Aroldis Chapman and the changing dynamic of the bullpen

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Later today, the Yankees’ prized offseason addition will finally join the active roster. Aroldis Chapman‘s 30-game suspension is up — he only served 29 games thanks to a rainout — and he’ll be in the bullpen tonight ready to close. Joe Girardi has already confirmed Chapman will take over the ninth inning. He’s the closer.

The Yankees are not exactly one reliever away from turning things around, but Chapman will no doubt help. He is arguably the best reliever in the world and adding an elite player like that instantly makes the team better. Chapman’s return — is it really a return if he’s never been here before? no, right? — has a trickle down effect on the rest of the bullpen and the pitching staff in general. Let’s run it all down.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. Chapman did not count against the 40-man roster during his suspension, so the Yankees had an open spot for much of the first five weeks of the season. That open spot went to Phil Coke the other day, however, so the Yankees have to clear a 40-man spot for Chapman today.

That’s not a problem though. The Yankees have four 60-day DL candidates: Greg Bird (shoulder), Mason Williams (shoulder), Bryan Mitchell (toe), and Branden Pinder (Tommy John surgery). My guess is Pinder gets transferred to the 60-day DL because the Yankees know for certain he’ll miss the rest of the season, but it could be any of the four. Doesn’t matter who it is, really. Point is, the Yankees don’t have to designate anyone for assignment to make room for Chapman.

As for getting Aroldis on the active roster, Nick Goody seems like the obvious candidate to be shipped down to Triple-A. The Yankees could dump Coke, but with Ivan Nova in the rotation for the time being, they need a new long man, and Coke is stretched out after working as a starter in an independent league. Keeping Coke around and sending Goody down makes the most sense given the current roster situation.

New Roles

Girardi loves to assign his relievers set innings, so it stands to reason Andrew Miller will now take over as the eighth inning guy with Dellin Betances sliding back into the seventh inning. That pushes Chasen Shreve back into a lower leverage middle innings role with Johnny Barbato joining Kirby Yates, where he belongs at this point give his recent bout of longballitis.

The Yankees and Girardi have talked about using only two of the three big relievers per game to ensure one of them is always fresh the next day, which is sounds great, but it may be tough to pull off. Could you imagine losing a game because, say, Barbato is on the mound in the late innings while Miller is available in the bullpen and not being used? Wait, yes I can. Dammit to hell.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Anyway, the “only use two per day” plan only works if the starter gives enough length and the lead is big enough. You’re going to have a tough time convincing me Girardi should not use the three big relievers if the starter is out of the game after six innings and the Yankees are tied or nursing a small lead. The Yankees are not in any position to prioritize tomorrow over today at the moment.

I would like to see Betances and Miller match up in the seventh and eighth rather than be assigned a specific innings, though I’m not sure it really matters. Those two are great against batters on both sides of the plate. Still, if the other team is sending their best lefty hitters to the plate in the seventh, why not use Miller there instead of Betances simply because it’s his inning? I’m actually hopefully this will happen. We’ll see.

Either way, Chapman’s return means everyone in the bullpen gets knocked down a peg and that’s a good thing. Miller is an overqualified eighth inning guy. Betances is an extremely overqualified seventh inning guy. Shreve is now the No. 4 instead of the No. 3. The added depth is going to help a lot. The Yankees will automatically have an advantage on the mound in any close game in the late innings.

About The Ninth Inning

No, Andrew Miller does not deserve to lose the closer’s job. He’s been outstanding in that role since the start of last season. It is an undeserved demotion. No doubt about it. I also don’t it matters at all. Miller has been talking about doing whatever the team needs since the day he signed and it seems sincere. Here’s what Miller told Chad Jennings yesterday:

“What do you want me to do?” he said. “You want me to throw a fit? The goal here is to win. I think if you go around and ask, there’s 25 lockers in here and I think everyone is going to say that. We haven’t gotten off to the start that we want to. I think we’ve played well in the last couple of days, and the goal is to keep that going. Wins are what’s fun at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving games for a last-place team.”

It’s refreshing to hear that. Drew Storen complained and sulked after the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon last year. Kenley Jansen said he wanted to close after the Dodgers almost acquired Chapman over the winter. Closer is a prestigious job and every reliever wants it. Miller would have every right to be upset, but he truly seems okay with it.

