Via Sweeny Murti, left-hander CC Sabathia came through today’s 38-pitch bullpen session just fine and doesn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be able to start on Friday, the first day he is eligible to come off the DL. The Yankees still need to see how he feels tomorrow before making it official, however. Sabathia has been on the DL for a little than two weeks with stiffness in his left elbow.
While the middle relief has been a bit of an ongoing problem, the Yankees and their fans have to feel pretty confident when they head into the eighth inning with a lead. Rafael Soriano has been absolute money as the full-in closer, and David Robertson continues to be one of the game’s best setup relievers. He hasn’t been as outright dominant as he was a year ago, but that was to be expected to a certain extent. It’s very tough to repeat a season like that.
Robertson, 27, has pitched to a 2.45 ERA (2.55 FIP) with his usual sky-high strikeout rate (12.50 K/9 and 33.7 K%) in 40.1 innings this season while dealing with an oblique injury. His walk rate (3.79 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%) is a career-low, his ground ball rate (50.5%) a career-high, and his homer rate (0.67 HR/9 and 9.4% HR/FB) the second best of his career. Robertson’s been quiet excellent in the late innings this year, a worthy complement to Soriano.
All of that is why I think it’s pretty interesting that Robertson has basically stopped throwing his curveball in recent weeks. He’s thrown nothing but fastballs in each of his last three appearances, though one of those was a one-pitch appearance (the double play against the Blue Jays). Robertson threw three straight curveballs to start out an at-bat against Edwin Encarnacion on August 10th and he hasn’t thrown a breaking ball since, a span of 12 batters faced and 39 pitches.
According to PitchFX, David has thrown 33.2% four-seamers, 48.6% cutters, and 17.0% curves this year. Those are two career-lows sandwiched around a career-high. Last season it was 49.6% four-seamers, 26.5% cutters, and 20.4% curves. With some help from Texas Leaguers, here’s a quick little month-by-month breakdown of his pitch usage this year…
We’re dealing with a reliever here, so the sample sizes are going to be inherently small. Add in the oblique injury a few months ago, and the samples get even smaller. There isn’t much of a trend here, other than a slight increase in cutter usage and a slight decrease in four-seamer usage as the season has progressed, assuming we kinda gloss over the oblique problem in May and June. The curveball usage is down in August but not insanely so, though that 16.8% stems from heavy usage earlier in the month and not so much recently.
Robertson has only struck out just seven of the last 38 batters he’s faced (18.4%), a span of 9.2 innings dating back to late last month. That’s roughly a league average rate, which means below average for Robertson. It seems more coincidental than anything at this point, even though the curveball is a premium strikeout pitch. He did whiff two Texas Rangers in one inning last week using nothing but the fastball, after all. Outside of the infield single and ground ball single fest in Detroit two weeks ago, Robertson has been fantastic of late and lack of curveball usage isn’t much of a concern. If his performance starts to suffer or we find out that he’s covering an injury, that’s when it’ll be a red flag.
Via Jon Heyman, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to seek Jayson Werth money when he hits free agency after the season. That means seven years and $126M. This was inevitable, Werth and the Nationals set the market for above-average corner outfielders and now Swisher is just playing along. He and his agent would be stupid not to.
I’m all for keeping Swisher at a reasonable price, which ideally would be a little more than Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5M deal with the Rockies. That’s not likely to happen because he’s a much better player than the former Twin, so it could wind up taking something like four years and $52M. That’s the same contract the Yankees gave Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada a few years ago. That’s probably my upper limit, anything more would be really pushing it. Werth money ain’t happening, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
With back-to-back picks in the 2008 draft, the Yankees selected a pair of second basemen who have since developed into two of their better infield prospects. University of Virginia Cavalier David Adams signed for $333k as the team’s third round pick that year while Tennessee high school shortstop Corban Joseph signed for $207k as the fourth rounder. Joseph moved to the other side of second base immediately and has never played even one inning at shortstop since turning pro.
