Mailbag: Kimbrel, Gallardo, A-Rod, Outfielders, Severino

Nice big mailbag this week. Fourteen questions total. Be sure to use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us questions throughout the week.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Jeff asks: Let’s hypothetically say the Yankees make a trade for Craig Kimbrel. What inning would he slot into?

I’d let Kimbrel close and use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller as setup men, though there’s really no wrong answer here. Miller closing with Kimbrel and Betances setting up? Sure. Dellin closing with Miller and Kimbrel setting up? That works too. All three are excellent, and as long as they’re pitching in high-leverage spots, the Yankees would be fine. That said, I don’t see the Yankees trading for Kimbrel. Yes, he would make the team better, but an elite closer is pretty much the last thing they need to add at the trade deadline. Get second base and rotation help first.

Mark asks: Why do you think the Yankees have signed more than their typical number of drafted players this year? Do you think it has anything to do with the two minor league teams they have added in the past few years? Seems like a decent way to gain a competitive advantage (extra spots means more lottery tickets) without having to worry about luxury tax.

Yes, I do think it has something to do with the extra affiliate (Rookie level Pulaski) this year. They need more bodies because there are more roster spots to fill. They didn’t sign more high-end prospects, they just added more late-round college juniors and seniors. The system doesn’t let teams spent as much as they want on higher upside prospects who fall due to signability concerns anymore. I do think having the extra affiliates gives the Yankees a developmental advantage, especially in the wake of last summer’s international spending spree. They need places to play these guys, and now they won’t have to share positions. Simply put, they can acquire more prospects because they have more places to play them.

Adam asks: Yovani Gallardo seems like a upgrade over Nathan Eovaldi/CC Sabathia/Ivan Nova, and won’t cost as much as Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels or Jeff Samardzija. What’s would we have to give up to get him?

The Rangers are falling out of the race — they’ve won just five of their last 20 games following that little hot streak that had people wondering if they were going to contend — and Gallardo is an impending free agent, so it would make sense for them to listen to offers, especially since he’s pitching better this season than he has in years. Gallardo, 29, has a 2.62 ERA (3.54 FIP) in 113.1 innings and recently had a 33.1-inning scoreless streak.

Among the various rental starters who figure to be available at the trade deadline, I’d rank Cueto at the top (duh) with Samardzija and Gallardo basically 2A and 2B, then Mike Leake a distant fourth. Gallardo has continued his weird “replace strikeouts with ground balls” trend …

Yovani Gallardo K GB

… which has been going on so long now that I have to think it’s a conscious decision. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different, especially since his strikeout rate is now well below the league average (20.2%). Even if it is something he is doing intentionally, the decline in missed bats is a red flag for me, though not enough of one to derail a trade because he is only a rental and not a long-term pickup.

The Rangers gave up three prospects to get Gallardo before the season — an MLB ready reliever (Corey Knebel), an MLB ready-ish all-glove/no-hit infielder (Luis Sardinas), and a pitcher all the way down in the Dominican Summer League (Marcos Diplan) — and I have to think it would cost less to get him now by virtue of acquiring only a half-season of him. Two good prospects? Say, Ramon Flores and Brady Lail? I think the Rangers are more likely to keep Gallardo and try to re-sign him (he grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area) than trade him though.

Sal asks: Mike, do you think if David Carpenter pitched better, Adam Warren might still be in the rotation? Did Yanks rationalize their CC sunk cost fallacy approach by “we need Warren in the pen” mentality?

No, I don’t think an effective Carpenter would have saved Warren’s rotation spot. The “we can’t remove Sabathia from the rotation because of his contract” monster is much larger than some middle reliever. The Yankees simply would have emphasized the “we need to be careful with Warren because he’s already over his innings total from the last two seasons” excuse instead. Having an effective Carpenter would have been nice. He showed the last two years with the Braves he could be a legitimate eighth inning guy. It didn’t happen though. That’s baseball. I don’t think it would have saved Warren’s rotation spot either way.