I would be surprised if Miller’s performance suffered at all following the move into the setup role. Same with Betances, though he’s going from eighth inning setup man to seventh inning setup man. If one of those two — or Chapman, for that matter — blows a game at some point in the next few days, the new roles are going to be talked about a lot. It’s unavoidable. I’m not worried about this at all though. Chapman’s been closing for a long time and Miller and Betances seem perfectly happy with their roles.

Spread The Workload Around

The Yankees don’t seem to win blowout games anymore. Saturday was an outlier. Seven of the team’s eleven wins have been by three or fewer runs, meaning Miller and Betances have worked a lot. Through 29 games Miller has 12 appearances and 11.2 innings. Betances has 15 appearances (!) and 14 innings. The other day Miller was asked to get a four-out save and Betances recently pitched in three consecutive days. He was the first Yankees reliever to do that since David Robertson in September 2014, when he had one foot out the door as a free agent and the team wasn’t all that invested in his long-term future.

Girardi has had to lean on Miller and Betances and awful lot early on, and adding Chapman means the late-inning workload can be spread out a bit going forward. Like I said a bit earlier, this is easier said than done because it’s going to be tough to stay away from those guys in the late innings, but having that third high-end bullpener will lighten the load a bit. Whenever the starter gets through seven Girardi won’t have to use all three. The Yankees now have three guys soaking up high-leverage innings, not only two. That’s huge.

Trade Bait

Even if the Yankees completely turn things around and claw their way back into contention, trading Chapman is the best thing for the team long-term. The Yankees were able to get him at a very discounted rate because of the uncertainty surrounding his potential suspension, and now the suspension has been served. The mystery is gone. Chapman is back today and is a game-ready pitcher.

Chapman is a Grade-A piece of trade bait as a rental elite closer. Literally every team in the league could use someone like him — including the Yankees! — though obviously contenders figure to show the most interest. Any team with championship aspirations will check in, so the Yankees have an opportunity to create a bidding war to maximize their return. The Mets, Nationals, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Tigers, Mariners, Rangers … they’ll all get involved.

As I said last week, I think the Yankees should look to trade Chapman sooner rather than later. The sooner they trade him, the longer his new team gets him, meaning the Yankees can ask for more in return. There’s also the injury factor. Pitchers get hurt, and the longer the Yankees wait, the more risk they’ll assume. It takes two to tango, another team has to be willing to make a trade right now, but I think the Yankees should be shopping Chapman right now. Put him out here and start the process.

* * *

For now, the Yankees are adding another dominant reliever to their already dominant end-game bullpen. They’re a better team today than they were in the first 29 games of the season because Chapman is back. He can help them climb back into the playoff race in the short-term and accumulate young assets via trade in the long-term. Even though his time in pinstripes may be limited, it’s not a stretch to call Chapman one of the most important Yankees in 2016.

Yankeemetrics: Two out of three ain’t bad [May 6-8]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

”Hicks hit one to the sticks! Aaron hammers one!”
In a season where we’ve come to expect the unexpected, the Yankees got a much-needed victory — and jolt of optimism — after toppling the Red Sox, 3-2, on Friday night. The win might have been one of the most unlikely in this long and storied rivalry, for a few reasons.

It was the first time ever that the Yankees allowed at least 13 hits and held the Red Sox to no more than two runs in a game at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The last time it happened in a game in New York between these rivals was Sept. 24, 1919 at the Polo Grounds.

Yet, even before the first pitch was thrown, this game already carried the “rare and unusual” label. The last time theses teams entered a series matchup where the Yankees were in sole possession of last place in the AL East while the Red Sox were in sole possession of first place (at least one month into the season) was Aug. 31, 1990.

The improbable theme continued when Aaron Hicks — who had three singles in his first 34 at-bats this season — delivered the game-winning shot when he led off the seventh inning with a solo homer to break a 2-2 tie. Two other Yankee center fielders in the last 30 years have hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium: Jacoby Ellsbury (2015) and Bernie Williams (2003).

That might not have even been the game’s most dramatic moment, though. Fast-forward to the ninth inning when Andrew Miller found himself protecting a one-run lead with the bases loaded and one out and Big Papi at the plate. Miller prevailed in that epic showdown with Ortiz, striking him out looking, and then sealed the win after getting Hanley Ramirez to whiff for the final out.

