Archive for Al Aceves

Via Marc Carig, Al Aceves will make another rehab start tomorrow, his fourth so far. Joe Girardi has indicated in the past that they want to get Ace on a normal reliever’s schedule – working every other day, etc. – before they activate him from the disabled list, so it could be another week or so before he’s ready to join the team.

Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, will throw a bullpen session this Friday, his first since suffering a setback with his groin injury a week or so ago. There’s no timetable for his return nor should there be at this point. Let’s see him get that first mound session out of the way before we start planning ahead. Hopefully Ivan Nova pitches well tonight and alleviates some of the urgency surrounding Andy’s return. As long as he’s healthy for October, that’s what really matters.

Categories : Asides, Injuries
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During the next two weeks it sounds like the Yankees plan to bring in the cavalry for its pitching staff. First up could be Al Aceves, who faced four batters in Scranton on Tuesday and is scheduled to start for Trenton on Friday. Then, as Josh Norris relays, Andy Pettitte is in line to make a rehab start on Tuesday. That will be a boon to the pitching staff, though for the most part they’ve pitched pretty well recently. So well, in fact, that I wonder what two pitchers will lose their roster spots when Pettitte and Aceves return.

(AP Photo/Ray Abrams)

Aceves is a bit tougher to peg, since there’s no guarantee he’ll actually make a return. He has been out since he hurt his back mid-pitch on May 8. Since then he’s been through plenty, getting multiple epidurals and having his rehab shut down twice. This time through has been a bit more smooth in that he’s actually pitched in a live game. But when it comes to back injuries there are no guarantees. His return will largely depend, I’m sure, on how he feels following his outing on Friday.

Another rehab appearance might be in the cards, and the Yanks might even want to see if he can pitch on back-to-back days before activating him. Because he pitches in relief I suspect they’ll want to see him pitch more frequently than every third day before they let him face major league hitters. That could put his return anywhere from next weekend against Seattle all the way to September. That is, again, if he returns at all.

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It’s unclear how many rehab starts Pettitte will make, though I’d guess he’ll make two. That would mean his second one comes on Sunday the 22nd, but with both Scranton and Trenton on the road that day I’m not sure what they’ll do. What I am sure of is the roster move that will correspond to Pettitte’s return: the designation of Chad Gaudin for assignment. He has served his purpose, but Dustin Moseley has been the superior pitcher. Pettitte’s return will move Moseley to the bullpen, where he can play the role of long man. DFAing Gaudin works in two ways, since the Yankees will also need to clear a 40-man roster spot in order to reinstate Aceves from the 60-day DL.

This leaves in question what the Yankees will do when Aceves returns. They have just four pitchers who still have minor league options: Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. After Joba’s kind-of demotion, Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees would not send him to the minors. They obviously won’t send Hughes or Robertson because of the prominent roles they play. Logan has been on the Scranton Express this season, but he doesn’t seem like the choice either. Not only has he been much better during his current stint, but Joe Girardi loves having a lefty in the bullpen. I doubt he goes down to Scranton again.

Chances are, then, that we don’t see Aceves until September, when rosters expand. That will give him enough time to build up stamina, allowing him to fill his previous role of hybrid long man and setup guy. It will also allow the Yanks to retain their depth, since Sergio Mitre would be the only logical casualty if Aceves returned before rosters expand. The same goes for Damaso Marte. Chances are we’ll see him pop up in a couple of rehab appearances towards the end of August, with a return in September.

The Yanks, then, will have a surplus of pitching to get them through the final month. They’ll have not only a glut of effective bullpen arms, but they’ll have spot start options if, like last year, they want to rest their starters before the playoffs. September could prove interesting, too, because of all the bullpen arms vying for postseason roster spots. It’s a good position to hold right now. The more options for the bullpen and the rotation, the better.

Categories : Injuries
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According to Joe Girardi‘s pregame press conference, the sorely missed Al Aceves will join the Yankees on their upcoming seven game road trip. His back is getting better, and he’s expected to throw several bullpen sessions during the trip. This doesn’t mean Aceves is close to returning, however. He’d still need to throw full mound sessions with no pain before going on a minor league rehab assignment, so Ace is still several weeks away from rejoining the team. Still, this is better news than what we’ve been getting.

