The quietly important David Carpenter is opening eyes this spring, apparently

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As the Yankees overhauled their bullpen this past offseason, they focused on adding power left-handed relievers, specifically guys who can get both righties and lefties out. Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson have both done that at the MLB level and Chasen Shreve projects to be that type of pitcher as well. Handedness doesn’t really matter if you have no platoon split, but quality lefties are harder to find than quality righties, so they’re good to have.

In addition to those lefties, the Yankees added one bonafide big league right-handed reliever in David Carpenter, who came over from the Braves with Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade. Carpenter spent the last two years setting up Craig Kimbrel and he’ll slot into a similar setup role with the Yankees, basically replacing Shawn Kelley. That’s fitting because they’re both fastball/slider pitchers with fly ball tendencies, though Carpenter is slightly younger and cheaper (and under control two extra years).

According to Buster Olney, scouts have been impressed by the 29-year-old Carpenter in the early going this spring. He expanded on that ever so slightly in his Insider-only blog yesterday:

Evaluators have been greatly impressed with the spring showing of Yankees reliever David Carpenter, who has been working to add a splitter to his power stuff in his first season with New York. Carpenter mentioned in conversation how good it is to be teaming up again with catcher Brian McCann, who caught Carpenter when both were with the Braves during Carpenter’s impressive 2013 season.

Carpenter has only made four appearances this spring, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks in four innings, striking out three. His first two outings were very good, the last two were kinda duds. Whatever. Results don’t really mean much in March. Someone, somewhere was impressed by Carpenter according to Olney. That’s sort of cool but spring is always full of “this random guy looks great” stories.

Regardless of how he’s looked this spring, Carpenter is filling an important role with the Yankees as the No. 2 right-handed reliever behind Dellin Betances. Pretty quietly too. Carpenter hasn’t gotten as much press as Miller, Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, or pretty much every reliever in camp so far this spring. I guess that makes sense — Miller was a big free agent pickup, Shreve is trying to make the team, and Lindgren was the team’s top draft pick this year.

Carpenter had a 1.78 ERA in 2013 and a 3.54 ERA in 2014, but his peripherals were very close those two seasons: 28.9 and 25.9 K%, 7.8 and 6.2 BB%, 38.2 and 37.6 GB%, 0.69 and 0.74 HR/9, and 2.83 and 2.94 FIP. There’s a little of the normal year to year fluctuation in there but for the most part his 2013 performance was in line with his 2014 performance aside from the whole runs allowed thing. More importantly, look at Carpenter’s platoon splits across 2013-14.

IP wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
vs. RHP 72.1 .265 2.52 28.0% 5.4% 37.7% 7.2%
vs. LHP 54.1 .284 3.37 26.6% 9.2% 38.2% 8.8%

Like most relievers, especially fastball/slider guys, Carpenter is less effective against hitters of the opposite hand. It’s not a huge platoon split, but it’s enough of a split that Joe Girardi will probably opt for Miller or Wilson against a tough lefty in a big situation in the late innings of a close games.

The new splitter could be a difference-maker for Carpenter, however. It could better allow him to combat left-handed hitters and become an even greater weapon late in the ballgame. And maybe the pitch is something McCann can help him develop. Carpenter has said he greatly enjoyed throwing to McCann while with the Braves and perhaps he’s more comfortable using the splitter in meaningful games with his old friend behind the plate. It’s one thing to toy with it in Spring Training, it’s another to use it in the seventh inning of a one-run game in the regular season.

Either way, splitter or no splitter, Carpenter has the tools to be an effective late-inning reliever. He’s done it the last two years and he’ll be expected to do it again in 2015. If he can develop that splitter a little bit — it doesn’t need to be a great pitch, just something to put in the back of a left-handed hitter’s mind to keep him off the fastball and slider — Carpenter would become even more of a weapon for Girardi. For now, he’s the No. 2 righty behind Betances, and that itself is a pretty significant role.

