Cory Wade, Secret Weapon

(Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s the same story every year. The Yankees start the season with a collection of seven relievers, and inevitably some guys are ineffective and/or get hurt. By the end of the season the bullpen corps looks a lot different than it did in April. Joba Chamberlain threw just 28.2 IP before Tommy John surgery ended his season, and Rafael Soriano threw just 15 IP before landing on the DL with a less severe elbow injury. Luis Ayala spent some time on the DL, and Bartolo Colon went from long-man to number two starter.

Through the first 113 games of the season, the Yankees have cycled through miscellaneous relievers like Buddy Carlyle, Amaury Sanit, Steve Garrison, Kevin Whelan, Jeff Marquez, Sergio Mitre, and Lance Pendleton, but only one has really impressed: Cory Wade. Signed to a minor league deal back in June, Wade surfaced with the big league team soon thereafter and gained Joe Girardi‘s trust in short order. He retired the first eleven men he faced as a Yankee, including six as part of two perfect innings in his second appearance, in extra innings against the Rangers.

Wade’s effectiveness has kept him around longer than the Carlyles and Sanits and Whelans of the world, and he’s turned into a bit of a secret weapon out of the bullpen during the second half. Consider that …

… he’s the new fireman.

In four of his last six appearances (including the last three), Wade has entered the game with at least one man in scoring position and often multiple runners on base. He’s allowed just one of the eight runners he’s inherited in that time to score, and on the season he’s stranded ten of the 11 runs he’s inherited. Wade’s a good fit for that role because he gets ahead of hitters (66.2% first pitch strikes, better than the 59.2% league average) and misses bats (9.6% swings and misses), plus he has a small (reverse) platoon split both this year and for his career. He’s not just a matchup guy. Injuries and hyper-effectiveness have moved David Robertson into a more prominent late-inning role, but Wade has quietly stepped in as Joe Girardi’s get-out-of-jams specialist.

… he’s the relief version of Freddy Garcia.

Like last night’s starter, Wade will lull hitters to sleep with his offspeed stuff because he has a below-average fastball. He’s thrown his heater (which has averaged 88.7 mph this year) just 44.6% of the time this season, instead relying on his low-80’s changeup and high-70’s curveball to do most of the work. We’ve also seen him drop his arm slot to throw a slider. It’s not the greatest arsenal in the world, but it works because Wade doesn’t have to go through the lineup multiple times. Unpredictability is a great thing, especially in short bursts.

… he’s flexible.

The Yankees have the ability to keep Wade around for a while should he continue to perform. The Dodgers non-tendered him after last season because he was having some injury problems, but Wade won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season. That means he’s under team control for dirt cheap through 2015. As far as I can tell, he also has a minor league option remaining. That last part is unofficial though, so don’t hold me to it. Either way, Wade also gives the Yankees some roster flexibility for the bullpen.

* * *

Middle relievers tend to have very short shelf lives, even good ones. Wade has done a bang-up job for the Yankees so far, but it is only 20 IP and he’s a long way from establishing himself as a bullpen stalwart. For now, the Yankees will enjoy his unexpected production, using him to bridge the gap between the starters and Robertson/Soriano in the late innings.

The new designated hitter platoon

Nope. (AP/Matt Strasen)

Jorge Posada is out. Before last night’s game the Yankees informed Posada of his new role off the bench, paving way for a DH platoon that will involve Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones for the time being. As Mike noted this morning, that leaves the Yankees bench fairly inflexible, especially since it’s only three men deep to begin with. That’s certainly one downside to the issue. But what about the other side? Will the Jones-Chavez tandem significantly outperform Posada for the rest of the season?

Updated projections can give us one sense of expected production. ZiPS updates its numbers constantly, adjusting its full-season and rest-of-season projections as the season progresses. This helps weed out some of the noise we get in partial-season samples. It’s quite optimistic about the final two months of Posada’s 2011, projecting him for a .334 wOBA in 126 PA. That amounts to about two runs above average, though that is below average production for a DH. That projection might seem overly optimistic, since Posada has produced a mere .299 wOBA to date. But he has produced much better against righties, a .341 wOBA (5.1 runs above average). There is a chance, then, that he could hit that .334 projection if given 126 PA exclusively against righties.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Taking over his role as the DH against righties is Eric Chavez. A foot injury has limited him to just 26 games and 76 PA this year, but he’s done a fine job filling in, producing a .368 OBP and a .336 wOBA. ZiPS has him on track for just 36 more PA this season at a .300 wOBA, which would mean below average production. The upshot here is that his ZiPS projection is based on the past few years, in which he played hurt and hardly played in general. There is reason to believe that he’ll beat that production if he remains healthy. Unfortunately, Chavez is a risk to get hurt at any point, making his projection even more difficult. It’s as easy to see him matching Jorge’s .334 projected wOBA the rest of the way as it is to see him produce nothing while on the DL.