Chase asks: How would you play A-Rod in a World Series game at a NL park?

Gosh, that’s a tough one. The Yankees would will have home field advantage in the World Series now following the AL’s All-Star Game win, so they’d only have to play Games Three, Four, and potentially Five on the road. I think I would play Alex Rodriguez at third base in those games (and pull him for defense in the late innings, of course), especially since you know he’ll get a chance to rest during the off-day following Game Five. This is the World Series we’re talking about here. You’ve got to put the best team on the field and the Yankees are at their best with Alex in the lineup. Hopefully this is a situation we’ll get to discuss again in a few months.

Ben asks: I almost fainted watching Manny Machado back up Dellin Betances in the 7th inning of the All-Star Game. Obviously both awesome on their own, but I feel like their awesomeness complements each others’ in an almost poetic way. In that spirit, if you could put together an “All-Defense” team to back up the current staff, who’d make the squad?

That’s a good one. I’m basing this on no stats. This is all based on the eye test and my personal opinion, which could mean it is totally stupid. I’d go Yadier Molina at catcher (still) with Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Andrelton Simmons at short, Machado at third, Christian Yelich in left, Carlos Gomez in center, and Jason Heyward in right. You’ve got three ballhawks in the outfield and three dudes with rocket arms on the infield throwing to Teixeira. (A strong throwing arm is easily the most breathtaking tool in my opinion.) And Yadi. That team might actually score some runs too.

Alex Rodriguez
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

P.J. asks: Every year after the trade deadline the Yankees place several players high priced players (A-Rod, etc..) on revocable waivers. Do you think there is a chance any chance some team might claim A-Rod or Carlos Beltran if the Yankees put them up?

Zero. Well, there’s a tiny little chance someone claims Beltran, but I’d say it’s less than 1%. High-priced players on the downside of their careers almost never ever get claimed for obvious reasons. No one wants to get stuck with the contract. The only recent examples I can think of are Cliff Lee and Alex Rios — the Dodgers claimed Lee (who was still a legitimate ace at the time) but the Phillies pulled him back, and the Blue Jays dumped Rios’ contract on the White Sox (he was only 28 at the time). Every team puts every player on trade waivers in August, and the only ones who get claimed are the good players with favorable contracts. I would be stunned if someone claimed A-Rod and almost equally as stunned if someone claimed Beltran.

Kevin asks: Say Alex Rodriguez was a free agent at the end of this season; what kind of deal could he feasibly get after such a productive year? Would he even receive interest or would his problem-filled past scare teams away?

I don’t think he would get any offers. Barry Bonds was 42 in his final season, so a little older than Alex, but he also hit .276/.480/.565 (157 wRC+) with 28 homers in 126 games, and no one even made him an offer. (They’re both basically DHs too.) Teams decided Bonds wasn’t worth the baggage and poof, he was out of baseball. The only club I could see pursuing A-Rod is his hometown Marlins because they need all the attention and fan interest they can get. Where would he play? Who knows. That said, I think Rodriguez would get pariahed right out of baseball if he was a free agent after the season, no matter how well he hits.

Ethan asks: Should I be worried about Luis Severino‘s low K rate in AAA, especially as a pitcher who doesn’t throw a sinker?

Nah, not at all. Severino has struck out 18.3% of the batters he’s faced in 50.1 innings with the RailRiders while the International League average is 18.6%. Remember, we’re talking about a kid who just turned 21 in February facing grown men, many of whom have MLB experience. Severino is six (six!) years younger than the average player in the league. Also, in his last five starts, he has a 22.7% strikeout rate. It would be cool if Severino was punching out ten dudes every fifth day, but for where he is, he’s doing just fine.

