Poll: Making room for David Robertson

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have received some pretty stellar pitching over the last three weeks or so, and it’s about to get a whole lot better. David Robertson aced his second minor league rehab appearances yesterday afternoon, and afterward Joe Girardi confirmed that his top setup man will rejoin the team today and be activated off the DL on Friday. Cory Wade and Boone Logan have done a superb job setting up Rafael Soriano in recent weeks, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve all missed Robertson in the late innings.

Getting Robertson back on the roster won’t be a problem but the Yankees do have some roster flexibility and a number of different options. We know Wade, Logan, and Rafael Soriano aren’t going anywhere, but there’s a case to be made that everyone else in the bullpen should be replaced. Each has their own pros and cons, of course.

Cody Eppley
Sending Eppley back to Triple-A seems like the most obvious move since he’s been the designated up-and-down guy early this season. He hasn’t pitched great but he hasn’t been ineffective either — 3.55 ERA with a 4.55 FIP and a 67.5% ground ball rate — and lately Joe Girardi has been using him as a right-handed/ground ball specialist in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the best way to use the sidewinder, though a ROOGY isn’t exactly the most efficient use of roster space. The Yankees could send Eppley down on Friday and call him up at a later point without a problem.

David Phelps
Do you know how long it’s been since Phelps has appeared in a game? Eleven days now. He hasn’t pitched since game two of the Tigers series in Detroit, when he started the bottom of the ninth inning in the eventual walk-off loss. Phelps has made two appearances totaling five outs in the last 20 days, and his brief warm-up session last night was the first time he’s even done that much since the Tigers’ game. The Yankees don’t need to carry two long-men and although Phelps has done nothing to lose his job — 2.94 ERA and 4.50 FIP — they could opt to send him to Triple-A to make sure he gets regulars innings as a starting pitcher. Winning is always the number one goal, but the Yankees could send him down to focus on his development without weakening the big league club.

(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

Freddy Garcia
Since being banished to the bullpen, Sweaty Freddy has worked sparingly in mop-up duty. He missed a few days following the death of his grandfather but has otherwise appeared in just six of the club’s last 41 games, and only once in those six games was the score separated by fewer than three runs. It’s been pure mop-up work and is totally redundant with Phelps on the roster. Freddy has no trade value so the Yankees would have to just cut ties with him, a legitimate option but probably not the smartest thing in the world. Pitching depth has a way of disappearing quickly and Garcia can do a lot of different things if needed, particularly start.

Clay Rapada
Cutting Rapada was unlikely even before his recent stretch of solid pitching (despite a heavy workload). The Yankees obviously place some value on having two left-handers out in the bullpen given how much money they’ve spent on those guys in recent years, and for the most part Rapada has done the job. He is out of minor league options, so the Yankees wouldn’t be able to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. Rapada ain’t clearing waivers, I can promise you that.

* * *

The Yankees have enough bullpen depth that there’s no obvious candidate to go once Robertson is healthy. They’re going to shed one solid bullpen arm in favor of an elite reliever, and that’s pretty awesome. Since we polled you folks about replacing Brett Gardner internally yesterday, we might as well do the same for getting Robertson back on the roster.

How should the Yankees get Robertson back onto the active roster?
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Yankees place Freddy Garcia on bereavement list, recall Ryota Igarashi

The Yankees have place Freddy Garcia on the bereavement list and recalled Ryota Igarashi from Triple-A. Garcia is returning home to Venezuela following the death of his grandfather, so condolences to him and his family. He can remain on the bereavement list for up to eight days. Igarashi was claimed off waivers a little more than a week ago and is expected to arrive in the Bronx in time for first pitch. He threw 18 pitches in Triple-A just last night.

Using Freddy Garcia

Freddy's just been chilling lately. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Freddy Garcia would probably like a mulligan on 2012. Things started to look down for him as early as January, when the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda on the same night. With those two added to the rotation, it appeared that Garcia might have been the odd man out. In fact, throughout spring training it appeared that he’d end up in the bullpen, giving chances to Pineda and Phil Hughes.

Pineda’s injury opened up that rotation spot for Garcia, and given his spring performance he seemed to deserve it. But the season has been anything but kind to him. It started with an outing against Baltimore in which he uncorked five wild pitches while allowing four runs in 4.2 innings. After allowing at least five run in each of his next three outings, the Yankees removed him from the rotation. Now he languishes in the bullpen, reserved for true mop-up situations.

Yet in his three relief appearances, all consisting of two innings, he has pitched very well. All in all he has allowed one unearned run on three hits and two walks. He has struck out four, though three of them came in his last outing. Oddly enough, though, he’s generated just one swing and miss during that period. But even without the whiffs he’s still thrown strikes, 64 percent of his 88 pitches. He’s also seen an uptick in his velocity, averaging just under 90 mph with his sinker — about 2 mph faster than it was in April while in the rotation.

With the bullpen injuries, many players will see their roles change. Boone Logan could see some higher leverage spots. As Dan Barbarisi writes in the Wall Street Journal, Cory Wade has become more vital. Yet as with the previous setup corps of Robertson and Soriano, these guys can’t take all of the setup innings. The Yanks will need others to step up. While se might see potential in the young Phelps, there is still Garcia to consider. The Yanks are paying him and apparently aren’t going to cut him. So why not see what he can deliver out of the pen? The results so far have been encouraging, at least.

