Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Setup men are equally important to Yankees’ success

The news around New York Yankees camp the last couple of days is that the club is not ready to name a closer between Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller; and they might not name one once the regular season begins. But, of equal importance to the club's success, the Yankees employ some very competent arms who will provide setup support for whoever grabs ninth inning duties.

The Yankees have a fragile starting staff, one which manager Joe Girardi might choose to handle with kid gloves early on this season. There could be plenty of situations where the starter is ahead in the game and could be out by the sixth inning requiring up to four innings from the bullpen.

That type of situation necessitates a strong setup crew and the Yankees have exactly that. Obviously Betances and Miller will handle the eighth and ninth innings on most nights regardless of the order they are used, but how would innings six and seven be handled?

The Yankees brought in right-hander David Carpenter in the offseason from the Atlanta Braves along with Chasen Shreve for Manny Banuelos. Carpenter, 29, was an effective setup man for the Braves for the last two seasons.

Carpenter, across 186.2 major league innings, has a 3.62 ERA (3.42 FIP) with a 9.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 (which he’s lowered the last two seasons). He averages around 95-mph with his fastball and owns an effective slider. Carpenter accumulated 19 holds in 2014. He’s expected to get a lion’s share of the seventh inning duties with righties in the batter’s box, though he can handle left-handed hitters as well.

Carpenter has endured a bit of a rough spring (5.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 4 K and 4 BB). The walks are an obvious concern, but there is time to work through those kinks.

From the left side, the Yankees acquired Justin Wilson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Francisco Cervelli. Wilson, 27, ran into a bit of trouble in 2014, but was lights out for the Bucs in 2013.

Wilson is another hard thrower – he sits 95-mph with his four-seam fastball – who has an expanded arsenal including a two-seam fastball, cutter and a curveball. Each of the pitches was a plus pitch last season according to FanGraphs except the curve, which had been effective the previous year.

Wilson is no LOOGY. He is able to get out batters from the opposite side, posting a .609 OPS against right-handed batters (.617 OPS against left-handed hitters). In fact, Wilson has tossed almost twice as many total innings against righties than lefties (89.2 vs. 48.2).

Overall, Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) with an 8.3 K/9 and 3.97 BB/9 (his Achilles heel) in his 138.1 big league innings. He produces a lot of ground balls (50.9 percent career rate).

Wilson has not allowed a run this spring (5.1 IP) and has struck out seven while walking just one batter.

There is one hitch to whether Carpenter or Wilson gets most of the seventh inning outs and that’s Adam Warren, and maybe Esmil Rogers. Whichever of these two guys loses the fifth-starter role, will likely claim a spot in the bullpen.

Warren was very good for a better part of the 2014 season as a setup man. Warren picks up some arm speed when used as a reliever dialing it up into the 96-97 mph zone at times. Warren could easily be used by Girardi for high-leverage outs at any point in the game. Rogers could be used in a short or long relief role depending on needs.

Beyond the five spots which are mostly determined, the Yankees will take one more short-inning reliever and a long-man/swing-man type. There are a slew of candidates for the short-inning work – righties Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Andrew Bailey and Jose Ramirez as well as the lefty Shreve among them. Burton or Bailey would require a 40-man roster move, but Ivan Nova is set to begin the season on the DL so that could free up a spot.

Burton and Bailey each have plenty of major league time under their belts – Bailey with closing experience – but have been injured and are trying to make comebacks. Either could be a very nice wild card if they are able to break camp and stay healthy.

As for the long-man/swing-man role, the Yanks could go with Rogers, Chase Whitley or Scott Baker (not on 40-man roster); assuming the club wants to send Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A to stay completely stretched out.

There is further depth in the minor leagues with Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb potentially finding some innings along the way, though if they do, it likely means significant injuries to the pitching staff.

The Yankees' bullpen, as a whole, is one of the biggest positive facets of their roster. If the Yanks can bring leads to the sixth inning, there is a good chance the club can pull out the victory.

Photo of David Carpenter courtesy of Thomson20192 via Flickr.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com and MLB.com.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



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