Archive for Cory Wade

Jun
27

Cory Wade’s Bad Month

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(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Yankees were one inning away from shutting out the Indians last night, but Cory Wade let things get out of hand in the ninth and surrendered four runs in his latest dud outing in a month full of them. The 29-year-old right-hander has now allowed nine runs in his last 6.2 innings, spanning ten appearances. He’s walked four, struck out three, and given up three homers during that time. It’s been an ugly stretch, no doubt about it.

Wade has been betrayed primarily by his changeup during this rough patch, the pitch that is usually his go-to weapon. Two of the three homers he’s allowed came on nearly identical mistake changeups, pitches that were supposed to be down and away to right-handed batters — Miguel Cabrera and Jose Lopez — but leaked inside and belt high. That’s a batting practice fastball. The other homer (by Ian Desmond) was an inside fastball that just caught too much of the plate.

“Couple of balls over the middle and they hit them well … kind of sucks,” said catcher Chris Stewart after last night’s game. “His velocity is the same,” added Joe Girardi. “If I saw a real drop in velocity, I’d be concerned. I just think he’s struggling right now.”

Wade isn’t a guy that’s going to blow hitters away with the fastball anyway, but here’s his day-by-day fastball velocity plot if you’re interested. As Girardi said, there’s no drop. Wade did work quite a bit when David Robertson was on the shelf last month, at one point pitching eight times in 16 days. That includes three days in a row and four times in five days to end that 16-day stretch, which coincides exactly with the start of this rough patch. Remember, this is a guy that is two years removed from major shoulder surgery, so maybe he’s just worn out a bit and his all-important command is suffering. Who knows? It’s just a theory.

It’s very easy to write a guy like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the profile. We all like to see some hard-throwers march out of the bullpen and throw gas by hitters, but Cory is a pure finesse guy who mixes his pitches and changes arm slots to keep the batters off balance. It’s unorthodox so we’re skeptical. It worked brilliantly last season and for the first eight or ten weeks of this season, but the last month or so has been rough. Perhaps the other shoe has dropped, perhaps it’s just a slump. I would greatly prefer the latter.

With David Aardsma about three weeks away, Wade still has some time to sort himself out before his roster spot is really in danger. He obviously shouldn’t see any important late-inning situations anytime soon, but he should be given time to work through this. I do believe he has a minor league option left so it’s not like they would release him anyway, plus the current alternatives are Ryota Igarashi, Justin Thomas, and I suppose the recently claimed Danny Farquhar. No thanks. Wade’s awful recent performance could be just a bump in the road or it could be an indication that the end is near, but the Yankees can afford to be patient and give him some time to right the ship — in a reduced role, of course — before making a change.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
Comments (29)

I kinda took it easy this week, so only four questions. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Sam asks: The Dom Brown trade idea has been repeated ad nauseum, but what about another guy in a similar situation: Brandon Belt. The Giants don’t seem to want to play him, but he could definitely help the Yankees. Short term he relieves Ibanez of his duties and long-term he can play a corner OF spot, back up 1B and help the Yankees get under 189. The Giants SS situation is pitiful. Nunez seems like a reasonable start to a trade. Thoughts?

I love me some Brandon Belt. He’s kinda like a prospect version of Curtis Granderson in the sense that he was a solid prospect who made some mechanical adjustments to his swing and turned into a monster. He makes perfect sense for the Yankees as a left-handed power bat who can hit for average and is willing to take a walk, plus he’s shown he can handle a corner outfield spot over the last year even though his nature position is first base. The Giants have been jerking him around a bit even though he’s clearly one of the four or five best hitters in the organization.

The problem is this: Belt is their Jesus Montero, and we saw what kind of return it took to get Montero. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable comparison at all. Eduardo Nunez would probably be the second or third piece of the trade package, not the headline. The Giants could be in the market for some young arms with a Matt Cain extension looking more and more unlikely, so maybe a Manny Banuelos, Eduardo Nunez, plus a really nice third piece gets it done. Someone like Adam Warren or Brett Marshall. Maybe it takes someone more established like Ivan Nova instead of Banuelos.

