The Marginalization of Adam Warren

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Six weeks ago the Yankees took Adam Warren out of the rotation and demoted him to the bullpen for reasons that were unspoken but also crystal clear. Ivan Nova had returned from Tommy John surgery and the team wasn’t prepared to remove CC Sabathia from the rotation because of his contract, so to the ‘pen Warren went. He was the low man on the totem pole.

At the time Warren had a 3.59 ERA (4.14 FIP) in 14 starts and was trending in a positive direction, with a 2.96 ERA (4.07 FIP) and an average of 6.1 innings per start in his final eight starts. He seemed to be getting comfortable as a big league starter, but the Yankees said they needed another reliable right-handed reliever, and Warren was bumped from the starting five.

Warren had quite a bit of success as a reliever the last two years, first as a long man in 2013 and then as a short reliever in 2014, so while removing him from the rotation stunk, the move figured to improve the bullpen. Andrew Miller was on the DL at the time and the Yankees were searching for a reliable righty to pair with Dellin BetancesDavid Carpenter was out of favor by this point — and Warren seemed perfect for the job.

Instead, Warren has become something of a low-leverage multi-inning reliever, the guy who comes in to soak up some innings when a starter does the five-and-fly thing. Since being moved to the bullpen, Warren’s average leverage index when entering the game is 0.63. 0.63! Esmil Rogers was the epitome of a low-leverage mop-up man and he had a 0.67 LI with the Yankees this year. A 0.63 LI would rank 132nd among the 138 qualified relievers in MLB. (A LI of 1.0 is average. The smaller the LI, the less important the situation.)

Instead of being that second righty setup man we all kinda assumed he would be when he was moved back to the bullpen, Warren’s instead been a mop-up man. Not a guy who moves the needle, and things have been especially egregious of late. Here is the score situation for the Yankees when Warren entered his last six games:

sixth inning down four
seventh inning up 14
sixth inning up ten
sixth inning down two
sixth inning down four
seventh inning down two

I’d be more than happy with Warren pitching in a bunch of games the Yankees were leading by double digits if it happened more often, but that’s not realistic. When Warren entered those games with the Yankees down two, the LI was 0.59 and 0.52. His average LI entering those six games was 0.32. A two-run deficit in the sixth or seventh innings is hardly insurmountable, especially with New York’s generally awesome offense, but in a vacuum it is considered low-leverage work.

Now here’s the thing: Warren’s recent usage is more a result of the game situations and availability than managerial blunders. Yes, Warren absolutely should have faced Justin Smoak with the bases loaded Saturday (this isn’t second guessing, it was clear Nova was out of gas when he was left in to face Smoak), but otherwise there haven’t been any missed opportunities to get him high-leverage work, so to speak. The Yankees scored a ton of runs for a two-week stretch recently and there weren’t many chances to get Warren more important innings.

Me too, Adam. Me too. (Presswire)
Me too, Adam. Me too. (Presswire)

Warren’s ability to throw multiple innings and the starting staff’s inability to pitch deep into games is working against him. The starter is out after five innings, Joe Girardi goes to Warren for two or three innings, and boom, he’s suddenly unavailable for two or three days. For example, had he not been needed for 41 pitches following Luis Severino‘s five-inning start on Wednesday, Warren likely would have pitched in extra innings Friday, not Branden Pinder.

Perhaps the best course of action going forward is forgetting about Warren’s ability to go multiple innings and treating him as a true one (or occasionally two) inning reliever, allowing him to be available for more games and more high-leverage situations. Maybe this weekend was a sign that’s happening. He faced two batters Saturday then three batters Sunday. (Yes, I know Warren loaded the bases with no outs yesterday. No, I don’t think that means he is not worthy of high-leverage innings. It’s one game.)

Treating Warren as a one inning guy would require having another viable long reliever in the bullpen, at least until rosters expand in three weeks. Bryan Mitchell could be that guy, he is stretched out to 70 or so pitches, though it seems like the Yankees are planning to give him a spot start sometime in the near future to rest the rest of the rotation. That makes Mitchell less of a long relief option. I’m sure they could figure out a way to make it work though. Also, I’m not saying making Warren a one inning guy is definitely the right move. Just throwing it out there as an idea.

Either way, Warren has been reduced from effective starting pitcher to low-leverage mop-up man these last few weeks for more than a few reasons, including the team’s decision to keep running Sabathia out there every fifth day. Warren’s been a wasted asset of late. He’s a good pitcher — a good pitcher versatile enough to pitch in many situations — yet he hasn’t been put in position to provide the team with any sort of impact since being demoted back to relief.

