Poll: The best way to use Chad Green

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Sunday afternoon ace fireman Chad Green allowed one run on four hits and threw 47 pitches in 2.1 innings against the Rangers. That’s a poor outing by his standards. Throwing 2.1 innings and 47 pitches is not unusual for Green — it was his 11th appearance of at least 2.1 innings and ninth of at least 40 pitches — but doing so with a seven-run lead is. He entered with a seven-run lead and exited with an eight-run lead.

That happened three days after Green entered a game against the Orioles with the Yankees leading by seven. Once again, they were up by seven when he entered and up by eight when he exited. That’s … unusual. Green has been truly outstanding this season (2.00 ERA and 1.73 FIP) and using him in blowout games is suboptimal. Teams bring up hordes of September call-up relievers to mop up games like that.

Of course, context is necessary. In Thursday’s game against the Orioles, Green entered the sixth inning with an 8-1 lead, yes, but also with two on and two outs. One swing of the bat makes it an 8-4 game. And on Sunday, he entered the fourth inning with 9-1 lead and two on with two outs, so one swing could’ve made it a 9-4 game. Overkill to use Green like that? Yeah, maybe. But the Yankees also let a four-run lead and five-run lead slip away last week, so you can understand Joe Girardi‘s desire to snuff out those rallies.

Green’s usage Sunday left him unavailable for last night’s series opener against the Rays and probably for tonight’s game as well. Maybe even tomorrow’s game too. He threw six innings and 104 pitches across three appearances last week. Green could probably use a little breather. David Robertson bailed the Yankees out in the middle innings last night. Hopefully a situation doesn’t arise tonight where Green is needed in a close game but not available because he threw so many pitches with huge leads the last two times out.

There are only 19 games remaining this season and one of Girardi’s balancing acts the rest of the way will be maximizing Green’s usage. No, he doesn’t want to keep using him with seven-run leads like his last two outings. He’d prefer to use Green in close games and let the mop up guys mop up. What’s the best way to use Green going forward? These are some different options.

Multi-Inning Setup Guy

This is essentially what Green has done most of the season, save these last few outings. Green would enter a close game, fire two or three innings, and hand the ball off the late-inning guys while giving the offense a chance to add runs. He would then be unavailable for a few days, but that’s life. The upside here is multiple innings of dominance that allow the Yankees to take control of a close game. The downside is Green can only do this once every few days. The days of a multi-inning setup guy throwing 100+ innings like Mariano Rivera in 1996 are pretty much over.

Traditional Short Reliever

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

This is so very tempting anytime a young reliever has instant success. Bottle him up and assign him an inning, and move on. Instead of letting Green continue to do the multi-inning thing every few days, the Yankees could shorten his outings and use him as a traditional setup man, say as their seventh or eighth inning guy. The upside here is Green will be available for more games. He won’t necessarily need two or three days off after each appearance.

The downside is no longer having that dominant multi-innings presence out in the bullpen, so when the starter goes four or five innings — that seems to be happening more and more frequently, by the way — the Yankees would be stuck cobbling together the rest of the game with five or six relievers. And hey, maybe that’s no big deal with expanded rosters. Then again, if Girardi trusted the call-ups, he wouldn’t have used Green with a seven-run lead the last two times out.

Also, we have no idea how Green will handle pitching back-to-back days, which is something short relievers are asked to do quite often. He’s done it once this season. Green threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning against the Mariners on July 22nd, then came back to throw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. So maybe back-to-back days won’t be a problem? I dunno. There is definitely some merit to the “he’ll be available to impact more games as a one-inning reliever” idea.

Montgomery’s Caddy

In each of his last two starts, and in three of his last four starts overall, the first guy out of the bullpen to replace Jordan Montgomery was Green. Montgomery’s starts are mighty short these days — he hasn’t gone six innings since July 25th and he hasn’t complete five innings in any of his last three starts — either by design (workload control) or by performance (getting hit hard). Green has picked up the slack.

The downside here is obvious. Saving Green specifically for the days Montgomery pitches means he won’t be used as often the other days. The upside? Well, it better allows the Yankees to control Montgomery’s (and Green’s?) workload, I suppose, and it also theoretically improves their chances of winning on the days he starts. Montgomery to Green might be the team’s best hope for six solid innings every five days.

* * *

Keep in mind the season is winding down. The marathon is over. Now we’re in sprint mode now. The best way to use Green right now, over the final 19 games of the season as the Yankees try to secure a postseason berth, may be different than the best way to use him over the first 143 games of the season. I know how I want the Yankees to use Green. Now it’s time for you all to vote.

