The Spare Part Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Bleier. (Presswire)
Bleier. (Presswire)

The active player portion of our 2016 season review comes to a close today with the random pitchers pretty much no one expected to see in pinstripes this summer. There are a few of these guys every year, and really, every team needs them. Sometimes the best option is to call up a veteran with no long-term future in the organization so you can run him into the ground for a few weeks.

That sounds harsh, but it happens all around the league, and these guys would rather chew up undesirable innings in the big leagues than sit in the minors. These guys aren’t kids. They’re journeymen either trying to hang on and extend their careers, or get to the big leagues for the first time and lock in that sweet affordable health care for life. Here are the random journeyman relievers who found themselves with the Yankees in 2016.

Richard Bleier

None of these spare part arms had more success this year than Bleier, who the Yankees signed as a minor league free agent last winter. The 29-year-old bounced from the Rangers to the Blue Jays to the Nationals in recent years before hooking on with New York. He started the season in Triple-A Scranton, as expected, then received his first big league call-up in late May.

Bleier had been a starting pitcher pretty much his entire career, and that was his role early in the season with the RailRiders, but the Yankees needed him in relief. Joe Girardi used Bleier as kind of a Swiss Army reliever. He was used as a left-on-left matchup guy, as a one-inning reliever, or as a multi-inning mop-up man. Bleier faced as few as one and as many as 14 batters during his 23 total appearances with the Yankees.

Believe it or not, the first of Bleier’s two stints in New York lasted nearly three months. He was called up on May 26th and not sent down until August 9th. That’s a span of 66 team games. And in those 66 team games, Bleier made only 16 appearances. That’s a pace of 39 appearances per 162 games. So yeah, Bleier was a very rarely used low leverage reliever. In those 16 appearances he had a 3.38 ERA (2.70 FIP) in a whopping 13.1 innings.

The Yankees sent Bleier down in August to get stretched back before bringing him back when rosters expanded in September. He actually had to wait until September 9th to come back. Bleier wasn’t among the first wave of call-ups. The southpaw’s best outing of the season came on September 12th, when he hurled four scoreless and hitless innings of relief against the Dodgers. No video of this performance exists, so you have to take my word for it.

Bleier closed out his season with a scoreless September, and towards the end of the year he seemed to work his way into the Circle of Trust™. Four of his final five appearances came in close games. Bleier finished the season with a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 23 innings, and as per the finesse lefty rulebook, he had a low strikeout rate (14.1%), a low walk rate (4.4%), and a high ground ball rate (54.1%). Bleier is still on the 40-man roster, and while I would never say a soon-to-be 30-year-old journeyman’s spot is safe, he’s not at the front of the DFA line either.

Phil Coke

The Yankees had a little 2009 reunion going on for a while in Scranton. The team signed Nick Swisher as a backup backup (backup?) first baseman and stashed him in Triple-A for a while, and, in late April, they also brought in Phil Coke and sent him to Scranton too. Coke was pitching in an independent league at the time and the Yankees were already running short on pitching depth, so the veteran lefty plugged a hole.

Coke, now 34, made two appearances with the RailRiders before the Yankees decided to call him up when CC Sabathia went down with his groin injury. Coke made three relief appearances with the big league team, allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits and four walks in six innings, and struck out only one. He did give up one home run, but sadly it was a line drive, so Coke didn’t point up like it was a routine fly ball. Would have liked to have seen that for old time’s sake.

The Yankees dropped Coke from the roster after that game and he spent almost the entire rest of the season in Triple-A. He was pretty good for the RailRiders, pitching to a 2.96 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 70 innings spread across eleven starts and nine relief appearances. Coke tossed two perfect innings in Scranton’s win in the Triple-A Championship Game.

Believe it or not, one team was so impressed by Coke’s work this season that they actually traded for him in September. Following the Triple-A title game, the Yankees sent him to the Pirates in a cash trade. Coke threw four scoreless innings in three games with Pittsburgh. He became a free agent after the season, and apparently Coke recently signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Can’t say I expected to write a Phil Coke review blurb this season, but here we are.

Tyler Olson

Olson. (Presswire)
Olson. (Presswire)

Olson, 27, is best known as the other guy the Yankees received in the Ronald Torreyes trade with the Dodgers. It was Torreyes and Olson for Rob Segedin. Olson has a classic lefty specialist skill set, right down to the mid-80s fastball and funky delivery, yet the Yankees had him open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Weird move, but whatever, it’s Triple-A. Who cares.

