Could Adam Warren help most as a short reliever?By
The Yankees didn’t get much help from their farm system as the injuries mounted last season, but one of the few (only?) young players who stepped up to grab a job was right-hander Adam Warren. He made the Opening Day roster as the long man and, aside from one short stint in the minors that had more to with adding a fresh bullpen arm than his performance, he stayed with the team all season, pitching to a 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) in 77 innings.
Warren, 26, earned himself a spot in Spring Training‘s fifth starter competition with that performance. He’s all but guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster given the state of the pitching staff, but his role is unknown. Warren might be a starter, might be a long reliever, or he might be shoe-horned into a short relief role. Joe Girardi used him in what amounts to a seventh inning setup role three times during a four-game series against the Orioles last September, when David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Shawn Kelley were nursing injuries. He retired seven of the nine men he faced.
The Yankees need bullpen help, particularly a late-inning arm to pair with Robertson and Kelley. Warren hasn’t been considered for that role and understandably so, but it’s possible his skillset would make him a great fit for a one inning, air-it-out bullpen role. First and foremost, he excels the first time he faces a hit …
|1st PA in G, as RP||32||223||2.16||.276||.341||.438||.779||.312||126|
|2nd PA in G, as RP||14||67||2.50||.279||.343||.475||.819||.356||118|
|3rd+ PA in G, as RP||2||7||0.00||.200||.429||.200||.629||.200||48|
… crap. There goes that idea.
Well, maybe not. We are talking about 74 plate appearances the second and third time through the lineup, which is nothing. I’m not sure there’s enough information here to tell us how Warren fares each time through the order. He was worse the first time around last year, yes, but is that a true measure of his ability? Probably not given the limited amount of data. It would be nice if we had more than 32 games — he also made two starts, which are not included in the table — worth of stats to look at it.
What we do know about Warren is that he throws five different pitches and used all five in relief last year. Prior to last season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “pitches off his four-seamer and mixes in a two-seamer at times, then goes to his curveball, slider and changeup,” which the PitchFX data backs up. With a big assist from Brooks Baseball, here is how Warren approached right-handed batters in 2013:
|Total Thrown||% Thrown||Whiff %||GB%||Opp. AVG||Opp. ISO|
It’s important to add context to those hitting stats. The .283 opponent’s average against fastballs seems high, but the league hit .284 against fastballs overall in 2013. Warren’s fastball was exactly league average, for all intents and purposes. The .192 opponent’s average against the slider was a bit better than the .229 league average.
Warren was primarily a fastball-slider guy against same-side hitters, and he held them to .231/.304/.322 (.281 wOBA) batting line overall. He didn’t thrown enough sinkers, curves, or changeups for the numbers in the table to tell us anything useful about the effectiveness of those pitches. It would be cool if his curveball was impossible to hit in the air, but I doubt that’s the case. Now here is how he approached lefties last year:
|Total Thrown||% Thrown||Whiff %||GB%||Opp. AVG||Opp. ISO|
Left-handed hitters destroyed Warren last summer. I mean .301/.370/.526 (.387 wOBA) destroyed him. Hopefully someone on the Yankees hits that well this year. Warren was mostly fastball-changeup against lefties and man did his heater get crushed. His changeup was very effective though — the .160 opponent’s average was way better than the .257 league average. A changeup that generates a miss once out of every five swings while getting a grounder on more than half the balls in the play is pretty damn awesome. There are some good looking changeups in here, for your viewing pleasure:
As a long reliever who faced hitters more than once, using five pitches was a necessity for Warren. Being limited to one or even two innings at a time would allow him to scrap his fourth and fifth offerings and go fastball-slider against righties and fastball-changeup against lefties. Pretty basic stuff. The thinking (hope, really) is the more he sticks to his very best offspeed pitches, the more his fastball would play up. It’s similar to what Kelley has done these last two years, emphasizing his slider and using his fastball as a show-me pitch. Warren isn’t an Al Aceves type, a guy with a full bag of tricks who can throw anything at any time. He needs to stick to his strengths, and that’s sliders against righties and changeups against lefties.
Warren earned the opportunity to compete for a starting job after his performance last year and if he impresses in camp, he absolutely should be given the chance to start. If that doesn’t work out though, he might be most valuable to the team as a traditional short reliever rather than a long man. Someone with a late-game responsibility while Vidal Nuno or David Huff or Bruce Billings or whoever handles long relief duty. Maybe those struggles against lefties continue and Warren is nothing more than a righty specialist, but if that’s the case, they could simply move him back into a lower leverage long relief role. It would be an easy move to back out of.
To answer the question in the title of this post: I don’t know. I don’t know if Warren is capable of stepping forward to become a solid if not an impact setup reliever. I want to believe he can but until he actually does it, we’re just guessing. His slider and changeup are good enough pitches against righties and lefties, respectively, to think he can pull it off if he uses them a bit more often and strategically. I am curious to see what Warren can do if he airs it out for one inning at a time. Considering the state of the bullpen, he just might get the chance to do some setup work in 2014.