Season Review: Miscellaneous Pitchers

As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of pitchers. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren
After losing the long man competition to David Phelps in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Warren got his big league shot when both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the DL in late-June. He made a spot start against the White Sox and got absolutely pounded, surrendering six runs on eight hits (two homers, one double, five singles) in 2.1 innings. Warren walked two and struck out one. He spent the rest of the regular season back in Triple-A but did get recalled when rosters expanded in September, though he did not appear in a game.

Chad Qualls
Acquired from the Phillies in early-July, the 34-year-old Qualls appeared in eight games with the Yankees. He allowed five runs and ten hits in 7.1 innings with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two), though he did generate a bunch of ground balls (51.9%). His most notable moment in pinstripes was probably retiring the only two men he faced (Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo) on July 13th, keeping the deficit at three and allowing the Yankees to mount a late-innings comeback. The Yankees traded Qualls to the Pirates for Casey McGehee at the deadline.

Justin Thomas
Plucked off waivers from the Red Sox early-May, the 28-year-old Thomas spent the rest of the summer in Triple-A before getting the call when rosters expanded in September. The left-hander appeared in four games, allowing three runs in three innings. To his credit, Thomas did retire six of seven left-handed batters he faced with New York (two strikeouts). The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear room on the roster for David Aardsma late in the season, and Thomas has since moved on as a minor league free agent.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

D.J. Mitchell
Mitchell, 25, also lost the long man competition to Phelps in camp. He went down to Triple-A for a few weeks before resurfacing when the Yankees needed an arm in early-May and then again in mid-July. He made four appearances total — two in each big league stint — and allow two runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Like Qualls, he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two) but generated a healthy number of grounders (57.9%). Mitchell was traded to the Mariners as part of the Ichiro Suzuki and spent the rest of the year in the minors.

Ryota Igarashi
Igarashi, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in late-May and managed to appear in two games with the Yankees. He allowed one run in one inning against the Mets on June 8th and three runs in two innings against the Blue Jays on August 12th. Both stints in the big leagues were very temporary, as he was sent down right away in favor of a fresh arm. It’s worth noting that Igarashi was a monster down in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) with 13.50 K/9 (34.4 K%) in 36.2 innings as the team’s closer. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster in August and he signed a new deal with a team in Japan earlier this offseason.

David Aardsma
The Yankees signed the 30-year-old Aardsma to a one-year, $500k contract in late-February knowing he was unlikely to contribute much this year since he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander suffered a setback in June which delayed his rehab, but he progressed far enough that the team adding him to the active roster in late-September. He appeared in just one game before the end of the season, allowing a solo homer in an inning of work. After the season the Yankees exercised Aardsma’s $500k option for 2013 and will have the former Mariners closer in the bullpen to open next season.

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Yankees acquire Casey McGehee

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Yankees needed to add some infield depth following Alex Rodriguez‘s hand injury, and they did so by acquiring Casey McGehee from the Pirates in exchange for Chad Qualls before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Joel Sherman broke the news and reports that New York will receive $250k in the deal as well. McGehee will almost certainly take Ramiro Pena‘s roster spot.

A 29-year-old right-handed hitter, McGehee owns a career 100 wRC+ against left-handers (95 vs. RHP). The split is much more pronounced this year (119 vs. 67 wRC+), however. He has some power (career .159 ISO) and is basically league average in the strikeout (17.2%) and walk (7.7%) departments. The various defensive metrics says he’s about average at the hot corner and you can forget about speed on the bases. Not happening.

McGehee’s an upgrade over Pena and he gives the Yankees another right-handed bat. They could use him at third, Jayson Nix in left field, and Andruw Jones at DH against southpaws with Ichiro Suzuki glued to the bench. He’ll also provide some depth in the short-term as Mark Teixeira deals with his wrist issue. McGehee started to get exposed when the Brewers and Pirates tried playing him everyday, but he’s a useful role player and won’t see that much playing time with the Yankees. As an added bonus, he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2014.

Qualls, 33, pitched to a 6.14 ERA (3.76 FIP) during his brief time in pinstripes. The Yankees acquired him from the Phillies earlier this month, but he was clearly going to be the odd man out once Joba Chamberlain was ready to come off the DL. The fact that Brian Cashman was able to turn him into a useful piece is a minor miracle, frankly. McGehee is not expected to join the team in time for tonight’s game.