The two players have more in common than just their position. They’ve both dealt with recent injuries — Adams the ankle, Joseph with a shoulder problem earlier this summer — and are hitting this year. The 25-year-old Adams owns a .313/.389/.433 batting line (134 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton while the 23-year-old Joseph is at .275/.375/.469 (135 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (61) as strikeouts (62) in 435 plate appearances between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Adams does it from the right side of the plate, CoJo the left.
Both Adams and Joseph are quality middle infield prospects for the Yankees, but there’s an obvious problem here: Robinson Cano is in the big leagues, and no one is taking his job anytime soon. The Yankees figure to re-sign him to what will essentially be a lifetime contract after next season, further blocking their top two upper-level middle infield prospects. They’ve had Adams work out at third base recently, something he will continue to do in the Arizona Fall League in a few weeks. As Kevin Goldstein noted yesterday, Joseph has neither the quickness or arm strength to handle the left side of the infield, so maybe the corner outfield is an option for him. I have no reason to think it is at the moment.
The Yankees have a logjam at second base and it’s a very good problem to have. It’s a difficult position to fill and the club is always going to need trade bait — heck, they already agreed to trade Adams two years ago only to have his medicals throw a wrench in things. Joseph has shown increased power this year and that’s good news for a left-hander, but his lack of versatility is a negative. The biggest knock against Adams is the fact that he hasn’t played a full, healthy season in three years now. He’s on a strict four days on, one day off routine with Trenton just to stay healthy, and one of those four days on comes at DH. His teammates even started a good-natured Twitter account (@DayOffDave) to rag on him about his playing schedule.
I don’t believe the Yankees will let Cano walk, but they do have two potential in-house replacements just in case talks blow up or something. More than likely, one of Adams or Joseph will get traded and the other will get a chance to hang around as a spare infielder. It’s almost like a poor man’s version of the Brian Roberts-Jerry Hairston Jr. debate in Baltimore a decade ago. There are no shortage of clubs out there looking for a quality young second baseman, and it’s up to the Yankees to decide whether Adams or Joseph is the one worth keeping long-term if it comes down to picking between the two.
Deep and reliable bullpens have been a staple of the Joe Girardi era, as the Yankees started to shy away from multi-year contracts for free agent relievers and instead focused on building flexibility from within and off the scrap heap. Oh sure, there still is the occasional Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano, but signings like that are no longer the norm. Unfortunately, an effective middle relief unit ahead of Soriano and David Robertson is no longer the norm these days either.
Joe Girardi had to run through five different relievers after Freddy Garcia was unable to complete five innings last night, and those five combined to allow four runs and eight baserunners in 3.2 innings. It was the second time in the last five games that the bullpen turned a winnable game into a multi-run loss, and during the month of the August the relief corps has pitched to a 4.28 ERA (3.53 FIP) in 48.1 innings. It’s a 3.92 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 181.1 innings since the start of June, a not small sample. I honestly don’t want to figure out what those numbers would be without Soriano, hands down the club’s best reliever this year.
The bullpen problems all started with Mariano Rivera’s injury in May and were compounded when Cory Wade completely imploded a few weeks later. It was obvious the Yankees needed a quality bullpen arm — not Chad Qualls, not Derek Lowe, someone they could actually use in high-leverage spots — when Robertson hit the DL along with Mo in May, but the club decided to hang tight for a while to see what developed internally. A lot of faith was placed in Joba Chamberlain coming off his two injuries and he hasn’t rewarded that faith one bit since returning a few weeks ago. I’ve been saying it for months, they couldn’t count on him until they actually saw what he looked like against big league hitters. Those were two very serious injuries.
Anyway, the the decision to avoid the reliever trade market has left the Yankees with two excellent late-game arms and a handful of misfit toy middle relievers. Boone Logan leads the league in games pitched and looks more and more gassed with each appearance, and lefty counterpart Clay Rapada is a specialist in the truest sense of the term. Cody Eppley is a right-handed specialist and in case you haven’t noticed, he’s been pretty bad for close to eight weeks now — nine runs and 29 baserunners in his last 21 appearances (16.1 innings). That’s not the kind of middle relief help the Yankees have employed in recent years, not even close.