Noa asks: Seeing that the Mets need hitting and have an excess of pitching, do you think the Yankees could trade for someone like Noah Syndergaard. Ignoring the fact that the Mets probably won’t trade with the Yankees, what do you think it would take to get him? I was thinking maybe Rob Refsnyder, Aaron Judge, and someone like Greg Bird or Jorge Mateo. What do you think it would take and would you do the trade?

I probably wouldn’t take a Refsnyder plus Judge plus Mateo package for Syndergaard if I were the Mets (they don’t need Bird with Lucas Duda at first), which I guess means I’d do it if I were the Yankees. Syndergaard has shown very quickly he can dominate MLB hitters (3.11 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 26.3 K%, 5.1 BB%) and a) aside from Refsnyder, no one in that package can step right into the lineup to help their offense, and b) no one in that package solves their most pressing problem, which is the giant hole at shortstop. The Mets seem hesitant to trade their young pitching and I get it, but I think they should try to turn one of those guys into a high-end position player. Syndergaard for Addison Russell, for example. Something along those lines. Judge, Refsnyder, and Mateo is a package that can be beat by several other teams and it doesn’t address the Mets’ biggest immediate needs.

Judge ... and Gary Sanchez! (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge … and Gary Sanchez! (Rob Carr/Getty)

Sal asks: Clearly Aaron Judge is a bit raw when it comes to facing bigger league pitching. Since he is being groomed for one of the OF spots next year, will prospects like Mason Williams/Ramon Flores be used more openly in trade talks in the coming months? I think some orgs. would love to have that kind of talent at upper levels of minors.

Yeah I think so. The Yankees have a ton of upper level outfielders — not just Williams, Flores, and Judge, but also Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Jake Cave — and all of them except Judge are either on the 40-man roster or have to be added this offseason to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. How many outfield prospects can one team carry on the 40-man? I absolutely think the Yankees should and will trade from their outfield depth either at the trade deadline or early in the offseason. They can’t keep all these guys. There’s not enough room for them on the 40-man roster or at Triple-A Scranton.

Jon S. asks: We always see how many wins a player is worth or how many above replacement. But how many wins is replacement? If a team had all replacement level players, how many games would they win?

It fluctuates year-to-year, the same way the league batting average or ERA changes slightly each season. A team of replacement level players would win somewhere in the range of 44-48 games, give or take depending on the year. The worst team this century was the 2003 Tigers at 43-119, who had one pretty good player (Dmitri Young at 3.4 WAR) and a whole bunch of sub-replacement level guys. That’s as close to a replacement level team as you’ll find.

Pounder asks: Has anybody not chosen or played in an All Star Game ever went on to win their league’s MVP?

Oh sure, it’s happened a few times. Kirk Gibson in the 1988 is the most famous example of a player winning MVP but not being an All-Star — Gibson ranks third all-time in WAR among position players never selected to an All-Star Game — but others like Jimmy Rollins (2007), Justin Morneau (2006), Chipper Jones (1999), and Juan Gonzalez (1996) have all done it recently. I’m sure there are others. I stopped looking after 1996 though.

Jeffrey asks: Is it just me or does it seem the Yankees play better and win more against the teams with good records? Do you have the split on how they have done against the teams with winning records and losing records this year?

The Yankees are 21-15 (.583) with a +25 run differential against winning teams this season and 27-25 (.519) with a +1 run differential against teams at .500 or worse. I wouldn’t read much into these numbers at all though. Consider that if the Tigers win tonight, they move to a game over .500 and the Yankees are suddenly 26-17 (.605) with a +45 run differential against teams with a winning record and 22-23 (.489) with a -19 run differential against teams at or below .500. Did the Yankees do anything different? No, the Tigers won some random game the Yankees had no control over, improved to 45-44 on the season, and it drastically changed New York’s record against winning teams and losing teams. So yes, the Yankees do have a higher winning percentage against teams with good records this year. I also don’t think it means much going forward.