I’d have no trouble dealing Nova/Banuelos, Nunez, and Warren/Marshall for Belt, but I’m not sure the Giants would bite. Aubrey Huff’s disaster contract will be off the books after the season, and the club will have some outfield openings with Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera due to hit free agency next winter. I love to see the Yankees land Belt at some point, but I don’t think he’s a realistic option right now.

Steve asks: It appears that both Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral both could have solid value if they made the roster; Rapada destroys lefties and Cabral has been effective and has youth and potential on his side. Why not demote Cory Wade, who has options, and has been ineffective this spring?

Wade does have one option left, and I think it’s very reasonable to consider sending him to Triple-A to open the season. If the Yankees feel comfortable with Cabral’s ability to get out right-handers with his changeup, having three left-handers in the bullpen for a few weeks won’t be the worst thing in the world. I’m inclined to ignore Wade’s spring just because it is Spring Training, but he obviously has little margin for error given his soft stuff.

I do worry that Girardi won’t be able to control himself with three lefties to deploy, but sending Wade down is a definite option if the Yankees want a little more time to evaluate Rapada and Cabral. I just don’t think they’ll do it.

Richard asks: I’m looking for some good Twitter feeds to follow for baseball in general, and also fantasy baseball – can you make any suggestions/recommendations?

I’m going to tell you what I tell everyone else: look through who I follow and you’ll get an idea of the best baseball feeds out there, both real and fantasy baseball. Some of my personal favorite follows are @MLBDepthCharts, @2003BPro, @2003BA, @McCoveyChron, @BayCityBall, @MLBFakeRumors, @LookoutLanding, @BenBadler, @SamMillerBP, and @CloserNews. Of course, there’s also @RiverAveBlues as well.

Still my all-time favorite player. (Photo via NY Mag)

Jon asks: Is Justin Maxwell an aberration — a large man who can steal bases?

Now that’s a good one. Maxwell is listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs. on the official site and he’s averaged 44.5 steals per 162 games in Triple-A. Let’s assume that translates into 30 steals over a full big league season just for argument’s sake. The number of players that large to steal that many bases in a single MLB season is … zero. It’s never been done. Dropping the weight requirement altogether gives us just five 30+ steal seasons by a player standing at least 6-foot-5. Alex Rios did it twice (2008 & 2010), Von Hayes did it twice (1982 & 1984), and Darryl Strawberry did it once (1987). If you reduce it further to 6-foot-5 and at least 20 steals, you still only get 29 instances in baseball history.

Tall base stealers are obviously very rare, making Maxwell quite unique. He is a crazy good athlete, that’s never been the problem, it’s just his inability to make contact. Injuries have hindered him as well, and I’m not just talking about last year’s shoulder problem. I’m pretty surprised there are so few tall base stealers, but I guess the Rios/Strawberry/Maxwell type of athletes who opt for baseball are few and far between.

Categories : Mailbag
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(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

There are few things in baseball more frustrating than watching a pitcher with no control. Even when he’s ahead in the count, it’s a struggle to finish off hitters. Thankfully, the Yankees have put something of an emphasis on control. They’ve acquired some guys who throw strikes and keep a game moving. They also shed one of their most notorious base on balls issuers, A.J. Burnett. That should help boost the staff by itself. Here are some of the other guys who avoid issuing the free pass.

CC Sabathia

Like many pitchers, Sabathia developed control as he matured. It’s easy to forget that he debuted as a 20-year-old, pitching a full season for the Indians in 2001. Unsurprisingly, he walked 4.74 per nine, which was about one and a half more than the league average. It took him a few years to harness his arsenal, but once he did his career took off.

In 2007, when he won the American League Cy Young Award, Sabathia walked just 1.38 batters per nine innings. Only two pitchers, one of whom was Greg Maddux, walked fewer batters per nine innings. Sabathia’s control continued into his landmark 2008 season, as he walked just 2.10 per nine — and just 1.72 per nine once with the Brewers.

In the last three seasons it might appear as though Sabathia hasn’t displayed quite the same level of control. Yes, his walk rates are still low — usually around 2.5 per nine — but they’re not otherworldly low as they were in 2007 and 2008. Yet those raw numbers don’t take into account his move from the AL Central to the AL East. He’s facing some of the toughest hitters in the game, and he’s faring as well as one could expect. That low walk rate has perhaps allowed him to succeed where a similar pitcher with less control might fail.

