What Went Wrong: Joba & Cory Wade

The Yankees opened the season with what appeared to be an enviable amount of relief depth, plus there was more on the way at midseason. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans…

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Joba Chamberlain
When the season started, everyone knew the 27-year-old Chamberlain was going to be a non-factor until at least midseason. The right-hander blew out his elbow in early-June of last year, and the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically 12 months. He talked about coming back in May while the team cautioned that it might not be until July, but all of the speculation became moot when Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while jumping on trampolines with his son at a children’s play place in late-March.

Surgery and a lengthy rehab process followed, and it wasn’t until mid-July that he pitched in his first minor league rehab game. The Yankees weren’t counting on him to return this year but Joba insisted he would be back, and sure enough he was activated off the DL on July 31st. He was scheduled to make one final Double-A rehab start that night, but the club had traded Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee earlier in the afternoon and didn’t want to play with a short bullpen.

Joba was terrible early on. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings in his first appearance and ten runs in his first eleven appearances (10.1 innings). His fastball hummed in around 94-96 and his slider was sharp, but his command was non-existent. That’s pretty typical for guys coming off elbow reconstruction. The good news is that Joba finished very strong, allowing just one unearned run in his final eleven appearances and 10.1 innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. He got hit hard in the postseason and I mean literally — the barrel of a broken bat hit him square in the right elbow and kept him out for a few days.

Although the Yankees did get 20.2 late-season innings out of him, 2012 was essentially a lost year for Joba. The ankle injury delayed his return and when he did get back on the mound, he wasn’t anything special (4.35 ERA and 4.01 FIP). It’s encouraging that he finished well and I suppose it’s good news that missing all that time due to injury will keep his salary down next year, but I think the Yankees would have preferred to have Chamberlain healthy as soon as possible and contributing to the bullpen.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Cory Wade
Joba’s injury last season opened the door for Wade, who pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) in the second half after being plucked off the scrap heap. The 29-year-old Wade was expected to be an important middle innings cog coming into 2012, giving the club solid right-handed depth behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. He was stellar early on (1.46 ERA and 1.15 FIP in his first ten outings and 12.1 innings) and took on a setup role when Rivera and Robertson went down with injuries in early-May.

Wade pitched fairly well as the de facto right-handed setup man, allowing just six earned runs (3.60 ERA and 4.30 FIP) in his next 17 outings and 15 innings, but the wheels came completely off the bus in mid-June. He allowed one run in three straight appearances from June 16th-22nd, then got hammered for four runs in 0.2 innings by the Indians four days later. Three days after that, the White Sox crushed him for six runs in 2.1 innings. Joe Girardi let him wear that one, leaving Wade in to throw a career-high (by far) 58 pitches.

The Yankees had little choice but to send the soft-tossing right-hander to Triple-A, and outside of one-game appearance as the 26th man during a doubleheader against the Red Sox (three runs in 0.2 innings), he didn’t return until rosters expanded in September. Wade’s solid work in the minors (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) was unfortunately not an indication that his command/mechanical issues were a thing of the past. He surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings during the season’s final month, but he deserves props for throwing a perfect 14th inning in the crazy extra-innings comeback win over the Athletics.

All told, Wade pitched to a 6.46 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 39 innings for the Yankees this year. His strikeout (8.77 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (1.85 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) rates were dynamite, but batters absolutely punished him whenever he caught too much of the plate with his soft stuff. That happened far too often once the calendar flipped over to June. The Yankees designated Wade for assignment in early-October and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers a week later, ending his brief tenure in New York. Between get picked off the scrap heap last summer and falling apart in the middle of this season, he gave the team about a full season’s worth of solid relief work (2.28 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 67 innings).

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Blue Jays claim Cory Wade off waivers from Yankees

The Blue Jays have claimed Cory Wade off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. New York designated the right-hander for assignment last week. The 29-year-old Wade pitched very well for the Yankees after being signed off the scrap heap last season up until about his past June, when everything fell apart. I was a fan and hoped he would be able to figure things out, but alas.

Yankees designate Cory Wade for assignment

Via Anthony McCarron, the Yankees have designated right-hander Cory Wade for assignment. The move clears a 40-man roster spot for Dellin Betances, who was activated off the 60-day DL so he could pitch in the Arizona Fall League.

It was quite a fall from grace for the 29-year-old Wade, who gave the Yankees about 55 great innings before falling apart in late-May. He was an important part of the bullpen in the second half last year and for the first six weeks of 2012, but for whatever reason he just lost the ability to locate. That’s a recipe for disaster given his pure finesse approach. All told, his Yankees career featured a 4.23 ERA (4.13 FIP) in 78.2 innings after being plucked off the scrap heap. For shame, I liked Wade.

