2014 Season Review: Dealin’ Dellin

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Man, Dellin Betances had to travel a long and hard road to get to where he was in 2014, namely being a deserving All-Star and arguably the best relief pitcher on the planet. The Yankees drafted him way back in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, gave him a $1M bonus to pass on a commitment to Vanderbilt — that was before the draft got borked — and waiting patiently as he battled injury and (occasionally extreme) control problems in the minors.

Here, let’s take a moment to soak in Dellin’s minor league career to fully understand where he’s coming from:

Year Age Lev ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2006 18 Rk 1.16 7 7 23.1 14 5 3 1 7 27 1 2 0.900 5.4 0.4 2.7 10.4
2007 19 A- 3.60 6 6 25.0 24 11 10 0 17 29 2 3 1.640 8.6 0.0 6.1 10.4
2008 20 A-Rk 3.92 25 24 121.2 100 64 53 9 62 141 11 11 1.332 7.4 0.7 4.6 10.4
2009 21 A+ 5.48 11 11 44.1 48 29 27 2 27 44 2 3 1.692 9.7 0.4 5.5 8.9
2010 22 A+-AA 2.11 17 17 85.1 53 25 20 4 22 108 4 6 0.879 5.6 0.4 2.3 11.4
2011 23 AA-AAA 3.70 25 25 126.1 102 61 52 9 70 142 10 7 1.361 7.3 0.6 5.0 10.1
2012 24 AAA-AA 6.44 27 26 131.1 144 107 94 13 99 124 12 20 1.850 9.9 0.9 6.8 8.5
2013 25 AAA 2.68 38 6 84.0 52 25 25 2 42 108 7 8 1.119 5.6 0.2 4.5 11.6
8 Seasons 3.99 156 122 641.1 537 327 284 40 346 723 49 60 1.377 7.5 0.6 4.9 10.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2014.

There’s a lot going on there, and a lot of it isn’t good. Betances was damn near out of baseball in May 2013 before the Yankees permanently shifted him to the bullpen, hoping the shorter outings would better allow him to repeat his delivery and locate. The decision paid off immediately as Betances dominated for Triple-A Scranton the rest of the season and impressed during his September call-up.

For the first time in his eight full seasons as a professional baseball player, Betances came to Spring Training this year with a chance to win a big league job. There was an opening in the bullpen, and while he was the best choice for the spot on paper, he had to come to camp to show last season’s bullpen success was no fluke first. His career had been way too up-and-down to hand him anything. Dellin had a minor league option left. The Yankees could have easily sent him to Triple-A.

Betances showed up to Tampa in the spring and won that bullpen spot with ease. He only struck out eleven in 12.1 Grapefruit League innings, but it felt like a lot more. More importantly, Dellin was locating his fastball — in addition to flat out blowing it by hitters, of course — and dropping his breaking ball in for called strikes. The outing that appeared to cement his place in the big league bullpen came on March 23rd, when he struck out Jose Bautista and got Edwin Encarnacion to fly out harmlessly to left with the bases loaded.

When the regular season started, Betances was the second-to-last man in the bullpen, ahead of only Vidal Nuno. David Robertson was locked into the closer’s role and Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and David Phelps all had more big league time among the setup candidates. Betances made his first appearance of the year in the team’s very first game, striking out two in a perfect inning of work with the Yankees down six runs in the seventh inning. That’s as low-leverage as it gets.

Three days later, Betances entered a game the Yankees were leading by three runs with two outs in the eighth. He walked the first man he faced (Bautista) before getting the next (Encarnacion) to ground out to end the inning. The Yankees scored an insurance run in the top of the ninth, so Joe Girardi sent Dellin back out for the bottom half, but he walked the leadoff man on four pitches and that was that. The leash was short. Robertson came in to close out the game.

Dellin climbed the bullpen totem pole over the next few weeks, allowing three runs while striking out 21 of 47 batters faced in his final eight appearances and 12 innings of April. By mid-May he had established himself not as Girardi’s primary eighth inning guy, but as a multi-inning middle reliever who routinely got five or six outs at a time. His coming of age moment, if you will, came on May 15th against the Mets, when he struck out six of seven batters faced with the Yankees leading 1-0.

