Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

The Best No. 3 Reliever in Baseball [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last three years, Dellin Betances has made the transition from control-challenged minor league starter to two-time All-Star setup man. He’s gone from busted prospect to indispensable big leaguer. This is the ten-year anniversary of Dellin’s draft year, you know. It’s been a long time coming.

Most teams would make a reliever of Betances’ caliber their closer. With the Yankees, Dellin is only their third best option in the bullpen behind Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. I mean, you could argue Betances is the best of the three, the same way you could argue Miller or Chapman is the best of three. They’re all awesome. Chapman is going to close though, and Miller is going to close during Chapman’s suspension, so I guess that makes Dellin the third option.

Either way, Betances will be a crucial part of the bullpen and a crucial part of the Yankees this summer. They’re built from the ninth inning forward. The plan to build a lead however possible — they have to out-score their own starting pitcher, so to speak — then turn it over to the bullpen. Dellin figures to be the first guy out of the bullpen most nights. Let’s look at three important aspects of his 2016 season.

Watch His Workload

Betances is a massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site, though I think he’s heavier than that (not in a bad way) — and he’s endured a heavy workload these last two years. He threw 174 innings from 2014-15, nearly 20 innings more than any other reliever in baseball, and Dellin admitted to being fatigued late last year. “I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there,” he said over the winter (video link).

Of course, Betances’ ability to throw a lot of innings is a huge part of his value, and the Yankees want to maintain that ability. Perhaps Chapman will be able to help here. Joe Girardi can use Betances for two innings one day, then be better able to give him that extra day of rest because Miller and Chapman will still be available. Throwing two innings at a time is not necessarily a bad thing. Throwing two innings and not getting enough rest is a bad thing.

Pitching is inherently dangerous. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous, and the Yankees want to make sure Betances is effective not only this season, but the next several seasons as well. Dellin’s in this for the long haul. Girardi has to figure out a way to balance winning now with Betances’ long-term health, which is not easy. Hopefully the Chapman pickup means Girardi can give Dellin that extra day of rest on occasion this season. It could go a long way.

What About The Walks?

In terms of performance, the only significant difference between 2014 Betances and 2015 Betances was his walk rate. His strikeout (39.6% vs. 39.5%) and ground ball (46.6% vs. 47.7%) rates were basically identical, yet his walk rate jumped from 7.0% in 2014 to 12.1% in 2015. It was especially bad early in the season and late in the season. Not so bad in the middle:

Dellin Betances walk rateBetances has a history of high walk rates, so this isn’t completely out of the ordinary. He walked 12.2% of batters faced in Triple-A in 2013, which was actually an improvement from his 15.7% walk rate at Double-A and Triple-A in 2012. Lots of walks is nothing new for Dellin, but that’s kind of a problem, right? You don’t want the high walk rate. We want Betances to get back to that 7.0% walk rate he had in 2014.

Tall pitchers have a long history of struggling to repeat their mechanics, leading to poor control. Randy Johnson didn’t post his first sub-10.0% walk rate until age 29, for example. Betances, who turns 28 next week, is on record saying working out of the bullpen helps him maintain his delivery because he pitches more often. He’s not throwing more innings, but he’s pitching more games, and the daily work helps him.

Betances was pretty awesome even with all the walks last season. Hopefully he can bring his walk rate down this year. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. With that big frame and that powerful delivery, I think Betances will always be prone to bouts of wildness. It comes with the territory, and as long as he keeps missing bats and getting weak contact, the walks won’t be a major problem.

Fireman

Over the last two years Girardi has shown a willingness to bring Betances into the middle of an inning to clean up another pitcher’s mess. He appeared in 74 games last year, and eleven times he entered in the middle of the inning with at least two runners on base. Twenty times he entered a game with either the tying or go-ahead run on base. When push came to shove, Dellin was on the mound.