2015 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Thursday

Price. (Harry How/Getty)
Price. (Harry How/Getty)

We are now just one day away from the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees have not yet made a move but I expect them to do something by 4pm ET tomorrow. They need pitching — I’m not sure how much more obvious it could be at this point — and a new second baseman sure would be cool too. Don’t be fooled by the six-game lead in the AL East, there are holes on the roster.

Late last night, Cole Hamels was traded to the Rangers in an eight-player deal, taking arguably the best available pitcher off the board. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we learned the Tigers are making David Price and their other rental players available, which is significant because Price would look wonderful in pinstripes. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here. Talk about all of ’em in this open thread.

  • 2:50pm ET: Not only do the Yankees not want to trade top prospects, they are hesitant to trade guys like Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell as well. The sense is they will add a reliever to deepen the bullpen. Warren could then be a candidate to return to the rotation. [Joel Sherman]
  • 2:47pm ET: The Mariners plan to keep impending free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. He’s a favorite of ownership and they could always re-sign him in the offseason. The Yankees had not been connected to Iwakuma but he seemed like a logical fit. (Masahiro Tanaka‘s teammate in Japan!) [Jeff Passan]
  • 2:23pm ET: The Yankees are “poised to strike” and are in on all the available arms. That … really doesn’t tell us anything new. The Yankees are typically a club that waits until the last minute to make trades, however. The Martin Prado and Stephen Drew deals were announced after the deadline last year.[Ken Rosenthal]
  • 2:01pm ET: The Yankees are on the “periphery” of the Yovani Gallardo race. He is very available and a bunch of teams are in the mix. Gallardo is still scheduled to start against the Yankees tonight. [Heyman]
  • 12:50pm ET: David Price is heading to the Blue Jays for a package of top prospects, including Daniel Norris and Anthony Alford. So scratch him off the list.
  • 12:06pm ET: The Blue Jays appear to be “closing in” on a trade for David Price according to multiple reports. Toronto hasn’t been to the postseason since 1993 and they acquired Troy Tulowitzki a few days ago. The chips are firmly in the middle of the table.
  • 10:07am ET: The Yankees are considering among Mike Leake‘s most likely landing spots at this point. They’re also a candidate to acquire Jeff Samardzija should the surging White Sox decide to move him. Special assistant Jim Hendry drafted the righty when he was Cubs GM and Larry Rothschild was Samardzija’s pitching coach in Chicago for a few years. [Heyman]
  • 9:30am ET: The Yankees are one of four serious contenders for David Price, along with the Dodgers, Giants, and Blue Jays. All four clubs are in talks with the Tigers. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees discussed Dustin Ackley with the Mariners. Ramon Flores and Ben Gamel came up but Seattle wanted more — I believe it was Flores or Gamel, not both — so talks stalled out. For whatever reason the Yankees have been after Ackley for years. [Mark Feinsand]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

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:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
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 Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

Devil’s Advocate: The benefits of moving Adam Warren to the bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees made it official prior to last night’s game, announcing Adam Warren has moved back into a bullpen role after the team used a six-man rotation for a week or so following Ivan Nova‘s return. “It’s a tough decision because he’s pitched so well but it’s what we need to do,” said Joe Girardi to reporters. Warren led the non-Nova starters with a 3.59 ERA (110 ERA+) at the time of his demotion, by the way.

The move is not at all surprising. The Yankees are unwilling to take the ineffective CC Sabathia out of the rotation — “That’s not something that we’re considering at this moment. We’re going to continue to give him every opportunity to work through this for the foreseeable future,” said Brian Cashman to Wally Matthews — and Warren has had success in a relief role before, so back to the bullpen he goes. It was an easy move and completely expected.

I don’t agree with the decision to move Warren into the bullpen for a few reasons, first and foremost because he’s still reasonably young (27) and I’d like to find out if he can be a long-term rotation fixture, not just a stopgap. The Yankees have been desperately waiting for a young starter to emerge basically since Nova debuted, and here they might have one. Now we won’t get to find out whether Warren can be a long-term part of the rotation.

Even though I don’t agree with the move, it’s time to play devil’s advocate and look at some reasons why Warren is better off in the bullpen, and why the Yankees are better with him in that role. There are two sides to every story. Time to look beyond the “Warren doesn’t deserve to lose his rotation spot” angle.

