Fixing Dellin Betances is a process that should start now, not next season

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

After five excellent months, Dellin Betances has hit a wall in September and hit it hard. He’s allowed 13 runs in 8.1 innings this month while also putting 19 guys on base. Two nights ago Dellin faced three batters and didn’t retire any of them before giving way to Tommy Layne. Opponents have hit .282/.404/.385 against Betances in September. Bad. Bad bad bad.

The biggest problem with Betances, as it often is, are the walks and an overall lack of control. He’s walked eight in 8.1 innings this month after walking 20 batters in his first 63.2 innings of the season. The other night Dellin threw three strikes out of eleven total pitches, and he wasn’t exactly missing just off the plate. It wasn’t a bunch of borderline calls going against him. From Brooks Baseball:

Dellin Betances Blue Jays

“Honestly, right now I just feel like my mechanics are off,” said Betances to Chad Jennings following’s Monday game. “I’m yanking a lot of pitches and falling behind; that’s what’s hurting me. I’ve said it all along. Earlier in the year, I wasn’t walking guys. Later part of this year, I’ve been walking a lot of guys and that’s what’s been hurting me.”

Control problems — extreme control problems at that — are nothing new for Betances, who flamed out as a starter in the minors because he couldn’t throw strikes. I don’t mean paint the corners. Basic get the ball over the plate stuff. Dellin walked 69 batters in 74.2 innings as Triple-A starter in 2012, then another 16 in 24 innings in 2013 before being moved to the bullpen full-time.

Why have Betances’ mechanics fallen out of whack? There are a million possible reasons. It could be fatigue. Maybe it’s because he’s 6-foot-8 with long limbs and isn’t the most athletic guy in the world. Or maybe he’s a mental wreck because the pressure of closing for the New York Yankees is just too much to take. I highly doubt it that’s last one, Dellin’s been getting huge outs for the Yankees for three years now, but you never know.

Whatever it is — my guess is it’s a combination of fatigue and being prone to mechanical lapses — this is something the Yankees and Betances have to figure out, and that process should start right now. Not next year. I understand wanting to shut him down for the season, I totally get it, but as long as he’s healthy, he should pitch and work on getting himself right. There are five games left this season. There’s no reason he can’t pitch in two or three of them.

“No, I don’t think (shutting him down is) a good thing to do. I think he needs to get out on some good notes,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty following Monday’s game. “I think he’s a little frustrated. But we’ll get that ironed out. He’s been through this before. I know I’ve said that, but he’s been through this. We’ll get it ironed out. We’ll give him a day off and we’ll get him back out there. ”

Now, if Betances goes to the Yankees and says he’s running on fumes, then yeah, shut him down. Pitching is inherently risky. Pitching while fatigued is even riskier. The Yankees want to get Betances right but they’re not going to risk injury in the process. If he’s dealing with nothing more than normal late-September fatigue, then fine, let him pitch. Learning to be effective when less than 100% is part of being a big leaguer.

Either way, Betances is a total mess right now, and to me it seems to be mechanical more than anything. He’s just out of sorts and needs to get himself back on track. It’s not the first time he’s gone through this — it’s the first time he’s done at the MLB level, but not in his life — and chances are it won’t be the last. He’s worked his way out of it before. Betances knows how this works.

I don’t see shutting down a struggling player as a way to deal with the problem. That’s avoiding the problem. As long as Dellin is healthy, get him out there on the mound and use these last five game as an opportunity to work on things and hopefully get him back on track.

On Dellin Betances and his recent struggles

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Last night the Yankees suffered what was maybe their most heartbreaking regular season loss of the Joe Girardi era. I can’t remember another one that bad. The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning, and a little while later, the Red Sox walked off with a 7-5 win on Hanley Ramirez’s three-run home run. Brutal. It gets no worse than that.

On the mound for that ninth inning meltdown was, of course, Dellin Betances. He’s the closer and the guy Girardi wants pitching in a big spot. It was Dellin’s third straight day of work — Girardi tried to stay away from him by going to Tommy Layne and Blake Parker in the ninth, but nope — and he was clearly out of whack, which has been the case for much of September. I have some thoughts on all of this.

