Why Billy Traber?

An emotional day for baseball
Game Thread: The VT Memorial game

We’ve spent a lot of time and energy talking about the bullpen this spring. And with three spots realistically up for grabs, it’s been quite an interesting conversation. We know that Mo, Farnsworth, and LaTroy will be making the team, as they have guaranteed deals. It’s also assumed that Joba will break camp in the pen — or at least that’s what he believes right now. That’s four out of the seven, leaving three spots warm for the likes of Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, Brian Bruney, Chris Britton, Jon Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Heath Phillips, Billy Traber, Scott Patterson, and (sigh) Sean Henn.

Complicating the issue a bit is Joe Girardi‘s desire to see a long man in that bullpen mix. That would indicate Karstens or Rasner, though Ross Ohlendorf was a starter for his entire career until the middle of last year. But if we’re still considering Ohlendorf a one- or two-inning guy, that means we’re now looking at about nine guys for two spots. So things get tougher.

As if that wasn’t enough, it’s pretty much assumed that the team will head into the season with a lefty in the pen. Back in December, we debated the merits of having a lefty in the pen for the sake of having a lefty. We didn’t reach a consensus, but I still believe it wasteful to carry a lefty just because of the arm with which he throws. It’s becoming clear that the Yankees do not share this sentiment.

So that means one spot will be decided among three guys, four if you count Igawa. And that’s a topic I want to revisit. If we’re going to carry a lefty for the sake of carrying a lefty, we might as well discuss it.

Late last week, Billy Traber was added to the 40-man roster, which signaled to many that the spot is all but his. This, though, I have to disagree with. While he very well may get the job out of Spring Training, I’m not sold that he’s the right man for the job.

The thing is, Traber has proved little on the major league level. Yes, he was good against lefties last year in his brief major league stint, but is that enough to justify giving him a spot? And yeah, he’s a former No. 1 pick, but he really hasn’t been the same since he had Tommy John surgery in 2003.

My hope is that he was added to the 40-man so that he can be optioned down to AAA to start the season. This way, we can spend those last two bullpen spots on Patterson and Ohlendorf to see how they can do. Surely, a need in the bullpen will arise as the season progresses.

Then again, I seem to be talking out both sides of my mouth here, as Patterson has no major league experience, and Ohlendorf has just the few innings he tossed last September. Still, I’d rather see Traber, who has had a shot in the majors in each of the last two seasons, start in AAA so we can see what the other guys can do. And if Traber is getting the job done at AAA, then yeah, I’d fully advocate his call-up.

So at this point, let’s just say that I’m not sold at all on Traber as a viable bullpen option out of the gate.

An emotional day for baseball
Game Thread: The VT Memorial game
  • http://Www.thebronxstop.com BronxStop

    Patterson really deserves a chance because of what he has done this Spring. If he doesnt get one why even have players contend for spots? if you put up the numbers and theres a spot to be filled it would only make sense to give it to the person with the best numbers

    • Count Zero

      Agree 100%. Patterson earned his shot with the big boys this spring.

  • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com/ Bruno

    I agree that it shouldn’t go to Traber JUST because he’s a lefty. If he wins the spot then fine, but Ohlendorf is just too nasty and Patterson has earned it. In my opinion Joba should be the longman that Girardi wants, it would allow for a smoother transition into the rotation (ie: Johan Santana, Fransico Liriano, Chad Billingsley)

    Rivera, Farnsworth, Hawkins, Ohlendorf, Patterson, Traber, Joba


  • blah

    You yourself admit the weakness in your argument: none of the other guys have proven anything more than Traber has, perhaps with the exception of Bruney and Britton. But you don’t seem to like either of those two either.

    It looks like the final bullpen choices will be acts of faith to some extent.

  • Chris

    Why not consider carrying 13 pitchers? I’d rather have either Patterson or Ohlendorf as an option out of the pen instead of carrying Ensberg, or some other last man on the bench.

    I know the suspensions to Cabrera and Duncan would basically kill this idea, but ignoring those two games, it seems like there are more good choices for bullpen arms than for bench players.

    Also, what about keeping Joba as the long reliever?

    • stefan

      I think the answer to that is “He’s there, so we might as well try to win games and have him throw meaningful innings. No reason to waste an arm like that on mop-up work.”

