Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 15-16

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

The Yankees have a recent reputation for being a poor player development team, and most of it is deserved. The only above-average players they have produced (and kept) since Robinson Cano arrived in the big leagues are Brett Gardner and a pair of relievers (Dellin Betances and David Robertson). The farm system hasn’t given the big league club enough help these last eight years or so. No doubt about it.

But, the Yankee do have a knack for producing complementary players, and we’re going to look at two of them in this post, the latest in our Ranking the 40-Man Roster series. One is a pitcher with two years of big league time under his belt — a reliever, of course — and the other a position player about to get his first extended taste of MLB action. To the next two spots …

No. 16: Adam Warren

2015 Role: Versatile reliever. As we saw last year, Joe Girardi is willing to use Warren in just about any situation and for multiple innings if needed. He’s at his best as a one-inning guy because he can air it out and use his best fastball, though Warren has the stuff to go two and sometimes three innings as well. David Carpenter is a pure one-inning guy and Betances could end up closing, meaning Warren will have an important role bridging the gap between the starter and late-inning relievers.

Of course, the Yankees are bringing Warren to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and, given all the injury concerns in the rotation, you don’t have to try too hard to envision him as a starter at some point this year. I like Warren most in short relief but there simply might not be any better options for the rotation. If it comes to that, hopefully he can use what he learned in the bullpen and the confidence he’s built to be an effective starter every fifth day. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

Long-Term Role: More of the same, that versatile reliever and perpetually discussed rotation option. Remember last year, when every time a starter got hurt, Warren was always mentioned as a possible replacement? I don’t think that will be limited to 2014. Something tells me we’re going to hear that a lot these next few years.

Warren is entering his third and final pre-arbitration year, so he won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2018 season.  It seems unlikely he will rack up saves, meaning his salary won’t balloon out of control during his arbitration years, and there’s no reason to think Warren will become a non-tender candidate down the road. If he starts and pitches well enough to earn a nice salary, good! The Yankees will happily pay if he turns into a reliable starter.

Murphy. (Presswire)
Murphy. (Presswire)

No. 15: John Ryan Murphy

2015 Role: Backup catcher. The Yankees traded Francisco Cervelli early in the offseason to clear the way for Murphy, so the job is more or less being handed to him. Yeah, I suppose the out of options Austin Romine could beat him out for the job in camp, but that seems so unlikely. Everything the Yankees have done over the last year or so suggests the job is Murphy’s. Not giving Romine a September call-up* seems pretty telling.

* Romine was eventually called up in the middle of September when Cervelli got hurt. Murphy was the guy called up to be the third catcher on September 1st, however.

Long-Term Role: I think it’s starting catcher. Either for the Yankees or another team. We should never rule out a trade, and, as a young catcher with a promising bat and excellent defensive chops, Murphy is a pretty desirable piece. The Yankees would have no trouble finding an interested team if they made him available. Clubs usually go to great lengths to secure a young backstop.

There’s a clear … well, clear-ish path for Murphy to take over as the starting catcher in New York. Brian McCann has four years left on his contract, but he’ll turn 31 next month and he has a ton of innings behind the plate on his legs. He’s been a starting big league catcher since age 22, remember. At some point the Yankees will have to scale back McCann’s workload, either by sticking him first base, at DH, or simply on the bench more regularly, and Murphy is in position to take those extra at-bats.

Gary Sanchez, who ranked 18th on this list, is coming up right behind Murphy and is scheduled to start the year in Triple-A. He has much more offensive potential but isn’t close to the same level of defender, and the Yankees absolutely prioritize defense behind the plate. That gives Murphy a pretty big advantage when it comes to sticking with the team long-term and eventually taking over as the number one catcher. There’s nothing sexy about being the backup catcher, but it’s a start for Murphy, who could stick with the team for several years.

Coming Monday: Nos. 11-14. Four former stars on the downside of their careers who are signed for big bucks for another two or three seasons.

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Even with bullpen depth, picking a closer an important decision for Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

After the 2013 season, Mariano Rivera retired and left the Yankees with a closer problem. Or at least a lot of people acted like they had a closer problem. It was weird. David Robertson was as qualified as any closer-in-waiting in the game and, sure enough, he handled the ninth inning last year just as well as he handled the eighth inning from 2011-13. It was a seamless transition.