DotF: Beltran singles in second rehab game; Judge homers in Triple-A

Triple-A Scranton (8-7 win over Louisville in eleven innings)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-6, 1 R, 1 RBI, 3 K, 1 SB
  • 2B Jose Pirela: 4-5, 2 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 E (both throwing) — had been 2-for-12 (.167) since being sent down
  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-3, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 BB
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-5
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 6/4 GB/FB — 47 of 81 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Wilking Rodriguez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eight of 13 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven of 12 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K — eight of 15 pitches were strikes (53%) … he’s allowed seven runs in two innings since being sent down
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K — just one of his dozen pitches was a ball … 67/14 K/BB in 46.1 innings

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

Just one more night left in the All-Star break. The Yankees and every other team returns to action tomorrow — Robinson Cano, Jesus Montero and the rest of the Mariners are coming to the Bronx for a three-game weekend set — so enjoy this last night away from baseball. There’s a whole bunch of nothing going on in the world of sports today, so you’re on your own for entertainment. Have at it.

Aaron Judge ranks 13th on Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list


Over at ESPN (subs. req’d), Keith Law posted his midseason list of the top 50 prospects in the minor leagues today. Dodgers SS Corey Seager, the consensus top prospect in baseball following the wave of recent promotions, is predictably ranked first. Phillies SS J.P. Crawford and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito rank second and third, respectively.

The Yankees have one prospect on Law’s midseason list, and it’s OF Aaron Judge at No. 13. Judge also ranked 13th on both Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ midseason lists last week. So I guess that makes him the consensus 13th best prospect in baseball. How about that? Here’s a snippet of Law’s blurb on Judge:

(Judge is) all muscle and is shockingly athletic for someone his size, an average or better runner with a 65 or 70 arm. Judge has good feel to hit and enormous raw power, and he commands the strike zone well, with a lower strikeout rate than you’d expect from a guy with arms this long. He covers the inner third so well that he’s more vulnerable to stuff away, but overall has kept his strikeout rate to about 25 percent or better even as he has moved up three times in the past 14 months.

RHP Luis Severino did not make Law’s midseason list but he is one of seven honorable mentions, so I guess that means he would have made his midseason top 57 prospects list. Round numbers are sexier though. Law does say Severino is “more likely” to be a reliever than starter down the road because of his delivery. Judge ranked 23rd on Law’s preseason list while Severino was on the outside looking in.

Also, in this afternoon’s chat (subs. req’d), Law said the Yankees currently have five top 100 caliber prospects in Judge, Severino, 1B Greg Bird, SS Jorge Mateo, and the just signed RHP James Kaprielian. (Not necessarily in that order.) Bird ranked 80th on his preseason list and Law says Kaprielian would be “in the 51-100 range, probably around 75th.” Also, Law said LHP Ian Clarkin “would be a top 100 guy if he were healthy,” which he’s not, obviously. Hopefully he will be one day.

2015 Midseason Review: The New-Look Bullpen With An Even Newer-Look

The Yankees put a lot of time and effort (and resources) into improving their bullpen this past offseason, and, of course, halfway through the season three-sevenths of the relief crew has changed. The bullpen to start the season is never ever the one that finishes the season. Changes are inevitable and the Yankees went through several in the first half of the 2015 campaign.

Miller. (Presswire)
Miller. (Presswire)

The Not Co-Closers

Even before Spring Training started, Joe Girardi floated the idea of using Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances as co-closers. Miller would face the tough lefties regardless of whether they batted in the eighth or ninth while Betances got the tough righties in those innings. It was a wonderful plan that made perfect sense … until Dellin showed up to Tampa unable to throw strikes. That threw a big wrench into the works.

Betances walked six batters in 9.1 innings during Grapefruit League play and looked worse than that. He couldn’t locate his fastball to save his life and his breaking ball was flat. Given his history of being, well, let’s say enigmatic in the minors, there was definitely a reason to be concerned. The Yankees were built to win close games on the back of a dominant bullpen, with Betances being the centerpiece. Suddenly that centerpiece didn’t look so reliable.

