Archive for Cody Eppley
Sunday: Eppley has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A according to Dan Barbarisi. He remains in the organization, just not on the 40-man roster.
Friday: The Yankees have designated right-hander Cody Eppley for assignment, the team announced. The move creates room on the 40-man roster for righty Preston Claiborne, who has officially been called up to replace the injured Joba Chamberlain.
Eppley, 27, has pitched to a 2.89 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 9.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton this year. He was on the big league team’s Opening Day roster, but was sent down after allowing four runs in 1.2 innings across two appearances. The Yankees got a good 46 innings out of Eppley last year — 3.33 ERA (3.66 FIP) with a 60.3% ground ball rate — after claiming him off waivers from the Rangers at the end of Spring Training. He hasn’t been effective basically since camp opened, so it’s no surprise he was the 40-man casualty.
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.
February 24th: Cashman misspoke and confirmed to Jack Curry that Cervelli does not have an option remaining. He also indicated the guys who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers (Cervelli and Stewart) have a leg up in the catching competition. That’s not terribly surprising.
February 9th: Via Chad Jennings: Brian Cashman confirmed that Frankie Cervelli has a minor league option remaining. I was under the assumption that he burned his final option last season, but that wasn’t the case. The Yankees will be able to send Cervelli to Triple-A this year without having to pass him through waivers, which is kinda big considering the wide open catching race. The internal options all stink, but it would be nice to keep everyone around just in case.
Cashman also confirmed that Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Ivan Nova have an option left as well. Chris Stewart and Clay Rapada do not, but both are expected to make the team anyway. Both Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz can opt out of their minor league contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training while Dan Johnson’s opt-out date is later in the summer. Unlike the Ivan Nova-David Phelps competition for the fifth starter’s spot, the Yankees will only be able to keep the winner of the Rivera-Diaz competition for the right-handed bench bat role. The loser figures to look for a big league job elsewhere.
If there’s one thing the Yankees do consistently well, it’s mine the scrap heap for useful players. They hit the jackpot with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, et al a year ago, but in 2012 the contributions were a little more subtle. The Bombers added a pair of funky, side-winding relievers during Spring Training, both of whom would up spending the majority of the season on the active roster and contributing more than expected.
The Yankees claimed Eppley off waivers from the Rangers in early-April, and pretty much the only reason why fans may have recognized his name was because he served up this grand slam to Frankie Cervelli a year ago. The 27-year-old was a nondescript relief prospect, but New York needed to replenish depth after dealing George Kontos for Chris Stewart. It was a typical end-of-camp transaction.
Eppley started the year in Triple-A and was recalled for the first time after Brett Gardner was placed on the DL with his elbow injury. That move was temporary — 13-man pitching staffs are far from ideal, but the Yankees needed bullpen help at the time — as he was sent down roughly a week later. Eppley was recalled for good in early-May, after Mariano Rivera blew out his knee. It was hardly the way the Yankees wanted to give the low-slot right-hander a chance, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled.
After being used primarily as a low-leverage arm in blowout situations, Eppley eventually climbed the bullpen totem pole and saw his fair share of important innings during the summer. He threw 46 innings across 59 appearances for New York this year, missing more bats than I expected (6.26 K/9 and 16.5%) while generating a ton of ground balls (60.3%). As you’d expect given his arm slot, Eppley was death on righties, holding them to a .262 wOBA with a 61.9% ground ball rate.
Although he was left off the ALDS roster, Eppley took Eduardo Nunez‘s ALCS roster spot (Nunez was later re-added when Derek Jeter got hurt) and threw 3.2 scoreless innings against the Tigers while appearing in all four games. He also had a 27-appearance (20.1 innings) stretch from mid-May through mid-July in which he pitched to a 1.77 ERA (3.34 FIP). By no means did Eppley save the bullpen or anything like that, but he produced more than expected and helped the Yankees a bunch after Rivera went down.
The Yankees have wasted a ton of money in their never-ending pursuit of left-handed relief, yet they stumbled across a solid southpaw option early in Spring Training. The Orioles had released the 31-year-old Rapada right before the start of camp and that’s when the Bombers pounced, inking him to a minor league contract. He pitched well during the Grapefruit League schedule and won the second lefty reliever job after Cesar Cabral fractured his elbow.
Rapada stayed on the big league roster all season, appearing in 70 games but throwing only 38.1 innings in true LOOGY form. He pitched to a 2.82 ERA (3.20 FIP) overall, but we can’t judge him by his overall results. Rapada was on the roster for one reason and one reason only, and that was to neutralize the other club’s left-handed hitters. He excelled in that role, holding same-side hitters to a .238 wOBA with a 28.7% strikeout rate and a 44.9% strikeout rate thanks to his funky side-arm delivery. Only five lefty relievers were more effective against same-side hitters in terms of wOBA against this year (min. 100 lefties faced).