Of course, the real problem here is that we’re beyond the point of no return. Swinging a trade this late in the season for a quality arm is damn near impossible, especially since the Yankees have the best record in the league and thus the lowest waiver priority. Anytime a decent reliever hits the waiver wire, count on the Orioles and/or Rays blocking him. I’ll be the first time to admit that trading for relief help can be sketchy, but sometimes it’s just flat out unavoidable. You have to take risks to contend and trading for relievers when you need bullpen help qualifies as a risk in my book.
The Triple-A bullpen is mostly barren, thanks in part due to injuries as well as a late-Spring Training trade that sent the club’s best MLB-ready relief arm out west in exchange for a no-hit, meh-defense backup catcher. Wade has been okay since being demoted, nothing that would make you think his command issues have been corrected. Chase Whitley has legit big league potential, but he might not be ready yet. Justin Thomas, Ryota Igarashi, Manny Delcarmen … guys like that are cannon fodder, not viable middle relief aid. We’re all excited about Mark Montgomery, but the fact that we’re even talking about a kid with 17 career innings above Single-A as potential bullpen help is a sign of how little depth the Yankees have at the moment.
The good news is that help is on the way, at least in theory. CC Sabathia is expected to come off the DL on Friday, pushing David Phelps and his multi-inning ability back into the bullpen where he can soak up some of those middle innings. He would have been perfect for a game like last night’s. Andy Pettitte’s return is still weeks away, but if he makes it back it could mean another relief arm in the form of Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, or Ivan Nova. Feliciano is pitching in rehab games and David Aardsma is throwing bullpen sessions, but again counting on guys coming off major injuries is even riskier than trading for relievers. This group represents their only options at the moment, however.
“We know (struggles are) part of the game,” said Logan after last night’s game. “That’s the way it works. We’re still a good bullpen. It’s funny how when someone struggles, we all struggle. It seems like we all struggle at the same time. Once we all start getting on a roll, we’ll all get on a roll, and get back to where we need to be.”
The Yankees have a very obvious weakness in their middle relief right now, moreso than at any point in the last three or four years. They have run into some bad injury luck, no doubt about it, but also made their own bed with the trade deadline inactivity and general over-reliance on Joba. Pretty much the only way to improve things right now is to hope the guys currently in the bullpen rediscover their previous forms, particularly Logan and Eppley. Getting Sabathia back and getting more length out of the starters in general will help limit the exposure of the middle relievers, but they can’t be avoided forever.
Letting a winnable game slip through the cracks always hurts, especially when something that was supposed to be a strength (the bullpen) let things get out of hand in the middle and late innings. The Yankees held two different leads on Monday night, and the score was tied as late as two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
Off The Hook
ChiSox right-hander Gavin Floyd faced 16 batters on Monday, and he only retired six of them. One of the six required a great defensive play as well. The only reason he was able to complete two innings of work was because Robinson Cano got thrown out at the plate on Curtis Granderson’s base-loaded single to end the second, so things could have been a whole lot worse for Floyd. They also could have been a lot better for the Yankees, who turned those ten baserunners (in 2.1 IP) into just three runs. Floyd was asking for it, he was behind everyone.
Freddy Sweats It Out
Freddy Garcia has been pretty solid of late, but things completely unraveled for him in a hurry on Monday night. It all kinda started when Alexei Ramirez lined a double down the left field line … that the umpires overturned and ruled a foul ball to leadoff the fifth. Freddy rebounded to whiff Ramirez, but he didn’t retire another batter all night. First Gordon Beckham singled, then former Yankee Dewayne Wise launched a two-run homer to cut the lead to 3-2. Kevin Youkilis singled, Adam Dunn walked, Paul Konerko walked. The bases were loaded and that was that for Freddy. Not his best outing.
Bullpen In Flames
I’m going to write about this more on Tuesday at some point, but the Yankees have had an obvious need for another quality reliever since about May, when both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson hit the DL. They instead decided to wait for Joba Chamberlain, who is positively useless at the moment following his two injuries. You can’t count on Tommy John surgery guys to be effective the second they come back, but that’s exactly what the Yankees did here and it’s cost them already.