Hiroki Kuroda

In the last three seasons, only seven qualified pitchers have walked batters less frequently than Kuroda. That’s great news for the Yankees. Their pitchers ranked right in the middle of the pack in terms of walk rate, and they lost one of their best control pitchers, Bartolo Colon. Kuroda steps right into that role, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him replicate Colon’s 2011 — while pitching a few more innings, of course.

Yet as we saw with Sabathia, the change of divisions could have an effect on Kuroda’s walk rate. From 2006 through 2008 Sabathia was right around, or below, 2.00 walks per nine, and dipped well below that during his short stint in the NL. With the Yankees he’s averaged 2.58 walks per nine. Last year Kuroda’s primary opponents in the NL West had walk rates of 8.8, 8.7, 8.2, and 7.4 per nine. The non-Yanks AL East went 9.3, 9.0, 8.5, and 7.3 percent. That might make it tougher on Kuroda, but it underscores the importance of having control guys in this division.

Cory Wade

In the middle relievers preview I couldn’t help but marvel at Wade’s walk rate. He might not have much major league experience — just 138.2 innings spread over three seasons — but he’s still managed to keep his walks low. Despite a 2009 season in which his control struggled, likely due to a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery, he still has walked only 2.14 per nine in his career. Last year he got it below 2 per nine, as he did in 2008. That’s a breath of fresh air for a reliever these days; it seems that the great majority of them have trouble consistently throwing strikes.

Mariano Rivera

Need we say much about Rivera’s pristine control? The man hasn’t walked more than two batters per nine since 2005, and even then he was just a hair over that mark. For his career he has walked 2.04 per nine, and in the last five seasons he has walked 1.3 per nine. One. Point. Three. In the last three seasons he has walked the second fewest batters per nine, just 0.02 behind Edward Mujica.

Since 1950, only four relievers have walked fewer batters than Rivera. Surprisingly, one is the Twins’ Matt Capps. The others: Dennis Eckersley, Dan Quisenberry, and Dick Hall. Of them, only Quisenberry is within 300 of Rivera’s relief innings pitched.

* * *

Finding pitchers who can retain control while facing AL East hitters is no easy task. Last year the Yankees walked the fewest batters in the division, at 3.13 per nine. (Though the Rays were right there, just fractions of a point behind.) The Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays were all in the bottom third of the league in walk rate. Thankfully, the Yankees do have some proven control artists to help prevent issuing free passes.

Categories : Pitching
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Garcia could play a significant role out of the pen (via Reuters Images)

When we talk about bullpens, we’re usually speaking of the closer and his one or two primary setup men. Rarely do we have time to dive into the guys who bridge that gap between the starters and the setup men. That’s largely because we expect the starters to bridge their own gaps. But it’s also because these middle relievers just aren’t cut from the same cloth as their late-inning counterparts. Still, they can prove valuable, or detrimental, during the course of the season.

In the past few years the Yankees have built up their bullpen. That includes not only their setup men, but their middle relief corps. This year they could have an especially strong crew, thanks, in large part, to their fifth starter competition.

The Long Man

The Yankees will choose the winner of the fifth starter competition by the end of spring training, but that doesn’t mean the competition will cease. The loser will head to the bullpen and take on the role of long reliever. The best chance for him to get innings will come when a starter gets knocked out of a game early. Who is the most likely Yankees starter to get knocked out early? Chances are, it will be the winner of the fifth starter competition.

A long reliever can be more than a mop-up man early in the season. Managers tend to go easier on their starters in April, often lifting them after the sixth inning. Last April that happened all too often. It led to an incredible burden on the bullpen. With the long man this year the Yankees can ease that burden. That’s not only because they’ll have a bonafide multi-inning reliever in the pen, but that reliever will actually be good (unlike most long man/mop-up men).