From that moment on, Girardi regularly turned to Betances in the game’s biggest situations and used him as a multi-inning high-leverage reliever. It was awesome. It was the perfect role. The kind of role we talk about all the time even though it never really happens because relief pitcher-ing is hard. Betances struck out 35 of 70 batters faced — half! — at one point from mid-May through mid-June, and he went into the All-Star break with a 1.46 ERA (1.36 FIP) and a 40.8% strikeout rate in 55.1 innings across 40 appearances.

Red Sox manager John Farrell named Betances to the AL All-Star Team — he was the only non-closing reliever named to the AL team — though he was one of three pitchers who did not pitch in the game, along with Mark Buehrle and David Price. It was disappointing but not really a bad thing given his first half workload. Betances threw a ton of important innings in the first half and a little four-day rest in mid-July was the best thing for him in the grand scheme of things.

After the All-Star break, it appeared Girardi and the Yankees made the conscious decision to limit Dellin’s workload in the second half. After recording four outs or more 24 times in the first half, he was asked to do it only eleven times after the All-Star break. His effectiveness never waned but the Yankees were simply being careful with someone who quickly emerged as a top asset. Betances settled into a tradition eighth inning role in late-July and for the most part stayed their through the end of the season.

My single favorite plate appearance of the 2014 season came on August 5th, when Betances flat-out overpowered two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera with the score tied in the top of the eighth. He got Miggy to swing over a breaking ball and through two 99-100 mph fastballs. It was swoon worthy. Check it out:

Dellin’s final appearance as a multi-inning super-reliever came on August 13th, as the Yankees were clinging to postseason hope in a game against the division rival Orioles. They were up 2-1 in the sixth inning when Girardi called on Betances, who struck out he side in the sixth and retired the side in order in the seventh. He went back out for the eighth with his pitch count at only 24, got the first out, then served up a game-tying solo homer to Jonathan Schoop. The Yankees lost the game when the rest of the bullpen melted down.

Betances finished the season with a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) in 90 innings spread across 70 appearances. His strikeout (13.50 K/9 and 39.6 K%) numbers were off the charts, and he also posted very good walk (2.40 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%), homer (0.40 HR/9 and 6.0 HR/FB%), and ground ball (46.6%) rates. Betances led all full-time relievers in innings, strikeouts (135), WPA (+4.42), fWAR (3.2), and bWAR (3.7). His 35 appearances of at least four outs were the most in baseball by a wide margin (Warren was second with 29.)

The parallels between Betances’ career and Mariano Rivera‘s are kinda eerie. Both were starting pitching prospects who had their issues in the minors and didn’t break out until being moved into the bullpen full-time. They both had dominant first full seasons with the Yankees as a multi-inning setup man at age 26 — Betances broke Mo’s single-season reliever strikeout record (130 in 1996) this year — and like Rivera, Betances could wind up taking over as closer in his second year if the team’s veteran closer leaves via free agency. That doesn’t mean Betances will be the next Rivera of course, just that they’ve have freakishly similar careers to date.

What happens with Betances in the future is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s just appreciate his 2014 mastery, when he was unquestionably the most exciting thing about the Yankees from Opening Day through Game 162. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda had their moments around their injuries, but Betances was there from start to finish. We were all upset every time the bullpen door opened and someone other than Dellin came running out even though we knew he couldn’t pitch everyday. Dealin’ Dellin was the rose that grew out of the cracks in the sidewalk that was the 2014 Yankees.

Dellin Betances among AL Rookie of the Year finalists

As expected, Dellin Betances is one of three finalists for the AL Rookie of the Year award, the BBWAA announced. Betances is up against Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Matt Shoemaker of the Angels. Abreu’s going to win in a landslide, so it’s basically Betances and Shoemaker competing for second place. No shame in that. Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury took him out of the Rookie of the Year running. No other Yankees were among the rest of the major awards finalists.

