Archive for Joba Chamberlain
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.
The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.
With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.
The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.
Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.
The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip – and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).
All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.
Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.
The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.
Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.
Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.
The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.
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The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.
Via George King: The Rangers have been scouting Joba Chamberlain, specifically Monday’s outing against the Cardinals. Don Welke, a senior special assistant to GM Jon Daniels, was in attendance for that one. Joba allowed a single and was clocked at 92-95 mph (according to King) in an otherwise uneventful inning against St. Louis, and so far this spring he’s allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings.
Chamberlain, 27, will be a free agent after the season, and non-elite middle reliever/setup men usually don’t fetch much in trades when they’re a year away from free agency. The Yankees have some right-handed relief depth thanks to Shawn Kelley and Cody Eppley, both of whom are currently projected to start the year in Triple-A, but the Rangers are really thin in the bullpen until Joakim Soria returns from Tommy John surgery. Perhaps Joba could be part of a package for Mike Olt — who would be perfect for the Yankees even though he’s gotten more than a little overrated lately — with the Yankees kicking in a good prospect or two. Probably a pipe dream, but who knows.
For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Rangers are open to trading outfielder Craig Gentry. The 29-year-old has hit .279/.344/.355 (88 wRC+) with two homers and 32 steals in 476 career plate appearances, including a .294/.364/.392 (104 wRC+) line against righties. Gentry is basically a right-handed Brett Gardner, offering speed, little power, injury concerns, and ab0ve-average defense. He’s not in Gardner’s class with the glove, however. Gentry is under control through 2017 and is a much more reasonable target than Olt.
I thought we were beyond this. The whole “should Joba Chamberlain be a starter or reliever?” debate died a slow and ugly death a few years back, after the Yankees took matters into their own hands and officially declared the young right-hander a full-time reliever. There would be no more bouncing back and forth, no more Joba Rules, no more pitch counts, nothing. He will be a reliever and that’s what he’s done since.
Yesterday, despite not being asked any questions about the topic, Joba told reporters he still believes he has what it takes to be a starter in this league. Here is his full quote, courtesy of Mark Feinsand…
“This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and (PR director Jason Zillo) is going to be mad at me, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, do you think you have the capability to start? Yes. Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes.
“I guess I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I’m good enough to do both. I’ve proven that I can do both. Whatever it is, if I close, I want to be one or the other. I’ve been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere – wherever that’s at – I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them.”
There are two things going on here, the first of which is pretty simple: of course Joba thinks he can start. Pretty much every reliever thinks he can start, especially relievers who are still a few years away from their 30th birthday. He’s confident in his talent and believes he can handle a more important role, which is perfectly normal. It would be a little disappointing if Joba came out and said he’s content as a reliever and doesn’t think he’s capable of pitching in someone’s rotation. You always want your players striving for more, to be better.
Secondly, free agency is looming and starters make an awful lot more money than their bullpen brethren. It’s not close either. The biggest free agent reliever contract in baseball history (Jonathan Papelbon) is nearly identical to the third largest free agent starter contract given out this past winter (Edwin Jackson), nevermind in baseball history. Being a starter pays much more because they’re simply more important. You know this, I know this, Joba and his agent knows this.
With the obvious caveat that there is still eight months worth of baseball to be played between now and free agency, it seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season. That makes me sad. He’s made it very obvious we wants to start and the Yankees won’t give him that opportunity. That last part is very clear. Ivan Nova and his 4.41 ERA in 62 career starts is in camp competing for a rotation spot this spring while Joba and his 4.18 ERA in 43 career starts is not. Think about that. Nova has gotten 19 more starts (and counting!) to prove himself than Joba.
Anyway, some team is going to give Chamberlain a chance to start next year. He’s still young enough (only 27) with good stuff and former top prospect shine, which is the kind of package that typically has fans clamoring for their team to swoop in. I’m guessing Joba will get a contract like Carlos Villanueva’s (two years, $10M) with the promise that he’ll compete for a rotation spot in camp with the bullpen as a fallback option. Maybe his quasi-hometown Royals will give him that deal, or maybe it’ll be Padres and their big ballpark. I could see the Rays pulling off a move like that, the Rangers as well. Either way, Joba’s days with the Yankees are numbered because there is still, six years later, a difference of opinion about his role.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
7:43pm: The Yankees and Joba Chamberlain have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract, the team announced. No word on the money, but MLBTR projects a $1.8M salary for 2013. The projections were dead-on for Brett Gardner ($2.8M) and way off for Phil Hughes ($7.15M). Joba, 27, will be a free agent next offseason.
