Archive for David Phelps
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.
Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.
The new playoff schedule has the Yankees playing five games in five days — spanning the final three games of the ALDS and the first two of the ALCS — which means they’ll have to do something creative for their Game Two starter tomorrow night. It’s not ideal but it is what it is, nothing anyone can do. Thankfully the Bombers have a number of viable options to start that game, some better and more practical than others. Joe Girardi indicated that he will announce his Game Two starter during his pre-Game One press conference this afternoon, but first let’s run through the candidates…
Hiroki Kuroda on three days’ rest
Kuroda started Game Three of the ALDS, the first of this five games in five days stretch. He threw 105 pitches across 8.1 innings on Wednesday and would have to start Game Two tomorrow on short rest, something he has never done in his MLB career. Considering his age (37) and how his career-high workload (219.1 IP) seemed to be catching up to him in September, starting Kuroda on three days’ rest seems like a risky proposition.
It’s worth noting that if the Yankees bring CC Sabathia back on short rest of Game Three (which I am absolutely in favor of doing) and do not pitch Kuroda in Game Two, he would get pushed back to Game Four and therefore only make one start in the series even if it goes the full seven games. That is not ideal at all. Kuroda is too good to limit like that.
Although he threw 27 pitches out of the bullpen on Thursday, it shouldn’t be a problem to bring Phelps back tomorrow. He started and threw 86 pitches last Tuesday, so giving the team 80 pitches if needed in the spot start doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Phelps shouldn’t worry anyone considering how well he closed out the season, with just six runs allowed in his final 21 innings. The problem here is that if the Yankees use him for the start, he won’t be available out of the bullpen until at least Game Four and maybe even Game Five. That could be problematic, especially if Joba Chamberlain‘s bruised elbow keeps him out of action for even just the first few games of the series.
Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia
No offense to these two, but I don’t think I can make a decent case that either should start. Both pitched so poorly down the stretch that they lost their rotation spots late in the season, and it would be wishcasting to run either of them out there expecting a full 100-ish pitch start that gives the Yankees a chance to win. They are options because they’re stretched out and have experience in the postseason, but they’re more “break glass in case of emergency” options that anything else.
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The Yankees announced earlier this morning that Cody Eppley took Eduardo Nunez‘s spot on the ALCS roster, giving the team a full 12-man pitching staff. That may be an indication that they’re leaning towards Phelps for the Game Two start but it’s not a guarantee; they could have easily added the extra reliever knowing both Kuroda and Sabathia will start on short rest and might not throw as many pitches as usual.
It’s worth noting that since Monday is a travel day, running through the entire bullpen in Game Two won’t be a concern since everyone is guaranteed rest the following day. It should also be a throw day for Phil Hughes, who could pitch in relief if needed. Bringing Sabathia back for Game Three means Phil would not start until Game Four on Wednesday at the earliest. Using him for an inning or two on Sunday has to be on the table.
Got five questions this week but two of them got short answers, so it’s more like 4.5 questions this week. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up mailbag questions, links, or anything else.
Rich asks: I have an irrational love for David Phelps. To me he’s been both durable and productive. From what I see, it seems like a lot of the damage done against him in starts is during the first inning (perhaps rookie jitters?). Any way you can find out his line in starts less that dreaded 1st? I really think he will go on to do great things for the team.
This question was sent in a few days ago, and sure enough Phelps went on to allow two runs in the first inning of Tuesday’s start before settling down and firing off zeroes the rest of the way. Here are his inning by inning splits…
Phelps completed six innings of work only three times in those eleven starts, due in part to pitch limits as he bounced between the rotation and bullpen. Joe Girardi also seemed to have a quick hook at times as well. Opponents did hit Phelps harder during the first inning than every inning other than the fifth, which has a lot to do with him tiring later in starts as well as some sketchy relief appearances. This is the quick and dirty method — I just don’t have the time to go through the game logs manually to pull up his stats as a starter by inning — but it does provide some evidence suggesting that the first inning is usually his worst.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t all that uncommon. More runs are scored in the first inning than any other throughout the league because it’s the inning in which the best hitters are guaranteed to bat. The fifth inning results in the second most offense league-wide as the starter begins to tire and mediocre middle relievers take over. Here is the AL inning-by-inning splits data for reference. Phelps is not unique when it comes to first inning struggles.
