2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

Yankees send Tyler Webb to Brewers for Garrett Cooper

(@Brewers)
(@Brewers)

A trade! A small one, but a trade nonetheless. The Yankees have shipped lefty reliever Tyler Webb to the Brewers for Triple-A first baseman Garrett Cooper, both teams have announced. This is very much a spare part for spare part trade. The Yankees need first base help and the Brewers need a lefty reliever, so they got together for a minor deal.

Cooper, 26, is hitting .366/.428/.652 (171 wRC+) with 17 homers in 75 Triple-A games this season, though he’s playing in an extreme hitter’s park in Colorado Springs. So far this year’s hit .442/.503/.829 at home and .300/.359/.500 on the road, in all the other hitter friendly Pacific Coast League ballparks. Consider yourself forewarned: don’t read too much into the overall stat line.

The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face four left-handed starters in the first give games of the second half, so I think there’s a decent chance the right-handed hitting Cooper will join the Yankees in Boston tomorrow for his MLB debut. They’ve been use Austin Romine as a platoon first baseman in recent weeks and no. Just no. I highly doubt the Yankees are looking at Cooper as a long-term first base solution. He’s a Tyler Austin replacement, basically.

Webb, 27 next week, has allowed three runs in six innings with the Yankees this year. He also has a 3.24 ERA (2.15 FIP) in 33.1 Triple-A innings. This was his fourth year spending time at Triple-A. The Pirates took a look at Webb as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training, and, when he didn’t stick, he cleared waivers and was returned to the Yankees. Going to the Brewers should be a pretty good opportunity for Webb.

With Webb gone and Tommy Layne recently released, the Yankees are left with Chasen Shreve as their only real lefty reliever option. (Not counting Aroldis Chapman.) There’s Joe Mantiply in Triple-A, and I guess they could give Caleb Smith or Dietrich Enns a try in relief, but that’s about it. The Yankees have been looking for a lefty reliever since the offseason and there’s no reason to think that’ll change.

The Yankees now have an open 40-man roster spot and an open 25-man roster spot, both of which could go to Cooper if he is called up. I suppose the other alternative is playing Matt Holliday, who is tentatively scheduled to come off the disabled list tomorrow, at first base and continuing the four-man outfield rotation. Hmmm. Then again, the Yankees would be playing both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury against lefties in that scenario. We’ll see.

A calm, rational discussion about the Yankees’ dumpster fire of a bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In a season full of ugly bullpen meltdowns, the Yankees hit a new low last night. Three relievers combined to walk six of 13 batters faced, and another was hit by a pitch. Dellin Betances, working for the third straight day, couldn’t protected a one-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. Why was he working for the third straight day? Because he had to bail out Jonathan Holder with a five-run lead (!) Monday night.

Holder was sent down prior to yesterday’s game, though by then the damage had been done. Betances had to pitch Monday night and Holder himself has helped blow a few games these last few weeks. He’s not the only problem though. Hardly. He’s part of the problem. Not the problem. Here is the bullpen in June:

4.56 ERA
4.55 FIP
25.2 K%
12.3 BB%
1.29 HR/9

Can’t win like that. Can’t be done. Not with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings each passing season. Bullpens are far too important to get that performance for a month and come out unscathed. The Yankees were four games up in the AL East as recently as 16 days ago and now they’re one game back, and they’re lucky they’re still that close. June has been a terrible month for the Yankees overall and especially the relief crew.

So what do the Yankees do now? It’s easy to say they should designated this guy for assignment, send down that other guy, and call up those two prospects I really like. I wish it were that easy. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman surely wish it was as well. Want to get this bullpen on track? Here are some possibly fixes.

1. Eight is too many. The Yankees have been carrying eight relievers for weeks now and I think it’s that’s too many. Even with a seven-man bullpen, that last guy gets used maybe once a week. Domingo German was brought into the eighth inning of a two-run game last night after pitching once in the previous nine days. How could you expect a kid who has never been a reliever before to be sharp after that layoff?