Capuano injury, plan for Tanaka could change way Yanks build early-season bullpen

Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be far-fetched. (Presswire)
Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be so far-fetched. (Presswire)

Last week the Yankees lost projected fifth starter Chris Capuano for several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. Capuano is the team’s most replaceable starter but that doesn’t mean the loss is insignificant. Someone else has to fill that rotation spot now and chances are it will be someone who was slated to open the year in the bullpen, either Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers, most likely. The loss will be felt somewhere.

The Yankees have also been discussing using a six-man rotation early in the season — not necessarily a strict six-man rotation, but rather strategically using a sixth starter on occasion to give the other guys rest. That makes sense considering Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all have some kind of health concern. In fact, the team is planning to use Tanaka specifically every sixth day early in the season, according to Kevin Kernan.

The Yankees have a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka as healthy as possible, and that means giving him an extra day of rest now and during the season so he pitches every sixth day.

“It’s something we’d like to do,’’ one Yankees official told The Post on Friday of keeping the rotation on a six-day spin.

Tanaka worked on a six-day schedule in Japan until signing with the Yankees last winter, and given his elbow situation, the extra day could be beneficial both short and long-term. April off-days and a strategic sixth starter will help the Yankees accomplish their goal of starting Tanaka every sixth day, though Capuano’s injury complicates things a little bit because it changes the bullpen construction.

Assuming Warren or Rogers replaces Capuano in the rotation — I think it’ll be Warren personally, but there are still three weeks of Spring Training to go — five of the seven bullpen spots are set:

  1. Dellin Betances
  2. Andrew Miller
  3. David Carpenter
  4. Justin Wilson
  5. Warren or Rogers
  6. ?
  7. ?

There are no shortage of candidates for those last two spots. Finding bodies won’t be difficult. The Yankees have the luxury of filling those spots any way they want because of all the available options. And with Capuano hurt and the Yankees wanting to start Tanaka every sixth day, the most practical way to fill both spots may be with long men. At least temporarily.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

The thinking is one of those two long men — it would really be three long men in the bullpen when you include the Warren/Rogers spot — could step in as the sixth starter as needed to spell Tanaka (and the other starters) every so often. That would leave at least one more long man for other days, in case Warren/Rogers or any of the other starters go short. This isn’t rocket science, the more relievers in the bullpen who can throw multiple innings, the better.

Planning to carry multiple long men is one thing, but actually having multiple viable long men is another. The Yankees started last season with three relievers who could have been considered long relievers (Warren, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno), but that was a bit of an outlier. You don’t see many teams break camp with three guys like that. (I thought the Yankees would sent at least one to Triple-A to stay stretched out as the sixth starter, but nope.)

Here are the club’s long man candidates still in big league camp (listed alphabetically), assuming Warren and Rogers will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity no matter what:

  • Scott Baker: Veteran guy who threw 80.2 generally ineffective innings (5.47 ERA and 4.78 FIP) for the Rangers last year. He’s thrown four innings across a pair of appearances this spring.
  • Kyle Davies: Threw 154.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year and hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2011. He’s thrown four innings in three appearances during Grapefruit League play.
  • Jose DePaula: DePaula has dealt with numerous injuries in recent years and was limited to 51.1 innings in Triple-A last year. He’s made just one appearance this spring, throwing two innings.
  • Bryan Mitchell: Eleven innings in MLB last year and another 103 in the minors. He threw 145.1 minor league innings back in 2013. Mitchell has thrown four innings in two appearances this spring.
  • Chase Whitley: Made the conversion from bullpen to rotation last year and threw a career high 107 innings, including 75.2 in MLB. He’s thrown seven innings this spring, appearing in three games.

We can group these five guys into three different … well, groups. The Yankees have nothing invested in Baker and Davies long-term. They’re older pitchers trying to hang on and the team will not hesitate to run them into the ground, then designate them for assignment. It sounds rough but that’s baseball. Baker and Davies aren’t stupid, they know where they are at this stage of their careers.