The only other Yankee pitcher in the last 75 years to strike out the final two batters of any game with the bases loaded and while protecting a one-run lead was David Robertson on Aug. 12, 2013 against the Angels. That day, D-Rob whiffed Mark Trumbo and Chris Nelson to earn the save and clinch a 2-1 win for the Bombers.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Back-to-back (and belly-to-belly)
Breaking news: The Yankees have a win streak.

Less than 24 hours after perhaps their most emotional win of the season, the Yankees notched one of their most emphatic wins of the season on Saturday afternoon.

Nathan Eovaldi wrote another chapter in his Hekyl-and-Jyde season as he went eight innings and allowed two runs on six hits against the nearly the same Red Sox lineup that had torched him for six runs and 10 hits less than a week ago.

Eovaldi dialed up the heat, averaging 97.8 mph on his four-seam fastball — matching his season-high — while hitting triple digits five times. The only other pitcher to throw more than three 100-plus mph pitches in a single game this season was Noah Syndergaard on April 18 against the Phillies. Eovaldi also got an impressive 10 swings-and-misses with his four-seamer, his most in any start as a Yankee.

Austin Romine had a career day with three hits, including two run-scoring doubles. The list of Yankee catchers to produce at least three hits, two doubles and two RBIs in a game against the Red Sox is a pretty good one: Romine, Jorge Posada (1999), Yogi Berra (1962), Bill Dickey (1936, 1943), Steve O’Neill (1925).

No sweep for you
Sunday night’s finale might not have been sweet, but at least it was short. The Yankees lost 5-1 and the game lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes, the shortest nine-inning game in this rivalry since May 19, 1999 (a 6-0 loss in 2:27 at Fenway) and the shortest at Yankee Stadium since May 2, 1995 (a 8-0 loss in 2:25).

The Yankees avoided the shutout thanks to Brett Gardner‘s ninth-inning home run, but it was just one of three hits against Red Sox starter Steven Wright, who baffled the Yankee lineup all night with his knuckleball. He became the first Boston pitcher to allow three hits or fewer in a complete-game win against the Yankees since Pedro Martinez’s epic 17-strikeout, one-hitter in the Bronx on Sept. 10, 1999.

How do you evaluate Luis Severino‘s outing, during which he tied a career-high with nine strikeouts (great!) but also allowed a career-high three homers (not-great!)? The good news is that he is the youngest Yankee (at the age of 22 years and 78 days) with that many strikeouts against the Red Sox in the last 100 seasons. The bad news is that he also became the first pitcher to give up three or more homers and have nine or more strikeouts in a Yankee-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium.

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing two more homers — his 51st and 52nd career home runs versus the Yankees — and tying Carl Yastrzemski for the fifth-most all-time against the franchise. It was also his 30th and 31st hit in the Bronx, matching Mickey Vernon for the second-most by any visiting player at Yankee Stadium; Hall of Famer Goose Goslin (32) holds the record.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 9th, 2016

Record Last Week: 3-3 (20 RS, 14 RA)
Season Record: 11-18 (101 RS, 126 RA, 11-18 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: vs. Royals (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. White Sox (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 Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Yankees have no answer for Wright, drop series finale 5-1 to Red Sox

Well, winning two out of three ain’t bad. The Yankees didn’t put up much of a fight against Steven Wright and the Red Sox on Sunday night, dropping the series finale 5-1. The game was not as competitive as the score may indicate.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Strugglin’ Sevy
For the first time this season, Luis Severino showed flashes of dominance Sunday night. Yeah, he did give up four runs in 6.2 innings, including two on a cheap Yankee Stadium homer (Dustin Pedroia) and two on moonshot homers (David Ortiz), but he also overwhelmed hitters from the first through sixth inning. We caught a glimpse of 2015 Severino again, finally. (It was only a glimpse though.)

After giving up the homer to Pedroia in the first, Severino retired 17 of the next 19 batters he faced — the two exceptions where Ortiz’s first homer and a soft single pretty much every non-Carlos Beltran right fielder catches — including eight on strikeouts. His previous season high was five strikeouts and he matched that eight batters into the game. Severino’s nine strikeouts overall tied a career high.

