Dingers, Inherited Runners & Challenges [2015 Season Review]

Gardner hit seven three-run homers in 2015. (Presswire)
Gardner hit seven three-run homers in 2015. (Presswire)

Every year when I plan out the Season Review series, I always end up with more topics than posts. I start out rather ambitiously, then I run out of gas a few weeks later. We’re all sick of discussing 2015, right? The offseason is in full swing and we’re all looking ahead to 2016.

Anyway, there are a few weird statistical quirks I want to look at as part of the Season Review. They’re not worth their own individual posts so I’m going to just lump them together. We’ll look at these now, then next week we’ll wrap the whole Season Review thing up with some minor league reviews and that’ll be that. Away we go.

Three-Run Dingers

It was fun to get back to calling the Yankees the Bronx Bombers unironically this season. The Yankees hit only 144 home runs in 2013, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012. That’s the largest year-to-year decline in baseball history. The Yankees improved in 2013 and hit … 147 home runs. The team rebounded to hit 212 homers in 2015, the fourth most in baseball. Only the Blue Jays (232), Astros (230), and Orioles (217) hit more.

While watching the season play out, it felt like the Yankees hit an inordinate number of three-run home runs. Especially Brian McCann. Is it just me, or does it seem like the guy hits nothing but three-run homers? (He hit a team high seven this year.) The Yankees led baseball with 40 three-run dingers in 2015. Forty! Know who was second? The Rockies, Phillies, Astros, and Blue Jays. They each hit 23. The Yankees hit 17 more three-run homers than any other team this summer. They nearly doubled the second place teams.

The last team to hit 40+ three-run home runs was the 1996 Mariners (42). Heck, the last team to hit 30+ three-run homers was the 2007 Indians (30). Hitting three-run home runs is not a skill. Hitting home runs is a skill, but coming to the plate with two guys on base is not. This is just one of those weird things. The Yankees hit a lot of home runs this year in general, and they just so happened to hit a bunch with two men on base.

By the way, the Yankees ranked sixth in solo homers (115), eighth in two-run homers (50), and second in grand slams (seven) in 2015. The Giants hit nine grand slams and eight three-run homers this season. Weird.

Inherited Runners

The Yankees had a really good bullpen this past season, though they only stranded 29% of inherited runners, which is basically league average (30%). Here are the team’s relievers who inherited at least ten base-runners this season, via Baseball Reference:

Name IP G IR IS IS%
Justin Wilson* 61.0 74 44 7 16%
Chasen Shreve* 58.1 59 43 15 35%
Dellin Betances 84.0 74 41 11 27%
Adam Warren 131.1 43 17 4 24%
Chris Martin 20.2 24 15 7 47%
Esmil Rogers 33.0 18 15 7 47%
Nick Rumbelow 15.2 17 13 3 23%
Andrew Miller* 61.2 60 12 2 17%
Branden Pinder 27.2 25 10 5 50%

No real surprise here. Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, and Dellin Betances were Joe Girardi‘s firemen this year. Andrew Miller was married to the ninth inning, so those three were the guys Girardi turned to when he need an out(s) with men on base. They all inherited way more runners than the team’s other relievers. Wilson did a fantastic job stranding runners. Betances was slightly better than average and Shreve slightly worse.

What about the other side of the inherited runners coin? Which starters received the most help from the bullpen and which the least? Here’s the bequeathed runner data, again via Baseball Reference:

Name IP G GS BQR BQS BQS%
Nathan Eovaldi 154.1 27 27 31 8 26%
Adam Warren 131.1 43 17 27 5 19%
CC Sabathia* 167.1 29 29 22 7 32%
Michael Pineda 160.2 27 27 18 5 28%
Bryan Mitchell 29.2 20 2 16 6 38%
Chris Capuano* 40.2 22 4 14 5 36%
Ivan Nova 94.0 17 17 9 4 44%
Luis Severino 62.1 11 11 4 0 0%
Masahiro Tanaka 154.0 24 24 4 2 50%
Chase Whitley 19.1 4 4 3 2 66%

Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all hovered right around the team/MLB average. Believe it or not, Masahiro Tanaka was taken out of a game in the middle of an inning only six times in 24 starts this year, hence the low number of bequeathed runners.