Betances finishes second to Greg Holland for Mariano Rivera Award

MLB announced yesterday that Royals closer Greg Holland won the first Mariano Rivera Award, which will be given annually the top reliever in the AL. Craig Kimbrel won the NL version, the Trevor Hoffman Award. The award is voted on by Rivera, Hoffman, and Hall of Fame relievers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Goose Gossage.

According to Jon Heyman, Dellin Betances finished second to Holland in the voting for the Mo Award. Zach Britton finished third. Betances threw more innings (90 vs. 62.1) and had a better ERA (1.40 vs. 1.44), FIP (1.64 vs. 1.83), strikeout rate (39.6% vs. 37.5%), and walk rate (7.0% vs. 8.3%) than Holland this past season, as well as more fWAR (3.2 vs. 2.3) and bWAR (3.7 vs. 2.5). But he had 45 fewer saves. A bunch of ex-closers voted for the closer. Such is life.

Tanaka, Betances make Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team

Baseball America announced their All-Rookie Team on Friday, and both Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances made the cut. Tanaka claimed one of five starting pitcher spots while Betances grabbed the only reliever spot. Former Yankee Yangervis Solarte was mentioned in the write-up for his strong season but was not named to the team.

“The Yankees’ $155 million import pitched like a Cy Young Award winner in the first half, going 11-3, 2.10 and leading the AL in wins and ERA, but an elbow injury scuttled his second half and leaves his 2015 season in doubt after a pair of lackluster September starts … he proved he can pitch like an ace, health permitting, in both Japan and the U.S,” said the write-up of Tanaka.

The write-up noted Betances’ season was better Craig Kimbrel’s, Neftali Feliz’s, and Andrew Bailey’s when they won the Rookie of the Year awards. Betances won’t beat out Jose Abreu though. “(One) must go back to Mark Eichhorn’s 1986 season to find a rookie reliever who notched more strikeouts than Betances, who had 135 in 90 innings. The catch: Eichhorn needed 157 innings to strike out 166 batters.”

The Yankees and 2014’s major awards

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

The regular season ends six days from now, which means the voting for the various league awards will soon end as well. The voting ends after the regular season but before the postseason — what happens in October has no bearing on anything. These are regular season awards, as it should be.

The Yankees are an extreme long shot to make the postseason and teams that don’t make the playoffs tend not to have major awards winners. That’s not always the case — Alex Rodriguez was the 2003 AL MVP on the last place Rangers, for example — just most of the time. Don’t get mad at me. That’s the way the voters vote. The Yankees do still have some candidates for each of the major awards this season, however. Let’s run them down.

Most Valuable Player
There is an excellent chance the Yankees will not have a player finish in the top ten of the AL MVP voting this year for the first time since 1996, when Mariano Rivera finished in 12th place. The lack of a truly elite player, a Robinson Cano or prime-age A-Rod or Derek Jeter, combined with their second straight postseason-less year all but eliminates anyone on the team from serious MVP consideration. The BBWAA has shown time and time again they prefer to vote for players on contending teams.

Now, that said, the MVP ballot is ten players deep and those last two or three slots are like the Twilight Zone. A lot of weird stuff happens there. Raul Ibanez received a tenth place MVP vote in 2012, remember. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been the team’s two best players all year and I’m guessing they’ll combine for at least one down-ballot vote this year. Same with Dellin Betances and maybe David Robertson. The Yankees don’t have any serious MVP candidates this season but I feel comfortable saying someone on the roster will appear on a ballot.

