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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

The Yankees haven’t yet been able to bolster their starting staff with a key addition, which has been the cause of great concern in Yankees Universe. All winter long, fans and team executives have repeatedly stated that the off season resolves around pitching, pitching, pitching, but maybe they’ve all been looking at the wrong end of the staff? Instead of seeking out other teams for reinforcements, perhaps the team, and its fans, should start looking inward? If relief is on the way, it could be coming from the bullpen.

In 2011, Yankees’ relievers posted an ERA of 3.12, which was the team’s sixth lowest rate since 1974. The bullpen’s fWAR of 7 was also the Yankees’ sixth highest total over the same span, which helps explain why the Bronx Bombers were able to win 97 games with a starting staff that stumbled down the stretch and finished the season with an ERA above 4.00.

ERA Differential between Yankees’ Rotation and Bullpen, Since 1974
Source: fangraphs.com

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Most Yankees’ fans have probably been looking forward to 2012 since Alex Rodriguez swung and missed at the last pitch of the 2011 ALDS, but with a New Year fast upon us, what better time to take one last look back at the 2011 season? Instead of getting bogged with subjective recollections of the year’s most significant moments, it’s much simpler to let Win Probability Added (WPA) do all the heavy lifting. After all, with over 6,300 plate appearances to recall, more than a few high highlights, and low lights, might be dimmed by the shortcomings of memory.

Yankees’ 2011 WPA Distribution

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Looking at the graph above, it’s easy to see why so much of a baseball season can seem like a blur. Over 57% of Yankees’ plate appearances registered a WPA of 2% or less, while 84% of trips to the plate moved the needle by 5% or less. Of course, without all of these seemingly inconsequential moments, the dramatic events that exist as outliers wouldn’t be possible. Listed below are those highlights and lowlights, both ranked by WPA.

10 Best Plate Appearances, Ranked by WPA

Source: Baseball-reference.com

10 Worst Plate Appearances, Ranked by WPA

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Regarding Hiroki Kuroda, and with apologies to Winston Churchill, never before have so many written so much about a pitcher whose accomplishments are so few. As the offseason has dragged on without a big move by the Yankees, fans of the team have grown increasingly impatient, and Kuroda has become their cause célèbre.

Ed Whitson sports a grin on the day he signed with the Yankees. It would be one of the last times he smiled while in pinstripes.

In his brief four-year career, Kuroda has been a solid starter, posting a cumulative WAR of 8.6 and ERA+ of 114. However, the Dodgers’ right hander will be 37 next year, so, even if his transition from the N.L. West wasn’t already a concern, the risks associated with his age would be reason enough for pause. Of course, that doesn’t mean Kuroda wouldn’t represent an upgrade in the Yankees’ shaky rotation, but at the reported cost of $12 million (not to mention the corresponding luxury tax hit of roughly $5 million), it’s hard to argue that the marginal value would justify the additional expenditure.

Back in the winter of 1984, the Yankees were in a similar situation. Despite having a top offensive team, which was bolstered by the earlier addition of Rickey Henderson, the pitching staff was a jumble of question marks (and there wasn’t a CC Sabathia to serve as an anchor). As luck would have it, however, there was pitcher from the N.L. West available on the free agent market. His name was Ed Whitson.

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Closers have been in both high demand and overabundant supply this offseason.  Jonathan Papelbon set the market early with a 4-year, $50 million contract, and since then, the likes of Heath Bell, Joe Nathan, and Frank Francisco have fallen in line. Meanwhile, Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero remain on the free agent market, while names like Carlos Marmol, Andrew Bailey, and Joakim Soria continue to be mentioned as hot commodities on the trade front.

Papelbon's four-year deal with the Phillies has set the market for closers. (Photo: Getty Images)

When the Yankees signed Rafael Soriano last winter, it seemed like a reach at the time, and this year’s offseason activity has confirmed it. At 3-years and $35 million, Soriano’s AAV of $11.7 million is just a shade below Papelbon’s and well in excess of what the Marlins and Rangers gave to Bell and Nathan, respectively. Such is the advantage of being the only closer available on the market, especially during a year in which the Yankees aren’t trying to stay on a budget.

Despite the market glut, it seems likely that teams still wishing to acquire a closer will have to pay a hefty price in terms of dollars or prospects. That won’t impact the Yankees, however, because the team’s bullpen is both strong and deep. In fact, Soriano projects to be the “seventh inning guy”, which is very impressive when you consider he would be the closer on many other teams. So, perhaps Brian Cashman should be thinking about leveraging the Yankees’ relative strength and using the inflated closer market to help unload a contract he didn’t want in the first place?