The Yankees again have a closer problem this offseason, but only in the sense that they don’t have a set closer right now, more than five weeks before the start of Spring Training. They’ve spent the winter adding bullpen depth and have a number of closer candidates already in-house. Replacing Robertson — who the Yankees let walk as a free agent — is not a question of whether the Yankees have anyone who can do it, but who they will pick to do it.

The two primary closer candidates are Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, both of whom were among the four or five best relievers in baseball last season. They’re actually quite similar, at least in the sense that they are both former top prospects who fought command problems due in part to their height — did you know Miller is 6-foot-7? I had no idea until the Yankees signed him — earlier in their careers and didn’t figure things out until they moved into the bullpen full-time. Either guy could step in and close no questions asked.

The Yankees don’t have anyone with actual closer experience — among pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, Adam Warren and David Carpenter have the most career saves with four apiece — but their closer options go beyond Betances and Miller. They could go with Warren or Carpenter, or give Justin Wilson a try. Jacob Lindgren could be the closer of the future, or he could be the closer of the present. The Yankees have a clean slate and are free to pick their closer.

Having lots of options doesn’t lessen the important of picking a closer, however. Everyone in the bullpen seems to fall in line once the closer is set, and relievers do like to know their roles. Who can blame them? No one would like going to work everyday not knowing what you’ll be asked to do. Relievers like to know their role so they know how and when to prepare. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and bullpen roles fuel that habit. Here are things the Yankees will surely consider when picking their next ninth inning guy.

Saves Pay

If you’re a reliever, the easiest way to make money is to accumulate saves. They pay in arbitration and they still pay in free agency. Addison Reed, with his 101 saves and career 98 ERA+, is projected to get $3.8M during his first trip through arbitration this winter. Robertson went into his first arbitration year (2012) with two career saves and a 112 ERA+ and received only $1.6M. Saves do pay. It’s dumb but that’s the system.

Should Betances get the ninth inning and rack up, say, 30+ saves this year and next, his 2017 arbitration salary will be much higher than it would be if he remains setup man. That also carries into future years too — his salaries in 2018 and 2019 will be higher as well. The same is true with Carpenter, Warren, Wilson, whoever. This might not be such a big deal with Betances, but if someone like Carpenter or Warren closes, their salary could exceed their actual value in a hurry, making them non-tender candidates.

Miller, on the other hand, has a multi-year contract. He’s getting paid $9M in each of the next four seasons no matter what. The Yankees could opt to use Miller — who is more than qualified for the job, remember — as the closer and keep costs down with the rest of the bullpen. That’s not being cheap, that’s being smart. Miller’s making what he’s making. That’s already set. If Betances starts making big money as the closer too, then that’s less money the Yankees can use elsewhere.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Does Handedness Matter?

Right now, the only full-time left-handed closers in baseball are Aroldis Chapman, Sean Doolittle, Glen Perkins, and Zach Britton. Doolittle and Britton just got the job last year. Since 1990, nine lefties have saved 25+ games in multiple seasons while 88 righties have done so. The innings pitched split in baseball has historically been about 75/25 in favor of righties, but the closer split the last 25 years has been 90/10 or so. For whatever reason, there’s a bit of a bias against lefty closers.

Miller is no ordinary lefty, of course. He dominates both righties and lefties and is just as capable of pitching a full inning as any righty reliever in baseball. That isn’t the question. The question is whether the Yankees and Joe Girardi want a bullpen in which three of their six non-closers could be left-handed, with Wilson and either Lindgren or Chasen Shreve joining Miller. Betances, Warren, Carpenter or another righty would be closing in that scenario.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees would care one bit about having three or four lefties in the bullpen if they are among the seven best bullpeners in the organization. If they were all matchup specialists in the mold of Clay Rapada, then yeah, it would be a problem. You can’t have three pitchers like that in one bullpen. But these guys aren’t Rapada types. They throw hard and don’t have platoon concerns. The Yankees have the luxury of having several quality relievers, and some of them just happen to throw left-handed. For New York, handedness is no concern right now.

