Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced a new award that will honor the best relief pitcher in each league, replacing the Delivery Man of the Year award. Yes, that existed. The AL version of the new award will be called the Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year Award. The NL version has been named after Trevor Hoffman. Both players spent their entire careers in their respective leagues.
“Both Mariano and Trevor represented our sport magnificently on and off the mound and earned the universal respect of our fans in their legendary careers,” said commissioner Bud Selig in a statement. “I believe it is appropriate to redefine an existing award in honor of their contributions to Baseball, and I am delighted that many of the most decorated relievers in history will select the winners.”
From the press release, here are the nuts and bolts of how the new awards will work:
A panel of nine of the greatest relief pitchers in history will vote on the recipients of the new awards. In addition to Rivera and Hoffman, other voters will include the four living Hall of Fame relief pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Rich “Goose” Gossage and Bruce Sutter – and the three relievers who round out the top five in career saves – Lee Smith (478 saves), John Franco (424 saves) and Billy Wagner (422 saves).
The nine voters will rank the top three A.L. relief pitchers and the top three N.L. relief pitchers, based solely on regular season performance. Using a 5-3-1 weighted point system (i.e., five points for a first-place vote; three points for a second-place vote; and one point for a third-place vote), the Award in each League will be given to the relief pitcher who accrues the most total points.
Based on the voting panel, something tells me the new awards will go to whoever leads the league in saves. Or maybe the guy who finishes second if he has a really low ERA. I’m not expecting a whole lot of objectivity out of that group. Whatever.
Rivera, as you know, retired after last season and was the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the universe. Hoffman was very good himself, but Rivera was on another level. For example, Rivera allowed 38 fewer runs than Hoffman despite throwing 194.1 more innings, and that doesn’t consider ballparks and divisions and all that. Let’s not even bring up the postseason.
Anyway, awards are fun and I’m glad Mo has one named after him. He certainly deserves it not only because of the career he had, but because of the person he was and how he represented both the Yankees and MLB. I wonder who will be the first Yankees reliever to win the award? David Robertson is as good a guess as anyone, but who knows with this stuff. It’ll be cool when it happens though. Congrats to Rivera for having the award named after him.
The Yankees and Red Sox rekindle their rivalry tonight and this weekend with a four-game series at Yankee Stadium. As usual, expect the media coverage to be insane. It always is. The Red Sox have actually played quite well in the new Stadium, winning seven of ten games in the Bronx last season and 22 of 37 games since 2010. That’s annoying.
What Have They Done Lately?
Boston came from behind late to beat the Rangers yesterday afternoon, upping their record to 4-5 in the early going. Same record as the Yankees. The Sawx took two of three from Texas but before that they were swept at home by the Brewers. Can’t say I expected that to happen when the series started.
The Red Sox had a relentless offense last season, leading baseball with a team 115 wRC+ and an average of 5.27 runs per game. No other team was within a quarter of a run of that rate. This year as been a different story though, perhaps because Boston said goodbye to Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew this winter. They have a team 102 wRC+ so far in 2014, and are averaging just 3.89 runs per game. Injuries to OF Shane Victorino (119 wRC+ in 2013) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (83 wRC+ in 2013/122 wRC+ in 2014) haven’t helped either. Neither will return this series.
As usual, the Red Sox offense is led by 2B Dustin Pedroia (115/65) and DH David Ortiz (152/114). 1B Mike Napoli (129/160) does plenty of damage as well. OF Daniel Nava (128/-2) and OF Jonny Gomes (109/60) have been platooning at the leadoff spot recently, though they will typically stay in the lineup and bat lower in the order against same-side hitters. SS Xander Bogaerts (86/117) is a Rookie of the Year candidate and OF Grady Sizemore (183 wRC+ in 2014) is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Sizemore doesn’t play everyday though. He gets regular rest so he doesn’t break down.
1B/OF Mike Carp (139/90) was a force off the bench a year ago, but otherwise C A.J. Pierzynski (90/97), IF Jonathan Herrera (77/111), and IF Ryan Roberts (90/36) aren’t scaring anyone. Herrera and Roberts are platooning at third while Middlebrooks is out. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (69/174) sees regular time in center and right fields. C David Ross (86/48) is the backup catcher and will usually start against lefties. It’s worth pointing out that other than Bradley, Boston’s outfield defense is a disaster. Among the worst in the game. Hit the ball in the air this weekend.