Tarik asks: This isn’t strictly a Yankees question, but doesn’t the extra wildcard team really highlight the problem of awarding postseason berths on winning the division? The Orioles and Rangers have better records than the Tigers, yet they have to play a one game wildcard play-in game. Not to mention the fact that the Rays and Angels have better records than the Tigers and they’re going home.
Yeah, that’s one big problem with the current playoff system. We had the same problem with the other system as well, but it really seems to stick out this year because the Tigers clinched the division so early despite having the worst record among all (AL and NL) playoff teams. The only way to completely eliminate this is by balancing the schedule and giving the teams with the top three records a “bye” to the ALDS while the clubs with the fourth and fifth best records meet in the wildcard play-in game. That isn’t practical due to travel and some other stuff, unfortunately. Hopefully the results and seeding are a little more fair going forward, because Detroit got a free pass thanks to the rest of their division being terrible.
Despite being 30, Stewart is still in his pre-arbitration years and will remain under team control through 2016 (!) unless the Yankees decide to non-tender him at some point. They seem to like him, so I expect Stewart to return as the backup next season. He’ll only be paid something close to the league minimum as well.
Martin played his way out of the team’s 2013 plans … unless he played his way back into them in the second half. I still don’t think he’ll get anything close to the three-year, $24M-ish contract he turned down before the season, but re-signing with the Yankees seems more and more likely by the day. Maybe a one-year deal at $7-8M works? Two years at $15M? It’s a weird and unpredictable situation because we know the team loves him, yet for most of the season he didn’t perform at all.
Chip asks: How is Robinson Cano not getting any mention in the MVP race? He’s put up a nearly 150 wRC+ (148 to be exact) as a second baseman with outstanding defense. Is it just the lack of RBIs?
Yeah, probably. That and the fact that he kinda disappeared for a few weeks in April and August, I think. Plus Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera were so insanely good this year that they’re stealing all of the attention, so some of it isn’t even Robbie’s fault. Cano will definitely get MVP votes though, he was the team’s best player this year after all, though I suspect he’ll finish behind Derek Jeter on the ballot. I’d have him no lower than fourth behind Trout, Miggy, and Adrian Beltre if I had a vote, and you can very easily make an argument that Robbie should be third. He was absolutely one of the best players in the league this year, there’s no question.
Daniel asks: Since we all know he’s going to cost a fortune, what fictional trade would be acceptable for the Yankees to trade Robinson Cano?
We’re talking about the best second baseman in the world right smack in the prime of his career, so obviously a lot. The problem is that Cano will be a free agent after next season, so his trade value is somewhat limited by his contract status. The number of true cornerstone-type players who are traded one year prior to free agency is unsurprisingly small, so we don’t have many deals to reference.
The best recent comparable trade is probably the one that sent Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres to the Red Sox two years ago. Cano is a better player now than Gonzalez was then, plus he plays a more premium position, but this is the best comparison we’ve got. Boston forked over a pair of Baseball America top 100 prospects in Casey Kelly (#31) and Anthony Rizzo (#75), plus their first round pick from one year prior in Reymond Fuentes. Two high-end prospects plus a solid third piece seem to be going rate for one year of a superstar.
If the Yankees were to trade Cano, they would almost certainly seek a big league ready outfielder in return. That’s a glaring need. Pitching is always on the agenda as well. I don’t think the Cardinals would give up Oscar Taveras for Cano, which would sorta be the best case scenario for New York. Taveras is a left-handed hitting outfielder and arguably the best offensive prospect in the game, plus he should be ready for the show by like, next May. St. Louis has had trade interest in Robbie in the past, but that was a long time ago. Taveras plus RHP Trevor Rosenthal plus a throw-in? That’s what I would ask for and along the lines of what it should take to pry Cano from pinstripes.
This surprises me a bit, but Joe Girardi announced this afternoon that David Phelps will start in place of Ivan Nova tomorrow. It surprises me only because I thought they would wait to see if they needed to use Phelps in relief tonight before making the call. Either way, it’s probably the right move. Nova’s been terrible and these games are too important.