Tom asks: I’ve seen people suggest that Joba Chamberlain‘s career is a failure with the reasoning that when he was a prospect, he was promised to be something so special that even considering the attrition rate for prospects, he should have turned out better. Are you happy with Joba’s apparent role now as a good relief pitcher?
Oh no, he’s absolutely not a failure. Joba was selected with the 41st overall pick in the draft and here’s the full list of players taken with that pick who have been above replacement level in their career.
|1973||Red Sox||Fred Lynn (minors)||OF||46.7|
|1980||Cardinals||Dan Plesac (minors)||LHP||15.9|
|2006||Yankees||*Joba Chamberlain (minors)||RHP||6.5|
|1982||Phillies||Lance McCullers (minors)||RHP||4.7|
|1991||Tigers||*Trever Miller (minors)||LHP||4.2|
|1965||Athletics||Bob Stinson (minors)||OF||3.5|
|1983||Reds via Yankees||*Joe Oliver (minors)||C||2.2|
|1970||Giants||Butch Metzger (minors)||RHP||1.0|
|2007||Athletics||*Sean Doolittle (minors)||1B||0.8|
|1990||Red Sox via Braves||*Frankie Rodriguez (minors)||RHP||0.4|
That’s it, ten guys and Joba is currently the third best with a chance to climb into second before things are all said and done. The Yankees have gotten plenty of return on their draft pick and $1.1M signing bonus, so there’s no way he can be considered a failure.
Now, being a disappointment is another matter entirely. Joba will billed as an ace-in-waiting — “Chamberlain fits the No. 1 starter profile in nearly every way,” wrote Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him as the third best prospect in baseball prior to 2008 — as a prospect and he has not delivered on that promise, so in that sense he’s a disappointment. There’s wasted talent here in that he’s been used primarily as a reliever when he had the stuff to start, but the team played a big role in that obviously.
The Yankees gave Joba only 33 full/unrestricted starts (3.88 ERA, ~4.00 FIP) and ten pitch-count limited starts to prove his worth in the rotation in 2008 and 2009. As a 23-year-old in 2009, he pitched to a 4.34 ERA (4.43 FIP) in 24 starts and 130.2 innings before being limited during the final month of the season, when he got hit pretty hard. He didn’t light the world on fire from April through August, but that performance in the AL East at that age doesn’t strike me as something that warrants being banished to the bullpen for good. That’s what happened though. It is what it is.
Joba set the bar crazy high with his out of this world 2007 debut and that led to unrealistic expectations that were impossible to meet. He also didn’t do himself any favors through the years by showing up to camp out of shape and getting arrested for DUI, so I don’t want to make it seem like I’m absolving him of blame for the failure to reach his ceiling. I wanted Joba to get more time to show what he could do as a starter but that didn’t happen, so I’m disappointed. In no way is having one decent year as a starter and 3+ years as a good to great reliever a failure though. Not at all.
The Yankees opened the season with what appeared to be an enviable amount of relief depth, plus there was more on the way at midseason. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans…
When the season started, everyone knew the 27-year-old Chamberlain was going to be a non-factor until at least midseason. The right-hander blew out his elbow in early-June of last year, and the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically 12 months. He talked about coming back in May while the team cautioned that it might not be until July, but all of the speculation became moot when Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while jumping on trampolines with his son at a children’s play place in late-March.
Surgery and a lengthy rehab process followed, and it wasn’t until mid-July that he pitched in his first minor league rehab game. The Yankees weren’t counting on him to return this year but Joba insisted he would be back, and sure enough he was activated off the DL on July 31st. He was scheduled to make one final Double-A rehab start that night, but the club had traded Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee earlier in the afternoon and didn’t want to play with a short bullpen.
Joba was terrible early on. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings in his first appearance and ten runs in his first eleven appearances (10.1 innings). His fastball hummed in around 94-96 and his slider was sharp, but his command was non-existent. That’s pretty typical for guys coming off elbow reconstruction. The good news is that Joba finished very strong, allowing just one unearned run in his final eleven appearances and 10.1 innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. He got hit hard in the postseason and I mean literally — the barrel of a broken bat hit him square in the right elbow and kept him out for a few days.