Thankfully, Dellin was able to right the ship a few appearances into the regular season, and while he hasn’t been as overwhelming as last year, he has still been one of the three or four best relievers in the game. Heck, if you’re a disciple of fWAR, he has been the best reliever in baseball by almost half-a-win. Betances earned himself another trip to the All-Star Game and even picked up a few saves when Miller hit the DL with a forearm problem.

Miller, meanwhile, has stepped into the closer’s role smoothly and been overpowering, racking up strikeouts and getting grounders. He’s a lefty, yeah, but that doesn’t matter. Righties are hitting .082/.212/.165 (.189 wOBA) against him. The four-week DL stint stunk, but Miller returned last week and looks fine aside from some obvious rust. Maybe more than one minor league rehab outing would have been a good idea.

Betances and Miller have anchored the bullpen — they are turning those late-inning leads into wins as planned, the Yankees have a .949 winning percentage when leading after seven innings compared to the .883 league average — and their numbers are straight out of a video game. I know strikeouts are up and pitching dominates today’s MLB, but geez, look at this:

Betances 47.0 1.53 1.69 42.5% 10.5% 48.2% 0.38
Miller 29.1 1.53 2.29 39.5% 9.2% 54.4% 0.61
Combined 76.1 1.53 1.69 41.3% 10.0% 50.7% 0.47

They’ve allowed 30 hits combined in 76.1 innings. They have a combined .194 BABIP, which is extraordinarily low, though Betances and Miller have two of the 20 best soft contact rates in baseball, and soft contact leads to lower than usual BABIPs. Maybe it won’t be that low all season, but their true talent BABIP is likely sub-.250.

Even with their higher than you’d like walk rates, Betances and Miller are putting just 0.79 runners on base per inning combined. When hitters have been lucky enough to put the ball in play against these guys, it has usually been on the ground, and the odds of it falling in for a hit are low. Aside from Dellin’s little hiccup at the start of the season, these two have been exactly what the Yankees hoped they would be this year. They’re dominating in the late innings and are critical pieces of the team’s success.

The Flop

As the Yankees overhauled their bullpen this offseason, the only notable right-hander they brought in was David Carpenter. He was supposed to be the third wheel behind Betances and Miller, handling seventh inning duties and filling in in the eighth or ninth when necessary. Carpenter had a lot of success with the Braves from 2013-14 (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and he fit the Yankees’ mold as a hard-throwing strikeout guy. It just didn’t work is planned.

More like Crapenter amirite? (Presswire)
More like Crapenter amirite? (Presswire)

The first real sign that hey, Carpenter might not work out came in Baltimore in the ninth game of the season. He started the sixth inning with a one-run lead, immediately gave up the game-tying home run, then put two more runners on base before being yanked in the eventual loss. A few weeks later Joe Girardi asked Carpenter to protect a six-run lead with three outs to go against the Blue Jays, and the inning went homer, ground ball, fly ball, walk, ground-rule double, single before Miller had to come in.

Carpenter allowed eight runs on ten hits and three walks in a span of 6.2 innings in mid-May, which pushed him into “last guy out of the bullpen” territory. Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of opportunities to right the ship — he appeared in eleven of 22 games (4.32 ERA and a .353/.410/.618 batting line against) before being designated for assignment on June 3rd. He was later traded to the Nationals for an iffy Double-A prospect.

The end result was a 4.82 ERA (5.27 FIP) in 18.2 innings with strikeout (13.4%) and walk (8.5%) rates that were way too close together. Carpenter has a lower ERA with the Nationals (1.50) but he still isn’t missing bats (16.0%), which is the real problem. This is a guy who struck out 27.4% of batters faced during his two years in Atlanta. Relievers, man. They go poof without warning all the time.