With Chapman in tow and Miller not traded, Girardi will have some more freedom to use Betances to put out fires in the middle innings. Girardi does like to assign his relievers specific innings and it would be easy to shoehorn Dellin in as the seventh inning guy, but I’m sure we’ll see him in the sixth inning a bunch of times too. Girardi has shown he will do that. Except now we’re going to see the starter handing the ball right to Betances. Not a middle reliever. Adding Chapman makes Betances available for middle innings and that’s huge. Lots of games are won and lost there.

Guest Post: The bullpen has the potential to be special, but will it be better than last year’s?

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places. He’s previously written guest posts on Chris Capuano and Ike Davis.

The new closer. (Presswire)
The new closer. (Presswire)

The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman to go with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, giving New York all three of the relievers who struck out at least 100 batters in 2015 and arguably the strongest 1-2-3-relief punch since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds “Nasty Boys” trio of Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble.

Last year, the troika of Chapman, Miller and Betances threw 212 innings, with 347 strikeouts and a 1.66 ERA. They ranked 1-2-3 in strikeouts per nine innings among all major-league relievers, all finishing in the top-7 for lowest opponents’ batting average, and there is no doubt that Chapman has brought a lot of attention toward the Yankee bullpen.

By talent and what you hear on sports-talk radio, the 2016 Yankees bullpen should be one of the best ever and better than the 2015 Yankees bullpen. But on performance, it’ll be hard for this coming year’s group to improve on the group that was. In fact, the Yankees last season were 66-3 when leading through 6, 73-2 when leading through 7, and 81-0 when leading after 8. Joe Girardi’s bullpen was tied for second in all of baseball with 5.3 fWAR. Additionally, by WPA (Win Probability Added), the Yankees bullpen ranked third, at +8.5.

The loss of Adam Warren and Justin Wilson, who combined for 96 1/3 quality relief innings and were worth 3.7 WAR last season, should not be underestimated and one could argue that the addition of Chapman is not as huge as it could have been, with Warren departing for Chicago and Wilson being shipped off to the Tigers.

Moving Warren hurt somewhat, but made sense because of the return. The North Carolina graduate made 17 starts last year and appeared in 26 other games out of the bullpen. He had a 3.29 ERA, the lowest of any pitcher on the team with over 100 innings. Despite yo-yoing between the bullpen and starting rotation, Warren posted an impressive 2.29 ERA and 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in relief.

While trading Warren for Starlin Castro was necessary to plug a hole at second base, moving Wilson to the Tigers for two mediocre Triple-A starters – Luis Cessa and Chad Green – seemed questionable. Certainly the two youngsters are under team control for a combined 12 seasons, but Wilson was also a key cog in the 2015 bullpen, posting a 2.69 FIP in 61 innings. He went 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 66 strikeouts. He was also able to get both lefties and righties out.

It’s also important to note that Chapman is essentially replacing Wilson. Both are hard throwing lefties with excellent strikeout numbers and the difference between their performances may not be as big as many might think. Wilson finished with a WPA of 2.58, while Chapman finished with a WPA of 2.59. While Chapman was worth 2.5 fWAR last year, Wilson wasn’t far off at 1.5 fWAR. Their Steamer projections also predict a similar one WAR split next season.

On Friday, Chapman and the Yankees avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $11,325,000 — or more than seven times what Wilson will make (with two fewer years of control). Chapman is an upgrade, no question, but by losing the Warren and Wilson, the Yankees will be putting a lot more stress on the top of that pen. And that stress could shift entirely to Betances, Miller, and Chapman. With the two 28-year-olds gone, the question becomes who are now the Yankees’ middle relievers?

Of the organizational products, right-hander Bryan Mitchell and left-hander James Pazos likely will get the best looks. The 23-year old Mitchell can start or come out of the bullpen. Pazos, who appeared in 11 big league games and didn’t allow a run in five innings after Hal Steinbrenner included him in the list of untouchables before the July 31 trade deadline, appears to have a good shot of breaking camp with the big club.

Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren are also left-handers like Wilson. Despite a solid rookie season where Shreve posted a 3.09 ERA, advanced stats suggest that he is good candidate for a sophomore slump and he imploded during the final month of the season. Lindgren, the team’s second-round selection in 2014, has only thrown seven big league innings and underwent elbow surgery last June.

Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody and Branden Pinder, who all made cameos last season figure to be in the mix. Youngster Johnny Barbato, who was acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley, was put on the 40-man roster and perhaps he will get a shot to make the team. It wouldn’t even be shocking to see Kirby Yates, Vinnie Pestano or Anthony Swarzak soak up innings at some point.

Brian Cashman can take a plunge into free agency with a couple of interesting right-handed relievers available. Ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop is still unemployed as March approaches. Veterans Casey Janssen and Ross Ohlendorf can be had. They can extend a minor league contract to Long Island native Joe Nathan, who turned 41 over the winter and underwent Tommy John last April. They can even take a flier on former Met Vic Black, who has battled injuries and control issues.

The Yankees have gotten used to strong bullpens, with Girardi proving himself as a bullpen whisperer. In fact, according to how they’ve actually performed, the Yankees haven’t had a below-average bullpen in two decades. This year should obviously be no different and in the best-case scenario for New York, Betances and Miller lead a bridge to Chapman, turning games into a season-long six-inning affair.

The three-headed bullpen monster creates the potential for an all-time bullpen trio, but it’s no guarantee that this unit will be much better than last years.

The Five Most Important Storylines of the Spring [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Each and every year, Spring Training around the Yankees is pretty hectic with important storylines to watch, regardless of whether they just won the World Series or missed the postseason. Last year we had the Alex Rodriguez circus and I’m not sure anything can compare to that. All things considered, it went pretty well, mostly because A-Rod showed he could still play.

This spring there are many things to keep an eye on as the Yankees prepare for the upcoming season, most of which involve health. That’s the buzzword this spring: health. The Yankees have some injury risk — I think it’s fair to say more than other teams — so that’s something to watch these next few weeks. Is it the only think to watch? Hardly. Here are five of the most important storylines to monitor in Spring Training this year, roughly in order of importance.

Tanaka’s Timetable

Masahiro Tanaka did indeed have elbow surgery this offseason, but it wasn’t the Tommy John surgery that is widely considered inevitable. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow, a spur that reportedly dates back to his time playing in Japan. Tanaka is already in Tampa working out and he’s thrown off a mound, so his rehab is going well. He threw some gas on the fire by saying he might not be ready for Opening Day, however.

“I can’t really say (whether I’ll be ready for Opening Day). I’ll take it day by day. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings and see how I feel. I feel perfectly healthy,” said Tanaka to reporters the other day. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka has had no trouble with his throwing program and that the team’s ace will “get to where he needs to get to as time progresses.”

Brian Cashman hedged a bit, saying Tanaka will “enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons,” even though he is physically fine. CC Sabathia had the same surgery following the 2012 season and the Yankees took it easy on him in Spring Training. He was a few days behind the other starters in camp, and he made most of his early spring starts in controlled simulated games before getting into Grapefruit League action.

Every pitcher is different, though I suspect the Yankees will follow a similar plan with Tanaka this year. Simulated games early — that allows the team to control the action; they can end a inning if it goes too long, stuff like that — then a few tune-up Grapefruit League appearances late. (Sabathia made only two official Grapefruit League starts in 2013.) Is it ideal? No. But neither is offseason elbow surgery, even for something as relatively minor as a bone spur.

We should be able to get a pretty good idea whether Tanaka will be ready for the start of the regular season early in camp. Opening Day is April 4th, so give him four weeks of prep and we’re talking about a March 7th target date for game action, even if it’s only a simulated game. If Tanaka’s not able to pitch in some kind of game and get his pitch count into the 40-45 range that week of March 7th, the odds of him being ready for the season fall big time.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Teixeira’s Leg

Greg Bird‘s shoulder surgery has made it easy to forget Mark Teixeira is coming back from a pretty substantial injury himself. He suffered a small fracture in his shin last August, then was shut down in mid-September with a three-month rehab timetable. The last Teixeira update came in mid-December and all indications were his rehab was going well, though he had not yet started running. That was scheduled for sometime in January.