Thursday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Clay Buchholz (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Not many pitchers leaving you wanting more than Buchholz. The 29-year-old pitched like an ace last season — 1.74 ERA (2.78 FIP), 7.98 K/9 (23.1 K%), 2.99 BB/9 (8.7 BB%), and 47.7% grounders — but he was only on the mound for 108.1 innings because of a neck problem. He has yet to throw 190 innings in a season and only twice has eclipsed even 110 innings. Buchholz has nasty stuff, but his fastball has been sitting mostly upper-80s since returning from the neck problem. Once upon a time it was regularly in the mid-90s. He also throws a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s changeup, and a mid-70s curveball. The changeup is his bread and butter and the reason why he has had just a tiny platoon split throughout his career. Buchholz allowed six runs on 13 hits in only 4.2 innings in his first starter, which is pretty terrible.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lester, 30, turned back in the ace midway through last season and helped carry his club to the World Series title last fall. He had a 3.75 ERA (3.59 FIP) overall in 213.1 innings in 2013, pairing an okay strikeout rate (7.47 K/9 and 19.6 K%) with good walk (2.83 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and ground ball (45.0%) numbers. Lester pitched much better against same-side hitters, holding lefties to a .294 wOBA while righties got to him for a .317 mark. A low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter are his top two weapons, which he’ll use to set up a mid-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. Lester allowed four runs (two earned) in 7.1 innings in his first start and two runs (both earned) in seven innings in his second start. He has faced the Yankees a ton over the years, but this is a different lineup. Lots of new faces.
Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP John Lackey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lackey brought his career back from the dead last summer, returning from Tommy John surgery and two terrible years to become a rock solid mid-rotation workhorse. He had a 3.52 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 189.1 innings last year, with an excellent walk rate (1.90 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%) and good strikeout (7.65 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and ground ball (46.8%) rates. The 35-year-old also had a big reverse split, holding left-handed batters to a .290 wOBA while righties tagged him for a .331 wOBA. Lackey’s fastball sits in the low-90s these days, and he’ll also throw a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curveball is his trademark pitch. He rarely throws his changeup anymore, believe it or not. Lackey allowed one unearned run in seven innings in his first start and two earned runs in six innings his second time out.
Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Felix Doubront (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Man, Doubront owned the Yankees back in 2012. He held them to seven earned runs in 25 innings across four starts, and I’m surprised they scored that much. He really seemed to have their number. Doubront, 26, pitched to a 4.32 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 162.1 innings last year, though his strikeout rate took a tumble to 7.71 K/9 (19.7 K%). It was 9.34 K/9 (23.6 K%) the year before. Doubront got some grounders (45.6%) though his walk rate (3.94 BB/9 and 10.1 BB%) was a bit too high. Righties (.336 wOBA) hit him quite a bit harder than lefties (.290 wOBA). Doubront lives off his big breaking mid-70s curveball, setting it up with low-90s heaters and mid-80s cutters. He’ll also throw low-80s changeups to righties. His first start of the season was okay (three runs in 5.1 innings), but his second one stunk (five runs in 2.2 innings).
RHP Koji Uehara (1.61 FIP in 2013/0.42 FIP in 2014) was arguably the best reliever in baseball last season and definitely the best in the second half. He was unhittable. RHP Junichi Tazawa (3.22/1.14) is his primary setup man right now, but I think LHP Craig Breslow (3.60 FIP in 2013) will see some late-inning time now that he’s just off the DL. Both Uehara and Tazawa pitched yesterday.
The middle relief crew is a little shaky right now, at least compared to last season. RHP Edward Mujica (3.71/2.79) still looks like the guy who lost the closer’s job with the Cardinals late in the season (15.43 ERA), and RHP Burke Badenhop (3.53/3.02) has been hit hard early this year (9.00 ERA). LHP Andrew Miller (3.05/3.22) is unpredictable and soft-tossing LHP Chris Capuano (3.55/0.72) is the long man. Mujica, Badenhop, and Miller have been lights out in the past, but that isn’t the case right now.
As for the Yankees, they’re without closer David Robertson, who will be on the DL for another eleven days at the very least. He can’t be activated until April 22nd. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the recent reliever usage. Seems like Shawn Kelley will be unavailable tonight. For the latest and greatest on the Red Sox, Over the Monster is the place to go. There is a surprising shortage of quality Sawx blogs.