With $25 million owed over the next two seasons, Soriano isn’t cheap. However, if the Yankees were willing to eat about $5 million, it would reduce his AAV to $10 million, or just over the $9 million that the Marlins will be paying Heath Bell. At first glance, that still seems too high, but when you compare the two pitchers over their careers, a similar salary seems appropriate. Granted, Bell has been healthier and occupied the closer’s role for longer, but the extra year on his contract could be viewed as the premium for that experience.

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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

Baseball Americarecently unveiled its new ranking for the Yankees’ farm system, and once again Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos were featured prominently. Absent from the list, however, was Andrew Brackman, who ranked fifth on last year’s list. Of course, the reason Brackman didn’t make the list is because he is no longer in the organization. After only three minor league seasons and fewer than 350 professional innings, the Yankees decided they had seen enough of their 2007 first round draft pick.

Although Brackman’s and Betances’ status in the Yankees’ organization has diverged dramatically since this time last year, the two pitchers still share one thing in common: abnormal height. At 6’10” and 6’8″, respectively, both right handers rank among the tallest players in major league history. Perhaps not coincidentally, both pitchers have also shared a relative lack of command, which begs the question about whether height is a developmental impediment?

Tallest Pitchers in Yankees’ History (click to enlarge)

Note: For an in depth look into the curious life of Slim Love, click here.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Yankees lost out on another potential trade target when Gio Gonzalez was traded to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects. At the price the Nationals paid, the Yankees probably weren’t a player for Gonzalez anyway, so the trade really doesn’t alter the team’s offseason strategy. However, it does further an interesting development taking place around baseball, and particularly in the N.L. East.

Nationals' fans may get down on their knees after their team acquired widely coveted Gio Gonzalez. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are a variety of differing opinions on Gonzalez. Some believe he is gradually emerging as one of the best young arms in the game, while others suspect he may not be able to continue outperforming his relative inability to throw strikes. As with most young pitchers, it’s hard to predict what path Gonzalez will take in Washington, but regardless, the Nationals’ aggressive move speaks volumes about the internal view they have about their team as well as the economic boom taking place throughout the game.

When the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, we learned that Arte Moreno’s shopping spree was being funded by a new multi-billion television deal. Similarly, the Rangers aggressive spending since being sold to the ownership group fronted by Nolan Ryan has been linked to TV money. Now, it seems, we can also add the Nationals to that list.

According to a report in the Washington Examiner, the Nationals are in the process of negotiating a new payout from MASN that could be substantially higher than the $29 million fee they currently receive. With the expectation of increased revenue, the Nationals’ decision to accelerate their rebuilding strategy makes perfect sense. Even though Gonzalez, who is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, won’t cost the Nationals much initially, the price in prospects was very steep. The team’s willingness to cash in so many future chips for instant gratification must mean the Nationals either think they are ready to contend now, or have the financial wherewithal to significantly expedite the process. When Washington broke the bank to sign Jayson Werth last year, many pundits scratched their heads, but clearly, the organization has adopted a very optimistic outlook. Even though GM Mike Rizzo probably already regrets the decision to sign Werth, it says a lot that he and owner Mark Lerner remain undeterred in their attempts to quickly improve the team.

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“Not interested” have seemingly become Brian Cashman’s favorite two words, which hasn’t exactly been music to the ears of many Yankees fans (or agents hoping to ignite a bidding war). Although it’s easy to see why Cashman would remain aloof when it comes to big ticket free agents or inflated trade demands seeking the team’s best prospects, the cold shoulder given to pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt has been harder for many to understand.

Is Roy Oswalt the best option for the Yankees? (Photo: AP)

As the winter has progressed, and the Yankees’ Hot Stove has remained without a flame, there has been a growing disenchantment among the fan base. All of sudden, the likes of Oswalt and Kuroda have become “must haves”, and the Yankees’ lack of interest a sign of irrational fiscal restraint. Earlier, I suggested the team might be in a warped version of a rebuilding mode, and apparently, many in the Yankees’ Universe have taken that sentiment a little too much to heart.

Whether or not the Yankees are laying the foundation for when Cole Hamels becomes a free agent next season, there is no reason for the team to make a rash decision on players whom, only weeks ago, most would have agreed weren’t a great fit. After all, is a 34-year old Oswalt, who is coming off a season with a bad back, really what the Yankees need? Is a 37-year old Kuroda, who has spent his brief career in the NL West, any better?

As constituted, the Yankees’ rotation has several question marks, but the only real candidate to be removed for an acquisition would be Phil Hughes. Considering his struggles over the last season and a half, many fans would likely welcome a veteran replacement, but should the Yankees be willing to pull the plug on a pitcher who was not only a highly touted prospect, but has had some success in the major leagues? Granted, penciling Hughes into the rotation represents a risk, but the potential reward (a young, reliable starter under team control for three more years) suggests it should be one the Yankees are willing to take, especially when contrasted against what could be expected from some of the proposed alternatives.

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