Joe Girardi will hold his annual start of Spring Training press conference tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll get an update on Teixeira at that time. It goes without saying how important he is to the Yankees. Teixeira is arguably the team’s best two-way player and he is their best power hitter, and now Bird is not around as a backup plan. The Yankees could keep Teixeira off his feet and give him a bunch of DH at-bats in spring, but that is A-Rod’s position now, so it’s not so simple. Both guys need at-bats to get ready for the season.

Castro At Third

The Yankees have made it clear they plan to try Starlin Castro at third base this spring — “We’re not going to force it … but we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks,” said Cashman — and his ability to handle the hot corner will have huge roster implications. If he can play third, the Yankees can use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door, which is their plan. If he can’t play third, they’ll need to use that spot to carry a backup third baseman.

Not only will watching Castro physically play the position be important, but I’m also curious to see exactly how much time the Yankees give him there. Remember, Starlin is relatively new to second base as well. He only started playing second last August. He’s going to need reps at that position as well. The Yankees can’t have Castro focus solely on the hot corner in Spring Training. He’s got to work out at second too. Will that leave enough time for him to pick up third base? There are reasons to believe Castro can handle the third, but it is still going to be a new experience, and he won’t have much time to learn the position.

Headley’s Throwing

I’m not sure any aspect of the 2015 Yankees surprised me more than Chase Headley‘s sudden inability to make routine throws. He made a career high 23 errors last year, including 12 throwing errors, fourth most of any non-first base infielder in baseball. Only Marcus Semien (18), Jean Segura (15), and Josh Donaldson (13) threw more balls away. That doesn’t include all the errors Teixeira saved Headley as well*. There was too much of this last summer:

Chase Headley error

The routine plays gave Headley trouble, yet his throws on difficult plays (those with minimal reaction time) were largely perfect. That suggests a mental issue, not a physical issue, and to be fair he did cut down on the errors as the season progressed. He made 16 errors in the first half and only seven in the second half, which is still a lot, but not nearly as much as earlier in the season. “There are some balls there is nothing you can do about but I worked on recognizing. Hopefully it’s behind me and hopefully it makes me mentally stronger,” he said at midseason.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone would say Headley is over his throwing problems based on his second half error total, including the Yankees and Headley himself. That’s why his throwing will be a focal point this spring. The goal isn’t to get Headley to do something he’s never done before, like it is with Castro playing third. The goal is to get him back to where he was his entire pre-2015 career.

* For what it’s worth, the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS says Headley ranked middle of the pack among third basemen in the number of errors saved by “good scoops” at first.

Dellin’s Workload

Last spring was a new experience for Dellin Betances. It was the first time in his career he reported to Spring Training with a big league job locked up, and relievers who are locked into big league spots have light schedules. They throw only a handful of innings and rarely travel. It’s a sweet gig if you can get it. Last spring Dellin threw 8.1 innings across nine appearances. In 2014 it was 12.1 innings across ten appearances.

Four innings doesn’t sound like a huge difference, and it probably isn’t, but Betances did struggle in Spring Training last year. His control was awful and even his velocity was down. It wasn’t until a week or two into the regular season that he started to look like the 2014 version of himself. Betances has said he’s a guy who likes regular work because it helps him stay sharp, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest the reduced spring workload led to his early season problems. He simply didn’t have enough time to get ready.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees handle Betances this spring. Do they give him a few more Grapefruit League innings to prepare for the season, or do they keep him on the typical reliever plan and expect him to adjust? Maybe the solution is more bullpen work, not necessarily game action. A balance has to be struck between enough work to prepare and too much work. That doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do, especially with a pitcher as unique as Dellin.