Sure, the starter’s role will be more important in both the short and the long terms. But if the long man can go two innings twice in a single rotation turn, he can provide plenty of value. That will help the Yankees bridge the gap between the starter and the endgame. The longman can also, in some instances, finish off the game. In games where the Yankees are losing, or are winning by four or more (since Girardi plays it by the save rule), the long man can pitch those final three innings, giving the rest of the bullpen the day off.

The only question is of whether Girardi will choose to deploy his long reliever in this manner. If he saves the long man for failed starter situations, it seems like a wasted bullpen spot.

Cory Wade

It might have seemed as though Cory Wade came out of nowhere last year, but he had previously experienced success in the majors. Unfortunately, he followed his successful 2008 season — 2.27 ERA, 3.78 FIP in 71.1 innings — with an ineffective and injury riddled 2009. Those two factors kept him in the minors for all of 2010, after which he became a six-year minor league free agent.

Here’s the kicker, though: the Rays signed him to a minor league contract, which included a mid-June opt-out date. He pitched exceedingly well for their AAA affiliate, a 1.23 ERA and 3.34 FIP, but they declined to promote him. The Yankees snatched him up after the opt-out date, and, well, we can all remember the rest.

Wade will essentially act as the bridge to the bridge to Mariano this year. He’s not a knockout reliever, in that he won’t come in when the Yanks need a strikeout. But he can come in to plenty of situations and challenge hitters. That might be his greatest virtue, in fact. Throughout his career Wade has sported a low walk rate; last year it was 1.82 per nine innings for the Yankees. That is, he doesn’t work himself into trouble too often. That’s a valuable, and uncommon, trait for a middle innings reliever.

Boone Logan

For a guy who throws about 40 innings per season, Logan is quite the polarizing character. Some fans loathe his every appearance. Others take him for what he is, which is a situational lefty. Or, at least, that’s what he had been prior to 2011. Something changed with Logan last year. In 2010 he was quite effective against lefties, hitting them with a fastball-slider combination that resulted in plenty of whiffs. But in 2011 he saw fewer whiffs on his slider from lefties. Instead it was righties who were swinging and missing when he did go to the slider.

It’s one thing to note that Logan performed better against righties than he did lefties last season. It’s quite another to think that this is a repeatable trend. After all, it happened over the course of one season, in which time Logan faced just 185 batters. Additionally, the entire performance difference comes from home runs: he allowed four against lefties and zero against righties. At the same time, he struck out far, far more lefties and walked far fewer. That is to say, Logan is still pretty much a situational lefty.

If, by some stroke of luck, he can continue inducing righties to swing through his slider, he could become more of a bridge piece. He won’t take late inning situations away from David Robertson or Rafael Soriano, but he could toss a sixth inning here and a seventh inning there. Chances are, however, that he’ll continue being the pitcher he’s been his entire career: effective enough against lefties, perhaps enough so that you’d intentionally walk a righty between two of them.

The last spot

If we play with the safe assumption that the Yankees will, as they have in the past, carry 12 pitchers, there is but one bullpen spot remaining. This morning Mike examined one candidate, Clay Rapada. Given the Yankees’ follies in finding that elusive second lefty in the pen, Rapada’s chances probably get a slight boost. There’s also Cesar Cabral, who could have a leg up because he’s a Rule 5 pick.

Brad Meyers, another Rule 5 pick, presents another option. He got a late start to the spring, but seems almost up to speed at this point. George Kontos and D.J. Mitchell are really the only other options, since they’re on the 40-man roster. Essentially, the Yankees have a competition here without many inspiring candidates. It’s hard to see how the Yanks will get much out of this last bullpen spot — which is why I feel they’re more likely to carry the extra lefty.

As Mike said this morning, the spot isn’t of the greatest consequence. The Yanks do have a few guys who could fill in this spot — remember, pitchers such as Lance Pendleton, Buddy Carlyle, and Amauri Sanit pitched out of the bullpen at points last season. Eventually, Joba Chamberlain will return and reclaim this spot. So whoever fills it, should the rest of the bullpen stay healthy, will likely be out of a job by the end of June.