Mitchell is an actual prospect and the Yankees do have reason to protect him with an eye towards the future. Mitchell will turn 24 next month and he’s also the least MLB ready of the bunch despite making his debut last season. He could use some more Triple-A time for fine-tuning. DePaula and Whitley are somewhere in the middle. Not really potential pieces of the long-term puzzle like Mitchell but probably not guys the Yankees would abuse a la Baker and Davies either.

The Yankees don’t have to decide on those final bullpen spots for a few weeks and by then they should have a better idea of Capuano’s timetable. If he’s expected back relatively soon, within the first week or two of the regular season, they could opt to take a short reliever who can be optioned down when Capuano’s healthy to make life easy. If he’ll miss a few weeks and not return until closer May, carrying two long relievers like, say, Baker and Whitley early on could make sense if the Yankees intend to stick to their strategic sixth starter plan.

Girardi hints at co-closer setup with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With Spring Training one week away — pitchers and catchers report in one week, anyway — position battles will soon begin and the final roster spots will be sorted out. For the most part the Yankees’ 25-man roster is set — barring injury, of course — with the last bullpen spot and maybe the last bench spot up for grabs. That’s about it.

One position the Yankees have to figure out these next few weeks is the closer’s role. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are the two favorites for obvious reasons but the team has no real shortage of candidates. I’m sure Adam Warren or David Carpenter could close no problem if needed. Finding a closer in Spring Training isn’t really the issue. Joe Girardi and his staff just need to actually pick someone to do it.

For what’s it’s worth, both Miller and Betances have said the right things when asked about the closer’s job this offseason. “I’ve never been a closer so it’s not like I’m building a resume. I’m not worried about that kind of thing,” said Miller on the MLB Trade Rumors podcast earlier this week. “I think we’ve all seen the value of relievers getting outs in those sixth, seventh and eighth innings now … I just want to be part of a good team and I think that flexibility opens more windows and more doors for me.”

Betances, meanwhile, recently told Mike Vorkunov he hasn’t really thought about being the closer and is just going to focus on getting outs. “At times I think the middle innings – the seventh, eighth inning – sometimes you come in to a tough situation, bases loaded, two guys on, when the game is on the line. Even if you pitch one inning, sometimes you face the two-three-four hitters, sometimes that’s harder at times,” he said. “I think the ninth inning you put pressure on yourself that’s where you tend to fail a little bit. But I’ve learned a lot from Mo and from what David Robertson did last year. It’s to take it one day at a time and to have a short memory.”

Miller and Betances are right, sometimes the seventh and eighth innings are tougher than the ninth, and that’s why Dellin was so valuable last year. He didn’t just dominate, he was able to dominate for two innings at a time if necessary. Betances got all the big outs in the middle innings. As long as Joe Girardi is able to balance winning games with keeping his righty relief ace rested and fresh — he threw 90 innings with a 1.28 average leverage index last year, which is a friggin’ ton of stressful innings — it would be awesome to see him in that role again.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

“I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi to Bryan Hoch recently. “But I think you can also create an atmosphere where you say, ‘You know what, guys? I’ll prepare you every day in a sense of what I think is going to happen, and here are your matchups, the guys that I’m probably going to bring you in against.'”

That’s a pretty interesting answer from Girardi, who seems to suggest he’s open to trying some sort of co-closer situation, presumably with Miller facing the tough lefties and Betances facing the tough righties in whatever inning that may be. I floated the idea of a co-closer setup last month when discussing the ninth inning and noted Girardi likes to have defined roles. He’s shown that since he was hired back in 2008. Perhaps now he’s softened on that stance.

The only team to even try a co-closer setup in the last decade or so was the 2009 Braves, who had lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano. With Miller and Betances, the Yankees clearly have the righty personnel to try something similar. I love the idea, it’s outside the box and puts everyone in the best position to succeed, but something like this isn’t as easy to put into practice as it may seem. Hopefully the Yankees and Girardi can pull it off.

Even with bullpen depth, picking a closer an important decision for Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

After the 2013 season, Mariano Rivera retired and left the Yankees with a closer problem. Or at least a lot of people acted like they had a closer problem. It was weird. David Robertson was as qualified as any closer-in-waiting in the game and, sure enough, he handled the ninth inning last year just as well as he handled the eighth inning from 2011-13. It was a seamless transition.