Betances, 24, was placed on the minor league DL with shoulder tendinitis in late-August, but the Yankees recalled him and stuck him on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for Andy Pettitte last month. He had a nightmare season that included a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A. The AzFL season begins tomorrow, and Betances is one of seven Yankees prospects heading to the desert.

The Yankees could use some relief

Three David Phelps photos in one day? Madness. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

After yet another close game (though thankfully, last night’s was of the winning variety), the collective blood pressure of the Yankee fanbase is once again a little higher than optimal.  While the Yankees were able to jump ahead of the Red Sox in the early going, the inability to accomplish the mythical shutdown inning allowed the Red Sox to stay within striking distance for the majority of the game.  This has been a problem for much of the recent stretch of subpar play.

While David Robertson and Rafael Soriano have individually had very strong seasons, the Yankee bullpen, and these two stalwarts in particular, have shown mortality at particularly inconvenient times.  Robertson’s fastball velocity is down slightly from last season, and his reduction in the use of his curveball in favor of the cutter is a little puzzling.  Several recent Yankee losses can directly be tied to blowups by one or both of the Yankees’ top relievers.  While Joba Chamberlain has impressed in his recent outings, he is probably still not at the point of being relied upon to be a consistent shutdown presence in the 7th inning.  The Clay Rapada/Cody Eppley/Boone Logan trio have performed adequately, though none of them (possibly excepting Logan) really are useful against opposite-handed batters.

As the Yankees battle through the last few weeks of the season and hopefully into October, it is evident that they could use another bullpen arm with the ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate.  Presumably, a trade is incredibly unlikely at this juncture, so whatever help the Yankees are going to find will have to come from within.  With several players on track to return from injury, the Yankees will have a few options as they shuffle their rotation to accommodate the returnees.  Here are some of the ways they can proceed, and variables to consider.

Ivan Nova

Nova should be back from injury relatively soon, but his uneven 2012 season raises questions about how he can be most effectively deployed.  He’s currently in line to replace Freddy Garcia in the rotation, but given his propensity to surrender extra-base hits, there’s no guarantee that he will be a significant upgrade.  While Freddy’s repertoire doesn’t really translate well to a short relief role (though he could be an effective long man), Nova could be an effective option for shorter stints, allowing him to focus on his fastball and slider and not worry about his other pitches.

David Phelps

Andy Pettitte is also on his way back, though his timeline for returning to the rotation is unclear at the moment.  The Yankees are currently planning to let Pettitte build his innings back up on the Major League roster, which will likely entail him making piggyback starts with one of Nova, Garcia, or Phelps. If Nova and Pettitte both make it back into the rotation, Phelps likely gets bumped back into a relief role.  Phelps has been very impressive when used as a reliever this season (albeit in a small sample), so he could be an intriguing option to add more depth to the Yankee bullpen.

Cory Wade

Yes, Wade has been incredibly disappointing in the majors this year, but he has handled himself fairly well since being demoted to AAA (2.27 ERA).  That said, his strikeout rate is down compared to 2011 and his walk rate is elevated, and both trends continued when he was sent down to the Scranton traveling road show.  Even though Wade is not pitching as well as he did last season (or early this year), it could be worth giving him some innings to see if he can get his confidence and stuff back.

Mark Montgomery (obligatory)

I know the Yankees have said that they will not call up Montgomery this season, but I think it is an option worth considering.  He has continued to dominate his minor league opposition, and I’m not sure if there is a serious developmental case to be made for keeping him in the minors much longer.  AA hitters simply have no answer for his slider, and he is striking them out in droves.  While there is some obvious risk inherent in calling up a minor leaguer to contribute to a playoff chase (some may fear that getting hit around could ruin him forever, a la Mark Melancon), Montgomery has the talent and upside to be a shutdown guy right away.  I trust that the Yankees know better than me regarding his big league readiness, but the possibility that Montgomery could be a shot in the arm to the Yankee bullpen (a la rookie Joba Chamberlain or Francisco Rodriguez back in the day) is hard to ignore.  Considering the Yankees’ recent bullpen struggles, it seems worthwhile to reconsider the calculus of whether keeping Montgomery down is really the best option.