Categories : Asides, Injuries
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Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

For about a week the Yankees’ bullpen appeared a shambles. Nearly every reliever, from the mop-up guys to the setup men to the closer, had a hand in blowing a game. That made many of us wonder if Al Aceves would make his way back anytime soon. Diagnosed with a bulging disc in his back and placed on the disabled list retroactive to May 9. He’s eligible to return at any time now, but the Yankees will proceed with caution. There’s no reason to rush a player with back problems.

Last week, pining for Aceves’s presence in the bullpen, I wondered if his back had been bothering him all season. He had, after all, felt some pain towards the end of spring training, and the Yankees used him sparingly in the season’s first month. On Saturday I asked Aceves about his back, and he said that yes, it had bothered him and had affected his stuff. That’s a good sign, really, because it helps explain the diminished velocity on his cutter. It might also help explain his walking four batters in just 12 innings after displaying excellent control in 2009.

Otherwise, though, we shouldn’t read too much into Aceves’s numbers. For instance, his low strikeout rate might have something to do with his back, but he thinks it’s more the situations he has faced than his back affecting his strikeout stuff.

“I’m not thinking of striking out guys,” he said. Given the situations in which he has entered, though, he hasn’t quite needed the strike out. He has entered five games with runners in base, and none of them have come with a runner on third. In only two was there a runner on second, and in one of those situations there were two outs, making a strikeout less necessary. Pitching to contact might have been the best strategy there, especially for a player nursing a balky back.

He seemed optimistic that he’d return in short order, noting that it was his third straight day playing catch. As the Yankees took batting practice, Aceves stood on the left field foul line and had a catch, though I couldn’t tell the force with which he was throwing. He also mentioned that he would be headed to the minors for a rehab assignment, and about 15 minutes later Joe Girardi confirmed that Aceves would head to Tampa on Monday. Look for him in tonight’s DotF.

Back problems for baseball players can be chronic conditions that affect them throughout their careers, even after an off-season of rest. Aceves experienced back problems last July and they cropped up again this spring, despite three-plus months of rest. The Yankees obviously hope that rest and treatment will help keep Aceves healthy the rest of the year, but that’s no guarantee. He seems nothing but optimistic, saying treatment has made his back feel great. That’s a positive sign, of course, but with a back problem you just never know.

We should get a better idea this week of when he can rejoin the team. The team will certainly benefit from his presence in the bullpen.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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With the recent spate of bullpen ineffectiveness, Yankees fans have pined for one of the few steady presences in the bullpen, Al Aceves. He’s been on the DL since earlier this month with a bulging disc in his back, an injury that sounds pretty bad. It sure looked bad when he hurt it mid-pitch in Boston. He has since received a cortisone shot, and claims that it feels much better. That’s good news for the bullpen if Aceves can return to his 2009 form. A look at his early season peripherals makes me wonder, though, whether the back has been a lingering issue all season.

Photo credit: Ray Abrams/AP

In 2009 Aceves helped save the bullpen. The unit posted a 6.46 ERA in April, and that was no fluke. They allowed far too many baserunners, and almost half of opponents’ hits went for extra bases. Aceves got the call by month’s end and helped stabilize the endgame. He not only generated excellent results, including a 3.54 ERA, but he had the components to back it up. In 84 innings he struck out 69 to just 16 walks and 10 home runs allowed, which amounted to a 3.75 FIP. His xFIP, which normalizes the HR/FB rate, was a bit higher, at 4.09, but from my experience this is a common occurrence among relievers.

This season his breakdown has changed a bit. He walked four batters, a quarter of his 2009 total, in just 12 innings. Worse, he struck out just two batters. That represents quite a slide in K/BB ratio, from 4.31 to 0.50. This meant more balls in play, and thankfully most of those were ground balls. In fact, he essentially replaced his missing strikeouts with ground balls, which, while not as positive an outcome, is a far better one than allowing more fly balls and line drives in place of strikeouts. Still, it can be rather tough surviving in the majors with a 1.50 K/9.

