Why are the Yankees sticking with eight relievers?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last 15 days, the Yankees have had eight men in their bullpen.

At first, it was out of necessity. The team was coming off an 18-inning marathon with the Cubs and had to play a two-game series starting the next day. Making a move to add a long reliever — in this case Chad Green — was a prudent move after everyone but Tommy Layne was used on that Sunday night/Monday morning vs. the Cubs.

But two days later, the team had an off-day. They had optioned Rob Refsnyder, the obvious 25th man, to make room for Green, so he wasn’t available for a call-up. However, the team still had/has Mason Williams ready to call-up and an open 40-man roster spot to utilize for an extra position player, should they see the need.

By this time, it’s obvious they don’t see the need. They’re fine with a three-man bench as it provides them the luxury of eight relievers. It’s likely they’ll go back to a four-man bench with Tyler Austin comes off the 60-day DL either later this month or in early June, but that would mean another week or so with this peculiar arrangement. And it truly is a luxury as they aren’t all necessary.

When you look at the composition of the bullpen right now, there are the guys that are being used consistently and with purpose; Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder each have their roles right now and are minimally influenced by another man in the bullpen. Chad Green has taken on Warren’s long-man-in-close-game role and has been quite solid in said role.

But beyond those five guys, there hasn’t been much to do. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, the two lefties, have thrown just 4 1/3 and five innings, respectively, over a combined nine appearances. With few lefty-laden lineups with which to deal, there simply isn’t much work for the duo. They’ve pitched in the same game twice, mostly as mop-up guys.

Giovanny Gallegos was used in a similar fashion, taking mop-up innings and helping the team get by during the Astros doubleheader. He’s more of a 1-2 inning guy anyway, so the team called up Bryan Mitchell in his spot.

Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

This seems like a poor use for Mitchell. Mitchell had been getting stretched out in Triple A and would be ready to call on as a spot starter. With the rotation’s struggles, that seems like it may be on the horizon, particularly with few off-days upcoming. And with an eight-man bullpen, an extra long reliever is superfluous. Green and Warren can both go multiple innings. Even if you say that Warren is now a one-inning reliever, the nominal ‘7th-inning guy’, you still have both Shreve and Layne sitting in the bullpen with little recent mileage most nights. They can take the long relief on any given night. With the current arrangement, Mitchell neither has a role nor a chance to develop further despite his ability to be either a solid back-end starter or quality reliever if given the opportunity.

The main reason to keep the eight-man bullpen going would be with the struggles in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a few short starts in a row, same with Luis Severino, while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have been the ones getting consistently through 6-7 their last few times out. The rotation has gone from 5.93 innings per start in April to 5.45 this month. This opens up about an inning every other game, yet that seems hardly enough to justify an extra reliever when the team was still barely using its last reliever when they had seven in April. If the innings trend continues to go down, both this season and in the future, an eight-man bullpen may become more of the norm to help spread innings among a taxed bullpen, but that isn’t the Yankees reality right now.

Eight relievers were fully necessary during the doubleheader, but the team was also allowed to call up an extra man for the roster. If the team wants another long reliever but needed an extra position player right now, they could either jettison Layne or option Shreve to call up Tyler Webb, who has been effective in Scranton since he was returned from his Rule 5 stint with the Pirates, and use Mitchell’s spot for a position player. Still, you run into the same issues with Webb that you did with Mitchell, as the team already has capable long men and at least one other lefty ready to go.

The question does need to be asked: Would the spot be better utilized for another position player? Ultimately, it seems like there hasn’t really been a role for an extra position player. Perhaps they should have had Kyle Higashioka up vs. Tampa last Friday with Gary Sanchez feeling off — thereby allowing them to pinch hit for Austin Romine in a big spot — but a roster spot for one at-bat, maybe a couple innings of defense, doesn’t seem like a better use than 4 1/3 innings.

