The Revolving Door of Trusted Middle Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Coming into the 2016 season, the bullpen was an undeniable strength for the Yankees. At least in the late innings, anyway. The trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were basically automatic for the few months they were together. Getting the ball from the starter to those guys was often a challenge, however.

By and large, the middle relief was too often a weakness for the Yankees this past season. It wasn’t just getting the ball from the starter to the end-game guys either. It was getting the job done when those guys weren’t available, or holding the other team down when the Yankees were trailing and the offense was trying to get back into the game. Joe Girardi wound up with a revolving door of trusted “fourth” relievers this year.

The Still Broken Shreve

Man, Spring Training was such a tease. Chasen Shreve had such a horrible finish to last season, a horrible finish everyone hoped was nothing more than fatigue, that when he showed up to Spring Training and dominated, it was easy to think he was back on track. The 26-year-old southpaw allowed one hit and one walk in ten scoreless Grapefruit League innings. He struck out eight. Woo! Too bad it didn’t carry over into the regular season.

Shreve made the Opening Day roster and he was Girardi’s go-to reliever behind the big three. (Big two, really, since Chapman was suspended.) He started his season with six straight scoreless outings, then the runs came. Two in an inning against the Athletics on April 21st. One more against the Rangers five days later. Another two runs four days after that. From April 21st through May 25th, Shreve allowed eleven runs and seven homers (!) in 13.2 innings.

Following a three-run meltdown against the Blue Jays on May 25th, Shreve was placed on the 15-day DL with relatively minor shoulder sprain. He did his rehab, and two and a half weeks later, he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Shreve spent the rest of the season as an up-and-down arm. He was called up and sent down three different times from June 12th through September 1st, when rosters expanded.

Shreve’s best moment of the season came in Kansas City on August 30th. He inherited a one-run lead in the tenth inning, though the contact happy Royals had the bases loaded with one out. Shreve escaped the jam by striking out Kendrys Morales and getting Salvador Perez to fly out harmlessly to center. It was his first career save and two of the biggest outs of the season.

All told, Shreve had a 5.18 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 37 games and 33 innings. His strikeout rate (23.2%) was fine, but there were too many walks (9.2%), too few grounders (44.9%), and way too many homers (2.18 HR/9). The long ball was a problem last year too, remember. Shreve has allowed 15 homers in his last 50.67 innings with the Yankees. That’s one dinger every 3.1 innings or so. Egads.

Shreve was so good the first four months last season that it was worth giving him another shot this year, to see if fatigue really was the root cause of his second half issues. Obviously it wasn’t. He struggled again this season. Basically all summer. Shreve tried different things too. At midseason he shelved his trademark splitter and went with a slider.

Chasen Shreve pitch selection

By the end of the season Shreve was so far down the depth chart that he barely pitched. He appeared in two of the team’s final 19 games. The Yankees were down three runs and seven runs in the two appearances. Girardi didn’t even give Shreve any token “let’s see if we can get him back on track” outings late in September after the Yankees fell out of the race. He was unusable.

The Yankees currently have five healthy lefty relievers on the 40-man roster, and while none are lockdown Andrew Miller types, that depth could make Shreve expendable. Either way, it’s hard to see him carving out a consistent role with the Yankees at this point. Given the entirety of his career, Shreve’s great four months last season are the outlier, not all the problems he’s had since.

A Few Good Weeks From Yates

Kirby. (Presswire)
Kirby. (Presswire)

I’m mad at myself for not seeing it coming. In recent years the Yankees have developed a habit of picking up a scrap heap reliever in the winter who was very easily to overlook, then, before you knew it, he found himself on the Opening Day roster. Turns out the Yankees liked him more than we realized. Guys like Chris Martin and Cody Eppley are perfect examples.

This year that guy was Kirby Yates, who came over from the Indians in a cash deal in January. Yates shoved in camp — he allowed two hits and one walk in eight scoreless innings while striking out eleven — and bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. Incredible. Kirby had a tough start to the season, allowing three runs in his first six outings, before settling into a nice little groove. From April 24th through May 31st, Yates allowed two runs in 14.2 innings.

That stretch combined with Shreve’s meltdown earned Yates a spot as Girardi’s most trusted non-big three reliever. And for a while, he was great. Then June happened. The Blue Jays tagged Kirby for four runs in one-third of an inning on June 1st. Two weeks later the Rockies tagged him for three runs in one-third of an inning. At one point he allowed at least one run in five of six outings. Ouch.