Midseason Review: Incomplete Grades

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It takes a total team effort to finish the first half with the best record in baseball, and the Yankees have already used 35 different players this season. Not all of them have made a significant contributions though, mostly because they simply haven’t had a chance to play all that much. I’m talking up-and-down relievers, miscellaneous fill-ins, and those who got injured.

Andy Pettitte
Blame Casey Kotchman. He hit the one-hop ground ball that fractured Pettitte’s left ankle on June 27th and will cause the left-hander to miss no fewer than two months. Prior to the injury, Andy’s return from retirement was a smashing success. He pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 58.2 innings with ungodly peripherals: 9.05 K/9 (25.2 K%), 2.30 BB/9 (6.4 BB%), and 58.3% grounders. The strikeout and ground ball numbers are career bests by not small margins and the walk rate is more than half-a-walk better than his career average.

Obviously there are sample size issues with that, but what’s done is done. Pettitte pitched that well in his nine starts and the Yankees will miss him immensely in the second half. It’s unclear if he’ll come back with that kind of effectiveness — the injury was to his push-off leg — or if he’ll even come back period. Andy could decide that the rehab and getting back into playing shape is just too much. I wouldn’t bet on it, but you never know. It was a fluke injury, it happens, but it still put a major damper on the best story of the season.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Brett Gardner
The Yankees have gotten exactly nine games out of Gardner this year. He didn’t even start two of them, he came off the bench to play defense for exactly one inning each time. Those nine games include 34 plate appearances (.321/.424/.393 with two steals) and 14 defensive chances. That’s it, that’s all they’ve gotten out of Gardner in 2012.

An elbow injury suffered while making a sliding catch against the Twins is the culprit. It was diagnosed as a bone bruise and an elbow strain, and twice Gardner has suffered setbacks after working his way back in minor league rehab games. He’s not expected back until the end of this month at the earliest, over 100 games into the season. The Yankees have done just fine without Gardner in the lineup and in left field, but they sorely lack team speed and the defense can always use an upgrade. His absence has been notable.

D.J. Mitchell & Adam Warren
We figured we would see these two — and David Phelps as well — at some point this season, and it didn’t take all that long. Mitchell made his debut in relief in early-May and has thrown a total of 3.2 innings across two stints and three appearances with the big league club. He’s allowed one run, five hits, and one walk in that time. The Yankees are carrying him as a long reliever right now due to the Pettitte and CC Sabathia injuries, so he has a chance to stick around by simply pitching well and soaking up innings.

Warren’s introduction to the big leagues wasn’t nearly as kind. The White Sox tattooed him for six runs on eight hits and two walks in just 2.1 innings late last month, his only appearance for the team. The Yankees called him up as an emergency replacement for Sabathia and sent him back to Triple-A the next day. You only get one debut and it wasn’t a good one for Warren, but he’ll surely get another chance to help the team at some point.

Chad Qualls, Darnell McDonald & Ryota Igarashi
All three midseason additions, all three having minimum impact thus far. Qualls was acquired from the Phillies in a minor trade less than two weeks ago and has allowed one run in his three appearances so far. He’ll stick around as a sixth or seventh inning matchup guy for the time being. McDonald was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox last week and went hitless in four plate appearances against his former team last weekend. He’ll most likely be remembered for causing Curtis Granderson to drop a routine pop-up on Saturday night. Igarashi has made all of one appearance for the Yankees since being claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays earlier this year, allowing one run in one inning against the Mets. He’ll ride the Triple-A shuttle a few more times in the second half.

Yankees acquire Chad Qualls

Via Mark Hale, the Yankees have acquired Chad Qualls from the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash. Philadelphia designated the veteran right-handed reliever for assignment earlier this week. No word on the corresponding roster moves yet.

Qualls, 33, was pretty awful with the Phillies — 4.60 ERA and 5.61 FIP — and has been awful for about three years now. Since the start of 2010, he’s pitched to a 5.08 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 164.2 innings, the fourth highest ERA among qualified relievers. Qualls is a sinker guy, relying on grounders (55.6% since 2010) and not strikeouts (6.07 K/9 and 15.3 K%). It is worth noting that he’s held right-handed batters to a .286 wOBA over the last three seasons, so he’s something of a specialist.

