My Aaron Heilman Nightmare

Open Thread: Wade Boggs
Starting Rotation Disabled List Projections
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Now that most of the big name free agents are off the board, we’re left digging through the list of second and third tier players that could potentially fill a hole on the Yankees’ roster until a better alternative comes along. With Pedro Feliciano on board, the back-end of the bullpen is pretty much set. In a perfect world they’d bring in someone for that oh so important eighth inning role just to bump David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain back to the sixth and seventh inning fireman roles, but that guy just isn’t available for the right price right now.

So as I was looking through this list of underwhelming free agent relievers over the weekend, something horrible hit me: Aaron Heilman will be a New York Yankee in 2011. I have nothing to base this on other than my gut feeling, but I still don’t like it for obvious reasons. It’s Aaron frickin’ Heilman man, we all watched him pitch across town for all those years. Everyone remembers Yadier Molina in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS, and that was just the highest profile meltdown in a career full of them, which is why Mets fan despise the guy. And yet there I was, momentarily convinced that he’ll pitch for the Yankees next season. Since he’s on my mind, we might as well take look and see if Heilman would be of any actual use to the Yankees in 2011.

Now 32, the right-hander never has gotten the opportunity to start after all those years of complaining about it. Heilman spent this past season in the dreadful Diamondbacks bullpen, where he was one of only two relievers to be above replacement level (0.1 fWAR) while throwing at least 40 innings (Blaine Boyer was the other). That tells you how atrocious their ‘pen was, holy cow. It was also the second worst full season of Heilman’s career, evidenced by a 6.88 K/9 and 4.47 FIP that were (yep) the second worst of his career. He actually had a drastic reverse platoon split, holding lefties to a .276 wOBA while righties tagged him for a .367 wOBA. It’s also the second straight year he’s had that problem as well, which is pretty odd.

A fastball-changeup pitcher, Heilman’s fastball velocity is still there, comfortably 92-93. He still maintains the 10 mph separation with his changeup and PitchFX says it’s still moving as much as it always was, so his stuff is fine from what we can tell. Despite that, his swinging strike rate has dropped for two consecutive seasons now (though still above average at 9.7%) and he generated fewer groundballs than ever (35.6% in 2010, a career low by more 5%). It’s worth noting that Heilman has reincorporated his slider back into his repertoire over the last three years after shelving it for a few seasons, so perhaps he needs to scrap it and do with his two best offerings exclusively. Perhaps that will help with the platoon issues. When he’s at his best, Heilman is striking out lefties and getting righties to beat the ball into the ground, but over the last two years the strikeouts against southpaws just haven’t been there.

Heilman is what he is at this point, but over the last several seasons he’s been pigeon-holed into high leverage, late inning work even though he wasn’t really qualified to handle it. Maybe a move into the middle innings will help him be more successful, which is the only role the Yankees should even consider him for. Maybe his groundball rate will recover and the platoon issue will correct itself by taking away the slider. It’s all guesswork at this point and banking on any of it to actually happen would be foolish.

The Yanks are likely to add a right-handed reliever before pitchers and catchers report, but the current crop of free agents offers little late inning help. Rafael Soriano will require a hefty contract and a draft pick, Grant Balfour just a pick, Jon Rauch is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and Kyle Farnsworth is Kyle Farnsworth. Heilman’s only good season in the last three came under current Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild with the Cubs in 2009, so maybe he holds the secret for turning Heilman into a usable middle reliever. For now, I’ll just hope the Yankees come up with a better alternative and we can go back to laughing at Heilman’s misfortunes from afar.

Open Thread: Wade Boggs
Starting Rotation Disabled List Projections
  • AJ

    God that’s scary.

    • AJ

      I wonder if the Florida Marlins would part with Armando Benitez.

    • Jeff Levy

      I think I’ll pass on him. How about Kevin Gregg?

  • Mark L

    I would hope that if they are going to waste money on Heilman, they would at least throw some cash at buy-low guys like Corpas, Cruz or Saito.

    • AJ

      Screw Heilman, I’m officially on the Cruz/ Saito bandwagon.

  • AJ

    I know he’s an old man, but like Mark L said…why is no one talking about Takashi Saito??

    • Jeff Levy

      I don’t care how old Saito is. In 2010 he struck out 11.5 per nine innings. That’s a crazy high rate. Add in the low walks, low homer rate, .212 opponents avg and 2.43 FIP and he looks really solid. Maybe he’s the best guy out there left.

    • Mike Axisa

      Didn’t he finish the year on the shelf with a bum shoulder?

  • A.D.

    How much worse can be than LaTroy or Chan Ho?

    I think if he were to be signed and put in the middle relief fodder it’s fine, just not in any type of real leverage situation

    • bexarama

      I’m pretty sure that’s what people were saying about CHOP. Teams definitely need a mop-up guy or two, but eeesh, at least CHOP was coming off a good year. He just lost it in 2010.

      • A.D.