These last two games against the Orioles didn’t go according to plan, and while I think intra-division games are going to be extra important this season, the two losses aren’t the end of the world this early in the season. Yes, every game counts, but there are still 153 games left to make up ground. If you’re going to drop two of three to an AL East rival, this is the time to do it. Here are some thoughts before the Red Sox come to town for another division matchup.
1. There’s been a lot of talk about infield shifts so far this season, and not just from the YES booth either. I’ve heard it on other broadcasts as well. I understand that people don’t like them because they’ve drastically hurt some players (Mark Teixeira, for example) and are taking a bite out of offense around the game in general, but shifts are here to stay. Think about what it was like when pitchers starting throwing curveballs and sliders. Breaking balls were once a new fad that especially hurt some players and lowered offense around the game. That’s life. The strong survive. If you can avoid the shift with some kind of regularity, you will be in high demand. Few things are as annoying as a player beating a ball into the shift, but once upon a time the same was true of players swinging over a slider in the dirt. Baseball is changing and this is just something players and teams will have to adjust to.
2. The Teixeira injury really exposes how inflexible the 40-man roster is right now. The Yankees have too many good but not great prospects — Nik Turley, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, and Ramon Flores jump to mind — occupying 40-man spots even though they are in no real position to help the big league team this year. The Yankees can’t designate those guys for assignment because they’ll lose them on waivers for nothing, meaning they’re essentially working with a 36-man roster. That’s how you end up recalling a third catcher when your starting first baseman gets hurt. In a perfect world, the Yankees would package three or four of those good but not great 40-man prospects for one player, a young infielder or something, clearing the logjam and addressing a need in one fell swoop. Too bad it’s not that easy. Teams usually aren’t looking to take on some other team’s clutter.
3. Carlos Beltran has started to snap out of his early-season slump, and of all the guys who struggled early in the year, he surprised me the most. That’s not necessarily because he is the best hitter of the bunch, but because he’s the most complete hitter on the team (average, power, discipline, etc.) and never has the platoon disadvantage as a switch-hitter. Those guys, like Bernie Williams and Chipper Jones, usually don’t struggle very long. Of course, Beltran will be 37 in two weeks and there’s always a chance he’s starting to slip as a hitter, but I didn’t believe he had fell off the cliff that hard, that soon after one bad week. Dude is a force when right. I didn’t expect Beltran to struggle out of the gate and I certainly didn’t expect it to last very long.
4. I get that he’s hitting well right now and Teixeira is injured (and Brett Gardner is on the roster), but I’m not a fan of Jacoby Ellsbury batting third. He’s hit with two outs and the bases empty four times in the last two games, including both first innings. Ellsbury doesn’t have much power and it’s really hard to create runs in those situations because it takes at least two hits to do it — one to get him on base, one to drive him in. (To be fair, they did score a run after he singled in the first inning of Tuesday’s game.) I like Ellsbury much better as a leadoff hitter, especially because he steals so much and gives the guys behind him so much of an opportunity to drive him in. I mean, batting third is fine, it’s not like he’s batting fifth or something. I just think the lineup is at its absolute best when he’s setting the table, not being counted on as a run producer.
5. It has only been a week, but things seem to be going well so far in the farm system. The pitchers have barely gotten any work in, but 3B Eric Jagielo and RF Aaron Judge are hitting and so have OF Mason Williams and C Gary Sanchez. You can make a pretty strong case that those are the four most important prospects in the system. Others like C Peter O’Brien are off to nice starts as well. The only top prospect who has not hit so far is C John Ryan Murphy. One week doesn’t mean much of anything, but I am glad to see some of these guys start the new season on the right foot. If, say, Williams came out of gate struggling, it would have been hard not to think “here we go again.” The good starts are nice, now they have to keep them going into the dog days of summer.
6. Now that he has two starts under his belt, what do you think about Masahiro Tanaka? I’m pretty excited even though he’s shown a penchant for the longball. He’s getting a ton of strikeouts and swings and misses, which I kinda expected to happen. He also doesn’t seem to get rattled by anything. Kei Igawa used to practically curl up in the fetal position after giving up a base hit. That is reportedly one of things that made Tanaka so appealing to the Yankees, his toughness and competitiveness. It’s not often you can see that stuff on the field, but the guy is coming into a new culture in a brutal division in a new league. I don’t think anyone could blame him if he looked like a deer in the headlights early on, but we haven’t see that. I really think Tanaka’s going to be ace-like once he really settles in acclimates himself. Everything is there for him to be that type of pitcher.