Qualls signed a one-year, $1.15M deal with the Phillies this past offseason, so he’s cheap and will become a free agent after the season. I’m still not quite sure why the Yankees traded for him unless someone — Cory Wade after his 58-pitch appearance the other day? — is going to the DL. I suppose it could also have something to do with David Aardsma‘s setback. Kinda weird.

Mailbag: Chad Qualls

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rafi asks: If the Yankees are indeed still looking for a RH RP, allow me to throw out a name that seams to be totally off everyone’s radar: Chad Qualls. This guy has closer experience with a decent K (7.35/9) rate, good BB (2.5) rate, and of course, great GB rate (55% – the league leader this past year, was Tim Hudson at 64.1). He did walk 3.2/9 last season, but almost all his other numbers were the same. The biggest differences? A .399 BABIP leading to 13 H/9. While his 7.32 ERA was easily his high (almost double his previous), his FIP was 4.13, and xFIP was 3.91. Since he’s coming off such a poor looking year, and is a type-B, what kind of contract do you think he’ll get? I think he’s a great fit.

Qualls has been in the back of my mind all offseason mostly because his name stares me right in the face whenever I go to update the 2011 Draft Order page. Considering the season he had, which by most statistical measures was awful, I was stunned to hear that he turned down the Rays’ offer of arbitration. His stock was certainly down and accepting arbitration would have guaranteed him some sort of raise on this past season’s $4.185M salary. Is he going to get even $4M for one year on the open market? Hell no. Bad job by his agent declining.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Qualls’ ever since his playoff performance with the Astros during their run to the 2005 World Series. He threw 13 innings across nine appearances in Houston’s 14 postseason games, striking out ten, getting 68.8% ground balls, and holding opponents to a .233 wOBA. It was a beastly performance, no other way to put it. Unfortunately that was half-a-decade ago and not indicative of what he has to offer now.

As you said, Qualls’ underlying performance in 2010 wasn’t too far off from the rest of his career, he was just victimized by a .399 BABIP and a 53.0% strand rate (league average is 72%). There are legitimate concerns, though. His strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, from 8.67 K/9 in 2008 to 7.79 in 2009 to 7.47 in 2010, and unsurprisingly his swinging strike rate has declined as well (11.3%, 10.3%, 8.2%). His ground ball has also declined over the last two years, from 58.3% in ’08 to 56.9% in ’09 to 55% in ’10, and his walk rate was a career high 2.59 BB/9 (removing intentional walks). There’s a lot of stuff trending in the wrong direction here.

One thing to remember is that Qualls started the year coming off a very serious knee/leg injury that ended his 2009 season in late August. Jason Michaels hit him with a comeback line drive, resulting in a dislocated knee cap, a torn meniscus (in two places), and his quad muscle being partially torn off the bone. Ouch. There’s a chance the injury still hampered him a bit in 2010. Another thing to remember is that he’s 32, so his hellacious sinker might not be what it once was. Even if the pitch has lost just a little bit of sink, it’ll have a pretty big difference.

At his peak, from 2007 through 2009, Qualls struck out 8.38 batters per nine innings, walked just 1.77 per nine unintentionally, and got a ground ball 57.3% of the time. That’s an extremely valuable reliever, and any team that signs Qualls is banking on him returning to that level of performance, or at least thereabouts. Some normal BABIP and left-on-base rate regression will bring his ERA and WHIP back to reality, but the declining peripherals are enough to cast doubt on his ability to be effective going foward.

With all that said, I do prefer Qualls to all of the other right-handed relief options still on the market (Jon Rauch, Aaron Heilman, Octavio Dotel, etc.) and would be willing to roll the dice with him going into next season since it’s not my money. A ground ball pitcher does worry me a bit given the questionable defense on the left side of the infield, but seeing-eye singles are better than long fly balls that could go over the fence. Qualls is a Type-B free agent so it won’t cost a draft pick to sign him, and given how the rest of the relief market has played out this winter, a one year deal at $2-3M seems like a logical contract. I wouldn’t expect greatness, but I would expect a more than serviceable middle relief option with a chance for a bit more.