The Guy Who Doesn’t Belong Here

Carpenter’s ineffectiveness created a need for a second right-handed reliever behind Betances. Eventually, after a parade of call-ups, the Yankees settled on the guy who held that job so effectively last season: Adam Warren. Warren had been very good as a starter during the first few weeks of the season (3.59 ERA and 4.12 FIP), but Ivan Nova had come back from Tommy John surgery and CC Sabathia wasn’t going to lose his rotation spot, so back to the bullpen he went. Life ain’t fair.

Warren has thrown six innings in six relief appearances since moving to the bullpen, including 2.2 innings in his very first appearance. Girardi has used Warren like he used him last year, as a handyman capable of pitching in tight games and entering mid-inning. Warren had a little bump in the road last weekend in Boston (0.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K) but it happens. Even good relievers have bad days. Now that his time as a starter has come to an end (at least this year, most likely), Warren has joined non-LOOGYs Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson to form the bridge to Dellin and Miller.

The Long Mans

Every bullpen needs a long man, and for most of this season that long man was Esmil Rogers. And gosh, was he not good (6.27 ERA and 4.62 FIP). Rogers deserves major props for gutting through 4.2 innings in the 19-inning game against the Red Sox — he threw 81 pitches that night after throwing 35 the night before, dude bit the bullet — but he allowed 24 runs (!) and 41 base-runners (!!!) in his last 16.2 innings with the team. Egads. Rogers was dropped from both the 25-man and 40-man rosters in mid-June and is currently in Triple-A.

Chris Capuano has since taken over as the long man after coming to camp as the fifth starter. He hurt his quad, missed two months, allowed eleven runs and 22 base-runners in 12.2 innings in his first three starts back, then was moved to the bullpen. Warren basically Wally Pipp’d him. Capuano hasn’t pitched a whole lot since taking over as the long man — that’s a good thing, really — throwing just 15.2 innings across ten appearances in the team’s last 38 games. He has a 3.45 ERA (3.59 FIP) since moving to the bullpen. If you’re expected the long man to be better than that, I suggest recalibrating expectations.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Revolving Door

A total of 27 different pitchers have appeared in at least one game for the Yankees already this season. 27! It was 33 all of last year and 24 all of 2013. The Yankees used 27+ pitchers once from 2009-13 (28 in 2011) and they’ve already used 27 at the All-Star break this season. And the craziest thing is that most of the team’s core pitchers have stayed healthy, with Miller’s forearm and Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm the only exceptions.

There is no way I’m going to recap 20-something pitchers here, especially since several only threw a handful of innings (if that). So instead let’s hit on the most notable arms to come through that revolving door, listed alphabetically:

  • Jacob Lindgren: Lindgren, the team’s top draft pick last summer, was called up in late-May and posted a 5.14 ERA (8.08 FIP) in seven innings. It turned out Lindgren had been pitching with a bone spur in his elbow, so he had surgery in late-June and will miss most of the rest of the season. Disappointing!
  • Chris Martin: Martin was not only on the Opening Day roster, but Girardi showed a lot of faith in his early on as well. He even picked up a save when Betances and Miller were unavailable one night. Martin’s elbow started barking in early-May, which landed him on the DL. He hasn’t been the same since. Martin has a 5.63 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 16 innings and is currently in Triple-A.
  • Bryan Mitchell: Mitchell has been up and down a few times but has finally seemed to stick in a short relief role. He has a 2.89 ERA (2.11 FIP) with nine strikeouts in 9.1 innings. PitchFX says he’s averaging 96.6 mph with his fastball and 92.6 mph with his cutter. That’ll do. Mitchell seems to be carving out a role as a middle innings flamethrower but could wind up in Triple-A if the club acquires an arm.
  • Chase Whitley: Poor Ace Whitley. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A this year so he could be available as their spot sixth starter, then he got the call when Tanaka landed on the DL. In his fourth start with the team, Whitely blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. For shame. He had a 4.19 ERA (4.53 FIP) in 19.1 innings before getting hurt.