* * *

It’s easy to remember the mid- to late-aughts and cringe at the woeful bullpen behind Mariano Rivera. They had few effective setup men, never mind middle relievers. Now, though, they have the back of the bullpen pretty well set. Even the middle portion of the bullpen has formed nicely. When the only real concern is the 25th roster spot, something has gone right.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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Via George King, the Yankees have agreed to one-year contracts with Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Eduardo Nunez. None of the three were free agents or anything like that, but they were not yet eligible for arbitration and the team could have renewed their contracts at pretty much any salary they wanted. Pineda signed for $528,475, Nova for $527,200, and Nunez for $523,800. The minimum salary this year is $480k thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Cory Wade, another pre-arb guy, signed for $500k ($508,925 according to King) back in January. The deadline to sign these guys was actually last Friday, so it’s safe to assume the Yankees also worked out one-year deals near the minimum with Chris Dickerson, Frankie Cervelli, and every other pre-arb guy on the 40-man roster.

Categories : Asides, Transactions
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(Nick Laham/Getty)

Anytime a team wins 97 games, a lot has to go right. Some young players need to take steps forward and do more than expected, some established players have to have career years, and some other players must surprise and come out of nowhere with solid performances. It takes a total team effort to win that many games, from the nine-figure number one starter to the last guy on the bench clinging to his roster spot by the skin of his teeth.

The Yankees had a number of players provide better than expected production last year, none moreso than Bartolo Colon. He returned to MLB after the year-long hiatus and a half-decade of injury trouble to throw 164.1 innings of better than average pitching in the AL East at age 38. It was the definition of a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, not all of those surprise performances are sustainable. Some of those guys might take a step backwards in 2012.

Freddy Garcia
The Yankees got lucky with Sweaty Freddy last year, at least in the sense that he held up all season without his surgically repaired shoulder giving out. He was a pretty extreme fly ball guy (just 36.4% grounders) who didn’t give up many homers (0.98 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) because he has a serious knack for weak contract. Hitters pop-up his slop at a pretty high rate — 11.9% infield fly ball rate with a 10.7% career rate — which helps keep the ball in the park.

Garcia is a major outlier in terms of his pitching style, and he doesn’t really fit under the umbrella of modern pitcher analysis. Mark Buehrle is the same way. The concern with Freddy going forward is the decreased usage of his changeup (19.9% in 2011 after 34.1% in 2010), which allowed left-handed batters to hit him harder (116 sOPS+) than they did the year before (108). If he’s unable to hold down right-handers again (101 sOPS+ in 2011 after 130 in 2010), he could be in for a whole world of hurt. Garcia could stand to use the changeup a little more next season to keep lefties at bay.

(REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

Curtis Granderson
Granderson is a very unique case. His performance improved overnight back in August 2010 (almost literally), but we have tangible evidence explaining his newfound success. Grandy overhauled his stance and swing mechanics – specifically switching to a two-handed follow through for better bat control — with hitting coach Kevin Long’s help, allowing him to tap into his natural power and improve his performance against southpaws. We’ve seen 945 plate appearances of MVP caliber performance (including playoffs) since the overhaul, hardly a small sample.

It’s easy to write off Granderson’s power spike as a product of New Yankee Stadium, but that’s not the case. Since the overhaul he’s hit 30 homers with a .322 ISO at home and 25 homers with a .266 ISO on the road. The performance is better at home, but that’s still serious power on the road. The newfound pop jumped Granderson’s HR/FB ratio up over 20% (20.5% to be exact) for the first time in his career, which is rarefied air. Only eight hitters have sustained a 20%+ HR/FB ratio over the last five years (min. 2,000 PA), and they’re basically the eight best pure power hitters in baseball (Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Pena types). Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, and Miguel Cabrera do not make the cut.

Grandy ‘s power output isn’t something many hitters are able to repeat these days. Only six players have put together back-to-back 35+ homer seasons over the last five years, and only two of the six have been over the age of 30. That doesn’t mean Curtis won’t do it again, he certainly has a lot going for him (like Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch), but it’s not crazy to think he’ll be unable to repeat his 40+ homer effort again in 2012.