Removing an arm from the bullpen seems counterintuitive when no one can protect a damn lead, but less is often more. Shorten the staff to your seven best arms and make sure they each get enough work to stay sharp and ready to go. There’s a fine line between regular work and overwork, but Girardi is generally pretty good at toeing that line. Pick your seven best arms and let them carry the load. Eighth relievers only get used in blowouts, and in situations they’re unqualified to pitch, like German last night.

2. Get Betances to go back to the fastball. En route to blowing that game last night, Betances threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were curveballs. Only six of the 13 were strikes too. Dellin has a great curveball! He’s also been leaning on it way too much lately. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-pitch-selection

This is something that goes back to last year. It’s not necessarily new. Throwing all those curveballs is fine when Betances can drop it in for strikes, but lately throwing it for strikes has been a problem, and he’s not adjusting. He’s been trying to force it in there anyway. Not good!

“I have to be able to rely on my fastball more. Probably got too breaking ball happy,” said Betances to Erik Boland following last night’s game, so he’s aware that all these curveballs can be a problem. Dellin has a great fastball. He was working for a third straight night last night and the pitch still averaged 97.5 mph and topped out at 98.2 mph.

Betances doesn’t have to shelve the curveball entirely. That would be silly. But I think he needs to start using his fastball more often — he’s at his best when he has close to a 50-50 mix a la 2014 and 2015 — because a) his heater is so good he’ll get swings and misses with it, and b) it’ll help keep hitters off the breaking ball.

3. Give Webb a shot. The Yankees have been trying to dig up a reliable left-handed middle reliever since last season and, for a while, Tommy Layne did the job. Chasen Shreve has been the guy last few weeks and he’s had his moments. He hasn’t been able to get back to where he was in the first half of 2014 and chances are he never will, though he has been better this season. Good, not great.

Webb is by no means a budding shutdown reliever — or maybe he is! — though the tools are there for him to contribute, and as something more than a left-on-left matchup guy too. He’s low-90s with the fastball and he throws both a slider and changeup regularly. It’s a starter’s repertoire in the bullpen. Webb throws strikes — he has a 34.1% strikeout rate and a 2.2% walk rate in Triple-A this year — and what more could you ask? Girardi would have killed for a reliever who could throw strikes last night.

Layne fizzled out and Shreve isn’t good enough to keep a middle relief spot uncontested. Webb did everything he had to do at Triple-A over the last four years, and the Pirates saw enough to give him a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Given the bullpen issues, the time to give the 26-year-old a chance is now. If it works, wonderful. If not, then you move on to the next guy. The Yankees have been there, done that with Layne and Shreve.

4. Consider Adams. I’m ready for the Yankees to stick Chance Adams, their top Triple-A pitching prospect, in the big league bullpen. I made this argument last week. Adams was a reliever in college and in his first partial season of pro ball, so he’s familiar with the role. He misses bats and he’s said to be a tough as nails competitor, and that’s never a bad thing. Adams has had success at Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s ready to help in some capacity.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

I get that people are squeamish about putting a top starting pitcher prospect in the bullpen, but it’s really not that big a deal. Teams have been breaking in their young arms as relievers for decades. I know the Yankees seemed to botch things with Joba Chamberlain, but Luis Severino was in the bullpen last year, and look at him now. Severino doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last season. I absolutely believe that.

Putting Adams in the bullpen allows him to get his feet wet at the MLB level and learn how to get big leaguers out. That’s valuable experience! That will help a) the Yankees win games right now, and b) Adams succeed as a starter going forward. The Yankees could break him in as a reliever this year and consider him a rotation candidate next season. That is a perfectly reasonable development plan.