Cy Young
Had he not gotten hurt, Masahiro Tanaka would have been an excellent Cy Young candidate alongside Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (and Chris Sale). The injury takes him right out of the running for the award, unfortunately. The Cy Young ballot is one five players deep and it would surprise me if Tanaka even managed to sneak on and grab one fifth place vote at this point. He simply missed too much time and there are too many good pitchers in the AL. Maybe Betances will grab a fifth place vote like Robertson did in 2011. Maybe. He is the club’s only real shot at being included in the Cy Young conversation this season.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Rookie of the Year
Believe it or not, the Yankees have never had two players receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season. That is all but certain to change this year thanks to Tanaka and Betances. There are a lot of good rookies in the AL this year but Jose Abreu has lapped the field — I think he should win unanimously, this is a no-brainer in my opinion — so neither Tanaka nor Betances will win. I do think both are safe bets to garner multiple second and third place votes though. (The ballot is only three players deep.)

Shane Greene has had a nice year but I would be very surprised if he received any votes. There are too many other good rookies in the league (Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker, George Springer, Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, etc.) for him to get serious consideration. That doesn’t take away from what he’s done this year. This just isn’t a good year to be a good but not great rookie in the so-called Junior Circuit.

Manager of the Year
The Manager of the Year award has morphed into the “manager whose team most exceeded expectations” award, so Joe Girardi won’t win. I’m guessing the award will go to either Ned Yost of the Royals or Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, depending on which non-Athletics team wins a wildcard spot.

The Manager of the Year ballot is only three names deep and it’ll be tough for Girardi to get even a third place vote this year given his competition. I’m guessing at least one BBWAA member will give him a vote based on the team’s ability to linger in the wildcard race until the final week of the season though. After all, nine of 15 AL managers received at least one Manager of the Year vote last season.

Comeback Player of the Year
This one will be interesting. If Jeter put together nothing more than a decent season, say hitting .280 with a .340 OBP and no power, I think he would have won the Comeback Player of the Year award easily. Mariano Rivera won last year and deservingly so, but, even if he had been merely good instead of excellent, I think he would have won anyway for sentimental reasons.

Jeter’s brutal August and pre-current homestand September really dragged down his season numbers (.256/.304/.313) and it will be hard for voters to look the other way. Melky Cabrera and Albert Pujols stand out as two deserving Comeback Player of the Year candidates, so there is no lack of competition. Maybe Jeter will win on the strength of sentimental votes, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk at all.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Gold Gloves
A sabermetric component was added to the Gold Glove voting a few years ago, but it only counts as 25% of the vote. The other 75% is still based on the league’s managers and coaches. Whether they admit it or not, offense still has some impact on the voting, though it has gotten better in recent years.

Right off the bat, we can completely eliminate the entire infield. I mean, maybe Jeter will get a sentimental vote, but I can’t see it at this point. Gardner is a good left field Gold Glove candidate — they used to hand out three general outfield Gold Gloves, but they are position specific now — but Alex Gordon has this one in the bag. He’s outstanding in left and his offense won’t hurt his case either. Yoenis Cespedes might also get more votes than Gardner because of his throwing arm.

Ellsbury has been stellar in center field all season though the numbers hate him for whatever reason: -6 DRS, +1.1 UZR, and +0 Total Zone. I don’t get it. That doesn’t match up with the eye test at all. The various defensive stats always seem to hate Yankees center fielders. Maybe because Gardner takes plays away from them. Anyway, Ellsbury has some stiff Gold Glove competition in Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Jones, Leonys Martin, and Desmond Jennings. I think the chances of Ellsbury winning the Gold Glove are better than the chances of any Yankee winning any other award, but I would bet on the field with this many qualified candidates.

Silver Sluggers
Yeah, no. You actually have to hit to win a Silver Slugger and not many Yankees did that this year. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best hitters and they aren’t beating out Gordon or Trout, respectively. Nevermind the other candidates around the league. As far as the Yankees are concerned this year, the most exciting part of the awards voting will be seeing where Tanaka and Betances finish behind Abreu for the Rookie of the Year award. Jeter’s possible Comeback Player of the Year and Ellsbury’s possible Gold Glove are the only other items of note.

Betances and Robertson give Yankees modern day Rivera and Wetteland

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Just about all summer, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have enjoyed arguably the most dominant setup man/closer tandem in baseball in Dellin Betances and David Robertson. The team has scaled back on Betances’ workload in recent weeks but for the most of the season he was a multi-inning monster who would regularly bridge the gap from starter to closer all by himself. Robertson has been dynamite in his first season as closer, making the transition to the post-Mariano Rivera era relatively painless.