Although the Yankees did get 20.2 late-season innings out of him, 2012 was essentially a lost year for Joba. The ankle injury delayed his return and when he did get back on the mound, he wasn’t anything special (4.35 ERA and 4.01 FIP). It’s encouraging that he finished well and I suppose it’s good news that missing all that time due to injury will keep his salary down next year, but I think the Yankees would have preferred to have Chamberlain healthy as soon as possible and contributing to the bullpen.
Joba’s injury last season opened the door for Wade, who pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) in the second half after being plucked off the scrap heap. The 29-year-old Wade was expected to be an important middle innings cog coming into 2012, giving the club solid right-handed depth behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. He was stellar early on (1.46 ERA and 1.15 FIP in his first ten outings and 12.1 innings) and took on a setup role when Rivera and Robertson went down with injuries in early-May.
Wade pitched fairly well as the de facto right-handed setup man, allowing just six earned runs (3.60 ERA and 4.30 FIP) in his next 17 outings and 15 innings, but the wheels came completely off the bus in mid-June. He allowed one run in three straight appearances from June 16th-22nd, then got hammered for four runs in 0.2 innings by the Indians four days later. Three days after that, the White Sox crushed him for six runs in 2.1 innings. Joe Girardi let him wear that one, leaving Wade in to throw a career-high (by far) 58 pitches.
The Yankees had little choice but to send the soft-tossing right-hander to Triple-A, and outside of one-game appearance as the 26th man during a doubleheader against the Red Sox (three runs in 0.2 innings), he didn’t return until rosters expanded in September. Wade’s solid work in the minors (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) was unfortunately not an indication that his command/mechanical issues were a thing of the past. He surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings during the season’s final month, but he deserves props for throwing a perfect 14th inning in the crazy extra-innings comeback win over the Athletics.
All told, Wade pitched to a 6.46 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 39 innings for the Yankees this year. His strikeout (8.77 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (1.85 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) rates were dynamite, but batters absolutely punished him whenever he caught too much of the plate with his soft stuff. That happened far too often once the calendar flipped over to June. The Yankees designated Wade for assignment in early-October and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers a week later, ending his brief tenure in New York. Between get picked off the scrap heap last summer and falling apart in the middle of this season, he gave the team about a full season’s worth of solid relief work (2.28 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 67 innings).
Over at MLBTR, Matt Swartz published his projected salaries for this winter’s arbitration-eligible players. His model was accurate to within 10% for players who did not sign multi-year deals last year — including just a 5% error for the Yankees — and after a summer of tweaks and refinements, he could be even closer this year.
The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players to deal with this offseason — Chris Dickerson and Frankie Cervelli fell just short of qualifying — though Casey McGehee is a prime non-tender candidate. The biggest expected raise belongs to Phil Hughes, who should see his salary jump from $3.2M to $5.7M. David Robertson and Boone Logan figure to get ~$1M raises while Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain are in line for negligible pay increases following their injury-shortened years. Jayson Nix still projects to get a six-figure salary and could be non-tendered as well. Without McGehee, the six-man arbitration class will cost the Yankees approximately $16.7M. Not too bad at all.
11:41pm: X-rays came back negative and Joba has a right elbow contusion. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. Good news, that looked scary.
11:23pm: Joba Chamberlain left tonight’s game in the 12th inning after getting hit in the right elbow with a broken bat. The barrel hit him square and the TBS broadcast showed a big welt right on the tip of his elbow. Joba threw a few warm-up pitches and gave a thumbs up, but Joe Girardi (rightfully) lifted him from the game anyway.
It’s easy to make too much of one game in baseball, especially when you’re talking about a game like yesterday’s. The Yankees clobbered the Orioles to wrap up an important ten-game stretch in which they went just 4-6, but winning that final game in blowout fashion heading into the off-day sure has a way of making everyone feel like things are going to be okay. The club isn’t out of the woods yet though, far from it.