Adam Warren, on the other hand, got a lot of help from the bullpen. They did a real nice job stranding runners for him. If they’d allowed inherited runners to scored at the team average 29% rate, Warren’s ERA would go from 3.29 to 3.84. Ivan Nova, Chris Capuano, and Bryan Mitchell didn’t get much help from the bullpen either, but they didn’t leave a ton of men on base in their limited innings.

Not all inherited runners are the same — inheriting a man on first with two outs is much different than inheriting a runner on third with no outs, for example — and as far as I know, there’s no place that breaks down all the separate inherited runner situations. That would really tell use who did the best job stranding runners. Overall, the Yankees were a league average club when it came to leaving dudes on base this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Replay Challenges

Once again, the Yankees had an extremely high success rate with replay challenges in 2015. The Yankees had 24 of 32 calls overturned on replay this year, or 75%. That was easily the best success rate in the game. The Mariners were a distant second at 71.8%. No other team was over 70%. Credit goes to baseball operations assistant Brett Weber, the guy in the clubhouse watching the video and telling the coaching staff whether to challenge.

Those 32 challenges were the ninth fewest in baseball. (The Rays and Tigers had the fewest challenges with 27 each while the Rangers had the most with 54.) That’s a lot of unused challenges. I wouldn’t be opposed to Girardi being a little more liberal with them going forward. Yeah, the success rate might drop, but it might help you win another game or two. Say a bang-bang play in the late innings of a close game. Weber might give you a thumbs down, but if it’s a really close play in an important spot, roll the dice and maybe the MLB folks in midtown see it differently.

Either way, the Yankees have been extremely successful with their challenges in the two years the system has been in place. (Last year they went 23-for-28, or 82.1%.) I’m not sure I’d call this a skill. I’d rather just say Weber is really good at his job, looking over the replays in a timely fashioning and advising the staff whether they should challenge. A few more Hail Mary challenges might not be a bad idea though. It’s okay to shoot from the hip once in a while.

Reliever usage data shows Joe Girardi is among very best at running a bullpen

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to branch out beyond RAB and get an opportunity to write about all of baseball. That’s exposed me to all 30 fanbases through comment sections and Twitter and whatnot. Based on that exposure, I’ve come to three conclusions that apply to all fanbases:

  1. They all think their offense sucks at hitting with runners in scoring position.
  2. They all think their ace isn’t really an ace whenever he loses a random game.
  3. They all think their manager is a dolt based on his bullpen usage.

We’ve all seen remarks like that before, especially if you lurk in the RAB comments. Like every other manager, Joe Girardi has made baffling bullpen moves over the years — remember Andrew Bailey facing the middle of the Blue Jays order last month in what was essentially the Yankees’ last chance to stay in the AL East race? — but he’s generally been very good at running at bullpen.

Quantifying that is tough. Brian Cashman & Co. have given Girardi some pretty good relievers over the years — they’ve had at least two elite relievers every year since 2011 thanks to Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller — which makes it easier to be successful, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, even with two elite relievers, there are still five other relievers ready to be brought in at inopportune times.

In a piece at Grantland yesterday, Ben Lindbergh reintroduced an older stat called BMAR (Bullpen Management Above Random), which essentially tells you how well a manager used his bullpen based on leverage data. I recommend reading the piece for the gory details, but, in a nutshell, Lindbergh explains BMAR helps answer this question: “In light of the bullpen he had, how much better (in wOBA points allowed) were the relievers he did choose than the relievers he could’ve chosen at random?”

BMAR shows Girardi had the second best bullpen usage in baseball this season, behind only ex-Padres manager Bud Black, who was fired at midseason. Removing Black because of his small sample, Girardi was the best in the game at leveraging his relievers. His optimal usage was 37.2% compared to the league average of 18.2%. (So yes, based on BMAR, managers used the “correct” reliever less than 20% of the time on average, though BMAR assumes every reliever is available every game, which we know isn’t true.)

Lindbergh explains BMAR isn’t all that predictive year-to-year. It tends to fluctuate. However, Girardi is one of a handful of managers who have consistently ranked near the top of the BMAR leaderboard in recent seasons, along with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Here is the top of the BMAR leaderboard from 2012-15:

BMAR 2012-15

Girardi was the very best in baseball at leveraging his relievers both in terms of wOBA advantage gained — that is, on average, how much better the reliever used is than everyone else in the bullpen — and percent of optimal usage. I know 28.8% optimal usage doesn’t sound like much, but no other manager who managed two full seasons from 2012-15 was above 25.7%. The league average from 2012-15 was 18.9%.