The Yankees had a similarly dominant late-game duo the last few years thanks to the Robertson and Rivera, though Robertson has always been a true one-inning reliever, not a four or five or six out guy. The multi-inning reliever is a dying breed, especially when it comes to late-inning guys. The last time the Yankees had a duo like Betances and Robertson, meaning an overwhelming multi-inning setup man and a shutdown closer, was way back to 1996, when Rivera was setting up John Wetteland.

There are more than a few similarities between the 1996 duo and the 2014 duo. Betances, like Rivera, was scuffling along for much of his early-20s, trying to make it work as a starting pitcher before moving into the bullpen full-time. They both opened the season in an undefined middle relief role before pitching their way into some more responsibility — Rivera threw 15 straight hitless innings at one point from mid-April through early-May in 1996, which is a great way to earn the manager’s trust — and eventually a no-doubt high-leverage role. Robertson has a knack for making things interesting but gets the job done more often than not, similar to Wetteland.

Statistically, there isn’t much of a comparison. Betances and Robertson have been quite a bit more effective this year than Rivera and Wetteland in 1996, at least on a rate basis. Wetteland and (mostly) Rivera did throw a ton of innings back in the day, a workload Betances and Robertson won’t sniff this year:

Innings WHIP ERA FIP K% BB% K/BB
2014 Betances & Robertson 137.1 0.84 1.97 1.84 39.4% 7.6% 5.18
1996 Rivera & Wetteland 171.1 1.06 2.36 2.57 28.8% 8.0% 3.43

Rivera and Wetteland also excelled in the postseason in 1996, combining to allow only four runs in 26.2 innings (1.35 ERA) during the team’s march to the World Series title. Wetteland saved four games in five days en route to being named World Series MVP. Hopefully Betances and Robertson get a chance to strut their stuff in the postseason next month, but eh. Things aren’t looking too hot right now.

The similarities don’t stop there either. Betances (26) and Robertson (29) are the same age right now that Rivera and Wetteland were back in 1996, respectively. That’s sorta freaky. Robertson is also due to become a free agent this offseason just like Wetteland became a free agent following the 1996 season. The Yankees let him walk and installed Rivera as their closer. The team is going to face a similar decision this winter — do they let Robertson go and hand the ninth inning reigns over to Dellin?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with re-signing Robertson and keeping one of the game’s most dominant late-game bullpen pairs together for another few seasons. In fact I would prefer it. I don’t mean that as a slight on Betances either. I think he’d be able to close no problem just like I thought Robertson would have no trouble closing this year, but there is no such thing as having too many great relievers. The game has changed a lot in the last two decades. Deep bullpens are imperative these days because no one scores runs anymore and every game is close.

Eighteen years ago, the Yankees had an advantage over every team they played thanks to Rivera and Wetteland. Rivera’s ability to go multiple innings — he went two full innings in 35 of 61 appearances and three full innings eight times — combined with Wetteland’s ninth inning reliability effective made it a six-inning game for New York. Girardi has had the same luxury this year thanks to Betances and Robertson. Both guys are having phenomenal seasons and they’ve been essential in keeping the Yankees in the race this summer.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Bullpen

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, outfielders, and rotation, so now let’s wrap up with the bullpen.

Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)
Game over. (Al Bello/Getty)

David Robertson — Grade A

So maybe replacing Mariano Rivera won’t be so difficult after all. Robertson inherited the closer’s job — to the dismay of more than a few — and has run with it, pitching to a 2.76 ERA (1.73 FIP) in 32 appearances and 32.2 innings. He is 23-for-25 in save chances with a career best strikeout rate (16.26 K/9 and 44.7 K%) and a career best ground rate (51.6%) while keeping his walk rate (2.76 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%) in line with the last two years. Robertson is also holding opponents to a .198 batting average, second lowest of his career (.170 in 2011) despite a career worst .356 BABIP.