Why Not Use Co-Closers?

The bullpen by committee idea just doesn’t work for whatever reason. A few teams have tried it — most notably the 2003 Red Sox — but it just doesn’t hasn’t worked. Things seem to fall apart once guys don’t have a set role and don’t know when they’ll pitch day after day. Having that one set guy in the ninth inning changes the entire bullpen dynamic for the better.

A few years ago though, the Braves used lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano as what were essentially co-closers. Gonzalez faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up, either in the eighth or ninth, while Soriano faced the tough righties and pitched the other inning. Gonzalez wound up with ten saves and Soriano with 27. The Yankees could try something similar with the lefty Miller and righty Betances.

In theory, the Yankees could use a similar co-closer system in 2015. They certainly have the right personnel to try it. But, Girardi has shown he very much likes to have a set closer and a set eighth inning guy, and will rarely deviate from that strategy. Would he be open to a platoon closer/setup man combination? Possibly, sure. But I’m going to bet against it. Girardi likes his relievers in set roles and that’s perfectly fine. He makes it work. Co-closers or a closer by committee can be chaotic.

Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)
Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

Free Agents?

There are still some quality — and by quality I mean big name more than big production — closers on the market in Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, and Casey Janssen. I wouldn’t ever rule out the Yankees signing a free agent, though I don’t expect it right now. They’ve accumulated a lot of bullpen arms this winter and the plans seems to be to use that depth. If they’re going to spend a decent amount of money on a player at this point, it’ll probably be someone who can help the rotation. A free agent closer signing is always possible. At this point it seems unlikely.

Dellin’s Destiny!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eerily similar career paths of Betances and Rivera. Both guys were underwhelming minor league starters who moved into the bullpen and dominated as multi-inning setup men in their first MLB season at age 26, then, the next year, they took over as closer after the team’s incumbent ninth inning guy left as a free agent. This year it was Robertson. In 1997 it was John Wetteland. The parallels are freaky. Clearly it is Dellin’s destiny to take over as closer, right?

* * *

Okay, so let’s get back to reality. The Yankees will have to pick a closer at some point before the start of the regular season and this isn’t something they can determine with a Spring Training competition. They couldn’t send Miller and Betances out there in March and tell them the guy who performs best in his seven or eight Grapefruit League innings gets the glory of closing. That would be silly. The only way Spring Training should effect the closer situation is if someone gets hurt.

Girardi and his coaching staff and I’m sure the front office will get together to discuss the team’s closer for the upcoming season at some point That could have happened already for all we know, or they could mull it over until the very end of camp. The team’s bullpen depth is a great weapon but it doesn’t lessen the importance of the decision. Everyone else falls into place in the bullpen once the closer is picked. It’s not a decision that will make or break the season, but it isn’t one the Yankees should take lightly either. Closer is a position they want to get settled as soon as possible.

Who should be the closer?

Bullpen depth could lead to Adam Warren working as a starter in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even after losing David Robertson to free agency and trading away Shawn Kelley (and losing Preston Claiborne on waivers), the Yankees have a ton of upper level bullpen depth at the moment. Andrew Miller replaced Robertson, the just acquired David Carpenter replaces Kelley, and the team also added lefty Justin Wilson in the Francisco Cervelli trade. The Yankees seem to have more relievers than bullpen spots at the moment. Look:

That’s 16 17 pitchers for 14 bullpen spots — seven in MLB and seven in Triple-A — and I still feel like I’m forgetting someone. (Update: Forgot Wilson!) Obviously it isn’t that simple — DePaula, Mitchell, and Whitley could all wind up in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, we have no idea if Pinder and Burawa can get MLBers out consistently, etc. — but the point stands. On paper, the Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth right now.

What the Yankees don’t have is a lot of rotation depth. The rotation right now is Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Capuano in whatever order, but both Tanaka (elbow) and Sabathia (knee) have major injury concerns. No pitcher is a lock to make it through Spring Training healthy, though it is especially true for those two. Pineda isn’t exactly known for his durability either.