In terms of pitch type there doesn’t seem to be much different with Aceves’s approach. He threw a few cutters this year in place of curveballs, but that’s about it. The cutter, however, appears to be the only pitch that has lost velocity this season. Baseball Info Solutions data has that as a 2 mph drop, while PitchFX measures it as only 1 mph below last year. According to his pitch type values the cutter has actually been more effective than last season, though that only considers an at-bat’s ultimate pitch. Perhaps Aceves has had trouble locating the pitch in order to set up batters. Batters are whiffing at it far less — 2.4 percent this year to 8 percent last year — and are putting it in play more often, 31.7 percent this year and 22.5 percent last year. Those are not positive changes.

We’re dealing, of course, with small samples. Aceves has appeared in just 10 games so far and has pitched 12 innings, so we can’t get a real accurate read on him. Maybe his lack of work plays into the change. He threw just 12 innings in the team’s first 29 games, which put him on pace for 67 innings. He threw 84 innings last year and was only on the roster for 137 games. Another possible cause is a lingering back issue. Aceves had problems with it at the end of spring training, and while it didn’t necessitate a DL trip it probably lingered a bit, coming to a head in Boston on the 8th. If it was the back that caused him problems, we might see a better Aceves upon his return.

While a bulging disc can be a pretty serious injury, it sounds like the Yankees might have lucked out. Aceves did report feeling better just before the Yankees placed him on the DL, so I’m not sure how much to trust his most recent statement, but if it is accurate then they might get back a useful setup man in a couple of weeks. The layoff, too, might help him get back to form. His back probably needed rest anyway, and the DL stint provides just that. When he returns, maybe, finally, the Yankees will be rid of Boone Logan.

Categories : Injuries
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The Yankees have two questionable pitchers scheduled for the next few games. Sergio Mitre hasn’t started a game since last year, and while he has looked mostly good in his 9.2 innings this year, he might not be long for the game. Even if he pitches well he has to deal with the fatigue factor, significant because he hasn’t pitched more than three innings since spring training. He appeared to tire late in his last appearance against Baltimore, leaving two sinkers up in the zone to the final batter, Ty Wigginton, who deposited the final one in the seats.

Then comes Javier Vazquez, who will make his first start since May 1 on Tuesday. He has yet to clear 5.2 innings this season, and even in his best start, a six-strikeout performances against the A’s on April 20, he left plenty of outs for the bullpen to cover. Maybe the layoff has afforded him the time he needed to rediscover his fastball command, but the Yanks can’t quite bank on that. They must prepare themselves for two consecutive short starts, just in case the worst case scenario becomes reality.

Photo credit: Henry Ray Abrams/AP

Under normal circumstances, the Yankees would have the situation covered. Al Aceves could pick up in long relief of Mitre tonight, and they could piece together a few appearances tomorrow if Vazquez continues to struggle. Romulo Sanchez then might be available on Wednesday to provide relief if the need arises. But with Aceves nursing a back injury sustained while pitching Saturday, the Yanks might have to look elsewhere for long relief. It would be one thing if this were an isolated injury. Aceves, however, has been battling back issues since the middle of last season.

As Marc Carig reports, Aceves might be ready to pitch in relief this evening. He woke up on Sunday feeling better, and with another day’s rest might be back in form. Given his recent history of back troubles, though, I bet the Yankees would love to give him another day off. That way he could still play caddy to Vazquez if needed. The team would still prefer to have a long reliever tonight, in case Mitre fades early or proves ineffective. No one currently in the bullpen appears particularly qualified for the role. Joe Girardi didn’t reveal much when asked about the possibility, but given the current roster construction it’s a strong possibility.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Who would they recall from Scranton, though? Mark Melancon would normally be a primary option, but today is only the seventh day after the Yankees optioned him. He’ll have to spend 10 days in the minors before they can recall him, unless they place someone on the DL. Since the Yankees will almost certainly recall someone from the 40-man roster, they’re left with just a few options. In fact, given the pitchers on the 40-man, they have just two.