Robertson has allowed ten earned runs this year with five coming in one disaster outing against the Twins on June 1st. He has allowed one run while striking out 27 of 56 batters faced since. Overall, 59 of 98 outs this season have been strikeouts, including 58 of 89 (65.2%) since coming off the disabled list (groin) in mid-April. No pitcher who has thrown at least 30 innings this season has a high strikeout rate. It’s not even close, really. Robertson leads in K/9 by more than one full strikeout and in K% by roughly three percentage points. He’s been dominant in every sense of the word.

The Yankees will need Robertson to continue his dominance in the second half for obvious reasons, though his looming free agency will be hanging over everyone’s head. The two sides have not discussed an extension but that could change at any time. Relievers like Robertson — super high strikeout pitchers with proven late-inning/big market chops and no history of arm problems — are rare and the Yankees should make every effort to keep him beyond this season. If his work this year doesn’t convince them he is the man to replace Rivera long-term, then I’m not sure they’ll ever find someone good enough.

Lots of (very) high fives for Dellin this year. (Presswire)
Undisputed best photo of the season. (Presswire)

Dellin Betances — Grade A

Just a few short months ago, Betances had a win a roster spot in Spring Training. Now he’s an All-Star high-leverage reliever who is 1996 Rivera to Robertson’s 1996 John Wetteland. Betances has a 1.46 ERA (1.37 FIP) while ranking third among full-time relievers in innings (55.1) and first in both fWAR (2.1) and bWAR (1.7). His strikeout rate (13.66 K/9 and 40.8 K%) is a bit behind Robertson’s but still among the highest in the league. He’s also stopped walking dudes (2.60 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and is getting grounders (50.5%).

Joe Girardi has not been shy about using Betances for multiple innings given his history as a starter — Betances has recorded at least four outs in 25 of his 40 appearances and at least six outs 12 times — though he did take his foot off the gas right before the All-Star break because it did appear the big right-hander was starting to fatigue a bit. His stuff was still electric but not quite as crisp. Hopefully the break recharges his batteries. A little more than a year ago, Betances looked like he may soon be out of baseball. The move into the bullpen has saved his career and given the Yankees a second elite reliever to pair with Robertson in the first season post-Mo.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren — Grade B

From spot starter to swingman to trusted high-leverage reliever. Warren has had his role redefined over the last few seasons and he has now settled in as a quality third option behind Robertson and Betances. His numbers — 2.79 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 42 appearances and 48.1 innings — are not quite as good as those two, but he gets strikeouts (8.57 K/9 and 22.4 K%), gets grounders (46.8%), and is stingy with ball four (2.79 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). His fastball velocity has also ticked up in short relief, averaging 94.1 mph this year after sitting 93.0 last year.

As with Betances, Girardi has taken advantage of Warren’s history as a starter by using his for multiple innings on several occasions — he’s recorded 4+ outs in 18 of his 42 appearances. The Yankees have said that if the need arises, they would pull Warren out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation, but starters are dropping like flies and it hasn’t happened yet. Warren seems to have found a niche in short relief and he’s been a very valuable member of the bullpen despite being overshadowed by Robertson and Betances.

(Elsa/Getty)
Kelly and Kelley. (Elsa/Getty)

Shawn Kelley — Grade C

It was a tale of two first halves for Kelley, who opened the season as the regular eighth inning guy and nailed down four saves in four chances while Robertson was on the disabled list in April. He had a 1.88 (1.67 FIP) in his first 14.1 innings of the year before a disaster outing against the Angels on May 5th (two outs, four walks, three runs), after which he was placed on the disabled list with a back injury. It kept him out a month and he has a 4.05 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 13.1 innings since returning.

Kelley didn’t look right when he first returned from the back problem. He wasn’t able to finish his pitches and his trademark slider didn’t have much bite. It just kinda spun and floated. He looked much better in his last few outings before the All-Star break — one run, five hits, no walks, 13 strikeouts in 8.1 innings — and hopefully that’s a sign he’s now 100% and ready to take on some late-inning responsibilities so Girardi can spread the workload around. Definitely a mixed bag for Kelley in the first half.