Getting Olson stretched out came in handy in mid-April, when he was called up to the big leagues to serve as an extra mop-up man. In his only appearance with the Yankees, Olson allowed two runs in 2.2 innings against the Mariners, the team that originally drafted and developed him. The Yankees lost the game by six runs. They sent Olson back down to Triple-A immediately, then eventually designated him for assignment in June. He went from the Yankees to the Royals to the Indians on waivers, but alas, Cleveland didn’t call him up in September. No AL championship ring for Olson. Womp womp.

Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak. (Presswire)
Swarzak. (Presswire)

Olson was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Swarzak, who the Yankees signed to a minor league contract last offseason. The 31-year-old right-hander had a 3.86 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 46.2 innings with the RailRiders. He was called up to serve as the team’s veteran innings eating low-leverage reliever, or so we thought.

Swarzak’s first few weeks in pinstripes were fine (two runs in 7.1 innings), and in hindsight, that’s probably the worst thing that could have happened. Girardi started to give him some more responsibility and it cost the Yankees games. Swarzak made ten appearances from June 22nd through July 30th, and he allowed at least one run in seven of those ten appearances. Oy vey.

In mid-August, when the Yankees were making a spirited run towards a postseason spot, Swarzak played a major role in two crushing losses. On August 16th, he allowed four runs in two-thirds of an innings against the Blue Jays to help the Yankees blow a 6-0 lead.

Can’t help but wonder how that game would have turned out had the lengthy rain delay not forced Michael Pineda from the game after five scoreless innings and only 68 pitches. But still, maybe get more than two outs before allowing four runs with a 6-0 lead?

Because that wasn’t bad enough, Girardi called on Swarzak to help protect a two-run lead against the Mariners on August 22nd. There were two outs in the inning, but Seattle had runners on second and third with the powerful Mike Zunino at the plate. He hammered Swarzak’s sixth pitch of the night out of the park for a go-ahead three-run home run. The Yankees went on to lose the game.

After the game, Girardi said he went to Swarzak in that spot because he “liked his slider,” which I’m pretty sure is a sentence never uttered before or since about Swarzak. Baseball is a team sport and no loss can ever truly be blamed on one player, but yeah, Swarzak really blew those games. In fact, his performance in the Seattle game was the team’s eighth costliest pitching appearance of the season in terms of WPA. That’s out 645 total pitching appearances by the Yankees in 2016.

The Yankees placed Swarzak on the disabled list with a shoulder issue following that game against the Mariners. He remained sidelined close to a month before returning in late September. Swarzak appeared in just one more game the rest of the season, tossing two scoreless mop-up innings against the Orioles in Game 160. He finished the season with a 5.52 ERA (6.11 FIP) in 26 games and 31 innings in pinstripes. Swarzak elected free agency after being removed from the 40-man roster after the season. Let us never speak of this again.

Game 152: Finish the Sweep

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Amazingly, the Yankees have just one three-game sweep this season. It was two weeks ago against the Blue Jays. Tonight they have a chance to finish a three-game sweep of the Rays, a team they did beat three straight times earlier this month. That was part of a four-game series though. With a 2.5-game deficit and four teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, and only eleven games to play, every game is a must-win from here on out. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 2B Donovan Solano
    RHP Luis Cessa

Another cloudy and humid day in St. Petersburg. The weather is always great in Tropicana Field though. Tonight’s series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Trade!: The Yankees traded Phil Coke to the Pirates for cash earlier today, the team announced. Coke was not on the 40-man roster. The Triple-A season ended Tuesday and the Yankees weren’t going to call him up, so they turned him into some extra cash.

The Yankees are running out of starting pitching at the worst possible time

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the third time in the last five games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher failed to complete five innings last night. The Dodgers contact-bombed Bryan Mitchell — he got only three swings and misses out of 47 pitches — for eight hits and six runs (two earned) in only 2.1 innings. That came three days after Michael Pineda couldn’t finish five innings with a five-run lead and four days after CC Sabathia struggled to complete four innings.

The rotation outside Masahiro Tanaka has been a problem most of the season. The staff doesn’t have a 4.58 ERA (4.37 FIP) by accident. Not 143 games into the season. Remove Tanaka from the mix and all the other starters have a 5.04 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 626.1 innings. That’s 626.1 innings of meh. Sabathia and some others had their moments earlier this season, but, by and large, the rotation has been a liability, not a strength.

