Archive for Chase Whitley
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, and outfielders, so now let’s move on to the rotation.
Masahiro Tanaka — Grade A
I didn’t think it would be possible for Tanaka to meet, nevermind exceed expectations after the Yankees invested $175M in the 25-year-old right-hander this winter. A contract (and release fee) like that comes with ace-sized expectations and given everything he had to adjust to — five-day pitching schedule, new hitters, tougher parks, new culture, etc. — I didn’t think there was any chance he would pitch that well right away. I didn’t think he’d be bad, he’d be really good but there would be an adjustment period, right? How could there not be?
Well, there wasn’t. Tanaka showed up to Spring Training on the first day and looked like he had been wearing pinstripes for years. The transition was seamless, or at least he made it appear that way. He was all business from day one, embracing the five-day schedule and the new workout routines (remember all the running early in camp?). Tanaka was the position player of Hideki Matsui. The guy who fit in so well, so soon that it was like he was born to wear pinstripes.
Tanaka lived up to the hype on the field, of course. That’s most important. He has thrown 129.1 innings in 18 starts, and among the 45 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Tanaka ranks third with a 2.51 ERA, third with 4.1 bWAR,, fourth with a 3.7% walk rate, fourth with a 7.1 K/BB ratio, fifth with a 26.6% strikeout rate, sixth with 3.2 fWAR, tenth with a 3.07 FIP, and 20th with a 45.9% ground ball rate. The only negative in his game is the long ball; he’ll give up some dingers (1.04 HR/9 and 14.4 HR/FB%). It’s a minor nuisance. Other than that though, Tanaka was one of the five best starting pitchers in the league in the first half.
Unfortunately, Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in what was scheduled to be his second to last start before the All-Star break. Three doctors recommended he rehab the injury rather than undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, so Tanaka received a platelet-rich plasma injection earlier this week and is currently resting before starting a throwing program. The expectation is that he will be able to return to the rotation later in the year, but surgery will remain a possibility if the rehab is less than perfect. It sucks but it is what it is. Tanaka managed to exceed expectations before the injury. What a stud.
CC Sabathia — Grade F
I was optimistic about Sabathia’s chances of rebounding this year, though I didn’t have much to base that on other than blind faith and Sabathia’s track record. I’m not even talking about getting back to being an ace. Just being a solid mid-rotation workhorse would have been plenty good enough for me. Instead, Sabathia gave the team a 5.28 ERA (4.79 FIP) in eight starts and 46 innings before going down with a degenerative knee condition. A stem cell procedure apparently did not work and now he’s facing the possibility of microfracture surgery, which could be career-threatening.
Rather than shake off the career worst 2013 season, Sabathia got worse and added in a serious injury this year. Not good. I mean, if you really want to squint your eyes and find a silver lining, know that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%) and walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates were outstanding. That … really doesn’t make me feel much better at all. Maybe an incomplete would be a more appropriate grade given the injury (which might have led to the poor performance), but eight starts is one-fourth of the season. That’s not insignificant.
Anyway, Sabathia’s knee injury is very serious and remember, he’s only 33. We’re not talking about some guy approaching 40 here. Sabathia is still relatively young and an ultra-competitive type who leaves everything on the field — remember when he started four games in 12 days for the Brewers on the eve of his free agency? You’re kidding yourself if you think he’s just going to walk away from the game because of the knee injury — and now there’s a chance he may never pitch again. Like, for real.
Hiroki Kuroda — Grade C
There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Kuroda coming into the season, specifically his age (39) and brutal finish to the 2013 season. The Yankees re-signed him though, and while he has not pitched as well as he did the last two years, Kuroda has given the team innings every fifth day and is the only Opening Day rotation member not to come down with an injury. His 4.10 ERA (3.91 FIP) can be split up into a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and 48.2 innings and a 3.72 ERA (4.02 FIP) in his last eleven starts and 67.2 innings, if you choose.
With Tanaka and everyone else going down with injuries — for weeks too, these aren’t 15 days on the disabled list and you’re good to go type of injuries — the Yankees need Kuroda to remain that reliable innings eater in the second half. Actually, they need him to be better than that, which is a problem because of his late-season fades. The Yankees absolutely can not afford that this year, not if they want to contend. Kuroda is currently the staff ace by default and the team needs him to reverse his recent trends and be better in the second half than he was in the first.