Rapada retired five of six lefties faced in the postseason, with a walk to Prince Fielder being the lone exception. He set a new (and ultimately irrelevant) franchise record this year by facing exactly one batter in eight consecutive appearances, breaking Mike Myers’ old record of seven straight. After all the money given to Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano, it was Rapada who gave the Yankees the type of reliable left-handed relief they’ve been searching for, and he did it while earning close to the league minimum.
The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…
On Alex Rodriguez…
- “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
- Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
- Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
- “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
- Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.
On the playoffs…
- “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
- Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
- “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
- Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”
- “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
- “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
- Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
- There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
- Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.
On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…
- “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
- He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
- Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
- “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
- “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
- He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
- Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.
On the status of him and his coaches…
- “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
- Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.
- Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
- When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”
The Yankees have replaced Eduardo Nunez on the ALCS roster with Cody Eppley, the team announced. Jayson Nix was moving fine in the ALDS, so his left hip flexor strain appears to be a non-issue going forward. The Tigers have a very right-handed pitching staff, so the extra righty bat wasn’t imperative. Joba Chamberlain is also on the roster despite the bruise on his right elbow after getting hit with a broken bat.
The addition of Eppley gives the Yankees a dozen pitchers and just a four-man bench, and could be an indication that David Phelps will get the Game Two start tomorrow. It could also mean they’re starting Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia on short rest in Games Two and Three, respectively, and want the extra arm in case they can’t throw as many pitches as usual. Who knows. Right now the only official pitching plan is Andy Pettitte in Game One tonight.
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?
Any time a team in any sport wins a championship or even sits in first place for a prolonged period of time, there’s always a few players on their rosters exceeding expectations. Talent can only take you so far, it’s those unexpected contributions that push one team ahead of the rest. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and comfortable lead atop the AL East, and as you’d expect they have some players on their roster doing more than expected.
When Mariano Rivera crumbled to the ground in Kansas City, all of Yankeeland held their collective breath. The worst case scenario played out — Rivera had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season — and New York was suddenly without the one undisputed advantage they had over every team. No matter who they faced, regular season or playoffs or whatever, the Yankees have always had the advantage in the ninth inning thanks to Mo.
Replacing Rivera’s brutal effectiveness is impossible, but the Bombers had the pieces in-house to get by. David Robertson got the first crack at the closer’s job but almost immediately hit the disabled list with an oblique strain. That’s when Soriano, the 2010 AL saves champ who signed on as a setup man prior to last season, stepped in. Since Rivera and Robertson hit the DL, Soriano’s pitched to a 1.25 ERA (2.00 FIP) in 21.2 innings while going 20-for-21 in save chances. He’s allowed just three runs total during that time and has held hitters to a .210/.273/.272 batting line. Soriano has avoided the disabled list and after a rocky first season in pinstripes, he’s settled into a crucial role for the team. He’s not Mariano, but my goodness has he been effective as his replacement.
When the season opened, it was more of the same from Hughes. He allowed 22 runs in his first five starts (21.2 IP) and batters were tagging him for a .298/.365/.617 batting line. After a second-half fade in 2010 and a disastrous 2011 season, it seemed that the Phil’s days as a starter were number.
The Yankees stuck with him though, and Hughes has rewarded them by pitching to a 3.46 ERA (3.91 FIP) in his last dozen starts. Only thrice in that span did he allow more than three earned runs in a start, only four times more than two earned runs. His strikeout (8.31 K/9 and 21.5 K%) and walk (2.08 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%) numbers are so good that he’s actually fourth in the league among qualified starters with a 4.00 K/BB. The only guys ahead of him are Colby Lewis (7.50), Justin Verlander (4.27), and Jake Peavy (4.15). That’s pretty great.
Hughes still has a homerun problem — fourth in the league with 19 allowed (1.72 HR/9) — but that’s just going to be who he is. He’s a fly ball pitcher (just 33.7% grounders), but because he walks so few the majority of them has been solo shots. Only six of those 19 homers have come with men on base, and five of those six were two-run shots. The Yankees have remained patient with Phil and he’s rewarded them in the first half by (finally) becoming a solid and sometimes dominant starter.
Considering his age (40), his performance last year (.245/.289/.419), and his Spring Training showing (.150/.190/.333), it was very easy to write Ibanez off as a non-factor just before Opening Day. Rather than burn out and get released by June 1st like we all expected, Raul was the team’s most reliable hitter for the first six or seven weeks of the year and has settled in as a very nice weapon against righties — .250/.311/.484 vs. RHP — in the lower third of the lineup.
