Cory Wade’s Bad Month

(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.

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Mailbag: Belt, Wade, Twitter, Big Base Stealers

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.

2012 Season Preview: Control Freaks

(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.

2012 Season Preview: After the Starters

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.

Pineda, Nova, and Nunez agree to 2012 contracts

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.