5. Be patient. Okay, this won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to remain patient and not completely tear things down because of a bad month. Overreacting is never good. The bullpen isn’t actually this bad. At least I don’t think it is. The relievers are in a collective funk right now. It happens. They can make some changes (Webb, Adams, etc.) though overall, they still need Betances and Aroldis Chapman to be their rocks, and Tyler Clippard to be not awful.

Adam Warren is expected back from the disabled list next week and he’ll going to help as long as his shoulder stays healthy. That’s tricky, but Warren has never not been solid for the Yankees. Also, Chad Green seems to be coming into his own as a reliever, so within a few weeks he could really find his footing and take off as a dominant bullpen arm. Making tweaks at this point makes sense. There’s also something to be said for trusting the guys in the bullpen to sort things out soon. We know these guys can be reliable because they were just a few weeks ago.

* * *

The Yankees are 11-14 overall in June — they’ve outscored their opponents by 39 runs this month, underscoring the general stupidity of baseball — and the bullpen is a big reason why. It’s not the only reason. Definitely not. But it is the reason that is most smacking us in the face. The offense has vanished for long stretches of time and the starters haven’t been great either. Don’t get me started on the baserunning either. Goodness. Those outs on the bases added up.

The bullpen situation, however, is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Just when you think they can’t sink to a new low, they go out and do what they did last night. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere with the bullpen performing like this. Changing some personnel, changing some roles, and changing some pitch selection could go a long way to getting things straightened out. And, if it doesn’t, the Yankees will have no choice but to really shake things up and go outside the organization for help.

Game 75: Win it for Starlin

(Matt Hazlett/Getty)
(Matt Hazlett/Getty)

The Yankees are down yet another player. Starlin Castro was indeed placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain today. He left last night’s game with the injury. Castro joins Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Adam Warren (shoulder), and Greg Bird (ankle) on the shelf. Also, Matt Holliday is still out with his mystery illness/allergic reaction.

The show must go on though. Every team deals with injuries and no one feels bad for the Yankees. The Yankees did get back in the win column last night, though not before the bullpen made things unnecessarily interesting. I could really go for a blowout win. When’s the last time the Yankees had one of those? The bloodbath series against the Orioles, I guess. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Tyler Austin
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 1B Austin Romine
  9. LF Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a bit cloudy in Chicago and on the cool side. There’s no rain in the forecast though, and that’s the most important thing. This evening’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Castro has a Grade I strain. There’s no word on an exact timetable, but those usually take 2-3 weeks. Sometimes even less … Holliday went for tests but still doesn’t feel right. If it lingers another day or two, he could be placed on the disabled list … Austin’s hamstring is sore, which is why he’s the designated hitter tonight.

Roster Moves: In addition to placing Castro on the disabled list, the Yankees also sent down Jonathan Holder, and called up both Tyler Wade and Tyler Webb. The Yankees already had an open 40-man roster spot for Wade, so no other move was required. Technically Webb replaces Castro on the roster since the injury allows the Yankees to get around the ten-day rule. Wade is replacing Holder. The active roster is now 16% Tylers.

Game 74: Split vs. Reverse Split

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

Tonight the Yankees open a four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago, where they are undefeated so far this season. They swept three games from the Cubs back in May. Remember that? It was awesome. Brett Gardner hit that insanely clutch ninth inning home run in the first game and the Yankees outlasted the defending World Series champs during the 18-inning game on ESPN in the last game. Good times.

Tonight left-hander Jordan Montgomery will face baseball’s very best hitting team against left-handed pitchers. Their combined batting line: .307/.370/.474 (125 wRC+). Big right-handed power bats like Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia explain that. Montgomery, however, has a reverse split. He has a 3.43 FIP against righties and a 6.72 FIP against lefties. The best lefty hitting team in baseball against a lefty who gets righties out. Intrigue! Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 1B Tyler Austin
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cloudy and cool in Chicago this evening, and, of course, windy. Lots of wind. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 8:10pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As you can see, Ellsbury is back. He was activated off the disabled list earlier today. The Yankees also officially placed Aaron Hicks on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain and sent down both Mason Williams and Tyler Webb. Ronald Herrera and Rob Refsnyder were called up. So that’s Hicks, Williams, and Webb out, Ellsbury, Herrera, and Refsnyder in.