The Yankees again have a closer problem this offseason, but only in the sense that they don’t have a set closer right now, more than five weeks before the start of Spring Training. They’ve spent the winter adding bullpen depth and have a number of closer candidates already in-house. Replacing Robertson — who the Yankees let walk as a free agent — is not a question of whether the Yankees have anyone who can do it, but who they will pick to do it.

The two primary closer candidates are Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, both of whom were among the four or five best relievers in baseball last season. They’re actually quite similar, at least in the sense that they are both former top prospects who fought command problems due in part to their height — did you know Miller is 6-foot-7? I had no idea until the Yankees signed him — earlier in their careers and didn’t figure things out until they moved into the bullpen full-time. Either guy could step in and close no questions asked.

The Yankees don’t have anyone with actual closer experience — among pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, Adam Warren and David Carpenter have the most career saves with four apiece — but their closer options go beyond Betances and Miller. They could go with Warren or Carpenter, or give Justin Wilson a try. Jacob Lindgren could be the closer of the future, or he could be the closer of the present. The Yankees have a clean slate and are free to pick their closer.

Having lots of options doesn’t lessen the important of picking a closer, however. Everyone in the bullpen seems to fall in line once the closer is set, and relievers do like to know their roles. Who can blame them? No one would like going to work everyday not knowing what you’ll be asked to do. Relievers like to know their role so they know how and when to prepare. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and bullpen roles fuel that habit. Here are things the Yankees will surely consider when picking their next ninth inning guy.

Saves Pay

If you’re a reliever, the easiest way to make money is to accumulate saves. They pay in arbitration and they still pay in free agency. Addison Reed, with his 101 saves and career 98 ERA+, is projected to get $3.8M during his first trip through arbitration this winter. Robertson went into his first arbitration year (2012) with two career saves and a 112 ERA+ and received only $1.6M. Saves do pay. It’s dumb but that’s the system.

Should Betances get the ninth inning and rack up, say, 30+ saves this year and next, his 2017 arbitration salary will be much higher than it would be if he remains setup man. That also carries into future years too — his salaries in 2018 and 2019 will be higher as well. The same is true with Carpenter, Warren, Wilson, whoever. This might not be such a big deal with Betances, but if someone like Carpenter or Warren closes, their salary could exceed their actual value in a hurry, making them non-tender candidates.

Miller, on the other hand, has a multi-year contract. He’s getting paid $9M in each of the next four seasons no matter what. The Yankees could opt to use Miller — who is more than qualified for the job, remember — as the closer and keep costs down with the rest of the bullpen. That’s not being cheap, that’s being smart. Miller’s making what he’s making. That’s already set. If Betances starts making big money as the closer too, then that’s less money the Yankees can use elsewhere.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Does Handedness Matter?

Right now, the only full-time left-handed closers in baseball are Aroldis Chapman, Sean Doolittle, Glen Perkins, and Zach Britton. Doolittle and Britton just got the job last year. Since 1990, nine lefties have saved 25+ games in multiple seasons while 88 righties have done so. The innings pitched split in baseball has historically been about 75/25 in favor of righties, but the closer split the last 25 years has been 90/10 or so. For whatever reason, there’s a bit of a bias against lefty closers.

Miller is no ordinary lefty, of course. He dominates both righties and lefties and is just as capable of pitching a full inning as any righty reliever in baseball. That isn’t the question. The question is whether the Yankees and Joe Girardi want a bullpen in which three of their six non-closers could be left-handed, with Wilson and either Lindgren or Chasen Shreve joining Miller. Betances, Warren, Carpenter or another righty would be closing in that scenario.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees would care one bit about having three or four lefties in the bullpen if they are among the seven best bullpeners in the organization. If they were all matchup specialists in the mold of Clay Rapada, then yeah, it would be a problem. You can’t have three pitchers like that in one bullpen. But these guys aren’t Rapada types. They throw hard and don’t have platoon concerns. The Yankees have the luxury of having several quality relievers, and some of them just happen to throw left-handed. For New York, handedness is no concern right now.