The Yankees cycled through almost their entire Triple-A bullpen at one point as they looked for someone to emerge as a reliable righty reliever. Well, not really. A lot of those guys were called up simply because the team needed a fresh arm at some point. The Yankees opted to keep Lindgren over Carpenter, and now it looks like Mitchell will be given an opportunity to stick around in the second half. Rogers, Carpenter, and Martin were all on the Opening Day roster and have since been replaced by Capuano, Mitchell, and Warren. So it goes.

2015 Midseason Review: The Non-LOOGYs

The Yankees overhauled their bullpen this offseason, so much so that just one reliever was on both the 2014 and 2015 Opening Day rosters. That, of course, was Dellin Betances. The Yankees had a new closer, a new long reliever, and a new middle innings crew to start this season, and they were heavy on left-handers for the first time in years. Two of those southpaws haven proven to be way more than the average Lefty One Out GuY.


The Lefty They’ve Been Waiting For

By my count the Yankees made five trades involving bonafide MLB caliber players this past offseason, and the very first one sent Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson. To date it has been a perfect win-win trade — the Pirates got a starting catcher to replace Russell Martin while the Yankees beefed up their bullpen and cleared the backup job for John Ryan Murphy. Both teams have to be pleased with the return halfway through the 2015 season.

Wilson came to New York with a reputation for throwing hard and not always throwing strikes, which is pretty much exactly what he’s done during his first three and a half months in pinstripes. His fastball has averaged 95.0 mph this season — only the inhuman Aroldis Chapman (99.6 mph!) has a higher average fastball velocity among lefty relievers — and he’s walked 10.9% of batters faced. Last year those numbers were 95.0 mph and 11.7%, respectively.

The walks are annoying, but Wilson excels at missing bats (24.8 K% in 2014 after 23.8 K% last year) and keeping the ball on the ground (50.0 GB% after 51.3 GB% last year). That’s a good combination. I’ll take my chances with a guy who misses bats and gets grounders, even if he walks a few too many. Wilson is also effective against righties, which is huge. Righties are hitting .159/.266/.246 (.240 wOBA) against him with a 26.6 K% and a 53.2 GB%. That’s after Wilson held righties to a .279 wOBA last year and a .258 wOBA the year before.

The success against righties is not new and Joe Girardi is aware of that — he’s used Wilson as a full-inning reliever for weeks now. That wasn’t the case in April because Wilson walked way too many righty batters out of the gate, but Andrew Miller‘s injury forced Girardi to use Wilson for full innings and he’s responded in a big way. He has a 1.23 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.2 K% and a manageable 8.6 BB% in 22 innings over the last two months. That works!

With all due respect to Boone Logan, who had some solid years for the Yankees, Wilson is the kind of left-handed reliever the club has been trying to acquire since Mike Stanton left as a free agent. Hard-throwing, strikeout and ground ball heavy, able to get righties out. No one’s perfect, he does walk too many, but otherwise Wilson has every quality you want in a late-inning reliever. He’s a legitimate setup man. He just happens to throw lefty.

Chasin’ Shreve


The last of those five offseason trades brought the relatively unknown Chasen Shreve to the Yankees in January. I’m a total baseball nerd and even I hadn’t heard of Shreve at the time of the trade. The Yankees decided it was time to stop waiting for Manny Banuelos, so they turned him into Shreve and David Carpenter, the latter of whom flopped spectacularly in pinstripes.

Shreve was on the verge of getting pushed out of baseball last year when he reinvented himself as a hard(er) thrower, and while the extra velocity is nice, he’s emerged as a trusted reliever in New York because of his split-finger fastball. That’s the pitch that has allowed him to post a 2.02 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 26.8 K% in 35.2 innings this year, his first extended taste of big league action. Shreve doesn’t have great walk (9.4%) or ground ball (39.5%) numbers, but they haven’t hurt him yet.