Because of the rotation concerns, the Yankees told Warren to come to Spring Training as a starter and prepared to compete for a rotation spot. (They told David Phelps the same before he was traded away.) In fact, I bet they told Rogers the same thing. He’s been a starter before, including last season in Triple-A with the Blue Jays (and one spot start with the Yankees), so there’s no reason not to stretch him out. It doesn’t hurt anyone and gives the team options in camp.

Warren did a nice job as a swingman in 2013 and really seemed to find himself in short relief last year, when his velocity ticked up and he missed more bats than ever. He was a starter his entire career before the 2013 season though, and I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d like to be a starter once again. That’s where the money is at, after all. I’m certain he sees the injury questions in the rotation as a big opportunity this coming year.

Warren has made three career big league starts (6.97 ERA and 6.83 FIP) but the numbers are skewed heavily by his disastrous six-run, 2.1- inning MLB debut back in 2012. He made two spot starts in 2013 and both went fine — two runs in three innings while on a strict pitch count in the first, five shutout innings in the second — plus he also made several strong multi-inning relief outings, including five of at least four innings (four runs in 23.1 innings in those five outings).

That really doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Warren can do as a starter in 2015 though. Those long relief appearances have selection bias — the reason he was in there 4+ innings is because he was getting outs, they wouldn’t have left him in that long if he was getting hammered — and 2013 Adam Warren isn’t the same as 2015 Adam Warren. He has more experience now and is presumably more comfortable in the league. That matters.

Even as a short reliever last year, Warren threw three pitches (four-seamer, slider, changeup) regularly while also throwing some curveballs and cutters, according to Brooks Baseball. He definitely has enough pitches to start, the question is whether his stuff is good enough to turn over a lineup multiple times. The answer could easily be yes, especially now in this no offense era, and that after his success last season he is more willing to attack hitters and better understands how to maximize his arsenal. Like I said, experience matters.

I like Warren most as a short reliever and I can’t say I’m confident he can turn over a lineup multiple times, but there is no harm in seeing what he does as a starter in Spring Training. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a permanent thing either. The team may only need him to start until Ivan Nova returns at midseason, perhaps as early as May. Warren was an important part of the relief crew last year but the Yankees do now have enough bullpen depth to replace him. Moving him into the rotation is much more viable now than it was a year ago.

David Phelps, Adam Warren will come to Spring Training as starters

Warren in the rotation? As a last resort maybe. (Presswire)
Warren in the rotation? As a last resort maybe. (Presswire)

It’s no secret the Yankees came into the offseason needing rotation help. So, after the end of the regular season, the team told both David Phelps and Adam Warren to report to Spring Training next year ready to compete for a spot in the starting rotation. “We could always collapse them back into the (bullpen), but they were told to be physically ready to take a shot at a rotation spot,” said Brian Cashman to Brendan Kuty last week.

Phelps, 28, has been a true swingman the last three years, bouncing back and forth between the rotation and bullpen on numerous occasions. He’s performed a bit better as a reliever but not overwhelmingly so. It makes perfect sense to bring Phelps to camp ready to start. The 27-year-old Warren did a nice job in long relief in 2013 but really seemed to find a niche in short relief this past season. His velocity ticked up a bit and so did his strikeout rate. I understand bringing him to camp as a starter but I think he’s much more valuable as a one-inning reliever.

Despite their inactivity at the Winter Meetings, I definitely expect the Yankees to add a starter this offseason and probably two starters. They need the depth given the injury concerns in the rotation. It makes perfect sense to have Phelps and Warren prepare for a possible starting role, and while starting Phelps every fifth day is a fine fallback plan, I think putting Warren in the rotation should be a last resort. Hopefully he’s an emergency option and nothing more.

2014 Season Review: The Sometimes Setup Men

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

Because they dealt with so many rotation injuries, the Yankees had to rely on their bullpen a ton this past season. Joe Girardi asked his bullpen to throw 501.1 innings this summer, the sixth most in the league. Dellin Betances soaked up a ton of innings, especially early in the year, but it wasn’t until late into the season that he settled into a traditional setup role. For most of the year, that responsibility belonged to Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley.