So with the last 15 days, the Yankees have shown how little they utilize the 25th spot on their roster at the moment. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin out and few ready-to-use and effective position players on the 40-man roster, the team seems more than content to get by the eighth reliever. Perhaps, this is a glimpse into the future of baseball yet, for now, it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources, although there may not be a better use within simple reach.

Game 41: Sabathia Sunday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So the last three games haven’t gone well. Sucks. The good news is there’s another game today, so there’s a chance to get back into the win column. A win today avoids the sweep and sends the Yankees home with a 3-3 road trip. Not great, not awful. Could be worse.

CC Sabathia is on the mound this afternoon and he was very good last time out, though that was against the free-swinging Royals, the worst hitting team in baseball this year. The Rays have some thump, annoyingly. This will be a tough one for Sabathia. I believe in the big man though. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s nice and sunny in St. Petersburg today, and dark and gloomy inside Tropicana Field. First time this series the teams probably wish they could play outside. Alas. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. YES has the broadcast. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) will see a doctor tomorrow for a check up. He went on the disabled list last weekend, and the Yankees said he will be shut down at least two weeks, so a throwing program isn’t imminent … Greg Bird (ankle) continues to increase his running. He could beginning hitting this week.

Roster Update: The Yankees have called up Bryan Mitchell and sent down Gio Gallegos, the team announced. I had a feeling that was coming. They need a fresh long man. Mitchell was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, though he’s only gotten stretched out to 60 pitches or so since being sent down, so he won’t be able to go super long.

Game 24: Roles Reversed

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time the Blue Jays were a lock for third place in the AL East behind the Yankees and Red Sox, and ahead of the Orioles and (Devil) Rays. Then the Rays got good and Toronto slipped down in the standings. The last two years though, the Blue Jays have a pair of trips to the ALCS to their credit, all while the Yankees have been floundering in the 85-ish win range.

The last two seasons we frequently saw the Blue Jays riding high and the Yankees struggling whenever these two teams met. Now the roles are reversed. The Yankees are tied for first place in the AL East and they’ve won 14 of their last 18 games. The Blue Jays are in last place at 8-17. Only the Royals at 7-16 have a worse record this year. It wasn’t until this past weekend that Toronto won their first set of back-to-back games. Yeah.

That doesn’t mean this three-game series will be easy, of course. All intra-division games in the AL East seem to be tough, even when bad or slumping teams are involved. The Yankees lost yesterday, but they laid a pretty good beating on the Orioles this weekend, and before that they won a pair of games at Fenway Park. Time to take care of business against Toronto. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

Not the best weather day in New York today. It’s cloudy and humid, which usually means rain is coming. The heaviest stuff won’t arrive for a few hours. Looks like they should be able to get nine innings in before that. I hope so, anyway. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees optioned Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A Scranton earlier today, the team announced. I assume he’ll work on his first base skills down there. Luis Cessa was called up to give the Yankees a fresh long man. He’s stretched out to 90+ pitches and today was his day to start, so he’s good to go very long, which I hope is not necessary.

Defending putting Bryan Mitchell at first base

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees nearly won in the ninth inning on Sunday thanks to a crazy ninth inning comeback capped off by a two-run single by Didi Gregorius, but Chris Carter struck out with the winning run on third.

And then things went from exciting to downright bizarre. Bryan Mitchell, who pitched the ninth inning, moved to first base and Aroldis Chapman came into pitch the 10th. Chapman replaced the DH, Matt Holliday, in the lineup, batting third, while Mitchell was inserted into the lineup in the place of Carter, batting eighth. If you’re interested in the mechanics of how the lineup move worked, here’s the relevant rule.

The move didn’t quite work out. Mitchell missed a pop up in foul territory, but the error didn’t lead to a run in the 10th. Neither did the lineup decision hurt the Yankees in the bottom of the inning with Greg Bird getting hit by a pitch in Holliday’s vacated No. 3 spot.