Update: Yanks recall Mitchell, send Garcia to ‘pen

Update (12:09pm): As expected, Eppley has been sent down to Triple-A to make room on the roster for Mitchell.

11:42am: Freddy Garcia has been bumped from the rotation and will pitch out of the bullpen for the first time in his career. Joe Girardi hinted at both Mitchell and David Phelps being candidates to fill the rotation void, probably depending on who is needed out of the bullpen the next few days.

10:48am:The Yankees have recalled D.J. Mitchell from Triple-A, the team announced. There’s no word on the corresponding roster move, but I suspect Cody Eppley will be sent down after throwing three innings and 37 pitches yesterday. No 40-man roster move is required.

Mitchell, 24, was scheduled to start for Triple-A Empire State today, so he’s fresh and available for a whole lot of innings. He had been the best starter on the club’s top minor league affiliate in the early going, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 8.22 K/9 (24.1 K%), 2.74 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), and a 48% ground ball rate in 21 IP across four starts. I ranked him as the Yankees’ 16th best prospect before the season.

Yanks will remain on rotation, Garcia starts Saturday

Following tonight’s game, Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees will remain on rotation and Freddy Garcia will start Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ivan Nova will pitch Friday and CC Sabathia will pitch Sunday. The Yankees could have used Thursday’s off day to skip Garcia and delay his next start until next Monday against the Orioles. That’s what I would have done given how awful Freddy’s been, but whatever.

 

Freddy’s men on base problem

Last year it felt as though Freddy Garcia possessed a remarkable ability to pitch his way out of a jam. When the going got tough, Freddy got going, amping up his arsenal and cutting down hitters when the situations mattered the most. It was through his performances with runners on base, with runners in scoring position, and in high-leverage situations that allowed him to keep his ERA shiny — and keep the Yanks out of trouble.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how Freddy fared in various situations.

K% BB% HR/9 BABIP
Bases Empty 13.7% 6.7% 1.04 .310
Men on Base 17.5% 6%* 0.92 .266
RISP 18%  7.2%* 0.64 .205
High Leverage 12.5% 4.2% 0.00 .100

*Unintentional walk rate

While the above data shows us why Garcia was able to maintain a 3.62 ERA against a 4.12 FIP and 4.36 xFIP, it also screams something to the SABR-influenced crowd: regression. Garcia’s performances when runs were at stake might have made his 2011 numbers look nice, but surely that’s not sustainable. Right? When we’re trying to project a pitcher’s numbers we should be looking for skills and not fluke performances. And so the Yankees’ decision to re-sign Garcia might appear a foolish one. How could they be so fooled by these fluky numbers?

Garcia’s situation presents one reason why you see less statistic-heavy work on RAB than you might have in the past. That is to say, there are many flaws in the SABR doctrine. A SABR-inclined analyst might come to the above conclusion, that Freddy got so incredibly lucky in specific situations last year that it simply could not last. Yet such analysis would be woefully incomplete without a reference point. Might it be that Garcia has excelled in these situations throughout his career? Turns out, that is exactly the case. Here are the same numbers, taken from Garcia’s 14-year career.

K% BB% HR/9 BABIP
Bases Empty 17.2% 6.4% 1.36 .290
Men on Base 16.1% 6.3%* 0.96 .284
RISP 17.6% 7.7%* 0.71 .265
High Leverage 19.6% 5.6% 0.94 .248

*Unintentional walk rate

Despite Garcia being a completely different pitcher today than he was in 2001, he still follows these trends. During the course of his entire career, comprising 8,861 batters faced, he has shown a knack for working out of jams. In fact, one of the only seasons in which he did not display these trends, 2010, was his first full season after undergoing labrum and rotator cuff surgeries. Once he familiarized himself with his new limitations, he went right back to his old trends. (That’s my narrative, and I’m sticking to it.)

This year Garcia is demonstrating similar, though not altogether the same, trends. He’s striking out more hitters with men on base than he is with the bases empty. He’s walking fewer. Both of his two home runs allowed have come with the bases empty. The killer, however, is BABIP. He’s allowed a .524 BABIP with men on base, and .471 with men in scoring position. He has a mere 47.2 percent strand rate. Absolutely nothing is going Freddy’s way this season.

While we should expect Freddy’s BABIP numbers to fall, it’s not because he’s merely getting unlucky. In his three starts Garcia has displayed a marked lack of command. It’s not as bad as his debut, in which he let loose five wild pitches. But his command is nowhere near the level it was last year. For Garcia, 35, that should be something he finds soon enough. And when he does, his performances will significantly improve. As long as nothing is wrong physically, it should just be a matter of patience.

Chances are Garcia has already pitched himself out of the rotation with these first three starts. Hell, he might have been out of a spot since the day Andy Pettitte announced his comeback. Until then, though, the Yankees can display some patience with Garcia. Unless something physical is hampering his command, he should be able to trot out there every five days and turn in quality performances, as he did in 2011.