Adam Warren, Workhorse

Last season the Yankees used Warren as a true swingman and he was pretty damn good at it, especially by swingman standards. Getting 77 innings of 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) ball out of the last guy in the bullpen is really good. The Yankees moved Warren into a more traditional short relief role this season and he excelled. First and foremost, his fastball velocity ticked up noticeably:

Adam Warren velocity

Warren was Girardi’s regular seventh and eighth inning guy in the first half while Kelley and David Robertson missed time with injuries. The second half was a bit rough — nine runs in his first 14 innings after the All-Star break, perhaps due to fatigue — but Warren settled down and finished very strong thanks to some mechanical tweaks suggested by pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

“Larry pointed out one day, maybe move your hands a little this way and and all of a sudden it’s like, oh that feels a little bit better and you roll with it from there and you just kind of tinker with things until it feels right,” said Warren to Brendan Kuty in September. “Once things started to click it was like, oh, why didn’t I think of that two weeks earlier? It’s a process.”

Warren allowed just two runs (both in one outing) on six hits and three walks in his final 15 appearances and 20 innings of the season. He struck out 21, including ten of the final 18 batters he faced on the year. Warren closed out 2014 with a 2.97 ERA (2.89 FIP) in 78.2 innings with a very good strikeout rate (8.69 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and solid walk (2.75 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) and ground ball (45.4%) numbers.

Last season, Warren’s main problems were the long ball and left-handed hitters. He allowed ten homers in those 77 innings (1.17 HR/9 and 13.2 HR/FB%) and lefty batters hit .301/.370/.526 (.387 wOBA) against him. This year it was only four homers in 78.2 innings (0.46 HR/9 and 6.0 HR/FB%) with a .170/.253/.271 (.239 wOBA) line by opposite hand hitters. That’s quite the improvement. Probably too much of an improvement. Not sure if he can sustain that going forward, but it happened in 2014 and that’s all that counts.

Anyway, given the team’s rotation issues — there was plenty of talk of moving him back into the rotation after the injuries struck in the first half —  Warren was especially valuable because of his durability. He recorded at least four outs in 29 of his 69 appearances, the second most in baseball behind Betances (35!). Sure, Warren has been a starter his entire life, but throwing multiple innings two or three times a week is no easy task. Outside of that little hiccup after the All-Star break, Warren was very good and very valuable to the 2014 Yankees. He soaked up a ton of important innings.

Shawn Kelley, Intermittently Awesome

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

When the season started, Kelley was Robertson’s primary setup man. That was plan coming into the season after Mariano Rivera retired and the Yankees opted not to bring in some kind of veteran replacement. For a while, Kelley was excellent, pitching to a 1.88 ERA with 15 strikeouts and three walks in his first 14 appearances and 14.1 innings. He even went 4-for-4 in save chances while filling in for the briefly injured Robertson in April.

Then it all fell apart on May 5th in Anaheim. Kelley walked four of the six batters he faced and allowed three runs to blow a game. He landed on the disabled list with a back issue two days later and missed six weeks. Kelley looked shaky — his slider lacked its usual bite, specifically — but was generally effective in his first few outings back before settling down. He struggled in mid-July (seven runs in the span of three appearances at one point) and again in late-September (four runs in his last four outings) to close out the year.

Kelley finished the season with a 4.53 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 51.2 innings. He struck out a ton of batters (11.67 K/9 and 30.5 K%) but also walked a few too many (3.48 BB/9 and 9.1 BB%) and didn’t get any ground balls (33.6%). Kelley actually kept the ball in the park (0.87 HR/9 and 8.9 HR/FB%) and handled left-handed batters (.221/.311/.301, .269 wOBA) better than I remember. Like most middle relievers, there were times he was really great and times he made you pull your hair out.

After starting the season as the first option behind Robertson, Kelley closed the year behind Betances and Warren on the setup man totem pole. The injury really seemed to knock him off track in May, but, as we’ve seen these last two years, Kelley is prone to spectacular meltdowns. That’s baseball. The good generally outweighs the bad — few guys can miss bats like this, that’s a valuable skill — and at times Kelley was a very important member of the bullpen in 2014.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Bullpen

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, outfielders, and rotation, so now let’s wrap up with the bullpen.

Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)
Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)

David Robertson — Grade A

So maybe replacing Mariano Rivera won’t be so difficult after all. Robertson inherited the closer’s job — to the dismay of more than a few — and has run with it, pitching to a 2.76 ERA (1.73 FIP) in 32 appearances and 32.2 innings. He is 23-for-25 in save chances with a career best strikeout rate (16.26 K/9 and 44.7 K%) and a career best ground rate (51.6%) while keeping his walk rate (2.76 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) in line with the last two years. Robertson is also holding opponents to a .198 batting average, second lowest of his career (.170 in 2011) despite a career worst .356 BABIP.

Robertson has allowed ten earned runs this year with five coming in one disaster outing against the Twins on June 1st. He has allowed one run while striking out 27 of 56 batters faced since. Overall, 59 of 98 outs this season have been strikeouts, including 58 of 89 (65.2%) since coming off the disabled list (groin) in mid-April. No pitcher who has thrown at least 30 innings this season has a high strikeout rate. It’s not even close, really. Robertson leads in K/9 by more than one full strikeout and in K% by roughly three percentage points. He’s been dominant in every sense of the word.

The Yankees will need Robertson to continue his dominance in the second half for obvious reasons, though his looming free agency will be hanging over everyone’s head. The two sides have not discussed an extension but that could change at any time. Relievers like Robertson — super high strikeout pitchers with proven late-inning/big market chops and no history of arm problems — are rare and the Yankees should make every effort to keep him beyond this season. If his work this year doesn’t convince them he is the man to replace Rivera long-term, then I’m not sure they’ll ever find someone good enough.

Lots of (very) high fives for Dellin this year. (Presswire)
Undisputed best photo of the season. (Presswire)

Dellin Betances — Grade A

Just a few short months ago, Betances had a win a roster spot in Spring Training. Now he’s an All-Star high-leverage reliever who is 1996 Rivera to Robertson’s 1996 John Wetteland. Betances has a 1.46 ERA (1.37 FIP) while ranking third among full-time relievers in innings (55.1) and first in both fWAR (2.1) and bWAR (1.7). His strikeout rate (13.66 K/9 and 40.8 K%) is a bit behind Robertson’s but still among the highest in the league. He’s also stopped walking dudes (2.60 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and is getting grounders (50.5%).

Joe Girardi has not been shy about using Betances for multiple innings given his history as a starter — Betances has recorded at least four outs in 25 of his 40 appearances and at least six outs 12 times — though he did take his foot off the gas right before the All-Star break because it did appear the big right-hander was starting to fatigue a bit. His stuff was still electric but not quite as crisp. Hopefully the break recharges his batteries. A little more than a year ago, Betances looked like he may soon be out of baseball. The move into the bullpen has saved his career and given the Yankees a second elite reliever to pair with Robertson in the first season post-Mo.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren — Grade B

From spot starter to swingman to trusted high-leverage reliever. Warren has had his role redefined over the last few seasons and he has now settled in as a quality third option behind Robertson and Betances. His numbers — 2.79 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 42 appearances and 48.1 innings — are not quite as good as those two, but he gets strikeouts (8.57 K/9 and 22.4 K%), gets grounders (46.8%), and is stingy with ball four (2.79 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). His fastball velocity has also ticked up in short relief, averaging 94.1 mph this year after sitting 93.0 last year.

As with Betances, Girardi has taken advantage of Warren’s history as a starter by using his for multiple innings on several occasions — he’s recorded 4+ outs in 18 of his 42 appearances. The Yankees have said that if the need arises, they would pull Warren out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation, but starters are dropping like flies and it hasn’t happened yet. Warren seems to have found a niche in short relief and he’s been a very valuable member of the bullpen despite being overshadowed by Robertson and Betances.

(Elsa/Getty)
Kelly and Kelley. (Elsa/Getty)

Shawn Kelley — Grade C

It was a tale of two first halves for Kelley, who opened the season as the regular eighth inning guy and nailed down four saves in four chances while Robertson was on the disabled list in April. He had a 1.88 (1.67 FIP) in his first 14.1 innings of the year before a disaster outing against the Angels on May 5th (two outs, four walks, three runs), after which he was placed on the disabled list with a back injury. It kept him out a month and he has a 4.05 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 13.1 innings since returning.