The final straw came on June 27th, when a long rain delay — long as in three hours and 35 minutes (!) — forced Chapman from the game in the ninth inning. The Yankees had a one-run lead but the Rangers had a man on first with no outs. Yates replaced Chapman after the rain delay and allowed four runs before getting three outs. The inning went strikeout, hit batter, hit batter, single, hit batter, fly ball, single, strikeout. Sigh.

The Yankees sent Yates to Triple-A Scranton the next day, and he didn’t return until mid-August. He spent the rest of the season as a low-leverage mop-up guy, and like Shreve, he was very rarely used down the stretch. Kirby appeared in only five of the team’s 30 games in September. He had a 5.23 ERA (3.97 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (27.2%) but a not good everything else (10.3% walks, 43.6% grounders, 1.09 HR/9) in 41 games and 41.1 innings in pinstripes.

Yates was one of the first to go when time came to unclog the 40-man roster after the season. The Yankees dropped him from the roster a few days after the end of the regular season and the Angels claimed him off waivers, so he’s with Anaheim now. His time in pinstripes is over. Like most middle relievers, Yates had his moments with the Yankees, mostly in May, but for the most part his tenure was forgettable. C’est la vie.

The First Late-Season Addition

Layne. (Presswire)
Layne. (Presswire)

The Yankees remade their middle relief unit with two small moves on August 9th. The first of those two moves was a signing. The Yankees inked veteran southpaw Tommy Layne to a Major League contract not long after he was released by the Red Sox. Boston added Fernando Abad at the trade deadline and deemed Layne expendable, so they cut him loose. Not the best series of moves for them.

At the time Shreve was the only lefty in the bullpen — Miller and Chapman were gone by this point — and he was far from reliable, so the Yankees gave Layne a chance. And you know what? He pitched pretty darn well, all things considered. He had a 3.38 ERA (4.83 FIP) in 16 innings overall, but, more importantly, Layne held left-handed hitters to a .147/.237/.147 batting line in his limited time in pinstripes.

Oddly enough, Layne’s biggest outing with the Yankees came against a bunch of righties. It was September 26th in Toronto, and although New York was up four runs in the ninth, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and an error by Dellin Betances. Layne walked in a run and allowed another on a single, but ultimately he escaped the jam thanks in part to his own great play at the plate.

The three batters Layne retired that inning, all with the bases loaded: Josh Donaldson on a fly out to right, Russell Martin on the tapper back out in front of the plate, and Troy Tulowitzki on a fly ball to foul territory. That inning took some gumption, I’d say. Layne earned his pinstripes that inning.

Although he’s already 32 years old, Layne is arbitration-eligible for the first time as a Super Two this offseason. The Yankees control him through 2020, though let’s not think that far ahead yet. Let’s get through 2017 first. MLBTR projects a $1.2M salary for Layne next year, which isn’t nothing, but it’s not enough for the Yankees to consider walking away at the non-tender deadline.

Right now Layne is the team’s best lefty reliever, and he figures to come to Spring Training with an inside track on an Opening Day bullpen spot. I wouldn’t call him a lock for the roster, guys like this can go poof in a hurry, but he’s penciled into a spot for sure.

The Second Late-Season Addition

Parker. (Presswire)
Parker. (Presswire)

A few hours after signing Layne, the Yankees claimed righty Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners. Parker’s one of those guys who reminds you to basically ignore minor league reliever stats. He had a 2.72 ERA (3.12 FIP) with a 37.3% strikeout rate in 39.2 Triple-A innings for Seattle. With the Yankees, he had a 4.96 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 16.1 innings.

To be fair, Parker had two disaster outings with New York that skewed his overall numbers. He allowed nine runs with the Yankees and seven came in two appearances. Parker allowed three runs in one-third of an inning against the Royals on August 29th, and four runs in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays on September 23rd. In his other 15.2 innings, he allowed two runs.

Like Layne, Parker’s biggest moment in pinstripes came when he bailed out Betances during a messy ninth inning against the Blue Jays. It was September 6th and the Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth. Three walks, a wild pitch, and two singles put two runs on the board and loaded the bases with one out. Yikes. Parker took over with the sacks full and got the final two outs. It was … eventful.