All told, Severino generated 13 swings and misses out of 113 total pitches, a new season high. He averaged 6.8 swings and misses per start the first five times out. There were still enough mistakes to remind you Severino is not all the way back — he missed his spot by the entire width of the plate on the second Ortiz homer — but at least we saw an effective pitcher for a few innings. We’ve been waiting for that.

Sending Severino back out for the seventh was unnecessary in my opinion, but out he went to serve up another bomb to Ortiz and a single to Brock Holt, ending his night. The kid has been getting knocked around all season and that was a chance to get him out — his pitch count was at 96 at the time — feeling good about things. I dunno, seemed like there was no need to try to squeeze a few more outs from him. /shrugs

I don’t think it’s a coincidence the Yankees shuffled the Triple-A Scranton rotation to line Luis Cessa up with Severino. It was time for Severino to make some progress. The season is a month old now and the Yankees can’t just send the kid out there to take a pounding every five days. Severino needed to show some improvement to keep his rotation spot, and we saw it Sunday, albeit for only a few innings. Now he needs to show more in five days.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I Used To Have An Open Mind, But My Brains Kept Falling Out
I’m not a big exit velocity guy, but this sums up the offense: the Yankees put 21 balls in play against Steven Wright on Sunday, and exactly six were above the MLB average exit velocity (89.2 mph). Mark Teixeira hit a 90 mph grounder, Beltran hit a 100 mph fly ball, Starlin Castro hit a 93 mph double, Dustin Ackley hit a 92 mph fly ball, Didi Gregorius hit a 93 mph fly ball, and Brett Gardner hit a 106 mph solo homer. That’s it. It was weak contact all night.

Wright pitched like a knuckleballing version of vintage Roy Halladay. He totally dominated the Yankees and they never once had anything close to a rally. Even after Castro’s leadoff double in the seventh, Starlin managed to get picked off third later in the inning like a nincompoop. He’s been doing stuff like that his entire career, unfortunately. It’s part of the Castro experience. Anyway, Wright was generally throwing his knuckler up in the zone …

Steven Wright pitch location

… though I’m not sure that was by design. The knuckleball by definition is unpredictable. They aren’t exactly conducive to command. Either way, the old “if it’s high let if fly, if it’s low let it go” mantra did nothing to help the Yankees. It was high, they let it fly, and they didn’t square it up. Wright had his way with the Yankees all night, like far too many other pitchers this season.

Leftovers
Gardner gets Player of the Game for the Yankees by default. In addition to the homer, Brett also threw Hanley Ramirez out at home in the top of the ninth. Very quick release and an accurate throw from Gardner. It was the second runner thrown out at home by a Yankee this season. Aaron Hicks threw someone out a few weeks ago. That was the 105 mph throw.

Chasen Shreve and Johnny Barbato, who were so excellent for a few weeks to start the season, combined to put three men on base in 2.1 innings. Shreve gave up a solo homer to Xander Bogaerts and has now has allowed four homers in his last 5.2 innings. Yeah, it literally hit the top of the wall and hopped over, but still. The middle innings are a bit of a mess right now.

The Yankees had three hits on the night: Gardner’s homer, Castro’s double, and Brian McCann‘s soft single in the first inning. McCann’s single should have been caught. I’m not sure why Holt pulled up and played the hop, but he did, and McCann’s batting average benefits.

And finally, Castro felt something in his rib cage diving back into third base when he was picked off in the seventh inning. Girardi seemed to indicate it is no big deal and thinks Starlin will play Monday. I bet he sits a day.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN is the place to go for the box score and updated standings. MLB.com has the video highlights. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand continues Monday night with the first of four against the defending World Series champion Royals. Ivan Nova will make his first start of the season in the opener. He’s replacing the injured CC Sabathia in the rotation. Big Chris Young will be on the bump for Kansas City. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to go to that game or any of the other six remaining games on the homestand.

Game 29: Win it for Mom

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. You’re all pretty cool and I hope you had a wonderful day.