How should the Yankees use Chad Green the rest of the season?
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David Robertson has quickly become the Yankees’ best and most indispensable reliever

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees ran into a bit of a predicament last night. CC Sabathia labored through the first four innings against the Rays — he allowed only one run, but he had to work hard for just about every out — and Tampa was again threatening in the fifth. They had two on with one out, and the middle of the order due up. The Yankees were up 5-1 at the time, so with one swing of the bat, it could’ve been 5-4.

Normally, that’s a Chad Green situation. He’s been the middle innings monster all season, often throwing multiple innings when the starter’s outing is cut short. It was a classic Green situation. The problem: Green was not available. He threw 2.1 innings and 47 pitches Sunday. So, Joe Girardi did the next best thing. He went to David Robertson. And he stuck with him. Nine up, eight down, 2.2 scoreless innings to get through the seventh.

The role of Green was played by Robertson last night. Green is the guy we’re used to seeing enter in the middle of the game, fire off 2.2 scoreless innings, then hand things over to the late-innings guys. Robertson is usually the one-and-done reliever. He pitches the seventh or the eighth or the ninth, and that’s usually it. But, with Green unavailable, he went out and threw those 2.2 innings. Needed only 36 pitches too.

“That was his last hitter. I had (Dellin Betances) ready to come in. It was his last hitter. He kept his pitch count down and we felt comfortable running him back out there,” said Girardi of Robertson’s lengthy performance following last night’s game (video link). “I think he’s really adopted the attitude that ‘I’m a real team player and I’ll do whatever you want.’ He said that from Day One … Let’s win. Whatever you need to do, do it.”

It has now been eight weeks since the Yankees re-acquired Robertson, and in those eight weeks he’s thrown 26.2 innings with a 1.35 ERA (2.36 FIP) and stellar strikeout (35.6%) and walk (7.7%) numbers. After the trade Robertson told Girardi to use him whenever and not worry about a set role, and the manager has obliged. Robertson has appeared in 22 games with New York. Here’s when he’s entered:

  • Fifth Inning: One game (last night)
  • Sixth Inning: Two games
  • Seventh Inning: Six games
  • Eight Inning: Eight games
  • Ninth Inning: Four games
  • Extra Innings: One game

“I look at the spot in the fifth inning when I came in as being the same as coming in in the eighth inning. That was point where we needed to stop their momentum,” said Robertson following last night’s game (video link). “I don’t care when I pitch. I’ll do whatever it takes to get us back to the playoffs and give us a chance to get another ring.”

Since returning to the Yankees, Robertson has been the team’s best reliever. Well, second best behind Green, I’d say, but Green seems to be in his own little world of awesomeness. Robertson has been the best among the team’s regular late-inning guys. Betances has had walk trouble all year, and it has been extreme at times. Aroldis Chapman has had his ups and and downs too. Tommy Kahnle has disappointed and Adam Warren is hurt. Robertson has been steady and reliable.

Acquiring Robertson was never a luxury — remember how bad the bullpen was at the time of the trade? — though he’s become even more of a necessity than I think even the Yankees expected. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery are no longer locks for five innings, nevermind six, and Green isn’t available for days at a time given his multi-inning role. It’s been Robertson who has stepped in to fill in the gaps, and do whatever the team needs. Sometimes it’s get three outs, and sometimes, like last night, it’s been get eight outs.

The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don’t need one either

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Since the start of this past offseason, the Yankees have reportedly been looking for a reliable left-on-left reliever. They looked for one all winter and again before the trade deadline, but came up empty. Tommy Layne (remember him?) started the season in that role before pitching his way off the roster. The Yankees haven’t had a true lefty specialist since.

Chasen Shreve has spent the bulk of the summer on the big league roster and he’s not really a lefty specialist, and Joe Girardi doesn’t use him like one. Shreve has been throwing one or two innings in lopsided games for a few weeks now. He’s essentially a short relief mop-up man, not a matchup guy. This is why:

  • Righties against Shreve (career): .208/.301/.412 (.307 wOBA)
  • Lefties against Shreve (career): .248/.336/.428 (.329 wOBA)

Shreve is a fastball-splitter pitcher. He lacks that quality breaking ball he can sweep across the plate to get left-handed hitters to chase, hence his career-long reverse split. Shreve doesn’t have the tools to be a left-on-left matchup guy. Asking him to do that would be to ignore his skill set and focus only on handedness.