I’ve seen the end of that game roughly five thousands times and I still get antsy whenever I see Brett Gardner racing back to the wall because it looks like he has no chance to catch up to the ball. Geez. What a game. That was Parker’s second career save. He got his first with the Cubs back in 2013, in an extra innings game when he was the last guy in the bullpen. That sort of thing. I’m guessing this save was a wee bit more memorable for Blake.

Blake Parker save

Good times, good times. Parker, like Yates, is no longer with the Yankees. I mean exactly like Yates too. Parker was claimed off waivers by the Angels a few days after the end of the regular season. The Yankees were clearing their 40-man roster and the Halos deemed Parker and Yates better than what they had in their bullpen. The two lefties stayed and the two righties are gone. The bullpen circle of life.

Quick Notes: Sabathia, Higashioka, Kaprielian, Waivers

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

Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference this afternoon, and while it brought no major news, he did mention some important stuff. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Sabathia having knee surgery. CC Sabathia is having a “routine cleanup” on his troublesome right knee at some point soon. This has been planned for weeks and it’s not a serious concern.
  • Higashioka going on 40-man. Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40-man roster, Cashman confirmed. Higashioka had a big year in Double-A and Triple-A and forced the issue. He was due to become a minor league free agent after the season.
  • Kaprielian healthy, still trying for AzFL. James Kaprielian is healthy and pitching at max effort, and if all goes well in Instructional League, he’ll report to the Arizona Fall League. He’s officially not on the AzFL roster right now. The league’s website is not correct.
  • Several players on waivers. Without saying who, Cashman acknowledged the Yankees have started their 40-man roster cleanup and placed several players on waivers. We’ll find out the results soon.

I’ll have a full recap of Cashman’s press conference tomorrow. This is only the important stuff.

Update: Both Kirby Yates and Blake Parker were claimed off waivers by the Angels, the Yankees announced. Also, Anthony Swarzak elected free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to Triple-A. So those are the waiver moves Cashman talked about.

Yanks add Severino, five others as first round of call-ups

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees added six players to the active roster today as their first round of September call-ups, the team announced. The six players: Luis Severino, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Kirby Yates, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Holder. It’s safe to assume all six will be with the team and available for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

Severino, Goody, Refsnyder, and Yates were expected to come up. They’ve all gone up-and-down a few times this season and those guys are typically among the first ones called up when rosters expand. Severino is going to pitch in relief and chances are he’ll assume a prominent late-inning role right away. He was in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, so he’s good for three or four innings at a time, if necessary.

Holder is the most interesting call-up. Earlier this week it was reported the Yankees would not call anyone up before they are Rule 5 Draft eligible, which Holder is not. They have a massive 40-man roster crunch coming after the season, and adding Holder before it was necessary would further clog things up. Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman he decide to call Holder up because he gives the team the best chance to win.

“I changed my mind,” said the GM. “I wrestled back and forth with it, but the bottom line is we are 2.5 out with a month to go and (Holder) is better than some guys we have already promoted. He’s earned the right to be here. It was a roster issue that he wasn’t coming. But this will get his feet wet. He will get some exposure and we will find out what he is capable of.”

Young was acquired earlier this week to serve as the designated pinch-runner. The only time we’ll see Young play the field or hit is in the late innings of blowouts. Both Young and Holder had to be added to the 40-man roster. One takes Ben Gamel‘s spot, and to clear the other, Nick Rumbelow was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day DL. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Not sure why they didn’t just transfer Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL. Whatevs.

Right now the only healthy players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues are Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, J.R. Graham, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Mason Williams. Mitchell, Pazos, and Williams all missed significant time with injury this season, so they’ll remain in Triple-A and continue to get regular playing time. I’m sure most of these guys will be called up later this month.

Game 131: Tanaka Tuesday

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

The last two games have thrown a wrench into the Yankees’ plans to get back into the postseason race, though at least tonight they have their best starter on the mound. And their best relievers are well-rested too. With any luck, the Yankees will only have to use two pitchers this evening. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Now, the bad news: it’s been raining in Kansas City. The forecast says there will be scattered thunderstorms for most of the evening as well. It’s not supposed to dry up until 10pm ET or so. We might be in for a delay, but hopefully not. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have called up Chasen Shreve, the team announced. Kirby Yates was sent down to rookie Pulaski to make room on the roster. Pulaski’s season ends Thursday, so the Yankees will be able to call Yates back up Friday and circumvent the ten-day rule. Rosters expand Thursday.