Searching for Innings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In bolstering their pitching staff this year, the Yankees opted to continue their recent trend of bullpen dominance. From Mariano Rivera to Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Andrew Miller, the Yankees have had the ninth inning on lockdown for years. Robertson, Dellin Betances, and others have helped secure the earlier innings over the past few seasons as well. Going into 2016, Betances and Miller will be joined–dubiously–by Aroldis Chapman to form a veritable Fluffy in the late innings. There’s little doubt that the Yankees’ relief corps will be elite in 2016 and just like 2014 and 2015, it’ll be expected to anchor the Yankees’ pitching staff. That proposition isn’t all that bad when considering the talent in the bullpen and Joe Girardi‘s generally awesome management thereof. However, there is a chance for the Yankees’ great relievers to be overworked due to the potential lack of innings from their starters.

The 2016 ZiPS Projections–which Mike discussed here–do not think highly of the Yankees’ starters’ workload. They predict that no Yankee pitcher will reach 160 innings and that 2/5 of the Yankee rotation–CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda–will be under 130 IP. This is obviously a concern, though not a new one. In 2015, the Yankees ranked 12th in innings by starting pitchers and were also 12th in innings pitched per start. It is worth noting, however, the the Yankees’ starters were 5th in fWAR in 2015 despite the lack of innings. Talent, it appears, is not necessarily the problem, but there’s still a problem.

Each of the Yankees’ starters carries some level of concern. Four of them–Sabathia, Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Nathan Eovaldi–missed time with injuries last year and the other one–Luis Severino–is going into his first full season as a starter in the Majors. With all that said, it’d make sense for the Yankees to look to bolster their rotation with a trade or free agent acquisition. But, at this point, those options don’t seem likely. The organization doesn’t have a ton to offer in a trade and any potentially impactful starting pitcher is long-gone off the market. Additionally, most of the rotation has enough upside–Sabathia being the exception here–that it’s worth gambling on.

Regardless of that gamble, regardless of underlying talent of much of the rotation, the pressure will be on for the starters to add length to their games this year. The addition of Chapman does help push Betances and Miller back an inning each, but this isn’t a video game; those guys can’t pitch 7-8-9 every single game. Going deep into games is certainly rare these days, and the Yankees and Royals showed last year that you can ride a bullpen to the playoffs (and deep into it). Still, the Yankees need to get more length from their starters. No one’s expecting them to toss 7 innings and hand the ball to someone every fifth day, but upping the average innings by a starter to six would be a good start.

Room for Improvement: Dellin Betances

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Dellin Betances pitches better than he has in the last two years. When thinking about room for improvement, there really isn’t much left for the to-be-28-year-old to grow into. If 2014 was his coming out party, 2015 was the year we realized this was for real. This past season, Dellin finished second in the league in fWAR and produced his second straight sub 1.60 ERA season (1.50 in 2015; 1.40 in 2014). Again, he racked up a ton of strikeouts (131 total; 14.04 K/9; 39.5 K%) and limited hits (4.8 H/9!). Despite all that, there were some causes for concern.

When he was in the minors, control was a big issue for Dellin; he didn’t seem to know where the ball was going and he racked up a ton of walks. To say he did that in 2015 would be unfair, but he did walk 16 more batters (40) in six fewer innings (84) than he did in 2014 (24; 90). He also surrendered home runs at higher rates in 2015 than he did in 2014. In total, he gave up two more (6) than he did in 2014 (4). On a per-nine-innings basis, the difference wasn’t that big: 0.4 in ’14 and 0.6 in ’15. However, that he gave up more homers in fewer innings is concerning, and the concern is greatly indicated by his HR/FB% jump from 6.9 in 2014 to 12.2% in 2015. The culprit responsible for these walks and homers might actual be Betances’ greatest ally: his curveball.