Rosters have expanded and the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers, so they have enough arms to soak up whatever innings need to be soaked up. Of course, no manager actually wants to use his September call-up relievers, at least not this often, including Joe Girardi. Every manager wants their starter to hand the ball off to their usual late-inning relievers. The Yankees haven’t been able to do that much lately, and there’s no help coming for two reasons.

1. There’s no one left to call up in Triple-A. The Yankees have more or less exhausted their rotation depth at this point. Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green getting hurt after Ivan Nova was traded really thinned out the team’s depth. Joe Girardi admitted yesterday they originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell more time in Triple-A in the wake of his toe injury, but there was a need in the rotation due to Green’s injury, so they called him up.

The next best rotation option at this point is probably Richard Bleier, or maybe Phil Coke, who has done a nice job in the Triple-A Scranton rotation of late. Dietrich Enns is bumping up against his innings limit and has already been moved to the bullpen. Adding Jordan Montgomery to the 40-man roster a year earlier than necessary so he can make something like three starts late in the season is crappy roster management. Bleier or Coke it is, and that’s not reassuring at all.

De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

2. There’s not much of a trade market either. The Yankees and every other team can still make trades through the trade waivers process, though whoever they acquire won’t be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s fine. They goal right now is to get to the postseason, that’s it. Right now cobbling together a postseason rotation is a problem the Yankees would be happy to deal with.

What does the starting pitcher trade market look like in September? Bleak. I’m guessing the only pitchers available are impending free agents on bad teams. That means players like Jorge De La Rosa, Andrew Cashner, and Jhoulys Chacin. Normally I’d say just stick with Luis Cessa and Mitchell, but you know what? If all it costs is a fringe prospect or cash, give me one of those guys as an extra starter for the postseason push. I’d rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him, you know?

* * *

Point is, there are no impact pitchers to be found on the trade market. Not on the trade market and likely not in the farm system either. The Yankees’ very best arms are in the big leagues right now. That’s good from a “this is the best possible team they have” perspective and bad from a “this is the best possible team they have?” perspective. You know what I mean.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, what you see if what you’re going to get with the Yankees. If they’re going to do the improbable a qualify for the playoffs, Cessa and Mitchell and late-career Sabathia and the mystery that is Pineda are going to be the guys who get them there. Like it or not, those four plus Tanaka are the five best starting pitchers in the organization at the moment.

2016 Midseason Review: The Role Players

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, bench, rotation, and bullpen. Now let’s tackle the role players.

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

As always, the Yankees have had to dip into their farm system for help at times this season. That’s mostly the result of injuries. Sometimes they called up a legitimate prospect and gave him a chance, like Rob Refsnyder, and other times they brought in a journeyman veteran to plug a short-term hole. Either way, they were all Yankees. Let’s review the spare parts.

Chad Green: The Sudden Sixth Starter

Over the winter the Yankees looked at their rotation and bullpen depth, and decided to rob Peter to pay Paul. They traded reliable setup man Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starters because they figured they had enough bullpen arms, but not nearly enough starters. Starters under control beyond 2017, especially.

One of those two Triple-A starters is Green, who has spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Scranton, where he’s been dominant. Detroit’s 11th round pick in 2013 currently leads the International League in ERA (1.54 ERA) and FIP (2.18), and that performance has earned him three big league starts. One went well. Two didn’t.

May 15th @ D’Backs: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR (MLB debut)
July 3rd @ Padres: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HR
July 8th @ Indians: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 4 HR

Seven homers in 14.1 innings is really bad! Left-handed hitters have hit five of the seven homers, which makes sense because Green hasn’t really shown a reliable changeup yet. He did add a cutter while in Triple-A between his first and second starts, which is promising, though clearly the Indians had no trouble with it last week.

Green did throw one perfect relief inning with the Yankees in mid-June, so right now he has a career 7.04 ERA (7.09 FIP) in 15.1 innings. Surely he’s looking to improve those numbers, and my guess is he’ll get multiple chances to do so in the second half. Green seems to have climbed to sixth in the rotation depth chart, ahead of Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino. How about that?