Injury Update: Matt Holliday (allergic reaction) was sent to see a doctor and is not available tonight … Greg Bird (ankle) is with Triple-A Scranton. He’s going to take batting practice with them the next few days. I imagine he’ll begin another minor league rehab assignment with the RailRiders if things go well … Castro (wrist) is feeling better after his cortisone shot. He said he originally hurt the wrist on multiple check swings … Adam Warren (shoulder) played catch over the weekend and is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen later this week. He hopes to be back in time for the homestand next week.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released their final fan voting update earlier today and Judge remains the leading vote-getter in the AL. His 3,442,597 votes are second only to Bryce Harper’s 3,617,444 among all players. Pretty cool. Sanchez (second), Castro (second), Didi Gregorius (third), Matt Holliday (fourth), and Gardner (ninth) are also getting votes at their positions. Here’s the ballot. Voting ends Thursday and the All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday. Also, Judge said he still hasn’t decided whether to participate in the Home Run Derby. (It’s an easy yes, dude.)

DotF: Wagaman homers twice in Pulaski’s season opener

Here are the day’s notes:

  • The Yankees called up LHP Tyler Webb, they announced earlier today. UTIL Rob Refsnyder was sent down to clear a roster spot. Webb, the team’s tenth round pick in 2013 and LHP Jordan Montgomery‘s former college teammate, spent nearly all of the last four seasons with Triple-A Scranton. Cool to see him get the call. Webb has a 3.24 ERA (2.14 FIP) with 47 strikeouts and only three walks in 33.1 innings this season.
  • SS Gleyber Torres told Conor Foley and D.J. Eberle he is heading to Tampa on Saturday following yesterday’s Tommy John surgery. He’ll rest the next two weeks before beginning rehab work. Apparently Torres was told he could be ready to play by November, which means winter ball could be in play, though I don’t see that happening. The Yankees won’t push their top prospect. Gleyber said he’s focused on Spring Training.
  • C Kyle Higashioka has been placed on the 7-day DL, the RailRiders announced. Foley says Higashioka is dealing with bad lower back spasms. He was supposed to see a doctor today, and if they’re calling it spasms, I guess that means there’s no structural damage. That’s good.
  • No Triple-A Scranton players lead their positions in the All-Star Game fan voting. Here’s the update. RHP Chance Adams does lead the write-in votes, however. Lehigh Valley fans are really stuffing the ballot, it seems. Voting ends tomorrow. Here’s the ballot.
  • Two links to check out: Chris Crawford asked executives whether they’d take the Yankees farm system or the Braves farm system, and Jim Callis listed OF Clint Frazier as a potential impact prospect for the second half.

Triple-A Scranton (11-1 with over Pawtucket)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 SB
  • DH Tyler Austin: 2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — three straight games with a homer … here’s video of the double and home run
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4
  • RF Jake Cave: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — four homers in his last six games
  • LF Mark Payton: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — some team’s future fourth outfielder is hitting .293/.350/.421 on the season
  • RHP Chance Adams: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 5/5 GB/FB — 60 of 100 pitches were strikes … has a 43.7% ground ball rate this year, which is pretty terrible for a good pitching prospect in the minors … the book on him is that he doesn’t get great downhill plane on his fastball (he’s only 6-foot-1) and his heater can be pretty straight … I worry that when he comes up, he’ll initially be really home run prone, especially with the ball flying out of the park all around the league this season
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Why are the Yankees sticking with eight relievers?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last 15 days, the Yankees have had eight men in their bullpen.

At first, it was out of necessity. The team was coming off an 18-inning marathon with the Cubs and had to play a two-game series starting the next day. Making a move to add a long reliever — in this case Chad Green — was a prudent move after everyone but Tommy Layne was used on that Sunday night/Monday morning vs. the Cubs.