Before getting into the concerns with the curve, let’s highlight some of the good things. From 2014 to 2015 with his curve, Betances upped his Whiff/Swing% (50.90 to 51.18) and groundball/balls in play rate (52.94 to 59.38) while lowering his line drives/balls in plate rate (19.61 to 17.19) and fly ball/balls in play rate (19.61-12.50). He also increased the rate at which batters popped up per ball in play from 7.84 to 10.94. These are all generally good things. We want to see pitchers getting batters to swing and miss more while limiting air-based contact, save for weak pop-ups. The problems, however, Betances had with his Uncle Charlie in 2015 were with regards to control and homers.

In 2014, Betances threw 644 curves in 90 innings (7.15 per inning); in 2015, he threw 713 in 84 innings (8.49 per inning), so a little more than one curve per inning. That’s not a huge difference, but if we take a look at where those pitches landed, we see a difference. In 2014, Betances threw his curveball for strikes 43.63% of the time. That number dropped by almost three percent in 2015. Uncoincidentally, the rates for his fastball took similar turns. In turns of HR(FB/LD), Betances saw big jumps with both his fastball (just under 4%) and his curveball (5.53%), something we obviously don’t want to see. Considering the uptick in grounders from the curveball Dellin got, this number is troubling because it means that there were fewer fly balls and line drives in general, but that more of them ended up as dingers.

A problem Betances had in the minors with regard to his control was lack of repetition of his delivery and, in turn, his release point. That may have returned with his curveball in 2015. If we look at 2014, we see a tighter grouping of release points than we did in 2015. Perhaps that consistency in release in 2014 made his curveball so effective in 2014. Granted, it was still effective in 2015–and improved in some cases–but the differences could be responsible for the increased walks and homers. And while we saw a seemingly more consistent fastball release in 2015 than we did in 2014,  it was still a touch different from 2014 and that could’ve affected his control and command, leading to more walks and homers.

Dellin Betances is an elite relief pitcher and is probably no worse than a top 5 non-starter in all of baseball. There is certainly a degree of nitpicking to this post, but every player is always looking to get better, and I imagine Dellin is no different. If he can figure out how to bring those walks and homers back down to his 2014 totals, he’ll have a chance to be even better than he was then, and that’s scary. I’m glad he’s on our side.

Betances looking forward to Chapman helping reduce his workload

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

It’s no secret Dellin Betances has endured a huge workload the last two seasons. He’s thrown 174 innings the last two years, nearly 20 more than any other reliever, and most of those innings were high-leverage situations. Dellin hasn’t just been throwing a lot of innings, he’s been throwing a lot of high-intensity innings.

Betances is a physically massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the workload hasn’t really hurt his performance much. Yeah, he struggled throwing strikes late last season, but he has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary. Fatigue may have been a factor. We just can’t say so definitively.

Either way, ideally Dellin’s workload would not be quite as high as it has been going forward. Relievers don’t throw 85+ high-stress innings year-after-year anymore. Aroldis Chapman will assume some of those high-leverage innings, and Betances said he’s looking forward to having the team’s new closer lighten his load a bit.

“It’s exciting, obviously,” said Betances to Meredith Marakovits when asked about Chapman (video link). “And I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there … I think everything will fall into place. Whatever the team needs me to do to help them win, I’ll be ready.”

I think Joe Girardi and the Yankees would like limit Betances to somewhere in the 70-75 inning range going forward, which is still pretty high by reliever standards. Only 19 relievers threw 70+ innings in 2015. Dellin’s shown he can handle a larger than usual workload, and that’s something the Yankees should take advantage of when possible.

Girardi likes to assign his relievers specific innings and it seems like Betances will take over as the seventh inning guy in 2016. That’s not set in stone, but I think it’s heading in that direction. That’s a good spot for Betances because Girardi can use him to get a few outs in the sixth inning on occasion as well. Justin Wilson didn’t do that much last year.

Betances is a big guy and he will turn 28 during Spring Training, so he’s not a young prospect. That doesn’t mean his workload can be brushed aside either. The Yankees want Dellin to help them win not only in 2016, but also in 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well. He’s a core member of the roster, and using Chapman to help lighten the load on Betances is a big positive.