      • Chris

        Being a long reliever does not equate to doing mop-up work. There are certainly going to be some mop-up situations, but there will be mostly 3 or 4 run games in the 5th inning where they could go either way, and having a reliever step in and pitch 3 innings and give up no runs could make a huge difference.

        Besides, we already have a mop-up guy in Farnsworth…

    • steve (different one)

      i would much rather have a lefty smashing bat on the bench than an 8th reliever.

      it’s not crucial that the Yankees choose the optimal combination of relievers when they break camp. they have a lot of arms that have options left. they can basically shuffle guys up and down until 3-4 non-Mo guys really start to seperate themselves from the pack.

  • stefan

    Luckily there are another 2 weeks for them to figure it all out!

    I could be mistaken, but I recall hearing that Traber had a clause in his Minor League contract that said he could ask for his release if he wasn’t added to the 40-man by a certain date. Considering he has done well in ST, and there are 40-man spots to spare (for now), there was no reason to just let him go to some other team.

    To reiterate, his addition to the 40-man hasn’t punched his ticket to the Majors, but it shows that the Yanks are willing to at least give him an extended look.

    • J.R.

      You are right about the 40man clause. It was a smart move to put Brackman on the 60 day Dl and not let another team get Traber.

  • Mike R.

    I disagree. Ohledorf could clearly benefit more from time in AAA due to his lack of experience in the pen. Traber would not benefit as much from said time. In addition Traber has been more impressive this spring. I don’t believe that the arument of giving the job to Ohledorf because he is the lesser known entity is a compelling one.

  • Bo

    Ohlendorf needs regular work. Starting at Trip A wouldnt be a bad thing for him.

  • Bo

    And I wouldnt be so sure they dont make a trade before April 1.

    Fuentes or Marte.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      If you take the Rockies’ GM’s words at face value, there’s no way Fuentes is being dealt any time soon.

  • Nate

    I know Karstens and Rasner have had tough-luck injury problems, but neither has shown me that they can consistently retire Major League hitters. They’ll each have a nice run of good innings, then implode and end up with ERAs skyrocketing.

  • whozat

    I think Ross needs to go to AAA as well. He’s never going to develop that splitter if he’s in the majors trying to keep his job. He just can’t afford to throw it.

    I figure there’s a great chance of Patterson getting figured out after not TOO long. But, until that happens, I think he can give them some outs. So, I figure put him on the team and send Ross to AAA to work on the splitter. When Patterson starts getting hit, bring up whoever’s pitching best in AAA.

    Traber’s done well this spring. He’s had shots in the majors, sure, but as a swing man and such. He’s shown me more than some other guys this spring…give him a month as a dedicated short reliever and let’s see what happens. If he was worse than the other options this spring, I’d agree…don’t carry him. But, he’s been among the best.

  • Bo

    “I figure there’s a great chance of Patterson getting figured out after not TOO long.”

    Umm what reliever doesnt get figured out?

    • whozat

      “Umm what reliever doesnt get figured out?”

      Successful ones? I’m saying that Patterson mostly gets by on deception. I don’t think that’s sustainable. I think that major league batters will begin to be able to hit him hard, and he doesn’t have the stuff to adjust and continue to succeed. Until that happens, though, I think he could get important outs for the team and give time to a guy like Ohlendorf who still needs some development.

  • CB

    Traber didn’t throw that many innings last year in the majors but he does have striking numbers over his career for the role the yankees want him to fill.

    He has fairly dramatic splits against lefties and righties over his career.

    He’s faced 232 lefty hitters for his career. His line against them: .210 BA/ .303 OBP/ .310 SLG/ .613 OPS.

    You can argue against the value of keeping a lefty specialist but those numbers are very impressive and 232 lefty batters is not a small sample. If you look at him season by season he always does well against lefties.

    Conversely he’s been terrible against righty hitters (.329 .382 .512 ). That’s a problem as most lefty specialists wind up facing just as many righty hitters as lefties over time. But Girardi is very partial to having a lefty specialist.

    What’s interesting about Traber is how he’s had these extreme splits but no one has ever tried him as a lefty specialist out of the pen before now.

    If his past performance holds up – he has a good chance to fulfill the role the yankees are asking him to do. I think he’ll get out lefty hitters. That’s all you can ask a guy to do – fill the role he’s been tasked with.