Ivan Nova
You can’t say enough good things about what Nova did for the Yankees last season, particularly upon his return from Triple-A. He improved his slider and started missing some bats, which will be important for him going forward. As with every young pitcher, Nova’s game could step a back next season just because he’s still figuring things out, but there is a very specific reason why it’s possible his performance will suffer in 2012. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say his performance is likely to suffer, not just possible.

The easy answer here is that his ERA (3.70) was lower than his FIP (4.01) and he’s doomed to regress, but that’s not necessarily the case. The concern is Nova’s performance with men on base, specifically with regards to the long ball. He faced 293 batters with men on base last year, and he allowed exactly zero homers. Not one. All 13 homers he allowed last summer were solo shots. His ground ball (54.1%) and strikeout (5.47 K/9 and 15.7 K%) rates were slightly higher with men on than with the bases empty (51.7 GB%, 5.22 K/9, and 12.7 K%), but not enough to explain the whole zero homers thing.

Avoiding homers is absolutely a skill, but avoiding homers specifically with no one on base is not. Pitchers tend to lose some effectiveness when pitching from the stretch — .318 wOBA against with men on but .313 with the bases empty — and Nova is no exception. Playing half his games in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium means he’ll inevitably allow some homers with men on base. Those multi-run dingers will do a number on the ol’ ERA, which is why his performance is likely to take a step back in 2012. At some point, someone will take him deep with ducks on the pond.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

David Robertson
Robertson was out of this world good last season, using a new cutter to generate ground balls (46.3%) in addition to his usual high strikeout ways (13.50 K/9 and 36.8 K%). He allowed just one homer all season (a solo shot to J.J. Hardy in late-August), stranded a whopping 89.8% of the baserunners he allowed, and struck out 14 of the 19 men he faced with the bases loaded. The Houdini nickname certainly isn’t misplaced.

With Robertson, there isn’t one specific thing you can point to that would lead you to believe his performance will take a step back next year. Maybe it’s his 2.3% HR/FB rate, that’s probably the most obvious. Really, it’s just a matter of him being so insanely good that he can’t maintain the pace. Only 19 qualified relievers have managed a sub-2.00 FIP season over the last ten years, and exactly two of them did it more than once: Eric Gagne (2002 & 2003) and Hong-Chih Kuo (2008 & 2010). Mariano Rivera is not one of the 19. At 4.73 BB/9, Robertson has the highest walk rate of the group, and not by a small margin. Last year’s Kenley Jansen is the only guy within one walk per nine of him. D-Rob’s really really good, but my gosh, it would be something if he was that good again.

Cory Wade
The Yankees got 39.2 strong innings out of Wade last season, grabbing him off the scrap heap when injuries started to thin out the relief corps. He limits walks (1.82 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%) and strikes out just enough guys (6.81 K/9 and 19.1 K%) to remain effective despite big time fly ball (just 38.7% grounders) and homerun (1.13 HR/9) tendencies. Like Nova though, Wade enjoyed a ton of success with men on base last season. Perhaps a little too much.

Only 8.8% of the men to who reached base against Wade came around to score a year ago, well below the league average rate (27.5%). You’d expect a fly ball guy to have a lower than normal BABIP, but a .222 BABIP with men on base is lower than even the most optimistic of expectations. Once Wade gets some more opportunities to pitch with men on base — he faced just 64 batters with men on in 2011 — his performance will come back to Earth and he’ll allow a few more runs, especially as someone prone to the long ball. Another near-2.00 ERA across a full year’s worth of appearances would be a total shocker. Thankfully, Wade has a minor league option left and the Yankees have a number of bullpen alternatives at their disposal.

Categories : Players
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Via Jon Morosi, the Yankees and Cory Wade have agreed to a non-guaranteed one-year deal worth $500k for next season, or $20k over the league minimum. Wade was not a free agent and he fell a few weeks shy of qualifying for salary arbitration, so the Yankees were able to renew his contract at basically whatever salary they wanted. Wade did a fine job after being plucked off the scrap heap at midseason, pitching to a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP in 39.2 IP. He figures to again serve as one of Joe Girardi‘s primary pre-seventh inning relievers.

Aside: I don’t know for sure because this stuff is next to impossible to confirm, but it appears as though Wade has a minor league option remaining. If so, he can go to the minors without a hitch next year. Hooray for flexibility.