But two days later, the team had an off-day. They had optioned Rob Refsnyder, the obvious 25th man, to make room for Green, so he wasn’t available for a call-up. However, the team still had/has Mason Williams ready to call-up and an open 40-man roster spot to utilize for an extra position player, should they see the need.

By this time, it’s obvious they don’t see the need. They’re fine with a three-man bench as it provides them the luxury of eight relievers. It’s likely they’ll go back to a four-man bench with Tyler Austin comes off the 60-day DL either later this month or in early June, but that would mean another week or so with this peculiar arrangement. And it truly is a luxury as they aren’t all necessary.

When you look at the composition of the bullpen right now, there are the guys that are being used consistently and with purpose; Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder each have their roles right now and are minimally influenced by another man in the bullpen. Chad Green has taken on Warren’s long-man-in-close-game role and has been quite solid in said role.

But beyond those five guys, there hasn’t been much to do. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, the two lefties, have thrown just 4 1/3 and five innings, respectively, over a combined nine appearances. With few lefty-laden lineups with which to deal, there simply isn’t much work for the duo. They’ve pitched in the same game twice, mostly as mop-up guys.

Giovanny Gallegos was used in a similar fashion, taking mop-up innings and helping the team get by during the Astros doubleheader. He’s more of a 1-2 inning guy anyway, so the team called up Bryan Mitchell in his spot.

Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

This seems like a poor use for Mitchell. Mitchell had been getting stretched out in Triple A and would be ready to call on as a spot starter. With the rotation’s struggles, that seems like it may be on the horizon, particularly with few off-days upcoming. And with an eight-man bullpen, an extra long reliever is superfluous. Green and Warren can both go multiple innings. Even if you say that Warren is now a one-inning reliever, the nominal ‘7th-inning guy’, you still have both Shreve and Layne sitting in the bullpen with little recent mileage most nights. They can take the long relief on any given night. With the current arrangement, Mitchell neither has a role nor a chance to develop further despite his ability to be either a solid back-end starter or quality reliever if given the opportunity.

The main reason to keep the eight-man bullpen going would be with the struggles in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a few short starts in a row, same with Luis Severino, while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have been the ones getting consistently through 6-7 their last few times out. The rotation has gone from 5.93 innings per start in April to 5.45 this month. This opens up about an inning every other game, yet that seems hardly enough to justify an extra reliever when the team was still barely using its last reliever when they had seven in April. If the innings trend continues to go down, both this season and in the future, an eight-man bullpen may become more of the norm to help spread innings among a taxed bullpen, but that isn’t the Yankees reality right now.

Eight relievers were fully necessary during the doubleheader, but the team was also allowed to call up an extra man for the roster. If the team wants another long reliever but needed an extra position player right now, they could either jettison Layne or option Shreve to call up Tyler Webb, who has been effective in Scranton since he was returned from his Rule 5 stint with the Pirates, and use Mitchell’s spot for a position player. Still, you run into the same issues with Webb that you did with Mitchell, as the team already has capable long men and at least one other lefty ready to go.

The question does need to be asked: Would the spot be better utilized for another position player? Ultimately, it seems like there hasn’t really been a role for an extra position player. Perhaps they should have had Kyle Higashioka up vs. Tampa last Friday with Gary Sanchez feeling off — thereby allowing them to pinch hit for Austin Romine in a big spot — but a roster spot for one at-bat, maybe a couple innings of defense, doesn’t seem like a better use than 4 1/3 innings.

So with the last 15 days, the Yankees have shown how little they utilize the 25th spot on their roster at the moment. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin out and few ready-to-use and effective position players on the 40-man roster, the team seems more than content to get by the eighth reliever. Perhaps, this is a glimpse into the future of baseball yet, for now, it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources, although there may not be a better use within simple reach.