Matt Thornton — Grade C

The rules of baseball fandom say we must hate the team’s lefty specialist, but Thornton has been solid (3.10 ERA and 3.04 FIP) in his 38 appearances and 20.1 innings. As his innings-to-appearances ratio suggests, Girardi has used him as a true matchup left-hander and not tried to force it against righties whenever possible. Thornton has held same-side hitters to a .229/.319/.244 (.262 wOBA) batting line with a 15.1% strikeout rate, a 3.8% walk rate, and a 50.0% ground ball rate. Solid.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The only real negative about Thornton is he doesn’t miss bats, even against left-handed hitters. That 15.1% strikeout rate is 76th out of the 90 left-handed pitchers who have faced at least 50 left-handed batters this year. Lefties have swung and missed only 20 times at the 220 pitches Thornton has thrown them this year (9.1%). That kinda sucks for a left-on-left reliever. Thornton missed a week with undisclosed soreness right before the break but did return to pitch against the Indians last week. LOOGYs, huh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

Preston Claiborne and David Huff — Grade C

Remember how awful Claiborne looked in Spring Training? We were talking about him as a candidate to be dropped from the 40-man roster if a need arose, but the Yankees kept him around and he pitched to a 3.57 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 17.2 innings while going up and down a few times in the first half. Three of his nine walks were intentional, uglifying his numbers a bit. Claiborne is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list with a shoulder injury of unknown severity, which is not insignificant given his status as the team’s primary up and down depth arm.

The Yankees re-acquired Huff from the Giants in mid-June as part of their continuing efforts to find a not awful long man, and he’s since given the team 16.2 innings of 2.16 ERA (5.18 FIP) ball. Girardi used him as a matchup lefty while Thornton was out with his soreness and that predictably did not go well. Warren was pretty awesome by long man standards last year and that kinda spoiled us. Most long relievers stink. Is Huff keeping runs off the board? His ERA says yes. Has it been pretty? No but who cares. In that role you just want someone who can limited the damage and Huff has done that for the most part.

Alfredo Aceves — Grade F

Did you realize Aceves threw the sixth most innings among the team’s relievers in the first half? I sure didn’t. The Mexican Gangster threw 5.1 scoreless innings in long relief in his first outing back with the team, but it was all downhill from there. He allowed 14 runs on 20 hits (six homers!) and four walks in his next nine games and 14 innings, putting his overall season numbers at 6.52 ERA (6.29 FIP) in 19.1 total innings. The Yankees designated Aceves for assignment in early-June, he accepted the outright assignment to Triple-A Scranton, and he was recently suspended 50 games after a second failed test for a drug of abuse. He will be missed by: no one.

Matt Daley, Jose Ramirez, Bruce Billings, Jim Miller, Chris Leroux, Cesar Cabral, and Wade LeBlanc — Grade F

The combined pitching line of these seven: 33.2 IP, 46 H, 36 R, 33 ER, 19 BB, 33 K, 6 HBP, 6 HR. That’s an 8.82 ERA and a 5.19 FIP in one more inning than Robertson has thrown this year. I didn’t even include Dean Anna. /barfs

* * *

Girardi has had to rely on his bullpen more than I’m sure he would have liked in the first half, mostly because of the rotation injuries. Yankees relievers have thrown 292 innings this season, the 13th most in MLB, though their 264 total pitching changes are only 23rd most. That’s because of guys like Betances, Warren, and Huff being used for multiple innings at a time.

The bullpen has a 3.85 ERA (3.60 FIP) overall, which is bottom third in the league, but they have a top-heavy relief crew with arguably the best setup man/closer tandem in the game. The late innings are no problem at all. The middle innings are where it gets messy. Kelley is the bullpen key to the second half to me — if he gets back to pitching like he did before his back started acting up, Girardi will have another trustworthy high-strikeout arm who could potential solve that middle innings problem.