Categories : Asides, Transactions
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(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

We’ve seen it every year of the Joe Girardi era. The Yankees finish the season with a bullpen that looks a whole lot different than the one they started the year with, and 2011 was no exception. Injuries and poor performance always play a part in that, but it’s also a two-way street. The guys that do the replacing have to perform well enough to stick around. Let’s look at three surprise contributors to the team’s bullpen this past season…

Hector Noesi

The Yankees rotation was a bit of a mess early in the season, leaving the bullpen to pick up a lot of slack. Guys like Amaury Sanit and Buddy Carlyle came and went, but when the Yankees first called up Noesi on April 13th, he didn’t pitch. He sat around in the bullpen until being sent back down nine days later. Noesi re-emerged from the minors on May 13th, and this time he got his chance. His first appearance came five days later,and he responded by throwing four scoreless frames in extra innings against the Orioles to earn his first big league win.

Noesi continued to get looks in long relief, including a six inning, two-run outing against the Red Sox on June 7th, and he even worked some one inning, higher leveraged spots from time to time. Two late season starts while the Yankees were lining up their playoff rotation didn’t go so well, but he made a strong impression by posting a 4.09 FIP in 56.1 IP overall. His swing and miss rate (9.4%) was strong enough to forecast improvement to his 7.19 K/9 going forward, no matter what role he’s given. The Yankees have Noesi on a strict pitch count in winter ball as he makes up for all the innings he lost while pitching out of the bullpen.

Cory Wade

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Signed to a minor league pact after being released by the Rays in mid-June, Wade made just a single appearance for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate before being summoned to the big leagues. He made a great first impression by retiring the first 12 men he faced in pinstripes, and with both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano on the shelf with elbow injuries, Wade quickly stepped into the seventh inning role.

All told, Wade pitched to a 2.04 ERA with a 3.76 FIP in 39.2 IP for the Yankees. He was true to form with a low strikeout rate (6.81 K/9), low walk rate (1.82 BB/9), a high homerun rate (1.13 HR/9), getting by with dead fish changeups and lazy fly balls. Wade had a rough finish to the season, allowing back-to-back walk off hits to the Mariners and Blue Jays in mid-September before surrendering Dan Johnson’s game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning of a final game of the season, but that’s not enough to erase all the good. Wade is still under team control for another four years, including at the league minimum in 2012, so the Yankees did a fine job of plucking a solid middle relief option off the scrap heap.

Luis Ayala

One of many players the Yankees brought to camp on minor league contracts, Ayala had a strong showing in Spring Training (one run, nine strikeouts, zero walks in 11.1 IP) and earned one of the last Opening Day roster spots. A mid-April lat strain sent him to the DL, but Ayala returned in early-May and was arguably the best last-guy-in-the-bullpen in baseball. He racked up a 2.09 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 56 IP, relying on his 50% ground ball rate to survive.

We joked all year about how Ayala was the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in history (he had a sub-2.00 ERA until the last game of the season), but he truly was a solid pitcher given how he was used. His 0.89 gmLI (Leverage Index when entering games) ranked 117th out of the 134 qualified relievers, meaning he did most of his work in low-leverage, blowout situations. Someone has to throw those innings though, and Ayala did a fine job when called upon. It would be a surprise if he returned next season (this is exactly the kind of guy you get rid of a year too soon rather than a year too late), but Ayala was a positive contributor to the 2011 Yankees.

Categories : Playoffs
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Sep
30

Yankees announce ALDS roster

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Here is the Yankees’ ALDS roster:

Infielders: Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Eric Chavez

Outfielders: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones, Chris Dickerson

Catchers: Russell Martin, Jesus Montero

DH: Jorge Posada

Starters: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia

Relievers: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes

Categories : Playoffs
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Aug
30

Losing Al Aceves

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Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

The bullpen was not in great shape. Brian Bruney had been lights out, but he’d also gotten hurt. Jose Veras, who showed plenty of potential in the second half of 2008, had an aversion to leaving men on base. Damaso Marte couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Edwar Ramirez‘s changeup magic had worn off. All told it added up to a horrific month for the Yankees bullpen: a 6.46 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 4.53 xFIP through the first month of 2009. If that team was going to contend it had to improve the bullpen. With one move at the end of April it accomplished just that.

