Finding a role for David Phelps


(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

With Andy Pettitte officially back in the rotation, the Yankees finally have a full pitching staff. We’re no longer waiting around for someone to come back from injury — Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma are still a long ways off — or for Pettitte to arrive, the staff is as complete as can be right now. What you see is what you’re going to get, the five starters are in place and the seven-man bullpen is unfortunately settled in the wake of Mariano Rivera‘s injury.

Of those seven relievers, six have clearly defined roles. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are the late-inning duo, Boone Logan and Clay Rapada are the lefty matchup guys, Cory Wade the do-everything middle reliever, and Freddy Garcia the break glass in case of emergency guy. That leaves David Phelps in a peculiar spot, stretched out as a starter but not needed as a true mop-up type with Freddy still around. That’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity for the Yankees to use the young right-hander in some more important spots rather than save him for extra innings or short starts.

Phelps, 25, has pitched to a solid 3.08 ERA but an unsightly 5.12 FIP in his first 26.1 big league innings because the Red Sox and Rangers tagged him for some homers a few weeks ago. The strikeout (7.52 K/9 and 20.0 K%) and ground ball (45.9%) rates are fine, but the homers (1.74 HR/9) and walks (3.76 BB/9 and 10.0 BB%) have been a bit of an issue. Giving up homers to the Sox and Rangers isn’t anything to be ashamed of and young pitchers always have trouble with walks. For what it’s worth, two of his eleven free passes were intentional, and that will skew his rate performance given the relatively small sample size.

Anyway, with Freddy in the bullpen for long relief, I’d like to see the Yankees employ Phelps as more of a multi-inning middle relief type. He’s already stretched out and doesn’t have to pitch in high-leverage spots, but there’s a need in middle relief. With Soriano and Robertson married to the eighth and ninth innings, Wade is the only right-handed middle guy. Logan isn’t totally awful against righties but Rapada certainly is, something we saw just yesterday. Phelps could essentially take over Wade’s pre-Mo injury role with the added benefit of being able to throw multiple innings. D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren provide enough rotation depth that keeping Phelps stretched out to 80+ pitches isn’t much of a concern. I think he’s shown enough to take on a little more responsibility in a bullpen that is still trying to adjust to life without Rivera.

Based on the weather forecast, there’s a very real chance tonight’s game will get rained out. If it does and they end up playing a doubleheader tomorrow, Phelps could easily start one of the two games and allow everyone else to stay on schedule. That seems like a better option than throwing both Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia on the same day and having to dig up a spot starter later in the week, but I digress. With Sweaty Freddy in the bullpen and able to serve as the mop-up guy, there’s no reason Phelps can’t take on a greater role and see some leveraged shorter relief work in the coming weeks. Wade can’t do it all himself.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
  • #28 in 2012

    Hopefully Cash is working on trading Garcia. He isnt doing anything but blocking Phelps. $4million is a lot to eat, but maybe Cash could get at least a $1 mil back. The sooner he goes the better. The ghost of Garcia is not doing much for depth at this point.

    • Tom Zig

      You won’t get much for Garcia even if you eat the salary.

    • Mike HC

      I would keep Garcia for as long as possible, because you never know when a couple of pitchers can get hurt or just blow up. You can always deal him at the deadline when you might have a better idea of what your team is going to need down the stretch, and also allow for a larger sample size to see what players you want to target.

      • Dan

        Normally I would agree, but the question is how much better will Garcia be then Phelps/Mitchell/Warren? As of right now, it seems like those pitchers might be able to give at least some equivalent to what Garcia would offer and possibly better than Garcia. It seems like Garcia is just blocking three pitchers that have already shown an ability to handle AAA, at some point they are going to need to be given a chance and I would prefer that they get that opportunity over Garcia.

        • Ted Nelson

          One can argue that starting every 5 games in AAA does as much to prepare them for an opening in the rotation as being a long-man out of the pen… I’m not sure how things will play out, but it’s a possibility Garcia will not really block them (or at least not for long if he struggles).

        • Mike HC

          I definitely see that, and it is not a make or break decision either way, but after trading AJ for nothing and losing Pineda for the year, it seems like we would be pushing our luck to just keep giving away starting pitchers before we have to.

    • Ted Nelson

      To me it sort of depends what he’s blocking Phelps from doing. It it’s pitching in meaningful innings as a sort of Aceves/Mendoza long-man… by all means get rid of him. If it’s pitching in meaningless innings, I’d just keep the depth and let Phelps start regularly in AAA.

      • Ted Nelson

        That’s if you except the premise that Garcia is blocking Phelps… they’re both on the active roster, no?

        • Ted Nelson


      • Cris Pengiucci

        +1. Phelps has shown some potential. It looks like he may be able to contribute to the success of the Yankees now, next season, and beyond. Somehow, somewhere, he’ll need to continue his development. Stashing him in the BP is not the answer, however getting rid of Garcia may not be the answer to his development.

    • GardnergoesYardner

      If Garcia hasn’t proven himself to be worse than a Mitchell/Warren in the pen who is getting potentially blocked, then he should stay. He has shown effectiveness in relief, and truth is Cash won’t be able to recoup much anyway at this point.

      • GardnergoesYardner

        Sorry, meant to include Phelps in there too, but as Ted Nelson said above, Phelps is on the active roster so technically he has an MLB job.

      • Manny’s BanWagon

        I agree. Why give away Freddy for peanuts when he potentially could contribute later in the season.

        As for blocking someone from a roster spot, neither of the Mitchell/Warren duo has been so outstanding that they need to be promoted immediately.