Why Not Use Co-Closers?

The bullpen by committee idea just doesn’t work for whatever reason. A few teams have tried it — most notably the 2003 Red Sox — but it just doesn’t hasn’t worked. Things seem to fall apart once guys don’t have a set role and don’t know when they’ll pitch day after day. Having that one set guy in the ninth inning changes the entire bullpen dynamic for the better.

A few years ago though, the Braves used lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano as what were essentially co-closers. Gonzalez faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up, either in the eighth or ninth, while Soriano faced the tough righties and pitched the other inning. Gonzalez wound up with ten saves and Soriano with 27. The Yankees could try something similar with the lefty Miller and righty Betances.

In theory, the Yankees could use a similar co-closer system in 2015. They certainly have the right personnel to try it. But, Girardi has shown he very much likes to have a set closer and a set eighth inning guy, and will rarely deviate from that strategy. Would he be open to a platoon closer/setup man combination? Possibly, sure. But I’m going to bet against it. Girardi likes his relievers in set roles and that’s perfectly fine. He makes it work. Co-closers or a closer by committee can be chaotic.

Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)
Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

Free Agents?

There are still some quality — and by quality I mean big name more than big production — closers on the market in Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, and Casey Janssen. I wouldn’t ever rule out the Yankees signing a free agent, though I don’t expect it right now. They’ve accumulated a lot of bullpen arms this winter and the plans seems to be to use that depth. If they’re going to spend a decent amount of money on a player at this point, it’ll probably be someone who can help the rotation. A free agent closer signing is always possible. At this point it seems unlikely.

Dellin’s Destiny!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eerily similar career paths of Betances and Rivera. Both guys were underwhelming minor league starters who moved into the bullpen and dominated as multi-inning setup men in their first MLB season at age 26, then, the next year, they took over as closer after the team’s incumbent ninth inning guy left as a free agent. This year it was Robertson. In 1997 it was John Wetteland. The parallels are freaky. Clearly it is Dellin’s destiny to take over as closer, right?

* * *

Okay, so let’s get back to reality. The Yankees will have to pick a closer at some point before the start of the regular season and this isn’t something they can determine with a Spring Training competition. They couldn’t send Miller and Betances out there in March and tell them the guy who performs best in his seven or eight Grapefruit League innings gets the glory of closing. That would be silly. The only way Spring Training should effect the closer situation is if someone gets hurt.

Girardi and his coaching staff and I’m sure the front office will get together to discuss the team’s closer for the upcoming season at some point That could have happened already for all we know, or they could mull it over until the very end of camp. The team’s bullpen depth is a great weapon but it doesn’t lessen the importance of the decision. Everyone else falls into place in the bullpen once the closer is picked. It’s not a decision that will make or break the season, but it isn’t one the Yankees should take lightly either. Closer is a position they want to get settled as soon as possible.

Who should be the closer?

Bullpen overhaul doesn’t change Jacob Lindgren’s timetable

(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)
(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have been very active this offseason, eschewing big money long-term deals in favor of lower profile transactions, often with more players coming in than going out. The bullpen in particular has been overhauled this winter. In fact, the only two members of the 2014 Opening Day bullpen still with the organization are Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno are all gone. How about that?

Betances will again anchor the late innings this coming season, and while Warren could join him, there’s a chance he could up in the rotation to start the season. More than a small chance, I’d say. Robertson has been replaced by Andrew Miller, Kelley by David Carpenter, Thornton by Justin Wilson, and Phelps by Esmil Rogers. The Yankees still need to figure out who will take Nuno’s spot (and potentially Warren’s) but have no shortage of candidates. Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, and Gonzalez Germen are all 40-man roster options.

Among the non-40-man options is left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s amateur draft. The 21-year-old Lindgren is a pure reliever out of Mississippi State who was widely expected to be the first player from the 2014 draft class to reach MLB, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Brandon Finnegan of the Royals beat him to the show. Lindgren did reach Double-A Trenton in his pro debut before being shutdown due to his workload, however.

