Losing Al Aceves

Series Preview: Boston Red Sox
CC Sabathia vs. The Red Sox
Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

The bullpen was not in great shape. Brian Bruney had been lights out, but he’d also gotten hurt. Jose Veras, who showed plenty of potential in the second half of 2008, had an aversion to leaving men on base. Damaso Marte couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Edwar Ramirez’s changeup magic had worn off. All told it added up to a horrific month for the Yankees bullpen: a 6.46 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 4.53 xFIP through the first month of 2009. If that team was going to contend it had to improve the bullpen. With one move at the end of April it accomplished just that.

On May 4th, after the Red Sox knocked around Phil Hughes for four runs in four innings, Alfredo Aceves made his season debut. He had made his major league debut just a few months earlier, in August of 2008, and he had thrown a quality 30 innings by season’s end. The peripherals weren’t pretty — 3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 and just 4.8 K/9 — but the results impressed. Since the Yankees had a full rotation and bullpen to start the 2009 season he started in Scranton, but he was sure to take the shuttle at first opportunity. The poor bullpen provided that opportunity, and Aceves quickly filled the void.

His appearance against the Red Sox was good, not great, though he did manage to strike out seven in 4.1 innings. During his next few appearances he began to earn Joe Girardi‘s trust. He finished two straight games during Walkoff Weekend against Minnesota. He pitched two innings, three innings — whatever it took. He even threw four innings in relief of an ineffective Joba Chamberlain on July 5th, earning a save in the process. While he did hit a few rough patches later in the year, he was generally among the Yankees’ most effective relievers that year. His presence helped the Yankees go from worst bullpen in April to one of the best by season’s end.

During the 2009 season Aceves experienced back issues. They cropped up in late July, and bothered him through his rough patch in August. He stayed mostly healthy that year, though, but in 2010 he finally succumbed. While delivering a pitch against the Red Sox he aggravated his back and left the game. Reports of his rehab and recovery persisted throughout the season, but every time he got close he suffered another setback. But hey, he’s a pitcher and that kind of thing happens. Best to move on and try again next season, right?

There was no indication of what came next. Maybe it had to do with how he approached his rehab. Maybe there were unreleased details regarding the bike accident that broke his collar bone during the off-season. For whatever reason, the Yankees decided to not tender Aceves a contract this past off-season. It came as something of a shock, given how effective he’d been when healthy and how relatively little he’d cost. It’s not often that you see a player who makes less than a million dollars non-tendered.

Making matters worse, the Red Sox ended up signing Aceves later in the off-season. Things got worse still when Aceves went through a normal spring training and appeared perfectly ready to start the 2011 season. Rock bottom has come recently, as Aceves has been a key member of the Red Sox bullpen. In August he’s been at his best, allowing just two runs while striking out 18 and walking five in 14.2 innings. As a reliever this year he has a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings, holding opponents to a .190/.259/.326 line. It’s one reason that Boston’s bullpen has overcome the question marks it faced earlier in the season.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily missing Aceves’s presence in the bullpen. They rank third in the majors with a 3.02 ERA, and fourth with a 3.30 FIP (just a single point behind the Red Sox). They have their late innings covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, and they have a band of other relievers who have stepped up and have pitched exceedingly well in their roles. In fact, if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might have missed out on one of their most effective relievers this season.

Cory Wade did not start the season in the Yankees’ farm system. In the off-season he signed a minor league deal with Tampa, but they did not recall him by his opt-out date. The Yankees, shorthanded in the bullpen after injuries to Soriano and Chamberlain, scooped him up and added him to the major league roster. In 28.1 innings he’s shown good stuff, resulting in a 2.22 ERA. He’s had the peripherals to go with it, too, a 3.43 FIP and 3.49 xFIP despite a below average strikeout rate. Aceves’s numbers line up comparably: 2.15 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP as a reliever. With those numbers in mind, Wade just might be the better option in 2011. Yet if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might never have discovered this hidden gem. Maybe he would be the one helping Boston’s bullpen currently.

