Aceves may be the missing bullpen piece

Yankees outright Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton
2014 Draft: Jeff Hoffman

Three days ago, in his latest clunker of a start, CC Sabathia failed to get out of the fourth inning. Joe Girardi gave the ball to his long man du jour, which meant the start of Alfredo Aceves‘ second tour of duty in pinstripes. The team signed him at the end of Spring Training to provide Triple-A depth after Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and David Phelps all made the MLB bullpen.

Aceves, now 31, was outstanding in relief of Sabathia, holding the Rays to three singles in 5.1 scoreless innings, striking out five and getting five ground ball outs compared to two in the air. He threw 72 pitches in those 5.1 innings, five fewer than Sabathia threw in 3.2 innings. The circumstances were unfortunate, but Aceves gave the team a real shot in the arm by soaking up so many innings and sparing the key relievers.

That type of performance was something the Yankees were not getting out of their long relievers for the first five weeks of the season. Girardi’s top relievers — David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Warren — have been truly outstanding so far this year (Kelley’s recent hiccup notwithstanding), but the other two bullpen spots have been both problematic and a revolving door. Preston Claiborne has been fine lately, but still. Look at this:

Top Five Relievers 64.1 260 1 27.7% 8.8% 1.96 2.15
Everyone Else 37.2 191 8 22.5% 12.6% 7.41 5.50

I get that just about every team has crappy pitchers filling out the final two bullpen spots at any given time, but man that is a huge difference. Girardi’s top five relievers have been dominant. The other guys, the Claibornes and Chris Lerouxes and Bruce Billingses and Shane Greenes have been just terrible. Those numbers include Aceves’ strong work too, so imagine how much worse they were before Sunday. (No need to imagine: 8.63 ERA.)

A good long reliever is usually a luxury — Warren was quite good by long man standards last season — except right now it’s much more of a necessity for the Yankees. Because Nuno and Phelps are not fully stretched out and both Sabathia and (until last night) Hiroki Kuroda have been shaky, the club has gotten fewer than five full innings from their starter five times of the last 12 games. That’s bad. The rotation is giving the team no length at all.

With the rotation being such a weakness and no help on the way for the foreseeable future, the Yankees have two options. Either lean heavily on their oh so excellent late-inning relievers and risk burning them out, or find a competent long man. In Aceves, they might actually have that competent long man. No, he can’t pitch every day, but he’s certainly capable of soaking up three or four innings twice a week if need by. Leroux couldn’t do that. Neither could Greene or Billings.

Of course, there’s also a chance Aceves will pitch his way into the rotation. All he has to do is be better than Nuno andor Phelps and, well, that’s not really a high bar. Girardi told Chad Jennings that “anytime someone pitches well over distance, it’s going to trigger a thought” when asked about making Aceves a starter. You don’t need to try real hard to see him pitching his way into the rotation. In that case Nuno or Phelps would move into the long man role, which is still an upgrade over the other guys.

We need to be careful not to make too much of Aceves’ outing the other day. It’s unlikely the 2009 Aceves just showed up to the park that morning and is here to stay. Remember, he was throwing low-leverage innings against a lineup that was put together to hit a lefty in Sabathia, not a righty. Aceves was pretty terrible the last two years (4.95 FIP in MLB and 5.44 FIP in Triple-A) and that doesn’t go away because he was awesome for the World Series team a few years ago. He’s got to prove himself a bit. If he can be an effective multi-inning guy, the rest of the bullpen would fall right into place.

Yankees outright Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton
2014 Draft: Jeff Hoffman
  • I’m One

    Keep him available to pitch the last 4-5 innings of CC starts. Or, consider him as a replacement for CC (half kididng on both of those comments).

    It’s only one appearance. We have no idea if he’ll keep it up. Certainly hope he does. More options >>>>>>>>>>>>> fewer options

  • Tanuki Tanaka

    Still kinda hard to believe it’s been that long. Feels like just the day before yesterday he was in pinstripes and doing a bit of everything (yesterday he was that crazy guy who makes Bobby Valentine looks normal)

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    I don’t think he’s the missing bullpen piece, I think he’s the missing rotation piece. I just don’t know how long they’re going to trot CC out there. This isn’t just a one month slump, it’s a 1+ year slump for CC. If he continues to pitch to a 5+ ERA will Girardi have the guts to yank him from the rotation? Seems like that’s what would be best for the ballclub once Pineda returns and if CC is still struggling.