Between college and pro ball, Lindgren threw 80.1 innings in 2014, allowing eleven earned runs (1.23 ERA) on 35 hits and 38 walks (0.91 WHIP) while striking out 148. That’s a 16.6 K/9 and 45.1 K%. Lindgren also had a 71.0% or so ground ball rate at Mississippi State and an 81.0 % ground ball rate in pro ball. If you’re going to select a college reliever early in the draft — Lindgren was a second rounder (55th overall) after the Yankees forfeited some picks to sign free agents — he needs to really dominate, and dominate he did.

You can learn more about Lindgren in our Prospect Profile, but, to use a Brian Cashman phrase, the short version is that he checks every box. Misses bats, gets grounders, deception in his delivery, two excellent pitches in his fastball and slider … the works. Lindgren is about eight inches shorter than Miller and that’s not insignificant, though they have similar styles as southpaws with a knockout slider who can get both righties and lefties out. Between Miller, Wilson, and Lindgren, the Yankees have three lefty relievers at the upper levels who are more than matchup specialists. That’s pretty cool.

This winter’s bullpen overhaul means Lindgren’s chances of making the Opening Day roster have taken a hit. There are still some open spots, but the team already has several 40-man roster options ahead of Lindgren on the depth chart. Depth is never a bad thing, but in this case is works against him. That’s life. He will likely have to start the season with Triple-A Scranton and wait for a call-up. Make no mistake though, Lindgren is still very much part of the team’s 2015 plans.

“We saw a guy with above-average tools — an above-average fastball, a well above-average slider and he has some deception,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d) recently. “He has the ingredients to move quickly, especially the role he is in … Either way (Opening Day roster or not), he has made an impact.”

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Simply put, the Yankees didn’t select a college reliever with their top draft pick and pay him a seven-figure signing bonus to not get him to the big leagues in a hurry. Lindgren was on the fast track last year and that track will continue into 2015. Yeah, the bullpen turnover means his chances of making the roster out of Spring Training have gone down, but I still expect Lindgren to be one of the first bullpen arms called up when reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Part of my thinking — and I’m guessing part of the team’s thinking as well — is the whole “there are so many bullets in that arm” thing, and there’s no sense wasting those bullets in the minors. Relievers generally have a short shelf life and the best way to maximize Lindgren’s value is to get him to MLB soon, not let him sit in the minors and waste time tinkering with a changeup or something like that. He’s a finished product for his role. The only development left for him is the learning and development that takes place in the big leagues.

Even before the bullpen was overhauled, I thought Lindgren’s first year in the big leagues could look like Robertson’s, meaning a few rides on the bus between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx. (Robertson went up and down five different times from 2008-09 before sticking for good in late-May 2009). That’s how most relievers break in, and given all the team’s bullpen arms, it seems even more likely now. That’s fine as long as Lindgren gets chances. He doesn’t have to step right into high-leverage work, doesn’t need to immediately enter Joe Girardi‘s Circle of Trust™, just get opportunities to contribute. Given Girardi’s track record with relievers, I have no doubt it’ll happen.

The Yankees will benefit if and when Lindgren spends time in the minors by delaying his free agency one year — he only has to spend about eleven days in the minors for that to happen — but beyond that there isn’t much to be gained. Lindgren is ready to contribute right now and the Yankees know this. He wasn’t pushed aside by all the relievers brought in this winter, he’s part of the depth the team has been building. The bullpen at the end of the season is always different than the bullpen on Opening Day, and even though Lindgren is unlikely to be part of the picture in April, expect him to be there by September.

Andrew Bailey is a wildcard for the 2015 bullpen, but not someone the Yankees will count on

Bailey, many years and injuries ago. (Presswire)
Bailey, many years and injuries ago. (Presswire)

Only five pitchers threw at least 50 innings for both the 2013 Yankees and 2014 Yankees, and, already this offseason, four of them have left the team one way or another. David Robertson departed as a free agent, Hiroki Kuroda returned to Japan, and both Shawn Kelley and David Phelps were traded away. The lone holdover is long man turned setup man Adam Warren.