Like Wilson, Shreve has been ultra-effective against right-handed hitters this season. Wilson does it with velocity, Shreve with the splitter. Righties have put up a .141/.224/.260 (.215 wOBA) batting line with a 23.3 K% against Shreve so far this year, and Girardi has regularly brought him into games to put out fires. Ten of his last 21 appearances have come mid-inning with men on base. Eight of those appearances have come with the score separated by no more than two runs. Shreve in inherited 15 runners in those eight games and one scored. One!

As Katie explained recently, Shreve’s splitter has been a difference-maker for him and the Yankees. There was a question of whether he would even make the team out of Spring Training — Shreve had a 4.76 ERA in camp and was especially yucky in late-March — and then once the season started, he really didn’t have a role. Well he did have a role, he was the last guy out of the bullpen, but Shreve continued to get outs and has become a critical part of the relief crew.

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Both Wilson and Shreve pitched their way into the Circle of Trustâ„¢ in the first half thanks in large part to their work when Miller was sidelined. They both stepped up and assumed high-leverage innings, and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat. With Miller back, Wilson and Shreve will now be Girardi’s go-to middle innings weapons. That they both throw left-handed but can get right-handed hitters out is a bonus.

More pitching depth a must at the trade deadline even if it creates a roster squeeze


Know who the Yankees miss? Chase Whitley. Don’t get me wrong, he’s was exactly a critical part of the pitching staff, but Whitley was the de facto spot sixth starter and a useful depth arm. Joe Girardi admitted the team’s plan for Whitley this year was to keep him stretched out in Triple-A and use him as a spot starter to give the regular rotation members extra rest on occasion. They haven’t been able to do that since Ace Whitley blew out his elbow.

Thanks in part to Whitley’s injury, as well as the general injury risk in the rotation, the Yankees should look to add pitching depth at the trade deadline. I mean, every team should, right? That is especially true for these contending Yankees because guys like Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee) carry more injury risk than most other starting pitchers. Ivan Nova has been rather uneven in his return from Tommy John surgery as well.

The question is not whether they should add pitching depth, but how do they fit it on the roster? Sabathia isn’t coming out of the rotation, and even if he did, the Yankees would simply move him to the bullpen and not off the roster entirely. Same with Nathan Eovaldi. He’s in the rotation. The only flexible spots in the bullpen belong to Bryan Mitchell and Chris Capuano, and I get the feeling the Yankees aren’t going to cut ties with Capuano only because he’s fine for the long man role and could always start if necessary.

With Whitley out, you could argue New York’s sixth (Adam Warren), seventh (Capuano), and eighth (Mitchell) starters are in the big league bullpen. That leaves either Luis Severino or Esmil Rogers as the next in line spot starter whenever one is needed. That’s … not ideal. Severino has dominated Triple-A but he’s not someone you want to jerk around. Whitley was perfect for that spot starter role because he could go up and down with no real concern for his long-term development.

So the Yankees have something of a roster crunch on their hands. They could always option Mitchell to clear a roster spot — man, hasn’t he looked great in short relief though? — but otherwise there’s not much flexibility, not if the Yankees are committed to Sabathia as a starter. The should definitely acquire an extra starter to protect themselves against injury down the stretch, but where does that guy fit? Trading for, say, Johnny Cueto means either Sabathia or Eovaldi (or Nova?) goes to the bullpen and that seems so very unlikely.

This of course is a dumb problem. Making room for a good pitcher is not a “problem.” It’s a minor nuisance. Someone’s feelings will be hurt and you move on. Warren went through it already. The Yankees do need to acquire more pitching at the trade deadline; the guys in the rotation have too many healthy questions to ignore. If that means someone undeserving like Mitchell gets squeezed to Triple-A, so be it. These things always have a way of working themselves out and you’d rather have “too much” pitching than not enough.