Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff


At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).


The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.


That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)


That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.

Warren’s return to the rotation thins out the bullpen even further


Later tonight, Adam Warren will return to the rotation to help the Yankees following Nathan Eovaldi‘s regular season-ending bout of elbow inflammation. He’s only going to throw something like 60-65 pitches because he’s not fully stretched out, though that’s not really a problem because the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers these days. It’ll take two or three starts to get Warren all the way stretched out.

Warren was pitching quite well when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen earlier this summer and he followed that by pitching well in relief too. He had a 3.59 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 14 starts and a 2.51 ERA (2.77 FIP) in 25 relief appearances. Warren’s been in the league full-time for three seasons now. He’s proven himself as a rock solid Major League caliber pitcher who can fill almost any role. That’s a mighty valuable piece.

That doesn’t make losing Eovaldi any less significant considering how well he pitched the last three months. Warren is a capable fill-in starter, though the Yankees will really feel Eovaldi’s loss in the bullpen. That 13-man bullpen includes only three relievers Joe Girardi actually seems to trust. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are two of the three, of course, and Justin Wilson is the third. Chasen Shreve‘s recent struggles mean he probably won’t see a high-leverage inning anytime soon.

Warren was, essentially, the fourth member of the Circle of the Trust™. His usage has been a little weird at times this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m guessing Girardi wants Warren on the mound ahead of anyone other than Miller, Betances, and Wilson. Nine of Warren’s last 15 appearances have come in games separated by no more than two runs. Girardi started using him in more important situations over the last month or so.

Losing Warren now creates a pretty substantial hole in the bullpen. Miller, Betances, and Wilson can’t pitch every night, leaving Shreve as the fourth option almost by default. That’s not good given the way he’s pitching right now. Girardi used Caleb Cotham to get relatively big outs the last two days — he pitched down one in the eighth with an insurance run at third last night, and he faced Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the ninth inning Sunday — so maybe he is being auditioned. Same with James Pazos, who also pitched in the ninth inning Sunday.

The Yankees do have former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the bullpen, and while he could be someone who sees more important innings, he hasn’t pitched well since being called up. He’s faced 14 batters with the Yankees and allowed three walks, two singles, and one home run. Opponents have swung and missed five times at his 63 pitches. Yeah, he’s a former All-Star, but Bailey’s last All-Star Game was also Ty Wigginton’s only All-Star Game. It’s been a while.

Bailey is coming back from major shoulder surgery and physically isn’t the guy he was earlier in his career. His shoulder have been compromised to some extent. It’s unrealistic to expect him to return from a torn shoulder capsule and start handling late-inning work again. Girardi could try it, and hey, maybe it’ll work over the final 19 games of the season. Weird stuff happens in small samples. It would be a surprise though. More than likely, youngsters like Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Bryan Mitchell, Cotham, and Pazos will have to step up.

Make no mistake, in these huge games down the stretch, Girardi is going to lean on Miller and Betances more than usual. Same with Wilson to a lesser extent. He’s gone to great lengths this season to rest those guys so they can be as fresh as possible for the stretch run. The late innings are fine. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances and Miller is where things can get hectic, and that’s where Warren will be missed the most.

Injury News: Nathan Eovaldi, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira

And no one was ever healthy again. (Presswire)
And no one was ever healthy again. (Presswire)

Got a bunch of not particular good injury updates to pass along, which come from Brian Cashman via the plethora of beat reporters. Away we go:

  • It “sounds like” Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) will not be able to return during the regular season, said Cashman. That’s not good. Eovaldi could be in play for the postseason, however. He will be shut down two weeks, then begin a two-week throwing program. The regular season ends three weeks and five days from today.
  • As for replacing Eovaldi in the rotation, Cashman said Adam Warren will be stretched back and will soon make another start. Bryan Mitchell was mentioned as another option. A trade isn’t happening. “I think what you’re seeing is what we’ve got,” said the GM.
  • Brett Gardner has been trying to play through a jammed shoulder recently. He hurt himself crashing into a wall making a catch. Gardner, who is not in tonight’s lineup for the second straight day, received a platelet-rich plasma injection the Yankees hope will calm things down. He is available tonight if necessary.
  • Mark Teixeira (leg) received two injections to help relieve some nerve inflammation around the bone bruise in his shin. He’s still on crutches. Cashman admitted he “(does) wonder” whether Teixeira will be able to return this season. Well, at least the team has a viable fill-in at first base.

The Marginalization of Adam Warren


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:

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.


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.

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.


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


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.