Michael Pineda — Grade D
It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? Two years after the trade that brought him to New York, Pineda was finally healthy enough to help the Yankees, and he started the year by pitching to a 1.83 ERA (2.73 FIP) in four starts and 19.2 innings. He was an ace! An ace on a very strict pitch count (no more than 94 pitches or six full innings in his four starts), but an ace nonetheless. The Yankees were finally getting some kind of return on the trade and it was glorious.
Then it all came to a crashing halt in Fenway Park in late-April. Two starts after the internet caught him with a glob of pine tar on his hand, Pineda was caught with an even bigger glob of pine tar on his neck. Red Sox manager John Farrell did not let it slide this time. He alerted the umpires and Pineda was ejected and eventually suspended ten games. While serving the suspension, he suffered a back/shoulder muscle injury and has been sidelined since. He just started throwing off a mound last week (after the #obligatorysetback). Given his recent history, there’s no possible way the Yankees could count on Pineda to return to help the rotation in the second half. If he does come back, it’s a bonus. But man, those 19.2 innings were pretty awesome, weren’t they?
Ivan Nova — incomplete
I went back and forth between giving Nova an F or an incomplete. He did make four starts this year, after all. Four terrible starts, with 40 base-runners and an 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) in 20.2 innings. But he also blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in late-April. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming the elbow contributed to his poor performance and that he was never really healthy this year. I don’t know, an F just seems too harsh for a guy that barely pitched before his elbow ligament snapped. Maybe I’m being too kind.
The Yankees lost Nova for the season and that’s a pretty significant blow. Not just for this year either, the timing of the injury means he will start next season on the disabled list and the team won’t really know what to expect from him. This is an injury that impacts two seasons, not only one. This was supposed to be the year for Nova to build on his strong second half of 2013 and stop the up and down nonsense, establishing himself as a no-doubt big league starter. That won’t happen.
David Phelps — Grade B
Once the injuries started to strike, Phelps worked his way into the rotation and has remained there ever since. He’s pitched to a 3.94 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 89 total innings, including a 3.96 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 13 starts and 77.1 innings since moving into the rotation. The Yankees have also been able to count on Phelps for innings — he’s thrown at least five full innings in all 13 starts (even before he was fully stretched out) and at least six full innings eight times in his last ten starts. That’s been much-needed.
There were some questions about Phelps and his ultimate role coming into the season — remember, he missed most of the second half last season with a pair of forearm strains — but things worked themselves out and he’s become one of the team’s three most reliable pitchers in the wake of the injuries. He’s been a godsend. You can’t ask anything more of a sixth starter. Now the Yankees need Phelps to keep it up in the second half. He’s in the rotation for good.
Chase Whitley — Grade C
It was definitely a tale of two first halves for Whitley. He came up following all the injuries and was outstanding in his first seven starts, posting a 2.56 ERA (2.75 FIP) in 28.2 innings. Considering he was a full-time reliever as recently as last July and the rotation was in total disarray, getting that kind of production out of Whitley was a minor miracle. The Yankees needed it desperately.
Then everything came crashing to a halt one night in Toronto last month, when the Blue Jays punished Whitley for eight runs in 3.1 innings. It wasn’t just a bump in the road either. He has a 9.43 ERA (6.14 FIP) in 21 innings since. (That includes two scoreless innings in relief.) After allowing eleven runs on 44 base-runners (one homer) in his first seven starts, Whitley has allowed 20 runs on 40 base-runners (five homers) in his last four starts. Those first seven starts were so good that I’m not going to go any lower than a C, especially since we’re talking about a guy who had never started regularly until this year. All things considered, Whitley’s been a plus even if he’ll only be a reliever going forward. He helped much more than I thought he would as a starter.
Vidal Nuno — Grade D
Nuno was actually the first guy to be pulled out of the bullpen and stuck in the rotation, but that had more to do with timing than anything. He was the only one rested and able to make a spot start because of a doubleheader in April, and he lined up perfectly to replace Nova after he blew out his elbow. That’s all. Nuno had a 5.42 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 78 total innings for the Yankees, including a 4.89 ERA (4.86 FIP) in 14 starts and 73.2 innings before being traded away two weeks ago. There were some good starts mixed in there and more than a few duds as well.