While a Montgomery callup doesn’t seem forthcoming (though I will continue to dream), returning Phelps to the bullpen could give the Yankees the reliable middle-inning arm that they have been missing since Cory Wade began to struggle.  While Montgomery has the highest upside, Phelps is the safest bet.  Phelps has excelled in the role when called upon this season, and since the Yankees may not want to overwork Chamberlain and Robertson, it makes sense to have another reliable middle relief arm who can pitch to both righties and lefties.  It would be hard to expect much out of Nova or Wade if they were given a relief role, and they would definitely have to impress in their few opportunities to earn their spot.

Of all the problems facing the Yankees this season, the bullpen is probably the least of them.  That said, it has contributed directly to several losses, and the Yankees do have several decent options available that could improve the situation.  I assume when Pettitte and Nova are back, we will start to see some pieces in motion, as the Yankees look to fortify the middle innings.

Good signs abound in blowout win over Orioles

(Rob Carr/Getty)

It’s easy to make too much of one game in baseball, especially when you’re talking about a game like yesterday’s. The Yankees clobbered the Orioles to wrap up an important ten-game stretch in which they went just 4-6, but winning that final game in blowout fashion heading into the off-day sure has a way of making everyone feel like things are going to be okay. The club isn’t out of the woods yet though, far from it.

With 22 games left to play, the Yankees still have a number of issues to sort through. The middle relief remains shaky, Mark Teixeira‘s calf is going to keep him out for at least another few games, a number of other key lineup cogs are slumping, CC Sabathia still isn’t pitching as expected, and both the Orioles and Rays remain hot on the Bombers’ tail. Yesterday’s win was both stress-relieving and encouraging, with signs that maybe a few of those issues are starting to sort themselves out.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson’s extended slump has been well-documented around this parts. He took a 4-for-34 skid into yesterday’s game and was hitting .207/.297/.410 with a 31.7% strikeout rate in his last 300 plate appearances. That’s basically half a season worth of below-average production from the club’s second-best hitter a year ago. Curtis simply wasn’t doing enough, which is why Joe Girardi did not start him either Saturday or Sunday against the Orioles.

“It’s just a matter of continuing to swing the bat,” he said to reporters yesterday. “I feel like I’m getting balls to hit and putting good swings on them, but I wasn’t able to do much with them for whatever reason. It’s just baseball being baseball.”

Granderson came off the bench yesterday and did something he was unable to do the day before: he produced. Three hits in three at-bats, including a solo homer to center and a two-run double to right. The two-run bloop to shallow left off a left-hander was his softest hit of the day but arguably his most impactful. It was just his third three-hit game of the season and they felt like his first three hits in about two months. If he’s able to build off this and strong contributing more to the offense, it’ll be a huge during the final weeks of the schedule. Curtis can do a lot of damage when right.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Joba Chamberlain
The Yankees have been looking for a reliable non-matchup middle reliever to couple with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for about three months now, and there was a lot of hope that Joba would be that guy once he came off the DL. He was anything but reliable at first, allowing seven runs on 20 baserunners in 6.2 innings during his first seven appearances. The stuff was there, the mid-to-high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, but he was making way too many location mistakes. That’s not uncommon for guys coming off Tommy John surgery.

Very quietly though, Joba has been rounded back into form. Yesterday’s six-batter, five-out, four-strikeout appearance put an exclamation point on a road trip that featured 4.1 strong innings. He allowed one hit during the trip, a solo homer to Mark Reynolds on Thursday. Reynolds has been clobbering Yankees’ pitching all year, so it’s not like Chamberlain’s alone here. Other than that, he walked one, punched out eight, and generated 14 swings and misses out of 76 total pitches (18.4%). This doesn’t mean he’ll turn into another dominant late-inning arm or anything, but Joba has shown signs of shaking off the rust — he told reporters yesterday that he made a slight mechanical adjustment as well — and has started to assume more responsibility in a bullpen that needs as much help as it can get.

Cory Wade
This one kinda goes hand-in-hand in with the last guy. Wade was dynamite in April and May before completely collapsing in June, to the point where you had to wonder if he was even salvageable. He was that bad. Wade spent a little more than two months in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) before returning as a September call-up. In two appearances this month, Wade has retired all eleven men he faced, include six in two innings yesterday. He looked an awful lot like the guy he was last year and earlier this year against the Orioles.

It’s easy to write someone like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an above-average reliever. He doesn’t come out of the bullpen throwing gas with a knockout breaking ball, he relies on changing speeds and locating with a variety of offspeed pitches. He’s the Freddy Garcia of relief pitchers. Expecting Wade to return to his previous level of effectiveness is probably unrealistic, but these two most recent looks are encouraging at the very least. If he can step back up and give the team another reliable right-handed reliever for those middle innings, it’ll be a huge addition down the stretch.