Workload Concerns

Might as well start here since this is the easiest. Warren has already thrown 85.1 innings this season, more than he threw last year (78.2) or the year before (77). Furthermore, Warren averages 3.93 pitches per plate appearance. That’s the tenth highest rate in baseball and well above the 3.80 P/PA average. Measuring Warren’s workload through his raw innings total is a little deceiving because his innings tend to be long innings, at least longer than league average.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Warren’s career high is 155 innings set back in 2012. He threw 155 innings that year and 152.1 innings the year before that, so pitching deep into the season won’t be a new experience for him. And Warren’s not some 21 or 22-year old prospect either, the Yankees can turn him loose more easily than they could someone like Luis Severino. That said, fatigue is always possible. You don’t run marathons at ages 23-24, scale back to jogging a few miles a week from ages 25-26, then jump right back into a marathon at age 27. I mean, you can try, but your body won’t like it.

Regardless of whether you agree with their tactics, the Yankees have shown they will do whatever they can to control workloads and keep their pitchers healthy. Warren is older, yeah, but he’s also under team control through 2018 and they have plenty of reasons to try to keep him healthy. He’s on pace for 175-ish innings this year and he might run into a wall at some point in the second half, and if he does, his chances of injury increase. Pitching leads to injuries in general. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous.

“My arm has felt great, but it’s only half the season,” said Warren to Chad Jennings. “I was talking to somebody about this last night; the inning issue is tough, because you usually don’t know how much is too much until it’s too late and you get hurt. I am glad that they’re looking after my health and trying to take care of me. That means a lot to me. But how do know how many innings you can throw? It’s hard to say.”

Regression Coming?

I’ve come to hate the word regression because it’s become a lazy substitute for actual analysis, but dammit, sometimes you actually have to use it, and this is one of those times. Warren has pitched very well overall this season (3.48 ERA and 4.10 FIP) and yet there are still some reasons to think he won’t continue to perform this well as the summer marches on. He’s a … dun dun dun … regression candidate.

Starting with the basics, Warren’s strikeout rate is not good at 16.1% (MLB average is 20.1%), and that’s especially true against lefties: Warren has struck out just 12.2% of the left-handed batters he’s faced this season. That’s really bad. Really, really bad. Warren’s walk (7.8%) and home run (0.84 HR/9 and 8.9 HR/FB%) rates are right in line with his career averages (8.1% and 0.90/10.1%), but his ground ball and fly ball rates are trending in the wrong direction:

Adam Warren GB FB LD 2013-15The green line is Warren’s ground ball rate and the blue line is his fly ball rate, so he’s been getting fewer grounders and more fly balls of late. Fly balls aren’t necessarily a bad thing, they go for hits less often than ground balls (but go for extra bases more often!), but Warren has also given up more hard contact as the season has progressed — he went from a 23.5% hard contact in April to 25.6% in June. So it’s not just more balls in the air, it’s more hard-hit balls in the air. Not good!

Assuming Warren’s performance will take a step back as his workload increases seems like a decent bet, I mean that happens to many pitchers each year, and the league will also get more looks at him as well. Both the Red Sox and Orioles have already seen Warren twice this year and had more success the second time, for example. (At the same time, the Rays and Tigers have seem him twice and Warren was more successful the second look, so who knows.) The general inability to miss bats and the increase in the number of hard-hit air balls are legitimate red flags however, especially as the workload grows.

Bullpen Upgrade

The Yankees didn’t send Warren to Triple-A. It’s not like they dropped him from the roster. They sent him to the bullpen, where he was quite effective the last two years in different roles. He had a 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) as the long man in 2013, which made him the Tom Seaver of long relievers. Last year Warren had a 2.97 ERA (2.89 FIP) in kind of a bullpen handyman role. He was a setup man, a multi-inning middle reliever, occasionally a long man, and heck, he even picked up three saves. Whatever Girardi needed, Warren did it.

Warren came out of the bullpen in a high-leverage spot last night, and he figures to take over as Girardi’s primary right-handed setup man until Andrew Miller returns from the DL. The Yankees have been looking for a righty reliever to do what Warren did last year, and now Warren will again fill that role. Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have been fine setup relievers. Add Warren to that mix and the bullpen has a little more balance and much more depth. Pair Warren with healthy Miller, and the Yankees might actually have that superbullpen they were dreaming about coming into 2015.

* * *

As I’ve said, I think the Yankees made a mistake by taking Warren out of the rotation, but what’s done is done. His workload going forward is definitely something to monitor, and there are some red flags in his contact rates and quality, so there are a few reasons to think his performance as a starter was going to get worse as the season progressed, not better (or even stayed the same). Plus he’ll be a huge asset in relief. The bullpen is definitely stronger now than it was without Warren. There are absolutely some benefits to the move even if the demotion is completely undeserved.

Game 79: Runs Required

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are five games into this seven-game road trip and so far they’ve scored 14 total runs. Nine of the 14 came in one game. Six of the nine came in an inning and a third against Brett Oberholtzer. So when facing non-Oberholtzer pitchers, the Yankees have scored eight runs in 42.1 innings on the trip. That’s bad! If the offense was a pitcher it would be a Cy Young favorite.