First is a familiar name, Jon Albaladejo. He made a name for himself early in spring training by getting lit up nearly every time out. In 14 appearances for Scranton he’s pitched fairly well, allowing just three runs. Encouragingly, he has struck out 18, but also has five walks and two home runs, which bring his FIP to 3.57, much higher than his 1.76 ERA. He also hasn’t pitched more than 1.1 innings in any given appearance this year, so he might not be best suited for long relief right now. Knowing they can send him down the very next day, though, the Yankees might opt to recall him this evening.

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The more interesting option is Ivan Nova. Added to the 40-man roster this winter after a strong 2009 season, Nova has started the season strong in Scranton. He has started six games, throwing 37 innings to a 2.43 ERA and 3.15 FIP. He also does a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground. The most telling sign that the Yankees are at least thinking about recalling Nova is how they’ve scheduled him. He last pitched on May 3. Zach McAllister pitched the following night. Last night, though, McAllister pitched again. That’s not to say that the Yankees did it because they planned to recall Nova. They have, however, kept the option open.

Again, with concerns about Mitre’s stamina, recalling a long man for tonight seems like a smart move. The Yankees already have 13 men on the pitching staff, so they can send out someone easily. Sanchez appears a likely candidate because of his workload last night, but I don’t think the Yanks should get in the habit of sending down guys who have pitched effectively. After another disappointing performance, David Robertson might spend some time in AAA. The Yanks could then recall an outfielder once they option Nova. A defensive option would certainly help keep Marcus Thames‘s outfield innings in check.

While it’s no lock that the Yankees recall Nova, it certainly makes a degree of sense. He’d be available to relieve either Mitre or Vazquez, and would allow the Yanks to take their time with Aceves. It’s encouraging that he has recovered so quickly from his injury Saturday, but there’s no reason to push it. The Yanks have some flexibility now, so they might as well use it to their advantage. Adding Nova as a long man would do just that.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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Just as the Yankees added a member to their bullpen, they might have lost one. Yesterday we learned that Al Aceves will miss his appearance today as he suffers from lower back issues. He missed nine days last August with soreness in the same area and struggled as he tried to pitch through it. In the three appearances between his missed time he threw six innings and allowed nine runs on 11 hits and two home runs. There’s a chance that he could recover by Opening Day, but chances are the Yankees want to make sure he’s 100 percent before he returns.

This isn’t all bad news. If Aceves does open the season on the DL the Yankees can backdate the move either nine days or the date of Aceves’s last appearance, whichever is shorter. Since Ace has not appeared in a game since Friday the Yankees can basically get a running start on his DL time. He would be eligible to come off the DL on Friday, April 9, meaning he’d miss just three games. The Yankees could certainly use this rule to their advantage, allowing Aceves time to rest and build back up before returning to the team in Tampa, or perhaps on the 13th at home at the latest.

All spring long Joe Girardi has expressed a desire to carry two lefties in the bullpen. Given the team’s construction, however, that didn’t seem realistic. Seven pitchers lay claim to the seven bullpen spots, only three of whom have options. With David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Aceves ready for significant roles, there is no way the Yankees would option any of them. It seemed for a while that Girardi would have to settle for a bunch of righties who fare well against both same and opposite handed batters. The Aceves injury, however, now appears to open a spot for either Boone Logan or Royce Ring, both of whom have fared well this spring.

Logan has the leg up here because he is on the 40-man roster. Drafted in the 20th round of the 2002 draft, Logan began his minor league journey as a starter, but after abysmal performances in rookie ball during his first two seasons the Sox moved him to the bullpen permanently in 2005. He hasn’t started a game, majors or minors, since. He adjusted well — extremely well, even, considering the White Sox basically moved him from rookie ball straight to AAA (with a 5.1 inning layover in A+). After a cup of coffee in 2006, Logan found himself in the majors to stay in 2007.

His first tour of the majors didn’t go too well. He pitched 50.2 innings for the White Sox in 2007 and got hit around. His 4.97 ERA nearly matched his 4.84 FIP. His strikeout rate of 6.22 per nine fell far below the levels he attained in the minors, and his 3.55 BB/9 and 1.24 HR/9 rates also contributed to his poor performance. He came back in 2008, though, with 8.93 K/9 and 2.98 BB/9. His home run rate went even higher, sapping his performance. The .393 BABIP didn’t help either. After the season the White Sox traded him to the Braves in the Javy Vazquez trade. Apparently the duo is a package deal.

