Jun
23

The new and improved Jon Albaladejo

By

When the 2010 season started and the bullpen picture became clear, Jon Albaladejo was on the outside looking in. He had minor league options remaining and his big league performance to date (4.21 xFIP in 62.1 IP) hardly stood out, so he was an easy cut. The Yankees simply had better options, so for the first time in his Yankee career, Albaladejo was not on the team’s Opening Day roster, instead sent back down to Triple-A Scranton to wait until his services were needed.

His chance almost came in Detroit last month. The Yanks had a doubleheader against the Tigers, so Albaladejo was summoned to the Motor City but not activated. The team instead had him sit around in the hotel, and if they burned through the bullpen in the first game, they would have officially added him to the roster for the second game. Javy Vazquez went on to have his best game of the season (to date), so the trip to Detroit resulted in nothing more than a few more airline miles for Albaladejo.

Photo Credit: The Scranton Times-Tribune

Biding his time until his next actual call up, Albie has been simply untouchable as Scranton’s closer this season. He’s struck out 45 batters in 34.1 IP, and just about 44% of the balls put in play off of him have been on the ground. Only 19 hits have fallen in behind him, and that includes the three he gave up in 1.1 innings of work two days ago. Just five of those 19 hits have come off the bats of righthanders, who are hitting (ready for this?) .085/.175/.101 in 63 plate appearances against the husky righthander. That’s a .276 OPS. Two seventy six. Lefties haven’t fared much better at .222/.292/.374 in 65 plate appearances. There’s no other way to put it, Albaladejo has been stunningly good this year.

The funny part is that Albie was simply dreadful in Spring Training, if you remember. He allowed 16 hits and 11 runs in just 2.2 IP after showing up to camp some 30 lbs. lighter, and the joke of spring said he needed to put that weight back on to be effective.

Now in his age-27 season, Albaladejo is starting what should be the prime of his career, but dominance like this goes far beyond just physical maturation. Yankee fans remember him as a mostly pitch-to-contact sinker-slider guy that sat 88-92 and would mix in the occasional curveball, but the scouting report has changed this season. Take it away, Donnie Collins

[Albaladejo] has completely reinvented himself, relying less on the two-seam fastball that he used to pound the zone with during his up-and-down tenure with the Yankees. Now, he’s almost exclusively throwing a four-seamer that touches the mid-90s, changing the eye level with his slider and keeping hitters on their heels with a knee-buckling curveball. He is still mixing in two-seamers, but it’s no longer his bread-and-butter.

Collins also provides a quote from Albaladejo’s teammate and fellow Triple-A bullpener Royce Ring, which backs up the increased usage of the four seamer.

Improvement is always good, but improvement with tangible evidence to back it up is even better. He’s essentially gone from a generic sinker-slider reliever to a guy that can pitch up in the zone with the cheese, making the breaking pitches down in the zone that much more effective. Quite frankly, it’s the same recipe that guys like Joba Chamberlain and Dan Bard and Brad Lidge and Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan and about a million other relievers employ.

So what does this mean for the Yankees? Well, obviously it means they have a cheap and flexible relief option that is pitching with extreme effectiveness and is just a phone call away at pretty much all times. The tricky thing is that Albaladejo will be out of options next season, meaning that the team would not be able to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. Spring Training and September are no time to evaluate players (again, just look at what Albie did in camp this year), so if the Yankees want to get a good look at what Albaladejo actually brings to the big league table, they’re best off doing it at some point this summer.

The core of the bullpen (Mariano Rivera, Joba, Damaso Marte, David Robertson) isn’t going anywhere, and you have to figure that Chad Gaudin is safe as the de facto long man for the time being. That leaves Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park, both of whom seem to be on perpetually thin ice. There’s really no sense in cutting Park right now because it’ll compromise depth, plus it’s not like he’s blowing games and being used in high leverage spots anyway. Perhaps the best more for the time being is to swap Albaladejo for Logan.

The Yanks finish off the first half with games against the Diamondbacks (one, tonight), the Dodgers (three, this weekend), the Mariners (seven total), the Blue Jays (three), and the A’s (three). Oakland is only one of those teams that can be classified as lefty heavy, so a second LOOGY is nothing more than a luxury until the All Star break. Why not give Albaladejo a look? Logan has options and can go to Triple-A without incident, so there’s no loss of depth and the Yanks get to see if what Albie’s doing in the minors can be somewhat replicated in the show.

