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


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.


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


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.

Game 52: Big Mike Back In Seattle


For the first time since being traded to the Yankees in January 2012, Michael Pineda will face his former team tonight. He’s never pitched against the Mariners, either at Yankee Stadium or Safeco Field, so I have to think he’ll be a little amped up tonight. You know, one of those “here’s what you’re missing out on, suckers” kinda starts. That would be cool.

Regardless of who is pitching tonight, the Yankees really need to figure out a way to scratch some runs across against Felix Hernandez. Or at least wait him out and go to town on the bullpen. The Yankees just lost three of four to the Athletics and they’ve lost 13 of their last 18 games overall and that needs to end. It’s annoying. I don’t think I’m crazy when I say the Yankees are too good for that to continue. Anyway, here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

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

It’s cloudy and cool with a chance of rain tonight in Seattle (shocking, I know), so I’m guessing the Safeco Field roof will be closed for at least part of the game. First pitch is scheduled for 10:10pm ET tonight and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Roster Update: Adam Warren will remain in the rotation and Chris Capuano will shift to the bullpen when Masahiro Tanaka returns on Wednesday, Joe Girardi told reporters. They’ll still have to send a reliever down to clear a 40-man spot for Tanaka when the time comes. Not surprising. Warren has pitched too well of late to go back to the bullpen.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released the second AL All-Star Game fan voting update today, and no Yankees lead at their positions. Royals fans are stuffing the ballot box — five Royals are on pace to start and three others are second in the voting at their positions. A-Rod is third at DH, McCann and Teixeira are fourth at catcher and first base, respectively, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner rank 6th, 12th, and 13th among outfielders, also respectively.

Poll: Chris Capuano’s imminent return gives Yankees lots of options


In his third minor league rehab start last night, left-hander Chris Capuano allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks in six innings with Triple-A Scranton. He stretched out to 76 pitches, which is the most important thing, not the results. Capuano is basically going through Spring Training right now, working to gain a feel for his pitches and delivery. Outs aren’t the priority.

Joe Girardi told reporters earlier this week the Yankees “shouldn’t really need to see much more than that,” referring to Capuano throwing six innings in his third rehab starter. “It’s possible (he could be activated for his next start), yeah,” added Girardi. By no means is Capuano some kind of rotation savior, but he’s a perfectly serviceable big league pitcher, and pitching depth is never a bad thing. His return may not have a big impact but it is welcome.

When the time comes the Yankees will have to decide how exactly to use Capuano and where to slot him into the pitching staff. I suspect they’ll use his first outing back as a way to give everyone else in the rotation an extra day. One of spot sixth starter things the Yankees have been talking about since before Spring Training. After that though, Capuano’s return gives the team plenty of options.

Option No. 1: Capuano to the rotation, Whitley to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Branden Pinder came up when Chris Martin hit the DL a few days ago and he feels like nothing more than a placeholder. He could go back to Triple-A pretty easily to clear a spot for Capuano. Chase Whitley has made three starts for the Yankees this year — one good, one bad, one great — but is a reliever by trade, and his long-term future likely lies in the bullpen. Plus his ability to go multiple innings could help lighten the load on the team’s other bullpeners. This would be the simple and straightforward “Whitley and Pinder are lower than Capuano on the pitching totem pole, so they get bumped down a notch” move.

Option No. 2: Capuano to the rotation, Pinder in the bullpen, Whitley to Triple-A

A few weeks ago Girardi kinda sorta admitted the plan all along was to stash Whitley in Triple-A early this season so he could come up every so often to make spot starts, giving the rest of the rotation rest. Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury then forced Whitley into the rotation full-time. With Capuano set the return, the Yankees could simply go right back to that original plan and send Whitley down so they can bring him up periodically when the other starters could use an extra day. Pinder would stick around as the last reliever in the bullpen in that case.

Option No. 3: Capuano to the rotation, Warren to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Through six starts, Adam Warren has looked very much like a reliever miscast as a starter. He hasn’t been bad per se — a 4.65 ERA and 4.31 FIP from your sixth starter is fine in moderation — but his effectiveness drops off considerably once the lineup turns over and his velocity isn’t close to what it was last year. He also seems to tire out around the 80-pitch mark. Warren went from 23.5 K% and 7.4 BB% as a reliever last year to 12.0 K% and 9.8 BB% as a starter this year. See what I mean? It all points to reliever.

With Capuano coming back, the Yankees have the option of sticking Warren back in the bullpen and leaving Whitley in the rotation until either Tanaka or Ivan Nova comes back in a few weeks. Warren would be able to step right back into that “trusted third reliever” role behind Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, giving Girardi a third option for high-leverage spots. The role Warren filled last year, basically. And since he’s stretched out, he could go two or three innings at a time if necessary. That’s valuable.

Option No. 4: Capuano to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

This option seems unlikely, especially since Brian Cashman just told Lou DiPietro that “when I signed (Capuano), I signed him to be part of the rotation” the other day. Capuano does have bullpen experience though, including just last year with the Red Sox, when he had a 4.55 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 31.2 innings before being released. Rather than rearrange the rotation, the Yankees could simply stick Capuano in the bullpen and use him … somehow. I’m not sure what role he would fill (long man? lefty specialist? one-inning reliever?) but that would sort itself out in time. Always does. Option No. 4 is the most unlikely option. I don’t think it’s completely off the table though.

* * *

The Yankees are going to have to make a decision once Capuano is ready to be added to the roster, which figures to be just a few days away now. This won’t be a particularly impactful decision — whatever option they choose could be reversed pretty easily — but it is a decision nonetheless. I think the Yankees will go with Option No. 2 and send Whitley down so he can again serve as the sixth starter. Whether that is a best option is another matter. What do you think the Yankees should do when Capuano returns?

What should the Yankees do when Capuano returns?

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves


3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Adam Warren officially named fifth starter, finally


As expected, Joe Girardi officially named Adam Warren the fifth starter this afternoon, according to all the reporters in Tampa. Warren out-pitched the competition in Spring Training and it was especially obvious he had won the job after Esmil Rogers was moved to the bullpen last week.

Warren, 27, has made just three starts in his big league career, one of which was his disastrous six-runs, 2.1-inning MLB debut in 2012. He also started two games on limited pitch counts in 2013. Those three starts don’t really tell us a whole lot about what Warren can do as a starter in 2015, however.

Interestingly enough, Warren’s career path is rather old school. Teams used to break young pitchers in as a relievers before moving them into the rotation all the time back in the day. Warren has gained a lot of experience while in the bullpen the last two years and hopefully it helps him now that he’s in the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka has already been named the Opening Day starter. He’ll be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Warren. Chris Capuano will still be out several weeks with his quad injury, and if Warren pitches well in April, Capuano could wind up in the bullpen once healthy.