On May 4th, after the Red Sox knocked around Phil Hughes for four runs in four innings, Alfredo Aceves made his season debut. He had made his major league debut just a few months earlier, in August of 2008, and he had thrown a quality 30 innings by season’s end. The peripherals weren’t pretty — 3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 and just 4.8 K/9 — but the results impressed. Since the Yankees had a full rotation and bullpen to start the 2009 season he started in Scranton, but he was sure to take the shuttle at first opportunity. The poor bullpen provided that opportunity, and Aceves quickly filled the void.

His appearance against the Red Sox was good, not great, though he did manage to strike out seven in 4.1 innings. During his next few appearances he began to earn Joe Girardi‘s trust. He finished two straight games during Walkoff Weekend against Minnesota. He pitched two innings, three innings — whatever it took. He even threw four innings in relief of an ineffective Joba Chamberlain on July 5th, earning a save in the process. While he did hit a few rough patches later in the year, he was generally among the Yankees’ most effective relievers that year. His presence helped the Yankees go from worst bullpen in April to one of the best by season’s end.

During the 2009 season Aceves experienced back issues. They cropped up in late July, and bothered him through his rough patch in August. He stayed mostly healthy that year, though, but in 2010 he finally succumbed. While delivering a pitch against the Red Sox he aggravated his back and left the game. Reports of his rehab and recovery persisted throughout the season, but every time he got close he suffered another setback. But hey, he’s a pitcher and that kind of thing happens. Best to move on and try again next season, right?

There was no indication of what came next. Maybe it had to do with how he approached his rehab. Maybe there were unreleased details regarding the bike accident that broke his collar bone during the off-season. For whatever reason, the Yankees decided to not tender Aceves a contract this past off-season. It came as something of a shock, given how effective he’d been when healthy and how relatively little he’d cost. It’s not often that you see a player who makes less than a million dollars non-tendered.

Making matters worse, the Red Sox ended up signing Aceves later in the off-season. Things got worse still when Aceves went through a normal spring training and appeared perfectly ready to start the 2011 season. Rock bottom has come recently, as Aceves has been a key member of the Red Sox bullpen. In August he’s been at his best, allowing just two runs while striking out 18 and walking five in 14.2 innings. As a reliever this year he has a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings, holding opponents to a .190/.259/.326 line. It’s one reason that Boston’s bullpen has overcome the question marks it faced earlier in the season.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily missing Aceves’s presence in the bullpen. They rank third in the majors with a 3.02 ERA, and fourth with a 3.30 FIP (just a single point behind the Red Sox). They have their late innings covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, and they have a band of other relievers who have stepped up and have pitched exceedingly well in their roles. In fact, if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might have missed out on one of their most effective relievers this season.

Cory Wade did not start the season in the Yankees’ farm system. In the off-season he signed a minor league deal with Tampa, but they did not recall him by his opt-out date. The Yankees, shorthanded in the bullpen after injuries to Soriano and Chamberlain, scooped him up and added him to the major league roster. In 28.1 innings he’s shown good stuff, resulting in a 2.22 ERA. He’s had the peripherals to go with it, too, a 3.43 FIP and 3.49 xFIP despite a below average strikeout rate. Aceves’s numbers line up comparably: 2.15 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP as a reliever. With those numbers in mind, Wade just might be the better option in 2011. Yet if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might never have discovered this hidden gem. Maybe he would be the one helping Boston’s bullpen currently.

Losing Al Aceves was sad at the time, given all he had contributed in 2009. It hurt plenty when the Red Sox signed him, and hurt even worse when he started to help their bullpen. But it wasn’t all bad for the Yankees. They have one of the best bullpens in the league. Not only that, they discovered one of their most effective relievers at a time when they might not have, had Aceves been on the roster. This doesn’t excuse the Yankees’ decision; they refused to pay Aceves half a million, yet spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano. But there is a silver lining in this. If they can knock around Aceves in this series, well, maybe the issue will finally lay at rest.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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