        Figure Heilman and CHOP could both be regression cases, just in opposite directions

    • Mr. Sparkle

      So, we had two really crap relievers in recent years, so why not add another useless bum? I don’t know if I follow that logic. Despite what the Yankees have done so far this off-season, I’m pretty sure the object still is to strengthen the team, not just fill out the roster for the heck of it.

  • Hughesus Christo

    ND grads are always welcome.

    • bexarama

      the Hughesus Christo Rule: No NL pitchers, EVER, unless they’re ND grads?

      • Pat D

        You got a problem with Notre Dame, bex? Them’s fightin’ words!

        • bexarama

          Nah, not at all. I went to a D3 school, what are sports

          • JGS

            ::high five for unathletic D3 schools::

            • bexarama

              (misses, because I am unathletic and nerdy and therefore uncoordinated)

            • Joseph Cecala

              I hate the fact I am in a D3

              • Gonzo

                I went to a college without a football or baseball team.

                • Joseph Cecala

                  Mine has baseball but it sucks. The only sport we are good at is table tennis.

                  • YankeesJunkie

                    Did not know that people in China could access this website.

                    • Joseph Cecala

                      Kind of the opposite, my school is from China.

            • Pounder

              Ithaca was a D3 power in football and softball.Plus their nick name was the Bombers….gotta love that.

          • Pat D

            To be fair, I didn’t finish at Notre Dame, so…yea.

      • Hughesus Christo

        Lincecum, Ubaldo, Hamels, Roy, Lee, JJohnson, Wainwright, Latos, Kershaw… I’m sure I’m missing a few, but that’s my core. I’m a hard marker. Basically, no one worth trading for is gettable.

    • Kiersten

      Friday: it is ON.

  • Dave

    Don’t you do that! Don’t you put that voodoo on me, Ricky Bobby!!

  • seimiya

    You know, Kyle Farnsworth is a free agent this year…..

    (/irrational Farnsworth fangirl)

  • Joseph Cecala

    I am sure there are in house options that are better…

  • Gonzo

    What kind of contract would Heilman need?

    • Tom Zig

      Probably a low-base 1 year deal.

  • mbonzo

    I have a kinda similar John Maine nightmare.

  • bonestock94

    If they get him and he sucks he’s gone by the ASB. No worries. A guy like him is disposable, I really sweat things like Mitre starting.

  • Kiersten

    This should go about as well as the Chan Ho Park experiment.

    • Joseph Cecala

      I doubt he is going to have diarrhea

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        lot cough

  • Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

    I’d rather go see what Sir Sidney Ponson is up to.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      i think he is pitching for the li ducks. or at least he was this most recent season

  • Hunter S

    Mike, Aaron Heilman?!

    You speak like a man who needs to crack a Christmas ale, fire up a fatty, crank up the tunes, and loosen up a little bit.

    You’re headed down a dark dark tunnel of a path. A path of great evil. And possibly some acid. One in which you convince yourself Byung Hyun Kim is going to take over the 8th.

    Everything’s gonna be OK…

    • MikeD

      Bung Hole Kim? He’s still out there, too. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        the only other guy i can remember other than jeff weaver who would throw tantrums on the mound. and not anger tantrums, whiney tantrums

  • Midland TX

    I think Larry Rothschild’s secret for Heilman was largely to pitch him against sub-.500 clubs like Houston, Milwaukee, the Nationals, and (of course) the Mets.

  • OldYanksFan

    Easy now baby…. it’s only a bad dream!
    AH has absolutely no redeeming qualities or stats to attract Cashman’s attention. A 101 ERA+ for a reliever? Averaging 94 over the last 3 years? Is that even replacement level? 1 HR per game and almost 4 BBs?

    Sometimes a crappy players has a few numbers that can fool you.
    But not this guy.
    Even Bill O’Reilly couldn’t spin anything positive here.
    I’m surprised the guy is still in the game.

  • Chris

    Boy did Cashman blow this offseason out of his ass. Can you believe a team with a $200 million payroll could have Nova and Mitre starting and 2 guys who failed last year as set men (Joba and Robertson) pitching the 8th inning. Anyone of the 3 relievers the red sox signed could have helped our pen. But hey we have Mark Prior and Luis Vizcaino.

    • jsbrendog (returns)


    • Jerome S.

      Could you believe that a team with a $200 mil payroll could have nova and mitre starting and two guys who failed last year as set men pitching in the eighth inning and also Alex Rodriguez Derek Jeter Mariano Rivera Jorge Posada CC Sabathia Robbie Cano and Curtis Granderson?

      yes. I can.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        I can see your ‘Yes we can!’ with a ‘I’m not imagining it, I’m looking right at it.’

        I contend that not only will we NOT get Heilman, we’ll bring up another AAA guy–if not two–and still be ok.

    • Ted Nelson

      They’re bringing back a 95 win team that made the ALCS… C should be upgraded (Martin and/or Montero) and they’ve got 2 LOOGYs now. The rest of the team is pretty much the same. Nova is a legitimate 4th starting prospect who isn’t a bad rotation option. Last season the Yankees had about 2.5 quality starters and won 95 games. If Pettitte retires Cashman has already said on record he’s got until the trade deadline to find another starter. Both Joba and Robertson are young. You want to give up on every pitcher who doesn’t dominate in his early 20s?

