More often than not, Al Aceves has gotten the job done whenever Joe Girardi called on him this year. He was dynamite in the first half, posting a 2.49 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and a .637 OPS against in his first 22 outings. Opposing batters haven’t been too kind to Mr. Aceves since then, tattooing him to the tune of a 7.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 10 appearances since. Most point to his spot start in Minnesota and the shoulder fatigue/soreness that followed as the problem (correlation =/= causation!), but Aceves’ velocity is fine, and that’s the primary indicator of shoulder trouble.
The reality is that Aceves has had just three really bad outings since the break that are inflating his ERA. Let’s take a look at them one by one:
July 18th vs Detroit: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 15 pitches
With the Yanks up 2-0 (this was the Sabathia-Verlander duel), Aceves entered the game in the 8th and retired the first two batters (Placido Polanco & Miguel Cabrera) before giving up a solo jack to ex-Yank Marcus Thames. He retired Magglio Ordonez to end the inning and that was that. Hit Tracker says Thames’ shot would have been gone in a total of nine big league parks, but whatever. Thames has 38 homers in his last 564 plate appearances (not quite a full season’s worth), so the dude can crush the ball. Giving up a solo jack to him is no big deal in my book.
July 20th vs. Baltimore: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 11 pitches
Game tied at one in the top of the ninth, Aceves comes in with one out and Adam Jones on first after being plunked by Phil Coke. Jones stealssecond, but Melvin Mora pops out to center for the second out. Aceves is ordered to intentionally walk the molten hot Luke Scott (.310-.403-.638 in his previous 16 games), and then gets Nolan Reimold to fly out to left. Hideki Matsui homers in the bottom of the ninth and Aceves walk-offs with a win.
July 21st vs. Baltimore: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 12 pitches
With the Yanks up 6-4 in the 6th, Aceves comes in with a man on first and two outs. He gets Matt Wieters to fly out to left to end the inning, then sits down Cesar Izturis, Brian Roberts, and Adam Jones in the 7th without incident. Done and done.
July 25th vs Oakland: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 13 pitches
Andy Pettitte departs with the bases loaded and one out, and Aceves gets the first batter he faces to pop out to first. Landon Powell singles to left on an 0-2 count (you may remember this pitch, it was a hanger right out over the plate that was flared over Jeter), Adam Kennedy singles back up the middle, and Orlando Cabrera drilled a double into right. K-Rob™ comes in and cleans the mess up. Aceves gets rocked.
On July 28th, we first learn of Aceves fatigued wing.
July 31st @ White Sox: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 39 pitches
Aceves starts the sixth with the Yanks down 6-5. He retires Scott Podsednik, Gordon Beckham, and Jim Thome on two fly balls and a groundout. He walks Paul Konerko to lead off the seventh, then gives up a single to AJ Pierzysnki. Carlos Quentin and Mark Kotsay then fly out, but Jayson Nix walks in a well fought eight pitch at bat. Chris Getz singles in two runs, then Nix steals home when Jorge Posada throws to second on Getz’s steal attempt. Podsednik singles through the 3.5 hole for another run and Aceves’ day is done. Two straight clunkers.
August 5th @ Toronto: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 25 pitches
With the Yanks up 3-2 in the sixth, Ace sits down Edwin Encarnacion, Rod Barajas, and Joe Inglett down in order on two strikeouts and a little dribbler that landed in front of the plate. Marco Scutaro homers to lead off the seventh after the Yanks tack on three more runs, then Aaron Hill hits a weak liner to short for an out. Phil Coke comes in to face the lefties Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay. Not a terrible outing, not a great one. Acceptable.
August 7th vs. Boston: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 37 pitches
The 15-inning marathon game. Aceves walks Chris Woodward, then allows a single to Jacoby Ellsbury after two quick ground outs. He retires the next seven batters in order with only one ball leaving the infield. Well done.
August 10th vs. Toronto: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 42 pitches
Enters the game in the sixth with Toronto up 5-4. Sets down the side in order in his first inning of work, then gives up singles with two outs in the seventh to Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. He sets down the next seven in order. Again, well done. It’s probably worth noting that with this game, Aceves had thrown 104 pitches in three outings over the last six days.
August 16th # Seattle: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 48 pitches
His only other real stinker, Aceves pitches a scoreless sixth but allows a double to Jack Wilson and a single to Ichiro! in the process. The next inning starts with a Junior single and a Franklin Gutierrez double, but Jack Hannahan grounds out to second for the first out. Kenji Johjima is hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Aceves strikes out Ryan Langerhans for the second out (you probably remember this, he blew three straight fastballs right by him for three swinging strikes). Ace then hits Jack Wilson to force in a run, and is taken out in favor of Chad Gaudin. Gaudin allows all three inherited runners to score and then some before recording the final out of the inning.
If Gaudin got the third out right away, Aceves’ line would have been a much prettier 1.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K. Not great obviously, but not nearly the eyesore.
Then there was last night. He escaped that bases loaded, one out, jam with a 1-2-3 double play, then got Ryan Sweeney and Landon Powell to ground out for two quick outs in the sixth. Jack Cust hit that towering homer that just kept carrying and carrying out to center, but Aceves got Tommy Everidge to line out to second to end the inning. With most of the fan base clamoring for Phil Hughes in the seventh, Ace actually struck out the first two batters of the frame. Rajai Davis singled and stole second, then came home on Mark Ellis single back up the middle. Kurt Suzuki singled weakly to the left side and Phil Coke came in to escape the jam. It wasn’t a great performance, but hardly a disaster.
So by my count, there’s only three real stinkers in there. Two of them came in back-to-back outings which were sandwiched around the announcement that Aceves had a sore/fatigued shoulder, and a third that wouldn’t have been so bad had a whole bunch of inherited runners been stranded. Perhaps the problem is that Aceves was so great in the first half of the year that we’ve been spoiled and come to expect that every outing. As RLYW has noted, Aceves has been outperforming his FIP all year, so this just might be a good ol’ statistical correction.
The beautiful thing about having a seven game lead and a 99.26073% chance to make the playoffs is that the team can err on the side of caution. If Aceves’ shoulder is in fact barking, they can take it easy and rest him, perhaps even sticking him on the disabled list so they can get a warm body to replace him. It’s gotten kind of tiresome to see people speculate that so-and-so must be hurt because he’s not pitching well; guys can just struggle for no apparent reason, you know. It’s called a slump. As the number three option out of the ‘pen, Aceves is going to play a big role in October, and there’s no reason for the Yanks to screw around with such a big lead in August.