Was Aceves’s back affecting his stuff?

Late rally can't overcome Burnett, bullpen blow-up
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With the recent spate of bullpen ineffectiveness, Yankees fans have pined for one of the few steady presences in the bullpen, Al Aceves. He’s been on the DL since earlier this month with a bulging disc in his back, an injury that sounds pretty bad. It sure looked bad when he hurt it mid-pitch in Boston. He has since received a cortisone shot, and claims that it feels much better. That’s good news for the bullpen if Aceves can return to his 2009 form. A look at his early season peripherals makes me wonder, though, whether the back has been a lingering issue all season.

Photo credit: Ray Abrams/AP

In 2009 Aceves helped save the bullpen. The unit posted a 6.46 ERA in April, and that was no fluke. They allowed far too many baserunners, and almost half of opponents’ hits went for extra bases. Aceves got the call by month’s end and helped stabilize the endgame. He not only generated excellent results, including a 3.54 ERA, but he had the components to back it up. In 84 innings he struck out 69 to just 16 walks and 10 home runs allowed, which amounted to a 3.75 FIP. His xFIP, which normalizes the HR/FB rate, was a bit higher, at 4.09, but from my experience this is a common occurrence among relievers.

This season his breakdown has changed a bit. He walked four batters, a quarter of his 2009 total, in just 12 innings. Worse, he struck out just two batters. That represents quite a slide in K/BB ratio, from 4.31 to 0.50. This meant more balls in play, and thankfully most of those were ground balls. In fact, he essentially replaced his missing strikeouts with ground balls, which, while not as positive an outcome, is a far better one than allowing more fly balls and line drives in place of strikeouts. Still, it can be rather tough surviving in the majors with a 1.50 K/9.

In terms of pitch type there doesn’t seem to be much different with Aceves’s approach. He threw a few cutters this year in place of curveballs, but that’s about it. The cutter, however, appears to be the only pitch that has lost velocity this season. Baseball Info Solutions data has that as a 2 mph drop, while PitchFX measures it as only 1 mph below last year. According to his pitch type values the cutter has actually been more effective than last season, though that only considers an at-bat’s ultimate pitch. Perhaps Aceves has had trouble locating the pitch in order to set up batters. Batters are whiffing at it far less — 2.4 percent this year to 8 percent last year — and are putting it in play more often, 31.7 percent this year and 22.5 percent last year. Those are not positive changes.

We’re dealing, of course, with small samples. Aceves has appeared in just 10 games so far and has pitched 12 innings, so we can’t get a real accurate read on him. Maybe his lack of work plays into the change. He threw just 12 innings in the team’s first 29 games, which put him on pace for 67 innings. He threw 84 innings last year and was only on the roster for 137 games. Another possible cause is a lingering back issue. Aceves had problems with it at the end of spring training, and while it didn’t necessitate a DL trip it probably lingered a bit, coming to a head in Boston on the 8th. If it was the back that caused him problems, we might see a better Aceves upon his return.

While a bulging disc can be a pretty serious injury, it sounds like the Yankees might have lucked out. Aceves did report feeling better just before the Yankees placed him on the DL, so I’m not sure how much to trust his most recent statement, but if it is accurate then they might get back a useful setup man in a couple of weeks. The layoff, too, might help him get back to form. His back probably needed rest anyway, and the DL stint provides just that. When he returns, maybe, finally, the Yankees will be rid of Boone Logan.

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Late rally can't overcome Burnett, bullpen blow-up
Two tickets available for tonight's game
  • The Three Amigos

    I miss Aceves greatly, but at this point they cannot rush him and risk another injury. They have to bring up two bats today, a catcher and an outfielder, I am praying that Melancon gets a reprieve, but after last night I fear it will be him and not Logan who gets sent down again.

    • A.D.

      but at this point they cannot rush him and risk another injury.

      Agreed, make sure he’s healthy (or as healthy as he can get) before bringing him back.

      • http://MattOnEarth.blogspot.com Matt on Earth

        Can anyone make a case for Boone? Everyone (including me) wants to give the guy the boot accept for Yankee brass. Someone make a defense for him to stay…just for kicks. I’d do it, but I won’t compromise my principles…

        • Frank

          No one can. Logan must go. But I’m also getting frustrated with Melancon. It seems that each time he gets the call, he just doesn’t do well. I’m beginning to seriously question whether this guy will be an effective ML reliever.

          • JohnC

            I don’t think Melancon gets enough of a chance anytime he gets called up. He gets 1, maybe 2 chances, then gets sent down. Should give him an extended look for a change like they did with Logan, who clearly has had enough chances to impress and has failed.

          • A.D.

            Why I admit, bit frustrating that Melancon essentially owns AAA and has been mixed in a short stint in the majors. He’s also never really gotten regular work in the majors, and is constantly jerked up and down. I’d prefer for him to get some regular work and time in the bigs before questioning ability.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            Mariano Rivera’s first 67 MLB innings consisted of a 5.51 ERA. Good thing no one gave up on him after 20 innings.

        • A.D.

          At this point, no. Does Logan have some raw stuff, sure, I don’t want him DFAed or anything, just sent to AAA to work on location & see if he can find success.

          And if Boone Logan is the best option (i.e. all the guys at AAA suck), then at least let the guys at AAA lose the job back to Boone.

        • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUvg7Empjfg Captain Jack

          See this is why I like booing, if EVERYONE boos the shit out of the guy when he enters maybe that forces the brass’ hand. If not it’s not like he can get any shittier.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec 105

    The case for Boone Logan is like the case for the fat chick at the party. She’s not really that good looking, and she’s fat, but someone says “…but she’s a really nice person…”

    • http://MattOnEarth.blogspot.com Matt on Earth

      Lol, wow.

      /Al Lieter’d

  • Andrew

    I think Aceves got an epidural in his bulging disc, not the garden variety cortisone shot, giving him something in common with a woman about to give birth. Sorry if that’s nitpick-y

    • Andrew

      Actually I failed to grasp the possibility that he could have gotten 2 different shots since the injury, so whatever, I have no clue and it doesn’t matter anyway. Just hope that all the needles he’s getting poked with work and get him back on the mound soon

  • mike c

    aceves’ stuff is really borderline good, so i’d imagine the back is a major issue. thankfully he’s not as bad as josh beckett

  • http://dontbringinthelefty.blogspot.com Lucas AA, aka don’t_bring_in_the_lefty

    Every post turns into a Boone-bashing.

    But how exactly can I defend him …

  • Mike HC

    He has been pitching like he had a stick shoved up his ass all year. Real upright and rigid. A sure sign of a bad back.

  • john doe

    What was the Yankee record after 40 games last year?

    • Thomas

      23-17, a .575 winning percentage.

    • yoo-boo

      23-17 and 29-22 by end of May.

      Logan stays because Girardi likes 2 lefties in the bullpen. Also, lefty is still a rarity whilst there are tons of righties.

      It is just a matter of time.

      DeLaRosa has many good outings in double A but he still is wild. Ring has cruised in triple A but he may need more innings to check out his health (last pitch in MLB is 2008 or something like that).

      By end of the season, either Ring or DeLaRosa could be candidate to be part of playoff rosters.