By no means is BMAR perfect. Like I said, it doesn’t adjust for who is and who isn’t available on a given day, and I’m not even sure if it’s possible to do that anyway. Relievers are unavailable all the time for reasons that are never made public. BMAR is a good overview stat that helps us quantify bullpen usage. The data matches up with what I’ve felt watching games over the years — Girardi and Bochy are very good, Terry Collins and Mike Matheny are very bad, etc. — so I feel it is at least on the right track.

The Yankees used their bullpen a ton this season and it was by design. Girardi tried to avoid letting his starters go through a lineup three times, and the Triple-A shuttle always gave him a fresh arm. I don’t think they can lean on their bullpen quite as much next year — asking the ‘pen to get 10-12 outs a night all summer doesn’t strike me as a sustainable strategy — but if they do, BMAR shows Girardi is as good as any manager in the game at using the right reliever in the right situation.

Ready or not, Yankees will need their young relievers to get big outs the rest of the way

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

As you know, the Yankees have used their last bullpen spot or two as a revolving door this season, shuttling young relievers in and out as fresh arms were needed. Fifteen different relievers were called up from Triple-A Scranton as part of the shuttle this season, eight of whom were called up and sent down multiple times. Ten of those relievers made their Major League debuts.

On the bright side, that’s a lot of young players getting an opportunity this season. Getting to the big leagues is one heck of an accomplishment. On the other hand, none of those relievers stuck around long enough to make any sort of impression. Branden Pinder leads the group with 26.1 big league innings this year, though that is spread across five separate call-ups. He threw eleven innings in August and no more than 6.1 innings in any other month.

It’s too late in the season now for anyone to get an extended look, but it’s not too late for one or some of these young relievers to make an impact. Despite being 13 pitchers deep, the bullpen is short right now, at least in terms of relievers Joe Girardi actually trusts. Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson are still around, but Adam Warren is in the rotation and Chasen Shreve has hit a wall. The Circle of Trust™ is three men deep right now.

Like it or not, Girardi is going to have use some of these young relievers to get important outs in these final 18 games of the season. He tried to do that last night. Things didn’t go too well:

Yankees Blue Jays

That’s a lot of sketchy relief pitchering. On Monday we saw Girardi use Caleb Cotham in the eighth inning of a one-run game with an insurance run standing on third. James Pazos and Cotham tag-teamed the ninth inning against the top of the Blue Jays lineup Sunday. Nick Rumbelow and Bryan Mitchell have both gotten the call in an important-ish situations at various points.

The Yankees do have some veterans in the bullpen, namely Andrew Bailey and Chris Capuano (and I guess Chris Martin), though neither is really suited for higher leverage work. They have experience, sure, but Bailey’s still coming back from major shoulder surgery and Capuano’s nothing more than a long man. The young kids and their power arms are better options right now, in theory. Experience is great, but present talent wins out.

With the starters failing to go longer than six innings on the regular, Girardi and the Yankees will be forced the bridge the gap with these young guys. They can’t use Wilson and Betances for multiple innings each day, not even this late in the season. Someone, be it Pazos or Pinder or Rumbelow or Bailey, is going to have to step up and get some big outs at some point these last 18 games. The Yankees don’t have any other options.

Warren’s return to the rotation thins out the bullpen even further

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later tonight, Adam Warren will return to the rotation to help the Yankees following Nathan Eovaldi‘s regular season-ending bout of elbow inflammation. He’s only going to throw something like 60-65 pitches because he’s not fully stretched out, though that’s not really a problem because the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers these days. It’ll take two or three starts to get Warren all the way stretched out.

Warren was pitching quite well when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen earlier this summer and he followed that by pitching well in relief too. He had a 3.59 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 14 starts and a 2.51 ERA (2.77 FIP) in 25 relief appearances. Warren’s been in the league full-time for three seasons now. He’s proven himself as a rock solid Major League caliber pitcher who can fill almost any role. That’s a mighty valuable piece.

That doesn’t make losing Eovaldi any less significant considering how well he pitched the last three months. Warren is a capable fill-in starter, though the Yankees will really feel Eovaldi’s loss in the bullpen. That 13-man bullpen includes only three relievers Joe Girardi actually seems to trust. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are two of the three, of course, and Justin Wilson is the third. Chasen Shreve‘s recent struggles mean he probably won’t see a high-leverage inning anytime soon.