      • Ted Nelson

        And you realize both Prior and Vizcaino were given nothing, right? Next to zero risk moves. Comparing giving a few hundred thousand a shot at making the team at some point to a guy to giving Bobby Jenks $6 mill per for two seasons because you don’t know if your closer is any good is not apples to apples.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          “You want to give up on every pitcher who doesn’t dominate in his early 20s?”

          Haven’t the Yankees down that over the past couple of seasons. Now saying the guys they gave up on were great but they have shown a lack of patience with a number of them.

  • virginia yankee

    STOP THE EFFING LUNACY — we have a chance — NOT GETTING LEE IS A GIFT — to finally use the minor league kids in an intelligent way bring test em cheer for em — the idiot Cashman is wringing his hands — NO MORE TRASH – STOP THE LUNACY

    I admit we need andy back and hughes cc equal to 2010 if not better — but we don’t need the reicarnation of BROWN, PAVANO, WRIGHT, gosh the BIG USELESS remember the horror —

    POST — PUSH CASHMAN to be positive

    • jsbrendog (returns)


    • Jerome S.

      DUDE this DOESN’T make you sound more INTELLIGENT.

    • Ted Nelson

      You realize that Cashman is also ultimately responsible for the farm system, right? The “minor league kids” you want to cheer for are as much his responsibility as the AJ Burnett’s of the world.

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    OUR Aaron Heilman Nightmare.

  • Smallz_LOS

    No thanks. I’d rather take a chance on a guy like Grant Balfour to hopefully lock down that 8th inning. Maybe Joba turns a corner and wins the job this year but going into this year, I dont think theres one person that has confidence in that happening.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      It’s crazy because Lee signed with the Phils, Pettitte might retire, Greinke was traded to the Brew Crew and Joba isn’t even mentioned as a possible candidate hell they aren’t even saying come into spring as a starter.

  • Ted Nelson

    As a $1 mill or less guy to throw into the bullpen mix… I don’t really care either way. If he fails the Yankees have wasted one half of one percent of their budget. The only question is obviously the opportunity cost: who else is out there? I mean Soriano and Balfour are far superior options, but also going to command far superior salaries and almost definitely multiple years.

    On a minor league deal I’m completely fine with it.

    I sort of assume he’ll get a big league deal with an awful team, since he’s a reliable major leaguer but has been bad for 3 seasons in a row.

  • Samuel

    That Heilman delivery screams major shoulder injury if he ever starts in a rotation.

    • Tyler

      he has had that delivery ever since he was in college where he went 15-0 his senior year. He takes care of it well. His one chance the mets gave him to start he threw a CG allowing 2 or 3 hits and no runs. There’s been pitchers with so called picture perfect deliveries that have shoulder issues, he knows how to take care of it thats the difference

  • Pounder

    Gil Meche and/or Freddy Garcia will be in ST wearing the pinstripes.For how long….who knows.

    • Mr. Sparkle

      Not that I want either, but Gil Meche would be a tad better option than most of the other retread names I’ve heard lately.

  • Dany

    I agree with mike only cc & hughes are the yankees best pitchers, the rest like a.j & nova are not good. Nova is to young & doesn’t have that much experience so he fails to get past the fifth inning & a.j doesn’t have his grip like he did with the jays.
    If the yankees would make a trade for felix hernandez the yankees would have the best 3 man rotation so the pen won’t be worked as much. & c’mon man aaron heilman what’s he suppose to do in the pen loose games for us we don’t need that so cashman should stay away from him.

  • Tyler

    How can you sit there and say Heilman isn’t very good? Go back and look in the last 5 years and he is the only pitcher in the big leagues with more appearances than any other reliever in the game right now. So before you sit there and bash the guy you might want to do some research obviously he’s doing something right. Also back to the cardinals game people forget that their lineup offensively was stacked. Bases loaded with their so called best hitters up and not one of them could get a run across the board. Tired of people blaming that loss on him, yes he gave up a run, what people forget about is the potency of that Met lineup that year and their buttholes puckered up when it came down to them.

  • Greg Davenport

    Cashman sounds like a harvard economist discussing trends and the overall GNP of professional baseball. This is called diversion or how to stop yankee fans from circling the wagons. He may want to read “building a contender” by professor Theo Epstein of boston. So he has gone from repelling to economist to “what do I do now”. The bombers are thin and getting old. The outfield are journeymen, good players that may or may not play on 50% of the clubs in the american league. age at short, age at DH and CC.A #2 starter at home thinking while #3#4#5 are hopeful. I would have been working on multiple building blocks and not the lee lotto only. I hope derek has the year of his life and aj comes roaring back. I hope teixeira builds his numbers starting in april and hughes stops gopher balls. Thankyou for the catcher with the gun. What contender has questionable pitching a c+ outfield and a front office that preaches austerity and offers lee the keys to the vault at 32. I hope someone has something up their sleeve