Atlanta took advantage of Logan’s options, sending him down to start the season and recalling him toward the end of June. You might remember his season debut on June 25, when he loaded the bases for A-Rod, who singled home a pair of runs to give the Yankees a four-run lead. Things got better, as Logan didn’t allow a run over his next nine appearances. But in August he got touched up a couple of times, inflating his ERA. It’s tough to judge Logan’s 2009 given the tiny sample, but clearly he wasn’t any great shakes.

As a lefty specialist Logan has some potential. He has faced 289 same-handed batters over his career and other than a way too high .340 BABIP everything looks pretty good. He could do with fewer home runs, but his strikeout and walk rates have been acceptable at the major league level. His FIP and xFIP, 3.81 and 3.65, indicate that he might be of some use, but he’ll need an improvement in his home run and walk rates if he’s to find success even in a matchup situation. In other words, even if he does break camp with the team because of Aceves’s injury, don’t expect him to stick around long.

Still, it appears that Girardi will get his wish. It might be for only a few games, but if the Yankees choose to exercise caution with Aceves then Logan should be heading to Boston with the team. Given both David Ortiz’s and J.D. Drew’s abilities against lefties, though, I hope he doesn’t register an appearance before joining the reserve bullpen in Scranton.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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In 2008 the Yankees featured one of the best bullpens in the American League. It got its share of work, racking up 543.1 innings, mostly because of the team’s decimated starting staff. Even still, it led the league in K/9 and K/BB, finished second, by .001, in OBP, and finished third, by .002, in WHIP. Trying to build off that success, the Yankees brought back many of those successful relievers in 2009, including Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Brian Bruney and, to a lesser extent, Jon Albaladejo and Phil Coke. The experiment turned foul pretty quickly, as the group allowed 55 runs, 51 earned, in 71 April innings.

Bruney had been lights out, but hurt his elbow mid-month. Edwar had faced 44 batters and allowed 11 hits, including three home runs, and walked eight. Hitters against him posted a ridiculous .306/.432/.583 line. Veras seemed a bit more snakebitten, a 1.09 WHIP vs. a 5.73 ERA, but he also walked way too many hitters. Albaladejo had allowed seven extra base hits to the 48 batters he faced. Clearly, something had to change in the Yankees’ bullpen, or else the current crew would blow games for the next five months.

It’s easy to cite Phil Hughes‘s move to the bullpen as the reason the unit ended up among the AL’s best in 2009. He was absolutely lights out pitching in relief, allowing just nine runs, eight earned, in 51.1 IP, striking out 65 along the way. Even though his hit total was ridiculously low, 31, he still managed a sterling 1.93 FIP. Yet the bullpen transformation came before Hughes made his move to the eighth inning in July, even before he moved to the bullpen in June. The real change came at the beginning of May, when the Yankees recalled Alfredo Aceves from Scranton.

Through his first two months he helped stabilize the bullpen, allowing just eight runs over 33.1 innings. The runs came in clumps for the most part, two in a 4.1-inning appearance against Boston and three against Texas. Of his 18 appearances in May and June, 13 were scoreless. He allowed just one run three times, twice in completely meaningless situations. He did experience a few hiccups in late July and August, probably related to back soreness. Overall his season went well, though.

Aceves’s soft-tossing style might make his performance seem like smoke and mirrors, but by secondary metrics he performed very well. His FIP sat at 3.75, mostly because he walked so few batters. He still struck out a decent amount, 7.39 per nine innings. His curveball and changeup proved effective swing and miss weapons. His walk and strikeout rates will help him in the future, when opponents will likely improve upon their .260 BABIP against him.

Another area where we might see some regression from Aceves is his home run rate. He allowed 10 home runs in his 84 innings, or 1.07 per nine innings. That might seem high, or average at best, but Aceves accomplished this while allowing a ton of fly balls. Of the 242 fair balls opponents put in play, 116 of them were fly balls, while another 42 were line drives. That led to an 8.6 percent HR/FB ratio, below league average. This is reflected in his xFIP, 4.09. Thankfully, that’s still a quality mark.

