Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Righties
Bailey
Betances
Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)
Warren

Lefties
Capuano
Miller
Wilson
Sabathia
Shreve

That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.

Yankees move Ivan Nova to the bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have removed Ivan Nova from the rotation, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. Nova will be used out of the bullpen going forward. He is not available tonight but will be starting Friday. Girardi said the decision was purely performance related.

Nova, 28, has a 5.11 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 14 starts and 75.2 innings this season following his return from Tommy John surgery. He’s been especially bad of late, allowing 29 runs and 59 base-runners in his last seven starts and 35 innings. Nova’s been getting worse as he gets further away from elbow reconstruction, not better.

This isn’t the first time the Yankees have yanked Nova from the rotation due to ineffectiveness. They did it in 2013 as well, when he had a 6.48 ERA after four starts. Nova made three relief appearances before rejoining the rotation that year, and, to his credit, he dominated down the stretch. Maybe the demotion was a wake-up call.

I’m curious to see how Girardi will use Nova going forward. Will he step into the old Adam Warren role as sort of a multi-inning guy who can pitch the middle innings or late in the game if necessary? Or will Nova be held back as a pure long man? There’s not much time left in the season. If he’s going to carve out a niche, he needs to do it soon.

Taking stock of Ivan Nova’s post-surgery performance

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

It’s often said pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery are vulnerable to erratic performances as they regain arm strength and command of their pitches. When you combine that thinking with the notion that Ivan Nova’s career has largely been defined by periods of brilliance mixed in with extended stretches of mediocrity, it was probably inevitable that Nova was not going to be a model of reliability when he rejoined the pitching staff in late June.

Nova flashed signs of being that near-dominant pitcher in his season debut when he fired 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Phillies, but two starts later was perhaps at his worst this season when he gave up four runs and had just one strikeout versus the Rays. And most recently against the Indians last week he put together another uninspiring start, allowing three runs before being pulled after five innings of work.

To his credit, Nova acknowledged that he’s had his ups and downs this season. “You’re going to have days like this,” Nova told the Associated Press after his dud on August 20. “Not going to feel perfect every time you go out there.”

Despite battling through bouts of inconsistency and posting a 3.72 ERA that is just barely above league-average (and a below-average 4.12 FIP), there are still a bunch of encouraging signs from Nova’s first 10 starts. Digging deeper into his numbers, there is a hint of optimism that he can be a viable starter for the Yankees as they battle for a playoff spot and the division crown in the final six weeks.

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The first thing you typically look for in a pitcher trying to come back from Tommy John surgery is changes in velocity and throwing mechanics. Nova passes that test with flying colors, as his velocity is on par with previous seasons and the release points on his pitches are unchanged. He’s averaging 93.3 mph on his four-seamer and sinker, nearly the same as his rookie season (93.4) in 2011 and his last healthy season (93.9) in 2013.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

His signature curveball has also been really sharp, with a top-20 whiff rate (37 percent) and top-10 marks in both batting average against (.143) and slugging (.196). Maikel Franco is one of the top rookies in the NL this season, but he had no chance on this two-strike hook from Nova back on June 24:

q0kvn

Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery often struggle with their control but that hasn’t been the case with Nova. His walk rate of 7.5 percent this season is identical to what he did from 2011-13 (7.7 percent), and although he’s throwing pitches out of the strike zone at a career-high rate of 58 percent, he’s also locating pitches in the heart of the zone at the lowest rate of his career (18 percent). It seems like he is still trying to get comfortable pitching on the edges of the zone, but he’s done a good job of avoiding mistakes and grooved pitches right down the middle.

Another good omen for Nova is that he’s back to being a ground ball machine, with a ground ball rate of 52.5 percent that almost matches his 2013 mark. His hard-contact and soft-contact rates are also his best since 2011, and he’s generating popups at a rate that is nearly double his previous career best.

nova contact

Despite those positive trends, one concern is that Nova’s strikeout rate is below his peak 2012-13 levels, and he seemingly hasn’t yet regained the feel for his four-seam fastball this season. Opponents are hitting .309 and slugging .546 in at-bats ending in his heater, and have whiffed on just seven percent of their swings against it.