Late-Inning Rallies
This isn’t exclusive to Sunday’s game but is worth mentioning. The Yankees put together late rallies in three of the four games against the Orioles, including the two losses. Five eighth inning runs on Thursday tied the game before the bullpen blew it, then Saturday’s two-run ninth inning rally was cut short at one when first base ump Jerry Meals blew the call on a not so bang-bang play. Two runs in the seventh and five runs in the eighth put yesterday’s game out of reach. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what inning the runs are scored in as long as the Yankees push enough across to win, but stringing together hits and scoring multiple runs in an inning had been an issue up until this weekend.

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As I said, one big win has a way of making you forget about all of the team’s problems for at least a day. Granderson has shown flashes of busting out of his slump before so maybe this is just another tease. Relievers and their performances are fickle, so who knows what Joba and Wade can contribute going forward, if anything. If nothing else, at least we saw some positive signs in the finale against Baltimore, which is a lot more than what we had in previous weeks.

Thoughts following the latest worst loss of the year

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

This isn’t the easiest of times to be a Yankees fan, as the club seems to find new and more humiliating ways to lose on a daily basis. They’ve lost six of their last eight games and 13 of their last 18. Since the start of the four-game series in Oakland, when all this losing really started, the Yankees are just 20-25 with a +1 run differential. During that same 45-game span, the Orioles are 29-16 with a +38 run differential. Last night’s loss was the latest worst loss of the season.

1. During these seven games against the Orioles and Rays, the Yankees have scored runs in eleven different innings. Five times have they allowed the other team to score in the next half-inning, so in other words they’ve followed up those eleven innings with just six “shutdown innings.” In the last three games, they’ve scored in six different innings and have had only two shutdown innings. The Yankees just keep letting the other team stay close, it’s an epidemic.

2. This David Robertson cutter stuff has to stop. We saw Phil Hughes fall in love with the pitch before getting burned on it in the past, and now it appears Robertson is going through the same thing. The Yankees weren’t planning to sign Robertson as their 17th round pick in 2006, but they changed their mind when he went to the Cape Cod League and learned the curveball from his summer pitching coach. That pitch is his moneymaker and he needs to use it. A lot, not once or twice an appearance. His control isn’t good enough to get by on the cutter alone, and a poorly located cutter is just a batting practice fastball. Robertson would be well-served to put the cut-fastball in his back pocket and go back to the four-seamer/curveball approach that made him so effective in the past.

3. The Yankees have to skip David Phelps‘ next start. They’re in the middle of a playoff chase and can’t afford to send the kid out there again if there is a viable alternative, he just isn’t effective enough. These last two starts were classic examples of a rookie pitcher getting overwhelmed and trying to do too much in a big game, I thought. The club can use Monday’s off-day to push his next start back to September 15th, next Saturday’s game at home against the Rays. Hopefully by then Ivan Nova or even Andy Pettitte will be ready to take over that rotation spot. If they don’t skip him, Phelps would make his next start in Fenway Park in the middle of next week. Even with their trade and injury depleted lineup, the Red Sox could make that ugly in a hurry.

4. Considering that pretty much everyone in in the bullpen not named Rafael Soriano has struggled of late, I’m all for giving Cory Wade some high-leverage work. He’s appeared in just one game since being recalled from Triple-A over the weekend, retiring all five men he faced last Sunday. When the alternatives are Derek Lowe and Cody Eppley, there’s really no reason not to give Wade a shot going forward. We know he can be effective (very effective even) if his command is right, and it appears he’s moved beyond his batting practice pitcher phase given his work in Triple-A. I’m actually kinda surprised he hasn’t seen more action this week given the bullpen follies.

5. I’m going to finish up with a positive here. I’ve been encouraged by the three multi-run rallies the Yankees have put together in the last two games. They got the timely hits they needed but more importantly, they’ve had high-quality at-bats. They laid off pitcher’s pitches out of the zone and punished mistakes while also showing a willingness to take the walk if they didn’t get anything to hit. I think the return of Alex Rodriguez has helped in a big way, adding some length to the lineup and providing a sort of “here, these are the types of at-bats we need to take in these spots” example. The offensive struggles have been at the forefront of this recent downward spiral, but the Yankees have started to show some signs of life with the bats lately.

Yankees designate Ramiro Pena for assignment, call up six

Via Peter Botte, the Yankees have designated Ramiro Pena for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for Chris Dickerson. Unlike the first time he was designated, he will now need to be traded, released, or passed through waivers within ten days. Click here for an explanation of that weirdness.

Along with Dickerson, the Yankees have also officially recalled Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, Cory Wade, Adam Warren, and Justin Thomas as rosters expand today.