Earlier this season when the Yankees went on the big midseason run that gave them that once-comfortable ten-game lead in the AL East, they were winning consistently because of their pitching. Every night their starter was pitching not just well, but also going deep into the game. From May 22nd through July 18th, when they went on that 36-13 run, the rotation pitched to a 3.19 ERA (3.55 FIP) while averaging 6.5 innings per start. The starters were dynamite, day after day.
That hasn’t been the case of late. Andy Pettitte got hurt, CC Sabathia got hurt (twice), Ivan Nova cratered before getting hurt, and the Yankees lost their big division lead. From July 19th — the start of the four game series in Oakland — through today, the rotation has pitched to a 4.22 ERA (4.15 FIP) with an average of 6.25 innings per start. I don’t think it was reasonable to expect to the starting staff to continue pitching that well all season, but the drop-off has been quite drastic.
The Yankees have won six of their last seven games and nine of 13 overall, though the rotation as a whole hasn’t stood out during that stretch. They’ve pitch to a 4.06 ERA (3.81 FIP) during those 13 games, which is fine but not great. Better than they had been, I guess is the best way to put it. Maybe serviceable, I don’t know. The offense has scored just enough runs and the bullpen has protected just enough leads to turn those performances into wins, and frankly that’s all that matters at this point. Every win is important, no matter how ugly it is.
Anyway, what does stand out during that 13-game stretch is the performance of the club’s three non-Pettitte homegrown starters, meaning Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova. They’ve started six of those 13 games and have pitched to a combined 2.70 ERA (3.40 FIP) in 36.2 innings, with the Yankees winning five of the six games. The one loss was when Phelps got rocked in Baltimore, a game the offense actually battled back to tie before the bullpen blew it in the late innings. That one stung.
The club’s veteran starters (Sabathia, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia) have pitched to a 5.35 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 38.2 innings in their seven starts during this 13-game stretch. It’s not all on Freddy either, he only made one of those seven starts (three runs in 3.1 innings). Pettitte was superb yesterday, but Kuroda and Sabathia allowed at least four earned runs in four of their five total starts. The vets have combined to throw just two more innings than the kids in one more start, so they haven’t been as effective nor gone as deep into the game.
The Yankees catch a lot of grief for their inability to develop starting pitching and deservedly so, but the team’s three young homegrown starters have picked up the pitching slack in a big way these last two weeks. The veteran guys did most of the heavy lifting earlier in the season and now Hughes, Nova, and Phelps are carrying the torch. That’s usually how these things go, not everyone clicks at once, but not many times in the last few seasons have the young pitchers carried New York. Hughes has allowed more than two earned runs just once in his last six outings, and tonight he’ll look to continue this recent stretch of strong performances from the homegrown arms against the Blue Jays in the series finale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You could make a pretty strong argument that last night was the best start of David Phelps‘ young career, but I think we can all agree that it was his biggest start as a big leaguer. The Yankees need to win as many games as possible from here on out, and the 25-year-old right-hander shook off two miserable outings against the Orioles to give the team 5.2 innings of one-run ball in Fenway Park. That’s not easy to do, and all it took was getting ahead in the count.
“The last two starts prior to this one I was behind in a lot of counts and I wasn’t pounding the strike zone early,” said Phelps after the game. “I told myself I wanted to come out and if they were going to swing first pitch, I was going to make them hit it. I just went out there and tried to get ahead in the count. I can attack a lot more when it’s 0-1 vs. 1-0.”
Phelps threw first pitch strikes to 14 of the 21 batters he faced (66.7%), far better than the 53.7% first pitch strikes (22-of-41) he threw against the Orioles these last two times out. His season average is 62.8% first pitch strikes, a bit better than the 59.9% league average. They say strike one is the best pitch in baseball, but here’s the crazy part: batters have actually hit Phelps harder (relative to the league average) after he’s jumped ahead to a 0-1 count than when he falls behind 1-0. That’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect, but look…
Now there are clearly sample size issues here, which is inevitable when a guy has only thrown 84.1 innings and faced 349 batters on the season (the missing 50 batters put the ball in play on the first pitch). Opponents have hit 28% better than the league average after falling behind 0-1 to Phelps compared to 24% worse when getting ahead 1-0. Although Phelps deserves some credit for being able to battle back to retire hitters following a first pitch ball (he’s also gotten some BABIP love in those spots as well), the big problem is that he’s giving up way too many extra-base hits after getting ahead. He’ll often follow up that first pitch strike with a second and third pitch ball, putting the hitter back in control.