The Yankees have two other left-handed relievers on the roster right now: Aroldis Chapman and Caleb Smith. Smith is a long man who has the same problem as Shreve as a fastball-changeup pitcher. He doesn’t have that put-away breaking ball. Chapman has lost his closer’s job and would be the most overqualified lefty specialist in history based on his career accomplishments. The Yankees are trying to get him back on track so he can pitch full innings in close games, not match up in the middle innings.

I suppose the Yankees could always make a rare September trade for a lefty reliever — they did make a September trade for Brendan Ryan in 2013, after Derek Jeter got hurt — but I doubt that’ll happen. Besides, that player wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason roster anyway. He could help in September but not October. The Yankees do not have a reliable left-on-left reliever right now — even Chapman has had some issues with lefties lately — and, truth be told, they really don’t need one, because:

(vs. LHB) AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
Dellin Betances .116/.269/.151 .216 46.2% 11.5% 55.3% 0.00
Chad Green .143/.200/.286 .211 50.7% 6.7% 18.8% 0.87
David Robertson .171/.240/.284 .228 37.5% 8.3% 52.9% 1.09
Adam Warren .211/.268/.293 .237 24.4% 7.3% 45.5% 0.47

Aside from Tommy Kahnle, who hasn’t had much success against lefties this year (.318 wOBA), the Yankees top right-handed relievers are all very effective against lefties. Betances and Robertson have been better against lefties than righties this year, at least in terms of wOBA, and both Green and Warren have been great against opposite hand batters too. I know Green’s shockingly low 18.8% ground ball rate against lefties is a little scary, but I’ll live with it when it comes with a 50.7% strikeout rate. He doesn’t get squared up often anyway.

The Yankees aren’t desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever right now because they have four righties who can get out lefties. And here’s the important part: Girardi seems to understand that. Girardi leaves all those guys in to throw full innings, often more in the cases of Green and Warren. He doesn’t get cute trying to match up with a lefty. He didn’t do it when they had Layne and he’s not doing it now. That’s good. Stick with your best arms rather than try to force something for the sake of handedness.

Looking ahead to the postseason — the Yankees have to get there first, of course — potential opponents do have some quality left-handed hitters. The Indians have Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, at least when they’re healthy. The Astros have Brian McCann. The Red Sox have Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario. The Orioles have Chris Davis and Seth Smith. The Angels have Kole Calhoun. So on and so forth.

Potential postseason opponents have strong lefties in their lineup, so it would’ve been nice to add a quality left-handed specialist at some point. It’s a little too late though, and besides, in the late innings of a close game, who do you want facing Brantley or Benintendi or Davis, some lefty specialist or Robertson or Betances or Green? Exactly. Give me the high-end righties over the matchup lefties. That’s what we’re going to see down the stretch and that’s why I don’t think the lack of a reliable lefty specialist is that big a deal.

Now, here’s the x-factor: Jaime Garcia. Even though he had his last start skipped, he’s going to end up starting against at some point during the regular season. It’s hard to see how he fits into a potential postseason rotation barring injury though. He has that killer breaking ball to neutralize lefties and could be a potential left-on-left matchup option. The numbers:

  • Righties against Garcia (2017): .263/.347/.441 (.335 wOBA) with 16.0 K% and 11.3 BB%
  • Lefties against Garcia (2017): .242/.277/.379 (.282 wOBA) with 26.3 K% and 3.9 BB%

Jordan Montgomery‘s numbers against lefties aren’t so great (.319 wOBA), plus he’s never pitched out of the bullpen before, which is why I don’t think he’s much of a lefty reliever candidate. Garcia has some bullpen experience — he relieved a bunch as a rookie and made two bullpen appearances last season — and besides, unlike Montgomery, the Yankees presumably aren’t worried about his long-term development. Garcia very well might be the team’s best option for a left-on-left matchup reliever in the postseason, should they decide they absolutely need one.

At this point in time, the Yankees do not have an obvious lefty specialist in their bullpen, and it’s really no big deal considering how effective their top righties are against lefties. A lefty specialist is one of those things teams would like to have but don’t absolutely need. Neither the Cubs nor the Indians had a lefty specialist last year. They just had really good relievers. That’s where the Yankees are. Who needs a lefty specialist when Robertson, Betances, Green, or Warren (or Chapman) could be getting those outs instead?

It’s time to give Chapman a temporary break from closing

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have a bit of a closer problem right now. Aroldis Chapman was able to close out last night’s game, though not before allowing a two-run home run to Amed Rosario. It was the third straight game in which Chapman has allowed a run. Already this year Chapman has allowed more runs than he did in any season from 2014-16, and that’s despite missing a month with an injury and there still being six weeks to go in the season.