This one stung. Getting blown out like the Yankees did on Tuesday is no big deal, but dropping a close game in which the go-ahead and tying run was on base multiple times is a tough pill to swallow. The Orioles bested the Yankees in the late innings to win the series finale 5-4.
Second Start, Same As The First
In his first big league start last week, Masahiro Tanaka held the Blue Jays to three runs in seven innings of work. He struggled in the early innings before rolling late. It was a fine first impression. On Wednesday, Tanaka again allowed three runs in seven innings, this time to the Orioles. He again struggling early before settling in later in the game. Does this qualify as a pattern? Who cares.
The Orioles threatened in the first inning with Delmon Young’s one-out double — the Yankees will get him out one of these years, I think — and threatened again in the second, this time capitalizing when Tanaka hung a slider to Jonathan Schoop. The rookie infielder clubbed a two-out, three-run homer down the left field line that stayed fair and wrapped around the foul pole. After the homer, Tanaka retired 16 of the final 20 men he faced, including the last seven in a row. One of the final ten Orioles hit the ball in the air.
Tanaka gave up the homer on a hanging slider, and while it’s cliche to say that was his only mistake since they were the only runs he allowed, it sure wasn’t his only mistake. He got away with a number of hangers and high pitches in general. Tanaka needs to cut down on that going forward, but, at the same time, I think his unpredictable pitching style helps him get away with those more than the average pitcher. Here’s the pitch breakdown, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
- 101 total pitches, 71 strikes, 22 swings and misses
- 41 sinkers, 30 strikes, five swings and misses, averaged 92.1 mph and topped out at 94.4
- 31 splitters, 23 strikes, 11 swings and misses (!), averaged 86.5 mph and topped out at 89.3
- 18 four-seamers, 12 strikes, three swings and misses, averaged 92.6 mph and topped out at 95.5
- Five sliders and six curveballs. I’m pretty sure PitchFX misclassified some sliders somewhere. Seems like he threw a lot more than five.
I didn’t think Tanaka’s stuff was as crisp as it was in his first start, especially his slider, but he still struck out ten and generated those 22 swings and misses. That’s pretty great. He shook off the homer like a champ and pitched deep into the game, which is exactly what you want to see after early struggles. The guy doesn’t get rattled. It’s awesome. Tanaka is still adjusting to the new league and a new culture and all that, and I think once he gets more comfortable and gets to know some of hitters around the league, he’s really going to be dynamite. Three runs and seven innings with less than his best stuff? That’ll do.
Death By Bullpen
For the second straight game, the bullpen let the Yankees down. Tuesday’s game was mostly out of reach by time Vidal Nuno took over, but the score was still tied when interim closer Shawn Kelley got the ball in the ninth inning on Wednesday. Ryan Flaherty slashed a double to leadoff the frame, then Schoop, Nick Markakis, and Young dunked singles in front of outfielders. Every hit except Markakis’ came in a two-strike count.
Once Flaherty moved to third with no outs on Schoop’s single, the game was just about over. Kelley is extremely fly ball prone and it was only matter of time before someone lifted a ball to the outfield for a sac fly. Markakis just did one better and singled. An insurance run came around to score on Chris Davis’ sac fly. Maybe replacing Mariano Rivera with no one in particular wasn’t a good idea? Matt Thornton and mostly Adam Warren escaped a jam in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a chance, but no dice.
The Yankees had an opportunity to take the lead in the eighth inning, when Brett Gardner led off with a double into the right field corner. He moved to third on Derek Jeter‘s bunt — I’m usually anti-bunt, but I liked it there because a) I don’t trust Jeter to do anything productive against a hard-throwing right-hander, and b) Jacoby Ellsbury is a high-contact hitter — but Ellsbury popped up in foul territory and Brian McCann flew out to center. Carlos Beltran was intentionally walked in between. Ellsbury’s the goat there, if you must assign blame.
The ninth inning rally came to an abrupt end when Yangervis Solarte banged into a game-ending double play. Alfonso Soriano poked a leadoff double to second and Kelly Johnson followed with an infield single off Davis’ glove, putting runners at the corners with no outs. Brian Roberts put together a long at-bat (surprise surprise) against Tommy Hunter, eventually lifting a sac fly into the right field corner. He juuust missed the pitch. Solarte ended the game as the next batter. Teases.