1. Yes, he has what it takes to be a closer. This is as predictable as it gets. Betances has struggled the last few times out which of course leads to folks saying he doesn’t have what it takes to be a closer. Doesn’t have the mental fortitude. Can’t handle the pressure. Blah blah blah. Nevermind that he’s been throwing high-stakes innings for nearly three full seasons now and has been one of the two or three best relievers on the planet.

Here’s a quick leaderboard showing WPA/LI. That’s win probability added over leverage index, which essentially tells us who is most helping their team win in the most crucial situations. Here’s the WPA/LI leaderboard for relievers over the last three seasons:

  1. Zach Britton: +6.00
  2. Dellin Betances: +5.89
  3. Wade Davis: +5.39
  4. Andrew Miller: +5.34
  5. Mark Melancon: +5.08

Basically the five best relievers in baseball, right? Or five of the seven best with Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Point is, getting huge outs is nothing new to Betances. He’s gotten big outs in extremely high-leverage spots before. Struggling these last few times out doesn’t suddenly mean Betances is not fit to be closer. He dominated in the ninth inning last month, and when he filled in for the injured Andrew Miller last year.

2. Yes, his inability to hold runners is a real problem. Although they were scored defensive indifference, the Red Sox stole three bases against Betances last night. Instantly, too. He came in and Chris Young immediately stole second. Then after Betances walked Dustin Pedroia, Pedroia and Young immediately pulled off a double steal. Wednesday afternoon Corey Seager stole second immediately after reaching on an error.

Runners are now 19-for-19 in steal attempts against Dellin this season, and that doesn’t include those three defensive indifferences last night. This is a real problem. Every single and every walk can’t turn into an uncontested double, especially since Betances is always pitching in close games where one run is so meaningful. This is a very real weakness. A fatal one? No. Batters have a .273 OBP against Dellin this season, so there aren’t many guys on base to start with. But it is a problem.

This is clearly something the Yankees and Betances will have to work on in Spring Training next year. It can’t be open season on stolen bases when he’s on the mound, even with Gary Sanchez and his rocket arm behind the plate. Those extra 90-feet are too valuable in the late innings. I don’t know the best way to solve this (varied timing, slide step, etc.) but it can’t go unaddressed. Betances has to at least give the catcher a chance back there.

3. His problems throwing to bases are being overblown a bit. Wednesday afternoon Betances allowed the Dodgers to score an insurance run because he fielded a weak tapper back to the mound and shot-putted it to the backstop. It was ugly. Look at this:

Dellin Betances

Yikes. That has taken on a life of its own in the last 48 hours and become a big “Betances can’t throw to the bases” storyline. Last night YES showed a montage of his throwing failures this year and it was three plays. One play on Opening Day, one where he nearly threw away a 1-6-3 double play ball (but didn’t), and that play against the Dodgers. When you have to go all the way back to Opening Day to find the last time his throwing caused a problem, it’s probably not as big of an issue as its made out to be.

Now, that said, I understand the concern hitters may try to bunt and force him to field the ball, but Betances is not exactly the easiest guy to bunt against. I’ll take my chances with hitters squaring around. Trying to bunt against Dellin is going to lead to a lot of foul balls and easy strikes. Like the stolen base problem, this is something Betances and the Yankees should work on, but this story seems to have taken on a life of its own. The real problem isn’t as great as the perceived problem.

4. Once again, fatigue seems to be an issue. This is the second straight season in which Betances looks visibly fatigued in September. The high-end velocity might be there — Betances topped out at 100.6 mph last night — but he can’t locate anything and his breaking ball lacks its usual bite. Working back-to-back-to-back days three times in the last five weeks after doing it once from Opening Day 2014 through July 2016 probably has something to do it.

