Finding a role for David Phelps

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

With Andy Pettitte officially back in the rotation, the Yankees finally have a full pitching staff. We’re no longer waiting around for someone to come back from injury — Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma are still a long ways off — or for Pettitte to arrive, the staff is as complete as can be right now. What you see is what you’re going to get, the five starters are in place and the seven-man bullpen is unfortunately settled in the wake of Mariano Rivera‘s injury.

Of those seven relievers, six have clearly defined roles. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are the late-inning duo, Boone Logan and Clay Rapada are the lefty matchup guys, Cory Wade the do-everything middle reliever, and Freddy Garcia the break glass in case of emergency guy. That leaves David Phelps in a peculiar spot, stretched out as a starter but not needed as a true mop-up type with Freddy still around. That’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity for the Yankees to use the young right-hander in some more important spots rather than save him for extra innings or short starts.

Phelps, 25, has pitched to a solid 3.08 ERA but an unsightly 5.12 FIP in his first 26.1 big league innings because the Red Sox and Rangers tagged him for some homers a few weeks ago. The strikeout (7.52 K/9 and 20.0 K%) and ground ball (45.9%) rates are fine, but the homers (1.74 HR/9) and walks (3.76 BB/9 and 10.0 BB%) have been a bit of an issue. Giving up homers to the Sox and Rangers isn’t anything to be ashamed of and young pitchers always have trouble with walks. For what it’s worth, two of his eleven free passes were intentional, and that will skew his rate performance given the relatively small sample size.

Anyway, with Freddy in the bullpen for long relief, I’d like to see the Yankees employ Phelps as more of a multi-inning middle relief type. He’s already stretched out and doesn’t have to pitch in high-leverage spots, but there’s a need in middle relief. With Soriano and Robertson married to the eighth and ninth innings, Wade is the only right-handed middle guy. Logan isn’t totally awful against righties but Rapada certainly is, something we saw just yesterday. Phelps could essentially take over Wade’s pre-Mo injury role with the added benefit of being able to throw multiple innings. D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren provide enough rotation depth that keeping Phelps stretched out to 80+ pitches isn’t much of a concern. I think he’s shown enough to take on a little more responsibility in a bullpen that is still trying to adjust to life without Rivera.

Based on the weather forecast, there’s a very real chance tonight’s game will get rained out. If it does and they end up playing a doubleheader tomorrow, Phelps could easily start one of the two games and allow everyone else to stay on schedule. That seems like a better option than throwing both Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia on the same day and having to dig up a spot starter later in the week, but I digress. With Sweaty Freddy in the bullpen and able to serve as the mop-up guy, there’s no reason Phelps can’t take on a greater role and see some leveraged shorter relief work in the coming weeks. Wade can’t do it all himself.

5/14-5/15 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It’s mid-May and yet the Yankees and Orioles are about to play for the third time. New York swept a three-game set in Baltimore for their first three wins of the season back in early-April before the O’s took two of three at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. After this quick little two-game series in Camden Yards, these two clubs won’t play again until after the All-Star break.

What Have They Done Lately?

Two weeks ago the Orioles held the Yankees to a total of three runs in a three-game series. They’ve won six of ten since including two of three from the Rays this weekend. Baltimore lost yesterday but still sits atop the AL East with a 22-13 record. Their +15 is third best in the division and fourth best in the league.

Offense

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Orioles are a top-eight offense based on runs per game (4.66) and they actually lead all of baseball with 56 homers. Only 20 of those 56 homers have come with men on base though, thanks to a below average team OBP (.311). At 104 wRC+, the O’s have the eighth best offense in the game and fifth best in the AL so far this year.

Buck Showalter’s lineup is anchored by Adam Jones (146 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (147 wRC+), who drive in a ton of runs as the four-five hitters behind J.J. Hardy (103 wRC+) and Nick Markakis (119 wRC+). With Nolan Reimold (164 wRC+) on the DL, leadoff duties have rotated between Robert Andino (97 wRC+), Endy Chavez (-30 wRC+ (!)), and Rule 5 Draft pick/utility man Ryan Flaherty (14 wRC+). First baseman/emergency pitcher Chris Davis (114 wRC+) has done damage further down in the order but has cooled off a bit of late.