Furthermore, Ibanez has had to step in for the injured Brett Gardner and has effectively been the everyday left fielder for the last three months or so. He’s started 45 of the team’s 85 games in the outfield and has only been the DH a dozen times. That’s hard to believe. Ibanez has certainly had his share of lol-worthy moments on defense, but just being able to step in and play everyday while maintaining a reasonable level of offense is far more than we could have expected. Raul was supposed to flame out and have the Yankees hunting for a new DH at the deadline, but he’s instead provided very real impact.
Eric Chavez & Dewayne Wise
The bench has been one of the team’s strengths this year, thanks in large part to Chavez. He had an okay year in 2011 while missing lots of time due to injury, but this year he’s stayed on the field — minus a seven-day concussion hiatus — and legitimately mashed. Chavez owns a .282/.336/.504 batting line with seven homers already, two more dingers than he hit from 2008-2011. Gardner’s injury has forced him into the lineup a little more than expected, but he’s produced both at the plate and in the field. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Chavez has been one of the biggest surprises of the season so far.
The trickle down effect of Gardner’s injury is quite substantial; it forced Ibanez into the outfield, Chavez into a healthy amount of at-bats, and it brought Dewayne Wise up from Triple-A. The team’s fourth outfielder has 13 hits in 50 at-bats, but two are doubles, one’s a triple, and three (!) are homers. He’s also six-for-six in stole base chances. With the Yankees struggling to score runs and having lost six of their previous seven games, Wise laid down a perfect bunt hit against the Royals to load the bases and ignite a game-winning rally on May 22nd. They won the game and have won 30 of 42 since. Dewayne Wise’s bunt turned the season around. Okay, maybe not. But he’s been awesome.
David Phelps & Cody Eppley
The Yankees went into camp with six starters for five spots, but Michael Pineda‘s injury opened the door for Freddy Garcia to return to the rotation. It also created a competition for the final bullpen spot, a spot Phelps won in Spring Training. He shined in six long relief appearances before taking Garcia’s place in the rotation, at least until Andy Pettitte showed up. Phelps returned to the bullpen and has since bounced back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A, mostly notably striking out eight in 4.1 innings in a spot start last Wednesday.
Overall, Phelps has pitched to a 3.05 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 41.1 innings, striking out a ton of batters (9.15 K/9 and 23.6 K%) while doing a respectable job in the walk (3.70 BB/9 and 9.6 BB%) and ground ball (43.8%) departments for an AL East rookie. He generated buzz in Spring Training with improved velocity and it carried over into the season, to point where he not only looks like he can get big league hitters out, he looks like a potential long-term starting pitcher.
Joining Phelps in the bullpen has been Eppley, who the Yankees plucked off waivers from the Rangers back in April. He assumed a regular spot on the roster once Rivera got hurt and he’s seized the opportunity by pitching his way into Joe Girardi‘s late-game mix. The sinker-slider sidearm guy has pitched to a 2.70 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 23.1 innings, holding right-handers to a .226/.298/.308 batting line. Eppley’s 65.2% ground ball rate is the fifth highest in the baseball (min. 20 IP). The Yankees do as good a job of find useful arms in unusual places as anyone, and they’ve dug up another good one in Eppley.
The Yankees have received some pretty stellar pitching over the last three weeks or so, and it’s about to get a whole lot better. David Robertson aced his second minor league rehab appearances yesterday afternoon, and afterward Joe Girardi confirmed that his top setup man will rejoin the team today and be activated off the DL on Friday. Cory Wade and Boone Logan have done a superb job setting up Rafael Soriano in recent weeks, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve all missed Robertson in the late innings.
Getting Robertson back on the roster won’t be a problem but the Yankees do have some roster flexibility and a number of different options. We know Wade, Logan, and Rafael Soriano aren’t going anywhere, but there’s a case to be made that everyone else in the bullpen should be replaced. Each has their own pros and cons, of course.
Sending Eppley back to Triple-A seems like the most obvious move since he’s been the designated up-and-down guy early this season. He hasn’t pitched great but he hasn’t been ineffective either — 3.55 ERA with a 4.55 FIP and a 67.5% ground ball rate — and lately Joe Girardi has been using him as a right-handed/ground ball specialist in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the best way to use the sidewinder, though a ROOGY isn’t exactly the most efficient use of roster space. The Yankees could send Eppley down on Friday and call him up at a later point without a problem.