    And if you want jobs to be based on competition – Traber has been the best relief pitcher in camp besides Mo and Patterson. After those three there’s been a drop off in performance.

    If you want to argue the value of a lefty reliever that’s fine. But at this point Traber seems like a decent bet to fill that role. He’s performed well – the issue is not with him as much as it is with the value of a lefty specialist. He’s done what they’ve asked so far.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      The reason I didn’t use his career splits is because of the sample issues involved. He was used as a reliever to start 2003, and then was moved into a starting role. And then in 2006 and 2007 he had small samples by which to judge. Even then, he showed about equal splits in 2006, and was far better against lefties in 2007.

      As I said, there’s little to go on here, and I’m not about to go on his 5.2 innings this spring, though they have been very good.

  • mustang

    Traber has a spot its his to lose in the next two weeks. For all of you who don’t think we need at least a lefty you have not been paying attention the last two seasons. It’s the same old problem that never seem to be address at least this year we have a young lefty instead of those old guys who’s careers end years ago. I hate to say it but don’t sleep on Igawa getting a spot in the pen. He fills two roles he gives you a second lefty and a long man. My guess for the 3 spots are Traber, Igawa, and Patterson with Bruney having a chance if Patterson drops the ball in the next two weeks.

    PS- The two times Igawa came in long relief last year he was actually good and don’t forget the money he makes.

  • Matt M.

    Traber and Patterson should make it.

    ohlendorf should make it too imo because Ensberg will be a wasted roster space. betemit can play 3B, and 1B… eliminating need for ensberg. (as well as playing SS and a smidge of 2b)

    but if not. then ohlendorf should start the year in AAA to work on his pitching.

    also. traber and patterson have pitched the best and most consistent baseball all spring. ohlendorf has looked good, but those two have pitched better.

    • steve (different one)

      no team needs 13 pitchers. your 13th pitcher is a wasted roster space.

      if you want to argue that the Yankees would be better served with a guy like Garnder or Woodward instead of Duncan or Ensberg, that’s one thing.

      but the Yankees don’t need 8 relievers.

      • J.R.

        The only time you ever really need 13 pitchers is for a double header. And even then it can be over kill. Last year the yankees were operating with a 4 man pen under torre.

  • mustang

    Ensberg is not a waste if he can give you the numbers he had in 2006. Last year he was hurt and his numbers still weren’t bad for a back-up. With the spring he having you can see him going back to his old form. Our righthanded line-up would look real good with Ensberg and Duncan. Lets stop trying to force feed the young pitching. Ohlendorf will get his chance.

  • mustang

    And yes Betemit can play 3B, and 1B but he can’t hit from the right side,even if he is a switch hitter. His Number from the right side are bad.

  • kingshaffy

    if traber was just getting the call because he’s a lefty, that would be one thing, but he has outperformed just about every pitcher in camp so far. He’s getting lefties and righties out and he’s shown the ability to go more than an inning. He’s throwing the ball really well, if it continues, he’s earned a spot.

  • kingshaffy

    that said, i hope they find room for Ohlendorf as well.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Keep in mind, too, that when we say Traber has “looked good” this spring, we’re talking about 5.2 innings.

  • http://myspace.com/lincolnsworld Link

    A little off topic and pardon my ignorance but Traber and Henn both had TJS and have not been the same since as I’m sure scores of other pitchers as well, and I know that some pitchers also have had post-TJS success..my question is this, where does the confidence come from that Brackman, Sanchez, Melancon, Cox, et. al. will be as good as they were before?

  • Joe

    “Successful ones? I’m saying that Patterson mostly gets by on deception. I don’t think that’s sustainable. I think that major league batters will begin to be able to hit him hard, and he doesn’t have the stuff to adjust and continue to succeed. Until that happens, though, I think he could get important outs for the team and give time to a guy like Ohlendorf who still needs some development.”

    This just isn’t true. Patterson throws a low 90’s fastball that tops at 94, this isn’t all deception. And there is that little thing called fastball command, the MOST important and MOST underrated aspect of pitching. You can throw the ball with your feet if you can put it in a 3 inch box every time. Trick pitchers and guys with little command are guys that don’t have sustainable success…great fastball command with slightly above average stuff doesn’t equate to “flash in the pan” success.