Kelley didn’t look right when he first returned from the back problem. He wasn’t able to finish his pitches and his trademark slider didn’t have much bite. It just kinda spun and floated. He looked much better in his last few outings before the All-Star break — one run, five hits, no walks, 13 strikeouts in 8.1 innings — and hopefully that’s a sign he’s now 100% and ready to take on some late-inning responsibilities so Girardi can spread the workload around. Definitely a mixed bag for Kelley in the first half.

Matt Thornton — Grade C

The rules of baseball fandom say we must hate the team’s lefty specialist, but Thornton has been solid (3.10 ERA and 3.04 FIP) in his 38 appearances and 20.1 innings. As his innings-to-appearances ratio suggests, Girardi has used him as a true matchup left-hander and not tried to force it against righties whenever possible. Thornton has held same-side hitters to a .229/.319/.244 (.262 wOBA) batting line with a 15.1% strikeout rate, a 3.8% walk rate, and a 50.0% ground ball rate. Solid.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The only real negative about Thornton is he doesn’t miss bats, even against left-handed hitters. That 15.1% strikeout rate is 76th out of the 90 left-handed pitchers who have faced at least 50 left-handed batters this year. Lefties have swung and missed only 20 times at the 220 pitches Thornton has thrown them this year (9.1%). That kinda sucks for a left-on-left reliever. Thornton missed a week with undisclosed soreness right before the break but did return to pitch against the Indians last week. LOOGYs, huh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

Preston Claiborne and David Huff — Grade C

Remember how awful Claiborne looked in Spring Training? We were talking about him as a candidate to be dropped from the 40-man roster if a need arose, but the Yankees kept him around and he pitched to a 3.57 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 17.2 innings while going up and down a few times in the first half. Three of his nine walks were intentional, uglifying his numbers a bit. Claiborne is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list with a shoulder injury of unknown severity, which is not insignificant given his status as the team’s primary up and down depth arm.

The Yankees re-acquired Huff from the Giants in mid-June as part of their continuing efforts to find a not awful long man, and he’s since given the team 16.2 innings of 2.16 ERA (5.18 FIP) ball. Girardi used him as a matchup lefty while Thornton was out with his soreness and that predictably did not go well. Warren was pretty awesome by long man standards last year and that kinda spoiled us. Most long relievers stink. Is Huff keeping runs off the board? His ERA says yes. Has it been pretty? No but who cares. In that role you just want someone who can limited the damage and Huff has done that for the most part.

Alfredo Aceves — Grade F

Did you realize Aceves threw the sixth most innings among the team’s relievers in the first half? I sure didn’t. The Mexican Gangster threw 5.1 scoreless innings in long relief in his first outing back with the team, but it was all downhill from there. He allowed 14 runs on 20 hits (six homers!) and four walks in his next nine games and 14 innings, putting his overall season numbers at 6.52 ERA (6.29 FIP) in 19.1 total innings. The Yankees designated Aceves for assignment in early-June, he accepted the outright assignment to Triple-A Scranton, and he was recently suspended 50 games after a second failed test for a drug of abuse. He will be missed by: no one.

Matt Daley, Jose Ramirez, Bruce Billings, Jim Miller, Chris Leroux, Cesar Cabral, and Wade LeBlanc — Grade F

The combined pitching line of these seven: 33.2 IP, 46 H, 36 R, 33 ER, 19 BB, 33 K, 6 HBP, 6 HR. That’s an 8.82 ERA and a 5.19 FIP in one more inning than Robertson has thrown this year. I didn’t even include Dean Anna. /barfs

* * *

Girardi has had to rely on his bullpen more than I’m sure he would have liked in the first half, mostly because of the rotation injuries. Yankees relievers have thrown 292 innings this season, the 13th most in MLB, though their 264 total pitching changes are only 23rd most. That’s because of guys like Betances, Warren, and Huff being used for multiple innings at a time.