The season numbers don’t bear it right now, but Phelps is the exactly the kind of guy who needs to throw a lot of first pitch strikes to be successful. He doesn’t have blow-you-away type stuff, but he does throw four pitches and jumping ahead in the count opens a lot of doors for him. He didn’t get ahead in the count enough in his last two starts against the Orioles and he paid dearly for it, allowing eight runs in 8.2 innings in two important games. David got back to throwing strike one last night and both he and the club reaped the rewards.
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.
It seemed like we got an awful lot of questions this week, but I picked just four for the mailbag. Keep sending them in though, one of these weeks I’ll do a rapid fire mailbag with like, 12-15 questions. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.
J.R. and several others asked: With the bullpen not looking great, would Juan Cruz make sense?
I started thinking about this as soon as I saw that the Pirates had designated Cruz for assignment (he was officially released yesterday). The 33-year-old missed just about a month with shoulder inflammation but otherwise has pitched to a 2.78 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 35.2 innings for Pittsburgh this season. His strikeout (8.33 K/9 and 20.4 K%) rate was fine and his walk rate (4.79 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) was high, just like every other season of his career. That’s actually his lowest BB% since 2006, if you can believe it. The fastball isn’t what it used to be, but PitchFX says he’s still running it up there in the 92-94 mph range.
Cruz has struck out just one batter in his last nine appearances (7.1 IP and 36 batters faced), which includes three appearances before the DL stint and six after. He’s struggled a little bit of late but nothing crazy. You do have to be skeptical anytime a team releases a reliever in favor of Chad Qualls, so perhaps the reason why he’s available is something we just don’t know as outsiders. The Yankees don’t have much bullpen help coming in September, so signing Cruz to a minor league pact with the promise of a September 1st call-up sure seems to make sense from where I sit. I guess it depends on the medicals more than anything.
This was sent in before Nova was placed on the DL, so let’s remove him from the discussion. The easy answer is that Phelps would have to pitch phenomenally well the rest of the season, and I don’t mean slightly out-pitch Hughes or Garcia. Those guys have track records and will get the benefit of the doubt. Phelps would have to pitch like Hiroki Kuroda has been of late, I mean completely dominating each time out. That’s not easy to do.
Obviously a lot depends on the ALDS schedule and who the Yankees would be playing in a potential playoff series, but right now I would lean towards Garcia as my Game Four starter. Both Hughes and Phelps have shown not just that they can pitch in relief, but that they can be true weapons out of the bullpen. As an added bonus, both would be in position to contribute multiple innings in relief. The fourth starter is marginalized in the postseason — quick hooks, starting only when absolutely necessary — and I would rather let Freddy be that guy.
Donny asks: I doubt I am the first to bring up this idea, but with everyone working under the assumption that Nick Swisher is not re-signed, doesn’t Ichiro Suzuki make sense? I would think a one year deal worth $6-8 million would work with some kind of team option for 2014, no?
A few people asked this as well and I’m not really a fan of bringing Ichiro back. Maybe if they trade Brett Gardner this winter it would make more sense, but I doubt that happens. I’m not a fan of powerless corner outfielders — the Yankees would be lucky to get ten total homers out of Gardner and Ichiro next season if they’re both starters — no matter how much contact they make or how great their defense and base-running is. Having one guy like that in the outfield is fine, but two is really pushing it. If the Yankees let Nick Swisher walk, they’ll need to replace him with someone who can hit for some power, particularly against left-handers. That ain’t Ichiro.
Kevin asks: With all of the recent talk of Derek Jeter possibly breaking Pete Rose’s hit record, which do you think is more likely to happen at this point: Alex Rodriguez passing Barry Bonds or Jeter passing Rose?
Jeter is currently 999 hits behind Rose, so he’ll need another five or six really good years to become the all-time hit king. I’m talking 180+ hits a year on average until he turns 43 or 44. A-Rod, on the other hand, is 118 homers behind Bonds, which works out to another five or six really good years (20+ homers per season). Both seem improbable at this point but not impossible. I know which one I think is more likely to happen, but this question is screaming for a poll…
The Yankees have dealt with what seems like an inordinate number of injuries this season, the latest of which has taken CC Sabathia out of the rotation for 15 days for the second time this season. The team more than survived his first DL stint — in part because it was sandwiched around the All-Star break — and are hoping for more of the same the second time around. Treading water would be fine in my book.