The Yankees have had a closer problem pretty much all season, but things are really starting to come to a head now, with the postseason races heating up and every win being so crucial. They’re 4.5 games back in the AL East and can’t afford to fall any further behind, and they’re 3.5 games up on a wildcard spot with about seven teams breathing down their neck. Letting late leads slip away is a good way to blow a postseason spot, and Chapman has done this a few too many times this year.

The facts: Chapman has been more hittable this season and he isn’t missing as many bats as he once did. He still misses a lot of bats compared to the average pitcher, but his swing-and-miss rate is way down compared to the rest of his career. The Yankees didn’t give Chapman a record contract to be a bit better than average. They brought him in to be super elite and to lock down every late lead. Some numbers:

  • Strikeout Rate: 32.2% (career 41.6%)
  • Swing & Miss Rate: 12.4% (career 17.2%)
  • Opponent’s Batting Line: .229/.325/.336 (career .162/.267/.237)

Everything is down — well, up in the case of the opponent’s batting line, but you know what I mean — and it goes beyond those three stats as well. Chapman’s chase rate is down, so hitters aren’t expand the zone as often. His hard contact rate is up too, so when batters do get the bat on the ball, they’re hitting it fairly well. Here’s what really scares me:

aroldis-chapman-contact-rate

The ability to miss bats in the strike zone, the very essence of what has made Chapman so dominant in his career, has been fading. And this is all related, of course. Chapman’s strikeouts are down and his hard contact is up because hitters are making more contact on pitches over the plate. Why is that happening? I don’t know. We’ve tried to figure it out. Whatever it is, something’s not right. This clearly isn’t the same guy we saw last year.

I don’t want this to turn into another “what’s wrong with Chapman” discussion, so let’s get away from that and get down to the matter at hand: should Chapman remain the closer? I mean, no, because he is clearly not the best (or second best, or third best, or fourth best, or even fifth best at this point) reliever in the bullpen. I’m not sure anyone would argue otherwise. The following two statements are true:

  1. The Yankees have several better options to protect a small lead in the late innings right now. David Robertson is the easy replacement closer candidate, though Monday night, it was Robertson in the eighth and Dellin Betances in the ninth. Both guys are qualified to close.
  2. The Yankees need to get Chapman back on track. As deep as the bullpen is right now — seriously, they could let Robertson and Betances share closing duties, and still have Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle (and Adam Warren!) for all other situations — the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is Chapman.

Chapman said all the right things following the game last night. “My job is to be ready to pitch everyday. As far as where I pitch, that’s not up to me. If at some point they need to remove me from the closer’s position, I’m always going to be ready to pitch,” he said to Brendan Kuty. Does Chapman want to close? Of course. Everyone does. And that’s good. You want your players to be motivated.

For the Yankees, however, giving up on Chapman as their closer four months into a reliever record five-year contract would be pretty embarrassing. Also embarrassing: missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years. That’s what’s at stake here. It’s one thing to ride it out with Derek Jeter hitting second in his final season just because he’s Derek Jeter. It’s another to stick with a struggling Chapman in close games because he’s so early into his mammoth contract.

The Yankees may have been thrown a bit of a lifeline last night when Chapman pulled up lame covering first on the final play of the game. He hurt his right hamstring, and while Chapman said it’s no big deal, the Yankees are going to send him for tests today. A minor hamstring injury would open the door for a quick reboot on the 10-day DL. Let someone else close for the time being and let Chapman work through some things during his side work without tying up a roster spot. That sort of thing.

Keep in mind the Yankees have resisted these phantom DL stints — this one might not a phantom DL stint given the hamstring, but you know what I mean, those “he’s not really hurt but we want him to step back and regroup” DL stints — for whatever reason. Masahiro Tanaka was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in April and May and we all kept waiting for the phantom DL stint that never came. The Yankees stuck with him and hey, Tanaka turned it around.

Things are slightly different here because a struggling closer means blown leads and wins turning into losses. Closer is a high-profile role, and when that guy fails, it’s plastered on the front page the next morning. Blown saves are demoralizing. So maybe the Yankees, knowing they have a deep bullpen and better options available, would be more open to giving Chapman a little ten-day vacation in an effort to sort things out on the side. Assuming the hamstring injury is as minor as Chapman says it is, of course. Hopefully it is.

Ultimately, the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is dominating and closing games out in the ninth inning, freeing up Robertson and Betances and everyone else to handle the middle innings. Right now though, Chapman is a liability, and the Yankees don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice in close games. They need those wins to stay in the postseason race and Chapman is not the best man for the closer’s job at the moment. It couldn’t be any more clear.