The greater issue is the cumulative effect of all the innings Betances has thrown the last few years. He’s thrown 70 innings this season and is on pace for 77.2 innings. That’s down from 84 last year and 90 the year before that. The single-season workload only matters so much though. There is wear-and-tear on his arm from those 90 innings in 2014 and 84 innings in 2015. Betances has thrown 244 innings the last three years, 20.1 more than any other reliever.

It’s not just the raw innings totals either. Girardi can be a bit panicky at times and get Betances up at the slightly hint of danger. Four-run lead in the eighth or ninth? Dellin gets up. We’ve seen it countless times the last few years. Those warm-up pitchers count. They’re pitches being thrown. Add in all the warm-ups and the fact those 244 innings from 2014-16 were almost all high-leverage innings, and it’s no wonder he’s getting worn down despite being 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds.

Betances’ days as a super-reliever who’d come in and get five or six high-leverage outs at a time may be over. Going forward, it may be best for the Yankees to consider him a true one-inning reliever, a guy who throws 65-ish innings a season rather than closer to 80. It sucks and it takes away from Dellin’s value a bit, but keeping him healthy and effective long-term has to be a priority.

* * *

Betances is literally the last player on the roster I’m worried about. His recent slump sucks and is very poorly timed — did you expect the Yankees to be playing meaningful games in mid-September after the way they started the season? of course not — but I don’t see it as being anything more than “he’s running on fumes and is in a slump.” I trust him implicitly as the closer and just wish he’d start holding runners better.

If the Yankees miss the postseason, it won’t be because Betances blew some games this week. It’ll be because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez completely no-showed this season, and because the rotation has been mostly crap behind Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees are still in the race largely because Betances has been so awesome this season at protecting leads. The last week or so doesn’t change that.

September is a chance for Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller to carve out roles with the 2017 Yankees

Heller. (Presswire)
Heller. (Presswire)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder had their lives change quite a bit over the last six weeks. Holder got off relatively easy. He was promoted to Triple-A in late-July and called up to the big leagues in September. Heller? He went from Double-A to Triple-A, then was traded, then got called up to the show for the first time. That’s a lot to process in a short period of time.

Heller and Holder are with the Yankees right now and they didn’t receive courtesy call-ups. Both were added to the 40-man roster earlier than necessary — Holder was added a year prior to Rule 5 Draft eligibility, Heller only a few weeks early — and Joe Girardi has used both to get some pretty important outs in their early days as Yankees. Look at the situations they’ve been brought into so far:

Heller
Start the eighth up eleven (MLB debut)
Start the eighth down three against Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis
Start the tenth up one against Raul Mondesi, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer
Start the 12th tied against Mondesi, Dyson, Cain
Inherit bases loaded with two outs against Edwin Encarnacion, up four

Holder
Start the sixth down eight (MLB debut)
Inherit man on first with one out against Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson, up four

Both Heller and Holder were able to make their big league debuts in low-leverage spots. Ask any manager and I’m sure they’d tell they prefer to have a rookie reliever make his debut in a stress-free blowout. These days the late-innings have been so hyped up that they seem to have a mind of their own.

Since their debuts though, Holder and especially Heller have been thrown into the fire. Holder was asked to go through the top of the one of the best lineups in baseball with a man on base in a four-run game yesterday. Heller was given a save opportunity on the road against the defending World Series champs in his third career appearance. Yesterday he had to face Encarnacion with the bases loaded. I mean, geez. Talk about baptism by fire.

That stuff was all born out of necessity. The Yankees were essentially out of relievers when Heller came in for the save opportunity against the Royals. Yesterday the regular end-game relievers were a bit taxed. Girardi used Heller and Holder in those spots because he had no other choice, really. Going forward I’m sure he’d like to be able to pick his spots a little better and make life easy on the kids.

Regardless of their usage, this month represents a huge opportunity for both Heller and Holder, who have a chance to solidify spots in the 2017 bullpen. Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far. No one is going to win a 2017 roster spot in September 2016. These two have a chance to move to the front of the line, I should say. That’s better. Holder and Heller want to make a positive impression on the coaching staff and front office this month.