Game 120: End of the Homestand

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

This homestand felt longer than it really was, didn’t it? This was only a six-game homestand, but before that three-game swing through Boston, the Yankees had a five-game homestand. So eleven of their last 14 games have been in the Bronx. I have no idea where I’m going with this. Moving on …

The Yankees suffered a pretty brutal loss last night and the best thing about baseball is that it gives you a chance to turn the page quickly. They’re back at with the Blue Jays this afternoon, in the series finale. A win means a series win and a loss means a series loss. The Yankees need as many series wins as possible right now. It’s already Game 120. There’s not that much time left. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. CF Aaron Hicks
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a wonderful day for baseball here in New York. The unbearable heat and humid has finally subsided, so it’s a pleasant 84 degrees this afternoon with a nice breeze. Nice day to spend at the park. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Catcher Update: Joe Girardi told reporters Sanchez will be the primary catcher going forward and Brian McCann will be the DH. Just like that, McCann goes from being a good hitting catcher to a subpar DH.

Roster Move: The Yankees sent Chasen Shreve down to Triple-A Scranton and recalled Kirby Yates, the team announced. Anthony Swarzak remains on the roster for reasons I can’t understand at this time.

Yankeemetrics: Riding the .500 roller coaster [June 27-30]

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Mother Nature 1, Yankees 0
In a season filled with crushing losses, embarrassing performances, horrible blown leads and frustrating games, Monday’s contest against the Rangers just might surpass them all. It will certainly go down in the record books as one of the most surreal games played at Yankee Stadium, and likely one of the most deflating defeats in recent years. Joe Girardi summed it in his postgame comments to reporters:

“It’s hard for me to understand what happened tonight, how it got to this point. But it did, and we lost.”

The two teams played through a rainstorm that got progressively worse during the night, until the umpires finally called for the tarp in the ninth inning with Aroldis Chapman on the mound to protect a 6-5 Yankees advantage.

chapman rain
(Getty)

When the delay finally ended 3 hours and 35 minutes later, the closer was on the bench and Kirby Yates was in to save the game.

Instead, he suffered an unprecedented meltdown on the mound, coughing up the lead as he hit three batters and surrendered three runs before getting the final out of the ninth.

Yates became the first pitcher in more than 100 years to hit at least three batters, pitch no more than one inning and get tagged with the loss. The last guy to do it was Earl Moore of the Buffalo Buffeds in a Federal League game on June 17, 1914 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

As unwatchable as the Yankees middle relief has been in the past few years, they’ve still maintained a lockdown back of the bullpen to close out games. So what happens when you’re forced to call upon that dicey non-Big 3 reliever to try and seal a win? You get an incredibly rare loss for the Yankees.

This was the first time the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the ninth inning since June 1, 2014 against the Twins. They had won 160 straight games in that situation, including a 34-0 mark this year and an 81-0 mark last season.

The Hangover
The best thing to be said about Tuesday’s lifeless 7-1 defeat was that it only took 2 hours and 37 minutes. Alas, here’s a few more words about the utterly forgettable loss.

CC Sabathia made one mistake in the first inning — a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre — but then retired 18 of 21 batters in the second through seventh innings. The large lefty unraveled in the eighth inning, however, as the first four guys reached base before he was pulled from the game.

It was the first time all season he threw a pitch in the eighth inning, and predictably, things didn’t go well as Sabathia was ultimately charged with six runs in seven innings. He has allowed 11 earned runs in his last two starts (11 1/3 innings), compared four earned runs allowed in his previous seven starts (44 innings).

It appears that Sabathia is experiencing some regression in his fly ball luck. Through his first 11 starts of the season he allowed two homers and had an incredibly low homer-to-flyball ratio of 3.1 percent. He’s now surrendered a homer in each of his last two starts, and while his fly ball rate remained unchanged, his homer-to-flyball ratio shot up to 14.3 percent in that span.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The Miracle on 161st Street and River Avenue
Buried in the standings and left for dead by much of the New York media, the Yankees pulled off arguably the most stunning win of the season — and perhaps its biggest so far — on Wednesday night, staging an epic comeback for the ages to beat the Rangers 9-7.

Trailing by five runs with five outs to go and three runs with two outs to go, the Yankees capped off a furious ninth inning rally with a pair of dramatic home runs, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and breathing life into a team on the brink of irrelevance.