Do you know how long it’s been since Phelps has appeared in a game? Eleven days now. He hasn’t pitched since game two of the Tigers series in Detroit, when he started the bottom of the ninth inning in the eventual walk-off loss. Phelps has made two appearances totaling five outs in the last 20 days, and his brief warm-up session last night was the first time he’s even done that much since the Tigers’ game. The Yankees don’t need to carry two long-men and although Phelps has done nothing to lose his job — 2.94 ERA and 4.50 FIP — they could opt to send him to Triple-A to make sure he gets regulars innings as a starting pitcher. Winning is always the number one goal, but the Yankees could send him down to focus on his development without weakening the big league club.
Since being banished to the bullpen, Sweaty Freddy has worked sparingly in mop-up duty. He missed a few days following the death of his grandfather but has otherwise appeared in just six of the club’s last 41 games, and only once in those six games was the score separated by fewer than three runs. It’s been pure mop-up work and is totally redundant with Phelps on the roster. Freddy has no trade value so the Yankees would have to just cut ties with him, a legitimate option but probably not the smartest thing in the world. Pitching depth has a way of disappearing quickly and Garcia can do a lot of different things if needed, particularly start.
Cutting Rapada was unlikely even before his recent stretch of solid pitching (despite a heavy workload). The Yankees obviously place some value on having two left-handers out in the bullpen given how much money they’ve spent on those guys in recent years, and for the most part Rapada has done the job. He is out of minor league options, so the Yankees wouldn’t be able to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. Rapada ain’t clearing waivers, I can promise you that.
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The Yankees have enough bullpen depth that there’s no obvious candidate to go once Robertson is healthy. They’re going to shed one solid bullpen arm in favor of an elite reliever, and that’s pretty awesome. Since we polled you folks about replacing Brett Gardner internally yesterday, we might as well do the same for getting Robertson back on the roster.
Billy Butler is one of the most unheralded great hitters in baseball. The 26-year-old is hitting .301/.361/.515 with eight homers in 180 plate appearances this season and with all due respect to Mike Moustakas, he’s clearly the biggest threat in Kansas City’s lineup. That’s why it was surprising when Joe Girardi called on Cody Eppley, an up-and-down right-handed reliever, to face Butler with a man on first and no outs in the eighth inning of a one-run game last night.
Eppley, 26, used three upper-80s sinkers to get Butler to fly out harmlessly to right for the first out of the inning. It was the only batter he would face but was one of the most important plate appearances of the game in terms of Leverage Index (3.38). Of course, Girardi called up Eppley hoping for a double play ball on the ground. The sidearming righty has a 66.7% ground ball rate in limited big league action this season but was at 82% in Triple-A according to First Inning. His career minor league ground ball rate is roughly 61%.
He didn’t get the double play ball but Eppley did get a chance to pitch in a pretty big spot. He’s been hell on right-handed batters throughout his Triple-A career (.211/.291/.265 against with a 28.5 K%), which isn’t a surprise given his arm slot and sinker-slider combination. That’s going to be his role in the big leagues, a righty matchup guy who specializes in ground balls. Think Burke Badenhop or Brad Ziegler or Joe Smith. A useful pieces for the middle innings but not exactly your relief ace.
Eppley is only on the roster for one reason right now: David Robertson‘s injury. Robertson is still feeling some pain in his strained left oblique and has yet to pick up a ball, so he’s probably a week to ten days away from returning to the club in the best case scenario. It depends on how many minor league rehab appearances the team has him make, if any. That gives Eppley another handful of appearances to show that he can contribute to the Yankees on a regular basis, at least moreso than Freddy Garcia. That’s his goal, out-pitch Freddy.
The only problem with carrying Eppley instead of Garcia long-term is that you’re stuck with two specialists in the bullpen between him and Clay Rapada*. Those are two guys who are most effective when kept away from batters of he opposite hand and it really hamstrings the manager and increases the workload on the other relievers. I’d prefer to see David Phelps in a multi-inning setup-type role rather than assuming long man work from a departed Garcia, so Eppley could be squeezed out of the bullpen until the next injury. It will be interesting to see how he’s used until Robertson returns; more opportunities like the one we saw last night would be an indication that the Yankees are giving him a longer look and a chance to earn a spot on the roster even when their top late-inning arm gets healthy.
* Boone Logan has been incredibly effective of late and is pitching like more than a lefty specialist at the moment, so we’ll give him a pass for now.
4:04pm: It’s official, Robertson has been placed on the DL with a strained left oblique. That bites. He’s not going to pick up a ball for 7-10 days.
12:30pm: Via Bryan Hoch, setup man/temporary closer David Robertson underwent an MRI this morning and the team is still awaiting results on his injured ribcage. Hopefully we get some news when Joe Girardi speaks to the media prior to tonight’s game. The test was performed in New York, so Robertson is not with the team at the moment. Baltimore’s not exactly a long trip, however.