Losing Al Aceves was sad at the time, given all he had contributed in 2009. It hurt plenty when the Red Sox signed him, and hurt even worse when he started to help their bullpen. But it wasn’t all bad for the Yankees. They have one of the best bullpens in the league. Not only that, they discovered one of their most effective relievers at a time when they might not have, had Aceves been on the roster. This doesn’t excuse the Yankees’ decision; they refused to pay Aceves half a million, yet spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano. But there is a silver lining in this. If they can knock around Aceves in this series, well, maybe the issue will finally lay at rest.

Series Preview: Boston Red Sox
CC Sabathia vs. The Red Sox
  • Cy Pettitte

    to this day I still maintain we should have euthanized him in the offseason after non-tendering him. hopefully Cashman learned his lesson.

  • Evan3457

    What I don’t get is that I see him throwing 94-5-6 on the radar gun this season in some of his appearances, and he didn’t throw anywhere near that hard with the Yanks, even when “healthy”. So I’m wondering what happened there.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      Bad radar gun readings. He’s throwing a little harder this year, but he’s not hitting mid 90s.

      • Evan3457

        I’m not so sure about that. For example, Brooks pitch fx says his top Fb vs. Yanks on 6/8 was 95.8. The Yankee Stadium gun isn’t known to exaggerate. That same game, AJ topped out at 95.3; Logan at 93.9, and Pants at 91.7.

        And his top FB velocity’s been high all this month:

        94 vs. Indians on 8/4
        93.6 vs. Yanks on 8/5
        96.5 vs. Yanks on 8/6 (this one’s suspicious; 3rd day in a row)
        93.2 vs. Twins on 8/8
        92.7 vs. Twins on 8/10
        Didn’t throw any FB vs. M’s on 8/13 (10 pitches)
        94.7 vs. Rays on 8/17
        93.7 vs. Royals on 8/19
        94.3 vs. Rangers on 8/23
        94.1 vs. Rangers on 8/25
        94.8 vs A’s on 8/27.

        It looks to me from this small stretch of games that Aceves’ FB is topping out at 94-95, and the games in Minnesota have the outlier radar gun measuring lower than that.

    • Mike HC

      Probably the same thing that contributed to Martin’s fortunate good health and production.

      Playing field is even.

      • MannyGeee

        So yeah, this too. considering how very-good-to great Martin has been this season and how Cory Wade’s #s have been close to Aceves, I think we won this one.

        and considering Saltalamaccias 17 Passed balls this season, I am pretty happy.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    Man, it would’ve been great to retain Ace. But it’s similar the whole IPK/Grandy issue.

    It’s not really hurting us.

    • Cy Pettitte

      yea, I don’t mind the swap of Ace for Cory. both under team control until 2015 and similar results. I just wish Ace had gone anywhere but the Sox.

    • Mike HC

      The bottom line is that the Ace’s of the world are not that unique of a commodity these days.

      • Jorge

        Which is why I’ll be exercising my two player options and remaining a New York Yankee. I’m staying put, bitches.

        Rafael Soriano

        • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

          Rafael, I hope you contract gout

  • Mike HC

    Moral of the story? There are more than enough cheap, effective relievers available all the time that you never have to overpay to get one.

    • MannyGeee

      right, the lesson as always, is do NOT overpay for relievers.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I’d love for the team to sign more Cory Wades and Luis Ayalas and trade for more Boone Logans (and I’d gladly put up with all the Pedro Felicianos and Damaso Martes and Edwar Ramirezes and Jose Verases that come along with it) if they’d put young SP prospects into bullpen roles less frequently and not for entire seasons.

      I’m fine with scouring the bargain basement bins for cheap reliever finds; I’m even fine with paying top dollar for quality proven relievers as well (April’s SorianoGate looks a bit silly now, no?), we have the financial wherewithal to absorb a contractual bust or two.

      I just want the Hugheses and Chamberlains and Noesis of the organization to spend a little more time as one of the five featured men in Scranton learning how to be a starter and a little less time as one of the seven interchangeable men in the Bronx not pitching 150+ innings.