But after a long time in between pitching the top of the 9th and the top of the 11th, Mitchell came back in and gave up three runs en route to taking the loss. It was the first time since 1989 that a pitcher threw an inning, moved to first base and then moved back to the mound in the same game. Wacky? Yes. But the wrong move? No. Here’s why:

1. A rusty Mitchell is likely better than Tommy Layne: With Jordan Montgomery lasting 5+ innings, the Yankees had already used Jonathan Holder, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances before Mitchell came in for the ninth. Adam Warren threw 36 pitches over 2 2/3 on Saturday, so he was likely unavailable. That left Mitchell and Tommy Layne for the 11th.

Mitchell hasn’t been masterful this season, but he’s shown signs of becoming a competent middle reliever, particularly one who can get quality outs and go multiple innings. The best example was his two innings vs. the Pirates a week ago, when he work through two walks to throw two shutout innings. This is a 26-year-old pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a potential splitter. Even with his occasional control issues, there’s promise with Mitchell.

And yes, Mitchell was clobbered by the Orioles on Friday. But perhaps the best argument for Mitchell as a reliever was how he bounced back in the ninth yesterday. He even struck out Manny Machado after he tormented the Yankees all weekend.

If you want to go to Layne in the 11th, that means going with your LOOGY against a lineup constructed of only right-handed hitters. J.J. Hardy and Joey Rickard are 0 for 6 vs. Layne but Machado and Adam Jones are both 1 for 2 and both were locked in at the plate on Sunday. Layne holds lefties to a .515 OPS in his career while righties bat .282/.386/.449 off the southpaw.

So sending Layne out there, particularly with 9-1-2 coming up in the 11th, would likely end in defeat. Mitchell gives you more of a fighting chance and has the ability to last deep into games.

2. The move pushes need for position player/starter to 14th at the earliest: This was another option for the Yankees. Don’t want to keep using Mitchell or throw Layne in vs. the O’s? Fine, then you can put in a tired Warren, use a position player (Aaron Hicks?!?) or one of the starting pitchers, presumably Luis Severino, who is scheduled to start on Monday.

That seems silly and shortsighted. Let’s disregard a tired Warren. A position player is waiving the white flag. Why do that so early in extras? Going to Severino is risky in two regards. First, you risk losing tomorrow’s game because of your actions today. Luis Cessa would be on turn to pitch Monday and could be called up, but that’s less desirable than Severino on normal rest while on a roll. The second risk is injury to Severino. He didn’t go into Sunday expecting to pitch. Throwing your next day’s starter in doesn’t guarantee a win and can lead to some poor results.

Mitchell can take you through at least the 12th if not the 13th or, stretching him a bit thin, the 14th. Layne is good for two innings if he doesn’t lose it for you after one. Utilizing both to the max is the best plan, even if it goes awry. A few more scoreless innings should have opened the door for the Yankees to win.

Your other option is to save Chapman for whenever Mitchell is done, but you have to go to your best options right away in extras. Saving Chapman while Mitchell struggles through the lineup would have been a flat-out wrong call by Girardi. And losing the DH to keep Mitchell in the game for later didn’t change the result on Sunday.

Screenshot
(Screenshot)

3. Move hurt lineup but not immediately and not in a way that affected the game: Inserting Mitchell in the lineup for a hitter, even one who is struggling like Carter, isn’t ideal. Putting Mitchell at first while bringing Chapman pokes two holes in your lineup at once and you can only plug up one (Bird pinch hitting).

However, putting Mitchell and Chapman into the lineup didn’t affect the game and wouldn’t have for a few innings. Bird easily pinch hit for Chapman and was hit by a pitch. Holliday would have been intentionally walked with runners on second and third and one out. Mitchell wasn’t going to bat until the 11th and you could pinch hit for him if you fell behind or allowed him to hit or bunt if you’re tied. You still have Ronald Torreyes, who’s provided better ABs than Carter this year.