Signs of Life
It sure looks like the middle of the lineup is starting to snap out of their collective slump. Soriano homered on Tuesday and has been hitting the ball hard for a few games now. McCann did not have a hit on Wednesday, but he did lace a line drive right at the right fielder and I thought he had better at-bats as well. Beltran doubled on Tuesday and continued to rake on Wednesday, with a solo homer (into the second deck) for the team’s first run and a double to help create their third run.
The third run was the essence of Beltran as a player. He pulled a double down the right field line, moved to third on McCann’s line out to right, and scored when Soriano grounded out to shortstop. Beltran is nowhere near the runner he was during his prime, but he’s an incredibly intelligent player who still runs the bases well because his instincts are so good. The double set it up, but getting to third and scoring on the ground ball was all about Beltran being such a smart base-runner.
The Yankees lost Tuesday’s game partly due to their atrocious infield defense. In the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game, the team flashed some serious leather. First, Gardner ran down a line drive in center field, a ball that kinda knuckled from left to right and couldn’t have been easy to read. Next, Soriano made a diving/lunging catch on a would-be bloop hit near the left field foul line. Finally, Roberts made a ridiculous grab on a hard-hit ground ball, going to his knees before having to reach up to snare the ball. It was awesome.
Johnson swatted a solo homer for New York’s second run, his second homer in as many days. He also mishandled a hard pickoff throw in the eighth inning, allowing the runner to advance to second base in a tie game. It didn’t come back to hurt them, but that was a clear example of inexperience burning the Yankees at first base.
Tanaka walked Matt Wieters with two outs in the third inning, the first walk by one of the team’s starters since Ivan Nova last Thursday. They went 33 innings between walks, by my count. That is the longest such streak since … I have no idea. No clue how to look that up. Sorry. Probably been a while though.
Also, with the ten strikeouts, Tanaka is the first rookie pitcher in team history to strike out at least eight batters in his first two starts. That’s kinda ridiculous. The last Yankee to strike out at least eight batters in his first two starts? Mike Mussina, who did it in seven straight starts to open the 2003 season.
And finally, Jeter’s plate appearance in the eighth inning was the 12,000th of his career, the 18th most in history. Hooray for round number milestones.
The Red Sox are coming to town for a long four-game weekend series. That’ll be fun.
CC Sabathia Michael Pineda and Clay Buchholz will be the pitching matchup for the series-opener on Thursday night. If you want to catch any or all of those games live, RAB Tickets can help get you in the door.
Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Rochester)
- 2B Jose Pirela: 2-5, 2 R, 1 2B
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K — eight hits and three are doubles
- C John Ryan Murphy: 2-5, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K — that’s more like it
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 0-4, 1 BB, 4 K
- SS Zelous Wheeler: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – having a nice little start to the season
- RHP Chase Whitley: 3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/1 GB/FB — picked a runner off first … 38 of 51 pitches were strikes (75%)
- RHP David Herndon: 2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 23 of 37 pitches were strikes (62%)
Finally. After an offseason of rumors and a Spring Training of hype and a win in an encouraging first regular season start, Masahiro Tanaka has finally arrived in the Bronx. He will make his second start of the season and his Yankee Stadium debut tonight, as the Yankees look to win this three-game series over the Orioles. The team kept him hidden from AL East rivals in camp to win games just like this.
Tanaka’s first start was a bit uneven, with a two rough innings to start the game and five dominant innings to end the outing. He admitted he was nervous beforehand and I’m sure he feels the same way again leading up to his home debut. How could he not? I’m anxious and all I have to do is watch. Just about everything is a first for Tanaka these days — this is his first start on a five-day schedule, remember — and his first Yankee Stadium start is among the biggest. Here is the Orioles lineup he will be facing and here is the Yankees lineup that will have his back:
- CF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- DH Jacoby Ellsbury
- RF Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- 1B Kelly Johnson
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
The weather in New York has been really nice all day. A few clouds but not too much, no threat of rain of anything. Pretty good night for baseball. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.
