"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: Robertson, Pena, Fast Yankees, and Munson

When the Yankee bullpen struggled so badly during the first two months of the season, too many members of the mainstream media called for either Joba Chamberlain to be relieved of his starting duties or for Brian Cashman to pull off a trade that would reel in a veteran reliever. Well, those media members have grown silent over the last two months as the bullpen has achieved lofty status in the American League. Those writers and broadcasters turned out to be dead wrong in their assessments, largely for two reasons. First off, they forgot that the Yankees boasted one of the league’s most efficient bullpens just last year. And second, they didn’t stop to consider the depth of pitching in the organization, specifically the wealth of talent waiting at Triple-A in the form of Phil Hughes, Alfredo “Ace” Aceves, and David Robertson.

I had already counted myself as a believer in the talents of Hughes and Aceves, but I have to confess to knowing little about Robertson prior to 2009. Kudos should go to the Banter’s own Cliff Corcoran, who was one of the first analysts to sing the praises of Robertson. Cliff turned out to be absolutely right about the 24-year-old right-hander. With a consistent 93 to 94 mile-per-hour fastball and a terrific overhand curveball (reminiscent of Neil Allen in his hey day), Robertson has the stuff to be a reliable reliever for the foreseeable future. If he can improve his control sufficiently, he could be the much-celebrated eighth-inning bridge by 2010. For now, the Yankees have four different relievers (Robertson, Hughes, Aceves, and lefty Phil Coke) that they can feel good about in the seventh and eighth innings…

The Yankees have assembled one of their best benches in years, and it figures to get better whenever Brett “The Jet” Gardner returns from the broken hand that landed him on the disabled list. Gardner will not only give Melky Cabrera the competition that he seems to thrive on, but also one of the most explosive pinch-runners in the game. So here’s the question: whose roster spot will Gardner take? I’d vote for sinkerballing Sergio Mitre, who is still building arm strength after major surgery, but the Yankees have become as married to the 12-man pitching staff as they once were to left-handed hitting DHs. So that means that Ramiro Pena will become the odd man out once Brett the Jet returns. Pena has done well in spot duty this year, but he lacks the experience and versatility of Jerry Hairston, Jr., the power of Eric Hinske, and the ability to catch (the role filled by Jose Molina). When and if the Yankees send Pena down, they should give him as many at-bats as possible during the Triple-A postseason, with the idea of letting him compete for the utility role in 2010. Pena might not hit enough to play everyday at shortstop, but his glove, speed, and ability to work the count should merit consideration for a backup job…

Speaking of Gardner, I’m trying to figure out if he’s the fastest Yankee I’ve ever seen. Prior to Gardner’s arrival last year, I would have voted for Mickey Rivers, followed by Rickey Henderson and Alfonso Soriano. (Rickey was obviously the best basestealer of the three, but at his peak “Mick the Quick” was slightly faster.) Perhaps I’m missing someone else from the last 40 years, but I believe Gardner has to at least move into the top three of this list, bumping Soriano to honorable mention…

The staying power of the late Thurman Munson is eye-opening. Thirty years after his death, the story of the tragic Yankee captain remains a compelling and popular read. Marty Appel’s new book, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, has been the nation’s best-selling sports book for the last four weeks. That’s quite an achievement, considering that Munson is not a Hall of Famer and is generally not considered an all-time great. Furthermore, most Yankee fans 35 and under don’t remember seeing him play, except for the occasional replay of the Bucky Dent Game and the 1978 World Series. In an era when the Yankee dynasty of the 1996 to 2001 has overshadowed the accomplishments of the Bronx Zoo years, Thurman Munson’s story still manages to capture the sincere interest of so many lifelong Yankee fans.

Bruce Markusen, a resident of Cooperstown, writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


1 51cq24   ~  Aug 21, 2009 1:59 pm

i would love to see robertson used more often. and while i am generally opposed to a 12 man pitching staff, it makes some sense when we're limiting joba's innings. but i'd switch mitre for melancon.
i agree pena will have to be the one sent down, since gardner is faster and hairston is good enough defensively. but i really like pena as a backup for all the reasons you listed, plus his above average speed. i'd be a little surprised to not see him back up in september.
i think homer bush was about as fast as soriano and maybe even rickey, but rivers is before my time.

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:10 pm

great piece, Bruce.
might Girardi deserve AL manager of the year consideration for turning Torre's greatest weakness into such a strength, without the acquisition of any big name relievers?

come to think of it? who might be in the running for AL manager of the year? Ron Washington's a good bet at this point, anybody else? But Girardi, despite the payroll, should be in the discussion, no?