Rumors have the Yankees on the prowl for a relief pitcher prior to the deadline, and if you’re going to go shopping for a volatile relief pitcher, why not give an in-house option the first look? Albaladejo’s certainly earned a shot, that’s for sure.

Categories : Death by Bullpen

63 Comments»

  1. Very interesting. Up until now I’m sure we all noticed Alby’s sweet numbers down in AAA but I kinda chalked it up to pitching against minor leaguers and didn’t think it meant much, but if Alby’s really changed not only his approach but also his repertoire and that’s what has led to the improved performance/results, I don’t see how the Yanks could not give him a look pretty soon. It’s almost like they have a brand-new arm down in AAA that is blowing away hitters, they’ve gotta get a look-see and check out what he can do in MLB.

  2. Javy Vazquez went on to have his best game of the season (to date), so the trip to Detroit resulted in nothing more than a few more airline miles for Albaladejo.

    I hear that the beer nuts at the bar of the Downtown Detroit Doubletree Guest Suites are always fresh, though. And there’s a Borders Bookstore down the street that has free Wi-Fi.

  3. Steve H says:

    Park would have some trade value right? I would think an NL contender would take him in a heartbeat if the Yankees picked up the salary. Even if he continues to struggle, I think just cutting him would be pointless.

    If the scouting report is true and Alby is now throwing mid-90′s and pounding the zone, that’s about all you can ask for out of a middle reliever.

  4. Just five of those 19 hits have come off the bats of righthanders, who are hitting (ready for this?) .085/.175/.101 in 63 plate appearances against the husky righthander. That’s a .186 OPS.

    One eighty six.

    It’s like he’s turning all opposing righties into Taylor Teagarden.

    http://buuurn.com/

  5. CountryClub says:

    This was a good read. At least now I won’t cringe if they do call him up.

  6. Frank says:

    Figure Gaudin or Logan goes when Mitre returns from the DL next week. Probably Gaudin since they wouldn’t need 2 long relievers. Alby could then swap places with Logan or Park.

  7. Mondoas says:

    The only thing that I have to say is that Albaladejo has to simply prove it up in the “Bigs”. I get tired of seeing and hearing how well someone does in AAA and it NEVER translates up in the “Bigs”. I have been waiting for Melancon to become the pitcher he is said to be but it’s always the same story.

  8. The core of the bullpen (Mariano Rivera, Joba, Damaso Marte, David Robertson) isn’t going anywhere, and you have to figure that Chad Gaudin is safe as the de facto long man for the time being.

    I still quibble with that point. With 5 starters all dealing and pitching deep into games, and with Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez both on the 40 man and already having had their cherry broken this year, we don’t need a long man at all. If disaster strikes, Logan/Albaladejo/Curtis/Russo/Peña can be sent down and Nova/Sanchez can be brought up. Or Albaladejo himself can pitch multiple innings.

    Keeping Gaudin as a long-man seems silly with this team and this 40-man as presently constructed.

    • Chip says:

      Screw that, stretch Albie out into a slightly below-average starter then trade him to the Pirates for Evan Meek and Cameron Maybin (we need a DH)

    • BG90027 says:

      I wouldn’t consider Gaudin safe but I disagree with the comment that we don’t need a long man. Burnett is going through a rough patch. Vasquez went through a rough patch. Hughes’ innings are going to need to be managed. Even if the rotation is much healthier than most, guys have last minute ailments and its nice to have a guy on the 25 man roster who can spot start and give innings rather than just hoping that Nova or Sanchez haven’t pitched recently. And then there are always rescheduled rainouts or games where Giradi doesn’t want to waste a top starter if the weather is bad and it looks like the game might get stopped prior to it being an official game. If Gaudin doesn’t pitch well, he should go when Mitre comes back or sooner with Nova or Sanchez bumped up to fill the role but I’m for keeping the long man. I don’t know why we need a 7 man bullpen though with the rotation eating as many innings as it does. I’d go to a 6 man bullpen and keep another bat on the bench.

      • I don’t know why we need a 7 man bullpen though with the rotation eating as many innings as it does. I’d go to a 6 man bullpen and keep another bat on the bench.

        That 5th bat on the bench would get even less playing time than the 7th man in the bullpen.

        • BG90027 says:

          I think that’s true as long as Posada and A Rod are getting all the AB’s at DH but if they get back to regular time at C and 3B I would bring Miranda up and platoon him at DH.