These two both joined the rotation last week. I mean literally. Greene made his first career start last Monday and McCarthy made his first start in pinstripes on Wednesday. Throw in Greene’s second start last Saturday and they’ve combined to allow six run (three earned) in 20.1 innings. They also have a combined 57.1% ground ball rate, which is pretty awesome even if it is a super small sample. Greene’s mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider make me think he has more rotation staying power than either Nuno or Whitley, but, either way, we’ll see plenty more of these two in the second half.
* * *
Any time a team loses four of its five Opening Day rotation members, including three within the first six weeks of the season, they’re going to be scrambling for pitching. No team has enough depth to go nine starters deep. The Yankees have been able to tread water thanks to Phelps and some timely outings from Whitley and Nuno, who have since been replaced by McCarthy and Greene. The team clearly needs another starter in the wake of Tanaka’s injury and, frankly, they could have used another starter before that. This is a patchwork staff held together by Kuroda, Phelps, and McCarthy at the moment, and there’s no telling how much longer the duct tape will hold.
Prior to last night’s drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays, Chase Whitley had been a pleasantly surprising contributor in the wake of the rotation injuries. He rarely took the ball deep into games, but he went into Monday night with a 2.56 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 38.2 innings across seven starts. That’s really good. That he got roughed up so much in Toronto and still owns a solid 4.07 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 42 innings tells you how good he was before last night.
Whitley, of course, did not become a full-time starter until the very end of last season, when he made a handful of spot starts for Triple-A Scranton. Last night was his 22nd career professional start since being drafted in 2010. That’s all. This guy was a third baseman for most of his college career and a full-time reliever in the minors as recently as ten months ago, which makes his pre-Monday success as an MLB rotation member that much more impressive.
Therein lies something of a problem. Because Whitely has been a reliever for most of his life, he has never spent a full season as a starter and dealt with that type of workload before. The season is not even halfway over and Whitely is already rapidly approaching his career-high in innings pitched. Here is his career innings breakdown:
|2011||107.2||0||91||0||16.2 (Az Fall League)|
Whitely has already thrown more innings this year than last year, mostly because he spent the first seven weeks of 2013 on the disabled list with an oblique problem. He’ll probably surpass his 2012 innings total before the All-Star break and his career-high innings total — which was set three years ago now — either late next month or in early August, barring injury or something.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the “Verducci Effect” and the concept of controlling a young pitcher’s workload in an effort to reduce future injury risk. It’s common sense and teams do it every single year. The idea of a 30-inning year-to-year increase being the magic number is a little outdated, but there is definitely a point when a workload increase becomes too much. That usually applies to pitchers younger than Whitley, who turned 25 less than two weeks ago.
Because he was not a top prospect — remember, Whitley went undrafted in the Rule 5 Draft just last December — and there is a pretty strong likelihood he is currently enjoying the best stretch of his career, I’m not concerned about monitoring Whitley’s workload to reduce future injury risk. That’s not to say the Yankees should run him into the ground, they do still have a responsibility to try to keep him healthy, but he isn’t as much of a priority as someone like, say, Ian Clarkin or Luis Severino. That’s just baseball.
My biggest worry about Whitley’s workload is plain ol’ fatigue. He might just run out of gas sometime in the second half, when he approaches 130 or 140 or 150 or whatever number of innings. We don’t know when or even if it will happen. But, just looking at him as a guy who has thrown more than 100 innings in a season twice in his life, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll hit a wall at some point. Whitley’s never started for an extended period of time before and he’s about to enter uncharted workload waters.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would use off-days to skip Whitley’s starts (or at least push them back a few days) whenever possible to help keep him fresh. They could call up a sixth starter for the day and skip one of his starts that way. They could even give him a little two-week vacation on the disabled list; that’s another way they could control his innings and try to keep him fresh later in the season. The Yankees can’t do any of that though because they’re stretched so thin for pitching. They don’t have that sixth starter to call-up and they need to use off-days to give their other pitchers an extra day whenever possible as well.