Needless to say, the pitching staff will have a new look next year, especially the bullpen with Robertson, Kelley, and Phelps gone. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will be expected to handle the high-leverage spots while Warren and southpaw Justin Wilson provide backup. Esmil Rogers is versatile enough to be anything from the long man to another one-inning reliever, basically the role Phelps filled the last three years.

The last two bullpen spots are up for grabs with the caveat that the Yankees could always sign or trade for someone. They have no shortage of internal options, with holdovers Chase Whitley, Jose Ramirez, and Bryan Mitchell joining newcomers Gonzalez Germen and Jose DePaula. Then there’s Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, and Danny Burawa. Manny Banuelos, even. My guess is we will see all of these guys at some point in 2015.

A wildcard for next year’s bullpen is rehabbing right-hander Andrew Bailey, who Brian Cashman has said is expected to be ready to pitch in Spring Training, according to Brendan Kuty. Bailey didn’t pitch at all this past season following shoulder capsule surgery, and that plus a thumb injury have limited him to 44 mostly ineffective (4.91 ERA and 4.68 FIP) innings from 2012-14. The last time he was actually good was 2011, his final season with the Athletics.

It goes without saying the Yankees can’t count on Bailey for anything next year, and his new minor league contract shows they aren’t. The team signed him last offseason to a contract that included a club option for 2015, but, after rehabbing him all year, they opted against a guaranteed deal for next year. He’s a lottery ticket. If Bailey is healthy enough to pitch at some point next summer, great. If not, well no big loss. Not like he’s soaking up a roster spot or significant cash.

Shoulder capsule surgery is very serious — no one has ever come back from the procedure and returned to their previous level of performance — so I think the upside with Bailey is not the dominant late-inning reliever he was with the Athletics from 2009-11, but instead the pitcher Kelley has been for the Yankees these last two years. The guy with great peripherals but an inflated ERA because he serves up homers and is prone to the big inning. Someone who is the fourth best option in the bullpen, not the first or second. Bailey replacing Kelley would be a big win in my opinion.

In this hypothetical world where Bailey returns and is a reasonably effective pitcher, he’s someone who could take over the ninth inning and close while Miller and Betances handle the seventh and eighth innings. Bailey has closer pedigree — let’s not kid ourselves, that sort of thing influences roster decisions — and having an assigned inning might be best for his warm-up routine after the injury. He might not be someone who can get up and quickly get ready at a moment’s notice after having his shoulder rebuilt. Having a set inning would allow Bailey to prepare to enter a game at his own pace since he’ll know exactly when he’s going to pitch.

Either way, Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is going to have a much different look next year now that Robertson and Kelley are gone. Bailey could be in the mix at some point, especially if he truly does get healthy enough to pitch in Spring Training, but he’s not looked at as likely contributor. These injured reclamation project guys tend not to work out — Octavio Dotel or David Aardsma, anyone? — which is why he’s nothing more than a lottery ticket. If healthy though, Bailey could give the bullpen and nice and unexpected boost.

2014 Season Review: The Obligatory Lefties

Thornton. (Presswire)
Thornton. (Presswire)

One thing has become very obvious over the last few years: the Yankees value having a left-hander in the bullpen. Two, preferably. Some teams don’t worry too much about carrying a southpaw, but not these Yankees. Joe Girardi likes to have a matchup lefty out there and the team has spent a lot of money trying to fill that spot. Remember Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano? Of course you do.

The 2014 season were no different, but, believe it or not, they only had 109 appearances by a left-handed reliever this year. That was the fifth fewest on baseball. At the same time, they had 56 lefty appearances of two or fewer batters faced, the fourth most in baseball. Girardi is definitely a fan of matching up for a batter or two if the opportunity presents itself. Let’s review the team’s surprisingly large collection of left-handed relievers from this past season.

Matt Thornton

The Yankees signed the 38-year-old Thornton to a two-year contract worth $7M last season, figuring he could still be a quality specialist even though his performance against righties had declined big time in recent years. He was one of the top relievers in the game regardless of handedness not too long ago. Maybe there was still some magic in there.

