It’s no secret the New York Yankees bullpen is one of the best in baseball. They came into the 2012 season with the likes Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, David Phelps, and, of course, southpaw Boone Logan. A little background reveals that he came over in a trade from the Atlanta Braves after the 2008 season. It was a deal that sent Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn, and hot prospect Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves in exchange for pitchers Javier Vazquez and Logan. Overall, he was an afterthought in the trade that brought him over to the Bronx.
His performance in previous seasons with the Chicago White Sox and the Braves was below average at best. He essentially became a full-time reliever for the White Sox when he turned age 21, but he hardly had any success coming out of the bullpen. In fact, in 50.2 innings in 2007 with the White Sox, he pitched to a 4.97 ERA (4.48 xFIP), while walking 20 batters and striking out 35. It’s a trend that would follow him to New York, he could get the strike out, but he’ll also issue the free pass to make things interesting.
Let’s fast forward to his Yankee years (2010-present). Since joining the team in 2010, he has held at least an 8.55 K/9, which he only hit once with the White Sox, back in 2008 (8.93). He didn’t endear himself to fans his first year in pinstripes, as he was plagued with giving up the free pass (4.50 BB/9). However, he sported a 2.93 ERA in 2010, but he actually pitched worse than that mark by recording a 3.97 xFIP, which is more indicative of how he actually pitched. Being a southpaw, he was looked at as the lefty specialist tasked with stopping opposing hitters from utilizing the short porch in Yankee Stadium, but we all know that manager Joe Girardi wants relievers who multitask, what manager doesn’t?
Coming into the 2011 season, Logan was ready for the next step. However, the first half of the season had many fans up in arms and ready to search for a new bullpen arm. Logan wasn’t developing into a viable option in the ‘pen before the All-Star break and he looked even worse in the second half. While his BABIP was unusually very high (.434), hitters were batting .309/.352/.519 off him. But, a closer look at the numbers reveals a change in Logan. In the second half of the season he cut down on the walks and increased his strikeouts. In fact, in the first half he amassed a 2.11 K/BB rate in 84 at-bats against him, while in the second half he recorded a 6.75 K/BB rate in 81 at-bats. It was that change, despite the unusually high BABIP, that turned him into the pitcher he is now.
I would venture a guess that nobody predicted what Logan is doing right now. After Rivera was lost for the season in early May due to a knee injury, roles in the bullpen were changed. Soriano and Robertson would close, while Logan and Wade would be thrust into the setup role. He was no longer a LOOGY or lefty specialist, instead a pivotal piece tasked with getting outs in more high leverage spots. So far this season he’s pitching to a 2.60 ERA (2.87 xFIP) with a ridiculous 12.04 K/9 rate, striking out almost a third of all the batters he’s faced. Overall, he’s improved upon his career 2.21 K/BB mark, with a 3.70 mark this season.
So what are the reasons for this turnaround? For one, he’s not relying on his fastball as much, and instead turning to his slider. With the Braves and in the first two years with the Yankees he was using his fastball nearly two-thirds of the time while using his slider about 30%. This season he’s using his fastball less (46.5%) and using his slider much more (50.9%). Looking at PITCHf/x data shows that not only is he throwing his slider more, but it’s the most effective it has ever been (5.0, with 3.5 in 2011). Meanwhile, batters are making less contact (75.2% vs. 63.7%) as well as swinging and missing at strikes (12.3% vs. 15.8%) in 2012 compared to 2011.
Logan has graduated from LOOGY school and is now entrenched as a valuable bullpen piece facing batters from both sides. Thus far he’s held lefties to a .206/.250/.317 line, while holding righties to .256/.362/.385 in 2012. There’s a decent split, but it’s a far cry from his 2010 season (.190/.286/.215 against LH vs. .279/.372/.471 against RH). He’s also rewarding Girardi for his confidence by recording a .200/.276/.200 line (in 25 ABs, ranks second on the team behind Soriano) in high leverage situations.
Logan, along with Wade, has formed a nice bridge to Robertson and Soriano. The bullpen, as a whole, has been nearly perfect and Logan has been at the forefront helping solidify their ranking. Fans seem to forget Logan is only age 27 (turns 28 in August), so his best days are ahead of him. It’s refreshing to see the Yankees have faith enough in his development to actually see the fruits of their patience. Logan has turned the page from the “growing pains” part of his career and is now embarking on the “prime years” portion.