  • Mike HC

    Definitely agreed with this. With Mo down, I like the idea of using Phelps in a higher leverage bullpen role.

  • vin

    As much as I hope Hughes has turned the corner, it can’t be ignored that his last two starts have been against KC and Seattle… two very weak offenses. I fully acknowledge that a good starter has more value than a good reliever, but I wonder if Phil should’ve been moved to the pen instead of Phelps. I think it’s pretty likely that Hughes and Phelps can provide the same value as starters… might as well utilize the guy who:
    A) has experience in the pen
    B) has two above average pitches (ie scrap the cutter, and suspend the changeup)

    Maybe there’s something to be said for giving the “veteran” the benefit of the doubt and keeping him in the rotation, but doing the opposite may have made them a better team in the long run.

    • Dan

      Phelps had success against a pretty weak hitting TB team his last time out (and couldn’t go five innings), so I am not sure how well the argument about Hughes success against weak hitting teams holds up. Also, Phelps has struggled against better offenses (Boston and Texas), so I am not sure how much better he will be than Hughes. I think they will probably put up comparable numbers, but with Hughes approaching free agency it seems like the Yankees want to see what Hughes can offer long-term before he reaches free agency.

    • Steve (different one)

      KC doesn’t really have a “very weak” offense, they look exactly middle of the pack. I am not 100% sold on Hughes’ turn-around either, but it’s too early to say they should have pulled him from the rotation. Qualitatively, he has “looked” different in his last 2 starts, but who knows….

      • jsbrendog

        seriously, the kc is a weak hitting team narrative needs to end. it isn’t the case anymore

        • vin

          Upon further review, you’re probably right. I guess its misleading when their only real threats are Gordon, Moose Tacos, and Butler. Hosmer is obviously having a down year, but they’re getting solid production out of Getz, Escobar, Dyson and even Yuni. I wouldn’t expect all those guys to continue to be so useful, but maybe it offsets Hosmer’s poor start.

          All that being said, their lineup isn’t terribly intimidating as long as you’re careful with the big 3.

          • jsbrendog

            true, but how many teams aren’t like that outside of detroit, texas, ny and bos??

          • Ted Nelson

            I don’t think anyone is saying that they have an amazing offense, just an average one. Not a “very weak” one.

          • Havok9120

            That’s how, what, 2/3 of the league’s offenses are constructed? Even Detroit falls into that category, at least right now.

  • Cappy

    Somewhat unrelated and completely unimportant, why does Phelps always look pissed? Like I get it on the mound, you’re trying to intimidate and be a fierce competitor. But the dude even looks pissed in the dugout. Someone get that man a snickers bar.

    • CS Yankee

      He is the Ying to the Jones Yang.

  • Ted Nelson

    Yeah, I would say somewhere between Wade and Garcia in the pecking order makes the most sense. As the higher leverage long-man to Garcia’s lower-leverage long-man. I do see a chance that flip-flops going forward, but of course I’m rooting for Phelps to be effective and take charge of the role.

  • that’s right, I said it

    Maybe they can try Phelps at first? He can’t hit any worse than Teixeira.

    • Manny’s BanWagon


  • Preston

    Of the three starters (Mitchell, Warren and Phelps) I think Phelps has the best chance of succeeding as a starter. So maybe it would be best to keep him starting at AAA and put Mitchell in the bullpen.

  • TogaSean

    To me, Phelps should be the 5th starter right now, but it isn’t happening so…he should be moved back down to AAA so he can continue to get innings and work on his pitches.

    • Ted Nelson

      And who replaces him in the pen?

  • DM

    The roles will establish themselves. Girardi will have auditions in situations. If you perform you’ll get more shots in that role.

    • Havok9120

      Yeah, he’s shown that, for all his warts, he’s willing to at least give guys a shot at different jobs, especially early in the season.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    I’d like to see Phelps used in more high leverage roles and for multiple innings too since as Mike pointed out they already have a mop up guy in Garcia.

    These problems of too many pitchers and what to do with them always seem to work themselves out all too quickly due to injuries anyway.

  • A.D.

    Definitely like the idea of the Wade roll, especially since he should easily be able to go 2-3 innings if need be. No reason Phelps couldn’t have gone 8 & 9th yesterday (or really relieved Pettitte and finished the game)

  • Slu

    This is just a temporary issue. Someone will get hurt and/or pitch their way out of the rotation eventually. Phelps should stay stretched out in AAA for when this happens.

    And my money is on Hughes being the guy that is eventually replaced. I know, I am really going out on a limb there.

    • Rich in NJ

      “Phelps should stay stretched out in AAA for when this happens.”

      You saved me some typing.

      • CS Yankee

        I’m good with that versus using him as a Noesi, however Eppley is meh, and I don’t know who else they got…

        might be worth Venditte being the 12th pitcher for the fun of it.

  • viridiana

    The bigger issue, I think, is that Yanks really need three late-inning guys. You simply can’t save every game with the same two guys — might mean 95 appearances each (not all wins require saves but in some dcases closers and EIGs will appear in losing efforts) so I think this is a resonable estimate. If you have three guys sharing those 190 (2x 95) appearances, then you’re talking 60-65 games each, which is doable. Ideally, Hughes would fill this role. But he’s pitched well enough to stay in the rotation. Eventually, though, I do think they will need that third late inning guy. Maybe Logan could fill role. Would be great if Phelps could slot in there but likely too much to expect.

    • Ted Nelson

      I’m not sure about the arbitrary 190 number… but Wade or Logan are both in a position to fill in when one of the two big guys is unavailable.