Former Yankees Nick Johnson (82 wRC+) and Wilson Betemit (101 wRC+) platoon at the DH spot, and with Mark Reynolds (85 wRC+) on the DL, rookie Steve Tolleson (two hits in seven plate appearances so far) has been manning third base. Bill Hall (a homer in four plate appearances) was recalled this past weekend and we could see him at the hot corner at some point as well. Another rookie, outfielder Xavier Avery (hitless in four plate appearances), was just called up for depth.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel, a former Devil Ray, held the Yankees to two runs in six innings two weeks ago but missed his last start with a sore knee. The swelling subsided and the fluid drained, so he’s good to go tonight. The 29-year-old right-hander has completely re-invented himself this year and the results are staggering. Hammel is missing bats (8.84 K/9 and 25.5 K%), limiting walks (2.56 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%), and generating ground balls (61.0%). It’s a remarkable turn around that can be attributed to a slight uptick in velocity plus increased usage of both his low-to-mid-90s two-seamer and mid-80s slider. Hammel also mixes in a low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, an upper-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. The two fastballs and slider are his go-to weapons, the other two offerings just tag along for the ride. This isn’t necessarily a case of a pitcher having lots of success in a small sample, there are tangible reasons behind Hammel’s sudden and drastic improvement.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
The Taiwanese-born Chen is off to a strong start in MLB, pitching to a 2.68 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 37 IP across six starts. His strikeout (6.81 K/9 and 17.5 K%) and ground ball (32.2%) rates aren’t great, but he does limit walks (2.92 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) and hits in general (.282 BABIP). Chen sits right around 90 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, and his top offspeed pitch is a low-to-mid-80s splitter/changeup hybrid. He’ll also throw low-90s slider and on the rarest of occasions, a low-70s curveball. The Yankees hung four runs on Chen in his 5.2 IP season debut a few weeks ago, but he’s allowed more than two earned runs in just one of five starts since.

Bullpen Status
The Rays did the Yankees a favor by roughing up Baltimore’s bullpen this weekend. Jake Arrieta didn’t make it through four innings yesterday, forcing left-hander Troy Patton (4.39 FIP) to throw three innings and 52 pitches. He’s the only southpaw in their bullpen and chances are he won’t be available at all in this two-game set. Kevin Gregg (4.75 FIP) is their Freddy Garcia, meaning he’s so bad he only pitches when things look bleak. He threw 19 pitches yesterday after sitting in the bullpen for a week. Righty specialist Darren O’Day (3.36 FIP) threw eight pitches on Sunday and six on Friday, so he’s good to go.

Closer Jim Johnson (3.40 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (2.90 FIP) had each appeared in three straight games before getting yesterday off. Chances are both will be available tonight and tomorrow, but their recent workload has been intense. Former Yankee Luis Ayala (2.55 FIP) and the recently promoted Stu Pomeranz (no runs in four innings) are both fresh and ready to go. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is pretty well-rested and I suspect everyone is available tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact recent usage. Camden Crazies is my Orioles blog of choice, so check it out.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 14th, 2012

Record Last Week: 5-2 (25 RS, 20 RA)
Season Record: 19-15 (166 RS, 149 RA, 19-15 pythag. record), 2.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: @ Orioles (two games, Mon. to Tues.), @ Blue Jays (two games, Weds. to Thurs.), vs. Reds (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Bats lifeless against Millwood in Pettitte’s return


Source: FanGraphs

It’s not often that a regular season game gets as much attention as Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Mariners. The Yankees were unable to finish off the series sweep but the real story is Andy Pettitte, who officially came all the way back from retirement to rejoin the rotation. I’m sure that made many Tri-State Area mothers extra happy on Mother’s Day. Let’s recap…