4. Mitchell didn’t lose the game so much as the RISP-fail did: It really shouldn’t have come down to Mitchell pitching the 11th and beyond. Carter had his shot in the ninth. Castro and Judge blew their opportunity with the bases loaded in the 10th. The team went 3-for-13 with RISP and blew a lead with a rookie reliever in the sixth. That’s worth questioning. Meanwhile, there weren’t really better options than Mitchell in the 11th and it’s dubious as to whether Layne could have done any better. Simply put, the offense needed to come through more often on Sunday.

Watching Bryan Mitchell play first base was downright fun. Sure, he gave the team a heart attack and missed a pop-up before making up for it two batters later, but watching a guy grin ear-to-ear in the middle of an extra inning game is infectious. I enjoyed the heck out of Mitchell’s inning in the field.

And the decision was quite close to working out. The Cubs won after a similar decision last year. A bad J.J. Hardy throw on Starlin Castro‘s grounder or a hit from Castro/Aaron Judge would have given the Yankees a win and made this a memorable moment in a great winning streak. Quibbling with the choice to keep Mitchell in simply isn’t worth it because it likely didn’t change Sunday’s result.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closer™ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.

The Four Young Rotation Candidates [2017 Season Preview]

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Anyone with doubts about the Yankees and their commitment to the youth movement need not look beyond the rotation. Rather than bring in outside help over the winter, even a innings eating veteran on a one-year contract, the Yankees are planning to go with their young starting pitchers in 2017. They’re taking a leap of faith.

Four young starters are vying for two rotation spots this spring: Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. We still don’t know which way the team is leaning — “I would say (no one is ahead). I think we’re going to have some long meetings about this,” said Joe Girardi over the weekend — though I get the feeling Severino came into Spring Training as a favorite for one spot.

Regardless of who gets the two rotation spots on Opening Day, history suggests the Yankees will need all four of these guys to make starts at some point. The Yankees haven’t used fewer than eight starters in a season since the strike-shortened 1994 season, when they used seven. They’ve averaged slightly more than ten starters per season the last three years. So yeah, the depth is good. Let’s preview these four young arms.

Luis Cessa

What does he have the others don’t? A fourth pitch and a ton of athleticism. Cessa, 25 in April, is a former shortstop and his athleticism is evident in his easy, repeatable delivery. More importantly, Cessa throws four distinct pitches. We saw all of them last season during his big league debut. Setting aside his eight relief outings last season, here are the numbers from Cessa’s nine starts (MLB averages in parentheses):

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Fastball 48.6% 95.0 (92.1) 5.7% (6.9%) 35.0% (37.9%)
Slider 30.3% 85.4 (84.3) 21.8% (15.2%) 66.0% (43.9%)
Curveball 11.1% 80.2 (77.1) 4.8% (11.1%) 50.0% (48.7%)
Changeup 9.9% 85.0 (93.7) 13.3% (14.9%) 40.0% (47.8%)

The slider was Cessa’s go-to secondary pitch, but he also threw his curveball and changeup roughly 10% of the time each, so the four-pitch mix is there. As a result, his platoon split was relatively small: lefty batters had a .324 wOBA against him while righties had a .311 wOBA. None of the other rotation candidates threw four pitches as often as Cessa, and I don’t think any of them are as consistently in sync with their delivery as well.

Also, in the age of pitch counts, I should note Cessa was incredibly pitch efficient last year. He averaged only 14.7 pitches per inning and 3.69 pitches per plate appearance as a starter in 2016. The MLB averages are 16.8 and 3.95, respectively. Cessa managed to complete at least five innings in all nine of his starts while throwing 85+ pitches only three times.

What’s holding him back? A lack of strikeouts and #toomanyhomers, more than anything. Even with a slider that rated as well-above-average in swing-and-miss rate and ground ball rate, Cessa had a mere 17.1% strikeout rate and a 45.0% ground ball rate in his 51.2 innings as a starter last year. Hitters tagged him for a 1.92 HR/9 (19.3 HR/FB%) and that’s way too high. Can’t do that and stay in the rotation.