Warren was, essentially, the fourth member of the Circle of the Trust™. His usage has been a little weird at times this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m guessing Girardi wants Warren on the mound ahead of anyone other than Miller, Betances, and Wilson. Nine of Warren’s last 15 appearances have come in games separated by no more than two runs. Girardi started using him in more important situations over the last month or so.

Losing Warren now creates a pretty substantial hole in the bullpen. Miller, Betances, and Wilson can’t pitch every night, leaving Shreve as the fourth option almost by default. That’s not good given the way he’s pitching right now. Girardi used Caleb Cotham to get relatively big outs the last two days — he pitched down one in the eighth with an insurance run at third last night, and he faced Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the ninth inning Sunday — so maybe he is being auditioned. Same with James Pazos, who also pitched in the ninth inning Sunday.

The Yankees do have former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the bullpen, and while he could be someone who sees more important innings, he hasn’t pitched well since being called up. He’s faced 14 batters with the Yankees and allowed three walks, two singles, and one home run. Opponents have swung and missed five times at his 63 pitches. Yeah, he’s a former All-Star, but Bailey’s last All-Star Game was also Ty Wigginton’s only All-Star Game. It’s been a while.

Bailey is coming back from major shoulder surgery and physically isn’t the guy he was earlier in his career. His shoulder have been compromised to some extent. It’s unrealistic to expect him to return from a torn shoulder capsule and start handling late-inning work again. Girardi could try it, and hey, maybe it’ll work over the final 19 games of the season. Weird stuff happens in small samples. It would be a surprise though. More than likely, youngsters like Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Bryan Mitchell, Cotham, and Pazos will have to step up.

Make no mistake, in these huge games down the stretch, Girardi is going to lean on Miller and Betances more than usual. Same with Wilson to a lesser extent. He’s gone to great lengths this season to rest those guys so they can be as fresh as possible for the stretch run. The late innings are fine. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances and Miller is where things can get hectic, and that’s where Warren will be missed the most.

Even with no standouts, the revolving door has been an effective last man in the bullpen

Pinder. (Presswire)
Pinder. (Presswire)

As you know, the Yankees have had a revolving door in their bullpen all season, using the last reliever spot or two — sometimes more, they’ve had an eight-man bullpen at times — to shuttle in fresh arms as necessary. Every team does it to some extent, but the Yankees have done it to the extreme this year, and it’s all by design. The plan coming into the season was to use the Triple-A and Double-A depth to constantly bolster the bullpen.

“(We had) from Double-A on up a lot of really interesting power arms from the left and right side that were under control, with options,” said Brian Cashman to Joe Lemire recently. “We talked all winter about where we could be in a situation where we’re really taking a guy every ten days. Call a guy up, max him out, send him back out and get a new guy up. It’s just kind of a revolving door.”

According to Lemire, the Yankees had made 106 transactions — that’s call-ups, send-downs, and designate for assignments — heading into last Tuesday’s game, easily the most in baseball. The other 29 clubs were averaged 67 such transactions this year. That’s kinda crazy, but it was the plan all along. The depth is there, might as well use it, right? No sense in going short-handed for a few days when you have capable pitchers a phone call away.

I count a dozen pitchers who have been on the bullpen shuttle this season, not including Chris Capuano, who always seems to find his way back onto the roster even though the Yankees keep trying to stick him in their Triple-A rotation. Of those 12 pitchers, eight have been called up multiple times. Here are how those eight relievers with multiple call-ups and send-downs have fared this season:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
Caleb Cotham 3.2 9.82 7.49 25.0% 0.0% 50.0% 4.91
Nick Goody 3.1 5.40 4.02 20.0% 13.3% 66.7% 0.00
Chris Martin 16.0 5.63 2.81 20.3% 4.1% 54.5% 0.56
Bryan Mitchell 17.2 2.55 3.18 20.3% 6.8% 49.1% 0.51
Diego Moreno 10.1 5.23 4.29 17.8% 6.7% 40.6% 0.87
Branden Pinder 23.1 2.70 5.01 19.0% 10.0% 30.4% 1.54
Jose Ramirez 3.0 15.00 6.79 10.0% 20.0% 38.5% 0.00
Nick Rumbelow 9.2 2.79 3.54 22.5% 7.5% 39.3% 0.93
TOTAL 87.0 4.34 3.91 19.6% 7.7% 42.2% 1.03
MLB RP AVG
3.63 3.74 22.1% 8.5% 45.5% 0.90

Just to be clear, this includes Mitchell’s time as a reliever only. Overall, the eight up-and-down relievers have been below-average at pretty much everything other than limiting walks this year. You can play with the numbers if you want — remove Ramirez because he’s no longer with the organization and it’s a 3.83 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 84 innings, for example — but I don’t see the point in that.

