The Yankees have been rolling with four specialists in their seven-man bullpen for a few weeks now, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that we got a real good look at how problematic that can be. Cody Eppley twice allowed walk-off hits to left-handed batters — granted, one was a switch-hitter — when he should be limited to righties only. Once David Phelps was out of Sunday’s game, Joe Girardi was left with a bunch of short relief matchup guys and the Yankees paid the price.
Trading for bullpen help is always sketchy but at this point it seems unavoidable. Joba Chamberlain seems to be very close to return but it’s impossible to count on him until he’s actually back on the big league mound and pitching effectively given the severity of his injuries. Heck, even if Joba comes back and adds that necessary non-OOGY, there’s still room in the bullpen for improvement. Since the Cubs are poised to trade everything not nailed down before next Tuesday’s trade deadline, let’s look at veteran reliever Shawn Camp.
- The 36-year-old right-hander is in the middle of what is arguably the best season of his career, pitching to a 2.79 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 48.1 innings. Camp’s 6.70 K/9 (18.3 K%) is his best strikeout rate in four years, his 2.05 BB/9 (5.6 BB%) his best walk rate ever. He also gets a healthy amount of ground balls (48.0%).
- A true three-pitch reliever, Camp sits in the upper-80s with his sinker and backs it up with a low-80s changeup (for lefties) and an upper-70s slider (for righties). He doesn’t have a platoon split, holding left-handed batters to a .278 wOBA and right-handers to a .266 wOBA this season.
- Camp has never been on the DL and spent 2006-2011 with the then-Devil Rays and Blue Jays, so he’s familiar with the AL East. He’s on a one-year deal making just $550k (!) this season, so we’re talking pure rental here.
- From 2009-2011, left-handed batters posted a .353 wOBA against Camp while righties were limited to a .302 wOBA. That lack of a platoon split really only applies to this season.
- Camp’s strikeout rate has been trending downward as the season has progressed. He struck out 23 of the first 107 batters he faced this season (21.5%) and just 13 of the last 90 (14.4%). Strikeouts aren’t really his thing anyway, but still.
- The Cubs have not been easy on him. Camp is second in baseball with 47 relief appearances and ninth with 48.1 relief innings. Last season he only threw 67.1 innings across 67 appearances and he’s on pace to zoom right by that. Chicago knows what they have here, a veteran guy pitching well on a one-year deal, so they’re getting their money’s worth.
There’s definitely a “lightning in a bottle” element here, but Camp has been a pretty solid middle reliever — in the AL East! — over the last three or four years anyway. That’s all the Yankees need him to be, a solid non-matchup guy in the middle innings. His success against lefties this season could very well have something to do with his slider, which has consistently been his best pitch. Camp has gone to the slider against left-handers far more than ever before in 2012 — 37% this year vs. 19% since the start of the PitchFX era. That success against batters of the opposite hand may be a fluke, but at least there’s some tangible evidence suggesting it could be legitimate improvement.
Either way, the Yankees need a reliever and Cubs have one to offer, so there’s a fit. Chicago’s new Theo Epstein-led regime has been emphatic about getting young pitching back in any trade, something the Yankees have plenty to offer. They’re not getting a top prospect for a rental middle reliever and probably won’t get a Grade-B prospect either. Brett Myers was just dealt for two fringe prospects and a player to be named later while the Astros ate his salary. A one-for-one swap for Camp could involve a non-top 30 prospect — Caleb Cotham? Zach Nuding? Shaeffer Hall? — and maybe nothing else. He’s worth a look and carries minimal risk.