Second Half Outlook: If the Yankees do sell at the deadline, I could see them giving Green an extended look as a starter in the second half. There’s really no reason to keep running impending free agent Ivan Nova out there in the second half if they’re out of the race. More than likely Green will go up and down a few more times and be the team’s sixth starter, giving the regular rotation members extra rest.

Nick Goody: The Last Shuttle Reliever Standing

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees opened Spring Training with a small army of Triple-A relievers ready to go up and down as needed. We saw it last year. It seemed like one or two of them would be given an extended look at some point this season, but that hasn’t been able to happen. They’ve almost all gotten hurt. The list:

The hope was one or two of those guys would step up and become a permanent piece of the bullpen. Instead, they’ve combined for one big league inning (by Pinder) this season. Baseball, man.

Goody is the last young shuttle reliever standing. He started the season in Triple-A but has had a few stints with the big league team, throwing a total of 22 innings across 19 games. Goody has a 4.91 ERA (4.59 FIP) in those 22 innings, and he’s been alarmingly home run prone (2.05 HR/9). His strikeout (27.4%) and walk (5.3%) numbers are great! But there’s more to life than that. Not a good year to be a young reliever with the Yankees.

Second Half Outlook: Goody is actually on the big league roster right now. He was called up when Green was sent down following his start in Cleveland. Something tells me Goody is going to end up back in Scranton at some point. Then back in New York. Then Scranton. Then New York. You get the point. He’s the very definition of a spare up-and-down arm.

Plans E & F at First Base

At one point in the first half the Yankees had their Plan A (Mark Teixeira), Plan B (Greg Bird), and Plan C (Dustin Ackley) first basemen on the DL. Plan D turned out to be Refsnyder, who basically had an afternoon of prep work at the position before being thrown into game action. The Yankees didn’t want to overwhelm Refsnyder, so a few days after Teixeira’s injury, they called up Plan E: Chris Parmelee.

The Yankees signed Parmelee over the winter after Bird got hurt. He hit .252/.343/.444 (128 wRC+) with seven homers in 43 games with Triple-A Scranton — Parmelee thoroughly outhit Nick Swisher with the RailRiders — before being called up. In his first game in pinstripes, Parmelee went 3-for-4 with a double and two homers. For real! Check it out:

The very next night Parmelee singled in a run in the fifth inning to tie the game against the Angels. No one expected Parmelee to keep hitting like that, but hey, he gave the team a nice little shot in the arm. You need those out-of-nowhere contributions to contend.

The Yankees are not allowed to have nice things though. A few innings after that game-tying single, Parmelee popped his hamstring while stretching for a throw at first base. He suffered a Grade II strain and will be out two months or so. Just like that, Refsnyder was the first baseman again. Plans A, B, C, and E at first base were hurt.

To replace Parmelee, the Yankees signed Ike Davis (Plan F) after he opted out of his minor league deal with the Rangers, and he didn’t even go to Scranton. The Yankees added him to the MLB roster right away. Davis appeared in eight games with the Yankees, went 3-for-14 (.214), then was designated for assignment when Teixeira came off the DL. Davis is currently with Scranton waiting for Teixeira’s next injury.

Second Half Outlook: Parmelee was slated to begin baseball activities a week or two ago and is still a few weeks from returning. The Yankees don’t really have anywhere to play him right now, not unless they trade Teixeira or Carlos Beltran at the deadline. Neither Parmelee nor Davis have much of a role with the Yankees going forward. They’re just injury fill-ins. Parmelee had a memorable moment in pinstripes. Davis … not so much.

The Up & (Mostly) Downers

Johnny B. (Elsa/Getty)
Johnny B. (Presswire)

There are still nine players who played for the Yankees this season that we have not yet covered as part of this crash course midseason review. Let’s wrap up the big league portion of the midseason review with one sentence on each of those nine players. Sound good? Good.

  • RHP Johnny Barbato: For a while it looked like Barbato would stick as a middle reliever, but the bloom came off the rose and he’s now in Scranton.
  • LHP Richard Bleier: The 29-year-old rookie has not only appeared in ten games with the Yankees, he’s still on the roster!
  • LHP Phil Coke: Sure, why the hell not?
  • RHP Luis Cessa: Cessa made the Opening Day roster and keeps going back and forth between big league reliever and Triple-A starter.
  • OF Ben Gamel: His hair is pretty great and pushes the limits of team regulations.
  • RHP Conor Mullee: The three-time major elbow surgery guy got affordable health care for life this year, so that’s cool.
  • LHP Tyler Olson: Olson appeared in one game with the Yankees, then was lost on waivers.
  • C Gary Sanchez: “Hey, Gary, we’re going to call you up for a game and make you face Chris Sale, sound good?”
  • RHP Anthony Swarzak: It’s literally Anthony Swarzak.