Would it be easier to do that in lower leverage innings? Ostensibly yes. But pitching well in higher leverage spots would help even more. Neither has done that yet, though it’s still early. Also, the results don’t even have to be great. The Yankees are going to evaluate players based on their raw stuff, their composure, and their aggressiveness. A few singles falling in shouldn’t change any opinions.

The Yankees have had some major middle innings problems this season, and the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades haven’t helped. On days Luis Severino isn’t available, Heller and Holder figure to be Girardi’s go-to bridge relievers, so they’re going to pitch. These two aren’t going to sit in the bullpen and throw, like, two innings in September. They were brought up to help, and if they do that, they’ll set themselves up for more prominent roles next year.

The Pros and Cons of Putting Luis Severino in the Bullpen

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Last night, in preparation for a call-up later this week, the Yankees had right-hander Luis Severino throw 2.1 innings in relief for Triple-A Scranton. He allowed two hits and no runs and struck out five, so everything went well. Rosters expand on Thursday and Severino will apparently be among the first wave of call-ups.

The Yankees essentially have three options with Severino for the final month of the season. The three:

  1. Leave him in Triple-A and let him pitch in the postseason.
  2. Call him up and put him in the rotation.
  3. Call him up and put him in the bullpen.

The Yankees are going with option No. 3 and that’s fine. All three are fine, really. They all have their pros and cons. Option No. 1 would have allowed Severino to continue working on his changeup in games that don’t matter. Option No. 2 would have given him a chance to work on his changeup in games that do matter. Option No. 3? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss.

I know we’re all still scarred from the Joba Rules and all that, but there are some very real benefits to letting a young starting pitcher prospect — Severino has eclipsed the rookie limit of 50 innings, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a prospect — work out of the bullpen. Teams do it all the time. There are also some potential drawbacks. Let’s discuss them as they pertain to Severino.

Pro: He’ll help the Yankees win

In case you hadn’t noticed, the middle relief kinda sucks right now. Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren are not Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but by and large they’ve done done the job in the seventh and eighth inning. Everything before them is shaky. We’ve seen too much Anthony Swarzak and Blake Parker these last few weeks.

Severino has the potential to be dominant in relief. Heck, we saw him dominate out of the bullpen a few weeks ago. He struck out ten and allowed one unearned run in 8.1 innings of relief with the Yankees last month, including 4.1 shutdown innings against the Mets on August 3rd.

Simply put, the middle innings are a total mess right now and Severino is the best arm available to the Yankees. They’re still trying to make a run at a postseason spot — as they should! — and Severino is a potential solution to their bullpen problem. Putting him in a relief role improves the roster.

Con: He won’t get to work on his changeup

The Yankees sent Severino to Triple-A a few weeks back because a) he was getting hammered as a big league starter, and b) he really needs to work on his changeup. He wasn’t throwing it at all and Severino even admitted he lost confidence in it. That’s not good. It needed to be fixed and the minors were the place to do it.

Severino went to Triple-A with orders to work on his changeup and actually throw it in games, and by all accounts he’s done that. The results haven’t been pretty since his latest demotion (11.1 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 3 BB, 16 K in two starts) but that’s not a surprise because he’s throwing his third best pitch more than he normally would. Hitters can sit on it. That’s what happens.

Unless the Yankees tell Severino to continue throwing his changeup in September — that seems unlikely because winning is the priority and they’ll want him to use his best pitches to get outs — he’s not going to throw his changeup out of the bullpen. The development of the pitch may stagnate during his time as a reliever, which impacts his ability to be a starter down the road.

Pro: He’ll build confidence

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Gosh, Severino was so bad as a starter with the Yankees earlier this season. So, so bad. He has a 7.19 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 51.1 big league innings this year, and that includes his stellar relief work. When you get smacked around that much, how could it not hurt your confidence? Severino is only human. Fail at something that spectacularly and you can’t help but doubt yourself, even a little. It’s human nature.