With 22 games left to play, the Yankees still have a number of issues to sort through. The middle relief remains shaky, Mark Teixeira‘s calf is going to keep him out for at least another few games, a number of other key lineup cogs are slumping, CC Sabathia still isn’t pitching as expected, and both the Orioles and Rays remain hot on the Bombers’ tail. Yesterday’s win was both stress-relieving and encouraging, with signs that maybe a few of those issues are starting to sort themselves out.
Granderson’s extended slump has been well-documented around this parts. He took a 4-for-34 skid into yesterday’s game and was hitting .207/.297/.410 with a 31.7% strikeout rate in his last 300 plate appearances. That’s basically half a season worth of below-average production from the club’s second-best hitter a year ago. Curtis simply wasn’t doing enough, which is why Joe Girardi did not start him either Saturday or Sunday against the Orioles.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to swing the bat,” he said to reporters yesterday. “I feel like I’m getting balls to hit and putting good swings on them, but I wasn’t able to do much with them for whatever reason. It’s just baseball being baseball.”
Granderson came off the bench yesterday and did something he was unable to do the day before: he produced. Three hits in three at-bats, including a solo homer to center and a two-run double to right. The two-run bloop to shallow left off a left-hander was his softest hit of the day but arguably his most impactful. It was just his third three-hit game of the season and they felt like his first three hits in about two months. If he’s able to build off this and strong contributing more to the offense, it’ll be a huge during the final weeks of the schedule. Curtis can do a lot of damage when right.
The Yankees have been looking for a reliable non-matchup middle reliever to couple with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for about three months now, and there was a lot of hope that Joba would be that guy once he came off the DL. He was anything but reliable at first, allowing seven runs on 20 baserunners in 6.2 innings during his first seven appearances. The stuff was there, the mid-to-high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, but he was making way too many location mistakes. That’s not uncommon for guys coming off Tommy John surgery.
Very quietly though, Joba has been rounded back into form. Yesterday’s six-batter, five-out, four-strikeout appearance put an exclamation point on a road trip that featured 4.1 strong innings. He allowed one hit during the trip, a solo homer to Mark Reynolds on Thursday. Reynolds has been clobbering Yankees’ pitching all year, so it’s not like Chamberlain’s alone here. Other than that, he walked one, punched out eight, and generated 14 swings and misses out of 76 total pitches (18.4%). This doesn’t mean he’ll turn into another dominant late-inning arm or anything, but Joba has shown signs of shaking off the rust — he told reporters yesterday that he made a slight mechanical adjustment as well — and has started to assume more responsibility in a bullpen that needs as much help as it can get.
This one kinda goes hand-in-hand in with the last guy. Wade was dynamite in April and May before completely collapsing in June, to the point where you had to wonder if he was even salvageable. He was that bad. Wade spent a little more than two months in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) before returning as a September call-up. In two appearances this month, Wade has retired all eleven men he faced, include six in two innings yesterday. He looked an awful lot like the guy he was last year and earlier this year against the Orioles.
It’s easy to write someone like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an above-average reliever. He doesn’t come out of the bullpen throwing gas with a knockout breaking ball, he relies on changing speeds and locating with a variety of offspeed pitches. He’s the Freddy Garcia of relief pitchers. Expecting Wade to return to his previous level of effectiveness is probably unrealistic, but these two most recent looks are encouraging at the very least. If he can step back up and give the team another reliable right-handed reliever for those middle innings, it’ll be a huge addition down the stretch.
This isn’t exclusive to Sunday’s game but is worth mentioning. The Yankees put together late rallies in three of the four games against the Orioles, including the two losses. Five eighth inning runs on Thursday tied the game before the bullpen blew it, then Saturday’s two-run ninth inning rally was cut short at one when first base ump Jerry Meals blew the call on a not so bang-bang play. Two runs in the seventh and five runs in the eighth put yesterday’s game out of reach. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what inning the runs are scored in as long as the Yankees push enough across to win, but stringing together hits and scoring multiple runs in an inning had been an issue up until this weekend.
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As I said, one big win has a way of making you forget about all of the team’s problems for at least a day. Granderson has shown flashes of busting out of his slump before so maybe this is just another tease. Relievers and their performances are fickle, so who knows what Joba and Wade can contribute going forward, if anything. If nothing else, at least we saw some positive signs in the finale against Baltimore, which is a lot more than what we had in previous weeks.