  • RM

    Totally agree and hope to God Aceves can keep it up. Starting to wonder is Whitley someone we should look at instead of Claiborne. With our starters and their current struggles, I would think a person like Whitley who could pitch multiply inning would work.

  • TWTR

    I would prefer that Aceves starts until Pineda returns. I would keep Phelps as the 5th starter.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Clearly, from the looks of my office floor, it’s hard to find someone who will properly mop up.

    Wouldn’t it be great if some sort of “Alfredo Aceves was sad when the Yankees released him, which led to a crazy Joaquin-Phoenix-but-real breakdown for a few seasons in which his pitching suffered, then returned to 2009 form as a Yankee in 2014 and under a psychotropic regimen” narrative actually came true?

  • Baked McBride

    So let me get this straight – performance on the job goes up AFTER you beat your spouse? Mrs. Wiggins – can you please come in here and take a memo to put out to the entire office…

  • Winter

    Billingses! We hates it forever!

  • Mike HC

    When Pineda gets back, I think Phelps should stay in the rotation, Aceves takes over Phelps’ Ramiro Mendoza Memorial role, and Nuno goes back to mop up duty. That is assuming no more injuries and Pineda does indeed return.

    • I’m One

      When Pineda gets back, I think Phelps whoever did best while starting should stay in the rotation, Aceves one of the remaining 2 takes over Phelps’ Ramiro Mendoza Memorial role, and Nuno the other one goes back to mop up duty. That is assuming no more injuries and Pineda does indeed return and does well.

      My opinion. :-)

      • Mike HC

        haha … my opinion as well. Just thought I would throw out my predictions for the bolded parts.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Well, now your predictions are recorded in time. Forever.

          • Mike HC

            Scary thought.

      • TWTR

        Maybe this will provide reverse mojo, and if so, great, but I will guess that Nuno will not win that competition.

    • Yan Solo

      “That is assuming… Pineda does indeed return.”
      I’m not sure why his returning should even be a question? Elaborate please.

      • Mike HC

        Considering he came off major shoulder surgery and now has another issue relatively close to that area, it is a bit of a concern. Hopefully all goes well and he is back in no time.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          He was already starting a throwing program. That’s about as encouraging a piece of news as we can get this early. Still the start of recovery, though.

          I do agree with Yan, though, that we need to remember that this isn’t the same injury, no matter what the desire to panic in our stomach tells us. It’s a mild muscle sprain below that area.

          • Mike HC

            Wasn’t panicking. It was a throwaway line at the end basically saying as long as things go to plan (Pineda returning and nobody else getting hurt) this is how I see the pitching staff playing out. But as we know pitchers go down so often, that you can’t really assume everything going to plan.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              Couldn’t find a better word to use there than “panic.” “Butterflies” sounded silly.

              • Mike HC

                Butterflies is definitely more representative. But I think they are justified. Hope you guys are right and this is a minor injury with no setbacks.

                • Jorge Steinbrenner

                  Oh, I’ve got butterflies. Just trying to hold them back. I think it’s completely understandable.

  • ALZ

    He is what they need right now. Not sure if I’d want him in high leverage situations, but they need someone to mop up if need be.

  • Robert

    Stretch out Adam warren!!!!

  • Naved

    The missing pieces are Mark Montgomery and Jose Ramirez.

  • hey now

    I missed Aceves’ appearance (I admit it, I can’t stomach CC’s starts). That was an absolutely filthy slider he was featuring.

  • Mikhel

    Aceves pitched very well in the Caribbean Series, was hurt with some runs in a play that should have been ruled an error, but otherwise he was the second best pitcher for México, just because the best pitcher for México was very very good.

    “El patón” can either be a long reliever or be a spot starter, even start regularly but I think he would be best used in relief.

    I can tell you he is very happy to be with the Yankees again, and every day he is closer to fulfill his dream: to play 10 years in the majors. He is very levelheaded even though his on field personna is molded in the likes of Dennis Rodman, who was more like a caricature character.

  • cuponoodles

    The vulture is back!!!