“I haven’t (thought about making a change at closer) yet,” said Joe Girardi to Kuty following last night’s game. Obviously, I rethink everything everyday, but it’s quite quick after the game and I haven’t really thought about it … I still really believe in him. There are other guys in that bullpen who have had tough times this year and we didn’t abandon him. If you start doing that every time a player starts having a rough time, it can be risky.”

The priorities here are, in order, winning games and getting Chapman back on track. The latter will help you do the former, but the latter hasn’t happened yet. If the hamstring doesn’t land Chapman on the DL, a temporary demotion to lower leverage relief work is in order. This is not two or three rough outings. It’s been pretty much all season. The Yankees have to get Chapman right. Not cross their fingers and hope he protects late leads when better options are available. Until he gets back on track, someone else should handle the ninth inning.

Sunday Links: Walker, Best Tools, Bullpen, Food Safety

Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will wrap up their three-game weekend series with the ESPN Sunday Night Game later today. The game should end sometime Monday morning. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

More Yankees-Mets trade deadline drama. According to Mike Puma, the Yankees and Mets agreed to a Neil Walker trade prior to the trade deadline, but the Yankees backed out due to medical concerns. Puma says the Mets believe the Yankees used the medical concerns as an excuse to back out after finishing the Sonny Gray trade. Hmmm. Walker returned from a partially torn hamstring a few days before the trade deadline and had back surgery late last year.

Walker, 31, was traded to the Brewers last night and is hitting .264/.339/.442 (107 wRC+) with ten home runs in 299 plate appearances this season. Although he’s primarily a second baseman, the Mets also used Walker at first and third bases. He’s an impending free agent and the Yankees would have presumably used Walker at second base until Starlin Castro returned, then shifted him into a utility role. Eh, whatever. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little sick of this Yankees-Mets drama.

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features of the year is Baseball America’s annual best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches and scouts about the best tools and players in their leagues, from MLB all the way down to Low-A. Here’s where the various Yankees ranked:

Bell, the longtime big leaguer, is in his first season managing High-A Tampa after spending 2013 as the Pirates hitting coach and 2014-15 as the Reds bench coach. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with him going forward. If Bell is a highly regarded managerial prospect as the survey suggests, either the Yankees are going to have to move him up the ladder, or they’ll lose him to an organization that will move him up.

Also, must be a down year for relievers in the Sally League, huh? Lane, who has since been promoted to High-A Tampa, is a 23-year-old former tenth round pick, and a sinker/slider lefty with middling velocity and a low arm slot. A classic left-on-left matchup profile. He’s got really good numbers this year, throwing 57 innings with a 1.26 ERA (2.26 FIP) and strong strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.7%) rates. Not sure he’s much of a prospect though.

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

Not surprisingly, the Yankees sit atop the ZiPS bullpen projections for the rest of the season, so says Dan Szymborski. Projections don’t really mean anything, of course. They’re not predictions. They’re more like an estimate of talent level. Anyway, here’s what ZiPS has to say about New York’s new-look bullpen:

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman was already one of the best, if not THE best, one-two relief punch in baseball. Now you add in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the latter possibly the most underappreciated player acquired this deadline. Even Adam Warren has been lights-out, with a 1.97 ERA/2.69 FIP. Not to mention the team’s remaining big acquisition: Adding the complete absence of Tyler Clippard.

The bullpen before the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP). The bullpen since the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 2.09 ERA (2.64 FIP). That 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP) before the trade is a little deceiving too, because Jonathan Holder and especially Clippard had become wholly unreliable. They started the season well before crashing hard. The Yankees needed to fix their bullpen at the trade deadline, and they did exactly that. Too bad the starters are all getting hurt and the offense has since gone in the tank.

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

Earlier this week Tanner Walters, using public inspection records, compiled ballpark food safety rankings. How clean are the facilities, is everything stored properly, so on and so forth. Yankee Stadium ranks 21st among the 28 parks in the rankings (data wasn’t available for Progressive Field or Comerica Park), and ranking 21st among 28 teams seems not good? From Walters:

Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.

Kinda gross! Even with recent improvements, the concessions at Yankee Stadium lag big time in quality and selection behind the rest of the league — the concessions at Citi Field are so much better it’s not even funny, and it’s not just Shake Shack — and apparently they’re lacking in cleanliness and proper food safety too. Yuck.

A calm, rational discussion about the Yankees’ dumpster fire of a bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In a season full of ugly bullpen meltdowns, the Yankees hit a new low last night. Three relievers combined to walk six of 13 batters faced, and another was hit by a pitch. Dellin Betances, working for the third straight day, couldn’t protected a one-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. Why was he working for the third straight day? Because he had to bail out Jonathan Holder with a five-run lead (!) Monday night.