In terms of future success, Aceves’s willingness to throw all of his pitches should continue to help him. He threw just 43 percent four-seamers last year, mixing in a cutter, curveball, and changeup for the remaining 57 percent. The cutter appears to be a good straight fastball alternative, as he trades two to three miles per hour for a few inches of break. His curveball is strong, with a deep vertical drop. Lefties seem to have trouble against his changeup. In fact, Aceves performed very well against lefties in 2009, a huge plus if he can continue it in the future.

How do the projection systems see the Yankees’ potential swingman in 2010?


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It looks like most of the projection systems expect Aceves’s hit total to rise, consistent with DIPS theory. We’ve seen it happen to countless relievers. They come on and perform very well in one season by not allowing many hits on balls in play. Then the next year their luck starts evening out, and they’re all the worse for it. Thankfully, Aceves compensates with a low walk rate, though all the systems project that to rise as well. ZiPS is clearly the most pessimistic, forecasting increased home run, hit, and walk rates and a declining strikeout rate.

Given his pitch repertoire, however, I expect Aceves to once again provide a solid option out of the bullpen. Maybe he breaks camp as the fifth starter, though I still doubt it. He’ll probably make a spot start or two during the season as well. Even if his BABIP does rise to the league average, he should still provide quality innings out of the pen. He won’t be as key to the unit’s success as he was last year, but he certainly strengthens the bullpen corps.

Categories : Pitching
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Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have a meeting planned for this Sunday to discuss the fifth starter situation. The prevailing thought seems to be that Phil Hughes is at the front of the line for the job, sending Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen, but I can’t imagine that the brain trust is going to base the decision on each player’s first three Spring Training appearances if it is in fact a true “open competition.” Stranger things have happened, I guess.

Either way, there might be some progress towards a resolution with this mess situation soon, and Mo knows we’re all looking forward to it. Maybe they’ll talk about the trade partner they found for Sergio Mitre following his strong exhibition season. Wishful thinking?

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Just a week ago, Sergio Mitre apparently led the fifth starter competition. But then Al Aceves pitched well, so he was the story. Last night Phil Hughes pitched well, so Wednesday’s stories revolve around how he has stepped up in the fifth starter competition. That, and how this is Joba’s last chance — ever, according to many scribes — to audition for the rotation. The way we’ve seen this story portrayed makes the Yankees’ braintrust seem rather fickle.

I’m not really buying any of it. Maybe the team had a fifth starter picked out before they even came to camp. Maybe they’ve already made a decision based on what they’ve seen. I doubt, however, that they’re anxiously awaiting the results of exhibition games in order to determine the winner. These games are played under completely different circumstances than normal games, and I’m not sure the Yankees can make their decision based on those results.

That isn’t to say that the games are meaningless. The staff can observe the pitchers and see if they’re doing the right things — mixing pitches, throwing strikes, challenging hitters, etc. The results, though, shouldn’t much matter. As we’ve been saying all spring, there’s just too much going on.

Take Phil Hughes’s appearance last night for example. The results show that he pitched very well: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 59 pitches. Yet he faced mostly substitutes. Not only substitutes, but substitutes from the NL’s worst offense. Can the Yankees really trust the results in this case? Of course not. But they can observe other aspects of Hughes during the start and make determinations. That, I think, is what this competition is based on — if it’s really a competition at all.

Today Joba starts against Philadelphia, the NL’s best offense. If he goes his four innings, but allows five hits, two runs, and walks one, will that really be judged as worse than Hughes’s outing? The discrepancy in talent there is immense, the reserves on a terrible offense against the starters on the best offense. In fact, if Joba pitches well we should all be encouraged, since he did it against tougher competition.

This is all a rant to say that these stories in the newspaper don’t necessarily reflect the actual decision-making process. They’re stories based on the results of the game and conversations with staff. Maybe they give us a little insight into the team’s thought process, but maybe they don’t. Again, maybe the team is keeping its true intentions under wraps. We don’t know. What we do know, though, is that trusting the straight results of these spring training appearances won’t help us better guess the competition. There are just too many variables involved.

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