, which hit a career-low at 4.7 K/9 in 2003.  This is possibly the result of an increased workload (he set a career-high with 87 innings), which also includes the fact that 2003 was the first year in which Heredia threw significantly more innings than he appeared in game (he averaged 1.1 innings per appearance, also a career-high).

Gabe White, Age 32
A shoddy 4.38 ERA after he arrived in the Bronx last season disguises a fantastic .182 opponent's batting average and 0.81 WHIP for White.  He was allowing very few baserunners as a Yankee, but a sizeable amount of them were scoring (probably because two of the eight hits he allowed were homers).  White is a workhorse, consistently appearing in over 65 games per season.  Expect the same from him this season, as he will probably be Torre's first lefty option out of the pen.

Quantrill Is Sure To See Some Innings

Paul Quantrill, Age 35
If White is a workhorse, Quantrill re-defines the term.  He appeared in 89 games for the Dodgers last season, and put up dazzling numbers to boot.  A 1.75 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and .227 ERA are hard to come by, particularly over such a large sample of innings.  Quantrill will probably the top middle reliever in the pen in 2004, and will make as many appearances as necessary.  He features a sinker ball that is devastating to lefties and righties alike and induces a lot of ground balls.  Expect to see Quantrill come into games with a man on first base when a double-play ball is needed.

Steve Karsay, Age 32
Karsay was one of the important pieces of the bullpen in 2003 that was injured.  After a very productive 2002, Karsay was forced to sit out for all of last year due to a shoulder injury that required surgery.  He isn't projected to be on the Opening Day roster, but should join the team soon into the season.  In '02, Karsay was Mariano Rivera's primary setup man, even notching a few saves when Rivera was injured.  One of the better strikeout pitchers in the pen, Karsay could be used in tight situations that call for a whiff.  This guy is definitely a dark horse for the Yankees.  With him, the bullpen will be among the best in the league.  Without him, things could start resembling 2003 all over again.

Gordon Will Be The Bridge To Rivera

Tom Gordon, Age 36
"Flash" will be the bridge to Rivera that the Yankees so sorely lacked in 2003.  A number of pitchers attempted the job, including Chris Hammond, Antonio Osuna and Jeff Nelson, but all failed.  Gordon is a former closer and an extremely capable pitcher.  The best thing he brings to the table is his ability to strike batters out at almost a Gagne-like pace.  With 91 strikeouts in only 74 innings last season, Gordon is almost guaranteed to fan a batter when he gets on the mound.  Flash's best pitch is his curveball, which is absolutely sick to watch.  It comes over the top and drops down, 12-6, turning the knees of an opposing batter to jelly.  It's quite fun to watch, I recommend doing so at some point.

Mariano Rivera, Age 34
The best closer in recent memory returned to greatness in 2003.  Most people had written him off as a tender pitcher that needed to be handled with kid gloves, but Rivera just shut everyone up with his best ERA ever.  Had he not missed the first month of the season, 45 saves would have been almost guaranteed.  The saves may not come easily in '04, as the Yankees might just blow everyone out, but Rivera's in a contract year, so he'll be effective.  And when the postseason comes, and the bullpen door opens, opposing teams should just abandon hope.

Other Names:
These guys are basically players that should see some time in the 'pen in 2004, but aren't guaranteed to stick around.  Jorge DePaula should be familiar to most Yankee fans, as he spent some time with the club last year (including an excellent start), and he is widely considered the most major-league-ready of the Yankee minor leaguers.  DePaula will be the player to step into the rotation as well should an injury befall one of the Yankees' starters.  Ramon Ramirez is an interesting prospect.  He's a converted outfielder that led the Arizona Fall League in ERA and strikeouts this past fall.  Scott Proctor is a flamethrower acquired from the Dodgers in the Robin Ventura deal.  He has excellent upside and could start the season in the majors in place of Karsay.  Prinz was acquired from Arizona for Raul Mondesi and has a good arm, but not a whole lot else.  Borrell is the top lefty in the system, and should see time later in the season.  

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