Holder was sent down prior to yesterday’s game, though by then the damage had been done. Betances had to pitch Monday night and Holder himself has helped blow a few games these last few weeks. He’s not the only problem though. Hardly. He’s part of the problem. Not the problem. Here is the bullpen in June:

4.56 ERA
4.55 FIP
25.2 K%
12.3 BB%
1.29 HR/9

Can’t win like that. Can’t be done. Not with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings each passing season. Bullpens are far too important to get that performance for a month and come out unscathed. The Yankees were four games up in the AL East as recently as 16 days ago and now they’re one game back, and they’re lucky they’re still that close. June has been a terrible month for the Yankees overall and especially the relief crew.

So what do the Yankees do now? It’s easy to say they should designated this guy for assignment, send down that other guy, and call up those two prospects I really like. I wish it were that easy. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman surely wish it was as well. Want to get this bullpen on track? Here are some possibly fixes.

1. Eight is too many. The Yankees have been carrying eight relievers for weeks now and I think it’s that’s too many. Even with a seven-man bullpen, that last guy gets used maybe once a week. Domingo German was brought into the eighth inning of a two-run game last night after pitching once in the previous nine days. How could you expect a kid who has never been a reliever before to be sharp after that layoff?

Removing an arm from the bullpen seems counterintuitive when no one can protect a damn lead, but less is often more. Shorten the staff to your seven best arms and make sure they each get enough work to stay sharp and ready to go. There’s a fine line between regular work and overwork, but Girardi is generally pretty good at toeing that line. Pick your seven best arms and let them carry the load. Eighth relievers only get used in blowouts, and in situations they’re unqualified to pitch, like German last night.

2. Get Betances to go back to the fastball. En route to blowing that game last night, Betances threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were curveballs. Only six of the 13 were strikes too. Dellin has a great curveball! He’s also been leaning on it way too much lately. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-pitch-selection

This is something that goes back to last year. It’s not necessarily new. Throwing all those curveballs is fine when Betances can drop it in for strikes, but lately throwing it for strikes has been a problem, and he’s not adjusting. He’s been trying to force it in there anyway. Not good!

“I have to be able to rely on my fastball more. Probably got too breaking ball happy,” said Betances to Erik Boland following last night’s game, so he’s aware that all these curveballs can be a problem. Dellin has a great fastball. He was working for a third straight night last night and the pitch still averaged 97.5 mph and topped out at 98.2 mph.

Betances doesn’t have to shelve the curveball entirely. That would be silly. But I think he needs to start using his fastball more often — he’s at his best when he has close to a 50-50 mix a la 2014 and 2015 — because a) his heater is so good he’ll get swings and misses with it, and b) it’ll help keep hitters off the breaking ball.

3. Give Webb a shot. The Yankees have been trying to dig up a reliable left-handed middle reliever since last season and, for a while, Tommy Layne did the job. Chasen Shreve has been the guy last few weeks and he’s had his moments. He hasn’t been able to get back to where he was in the first half of 2014 and chances are he never will, though he has been better this season. Good, not great.

Webb is by no means a budding shutdown reliever — or maybe he is! — though the tools are there for him to contribute, and as something more than a left-on-left matchup guy too. He’s low-90s with the fastball and he throws both a slider and changeup regularly. It’s a starter’s repertoire in the bullpen. Webb throws strikes — he has a 34.1% strikeout rate and a 2.2% walk rate in Triple-A this year — and what more could you ask? Girardi would have killed for a reliever who could throw strikes last night.

Layne fizzled out and Shreve isn’t good enough to keep a middle relief spot uncontested. Webb did everything he had to do at Triple-A over the last four years, and the Pirates saw enough to give him a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Given the bullpen issues, the time to give the 26-year-old a chance is now. If it works, wonderful. If not, then you move on to the next guy. The Yankees have been there, done that with Layne and Shreve.

4. Consider Adams. I’m ready for the Yankees to stick Chance Adams, their top Triple-A pitching prospect, in the big league bullpen. I made this argument last week. Adams was a reliever in college and in his first partial season of pro ball, so he’s familiar with the role. He misses bats and he’s said to be a tough as nails competitor, and that’s never a bad thing. Adams has had success at Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s ready to help in some capacity.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

I get that people are squeamish about putting a top starting pitcher prospect in the bullpen, but it’s really not that big a deal. Teams have been breaking in their young arms as relievers for decades. I know the Yankees seemed to botch things with Joba Chamberlain, but Luis Severino was in the bullpen last year, and look at him now. Severino doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last season. I absolutely believe that.