So, anyway, after Garcia’s short start Joe Girardi had to go bullpen by parade. Cody Eppley allowed the tying run to score on an Alex Rios fielder’s choice, Clay Rapada allowed the go-ahead run to score on an A.J. Pierzynski single, and Chamberlain allowed an insurance run to score on a Dayan Viciedo single. Four pitchers, five runs, three outs in the fifth. Just like the drew it up, I’m sure. Joba then proceeded to let the ChiSox retake the lead on an opposite field solo homer by Beckham (of all people) to leadoff the sixth after the Yankees knotted things up the half-inning earlier. One inning after that, Boone Logan allowed a two-run homer to a batter he shouldn’t have even have been facing (Ramirez) that again gave Chicago the lead after the Bombers tied it. For good measure, Derek Lowe allowed an insurance run homer by Dunn in the eighth. Just an abysmal job by a bullpen that gets exposed in a hurry if the starter doesn’t complete six.
I’m really glad Girardi didn’t pinch-hit Andruw Jones for Raul Ibanez against the left-handed reliever with two men on-base and a one-run lead in the sixth, otherwise Ibanez couldn’t have hit with the bases empty and one out with a three-run deficit in the ninth. Joe’s been leaving Ibanez in against lefties in the late-innings of close games all season long and it’s burned them too many times to count.
Anyway, as for the good news. The molten hot Derek Jeter went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer, continuing the hot streak that has raised his season line to .326/.367/.442. The Cap’n is going to wind up getting some MVP votes, which sorta blows my mind considering the track record of 38-year-old shortstops (it stinks).
Mark Teixeira singled twice in his return from left wrist soreness, and Nick Swisher singled and drew three walks from the two-hole. He, like Jeter, as been on fire. Nice to have the two hottest hitters on the team getting the most plate appearances. Curtis Granderson singled and walked as he continues to climb out of his recent slump, and Casey McGehee had a huge pinch-hit, go-ahead single in the fifth — see? pinch-hitting! it can work! — until Joba blew it in the span of like, three pitches.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Rays won and the Orioles lost, so they’re now four and six games back, respectively. The magic number to clinch the AL East crown remains 37.
Same two teams on Tuesday night, when Ivan Nova gets the ball against Francisco Liriano. That one has 25+ total runs scored potential, which is bad news for the Yankees after running through the majority of their bullpen in the series opener.
Notes? Notes! Notes…
- 2B Corban Joseph made this week’s Ten Pack. It’s a subscriber-only piece, but CoJo’s write-up is above the paywall. Make sure you head on over to check it out.
- Make sure you read Mike Ashmore’s feature on RHP Mikey O’Brien, who has had to overcome a number of obstacles to advance his career and get to where he is today.
- UTIL Jose Pirela was placed on the DL with a broken left hand and is done for the season. Sucks. Meanwhile, RHP Ryan Flannery was activated to take his roster spot.
- In case you missed it, we had some Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa scout notes via Josh Norris earlier today.
Triple-A Empire State (7-5 win over Buffalo)
LF Chris Dickerson: 0-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
2B Corban Joseph: 0-5, 1 R, 2 K
SS Eduardo Nunez & CF Melky Mesa: both 3-4, 2 R — Nunez drove in two, walked, stole three bases, and struck out … Mesa hit a solo homer
1B Brandon Laird: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — ejected in the eighth for arguing balls and strikes
C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 PB
DH Frankie Cervelli: 1-5, 1 2B, 2 K
RF-1B Kosuke Fukudome: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — Darnell McDonald took over in right after Laird’s ejection
3B Ramiro Pena: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
RHP Ramon Ortiz: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 4/9 GB/FB — 57 of 88 pitches were strikes (65%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K — 11 of 18 pitches were strikes
RHP Ryota Igarashi: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 WP, 2/0 GB/FB — 15 of 28 pitches were strikes (54%)