Pitching out of the bullpen and having success is a good way for Severino to rebuild his confidence. It’s pretty clear that won’t happen as a starter. Not this year, at least. He’s had zero success in that role in 2016. Severino has pitched well as a reliever and he has the tools to continue pitching well in that role now that he’s locating his slider down and away from righties more consistently. You can’t measure confidence, but it is absolutely important. The confidence he builds as a reliever can carry over when he returns to the rotation. We see it happen around the league all the time.

Con: He’s not going to build up innings

Between the triceps injury in May and his stint in the bullpen, Severino has only thrown 133.2 innings this season. He threw 161.2 total innings last year, and unless he’s the most heavily used reliever in baseball history in September, Severino is not going to match last season innings total, nevermind build on it and continue stretching out his arm. That’s kind of a problem if the plan is indeed to put him in the rotation next year.

There’s always the option to send Severino to winter ball, but one thing at a time. Gotta get through September before sending him home to the Dominican Republic for winter ball becomes a serious discussion. Right now the apparent plan to use Severino out of the bullpen in September means he won’t increase his workload this season. He still won’t be ready to be a 200-ish inning starter next season. Letting Severino start in September, either in Triple-A or MLB, better allows him to accumulate innings and build up arm strength.

* * *

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are calling up Severino as soon as rosters expand. I’m surprised because I thought they were really prioritizing his changeup development and would leave him in Triple-A through the postseason, so he could start and really build up innings. At the same time, I’m not surprised because they are still hanging around the wild card race and absolutely need another reliever, and Severino is their best option.

I don’t love seeing Severino jerked back and forth between starter and reliever, Triple-A and MLB. The Yankees don’t exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to developing high-end pitching prospects. Severino can definitely help them in relief though, and while I’m sure they believe his long-term future lies in the rotation, the best place for him right now is in the bullpen. That role has some real benefits. Enough to outweigh the negatives? The Yankees sure seem to believe so.

Guest Post: The Future of the Big Three Relievers

The following is a guest post from longtime reader Don Sullivan, who is smart enough to avoid the comments. Don wrote about the future of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

It wasn’t too long that the Yankees were playing pretty well, was it? A big part of their success has been their bullpen. Chapman, Miller, and Betances form a historic trio. There is no denying that a phenomenal bullpen can turn a good team into a great team. The question that Brian Cashman and company have to be honest with themselves in asking is, “are we a good team?” If the answer is yes, then you keep the bullpen status quo; if the answer is no, it is time to shop. In my opinion, the magic number is somewhere between 8-12 games under .500 now that we are nearly 1/3 of the way through the year in which the answer is shop.

This post will explore the future of each of the big three and ramifications/expected returns of unloading each one.

(*Disclaimer: I am more of a fan of trades that bring in talent compared to unloading contracts. However, the Yankees do have some albatross contracts to unload.)

Move #1 – Dellin Leaves Home

Out of the three relievers, I would be most inclined to trade Betances (gasp!). In my opinion, not only is Betances the most valuable (youngest/cheapest/most years of team control) but he is also the most enigmatic. He is also the only reliever in which I think the Yankees can trade and include a bad contract with. Relievers are fickle, history tells us there are very few of them who enjoy consistently great careers.

Can Betances be one of the few? Absolutely, but I would rather cash in on his value now, which probably cannot be any higher. Is Betances enough of a sweetener to make a team like the Rangers (5.20+ bullpen ERA) bite and take on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract (also note their current CF is Ian Desmond)? Possibly. Maybe throw in a tertiary bullpen piece like Chasen Shreve or some cash to get it done. Rangers ownership has shown the propensity to spend and after last year’s debacle, they may be the perfect partner to unload Ells. The only way I am trading Betances is if the other team will take on a Ellsbury or a Chase Headley type contract. I am not personally trading Betances for controllable talent (unless I am blown away).

Move #2 – Cashman cashes in on Chapman

Aroldis is the most accomplished of the three and also has the most explosive stuff (which is really saying something). Odds are the Yankees will not dole out the big bucks to keep Chapman after 2016. Trading Chapman comes with one huge caveat, if you keep him you are guaranteed a first round draft pick when he bolts in free agency.(Recent first round picks have been Aaron Judge, James Kaprielian, Ian Clarkin, etc.)