Perhaps realizing its ineffectiveness, Nova has ditched his four-seam fastball recently in favor of the much more effective sinker that ranks fifth among starting pitchers in ground ball rate (68 percent).

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

The fact Nova has been able to make these adjustments mid-season is an excellent indicator that he’s evolving as a pitcher and getting closer to reaching his potential.

Another sign of his maturity is the way that he’s been able to get out of jams and pitch under pressure this season. Batters have a .151/.230/.236 line against him with runners in scoring position and he’s stranded nearly three-quarters of his baserunners so far.

Although Nova is far from a finished product and is still clearly trying to find his pitching rhythm post-surgery, he’s shown a lot of promise in his first 10 starts this season. He’s keeping the ball on the ground with his sinker, mixing in a nasty curveball when ahead in the count, and pitching with confidence and poise from the stretch.

There’s still one hurdle, however, that Nova has yet to overcome: the inconsistency that has defined not just this season, but his entire career. Sure, he can’t shed that label in single game. But a strong performance tonight against the Astros would not only be an encouraging sign of progress in Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, but also a key step forward in his long-term development from a talented yet unpredictable pitcher into a reliable top-of-the-rotation starter.

Game 115: The Day After

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

My heart is still pumping after that game last night. That was something else. Been a while since a baseball game made me feel that way. But today is a new day, and what happened yesterday is in past. The Yankees have another game this afternoon and a chance to win the series over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. I’d like that, especially after last weekend.

The Yankees have the right guy on the mound this afternoon in Masahiro Tanaka, who has been really homer prone of late, but also pretty good. Last weekend he held the Jays to three hits — two solo homers — in six innings and could have gone out for the seventh because he’d only thrown 80 pitches. Hopefully Tanaka goes deeper into the game today and keeps the ball in the park. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. SS Didi Gregorus
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy, cool, and humid in Toronto this afternoon, and there is some rain in the forecast, so I’m guessing the Rogers Centre roof will be closed. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:07pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have recalled Caleb Cotham and designated Chris Capuano for assignment, the team announced. I guess that means Bryan Mitchell is available for long relief work again.

Injury Update: Forgot to mention this in the recap last night, but x-rays on Ivan Nova‘s finger came back negative following last night’s game. He took that hard-hit grounder to the hand in the third inning. It got him in the ring finger. Nova stayed in the game and didn’t seem to have any problems afterward … Diego Moreno will have bone chips removed from his elbow, Brian Cashman announced. Moreno had been pitching when them for years, but they didn’t become a problem until recently.

Game 101: So Long, Texas

"Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman." (Presswire)
“Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman.” (Presswire)

Some series go by quickly, some go by slowly, and for some reason this four-game set with the Rangers feels like it has been going on for two weeks. Maybe it’s just me. That crazy game two nights ago, the 21-5 game, took forever. Maybe that’s what it is. I feel like the Yankees are been in Texas for a month.

Anyway, the Yankees and Rangers finally wrap up this four-game series tonight and the Yankees have a streak on the line. They’ve won each of their last six series — the last series loss was in Anaheim last month — and tonight they have a chance to stretch it to seven. Winning a four-game series is tough, but they can do it tonight. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

Last day in the heat. Temperatures have again been over 100 degrees all day in Arlington and they’ll be in the 90s when the game begins. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade I flexor muscle strain in his forearm. It’s the same thing Andrew Miller had earlier this year. Pineda told reporters the MRI showed only inflammation and he’s not worried. He will be shut down 7-10 days before he can resume throwing … Ivan Nova (arm fatigue) threw a bullpen session today and is on track to make his next start.

Roster Moves: Pineda was placed on the DL and Caleb Cotham was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. Nick Goody and Bryan Mitchell were both called up in corresponding moves. Pineda’s DL stint allows them to bring Goody back before his ten-day window expires … Also, in case you missed it, the Yankees acquired Dustin Ackley in a three-player trade today. He won’t be in uniform tonight though. Joe Girardi said he’ll be a utility guy, not the starting second baseman.

Rotation Update: Nathan Eovaldi will start tomorrow and Nova will start Sunday, but Saturday’s starter is TBA, the Yankees say. I have to think Mitchell is an option. Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start that day for Triple-A Scranton, if you’re curious.