      I’m not against young starters breaking into the bigs in the bullpen; I’m against young starters spending long stretches in the bullpen curtailing their innings building staircase and not using all four of their pitches repeatedly in game situations to turn over a lineup 3 or 4 times to gain mastery.

      • http://twitter.com/johnSC2000 JohnnyC

        So you’re saying the Yankees don’t know how to develop starting pitchers. Is that a Cashman flaw or is it the accumulated dross from years and years of Joe Torre’s inability to maintain a working bullpen and bias toward veteran starters?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          So you’re saying the Yankees don’t know how to develop starting pitchers.

          That’s an inflammatory boversimplification of what I said, so no, I’m not saying that “Yankees don’t know how to develop starting pitchers”.

          What I’m saying is, I think there might be a slightly better way of going about it; I’m prioritizing work in AAA because I personally think gaining more polish and command of secondary pitches and building stamina are a bit more important than facing the absolute best level of competition as a reliever using only your best two pitches in short one-inning bursts.

          This is just my theory, though, not some grand irrefutable scientific treatise.

          Is that a Cashman flaw or is it the accumulated dross from years and years of Joe Torre’s inability to maintain a working bullpen and bias toward veteran starters?

          It’s probably a bit of everyone. Not just Cashman, Torre, or Girardi, but the minor league guys, the front office guys, the pitching coaches, etc. I’m sure there’s healthy dissension in the org as well; seems like the org as a whole prefers “rewarding” their well-performing minor league arms with promotions even if that promotion means a promotion to the bullpen. Obviously it’s not hard and fast, it’s case by case; Hughes, IPK, Joba, Nova, Noesi, McAllister, etc. all have key similarities and key differences in how the org treated them and viewed them during their respective careers.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        I just want the Hugheses and Chamberlains and Noesis of the organization to spend a little more time as one of the five featured men in Scranton learning how to be a starter and a little less time as one of the seven interchangeable men in the Bronx not pitching 150+ innings.


        This times a billion. Next step get on the phone to Cashman and convince him this is the way to go.

      • Mike HC

        Ultimate moral of the story? The Yanks can make many mistakes in free agency and barely notice an effect.

        It’s good to be King.

        • Mike HC

          I’m also against using top line potential starters while they are still developing, most of the time. Obviously there are exceptions to just about everything.

      • theyankeewarrior

        Amen brother… although I have a feeling that they have some info on Noesi that must point to him being a future closer/set-up man.

        It’s not like our pen was starving for a guy like him this this year. Almost every guy in that unit has pitched well. His spot on the 25-man roster was basically all garbage time. They must have wanted to get him some big league experience.

        Maybe he turns into a full-time swing man and then transitions int a set-up option.

  • Bronx Byte

    Cashman probably should have held on to Aceves but he would not have been a difference maker with this year’s bullpen.
    His won and loss record is deceiving. In many cases he was in games at the right time to be the pitcher of record as his lifetime stats show. Otherwise known as a “vulture”.


    • MannyGeee

      Also referred to as Clipping… After former Yankee farmhand Tyler Clippard, who has been a beast at stealing wins since 2010 (13 wins over the past two years, having not started one…)

    • Dick M

      A vulture with the guts of a burglar. He had proven that he could pitch in NY in big spots and go right at hitters. The guy is fearless. Gimme him and Wade all day long. To lose him to the Red Sox after what he had demonstrated for what amounted to was small change was ridiculous.

      • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

        he’s afraid of Schwinns

    • theyankeewarrior

      Difference maker:

      1) He wouldn’t have pitched all those effective innings for the Sox.

      2) He would have pitched those for the NYY.

      3) He could have taken more innings off Bartolo’s arm.

      4) He would have kept Noesi in AAA all season to continue his development.

  • Hugh

    Nice article – thanks. Doesn’t it just highlight the overpaying point? Feliciano and Soriano – $18 million between them this year, or, what, about a third of the Rays’ payroll?…

    • Ted Nelson

      $14 mill.