Thornton threw only 24.2 innings across 38 appearances with New York, so Girardi definitely used him as a matchup guy. His overall 2.55 ERA (2.73 FIP) is good but that’s not the best way to evaluate a lefty specialist. Thornton held same-side hitters to a .237/.306/.250 (.258 wOBA) batting line with a 17.2% strikeout rate, a 3.1% walk rate, and a 54.3% ground ball rate. Despite still having mid-90s heat, his swing-and-miss rate against lefties was a paltry 8.3%. That’s well-below-average. Also, he allowed 14 of 43 inherited runners to score (33%), including five of the last 12.

In early-August, the Yankees simply gave Thornton away for nothing. The Nationals claimed him off revocable trade waivers and New York opted not to pull him back, so they let him to go Washington on the claim. It was … weird. Girardi and Brian Cashman both confirmed the move was made to create roster and payroll flexibility. Thornton had a 0.00 ERA (2.51 FIP) in 11.1 innings for the Nats after the claim and quickly emerged as an important part of their bullpen.

Huff returned in 2014 ... with glasses! (Presswire)
Huff returned in 2014 … with glasses! (Presswire)

David Huff

The Yankees spent the first ten or so weeks of the season cycling through some amazingly bad long relievers, so, when the Giants decided to cut ties with Huff in mid-June, the Bombers jumped at the chance to re-acquire him. The minor trade cost New York nothing but cash.

Huff, 30, had a 6.30 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 20 innings for San Francisco, but he actually pitched pretty well in pinstripes. He chucked 39 innings across 30 appearances — so he was multi-inning guy, not a specialist — and posted a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP), holding lefties to a .250/.301/.279 (.266 wOBA) batting line with a 19.2% strikeouts rate and a 6.2% walk rate. Huff also stranded 16 of 17 inherited runners. What more do you want from a low-leverage lefty?

Rich Hill

After letting Thornton walk, the Yankees grabbed Hill off the scrap heap and he actually had two stints with the team. He came up in early-August, made six appearances, was designated for assignment, then was called back up when rosters expanded in September to make eight more appearances. All told, Hill faced 19 lefties with New York, striking out seven, walking two, hitting one, and allowing four hits. That’s a .250/.368/.250 (.298 wOBA) batting line. At one point in September he struck out six in a span of eight batters faced.

Josh Outman

Outman. (Presswire)
Outman. (Presswire)

Hill was designated for assignment in late-August to make room for Outman, who the Yankees picked up from the Indians because he was a so very slight upgrade. He faced ten left-handed batters in pinstripes and held them to one hit. He also struck out one. That works out to a .100/.111/.111 (.099 wOBA). If you extrapolate that out over 60 innings, Outman was, like, the best lefty reliever ever, man.

Cesar Cabral

Two years ago, Cabral almost made the Opening Day roster as a Rule 5 Draft pick before suffering a fractured elbow late in camp. He made four appearances with the Yankees this season and faced five lefties. One made contract (a hit), one drew a walk, one was hit by a pitch, and two struck out. As you may recall, Cabral allowed three runs on three hits and three hit batsmen in one ugly April outing against the Rays. He was designated for assignment after the game, eventually landed back in Double-A, and that was that.

Jeff Francis

Confession: I totally forgot Jeff Francis was a Yankee. They acquired him in a very minor trade with the Athletics when they were desperate for pitching depth at midseason, and he somehow made not one, but two appearances in pinstripes. He threw a scoreless 14th inning in a late-July game against the Rangers — when Chase Headley hit the walk-off single in his first game with the team — and allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning against the Blue Jays a week later. They dropped Francis from the roster soon thereafter.

Wade LeBlanc

I did remember that LeBlanc was a Yankee this year! He made one appearance with the team. It went single, single, grounder to first, intentional walk, hit batsmen to force in a run, sac fly, ground out. The Yankees designated him for assignment to make room for Huff a few days later. I hope Wade LeBlanc goes into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.