Overall, this group of eight pitchers have collectively performed worse than the league average reliever. They aren’t replacing the league average reliever, however. They’re the last reliever in the bullpen, and the last reliever in the bullpen is generally very bad. The Blue Jays, for example, have gotten a 6.80 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 41.2 innings out of Todd Redmond, Scott Copeland, and Jeff Francis this year. The Royals and Pirates have used Joe Blanton. See what I mean?

By last reliever in the bullpen standards, the revolving door has been serviceable this year. Not great — out of all these guys, the only one who has really stood out and made you think he could an impact pitcher long-term is Mitchell, who is a starter by trade — but serviceable. The advantage is always having a fresh reliever. That’s the whole point of shuttling them in and out, to make sure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm available.

How do you value something like that? I’m not sure we can put a number on it. Have a fresh “last guy in the bullpen” every night ensures the regular relievers won’t have to pick up any mop-up innings throughout the year, which can happen from time-to-time. Sometimes these guys get exposed — remember Pinder against the heart of the Blue Jays order in extra innings a few weeks ago? — but that happens with every mop-up man.

All things considered, the revolving bullpen door has succeeded at giving Girardi a fresh bullpen arm while providing the team collectively competent innings. These guys haven’t been great by any means — they’ve had their moments, but so does everyone — but the Yankees haven’t needed them to be. Soaking up innings in low-leverage spots is a thankless job. Rather than have one or two guys do it, the Yankees have used eight.

Devil’s Advocate: The benefits of moving Adam Warren to the bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees made it official prior to last night’s game, announcing Adam Warren has moved back into a bullpen role after the team used a six-man rotation for a week or so following Ivan Nova‘s return. “It’s a tough decision because he’s pitched so well but it’s what we need to do,” said Joe Girardi to reporters. Warren led the non-Nova starters with a 3.59 ERA (110 ERA+) at the time of his demotion, by the way.

The move is not at all surprising. The Yankees are unwilling to take the ineffective CC Sabathia out of the rotation — “That’s not something that we’re considering at this moment. We’re going to continue to give him every opportunity to work through this for the foreseeable future,” said Brian Cashman to Wally Matthews — and Warren has had success in a relief role before, so back to the bullpen he goes. It was an easy move and completely expected.

I don’t agree with the decision to move Warren into the bullpen for a few reasons, first and foremost because he’s still reasonably young (27) and I’d like to find out if he can be a long-term rotation fixture, not just a stopgap. The Yankees have been desperately waiting for a young starter to emerge basically since Nova debuted, and here they might have one. Now we won’t get to find out whether Warren can be a long-term part of the rotation.

Even though I don’t agree with the move, it’s time to play devil’s advocate and look at some reasons why Warren is better off in the bullpen, and why the Yankees are better with him in that role. There are two sides to every story. Time to look beyond the “Warren doesn’t deserve to lose his rotation spot” angle.

Workload Concerns

Might as well start here since this is the easiest. Warren has already thrown 85.1 innings this season, more than he threw last year (78.2) or the year before (77). Furthermore, Warren averages 3.93 pitches per plate appearance. That’s the tenth highest rate in baseball and well above the 3.80 P/PA average. Measuring Warren’s workload through his raw innings total is a little deceiving because his innings tend to be long innings, at least longer than league average.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Warren’s career high is 155 innings set back in 2012. He threw 155 innings that year and 152.1 innings the year before that, so pitching deep into the season won’t be a new experience for him. And Warren’s not some 21 or 22-year old prospect either, the Yankees can turn him loose more easily than they could someone like Luis Severino. That said, fatigue is always possible. You don’t run marathons at ages 23-24, scale back to jogging a few miles a week from ages 25-26, then jump right back into a marathon at age 27. I mean, you can try, but your body won’t like it.