Second Half Outlook: Sanchez definitely has a future with the Yankees. He’s the long-term plan behind the plate. Barbato, Cessa, Gamel, and Mullee might have roles with the team going forward too. We’ll see them again in September, if not earlier. Everyone else? They’ll be gone soon enough.

DotF: A-Rod begins rehab assignment; Sanchez hurt in AAA

The day’s notes:

  • LHP Phil Coke has accepted his outright assignment rather than elect free agency, reports Chad Jennings. Coke is going to start for Triple-A Scranton tomorrow. The Yankees want to keep him stretched out, apparently.
  • RHP Eric Ruth has been sent from Scranton down to Double-A Trenton, per Shane Hennigan. The move clears a roster spot for Coke. The RailRiders will need to clear a spot for the recently claimed RHP Layne Somsen soon too.
  • UTIL Jose Rosario needs surgery to repair fractures in his face near his right eye, reports Matt Kardos. Rosario was hit by a pitch the other day. Ouch. Sounds like he escaped without any serious eye or neurological damage. All things considered, it could have been worse.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Louisville)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 0-4 — 8-for-45 (.178) since being sent back down
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-2, 1 K — left the game after taking a foul tip to the hand, according to Hennigan … Sanchez did try to make some throws to see if he could stay in, but no dice … needless to say, hopefully it’s just a bruise
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 2-4 — odds his agent has called the Mets after the Lucas Duda injury? probably 99%
  • LF Jake Cave: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 K — ten extra-base hits (five doubles, three triples, two homers) in 12 games with the RailRiders
  • DH Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 R, 1 H, 3 RBI, 1 K
  • RHP Brady Lail: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 6/5 GB/FB — 66 of 103 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 16 of 25 pitches were strikes (64%) … 4/4 K/BB in six innings since being sent down

[Read more…]

Game 41: Can the Yankees make it three straight?

Nightmare fuel. (Presswire)
Nightmare fuel. (Presswire)

The season is roughly one-quarter of the way complete and the Yankees still have not won three consecutive games all year. Isn’t that unbelievable? The Astros are the only other team in baseball without a winning streak of at least three games this year. I guess the AL wildcard game screwed everyone up.

Tonight the Yankees have a chance to win their third straight game and boy, it would be really nice to see them get over that hump. They’ve won nine of their last 14 games overall, so they’ve been playing better, but they’re probably not going to climb out of last place winning two games at a time. At some point they need an extended winning streak. What better time than now? Here is the Athletics’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s another cool, cloudy, and windy night in Oakland. Same weather as last night. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 9:30pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) ran the bases again. The Yankees are facing a lefty tomorrow, so if they’re going to activate A-Rod this weekend, that would be a good time to do it … Luis Severino (triceps) is expected to resume playing catch this weekend.

Roster Moves: James Pazos was sent down to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Sabathia … Phil Coke cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He can still elect free agency.

Game 38: Which Pineda Shows Up?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night’s series opening loss to the Diamondbacks was ugly but not necessarily unexpected. The Yankees started a kid making his big league debut, and that’s always unpredictable, plus their best relievers were all unavailable due to their recent workloads. You’d still like to be able to steal a game under those circumstances, though more often than not you’re on the wrong end of the final score.

Tonight the Yankees are at full strength — or at least something approximating full strength — with Michael Pineda on the mound. Which Pineda will show up, the guy who gets hammered in the first inning or the guy with a knack for settling down and chucking scoreless innings? It would be nice to see the second guy without the first guy for once, you know? Here is the D’Backs’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a bit cooler in Phoenix today than it was yesterday, meaning the temperature is in the mid-80s rather than the low-90s. The Chase Field roof will be open. Tonight’s game is going to start at 9:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has yet to run the bases at full speed, so it’s possible he won’t be ready to come off the DL when eligible Thursday.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up three players from Triple-A, they announced: Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder. Chad Green and Conor Mullee were optioned down while Phil Coke was designated for assignment. The Yankees are back to a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench, and they have an open 40-man roster spot now.