Also of note, Chapman has been the definition of a work horse throughout his career and Joe Girardi would not have to worry about burning him out. Chapman has pitched five times in six days (2013) and six times in eight days (2012) during his career. Additionally, Chapman probably has the lowest trade value because of his limited amount of team control (half a season).

Given the Yankees farm system and current needs, I would definitely deal Chapman for either a young, controllable starter or a third baseman. The Pirates would seem to be the perfect trade partner as they know Chapman from the division and need to dramatically improve their bullpen (3.93 bullpen ERA). For me either Jameson Taillon or Ke’Bryan Hayes get it done.

Move #3 – Move on from Miller

Andrew Miller has been all the Yankees could hope for and more.  His performance has been gaudy and he has proven to be the consummate teammate. He is also signed until 2018 at $9M per year, which is extremely reasonable. I don’t know if his trade value is as high as Betances, but it is certainly higher than Chapman’s.

I do think that Miller can get a similar package to that of Ken Giles, though probably slightly less. Miller is the superior player but Giles is controlled for a longer period of time/cheaper. However, I do think a Vincent Velasquez type talent in return for Miller is not at all unreasonable. The Dodgers would seemingly salivate if Miller were available. They backed out of the Chapman deal based on off the field concerns that Miller does not carry. I would ask the Dodgers for Julio Urias (unlikely), but settle for Jose De Leon, who is much more likely.

All in all, if the Yankees choose to deal, I believe the smartest action is to move two of the three.  If the team manages to improve and play well, it still may be worth trading one of the three, however the deal better bowl you over. Of course, my trade proposals suck.

Chasen Shreve’s homer problem is too big for the Yankees to ignore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For six innings plus two outs last night, the Yankees and Blue Jays played a tight game that really could have gone either way. Toronto led 3-1 at the time but a two-run deficit in Yankee Stadium is far from insurmountable. Ivan Nova then hit Edwin Encarnacion with his 103rd pitch, ending his night with two outs in the seventh. It was a rock solid performance from Ivan.

Joe Girardi went to Chasen Shreve for the left-on-left matchup with Michael Saunders after Nova was lifted. It did not go well:

Chasen Shreve play by play

Three batters after Nova was removed, the 3-1 deficit had turned into a 7-1 deficit. Shreve allowed two home runs and a double off the wall, and all three hits came in two-strike counts. He went back out to start the eighth and got a line out to right field and a long fly ball to the warning track in left. Four of the six batters Shreve faced hit the ball to at least the warning track. Yikes.

Unfortunately, this was not just one bad outing for Shreve. He has now allowed seven home runs in 19 innings this season — all seven have come in his last 13.2 innings! — and, if you go back to last August and September, Shreve has been taken deep 14 times in his last 36.2 innings. I mean, holy crap. No other reliever has give up more than eleven homers since August 1st of last season and only four have allowed as many as ten (J.J. Hoover, Steve Geltz, Joel Peralta, Carlos Villanueva).

It goes without saying allowing 14 homers in the span of 36.2 innings is a huge problem, even if those 36.2 innings are split across two seasons. Nine of those 14 home runs have come on fastballs, three have come on splitters, and two have come on sliders, so it’s not like one pitch is consistently hurting Shreve. Hitters are putting good swings on everything. Remember, he gave up the double off the wall and the fly ball to the warning track last night too. Even the non-homers have been loud.

“Early in the year, I think it was just them jumping on fastballs early in the count,” said Shreve to Chad Jennings following last night’s game. “Tonight it was just falling behind. Small ballpark, and if you make mistakes, they’re going to hit them. Especially this team. They hit a lot of home runs.”