Putting Adams in the bullpen allows him to get his feet wet at the MLB level and learn how to get big leaguers out. That’s valuable experience! That will help a) the Yankees win games right now, and b) Adams succeed as a starter going forward. The Yankees could break him in as a reliever this year and consider him a rotation candidate next season. That is a perfectly reasonable development plan.

5. Be patient. Okay, this won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to remain patient and not completely tear things down because of a bad month. Overreacting is never good. The bullpen isn’t actually this bad. At least I don’t think it is. The relievers are in a collective funk right now. It happens. They can make some changes (Webb, Adams, etc.) though overall, they still need Betances and Aroldis Chapman to be their rocks, and Tyler Clippard to be not awful.

Adam Warren is expected back from the disabled list next week and he’ll going to help as long as his shoulder stays healthy. That’s tricky, but Warren has never not been solid for the Yankees. Also, Chad Green seems to be coming into his own as a reliever, so within a few weeks he could really find his footing and take off as a dominant bullpen arm. Making tweaks at this point makes sense. There’s also something to be said for trusting the guys in the bullpen to sort things out soon. We know these guys can be reliable because they were just a few weeks ago.

* * *

The Yankees are 11-14 overall in June — they’ve outscored their opponents by 39 runs this month, underscoring the general stupidity of baseball — and the bullpen is a big reason why. It’s not the only reason. Definitely not. But it is the reason that is most smacking us in the face. The offense has vanished for long stretches of time and the starters haven’t been great either. Don’t get me started on the baserunning either. Goodness. Those outs on the bases added up.

The bullpen situation, however, is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Just when you think they can’t sink to a new low, they go out and do what they did last night. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere with the bullpen performing like this. Changing some personnel, changing some roles, and changing some pitch selection could go a long way to getting things straightened out. And, if it doesn’t, the Yankees will have no choice but to really shake things up and go outside the organization for help.

Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, and the Yankees’ need for middle relief help

Adams. (Times Leader)
Adams. (Times Leader)

It happened again last night. For the fifth time during the seven-game losing streak, the bullpen let a winnable game slip away in the late innings. Tyler Clippard did the honors again, this time by allowing three runs in the span of four batters. Sometimes the bullpen is going to let a game slip away. It happens. That’s baseball. It has been happening entirely too often this last week though. It’s bad.

The Yankees did welcome Aroldis Chapman back from the disabled list Sunday, and adding him to the bullpen will no doubt help. Dellin Betances is now freed up for seventh and eighth inning work. Beyond those two though, the Yankees are without the injured Adam Warren, have a malfunctioning Clippardbot, and will need guys like Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve to get big outs. Not ideal!

The season is more than one-third of the way complete now, and it’s looking like the bullpen needs more help than a healthy Chapman. The trade deadline is coming up and trades are fun! We’re going to talk about them a bunch in the coming weeks. No doubt about it. But give the Yankees and Brian Cashman a truth serum, and I’m guessing they’d say they’d rather not trade prospects for non-elite bullpen help.

With the Yankees in the middle of their youth movement, going out and making a trade to shore up the bullpen may be Plan B. Plan A could be looking for help within first. We’ve seen guys like Gio Gallegos and Ben Heller already, and they could get more chances. I’m not talking about them though. The Yankees could turn to some of their high-end minor league starters for bullpen help, specifically Chance Adams and Domingo Acevedo. Let’s talk this out.

1. Using minor league starters as big league relievers is tried-and-true. Teams have been doing this for decades now. It’s not a new idea. Chris Sale spent his first year and a half as a big leaguer in the bullpen before transitioning into the rotation and becoming an ace caliber starter. So did Carlos Martinez. Jeff Samardzija, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Dylan Bundy, Adam Wainwright. They all broke into the show as relievers.

The Yankees have done this too. They did it with Joba Chamberlain, most notably. Phil Hughes spent just about the entire 2009 season in the bullpen. Luis Severino did the bullpen thing last season before getting another chance to start this year. I know we’re all still scarred from the Joba Rules and the weird way the Yankee used Joba late in 2009 and all that, but that was almost ten years ago now. The Yankees have learned from that. I know that because they’ve done absolutely nothing like it since.

The bottom line is this: if the Yankees believe in a player as a starting pitcher, they’re going to give him a chance to start at some point, likely sooner rather than later. They are not against an apprenticeship in the bullpen, however, because that can be beneficial too. Learning how to get outs in the big leagues is valuable experience regardless of role. Does Severino become the pitcher he is today without pitching out of the bullpen last season? I don’t think so.