Tonight the offense gets a crack at rookie left-hander Andrew Heaney, who was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels in the span of about five hours this offseason. Rookie starters have a 4.95 ERA against the Yankees this season, so that’s encouraging. It doesn’t mean they’ll hit Heaney, but it’s better than hearing rookie pitchers have a 1.95 ERA against the Yankees this season, I guess. Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Ivan Nova

Believe it or not, it was raining in Anaheim earlier today, but the storms have cleared out and the sky is supposed to be clear for the game tonight. First pitch is scheduled for just after 10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy, yo.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) was scratched with “general fatigue” in his legs, Joe Girardi told reporters. He was scheduled to play center field in his second rehab game with High-A Tampa. Girardi is hopeful Ellsbury will play tomorrow.

Rotation Update: As expected, Adam Warren has been moved to the bullpen, Girardi confirmed. “It’s a tough decision because he’s pitched so well but it’s what we need to do,” said the skipper. This is both dumb and totally expected.

Yankees facing tough but welcome roster decisions this month

(Scranton Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times Tribune)

At some point very soon — likely next week — the Yankees will welcome Ivan Nova back to the rotation. He allowed one run in six innings in his second Triple-A rehab start over the weekend, but apparently he had issues with his command and wasn’t as sharp as he had been in previous rehab starts. Joe Girardi confirmed yesterday Nova will make one more minor league rehab start later this week.

“We just feel we want to make sure that he’s finished off,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “It’s not something that’s easy to make an adjustment if you say, we wish we would have had one more start, so we talked about it for a couple days and we just think it’s better that we know that he’s ready to go and ready to handle the rigors of throwing every fifth day and all that … We waited a long time and to give him one more start and to make sure that he’s ready is probably the best thing to do.”

Once Nova is deemed ready to rejoin the Yankees, the team will have to figure out a way to squeeze him back into the rotation, unless of course they decide to use a six-man rotation. Sunday’s subpar start by Adam Warren seems like the excuse the Yankees have been waiting for to plug him back into the bullpen after his recent run of strong starts. Girardi’s somewhat quick hook was telling.

Soon after Nova returns, Jacoby Ellsbury is expected back from his knee problem. Cashman told Erik Boland the team expects Ellsbury back before the All-Star break (which is less than a month away now) and that he could return later this month. Once he does return Ellsbury will slide right back into his usual center field/leadoff hitter slot and the rookie outfielder du jour (Mason Williams, currently) will be send down.

Last week the Yankees had to send Jose Pirela to Triple-A to make room for Brendan Ryan even though Pirela has gone 14-for-27 (.519) against lefties in his very brief MLB career. Jacob Lindgren was dropped in favor of Sergio Santos partly because the Yankees wanted another righty reliever and partly because Lindgren gave up three dingers in his seven innings. Ramon Flores was swapped out for Williams despite his solid showing.

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

In this recent stretch of games the Yankees have had to make some tough roster decisions and they have some more tough decisions on the way. Keeping Pirela, Flores, and Lindgren around would have easily been justifiable. Warren may move to the bullpen but chances are the Yankees wish they could keep him in the rotation to see what happens. His last six starts as a whole has been very impressive, even including Sunday.

The Yankees suddenly have depth and extra players who belong on the roster. Too many times in the last two seasons the club was left scrambling for players, whether it was shortstops like Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac in 2013 or pitchers like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Daley in 2014, there was always someone on the roster that needed to be replaced. Obviously injuries played a part in that, but the Yankees have had injuries this year too. This season’s crop of replacements has been much more productive.

Right now, Santos is probably the only guy on the roster the Yankees would drop in a heartbeat if a better option presents itself. If Ryan or another outfielder gets hurt, Pirela and Flores are capable replacements. Those internal replacements rarely existed from 2013-14 and Hal Steinbrenner made it clear he viewed that as a problem in the last two offseasons. I know we’re all looking for stars from the farm system, but getting capable fill-ins like Pirela and Flores is very important too. It prevents the Brignacs and Daleys from even being needed.

When the time comes to activate Nova and Ellsbury, the Yankees will have tough decisions to make and that’s a good thing. Having more quality players than roster spots is a plus. The lack of depth and general lack of production from the farm system helped sink the Yankees the last two seasons. Now they have multiple young outfielders and a young infielder waiting in Triple-A, and will probably move a capable starter in Warren to the bullpen to make room for Nova. Figuring out who has to go isn’t so easy anymore. That’s a good thing.