Shreve was very good for the Yankees early last season, and especially when Andrew Miller was on the DL for a month. He had a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 40.2 innings from April though July last year and he pitched his way into the Circle of Trust™. Shreve struggled big time in August and September, and everyone chalked it up to fatigue. It was totally believable too. He was great in Spring Training and very good the first few weeks of the season. Then, the dingers. Oh the dingers.

It’s reached the point where the Yankees have to consider sending Shreve down to Triple-A for two reasons. One, to hopefully help get Shreve back on track and effective. Two, to get a more reliable reliever in the big league bullpen. I don’t see how you could trust a pitcher that homer prone in anything other than pure mop-up duty, and Girardi still uses Shreve in semi-important spots. There’s no real indication he’ll slide down the pecking order either.

Who replaces Shreve in the bullpen? The Yankees have some options. Tyler Olson, James Pazos, and the recently signed Neal Cotts are available if the team wants a left-on-left matchup guy for the middle innings, something they lack right now. (Shreve has had a sizeable reverse split throughout his big league career.) Johnny Barbato is primary right-handed option. I guess they could always try Chad Green in relief too, or maybe scrap heap pickups J.R. Graham and Layne Somsen.

I’d probably go with Cotts myself — he held lefties to a .178/.243/.330 (.251 wOBA) batting line with a 23.9% strikeout rate last season — but you could make a case for Olson or Pazos or Barbato or whoever. Heck, they could replace Shreve with a shuttle spot and cycle in relievers as necessary. Either way, the point is Shreve is struggling far too much — especially with the home run ball — to remain on the roster. He’s been an ongoing problem.

I thought Shreve’s performance early last season earned him a chance to show August and September was a fluke, and now we’re seeing it’s not. He’s still giving up a ton of home runs and Girardi can’t rely on him right now. Shreve’s a liability. No other way to put it. Pitchers who give up seven homers in their last 13.2 innings and 14 homers in their last 36.2 innings tend to find themselves in the minors. I think it’s time to make the move for Shreve, both to help the bullpen and help Shreve figure out whatever the hell is going wrong.

Managing a bullpen isn’t easy, but sometimes it can get needlessly complicated

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two nights ago Nathan Eovaldi was removed from a start after only six innings despite retiring 18 straight batters (!) and throwing only 85 pitches. He held the Diamondbacks to one run on one hit and no walks. They hit two balls out of the infield. It was the kind of start the Yankees have been getting far too infrequently this season. Eovaldi was cruising and he looked as good as he’s looked at any point since coming to New York.

Rather than send Eovaldi back out for the seventh inning, Joe Girardi pulled the plug and went to Dellin Betances, opting to turn the game over to his dynamic bullpen. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman handled the eighth and ninth innings. Giving the ball to Betances is never a bad move — he did walk the first two batters, which was pretty unnerving — but it seemed like Eovaldi had earned another inning.

“I thought I was going to go out there, but I wasn’t disappointed with those three guys coming in,” said Eovaldi to George King after the game. Girardi added, “If I got them set up and they are rested, I am going to go to them. I could have (sent Eovaldi back out), but I am going to take my chances 99% of the time with Betances, Miller and Chapman.”

The Yankees had a two-run lead at the time and Eovaldi was preparing to face the 2-3-4 hitters for the third time, so with the team in need of a win, Girardi played it safe. Again, it’s hard to blame him given the bullpen he has at his disposal. The move was first guessed as much as any pitching change can be first guessed, and the second guessing was rampant as soon as Betances walked the first two batters.

Then, last night, Girardi did it again. Ivan Nova held to Athletics to one run in six innings and he had thrown only 62 pitches. 62 pitches! Rather than stick with his starter, Girardi again went to his big three relievers, who did the job and closed out the eventual 4-1 win. “There’s a reason we put them together down there and it’s for games like today and yesterday,” said Girardi to Billy Witz afterward.

I wanted to write something about the bullpen and bullpen management in general, but I couldn’t come up with a coherent format. I’m just going to list some thoughts using Wednesday’s and Thursday’s game as jumping off points. Got it? Good.