3 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:14 pm

and thanks for the reminder about the Munson book. Definitley gonna check it out after the season.
Just started the new Theodore Roosevelt book "Wilderness Warrior" and that's going to keep me "booked" for at least a month.

4 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:18 pm

[1] oh, good call on Homer Bush. I liked that guy, but I always forget about him.
Knobby had wheels too, but not like Gardner.

5 TheGreenMan   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:23 pm

It was a long time ago and he wasn't very good with the Yankees, but in 1982 they had Dave Collins on the team. He only stole 13 bases that year as a 4th OFer, but two years before he stole 79 with the Reds and two years after he stole 60 with the Blue Jays.

Dave Collins was faaaaaaast!

6 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:35 pm

Cliff Johnson wasn't the fatest?

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:41 pm

Yay me! (on Robertson).

I hate to say it, but Tony Womack really was fast.

Finally, the above praise of my analysis of Robertson prompted me to check out my campers post from the sidebar, which led me to this:

4. Mattpat11
February 13th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Early pool. Who hits more homeruns next year? Manny Ramirez or the Yankees outfield?

Current count: Manny 13, Yanks OF 59.

Unless, Mattpat meant 2010 when he said "next year"

8 ms october   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:49 pm

[7] haha i thought about tony womack too but wasn't brave enough to post it.

oh and in mattpat's defense - how could he have predicted manny would be supended for peds and yankee stadium would be on peds :}

i really like robertson myself - the high walk rate is sometimes maddening (especially when you are at an extra innings game and it is hot as hell and you are crazy late for a bbq - i really wanted to kick him on july 4th), but that strike out rate is pretty amazing and that is a pretty valuable weapon in the pen.
and yes bruce, his curve his nasty.

9 Shaun P.   ~  Aug 21, 2009 2:51 pm

Let us note that Melky (11 HR) could pass Manny anytime now.

Can you imagine what would have been said if we could send that back in time?

10 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:00 pm

[8] yankee stadium on peds... peformance enhancing designs

re: womack. i have no recollection of him ever playing. I know he did, but I have no mental image of him in a Yankee uniform. He's so fast I've forgotten he was here.

11 Raf   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:08 pm

I was more surprised than anything that Cashman was able to get something of value for Womack

12 monkeypants   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:37 pm

[1] and while i am generally opposed to a 12 man pitching staff, it makes some sense when we’re limiting joba’s innings.

It is rumored that the Yankees will go to a 13 man staff when (if) Marte returns, rather than demote another reliever or "risk" "losing" Mitre.

13 monkeypants   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:38 pm

[0] Fastest Yankee:

Deion Sanders?

14 Start Spreading the News   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:39 pm

I think that Deion Sanders would have to be the fastest Yankee I have watched.

15 Start Spreading the News   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:40 pm

[13] MP, you stole my thunder faster than Deion would have gone from first to third!

16 RagingTartabull   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:42 pm

Bubba Crosby was pretty damn fast

17 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:46 pm

[16] true but when you're named Bubba everyone automatically thinks yer slow.

18 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2009 3:54 pm

on the flipside, I remember Glenallen Hill made Posada look like Usain Bolt.

19 RagingTartabull   ~  Aug 21, 2009 4:26 pm

oh man, thats a much better conversation...SLOWEST guys, players who were hobbled by injury don't count though. You have to have a natural God-given lack of speed. Also, no catchers...thats too easy.

it would be pretty hard to top Chili in my opinion.

20 Mattpat11   ~  Aug 21, 2009 4:39 pm

Aw hell, Marte is back. So is that headache. Having two lefties in the pen scares the hell out of me, because I think it will start the stupid over managing even earlier in the game.

21 The Hawk   ~  Aug 21, 2009 4:46 pm

I think it's a bit of a post ipso facto argument to say those who doubted the bullpen were "dead wrong" ... The biggest difference has been Phil Hughes, and some major addition by subtraction. At the time, the bullpen did not look good, and that changed because the bullpen changed.

22 boslaw   ~  Aug 21, 2009 4:54 pm

isn't molina the slowest yankee ever?

23 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Aug 21, 2009 5:06 pm

[21] for what it's worth, I predicted that Veras and Edwar would be gone by May in my camper's post, and I had Robertson as one of the replacements (though no one saw Hughes coming).

[22] Yes, but no catchers rule means . . . Giambi?

24 RIYank   ~  Aug 21, 2009 6:18 pm

[23] Exactly -- some significant add. by sub. was predictable, and though it wasn't predictable that Hughes would be in the bullpen, it was quite predictable that the bullpen would be better than it was at the beginning of the season.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver