2010 Season Preview: Breaking Down Aceves

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Photo credit: Tony Dejak/AP

In 2008 the Yankees featured one of the best bullpens in the American League. It got its share of work, racking up 543.1 innings, mostly because of the team’s decimated starting staff. Even still, it led the league in K/9 and K/BB, finished second, by .001, in OBP, and finished third, by .002, in WHIP. Trying to build off that success, the Yankees brought back many of those successful relievers in 2009, including Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney and, to a lesser extent, Jon Albaladejo and Phil Coke. The experiment turned foul pretty quickly, as the group allowed 55 runs, 51 earned, in 71 April innings.

Bruney had been lights out, but hurt his elbow mid-month. Edwar had faced 44 batters and allowed 11 hits, including three home runs, and walked eight. Hitters against him posted a ridiculous .306/.432/.583 line. Veras seemed a bit more snakebitten, a 1.09 WHIP vs. a 5.73 ERA, but he also walked way too many hitters. Albaladejo had allowed seven extra base hits to the 48 batters he faced. Clearly, something had to change in the Yankees’ bullpen, or else the current crew would blow games for the next five months.

It’s easy to cite Phil Hughes‘s move to the bullpen as the reason the unit ended up among the AL’s best in 2009. He was absolutely lights out pitching in relief, allowing just nine runs, eight earned, in 51.1 IP, striking out 65 along the way. Even though his hit total was ridiculously low, 31, he still managed a sterling 1.93 FIP. Yet the bullpen transformation came before Hughes made his move to the eighth inning in July, even before he moved to the bullpen in June. The real change came at the beginning of May, when the Yankees recalled Alfredo Aceves from Scranton.

Through his first two months he helped stabilize the bullpen, allowing just eight runs over 33.1 innings. The runs came in clumps for the most part, two in a 4.1-inning appearance against Boston and three against Texas. Of his 18 appearances in May and June, 13 were scoreless. He allowed just one run three times, twice in completely meaningless situations. He did experience a few hiccups in late July and August, probably related to back soreness. Overall his season went well, though.

Aceves’s soft-tossing style might make his performance seem like smoke and mirrors, but by secondary metrics he performed very well. His FIP sat at 3.75, mostly because he walked so few batters. He still struck out a decent amount, 7.39 per nine innings. His curveball and changeup proved effective swing and miss weapons. His walk and strikeout rates will help him in the future, when opponents will likely improve upon their .260 BABIP against him.

Another area where we might see some regression from Aceves is his home run rate. He allowed 10 home runs in his 84 innings, or 1.07 per nine innings. That might seem high, or average at best, but Aceves accomplished this while allowing a ton of fly balls. Of the 242 fair balls opponents put in play, 116 of them were fly balls, while another 42 were line drives. That led to an 8.6 percent HR/FB ratio, below league average. This is reflected in his xFIP, 4.09. Thankfully, that’s still a quality mark.

In terms of future success, Aceves’s willingness to throw all of his pitches should continue to help him. He threw just 43 percent four-seamers last year, mixing in a cutter, curveball, and changeup for the remaining 57 percent. The cutter appears to be a good straight fastball alternative, as he trades two to three miles per hour for a few inches of break. His curveball is strong, with a deep vertical drop. Lefties seem to have trouble against his changeup. In fact, Aceves performed very well against lefties in 2009, a huge plus if he can continue it in the future.

How do the projection systems see the Yankees’ potential swingman in 2010?

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It looks like most of the projection systems expect Aceves’s hit total to rise, consistent with DIPS theory. We’ve seen it happen to countless relievers. They come on and perform very well in one season by not allowing many hits on balls in play. Then the next year their luck starts evening out, and they’re all the worse for it. Thankfully, Aceves compensates with a low walk rate, though all the systems project that to rise as well. ZiPS is clearly the most pessimistic, forecasting increased home run, hit, and walk rates and a declining strikeout rate.

Given his pitch repertoire, however, I expect Aceves to once again provide a solid option out of the bullpen. Maybe he breaks camp as the fifth starter, though I still doubt it. He’ll probably make a spot start or two during the season as well. Even if his BABIP does rise to the league average, he should still provide quality innings out of the pen. He won’t be as key to the unit’s success as he was last year, but he certainly strengthens the bullpen corps.

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  • Nigel Bangs

    That picture rules. It would be great to get another solid year out of Aceves.

  • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

    Tango had ZiPS as the best forecast system for in 2009 for pitchers (followed closely by CHONE). So, if we were to average both ZiPS and CHONE’s projections for Aceves in 2010 (66.4 IP, 1.29 WHIP and 4.35 FIP) and compare them to that of *Sergio Mitre’s (104.7 IP, 1.46 WHIP and 4.50 FIP), does the idea of cutting Mitre in favor of keeping Aceves on the major-league team make for the best use of resources? Is the projection gap in production between Aceves in Mitre big enough to warrant not keeping both as options throughout the 2010 campaign? I would say no.