    • vin says:

      Ordinarily, I’m a big believer in having a long man. Especially out of ST when the starters aren’t in mid-season form. But I agree, given the current roster configuration, this team doesn’t need a long man.

      The starters have given so much length this year that the pen has been underworked (which is a good thing). I say go with the 7 best arms for the pen, and let their performances sort them out.

      If a starter gets knocked out early, then Girardi can patch the game together with Park, Mitre, and Robertson – all capable of getting 4+ outs.

      • Mike HC says:

        With Hughes innings limit, and what the Yanks did with Joba last year, I suspect there might be a need for a long man. Hopefully not on the level of 3-4 inning Joba start, but something less than that.

        • That won’t happen until August/September, though.

        • vin says:

          RE: Hughes
          I think Girardi will do all he can to go the spot starter/skip Phil on off days route instead of the spring training approach they took with Joba. Remember, they tried to skip Joba last year, but he didn’t seem to respond well to it (performance-wise). If it doesn’t work for Hughes either, than they’ll have to get creative again, and all bets will be off.

          • Mike HC says:

            Yea, thats what I was saying. Spot starts and cutting starts short whenever possible. But I agree with Tommie above that that won’t be necessary for at least another month hopefully. Or maybe the Yanks wan’t him to finish strong and go easy sooner. Who knows with? If Joba taught us anything, it is you can’t predict what the Yanks are going to do with their young pitchers.

      • Steve H says:

        Ordinarily, I’m a big believer in having a long man

        TWSS.

  9. GhettoBlaster says:

    Gotta have a long man/Mop up guy.

    especially with Burnett/Javy and the likelihood of meltdowns

  10. Salty Buggah says:

    He’s always had the mid-90s fastball. I always wondered why he never employed it more. Good to see he’s using it now at least.

  11. Mike HC says:

    With a mid 90′s 4 seamer, his usual two seamer, a slider and a curve, that sounds like a starting pitchers repertoire. Not saying we need a starter, or that he would even be effective, but just something to think about. If not for the Yanks, for another team down the line maybe.

    • Chip says:

      Exactly, trade him to the Pirates

    • vin says:

      I doubt he could sustain his increased velocity for more than 1-2 innings.

      I think its easy for fans to underestimate when the correlation between a tiring pitcher and decreased performance. Yankees’ pitchers this year have struggled in the 6th inning more than any other (by a significant margin). A 5.20 ERA in that inning vs. 3.89 overall.

      My guess is that’s due to two factors:

      1) Starters tiring and becoming more hittable
      2) Innings pitched by the lowest members of the bullpen totem pole.

      Can’t really solve problem #1, since it happens to all starters, for the most part – and Cashman isn’t going to overhaul the rotation (nor should he).

      But if Girardi can get production out of one or two of Albaladejo/Park/Mitre/Aceves/Logan/etc., then the team’s pitching will be that much better for it.

    • He’s got the pitch diversity, but I don’t think he’s got the stamina to maintain good location/control/command for 20+ batters.

      • Mike HC says:

        I tend to agree with you, but you never know until he tries it.

        I do remember him going out there for a couple innings using that 2 seamer almost exclusively. With the added pitches, he may be able to last last longer.

  12. dan genovese says:

    why is gaudin still here,lets get this guy here!

  13. theyankeewarrior says:

    There’s no reason to carry 2 lefties if we don’t even use Marte. Especially when one of the lefties is terrible and there’s a kid with talent sitting in AAA.

    • bonestock94 says:

      Yea, but then you have to consider Albie being last or second last in the depth chart. At least he’d be getting regular work in AAA.

      • vin says:

        What’s the point of him getting regular work in AAA if he’ll be out of options next season? Give him a shot this year.

        • bonestock94 says:

          It wouldn’t be much of a shot if he didn’t get work in though. I’d love to see him in his new improved state, I just hope it wouldn’t be like Melancon last year.

        • bonestock94 says:

          And if he gets in a whole season of work AAA and continues to perform maybe he’ll get on the 25 man next season and stick.

  14. zs190 says:

    I really don’t see how he can get back to the majors at this point. Boone Logan is terrible but he improbably pitched OK in that 2 2/3 inning relief effort and I don’t think they demote him when he’s pitched OK. Mitre ought to be back soon and he’ll bump Logan down. Ace might be back next month, which will probably drop Gaudin down.

    Short of some injury, I just can’t see how Albie gets promoted before September.

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