CC Sabathia will face hitters in a live batting practice session today and is expected to pitch in a minor league rehab game this weekend, but he is still several weeks away. Michael Pineda can’t even get healthy enough to play catch these days, so the Yankees should just forget about him. If he manages to get healthy and pitch at some point, wonderful. But don’t count on him. A trade? That seems inevitable, but it doesn’t seem like it will happen anytime soon. Once it does happen, Vidal Nuno (the obvious candidate to lose his rotation spot) can be used as a spot starter to give Whitley occasional rest.
Right now, Whitley is pitching well as a starter and the Yankees should ride that out as long as possible. He’s a young guy and he’s big and strong (listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs.), plus he has what looks like a relatively low-effort delivery to me, so maybe he’ll be able to hold up deep into the season. That would be awesome. Whitley is at risk of hitting a wall in the second half though, only because he has never really started before and his workload is going to be pushed far behind his previous limits. It’s just another reason the Yankees need to add a starter and soon.
One of the many reasons the Yankees failed to reach the postseason last year was the lack of help from the farm system. Outside of Adam Warren, who was a low-leverage swingman, no one came up from the minors and was able to contribute when the opportunity for playing time presented itself. David Adams and Austin Romine didn’t hit, and others like Zoilo Almonte and Vidal Nuno quickly went down with injuries.
This season has been a little different, thankfully. Dellin Betances has emerged as one of the very best relievers in baseball and a key late-inning piece in Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. John Ryan Murphy had a successful stint as Frankie Cervelli‘s injury replacement and Jose Ramirez is being a given a chance to contribute out of the bullpen right now. Others like Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela could get looks in the coming weeks.
Given all the pitching injuries, I think you could argue Chase Whitley has had the most impact out of the team’s homegrown players in 2014. It’s either him or Betances, though the rotation would be in much worse shape without Whitley than the bullpen would be without Betances. That’s what I think. Either way, both guys have been a big help and this is the type of production the Yankees weren’t getting from their system a year ago.
Whitley, 25, has a 2.51 ERA (2.58 FIP) in 33.2 innings and six starts this season, the 15th through 21st starts of his five-year career. It’s a really small sample, yeah, but I think it’s remarkable he’s done so well in a starting role (in MLB!) after being a reliever just about his entire life. Girardi has been careful with Whitley, limiting how often he’s faced the lineup a third time and keeping his pitch count tight after so many years in the bullpen, which can be annoying but is understandable.
Now, with all due respect to Whitley and the job he’s done, I think it’s important to add some context to his performance. He’s made six starts and the best lineup he’s faced has been the Twins and their team 99 wRC+. That was also the only start Whitley has made at home in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. (He held Minnesota to one run in five innings.) The Cardinals have a 92 wRC+ while the Mets, Cubs, Royals, and Mariners are bottom six offenses (81-87 wRC+ range).
Whitley’s two best starts have been his last two starts, when he held the Royals and Mariners to two runs in seven innings and 7.2 innings, respectively. As a team, the Royals have an 83 wRC+ in Kansas City while the Mariners boast an MLB worst 73 wRC+ at home in Seattle. Those are some favorable pitching conditions and Whitley did exactly what he was supposed to do in those games. I don’t want to take anything away from him, pitching is hard, it’s just important to fully understand what’s been going on.
The Yankees open a three-game series with the Blue Jays tomorrow night and Whitley is scheduled to start the second game. Toronto will be, by far, the best lineup he has faced in his short time as a big leaguer. They lead baseball with 92 homers — Whitley’s allowed just one dinger this year, a no-doubter by Logan Morrison last time out — and have a team 112 wRC+, also the best in baseball. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are elite sluggers, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera high-end contributors, and Adam Lind is in the middle of his best season in forever. It’s a tough assignment.
Now here’s the thing: Whitley will face the Blue Jays on Wednesday, then he’s scheduled to face them again in Toronto next Monday. The Jays have a 116 wRC+ as a team at home, so it’s more or less a lineup full of David Ortizes (117 wRC+) whenever they’re in Rogers Centre. The Man in White has been putting in some overtime this season, I guess. Whitley is not only going to face the best hitting team in baseball next time out, he’s going to face them in back-to-back starts. It’ll be the first time a team sees him twice.