2. Both Adams and Acevedo can miss bats, and that’s huge. I’m of the belief that the ability to miss bats is essential for bullpen arms. The Warren types, who succeed despite an okay-ish number of strikeouts thanks to weak contact and deep arsenals, are pretty rare. Being able to miss bats and get swings and misses in the late-innings is crucial. That ability to escape jams — or prevent rallies from getting started — by limiting balls in play is huge. Huge.

Both Adams and Acevedo can miss bats. They’ve racked up strikeouts in the minors — Adams has a 25.5% strikeout rate this year, Acevedo 26.2% — and the scouting reports suggest it’s not a fluke. Adams has a mid-90s fastball and a pair of quality breaking balls in his curveball and slider. Acevedo is 6-foot-7 with big extension on his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, plus he has a quality changeup. Let them air it out in relief for an inning or two at the time and these guys could run strikeout rates north of 30%.

3. It won’t be long before they bump up against their workload limits. I don’t know what the number for either guy is, but the number exists. The Yankees have some workload limit in mind for Adams and Acevedo, two of their top pitching prospects, because they want to protect their arms long-term. Here are their recent innings totals:

Adams Acevedo
2014 56.1 15.1
2015 94.1 49.2
2016 127.1 93
2017 so far 75.2 81.2
2017 limit 160? 140?

The old and outdated Verducci rule says you shouldn’t increase a young pitcher’s workload more than 30 innings from one year to the next, but that is, well, old and outdated. Teams are smarter than that now. Every pitcher is different and a blanket “no more than a 30-inning increase” doesn’t make sense.

The Yankees are fairly aggressive with their workload increases. Severino threw nearly 50 more innings in 2015 than he did in 2014, for example. (He threw 48.2 more innings, to be exact.) The Yankees will set limits and stick to them, however. They shut Adams down completely right before Double-A Trenton started the postseason last year. Took away the club’s best pitcher for the sake of his long-term health.

Whatever it is, Adams and Acevedo have an innings limit this year. Maybe it’s the 160 innings and 140 innings I threw in the table. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, rather than shut these down like they did with Adams last year, the Yankees could use those final few innings — their last, say, 20-25 innings, maybe? — out of the big league bullpen.

Remember, we’re not talking about Single-A pitchers here. Both Adams and Acevedo are in Triple-A now. Letting a young, talented pitcher reach his workload limit only to shut him down for the year in Triple-A rather than give him a chance to help the MLB team, even as a September call-up, almost seems wasteful.

Big Sunday. (Icon Sportswire)
Big Sunday. (Icon Sportswire)

4. Service time, minor league options, and the 40-man roster aren’t obstacles. Any time you call up a player, there are roster consequences to be considered. In the case of Adams and Acevedo, neither is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have an open 40-man spot right now, plus Greg Bird is a 60-day DL candidate, though that might not be the case when they’re ready to call up these two pitchers.

Acevedo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so calling him up would simply be getting a head start and adding to the 40-man a few weeks early. Adams won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season, however. And once both guys are on the 40-man roster, they’re not coming off. The Yankees would be tying up a spot for good and that limits their roster flexibility. That’s not nothing!

That said, Acevedo is going to end up the 40-man roster soon anyway, and Adams is likely going to be big league ready before being Rule 5 Draft eligible. This isn’t like adding, say, Jorge Mateo to the 40-man last year. Mateo is a Single-A kid who isn’t MLB ready but was Rule 5 Draft eligible. Acevedo and Adams would be added to the 40-man when the Yankees deem them MLB ready. They’d be on the roster because they’re ready to help.

As for minor league options and service time, who cares? It’s not worth worrying about service time with non-elite prospects, especially pitchers because they get hurt so often. And if the Yankees run into options trouble with Acevedo and Adams down the line, then things are going wrong. Not being able to send them to the minors in 2020 would mean something has gone wrong. These roster issues really aren’t worth worrying about.

* * *

All of that was a long way of saying that if the Yankees consider Adams and Acevedo big league ready, there’s no good reason not to use them as relievers. The guys in the bullpen are not getting the job done and sticking with the status quo might not be viable much longer. The Yankees are going to have to get some new bodies in there if things don’t change soon.

Adams and Acevedo can go back to starting next year and the roster situation isn’t enough of an obstacle. Maybe the Yankees end up needing both Adams and Acevedo in the rotation and this is all moot. If not though, the bullpen is waiting, and both should be considered middle relief options. If they’re deemed ready to help, let them help, even if they’re only throwing one inning at time.