For most of the season Jones has played the part of DH against lefties, though as I’ll describe in a moment it hasn’t always been a straight DH role. He’s apparently hitting right in line with his ZiPS projections: his .341 wOBA matches his rest-of-season and full-season projection. At his 87 projected plate appearances the rest of the way, that would work out to 1.9 runs above average. That makes for a decent right-handed part of the platoon, though again it’s not above average for a DH. The caveat is that with that kind of playing time, a couple of extra strikeouts could significantly downgrade his production, just as an extra homer can significantly upgrade it.

Given the projections it would appear that the former platoon of Posada and Jones would work out best. Chavez fits, because he’s hit this season and is expected to continue his current pace, rather than his projected one. But even then, the Yankees are looking at about four runs above average for their DH spot the rest of the season. With that kind of production, combined with the inflexibility that the arrangement causes, should give the Yankees pause. That might work as a quick-term fix, and if Chavez breaks out while getting regular playing time it might stick for a bit longer. But I suspect that this is merely a tide-over while the Yankees let the effects of the Posada benching dissipate.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

When the Yankees announced Jorge’s benching, the one name on everyone’s tongue was Jesus Montero. There has been talk of his promotion for weeks, and with Posada on the bench there appears to be a clear opening. There’s a chance that Chavez and Jones are merely a placeholder so that the Yankees don’t have to bring up Montero as Posada’s replacement, which would create additional and unnecessary tension and drama. Bringing him up to replace the Chavez/Jones platoon might be a bit easier for the organization to handle, though they could be losing out on potential production.

ZiPS projected Montero to produce a .358 wOBA in the 2011 season, a mark greater than any of the current DHs. If we project Montero to get 200 PA the rest of the way — which is in line with Robbie Cano‘s projected remainder — he would produce 7.3 runs above average. That’s nearly double what the platoon would combine to produce. It’s tough, of course, to project a rookie to produce at that kind of level, especially when he hasn’t even produced that well at AAA. But we know what type of talent Montero possesses, and we know he can go on a tear. If he goes on one with the Yanks, he’ll easily be their best DH option the rest of the way.

This DH platoon does afford the Yankees a bit of flexibility, especially after Alex Rodriguez returns from the DL. It will allow Joe Girardi to cycle through his players who might need a half day off, using them as DH and either Jones or Chavez in the field. That stands in contrast to Jorge, who can spell only Mark Teixeira at first. Chavez can do that, as well as handle A-Rod‘s duties at third, while Jones can take over for any of the three outfielders (with Gardner going to center when Granderson gets a day). That should help keep everyone fresh as the Yanks play 30 games in 30 days, including a doubleheader.

While the new DH platoon does pose some risks, it does provide a number of benefits. Chavez, while not projected to hit well, has produced while healthy. Posada has actually produced similar numbers as a left-handed hitter this season, but apparently the Yankees feel that Chavez is the better bet going forward. The gained flexibility is also a major benefit, since the Yankees are rather inflexible as currently constructed. The plan comes with a ready made backup, too, as Montero can slide into that spot if it becomes necessary. This move probably won’t pull the Yankees out of the bottom half of the league in DH production, but it figures to be something of an improvement over the current arrangement.

The Inflexible Roster

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Yankees continued the long and painful process of phasing Jorge Posada out yesterday, informing their long-time catcher that his playing time will decrease because they need to put their best lineup on the field and he’s not a part of it. “[We’ll] try some different things [at DH],” said Joe Girardi before yesterday’s game, a pretty good indication that they’re going to rotate people in and out of the spot for the next few days and maybe weeks. That’s all well and good, but now the Yankees are working with a roster that offers very little flexibility.