Cessa has long had a reputation for being a strike-thrower and we saw it last season. He had a 3.9% walk rate in his nine starts. I wonder whether he’s someone who could benefit from throwing a few more pitches out of the zone, especially in two-strike counts. Not everything needs to be over the plate, you know. That could lead to more strikeouts and fewer homers allowed. Just an idea. But yeah, too few strikeouts and too many homers. Those are the two things Cessa will look to improve this summer.

Chad Green

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? Good question! I’m not sure, exactly. Possibly an overpowering fastball? Green, who turns 26 in May, is one of several pitchers who added velocity after joining the Yankees within the last few years, and last season his heater averaged 95.4 mph and topped out at 99.2 mph. His four-seamer generated a swing and a miss a whopping 16.2% of the time, which is nearly triple the league average rate. Green’s fastball: it’s good. (Bet you didn’t realize he had a 26.3% strikeout rate last season, did you? )

I’d also argue that among the four pitchers in this post, no one improved their stock more over the last 12 months than Green. He’s trending in the right direction. He added some oomph to his fastball, improved the quality of his slider with help from pitching coach Larry Rothschild last spring, and he added a cutter while down in Triple-A. Green came to New York with a fastball and an okay slider. Now he has a bigger fastball, a better slider, and a brand new cutter. Neat.

What’s holding him back? The complete lack of a changeup. Green has tried both splitter and changeup grips and so far he’s been unable to find something that works. Because of that, he has nothing to combat left-handers aside from cutters in on the hands. Last summer lefties hit .287/.351/.663 (.421 wOBA) with nine homers in 95 plate appearances again Green. Yikes. That’s a 3.74 HR/9 (34.6 HR/FB%). Yikes.

Clearly, the goal for Green this season will be improving his changeup. Or his splitter. Either one works. He needs something to keep left-handed hitters off balance, because busting them inside with cutters only works so much. Green needs that soft offspeed pitch to keep them guessing. I’m not sure he has much of a chance to be a big league starter without one. His fastball and slider are good enough that, at worse, Green should be a pretty nice reliever. Obviously the Yankees hope he can be something more than that.

Bryan Mitchell

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? The potential for a truly dominant pitch. Mitchell’s curveball is arguably the best curveball in the organization. It’s a power bender that averaged 81.9 mph last season with a well-above-average spin rate, which points to the potential for swings and misses and grounders. Don’t sleep on Mitchell’s mid-90s four-seamer and low-90s cutter either. His raw stuff is very impressive.

Also, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Mitchell has performed the best among the rotation candidates, both this spring and last season. I get the sense that’s going to factor into the team’s decision. So far this spring Mitchell has struck out 12 and walked three in 14.1 innings. He’s allowed no more than one run in three of his four appearances. Last year Mitchell threw 25 innings across five starts with the Yankees, during which he had a 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP). I don’t think the Yankees will base their decision on those numbers, but I do think they’ll be considered.

Of course, Mitchell walked more batters (12) than he struck out (11) during his relatively brief big league cameo last year, so perhaps don’t read too much into the shiny ERA. Point is, Mitchell performed well from a “didn’t allow many runs” perspective, and it sure is easy to dream on his fastball/cutter/curveball combination.

What’s holding him back? Both command and a changeup, or the lack thereof. Mitchell doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d expect and he’s more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe because his command is so poor. Throwing in the mid-90s is great! But if it’s over the plate, it’s going to get hit. And as pretty as his curveball is, it’s had a below-average swing and miss rate in all three of his MLB seasons. There’s a big disconnect between Mitchell’s stuff and his results, and that disconnect is due to poor command.

The changeup, I’d argue, is a bigger issue. You can carve out a successful career with below-average command, even as a starter. It’s doable. A.J. Burnett spent 17 years in the big leagues, won a pair of World Series rings, and banked over $140M with below-average command. Mitchell doesn’t have Burnett stuff, but he has pretty darn good stuff, and that should be enough to enjoy a big league career even without improving his command.