    *I am mentioning Mitre over Chad Gaudin because the former has been the worst of the three pitchers throughout their careers, and he has been perceived to be the favorite to get cut. Also, the two projection systems forecast Mitre to start 37 of his 41 appearances in 2010, so his numbers would look better in the bullpen because a typical starter moving to the bullpen saves one run per every nine innings pitched.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Also, the two projection systems forecast Mitre to start 37 of his 41 appearances in 2010…

      37 starts for Mitre? That’s ambitious.

      • Accent Shallow

        And only 100 innings? Eeeek!

      • Thomas

        It is 37 starts and 41 appearances combined. CHONE has 18 starts in 18 games, where as ZIPS has 19 starts in 23 games ( 18 + 19 = 37 starts and 18 + 23 = 41 appearances).

      • Hangoverologist

        Something horrible will have had to happen to the top three if Mitre makes 37 starts.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Who’s that last pitcher to have 37 starts in a season?

        • vin

          Greg Maddux in ’91.

          I’d post a link to the play-index table, but B-R is hanging up.

      • Jose

        That is the added total of the two projection systems he mentioned. If you divide by two that is the average of the two and would be the more reasonable projection of him starting 18.5 of his 20.5 appearances.

      • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

        Guys, I think he was joking.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          There is nothing funny about Sergio Meatray starting 37 games in a season. NOTHING….FUNNY…..

        • Jose

          Hopefully. I was just clarifying for any other readers who may have been legitimately confused.

    • Bo

      37 starts for Mitre makes this laughable.

      Another try at a statistical system that is a joke.

      • Jack

        You do realize neither projection had him at 37 starts, right?

  • Vinny the Bull

    Taking the first part of this post into account (and I’m sure he’ll be profiled soon), what are the chances that David Robertson goes the way of Brian Bruney?

    • SamVa

      I would say, (as a hugeeee D-Rob fan trying to be unbiased), You have to think that the k/9 rate may come down a bit.. but I don’t think that he loses any of his stuff.. I mean, someone tell me if I am wrong, but I believe his k/9 rating was in the 13’s? last year.. that’s pretty impressive and what you are looking for in a reliever. I don’t think he falls the way Bruney did.. You have to remember that a lot of that had to do with injury.

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        Bruney didn’t really fall as much as he just always wasn’t very good. Robertson’s been a better pitcher with better stuff at nearly every level, and while we could expect the K rate to dip somewhat, he won’t be another Brian Bruney.

      • Vinny the Bull

        I’m expecting the K rate to drop, I just don’t see how he can maintain it. Certainly wouldn’t complain if he did. If he continues to be succesful, (and assuming either Hughes or Joba turn into Mo’s successor) what then are the odds that at some point either he or Melancon becomes trade bait?

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          If he continues to be successful, why would you trade him and not keep him in the bullpen?

          • Vinny the Bull

            Not saying this year. I’m wondering what the organization’s long term plans are for him, if there are any. And seeing how the Yankees have a surplus of pitchers and catchers and a lack of other position player prospects, and other organizations will always covet someone with a live arm, I’m curious as to whether they’ll keep him long term or use him to pick up a prospect.

            • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

              If he’s as good as his K-rate suggests, there would be no need at all to trade him. Set-up men are quite valuable in their own rights. That doesn’t make him untouchable; rather, he shouldn’t be viewed as mere trade bait.

            • Bo

              You dont trade premier set up men for prospects.

  • Aj

    Aceves fits perfectly into the fireman/ long-man if our SPs can’t go deep. RAB Radio Show anytime soon?

  • ned

    Keep Alceves in the BP, not starting. Remember what happened last year when they tried him as a spot starter?

    • Aj

      Very small sample size. By that logic, we can look at his 4 starts in 2008 and his 2.40 ERA and 1.17 Whip.

    • SamVa

      didn’t two years ago, he have like an era in the 2’s? (in three games SSS, yes I am aware)
      (as a starter)

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      They tried him as a spot starter once last year. We can’t draw any conclusions from that at all.

  • http://yanksdraftsandprospects.blogspot.com/ Jake H

    I think Ace will pitch to a slightly under 4 era.

  • Bo

    Hughes was the reason the pen rebounded. Aceves added a nice versatile dimension and pitched well but Hughes was the real reason. His dominance changed the whole team and the season.

  • CS Yankee

    “Ace is the place as the helpful hard innings man”
    (long relief)