1. Betances needs regular work. Betances is rather unique for many reasons. He’s physically huge, he has unbelievable stuff, the results are historically great, yadda yadda yadda. Dellin has also had well-documented trouble keeping his mechanics in check, which is why it never worked out as a starter. The bullpen agrees with him because, as Betances has said, the regular work allows him to keep his mechanics tight. Yes, he throws fewer innings as a reliever, but he works more often, and that helps.

Betances had two days off prior to Wednesday and giving him three days off between appearances is when it starts to get tricky. He’s a guy who needs regular work to remain effective. It’s a tough thing for Girardi to balance, the need to get Dellin work and keep him rested for the long season. Is it really a surprise Betances came out and walked the first two batters — he had walked three batters all season going in Wednesday’s game, and two of the three walks were on Opening Day — after having two days off? Not really. The man has to pitch.

2. Assigned innings can complicate things. Girardi loves loves loves to assign his relievers set innings. It makes bullpen management simple and it allows players to settle into a routine. Ask relievers and they’ll tell you they like knowing exactly when they’ll be used. They like having a set innings. Players are creatures of habit, and when they have an unpredictable schedule, it’s tough to have a set routine.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Betances has settled in as the seventh inning guy and Miller the eighth inning guy since Chapman returned. Girardi simply bumped everyone back an inning. Most nights this is no big deal, but we’ve already seen some instances in which Dellin warmed up in the seventh, did not pitch, then Miller came in for the eighth. That’s the formula. Eighth inning guys pitch the eighth inning.

Girardi had Betances warming in the sixth inning Wednesday even while Eovaldi cruised, and since he was warming up, chances are he was going to pitch. The Yankees would have had to really break the game open for Dellin to sit down. So, in that case, why not let Eovaldi go out for the seventh, and if he gets through it clean, use Betances in the eighth rather than Miller just because it’s his inning? There should be wiggle room with those assigned innings.

(Betances was not warming up during the sixth inning Thursday, probably because he had thrown 31 pitches Wednesday. Girardi had to back off a little bit.)

3. The batter to batter strategy. By far, my least favorite Girardi move is going batter to batter with a starter. You know what I’m talking about. When the starter appears to be nearing the end of the line, he goes back out to start the next inning anyway, then is lifted after allowing a leadoff base-runner. It happens all the time — how many times do you think a starter got through an inning clean when his leash was one base-runner? — and all around the league.

Sending Eovaldi and Nova back out for the seventh and hating the whole batter to batter approach seem like conflicting ideas. There should never be a blanket one size fits all strategy though, right? It’s one thing to send Eovaldi back out when he’s retired 18 straight — or Nova when he’s getting ground ball after ground ball and had thrown only 62 pitches — and another to send, say, CC Sabathia back out when he’s already allowed three runs and a bunch of right-handed hitters are due up. There’s a certain feel to each game that has to be considered.

4. What happened to only using two of the big three per games? This sort of relates to point No. 2 and the answer is simple: the Yankees need every win they can get right now. They don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing relievers each game with an eye on tomorrow. If they have a lead in the late innings, they have to nail it down, and the best way to do that is with Betances, Miller, and Chapman. Perhaps the Yankees can climb back into the race in a few weeks, allowing Girardi to use only two of the three each night. Until then, it’s all hands on deck.

* * *

I would have sent Eovaldi and Nova back out for the seventh inning. I was actually really surprised when Betances came running out of the bullpen last night. I didn’t think Girardi would pull Nova with his pitch count so low. Girardi spent most of April talking about the need to get more length from his starters, and here he was gifted back-to-back very good outings, and he pulled the plug early each time.

It worked these last two days. I don’t think this is something that can continue all season though. When you’ve got a starter on a roll like Eovaldi and Nova last night, sometimes you have to let them handle that seventh (and eighth) inning to preserve the bullpen. Betances, Miller, and Chapman can’t pitch in every single win. They’ll be toast by August. Using the big three is mighty tempting. There also has to be some sense of bullpen preservation, and starts like the ones turned in Eovaldi and Nova give Girardi an opportunity to take his foot off the gas.