Taking Sabathia’s start tonight is David Phelps, who has emerged as a pretty important setup-type reliever since being recalled from Triple-A about three weeks ago. The recently signed Derek Lowe will join the bullpen and serve as the new long man. Phelps has made three spot starts this year and told reporters yesterday that he’s good for 75-80 pitches tonight, but we’ll see. The Rangers and their swings will tell us exactly when Phelps is running out of gas, and frankly I would be surprised if he makes it through five full innings against that lineup.
That’s part of the reason why I wonder if the Yankees are better off running Lowe out there for the start while keeping their young right-hander in the bullpen for the time being. Both Sabathia and the team insist that he will return to the rotation after the minimum 15 days, meaning he’s only going to miss two starts. Rather than having Phelps available as a potential two-inning setup arm during these next two weeks, the Yankees will have him as a four or maybe five inning starter* for two games. Given the recent struggles of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova as well as Freddy Garcia‘s generally short leash, having a strong multi-inning reliever is an obvious boon.
Now obviously the problem here is that Lowe is terrible. He pitched to an 8.80 ERA (4.86 FIP) with more walks (27) than strikeouts (26) in his last dozen starts and 60.1 IP for the Indians, and I have a hard time thinking he’ll be much better with the uniform change. Granted, an 8.80 ERA is quite extreme and he might not be that bad going forward, but I wouldn’t expect much. Replacement level. That sounds about right, and you don’t really want that guy in the rotation. The thing is that with two starts, anything can happen. We know he’ll be bad over the long haul, but not necessarily in one or two individual games.
Given all the injuries, the Yankees don’t have many alternatives to bolster their pitching staff in Sabathia’s absence right now. It’s either Phelps on a pitch count or Lowe, who they could run into the ground without a care in the world. Adam Warren did start for Triple-A Empire State yesterday, so he’s definitely not an option. Are the Yankees better off using Phelps for his four or maybe five innings tonight and then again on Saturday while Lowe masquerades as the long man, or by running Lowe out there for the two starts while having Phelps available as needed in relief? I don’t know the right answer, but I do think the Yankees are better off with the latter.
This isn’t Joba Chamberlain all over again — that was a completely different animal. I wanted Joba to remain a starter long-term because I felt that’s where he would provide the greatest impact. I do feel the same way about Phelps, but he’s already in the bullpen and this is the middle of the season. The Yankees have what we really hope is a temporary, two-start hole to plug. If they needed a starter for the rest of the season, then by all means stick the kid in the rotation. But for two starts? I don’t see the big deal, especially since he’s turned into such an important part of the relief corps. Plus I dislike the constant changing of roles, though perhaps that is just a stigma from Joba.
Either way, the starting rotation is taking a big hit with the loss of Sabathia. I’m not sure that compounding the problem by weakening the bullpen is the best solution, especially given the general shakiness surrounding some of the other rotation spots at the moment. Lowe’s almost certainly going to get pounded regardless of role, and there’s a chance Phelps will as a starter as well given the quality of the competition* and his pitch limits. I’d rather just keep the kid in the bullpen and maximize his impact by using him in medium-to-high-leverage spots throughout the week rather than just once every five days with Sabathia on the shelf.
The goal at the big league level is to win games, and I think we sometimes forget that because we want our prospect crushes validated. Especially with a guy like Phelps, a non-top prospect who essentially comes in as an underdog. Those guys are easy to fall in love with. Replacing Phelps with Lowe in the bullpen is a clear downgrade, a big enough one that I don’t think starting a limited Phelps over an unlimited Lowe makes it worth it for the Yankees. I think it could turn out to be a net negative in short order, especially if Hughes decides not complete five innings again or they get stuck in an extra-innings game at some point this week. The Yankees just have to rearrange some pitching furniture during Sabathia’s absence, not rob Peter to pay Paul.
* After tonight’s start against the Rangers, Phelps lines up to start against the Red Sox. So yeah, he’s running into two great offenses with some kind of pitch limit. No ideal.