David Robertson Update: Robertson threw off flat ground today and felt fine. He is not eligible to come off the DL until April 22nd, so they have plenty of time to ease him back into things. [Sweeny Murti]
A guest post from our friends at TiqIQ:
During his impressive Major League debut, Masahiro Tanaka recorded his first big league victory by pitching seven innings against the Toronto Blue Jays this past Friday, giving up three runs (two earned) with eight strikeouts on six hits. Tanaka’s first start in a Yankee uniform wasn’t all good however, as the first batter he faced (Melky Cabrera) took him deep and there were several hard hit balls in the first two innings. Tanaka showed good poise, though, as he settled down and retired 15 of 16 batters he faced in his final five innings. He didn’t display overpowering stuff, as his fastball was mostly around the low 90s, but he showed off his nasty splitter and good control of the ball. So far it’s a good start for the $155 million dollar Yankee right hander.
The 25-year-old from Japan now has his eyes set for his first start at Yankee Stadium, Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. There is much hype surrounding the young pitcher, and Tanaka will look to show both his doubters and supporters that he is the real deal in front of the home crowd. If he pitches like he did in Japan last year, when he went 24-0 in 27 starts, eight complete games, a ridiculous 1.27 ERA, and 183 strikeouts, he’ll likely receive much love from the Bronx.
Yankees fans who are looking to see Tanaka pitch live at Yankee stadium tonight will be able to do so at a discounted price. The average ticket price for tonight’s game is $77 dollars, 40% below Yankees home season average. The get in price is $8 dollars and New York Yankees tickets are down 13% for one of the most interesting games early on the Yankees schedule. The discounted Yankees ticket prices for their home opening series with the Baltimore Orioles is mostly due to ticket prices usually falling off a bit after Opening Day for the next few games, even if a possible star pitcher will be making an appearance.
Masahiro Tanaka, before signing with the Yankees, spent seven seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he recorded 99 career wins with the team, with 53 of them complete games and a career 2.30 ERA. Tanaka has a lot to look forward tonight, and hopes to put on a show for his fans, as he puts his 29 regular season game winning streak on the line. That streak dates back to August of 2012 when he lost to the Seibu Lions.
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Outside of signing lefty specialist Matt Thornton to a two-year contract, the Yankees spent no money on their bullpen this winter. They didn’t bring in a late-inning arm to replace Mariano Rivera, instead bumping everyone up a notch on the depth chart and hoping a youngster like Dellin Betances can fill the void. I can’t say it was the ideal offseason for the bullpen, but it is what it is.
The Yankees lost their anchor the other day as David Robertson went down with a Grade I groin strain. He said he expects to be back after the minimum 15 days because of course he does. Just about every player thinks that when they get hurt. Shawn Kelley went from seventh inning guy last year to closer now, Adam Warren from swingman last year to setup man now. Thornton, Betances, and David Phelps are there to fill in the gaps.
“(Robertson) started off great, and he’s our best pitcher,” said Kelley to Chad Jennings following Monday’s game. “It forces all of us to throw another inning later, so obviously that’s not good for the whole pen, but injuries are part of it and we’ve got to overcome it. You saw today what we’re capable of, and hopefully we can string it together until he gets back.”
The first game without Robertson went fine as Warren and Kelley preserved a two-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Vidal Nuno took a pounding in mop-up duty yesterday, but that’s what he’s there for. Ivan Nova failed to get out of the fourth inning and someone had to take one for the team. Robertson’s injury doesn’t necessarily push someone like Nuno into a bigger role; the last bullguy in the pen tends to stay the last guy in the bullpen. The injury tests the late-inning guys, and right now Thornton is the only one with any kind of meaningful late-inning experience.
Of course, experience doesn’t mean a whole lot in the bullpen. Does it help? Sure. But relievers come out of nowhere every year to dominate. Experience is preferred but far from a requirement. The ability to miss bats and the willingness to be aggressive are more important, and, for the most part, guys like Kelley, Warren, and Phelps have that. (Being aggressive doesn’t automatically mean throwing strikes. Throwing strikes is hard, remember.) Until Robertson comes back, those guys will do the heavy bullpen lifting.
To me, Joe Girardi is the key while Robertson is out. He can’t control what someone does on the mound, but he can control when and how his relievers are used, something he is very good at based on what we’ve seen the last six years. Girardi knows Thornton is only a lefty specialist at this point of his career and he knows Warren is at his best in one-inning bursts, so that’s how he’s using them. He doesn’t ask his pitchers to fill a role they are not equipped to fill unless he has absolutely no choice.