Whitley has effectively replaced Michael Pineda, giving the Yankees high-end performance in short, workload-controlled starts. He’s done it against a favorable schedule so far, but you can only pitch against who the schedule says you have to face. These next two starts against the Blue Jays will be the toughest test of Whitley’s brief career and, given where they sit in the standings, the Yankees need him to be sharp so they can climb back into the division race. The cakewalk against the Mariners, Mets, Royals, et al is over. Whitley’s about to be introduced to AL East baseball.
In the span of three weeks from late-April through mid-May, the Yankees lost three-fifths of their Opening Day rotation to serious injury. Ivan Nova is done for the year following Tommy John surgery, CC Sabathia is out for at least another few weeks with a degenerative knee condition, and Michael Pineda has already suffered a setback while battling a muscle problem in his shoulder. The Yankees will be lucky to get either Sabathia or Pineda back before the All-Star break at this point.
The injuries have forced the team to dip deep into their pitching reserves. With Adam Warren entrenched as a late-inning setup man, the Yankees pulled both Vidal Nuno and David Phelps out of the bullpen and called up converted reliever Chase Whitley. Those three plus Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda have made up the Yankees’ rotation for about a month now. Needless to say, Nuno being third on the team in innings pitched (58) through 63 games was not part of the plan.
And yet, despite some ugly bumps in the road, the three replacement starters have actually done a pretty good job for the Yankees. At least on a rate basis. Here’s how the three have fared since moving into the rotation:
|Starts||Innings||IP per Start||ERA||FIP||K%||BB%||Opp. OPS|
Phelps has taken a pounding his last three starts (18 runs in 17.2 innings), but, even with that, the three replacement starters have a 4.13 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 119.2 innings. That’s pretty good. The average AL starter has a 4.08 ERA and 3.92 FIP this season, so these guys are in the neighborhood of league average. League average is good! Especially when taking about a team’s sixth, seventh, and eighth starters.
The issue isn’t necessarily their performance on a rate basis. The problem is the third column in the table, their innings per start. (I guess that’s technically the fourth column. Whatever.) These three are barely averaging 5.1 innings per start, which is a total drain on the bullpen. In their 22 combined starts, they’ve failed complete six innings 14 times. They’ve failed to complete five innings six innings. On average, Joe Girardi has had to ask his bullpen to get 11 outs whenever these guys pitch. That’s too much. We’re talking about three rotation spots here.
The Yankees have gotten 343 innings out of their starters this season, ninth most out of 15 AL teams. Their relievers have thrown the fifth most innings at 191.2, primarily because these three are not taking the ball deep into the game. Part of that is simple ineffectiveness, part of it is getting stretched out (Nuno and Phelps had to build up their pitch count when they first moving into the rotation), and part of it is Girardi’s reluctance to let them face the opposing lineup a third time. It’s all understandable, but it doesn’t lessen the demand on the bullpen.
I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating: with three five-and-fly starters in the rotation, the Yankees need a veteran long man Girardi can abuse. Someone he can use for 40 pitches one night, 25 the next, and 55 two nights after that. Alfredo Aceves was that guy for a little while, but he stunk and now it’s Wade LeBlanc. I love Jose Ramirez and want to see him get a chance as much as the next guy, but not under those circumstances. Let someone who doesn’t have a future in the organization deal with that workload. It sounds cruel, but that’s baseball. Aceves and LeBlanc aren’t stupid, they know this might be their last chance to stay in MLB, so they’ll take the ball whenever asked.
The Yankees have gotten generally solid work from Whitley, Phelps, and Nuno, and, more than anything, the best way the team can help them is by scoring more runs. Score some more runs and Girardi will probably be more open to letting them face the lineup a third time, sparing the bullpen a bit. (Remember, the team handled Pineda careful early in the season, so he won’t exactly soak up innings whenever he gets healthy.) It would be nice if these three guys could start recording another two or three outs per start, but, considering the circumstances, they’ve been solid. The rotation situation could have really spun out of control following the injuries. These guys didn’t let it.
Thanks to injuries to each team’s Opening Day starter, both the Yankees and Mets will have a pitcher make his MLB debut tonight. Righty Chase Whitley is filling in for CC Sabathia (knee) while fellow righty Jacob deGrom steps in for Dillon Gee (lat). Neither Whitley nor deGrom is a top prospect, but they have the potential to be useful big league arms in some capacity. Whitley only recently converted from reliever to starter, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles turning over a big league lineup.