As for the Yankees, they’re on the verge of sweeping the Red Sox, and that’s pretty awesome. If you told me two days ago the Yankees would win two of three this weekend, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Now? Now I’m greedy. I want the sweep. Go make mom proud. Here is the BoSox’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Dustin Ackley
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Chase Headley
    RHP Luis Severino

It was just a gorgeous afternoon for baseball in New York today. Too bad this game has to be played at night. It’s still nice and pleasant out, but, you know, the sun has gone down. Lame. Tonight’s series finale will begin a bit after 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) remains day-to-day. If he is not ready in five or six days, the Yankees will consider putting him on the DL.

DotF: Judge homers for fourth time in last eight games in Scranton’s loss

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 loss to Lehigh Valley)

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — threw a runner out at second for his fifth outfield assists in 23 games in the outfield … fourth homer in his last eight games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K — 8-for-38 (.211) since missing a few days after taking a pitch to the hand
  • DH Nick Swisher: 0-5, 2 K — in an 0-for-13 skid
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4 — the hitting streak is up to a dozen games
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 6/5 GB/FB — 58 of 97 pitches were strikes (60%) … had allowed six earned runs total in his first four outings at this level
  • RHP Matt Wotherspoon: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 20 of 32 pitches were strikes (63%) … home debut with the RailRiders for the Scranton area native
  • LHP James Pazos: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K — ten pitches, seven strikes

[Read more…]

Nate and the Round Trippers

(Getty)
(Getty)

Far be it from me to criticize Nathan Eovaldi after the start he turned in yesterday. He twirled eight great innings, giving up just two runs on only six hits while striking out six and walking no one. One of those runs, however, came via a Jackie Bradley homer, which caused our very own Sunny to make an observation:

Eovaldi seems to be giving up dingers in a very alarming rate compared to how well he kept the balls in the park last year

A quick glance at the numbers shows us that Sunny’s hunch is, indeed, correct. In terms of raw dingers, Eovaldi’s already given up six this year; he surrendered just ten all of last season. His career high is an acceptable 14, set the year before last with the Marlins. In terms of HR/FB%, Nate’s clocking in at a whopping 19.4%, well above his previous career high of 8.1 (2012) and career norm of 7.7. His mark so far is good for fifth worse in the AL. The season’s still fairly young, so he has plenty of time to bring this number back down. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not a problem worth examining.

Let’s start on a positive note: Eovaldi’s blistering fastball has not left the yard much during his Yankee tenure. In 2015, it turned into a homer on only 0.48% of the time it was thrown; so far this year, it’s even better at a whopping 0.00%. We can attribute this trend to the fact that he’s allowing fewer fly balls per ball in play this year at 13.46 percent, compared to 21.33% last year. Fewer fly balls, fewer home runs. Pretty simple. His other pitches, though have seen spikes in fly ball rates, and in turn, spikes in home run rates.

The fly ball rates on his slider, curve, and splitter have risen by 21.3%, 7.74%, and 1.73% respectively. Not surprisingly, his homer rates–measured by HR/(FB+LD)–have risen big time as well, including a humongous number with his curveball: 50%. 50% of the fly balls and line drives Eovaldi’s given up via the curveball have gone for home runs. Yikes! But, his curveball is the pitch he utilizes the least. The narrative around Eovaldi–aside from his high-octane fastball–has focused on his ability to develop his splitter. Though improved, it’s still a work in progress. This year, it has an 18.18% HR/(FB+LD) mark, which is more damaging than the gaudy mark on the curve, since he throws the splitter so much more often. Take a look below at batters’ (both LHB and RHB) ISO against the split:

(BrooksBaseball.Net)
(BrooksBaseball.Net)

Those red spots are telling. Regardless of who’s batting, a splitter in those locations is going to get hammered. For a right-handed batter, that’s a tumbling pitch at a better hitting speed than a straight fastball. For a lefty, those are meatballs that didn’t break right, begging to be hammered. This all reminds me of a similar issue that Masahiro Tanaka had late last year. Pitchers who rely on splitters are going to get hurt when those pitches don’t, well, split. That seems to be happening a bit with Eovaldi this year. Luckily, his whiff/swing% on the split is nearing 30% and he’s getting grounders on it exactly two-thirds of the time (66.67%) it’s being put into play. The pitch is an overall positive that needs some polishing. Hopefully as the season goes along, he gets it to drop out of the zone more and the grounders and whiffs stay, while the homers recede.