Due to the team’s six-man rotation situation, the Yankees are currently carrying 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster, which means only three bench players. Before yesterday those three guys were Frankie Cervelli, Andruw Jones, and either Eduardo Nunez or Eric Chavez. Now it’s Cervelli, Jones, and Posada, basically a backup catcher/emergency infielder, a platoon outfielder, and a platoon DH. You can’t do anything with that, especially if the Yankees are committed to not playing Posada more than once or maybe twice a week.

“Eventually we will probably get to 12 pitchers,” said Girardi. “That will give our bench more versatility. We are not a club that necessarily pinch-hits a lot, we are not a club that has to make a double switch. The bench in the American League, the versatility isn’t used a ton. Our thought moving forward is that some of our guys’ day off will be DH days.”

I’m in favor of the six-man rotation, at least temporarily to give Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova innings at the big league level while CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia all get a little extra rest heading into the season’s final month and (potentially) the postseason. It’s going to hinder the roster construction but only if the Yankees let it. There’s no reason to carry all three of Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala, and Cory Wade on the roster, so send one down for an extra position player. Noesi is the easy choice there, let him start in Triple-A to build innings and what not. A six-man bullpen isn’t the end of the world.

The Yankees also have the option of using the phantom DL to open a roster, basically coming up with a fake injury. They did this to a certain extent with Lance Berkman last season, though that whole situation started with a legit injury. He hurt his ankle running through first base in Kansas City and was only going to miss a few days, but the Yankees placed him on the DL and kept him there for two weeks until Sept. 1st. Perhaps Jorge will feel something in his back during BP this week and needs some time off. It’s not the most ethical thing in the world, but teams do it all the time and the Yankees should at least consider it.

Roster spots are precious like outs in a game because there is a finite amount of them. The Yankees do a great job of not making outs, but right now their 25-man roster is completely inflexible. They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot by keeping the unproductive Posada around for this long, so they might as well hold onto him until the rosters expand in three weeks. He might still be useful as a veteran pinch-hitter against lefties, but that’s pretty much it. The roster right now is basically the regular starting nine, the rotation, three or four core relievers, and half a dozen 25th men. It’s tough to work with that.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 8th, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-2 (42 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record:
69-44 (603 RS, 436 RA, 74-39 pythag. record), one back of AL East lead, seven up for wildcard
Opponents This Week:
Mon. OFF, vs. Angels (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Rays (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 Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:171}

Yankees fall to Red Sox after Mo blows save

You can probably blame this one on me, I had the recap 99% complete before Mariano Rivera even took the mound in the ninth. It was getting late and I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour. My bad guys. I hear Boston’s parade is scheduled for Tuesday and the Yankees are already scouting Stanford’s Mark Appel for the first overall pick next June.

Freddy Sez: Hey, Not Bad

(Michael Dwyer/AP)

Did you expect five innings of one run ball out of Freddy Garcia? Did you expect him to actually throw five innings after the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning? I sure didn’t, not on either count. But he did it, that son of a bitch.

Garcia escaped that second inning jam by allowing just one run, and he nearly wiggled out of it unscathed before Marco Scutaro’s two-out single. The Sox didn’t exactly pound the ball either; Kevin Youkilis walked, David Ortiz grounded a single through the right side, and Carl Crawford reached on an infield single before Garcia got a strikeout and pop-up from Josh Reddick and Jason Varitek, respectively. Sweaty Freddy pitched around a leadoff walk in the third, a two-out walk and single in the fourth, and a leadoff single in the fifth.

All told, Garcia walked three and allowed five hits, all singles and only three out of the infield. He had to work, throwing 96 pitches (54 strikes, 56.3%) to get just 15 outs, and just eight of the 22 men he faced saw three pitches or less. Nine of his non-strikeout outs came on the ground as well. It’s totally cliche but I don’t care, Garcia had the kind of night that is typically described as gritty and gutty, a veteran pitcher not succumbing to pressure, stuff like that. I’m behind the point of caring about the process, Freddy got the results and has been all season. One run in five innings against the Red Sox is getting the job done.

(Elsa/Getty)

Everyday Shortstop

I get on Eduardo Nunez a lot, more than most I’d say. But give the kid some props, that was a pretty big homerun off Josh Beckett in the fifth inning. Beckett left a 1-0 cutter up in the zone and Nunez put his patented hack on it, driving the pitch over the wall in left and into the light tower. It tied the game at one, though the fallacy of the predetermined outcome says it’s should have been a two-run shot if Russell Martin hadn’t gotten thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double one batter earlier. Beggars can’t be choosers, the game was tied and that’s all that matters.