  • Andy’s Back: Four runs — on two two-run homers — in 6.1 innings isn’t anything to write home about except when it happens in Pettitte’s first start back. From what I saw, he basically looked like the same ol’ Andy, just a bit rusty. That’s too be expected, obviously. I’m sure nerves were a factor considering the crowd noise and everything, but the start is pretty encouraging given the unique circumstances. There’s lots of season left, so let’s see where this thing takes Pettitte and the team.
  • Ball Four: The Yankees managed just two runs in a game started by the corpse of Kevin Millwood, and both runs came on bases loaded walks. Russell Martin took ball four in the fifth inning — the only run they scored off Millwood — and Robinson Cano did the same in the eighth. Derek Jeter grounded into a first pitch double player following Martin’s walk and Mark Teixeira struck out after Cano’s. Pretty rough day for the offense.
  • LOOGY vs. RHB: I know there was a hideous throwing error involved, but Joe Girardi couldn’t have been surprised that Clay Rapada allowed runs to score when he was left in to face right-handed batters. I mean, walking Brendan Ryan and his .144/.266/.222 batting line is as awful as it gets. It’s okay to use David Phelps for something other than long relief, you know. Yuck.
  • Leftovers: I know the replay showed he was safe, but Nick Swisher‘s TOOTBLAN in the ninth was as dumb as it gets … Cory Wade allowed an earned run in his 1.2 IP of work, just the second time he’s allowed an earned run in an appearance this year … first four hitters: 1-for-13 with three walks; bottom five: 5-for-16 with three walks … Teixeira’s hit was a dinky little swinging bunt infield single, but otherwise he has a whopping 12 hits in his last 19 games. Dude’s a total drag on the offense and shouldn’t be hitting anywhere close to fifth.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are off to Baltimore for a quick little two-game series starting Monday, but there’s a very good chance that game will get rained out. The forecast is pretty ugly. If they do manage to play, it’ll be Ivan Nova against Jason Hammel.

Williams and Sanchez return in Charleston loss

With Eduardo Nunez back in Triple-A, Yadil Mujica was sent back to Trenton. Graham Stoneburner (groin) has been placed on the DL as well. Also make sure you check out this Ken Rosenthal piece on Mike Trout, who the Yankees were going to draft in 2009 before the Angels scoped him up.

Triple-A Empire State (3-1 loss to Durham) they faced RHP Chris Archer, the primary piece the Rays received in the Matt Garza trade
2B Kevin Russo & C Gus Molina: both 0-3 — Russo walked and whiffed … Molina struck out twice
CF Colin Curtis, 3B Brandon Laird & RF Cole Garner: all 0-4, 2 K
1B Steve Pearce: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
DH Jack Cust: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K — seven walks in his last four games
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-4, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding)
SS Ramiro Pena: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K — I guess he’s off the DL
LHP Manny Banuelos: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 61 of 89 pitches were strikes (68.5%) … 15/0 K/BB in 14.2 IP since coming off the DL … healthy Manny is good Manny
RHP Chase Whitley: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — ten of 17 pitches were strikes
RHP Adam Miller: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3/0 GB/FB — 26 of 42 pitches were strikes (61.9%)

[Read more…]

Mother’s Day Open Thread

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially mine. You ladies make the world go ’round and we’re all eternally grateful. I hope you’re spending the night with your mother and family, but if not, hang out in our open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Angels at the Rangers (Weaver vs. Feliz), plus there’s some NHL playoff action going on as well. Talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

Game 34: Andy’s Back

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

I still can’t believe that Andy Pettitte is going to start today for the Yankees. The New York Yankees, not a minor league team with the same nickname, not an American Legion team, not an adult league. The New York Yankees of Major League Baseball. I don’t know what to expect, but I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a regular season game. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
DH Eric Chavez
Russell Martin

LHP Andy Pettitte

This afternoon’s game starts a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy, this should be a lot of fun.

Roster Move: As expected, Cody Eppley was sent down to Triple-A to clear a 25-man roster spot for Pettitte. Mariano Rivera wwas transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.