Could Adam Warren help most as a short reliever?

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/14/2014.

… 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
Four-Seamer 248 39.9% 10.9% 25.0% 0.283 0.189
Sinker 71 11.4% 11.3% 50.0% 0.350 0.000
Curveball 54 8.7% 3.7% 100.0% 0.000 0.000
Slider 199 32.0% 17.6% 51.3% 0.192 0.058
Changeup 50 8.0% 14.0% 45.5% 0.067 0.000

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
Four-Seamer 113 17.0% 10.6% 48.2% 0.353 0.265
Sinker 213 32.0% 4.2% 44.2% 0.477 0.341
Curveball 85 12.8% 7.1% 88.9% 0.154 0.000
Slider 66 9.9% 13.6% 50.0% 0.308 0.000
Changeup 188 28.3% 18.6% 51.4% 0.160 0.220

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.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. Theonewhoknocks says:

    Warren might be able to help, but I don’t think the Yanks should count on him.

    If Robertson is your best reliever, that’s fine-he’s great.
    If Kelly is your second best reliever, you need to bring in a free agent.

  2. your mom says:

    I like Adam Warren. He’s bad-ass. Trade him for Headley straight up!

  3. Tim says:

    Wow, these are the “dog days” of winter. Running out of ideas for stories? You know there’s no relevant Yankee news to report when you start devoting hundreds of words to a story about whether Warren could be a short reliever and you can’t answer the question.

  4. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    Let’s just pretend that the Yankees win the Tanaka challenge. That leaves several pitchers fighting for one rotation spot and, probably, multiple guys assuming new roles in a bullpen that certainly has a “Now Hiring” sign up. They’re not all going to be longmen. This certainly makes as good an argument as any for Warren in an adjusted role.

  5. sevrox says:

    Warren should absolutely get a chance to compete for 5th starter.

  6. Frank says:

    I think Warren is a dark horse who I envision as the 5th starter when it’s all said and done. He has a nice pitch repertoire. Love his confidence/presence on the mound. I really believe he’ll be a very pleasant surprise for this team as a starter and not a reliever.

  7. CS Yankee says:

    1) 6-7th starter
    2) MRP
    3) ROOGY

    One is based upon them inking Tanaka, two is where he’ll likely be, but he owns righties and come October I would think (#3) he would be the guy that puts down a couple-to-three righties.

  8. Dalek Jeter says:

    He should absolutely make the big club. I personally want to see Pineda have an incredible spring and grab hold of the 5th starter job, but I feel like it’s going to be as fair as Joba vs Hughes a few years ago with Phelps getting the Hughes treatment. In whatever case, Warren should do what he did a bit last year and what Phelps has done the past two years, show you can excel as a long man, and earn some middle relief inning. If he excels in middle relief, then Warren should absolutely get a chance as a later inning guy.

  9. LarryM Fl says:

    Mike, The second to last paragraph sums-up most of my feelings about Warren. In fact I like him over Phelps for the 5th starter. But if it came down between Phelps and Warren with no clear cut winner then the Yanks go with Phelps just because of the experience in 2012.

    Warren does deserve to be on the team in a position that will give him consistent work such as 7th inning guy. The long relief guy tends to be the forgotten man in the bullpen looking for game action.

    Also I believe your article addresses the Yankee issues in the bullpen which have combined the trade market and FA choices.

  10. Vern Sneaker says:

    Interesting thought, and a nice analysis, but even having the idea shows how short we are in the bullpen right now.

  11. TomG says:

    It’s more complicated than that. WAR has limitations in valuing relievers; they’re a volatile bunch by nature. A pitcher like Kelley who has a stretches of dominance is more valuable than a consistently mediocre pitcher, but that’s not reflected.

  12. Wolfgang's Fault says:

    Let him compete for a starter’s job & take it from there. If he strengthens his shoulder & he gains a few ticks on his 4-seamer & the 2-seamer/sinker, it makes him tougher on lefties as well. If he can get that 2-seamer to run away from lefties & tie them up inside w/his slider, he’s got something, & along w/the added velocity, if he can change speeds on all his stuff, he becomes much more than just a 5th starter. This spring’s camp is big for him.

  13. The Great Gonzo says:

    OK Imma say it… times like this is when you begin to miss a guy like… *ducks*… Boone Logan.

    A guy who, when he’s right, can get LHP out as a LOOGY and mediocre to good RHP out as well. I don’t want him out there against Mike Trout or anything, but give me him EVERY DAY ALL DAY against John Buck.

  14. Tom says:

    The bigger issue while looking at the 1st/2nd/3rd time through the order data is not the size of the last 2 samples, it’s the performance during the first sample.

    While it’s important to note whether he falls off after the 1st time through the order, batters hit for a .779OPS the first time up (on a pretty good sample size). If the sample size of the next two buckets were substantially bigger and he was worse in them, that doesn’t change that he wasn’t all that good the first time through a lineup.

    I think the real question is whether the 1st PA sample will improve if he can air it out and knows he is pitching an inning or two and not 3-5 in long relief (assuming he doesn’t win a starter job) and if he is not worrying about showing all his pitches the first time through the order as there won’t be a second time trhough the order.

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