      There’s definitely an argument against paying a premium for bullpen help, but let’s not act like Wade’s grow on trees or tend to sustain their performances either. The Yankees are in a financial position where they can pay for a little more certainty and depth, to go with the internally developed guys and Wade’s.

  • Ted Nelson

    Good analysis.

  • al

    Joe Pawl, best writer on this blog. Do you have a wrting gig, Joe?

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    This doesn’t excuse the Yankees’ decision; they refused to pay Aceves half a million, yet spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano.

    I’m fine with the team paying a premium to get a free agent pitcher who was theoretically going to be death to lefties (filling an important slot in the postseason bullpen) while being stingy with a righty reliever (who has already been replaced by both Wade and Noesi and could probably be replaced by a few others if need be) who had back issues.

    I don’t see how spending 8M on Feliciano, who was unfortunately injured, somehow makes non-tendering Aceves wrong. Feliciano is worth way more than Aceves on the open market; risking more money to get a better reward seems like sound decisionmaking.

  • Mike Myers

    Didnt you know that Al is an undercover agent for the Yanks? He will pitch well this series and gain more red sox trust. then in the playoffs he will walk 2 then serve up a meatball and blow the game….dont worry its all planned out.

    • Jorge

      Straight up Mexican Gangsta indeed.

  • Jorge

    The Aceves ship has sailed. I wish him well, even moreso when he’s wearing a uniform different than the one he has on now.

    It’s still hard to dislike him.

  • RVega

    Yankees area really missing Alfredo…. and yes, he can make mistakes, but he is breaking some records.. and he is just doin perfect, and yes is throwing harder cause he lost 20 to 30 pounds this season…. good job Aceves..

    • jsbrendog

      Yankees area really missing Alfredo

      hmmmm..no, not they are not.

      • CS Yankee

        Missing him on our roster…very little
        Missing him to the key rival…yes

        If he isn’t on their team, we might be tied going into tonight.

        It all doesn’t amount to much though as hindsight is always 20/20 (unless you have Lasik, then maybe 20/15 if your lucky)

  • Kosmo

    Aceves is 23-2 to begin his career , that has to be some kind of record for winning percentage.

  • Monteroisdinero

    CoSoRoMo will A-save-us.

    /spilled milk-ain’t cryin

    • JohnC

      CoSoMo Kramer will save us

  • dkidd

    .920 career winning percentage = gangstervulture!

  • http://www.yankeenumbers.com Mr. Sparkle

    I’ve noticed no one has brought up the playoff histories between Aceves and Wade. Wade pitched very well until giving up that 2-run HR to Victorino in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS. I’d contend that HR was coming against anyone that came into that game since that’s the way the Phillies season went that year. Other than that, Wade pitched well in all three NLDS games and in four NLCS games (other than that HR.)

    In the 2009 postseason, Aceves was a shadow of his regular season self. He came into the 10th inning of Game Two, got two quick outs, then walked Nick Punto, followed by a Denard Span single. Luckily he wriggled out of it without any damage and the Yankees won.

    In the ALCS, he was awful in Games 2 and 3, losing game three when he entered the game with two out, no one on in the 11th and promptly gave up a single and double, losing the game in five pitches.

    In Game Two, he entered in the 11th and walked the leadoff batter (Gary Matthews) and eventually allowed him to score as the go-ahead run, only to have Alex Rodriguez bail him out in the bottom of the inning.

    He pitched OK in the World Series, but it was in Game Five when down 6-2 to Lee in what at the time looked like a “eat some innings until tomorrow” type game. As I said, though, he did a good job holding down the fort.

    Basically, it looks like a push between the two in the 2011 regular season, but there’s no telling if maybe Aceves is one of those guys that just doesn’t do well in the October spotlight. Looked possible in 2009. Nothing against him, but I hope that’s indeed the case.

  • theyankeewarrior

    But Aceves would have cost us a spot on the !!40 MAN ROSTER!!


  • mike

    perhaps…..im just sayin…..the Yanks could have both Aceves and Wade since Ace was theirs to lose, and they would have signed Wade anyway…. and Pants/Gordon/ Sanit/Mitre Part Deux etc would have not been on the team.