2015 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Wednesday

Samardzija. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Just three days left now. The 2015 non-waiver trade deadline is this Friday at 4pm ET, and while the Yankees have not yet made any moves, I’m sure they will at some point in the next few days. Pitching is a bit of an issue — I’d rather not see Chris Capuano make another spot start — and second base could use an upgrade as well. Maybe another righty bat too.

On Monday and Tuesday we learned the Yankees are engaged in the pitching market, both starters and relievers. They had conversations with the Reds about Johnny Cueto before he was traded to the Royals, and they were also in the hunt for Ben Zobrist before he joined Cueto in Kansas City. Final offers for Cole Hamels are reportedly due today as well. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here.

  • 7:04pm ET: The Mat Latos trade from earlier is currently on hold because of someone’s medicals. Not necessarily Latos’. So he could, in fact, still be an option for the Yankees. [Wittenmyer]
  • 4:33pm ET: The Yankees will indeed talk to the Tigers about David Price. They remain unwilling to part with top prospects — the Phillies against asked about Aaron Judge and Luis Severino — but I’m sure at least part of that is just posturing. [Heyman]
  • 4:31pm ET: The Phillies had a scout watching Ivan Nova on Monday. The Yankees did discuss Cueto with the Reds during Johnny Cueto talks, so it stands to reason he would be available for Cole Hamels as well. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 3:32pm ET: The Tigers called teams today to tell them they are “rebooting” and willing to listen on David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and others. I certainly expect the Yankees to make a run at Price. [Stark]
  • 2:56pm ET: If the Phillies do indeed trade Cole Hamels, it is unlikely to happen today. Any trade would have to wait until Thursday or even Friday as the Phillies mull over offers. [Jayson Stark]
  • 2:23pm ET: The Padres requested shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo in trade talks about Craig Kimbrel, but the Yankees said no. New York is willing to eat the entire $28M left on Kimbrel’s contract, but they won’t surrender top prospects. [Jon Heyman]
  • 11:24pm ET: Mat Latos is apparently off the board. The Marlins are reportedly trading the right-hander (and others) to the Dodgers for prospects. Earlier this week we heard the Yankees had some interest in Latos. [Gordon Wittenmyer]
  • 9:30am ET: The White Sox still have not given any indication they will trade Jeff Samardzija. They Yankees have had their eye on him for a few weeks now. The ChiSox are now only 3.5 games back of a wildcard spot, so they might hold on to Samardzija and go for it, knowing they’ll get at least a draft pick for him after the season. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • The Reds are fielding offers for Aroldis Chapman but are not devoted to trading him because he’s under team control next season. They moved Cueto because they were going to lose him to free agency. The Yankees are said to be open to adding another high-end reliever. [Buster Olney]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Game 99: Bullpen Game

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

In the interest of self-preservation, the Yankees are pushing everyone in their rotation back a day and using a spot sixth starter tonight. Except there’s no spot starter. It’s going to be a bullpen game — Chris Capuano and Adam Warren are expected to throw roughly 50 pitches each, then the rest of the relievers will take over from there. It’s not ideal, but there aren’t any other options right now.

On the bright side, the Yankees have won eight of ten games since the All-Star break and have a nice little seven-game lead in the AL East. The division looked wide-open coming into the season and we all kinda waiting for some team to got hot and run away with things, and would you believe it, that team ended up being the Yankees. Still a lot of season left though. Seven games is a nice lead but a guarantee of nothing. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    LHP Chris Capuano

It was another disgustingly hot day in Arlington — not that the weather in New York has been any better — and the temperatures will again be in the 90s for tonight’s game. Gross. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and for some reason the game will air on FOX Sports 1. Not YES, not WPIX, FOX Sports 1 only. Weird. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Diego Moreno was called up from Triple-A Scranton and Nick Goody was optioned down, the Yankees announced. Moreno had been working as a starter for the RailRiders — though he’s not yet stretched out beyond 55 pitches or so — and is better able to give length tonight if necessary.

Injury Update: Ivan Nova said he expects to throw his regular bullpen session and make his next start after leaving last night’s game with “arm fatigue.” Apparently he’s been told it’s common for a dead arm phase to follow Tommy John surgery.