The win came with a few notable milestones:

  • it was their largest comeback win of the season
  • it was their first win this season when trailing entering the ninth inning (and it came less than 48 hours after they lost their first game in two years when leading entering the ninth inning!)
  • it was the first time they erased a deficit of at least four runs in the ninth inning or later since Sept. 22, 2012 against Oakland
  • it was their third win when trailing by four or more runs in the seventh inning or later in the past two weeks, after having only two such wins in the previous three seasons combined

The two biggest blows came from the bats of Brian McCann, who tied the game with a towering three-run homer in the final frame, and Didi Gregorius, who won the game with his first career walk-off shot. If that sounds like a rare type of rally … you’d be correct.

It was the first time since at least 1930 that the Yankees hit a game-tying homer when trailing by at least three runs in the ninth inning and then ended the game with a walk-off homer.

McCann became just the fourth Yankee in the past 70 seasons with a game-tying homer when facing a deficit of at least three runs at Yankee Stadium. He joins the illustrious group of Shelley Duncan (Aug. 15, 2007), Tino Martinez (July 2, 1998), and Joe DiMaggio (July 31, 1937 and Aug. 29, 1940).

Didi also put himself in some nice company with his historic blast. Only four other Yankee shortstops have hit a walk-off homer in the past 85 seasons: Derek Jeter (April 5, 2005 and Game 4 of the 2001 World Series), Gene Michael (June 23, 1971), Mickey Mantle (July 22, 1954 in a game he started in center field and then moved to shortstop in the ninth inning) and Phil Rizzuto (April 23, 1941).

(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)
(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Be Like Mike
What’s better than a walk-off win against the best team in the AL? How about two of them in a row. The Yankees beat the Rangers, 2-1, on Thursday afternoon thanks to a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth that scored Chase Headley from third base.

This was just the second time in the last 50 years that the Yankees enjoyed a walk-off win via a passed ball; the other game was April 27, 2012 versus the Tigers.

It was also their second straight victory in walk-off fashion (duh), third on this nine-game homestand (also June 22 vs. Rockies) and fourth of the season. The last time the Yankees had three walk-off wins in a span of fewer than 10 days was May 15-23, 2009, when they had back-to-back-to-back (!) walk-off wins against the Twins and one six days later against the Phillies.

The uplifting victory wouldn’t have been possible without another stellar performance from Michael Pineda, who finished with 12 strikeouts and one run allowed on two hits. It was the 13th time in last 100 years that a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 12 batters while giving up no more than two hits and one run — but only once before had that pitcher also not been credited with the win, like Pineda. On April 11, 1997, David Cone tossed seven scoreless innings and had 12 strikeouts against the A’s in a game the Yankees lost 3-1.

Pineda capped off an excellent June (2.75 ERA in six starts) with perhaps his two best outings of the season: a two-hit, one-run, eight-strikeout effort on June 25 against the Twins and Thursday’s two-hit, one-run, 12-strikeout masterpiece. He’s the third Yankee in the last century to strike out at least eight batters and allow no more than two hits in back-to-back starts, matching David Cone (1997) and Al Downing (1965).

His stuff was especially nasty when he got into two-strike counts, as he induced a swing-and-miss on strike three for all 12 of his punch outs. Pineda is just the fourth pitcher in baseball this season to record 12 swinging strikeouts in a game, along with Clayton Kershaw (12 on June 10), Vince Velasquez (13 on April 14) and Max Scherzer (14 on May 11). No other Yankee pitcher has done that in a game since at least 2008 (the Pitch f/x era).

Game 76: If you’re going to lose, at least have the decency to lose before 2am

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Man did last night’s game suck. The worst part about it was that you could see the loss coming a mile away too, yet we had to sit through that awful rain delay anyway. Not the best baseball watching experience I’ve had.

Anyway, tonight is a new night. That’s the good thing about baseball. It gives you a chance to forget about those ugly losses pretty quickly because they play every damn day. The Yankees are trying to get back to .500 again (lol) so I guess a lot is on the line tonight? I dunno. I’m out of game thread ideas. Here’s the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. LF Aaron Hicks
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

Bad news: there’s more rain in the forecast tonight. It doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy, but that’s what the internet told be last night, and it lied like hell. I guess we’ll just have to see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET. You can watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees called up Conor Mullee and optioned Kirby Yates to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. No surprise there. I didn’t realize Yates had an option left. How about that.