Regardless of whether you agree with their tactics, the Yankees have shown they will do whatever they can to control workloads and keep their pitchers healthy. Warren is older, yeah, but he’s also under team control through 2018 and they have plenty of reasons to try to keep him healthy. He’s on pace for 175-ish innings this year and he might run into a wall at some point in the second half, and if he does, his chances of injury increase. Pitching leads to injuries in general. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous.

“My arm has felt great, but it’s only half the season,” said Warren to Chad Jennings. “I was talking to somebody about this last night; the inning issue is tough, because you usually don’t know how much is too much until it’s too late and you get hurt. I am glad that they’re looking after my health and trying to take care of me. That means a lot to me. But how do know how many innings you can throw? It’s hard to say.”

Regression Coming?

I’ve come to hate the word regression because it’s become a lazy substitute for actual analysis, but dammit, sometimes you actually have to use it, and this is one of those times. Warren has pitched very well overall this season (3.48 ERA and 4.10 FIP) and yet there are still some reasons to think he won’t continue to perform this well as the summer marches on. He’s a … dun dun dun … regression candidate.

Starting with the basics, Warren’s strikeout rate is not good at 16.1% (MLB average is 20.1%), and that’s especially true against lefties: Warren has struck out just 12.2% of the left-handed batters he’s faced this season. That’s really bad. Really, really bad. Warren’s walk (7.8%) and home run (0.84 HR/9 and 8.9 HR/FB%) rates are right in line with his career averages (8.1% and 0.90/10.1%), but his ground ball and fly ball rates are trending in the wrong direction:

Adam Warren GB FB LD 2013-15The green line is Warren’s ground ball rate and the blue line is his fly ball rate, so he’s been getting fewer grounders and more fly balls of late. Fly balls aren’t necessarily a bad thing, they go for hits less often than ground balls (but go for extra bases more often!), but Warren has also given up more hard contact as the season has progressed — he went from a 23.5% hard contact in April to 25.6% in June. So it’s not just more balls in the air, it’s more hard-hit balls in the air. Not good!

Assuming Warren’s performance will take a step back as his workload increases seems like a decent bet, I mean that happens to many pitchers each year, and the league will also get more looks at him as well. Both the Red Sox and Orioles have already seen Warren twice this year and had more success the second time, for example. (At the same time, the Rays and Tigers have seem him twice and Warren was more successful the second look, so who knows.) The general inability to miss bats and the increase in the number of hard-hit air balls are legitimate red flags however, especially as the workload grows.

Bullpen Upgrade

The Yankees didn’t send Warren to Triple-A. It’s not like they dropped him from the roster. They sent him to the bullpen, where he was quite effective the last two years in different roles. He had a 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) as the long man in 2013, which made him the Tom Seaver of long relievers. Last year Warren had a 2.97 ERA (2.89 FIP) in kind of a bullpen handyman role. He was a setup man, a multi-inning middle reliever, occasionally a long man, and heck, he even picked up three saves. Whatever Girardi needed, Warren did it.

Warren came out of the bullpen in a high-leverage spot last night, and he figures to take over as Girardi’s primary right-handed setup man until Andrew Miller returns from the DL. The Yankees have been looking for a righty reliever to do what Warren did last year, and now Warren will again fill that role. Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have been fine setup relievers. Add Warren to that mix and the bullpen has a little more balance and much more depth. Pair Warren with healthy Miller, and the Yankees might actually have that superbullpen they were dreaming about coming into 2015.

* * *

As I’ve said, I think the Yankees made a mistake by taking Warren out of the rotation, but what’s done is done. His workload going forward is definitely something to monitor, and there are some red flags in his contact rates and quality, so there are a few reasons to think his performance as a starter was going to get worse as the season progressed, not better (or even stayed the same). Plus he’ll be a huge asset in relief. The bullpen is definitely stronger now than it was without Warren. There are absolutely some benefits to the move even if the demotion is completely undeserved.

Yankees should give Bryan Mitchell an extended chance to fill righty relief void

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this month a total of 23 different pitchers have appeared in a game for the Yankees. Twenty-three! That’s a franchise record for a single month. Seventeen of those 23 are relievers. The bullpen revolving door, which has been necessitated by some short outings from the starters, has featured eleven different relievers in the last three weeks alone. It’s been quite a pain keeping our Depth Chart page up to date this month.