Kelley, Warren, and especially Betances have big opportunities with Robertson out. This is a chance for all three to show they are up to the task of being go-to late-inning arms, which would benefit both themselves and the team. Girardi’s responsibility of putting these guys in the best possible position to succeed — it would be nice if the offense gave the staff some breathing room once in a while — while be even greater these next few weeks. A Rivera and Robertson-less bullpen is scary, so this will be a great test of the relievers left standing.
The Yankees have called up right-hander Shane Greene, the team announced. Third catcher Austin Romine was sent to Triple-A Scranton in a corresponding move. The club is now carrying an eight-man bullpen and three bench players, but I assume that is only temporary. No 40-man roster move was required.
Greene, 25, has never pitched above Double-A. He was with Scranton to start the minor league season but had not yet pitched. Greene gives the team some long relief protection with Vidal Nuno down for a few days following his extended outing yesterday. I ranked him as the team’s 26th best prospect before the season. His two-seamer does this. · (24) ·
In my opinion, the 2013 draft was the Yankees’ strongest in several years. Obviously having three first round picks helped — their natural first rounder plus compensation picks for Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano — but they landed three legitimate first round talents with those picks, plus they unearthed some gems in the middle rounds. The farm system has been in need of impact talent, and they definitely added some last summer.
Thanks to their offseason spending spree, the Yankees forfeited their top three picks in this June’s draft. That means their first rounder is gone, ditto the compensation picks for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. Their top selection right now comes in the second round, the 55th overall pick, but they could always surrender that to sign Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales. Heck, they could sign both and forfeit their second and third round picks. I’d bet against that though. Here is the team’s draft pool situation, courtesy of Baseball America (no subs. req’d):
- Second round, 55th overall: $1,018,700
- Third round, 91st overall: $585,100
- Fourth round, 122nd overall: $424,000
- Fifth round, 152nd overall: $317,500
- Sixth round, 182nd overall: $232, 600
- Seventh round, 212nd overall: $178,300
- Eighth round, 242nd overall: $157,000
- Ninth round, 272nd overall: $146,500
- Tenth round, 302nd overall: $137,600
That all adds up to $3,202,300 for the top ten rounds, or $3,359,212 if you include the 4.9% each team is allowed to exceed their pool before getting slapped with the really harsh penalties, specifically forfeiting future first rounders. The Yankees did exceed their draft pool last year, but only by 1.4%. Exceeding by the pool by no more than 4.9% results in a tax of 75% on the overage, which is a pittance for most MLB clubs.
It’s easy to say the Yankees will grab whatever top talent falls into their lap for that 55th overall pick, and while that’s probably true, they have shown a tendency to take “their guy” in the early rounds. It’s not just SS Cito Culver and 3B Dante Bichette Jr., either. The Yankees took both OF Slade Heathcott and 2B Gosuke Katoh higher than projected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it tough to pin down the players they could be targeting.
In the past, the Yankees were all about high school position players and polished college pitchers. The gears have shifted the last two years, as they’ve taken high school arms (RHP Ty Hensley, LHP Ian Clarkin) and college bats (3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, C Peter O’Brien) in the early rounds. In fact, they took two college hitters (Jagielo and Judge) in the first round last summer after taking one college hitter (OF John-Ford Griffin) in the first round from 2001-12. Is this a new trend, or a blip in the radar? I think it’s the former, but again, this makes it tough to pin down who they are looking at.
The Yankees are reportedly planning a huge international spending spree, and that’s how they will add the bulk of their young talent in 2014. Draft talent has come off the board much more linearly — the best players go early and very few fall into the later rounds, and those that do usually end up not signing — since the spending limits were implemented, so club can only add so much talent this draft. This year’s class is very deep in college right-handed pitchers and I do think the Yankees will look to replenish the pitching pipeline this year, at least in the middle rounds, but that’s just a hunch.
As I’ve done the last two years, I’m going to put together short posts for individual prospects in the weeks leading up to the draft. Here’s the Jagielo post from last year, for example. I used to group players together based on similar traits (college bat, power arms, whatever) but I think the individual posts work better. Because the Yankees don’t have a first rounder this year, I won’t be focusing on the top talents. There are plenty of places you can read about those guys. I want to look at players who could still be around when the Yankees pick. It’ll be difficult this year, but I think that will make it more fun too.