Without a changeup, however, Mitchell has to rely on his cutter to neutralize lefties, and his command isn’t good enough to rely on that one pitch consistently. Lefties hit .270/.372/.378 (.334 wOBA) against Mitchell last year and .274/.379/.415 (.350 wOBA) in his big league career overall. A right-hander who can’t get lefties out doesn’t have much of a chance to be a starter in Yankee Stadium. Mitchell has been working on his changeup for years — he’s tried a splitter as well — and so far nothing has taken. I wonder how much longer the Yankees will keep waiting before sticking him in the bullpen for good.

Luis Severino

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? Former top prospect status and, in theory, the most upside. That’s going to buy the just turned 23-year-old Severino plenty of opportunities and that’s why I think he’s favored to land a rotation spot right now. Now, to be fair, that’s not the only thing Severino has going for him. He’s got the big fastball, he’s got the wipeout slider, and at one point in time he had a very nice changeup as well. There was a reason Severino was a top prospect.

There’s also this: Severino has had, by far, the best stretch in the big leagues among these four players. Back in 2015 the Yankees called Severino up in the second half, and he had a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings for a team in a postseason race. He had his issues with walks (8.6%) and strikeouts (1.30 HR/9), but what rookie pitcher doesn’t? Besides, Severino’s strikeout (22.0%) and grounder (50.3%) rates were impressive. Remember this guy?

That guy is really good! The Yankees remember that guy. They want him back. Severino, unlike Cessa and Mitchell and Green, has shown the ability to dominate big league hitters as a starting pitcher, albeit in 60-something innings two years ago. It’s more than the other guys have shown, however, and that’s going to work in Severino’s favor come decision time. He’s a former top prospect who gave everyone a taste of his upside in 2015. That can’t be ignored.

What’s holding him back? Once again, it’s command and a changeup, though unlike Green and Mitchell, Severino does actually have a changeup. Watch that video. There are more than a few in there. Severino lost confidence and/or feel for his changeup last season — he threw 12 changeups total in his final four starts after averaging 12 changeups per start in 2015 — and he’s working to get it back this spring. Not enough of his starts have been televised for us to get an idea of how he’s progressing, unfortunately.

As for the command, Severino’s location with his secondary stuff last year was a bigger issue than with his fastball. His fastball is so overpowering that he doesn’t need to be precise with it. He just needs to be close enough. With his slider, however, Severino left too may up in the zone and out over the plate early last season, which earned him a demotion back to Triple-A. The same was true with his changeup before he stopped throwing it all together.

This spring Severino made some slight changes to his mechanics — he’s breaking his hands closer to his body (GIF) — in an effort to improve his command and changeup. His issues aren’t a mystery. The Yankees and Rothschild have been working to get Severino back on track, and heck, he even spent some time with Pedro Martinez in the offseason. With the changeup, it’s about getting Severino back to where he was two years ago. Concerns about his command have existed for a while though, and ultimately his ability to improve that will determine whether he stays in the rotation long-term or winds up back in the bullpen, where he dominated last season.

* * *

We have to acknowledge these four pitchers are not necessarily in a rotation competition this spring. They’re in a pitching staff competition. It’s entirely possible one or more of them will wind up in the bullpen should they fail to secure a rotation spot. Like I said earlier though, I’d bet on all four guys making starts at some point during the summer. That’s usually how these things play out.

Assuming Masahiro Tanaka stays healthy and opts out, the Yankees have no established pitching under control beyond 2017. The hope is one or two or all four of these young starters emerge as viable long-term big league rotation options this coming season. They don’t need to become aces to have value. (Have you seen what average-ish mid-rotation guys are getting in free agency?) These four pitchers could help solve a lot of problems this season, though each of them has to figure some things out to make it happen.