Anyway, the Yankees have needed to make all these roster moves because the bullpen is getting worn out and they’ve needed fresh arms. Only ten times in the last 18 games has the starter recorded more than 15 outs, and on five occasions the starter failed to complete five full innings. Nathan Eovaldi‘s disaster start in Miami and recent hiccups by Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have taxed the relief crew.

“We kind of rotate people in and out here a lot, and it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in them, we’re doing it to kind of protect the arms of everyone,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Barbarisi last week. “I think it speaks highly about our system, that the guys who are starting to rise through the ranks and are really close or, in some cases, some of them are pretty much ready, but there’s people in front of them, and it gives us depth.”

All these recent roster moves have led to several pitchers getting their first taste of the big leagues, but none have been able to stick around all that long. They were called up, soaked up some innings, then were sent down for someone else. It’s good they’re getting to experience the show! But it’s impossible to evaluate someone based on one or two appearances. The Yankees learned nothing about these guys during their brief call-ups.

The one recent call-up who appears to be getting a chance to stick around is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who is a big league veteran compared to some of the other guys we’ve seen this month. Mitchell made his MLB debut last year and has been up a few times this season, but it wasn’t until ten days ago that he got into a game, when he threw three mop-up innings in a blowout win over the Tigers. (Mitchell got a save for that!)

The Yankees sent Mitchell down for a fresh arm the next day, but brought him back three days later — Stephen Drew‘s trip to the paternity list allowed them to bring Mitchell back before his ten days were up — and he’s been in the bullpen since. Mitchell got four outs in a blowout game last week them got another four outs in a tie game against the Astros over the weekend. His first inning of work in Houston was really impressive. He struck out two and got a weak ground ball out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mitchell has been a starter throughout his career, but, with David Carpenter not working out, the Yankees are looking for a right-handed reliever to pair with Dellin Betances. Branden Pinder hung around for a little while and was decent, but didn’t wow anyone. Mitchell had a wow outing in the tie game against the Astros on Saturday, plus he’s had two other strong appearances, which appears to have earned him a trial in an unfamiliar role as a short reliever.

“I’ve been called up several times as kind of a backup and not pitched. So I’m just happy to be getting some time out there on the mound,” said Mitchell to Chad Jennings. “I mean, at this point I’m kind of ready for whatever. Obviously I’d rather be here, so whatever they want me to do, I’m not against it. I’m just going to be ready for anything … There’s only so many spots. I mean there’s, what, seven starters as it is? You’ve got to take what you can get sometimes.”

The Yankees have a history of putting starting pitching prospects in the bullpen to solve their bullpen woes, most notably doing it with Joba Chamberlain in 2007. He’s not the only one though. Phil Hughes did it in 2009, David Phelps did it in 2012, and Adam Warren did it in 2013. The Yankees aren’t unique in this regard, lots of teams break young starters in as relievers, though Girardi hasn’t been shy about using these guys in big spots, like Mitchell on Saturday.

Mitchell’s stuff fits well in a short relief role — PitchFX has his fastball averaging 96 mph so far this year and his curveball is a hammer, plus he doesn’t have much of a changeup, instead using a cutter to combat lefties — and I think he could really excel as a one or two-inning reliever this summer. It’s a new role for him and that will be an adjustment, but, like every other young pitcher, Mitchell would rather reliever in the big leagues than a starter in Triple-A.

Andrew Miller figures to be back soon, and both Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have pitched well, so Mitchell doesn’t have to take on high-leverage innings right away. Girardi said he won’t use him back-to-back days — “I think we are a ways away from that. When a guy has been a starter his whole career and works out of the bullpen you take it kind of slow just because they are not used to doing it. I think you have to be careful,” said the skipper to George King — but otherwise it’s a great chance to both help the team and expose Mitchell to the big leagues.

The move to the bullpen doesn’t have to be permanent. Mitchell can go back to starting next year, and hey, if he has success in relief this year, it could open the door to a big league rotation spot next season. That’s what happened with Joba, Hughes, Phelps, and Warren in recent years. Success in relief then another shot at the rotation. For now, Mitchell can provide some stability and halt the bullpen revolving door, and perhaps be a solution to the righty relief problem. I think he has the tools. Now it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.