The bullpen has a 3.85 ERA (3.60 FIP) overall, which is bottom third in the league, but they have a top-heavy relief crew with arguably the best setup man/closer tandem in the game. The late innings are no problem at all. The middle innings are where it gets messy. Kelley is the bullpen key to the second half to me — if he gets back to pitching like he did before his back started acting up, Girardi will have another trustworthy high-strikeout arm who could potential solve that middle innings problem.

Bullpen workload a big concern due to banged up rotation

Dellin's awesome, but we need to start seeing a little less of him. (Presswire)
Dellin’s awesome, but we need to start seeing a little less of him. (Presswire)

For the first time in his three big league starts, Chase Whitley completed five full innings of work yesterday afternoon. Usually five innings isn’t anything to celebrate, but for a recently converted reliever who had thrown 4.2 and 4.1 innings in his first two starts, five full innings was definitely nice to see. Whitley started the sixth inning as well, though he failed to record an out and the bullpen was pressed into action.

The bullpen has been pressed into action quite a bit of late, especially on the road trip. The Yankees have played three extra innings games on this trip through Chicago and St. Louis, totaling nine additional innings. They’ve played an extra game on the trip, basically. The Yankees did win all three of those extra innings games thanks to some strong relief work, so there’s no complaints there, but all that extra work is starting to tax the bullpen.

Through the first 50 games of the season, the late-inning duo of Adam Warren and Dellin Betances are on pace to throw 94 and 98 innings this year, respectively. Nine of Warren’s last 13 appearances have been for multiple innings while Betances has been asked to get more than three outs six times in his last seven appearances. In fact, of his 21 appearances this year, Betances has thrown one inning or less only seven times.

Of course, both Warren and Betances were starters their entire careers up until last season, but throwing 150+ innings in a season while on a five-day routine is much different than throwing 90+ innings when you’re pitching every other day in relief or something like that. It’s fewer total innings, yes, but they’re pitching more frequently as relievers. Warren and Betances have shouldered most of the workload, but the bullpen as a whole has been worked hard this year. Check out the first 50 games of the last few years:

Starter IP Reliever IP Starter IP / Reliever IP
2014 289.1 165.1 1.75
2013 297.2 150.1 1.98
2012 298.2 143.2 2.08
2011 302.2 145.2 2.08

The bullpen has already thrown 15 more innings this year than last through 50 games, and roughly 20 innings more than 2011 and 2012. Fifteen innings doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about one extra inning every three games or so. That adds up in a hurry, especially since these Yankees tend to play close games (only 14 games decided by 5+ runs), which means more work for Joe Girardi‘s primary late-inning guys.

Obviously injuries have a lot to do with this. Shawn Kelley has been out for a while and he would have definitely taken some of those innings away from Betances and Warren. The same applies to David Robertson when he was on the disabled list last month. Losing CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova — two starters the Yankees were able to count on for 6+ innings every fifth day in the not too distant past — to significant injuries has trickled down and added pressure on the bullpen since guys like Whitley and Vidal Nuno aren’t innings eaters.

The Yankees will hopefully get Kelley back soon. He played catch yesterday and will do so again in the coming days, reportedly, plus Michael Pineda is on the mend and a few weeks away. (The Yankees were very careful with Pineda early on, but he is still a better bet to get you through five innings than some guys in the rotation right now.) Those two will help lighten the load on the current relievers, at least somewhat. Every little bit will help. It wouldn’t kill the offense to break a game open every now and then either.

Girardi’s strength has long been his bullpen management, and I can’t remember another time when he worked two relievers as hard as he has Warren and Betances these last few weeks. You know he doesn’t want to do it — ““We’re trying not to kill Betances,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday, after Betances threw two more innings — but Kelley’s injury and the thinned-out rotation have forced his hand. The Yankees are really pushing the limits of their pitching depth right now.

Until some guys start getting healthy, Girardi will have to rely on Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley and yes, even Alfredo Aceves in higher leverage spots — at least higher leverage than they deserve — to avoid overworking his normal late-inning relievers. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Betances, Warren, Kelley, and Robertson dominating at the end of games, but at their current pace, Warren and Betances will burn out by August. The rest of the roster has to pick up some slack and give these guys more rest in the coming weeks.