Via Bryan Hoch, Elias says this is the first time the Yankees have been involved in a game in which both starters were making their MLB debut since October 1908. They were still the Highlanders back then. That is kinda nuts. The Mets were involved in one of these games back in September 2010, when Gee made his debut against Yunesky Maya. That’s the last time two starters have made their debuts in the same game. It just so happened to include the Mets. Here is the Mets lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- RF Alfonso Soriano
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- 2B Brian Roberts
- RHP Chase Whitley
It is cloudy and cool in New York, and it was raining overnight and for a good chunk of the morning. There is no more rain in the forecast though, so they shouldn’t have any trouble getting this game in. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on both YES and SNY locally, as well as MLB Network nationally. Depending on where you live, of course. Enjoy the game.
Roster Moves: In case you missed it earlier, Carlos Beltran (elbow) has been placed on the 15-day DL. That cleared a 25-man roster spot for Whitley. The Yankees are back to a normal seven-man bullpen and four-man bench. Righty Bruce Billings was activated off the 15-day DL and designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Whitley, the team announced. He was out with a forearm strain.
It’s only Mid-May, but the Yankees have already used seven different starters — all of them have made multiple starts too — this season. They will use their eighth starter tonight, when right-hander Chase Whitley makes his big league debut in the Subway Series finale. It remains to be seen how the Yankees will make room for him on the 40-man roster (Bruce Billings to the 60-day DL?), but Joe Girardi already confirmed he will get the start. It’ll happen somehow.
If you had told me about a year ago the 24-year-old Whitley would make his Major League debut as a starting pitching pitcher, I would have thought you were nuts. He was a reliever all through college — Whitley was actually more highly regarded as a hitter at Southern Union State Community College before focusing on pitching full-time during his junior season at Troy — and 135 of his first 138 pro appearances came as a reliever. The three starts were just spot starts in doubleheaders, nothing fancy.
Whitley made five starts for Triple-A Scranton at the end of last season out of necessity; they simply had no one else to start due to injuries and call-ups late in the year. He managed a 1.64 ERA with 18 strikeouts and five walks in 22 innings in those five starts, and impressed enough that the Yankees gave him another chance to start in 2014. In six starts this year, Whitley has a 1.61 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks in 22.1 innings. That put him on the map for a call up.
The move into the rotation worked (at least so far) because Whitley was not your typical bullpen prospect. Guys like Mark Montgomery and Danny Burawa are two-pitch pitchers with nasty breaking balls. That’s not Whitley. I ranked him as the team’s 25th best prospect before last season and here’s part of what I wrote:
A three-pitch reliever who isn’t a blow-you-away type, Whitley lives in the low-90s with his fastball and backs it up with both a slider and changeup. His control is fine and his delivery creates some deception. He doesn’t offer the same kind of exciting, shutdown reliever potential as some other players on this list, but Whitley is a big and physical — listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs. — right-hander who throws strikes and works both sides of the plate. He’ll pitch in the big leagues at some point as long as he stays healthy, possibly before the All-Star break.
My timetable was off, but hey, Whitley is a big leaguer. Baseball America ranked him as the club’s 29th best prospect before the 2012 season and said “both his changeup and slider are plus pitches at their best” in their Prospect Handbook. Whitley has a weapon for righties (slider) and a weapon for lefties (changeup), plus there’s a little funk in his delivery. (He pitches from the stretch exclusively from what I understand.) Here’s some video from earlier this month in which you can see all three pitches in action:
Because he’s only been a starter for a few months, it’s really tough to know what to expect out of Whitley tonight. There’s no track record. I thought he was going to be a good middle reliever and now he’s in the rotation. It’s weird. Whitley was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason, which is an indication of how the rest of the league views him. If he succeeds as a starter, even temporarily, it will be quite an accomplishment on his part and a big developmental win for the Yankees. We’re talking about a former 15th round pick here.
Yesterday we learned CC Sabathia has a “degenerative change” in his twice surgically repaired right knee and I don’t know what that means, but I know it sounds scary. He could be out longer than the minimum 15 days. Vidal Nuno has gotten roughed up in three of his five starts (and four of his last six appearances overall) and David Phelps has had one good start and one bad start so far. Hiroki Kuroda‘s been inconsistent at best and very ineffective at worst. The non-Masahiro Tanaka portion of the rotation is a mess right now.