Escape

Things got a little hairy an inning after Nunez tied it up, though it was hardly a well-built rally for the BoSox. Boone Logan came into face a triumvirate of lefties, but he walked David Ortiz after throwing what appeared to be strike three and strike four. Carl Crawford managed to squeeze an infield single through the left side to put men on first and second with none out. Josh Reddick popped up for the first out, then in came Cory Wade to face the bottom two hitters in the order.

Uncharacteristically, Wade started the corpse of Jason Varitek with three pitches out of the zone. The fourth one was out of the zone too, but Varitek hacked at it and popped the ball up in foul territory. That was a gift, and the second out. Marco Scutaro fouled off a few two strike pitches before reaching on what felt like Boston’s millionth infield hit of the game (it was actually their third) to load the bases, then Wade ran the count to 3-0 on Jacoby Ellsbury. He got the called 3-0 autostrike before Ellsbury fouled off two straight pitches, then the Boston center fielder flew out to left on a gutsy changeup. It was far, far from easy, but Logan and Wade navigated a scoreless sixth so Joe Girardi could hand the ball off to his big guns.

(Michael Dwyer/AP)

Leadoff Hitter

Because Nunez taking Beckett deep wasn’t unexpected enough, the Yankees took the lead after Wade’s escape job when Brett Gardner slugged a solo homer into the Red Sox bullpen in the top of the seventh. There were two outs in the inning and Matt Albers threw the Yankees’ leadoff man one too many sliders, catching just a little too much of a plate with the third consecutive slide piece. Gardner golfed it out, it wasn’t a terrible pitch but not great either. Usually you can get away with a pitch like that against a guy like Brett, but Albers had no such luck this time.

Blown Save

I hate when this happens. After some stellar seventh and eighth inning work from Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, the immortal Mariano Rivera was human in the ninth. Scutaro led the frame off with a double off the Green Monster then moved to third on Ellsbury’s sacrifice bunt. Pedroia drove him in with a sacrifice fly to tie the game and eventually send it to extras. Mo got beat on two inside cutters to right-handed batters, probably the one spot he has to be perfect. He wasn’t and that cost ’em the lead.

Initially I was pretty aggravated that Girardi did not send him back out there for the tenth following the nine-pitch ninth, especially with the off day tomorrow, but you know what? Forty-one-year-old closer, not the most important game in the world … I’m fine with it. Ben talked me down from the ledge. Anyway, Phil Hughes needed just 13 pitches to give up the game-winning run in the tenth, doing so on an Ortiz ground rule double, Crawford intentional walk (IBB to a guy with a sub-.300 OBP? really?), and Reddick single. Sucks, but it was fairly predictable.

Leftovers

How about 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position? That’s pretty pathetic. The Yankees left a man on second in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings plus the bases loaded in the seventh. You’d never know this was the second best hitting team with men in scoring position in baseball by actually watching them play. Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez went a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, so that was a huge black hole behind the middle of the order. I miss A-Rod.

Gardner stole a base in the fourth and another in the ninth, his 20th and 21st consecutive steals without being caught. That broke Paul Molitor’s AL record for consecutive successful steals in a single-season (20), and Gardner’s just two away from tying the MLB record. Go Brett go.

Soriano has retired all 12 men he’s faced since coming off the DL, including five on strikeouts. I won’t hate the signing as long as he pitches exactly like that for the next two years and two months. I can’t imagine Hughes will start as scheduled on Tuesday, there’s no point. Give him a few extra days, we really don’t know how many warm-up pitches he threw in the bullpen and what not. Just don’t put him back in the bullpen, that’s stupid.

It’s pretty amazing that ESPN got rid of Joe Morgan and still managed to downgrade their Sunday night booth. I’m glad to know that Bobby Valentine thinks Gardner will be a year in, year out 20 homerun hitter before his career is over because he saw him hit one out against the Red Sox. Anyway, the Yankees fall one game back of the Sox in the AL East but are still seven games up in the wildcard. Boston has won the season series against the Yanks for the first time in seven years.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the update standings.

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Monday, then will return home to the Bronx for what is probably their most important series of the season (to date). I guess Ivan Nova will start the opener on Tuesday against Dan Haren and the rest of the Angels. A.J. Burnett would be the other option. If you decide to head up to the Bronx for that game, RAB Tickets get help get you there on the cheap.