That mess of a rotation is the opportunity of a lifetime for Whitley. The bar has been set quite low and he won’t have to do much to stick with the big league team. A good start tonight means he’ll get another one, almost guaranteed, and stringing a few good starts together means he’ll stick around for a while, even if it is only as a long reliever. The pitching staff is the land of opportunity right now. Whitley was in his third straight year at Triple-A and facing a stalled out career a few days ago. Now he has a change to help the Yankees win games and help himself secure a big league roster spot.
As expected, right-hander Chase Whitley will start Thursday’s game in place of the injured CC Sabathia, Joe Girardi announced. Alfredo Aceves has pitched in relief in each of the last two games, taking him out of the running. The Yankees will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate Whitley, but that won’t be difficult. Aceves can dropped from the roster and Bruce Billings (forearm) could land on the 60-day DL.
Whitley, 24, had a 2.39 ERA (1.72 FIP) in 26.1 innings across six starts and one relief appearance for Triple-A Scranton this year. He was originally drafted as a reliever and spent most of his career in the bullpen, up until late last season. Whitley has not thrown more than 88 pitches in a start this season (more than 78 pitches only once), so it’s probably not reasonable to expect 100+ pitches out of him Thursday. Given the current state of the pitching staff, he has a chance to stick around for a while if he pitches well.
- VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed C Gary Sanchez is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. I thought he had at least one more year to go, but it’s always tough to pin down the international guys. Obviously Sanchez will be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the draft.
- RHP Chase Whitley may remain a starter in the future. The career reliever has made a handful of spot starts the last two years, and he’s the rare reliever who used three pitches fairly regularly. “He’s got a great changeup, so it was, let’s see if he can do this,” said Newman. “His velocity picked up over the last two years, he’s always had a very good changeup, we’re working on his breaking ball. We had some innings in the rotation, and he’s got starter stuff, so he may get a look in that way in the future.”
- Newman confirmed RHP Jose Campos will again have his workload controlled next season. He was limited to three or four inning outings all summer. He’ll throw more innings overall, but they’re not yet ready to turn him loose just yet. Campos missed pretty much all of last season with an elbow injury.
- Apparently OF Ravel Santana broke his arm at some point. That’s on top of the brutal ankle injury that completely derailed his career two years ago. “He’s had two really tough injuries,” said Newman. “He’s had a tough go.”
- The Yankees re-signed UTIL Jose Pirela to a minor league contract. He became a six-year minor league free agent after the season. The 23-year-old has spent the last few years with Double-A Trenton, putting up a ~120 wRC+ in 888 plate appearances the last two seasons. Pirela’s not much of a prospect, but he can play all over the field. He’s the kind of guy who could sneak a call-up at some point.
Earlier today we learned RHP Ty Hensley is likely to miss the rest of the season following hip surgery, and now it’s time to get caught up on some other injured minor leaguers. Chad Jennings has all the updates…
- RHP Angelo Gumbs (finger) is a couple of weeks away from return to High-A Tampa. He’s playing in Extended Spring Training games now. Whenever he is ready, I have to think Rob Refsnyder will get bumped up to Double-A Trenton to make room.
- RHP Jose Ramirez started the season on the DL with fatigue, there was no injury. He pitched in winter ball and overextended himself a bit in big league camp, so they held him back. Ramirez has since rejoined the Double-A rotation.
- RHP Jose Campos (elbow) had a bone bruise last year according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. Campos said himself it was a small fracture. I don’t know who to believe, but I suppose something could have been lost in translation.
- RHP Chase Whitley (oblique) is about ten days away from being activated and returning to game action. He might have been called up instead of Preston Claiborne last week had he been healthy.
- LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) is on schedule as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to miss the rest of the year.
- OF Adonis Garcia (wrist) is taking batting practice while OF Ravel Santana (ankle) is playing in ExST. The ankle injury has completed derailed his career.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.
The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.
With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.
The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.
Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.
The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip – and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).
All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.
Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.
The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.
Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.
Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.
The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.
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The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.