Saturday, January 30, 2016

Yankees pitching cannot rely on Betances, Miller and Chapman alone

ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote Friday about the trend around Major League Baseball in which teams seem to be concentrating on more than just fortifying the backend of their bullpen, but rather creating dominating groups. The New York Yankees certainly fit that bill after adding Aroldis Chapman this offseason to an already potent combination of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.

What’s interesting about the situation is that the front offices do not necessarily want this to be the case. Take this quote from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

"It has always been easier to build great bullpens than great rotations ... Believe me, I'd rather have five guys who can give you nine innings every day and give you 250 innings a year, and have an ERA under 2.00, and compete for Cy Youngs. But I don't have that."
This of course makes sense because one thing the Yankees did experience toward the end of the 2015 season was some of their relievers wearing down. It happened to Betances, who saw increased walk rates in the season’s final month, and it was disastrously evident for Chasen Shreve, who went from extremely competent to woefully disappointing. Adding Chapman might help curtail some of Betances’ use, but let’s face it Yankees manager Joe Girardi is not going to hold back on deploying the three-headed monster as often as possible.

And that means the Yankees have to get some length from at least two of their starters on a regular basis, AND they need to receive ample, and more importantly, quality assistance from the relievers who precede Betances, Miller and Chapman (B-M-C from here out when referenced together).

Here is the breakdown of the Yankees anticipated starters and their number of innings worked per start in 2015.

As you can see, just two starters averaged six innings or more per start, and the club sat at 5.7 innings per start, just below league average (5.8). Ideally for the Yankees (and any team that employs the method of beast-mode relief), getting two starters to average seven innings per start, or getting at least three of the starters to reach the mark Masahiro Tanaka established in 2015 is essential. I figure Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are the best candidates for improvement in 2016.

Unfortunately, even if the Yankees’ staff averages six innings pitched per start (which would be less than I suggested, but still a marked improvement from last season) that leaves nine outs per game for the bullpen, assuming a nine-inning game. The desire to utilize B-M-C will be exceedingly strong when the Yankees have the lead, but physically impossible.

So, the Yankees must find a way to stabilize the pitchers who will bridge the gap, and more importantly be trusted to innings that B-M-C cannot handle because they require a rest day.

The Yankees’ Scranton/New York shuttle employed last season was useful in that it keep most of the bullpen fresh. Innings that were low leverage were split among many relievers and those arms were at least lively all season.

But, the Yankees needed more than that in 2015. The club used Shreve and now-departed Justin Wilson as the main setup men to Betances and Miller. The Yanks will have to figure out who the two relievers will be this season to handle the same roles.

Dellin Betances
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that since the Yankees have Chapman they only need one other trusted reliever for high-leverage situations. In order to keep B-M-C fresh all season, Girardi’s best bet is to alternate use of his top three relievers with two others who can handle seventh or eighth inning duties if needed. This would allow Girardi to spell any of the three relievers so that they do not have to work three successive days (a Girardi rule of thumb).

This theory works best if the starters are doing their part. But, if only one of them can push themselves to the seventh inning on a regular basis for example, the pressure remains squarely on the bullpen. So, beyond the five high-leverage options, the “mop-up” guys cannot pitch like mop-up guys.

If the assumed starting five is healthy, it is expected that Ivan Nova will be the swingman in the bullpen. His time on the mound will be critical to the success of the club. I’d argue that while there is not a specific number of innings being floated around about Luis Severino’s limit for the season (yet), I would suspect he will be hard-pressed to average more than six innings per start. I would venture to guess that there will be several starts in which he fails to reach the sixth inning. Nova is key here. I’d argue it might be wise to line him up to be ready during Severino starts as the first man out of the pen.

CC Sabathia
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
The same might be said of Sabathia. While Sabathia could log more total innings than the rest of the staff for the entire season, he might also be the pitcher most expected to throw clunkers. Now, the Yankees could just force CC to stick in games that he’s given up a slew of runs and “take one for the team,” or they could have Nova or one of the shuttle arms available on Sabathia start. Whether it is Nova or someone from Scranton, depends on how Severino and Sabathia line up in the rotation and whether Nova is available.

My point is that the final two bullpen spots (or maybe three slots if the Yankees sacrifice a bench role on Severino and Sabathia start days) need to be not only pitchers who can provide ample innings per appearance, but they must be pitchers who can work successful frames. Gone is the day where Chris Capuano comes into a game and just lets things get worse (thankfully).

The entire bullpen (seven or eight guys given the situation) must be able to provide quality innings. If the shuttle is going to work in 2016, the expanse of it needs to be diminished in quantity and increased in performance. There must be two or max three “good” arms coming back and forth. The roundabout cannot include four or five starters/relievers and hope that it will work out.

The issue here is the Yankees might not have relievers that fit the description I’ve provided; or at least they might not be able to expect it from many relievers currently at their disposal.

Assuming a healthy rotation, the Yankees have Nova and B-M-C inked into bullpen roles. The list of arms on the 40-man roster is full of upside, but little in the way of bankable and trustworthy experience.

There are southpaws Shreve, Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos along with right-handers Nick Goody, Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow. Each of the six worked at least a handful of innings for the Yankees in 2015. The Yankees also have Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa and Kirby Yates on the 40-man, each of whom has at least Triple-A experience. Cessa is a starter, but could be used as one of the extras when the club needs length after an extra-inning game for example.

As I mentioned earlier Shreve was great until September of last year, and it can be argued he fell apart after being used too often through August. Lindgren is the former hyped prospect of the group, but Pazos and Pinder actually performed well in their stints with New York in 2015. Rumbelow had some nice moments with the big club and Barbato was exceptional at Triple-A last season.

Andrew Miller
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr
Again, this group looks fine from an upside perspective, but it wouldn’t shock me if one of the Yankees final moves of the offseason is to add a major league veteran reliever or two to the list of non-roster invitees. Of the multitude of names above, it might be just two or three who could perform to the level required to stick with the club throughout the season.

Once performances establish the pecking order, it becomes Girardi’s responsibility to try and stick with his starters a hair longer than he has in the past, AND become more trusting of his relievers not named Betances, Miller and Chapman. The number of revolving-door relievers cannot be as severe as last season, because Girardi will need to use the seventh and eighth man in line in tougher spots on occasion unless there is dramatic improvement in innings per start across the board.

So, while it’s fantastic that the Yankees will be in great shape with leads after the sixth inning is over, how those leads are handed over to B-M-C might be more important. It’s going to take better efforts up front, in the middle and from the manager in order to maximize the effectiveness of Betances, Miller and Chapman. If that doesn't happen, the club might not be any better off than they were in 2015.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports 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.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Yankees ignore Fister, agree with Nova

The New York Yankees rotation is not set in stone, but it’s fairly simple to lay it out with the caveat that health could derail the group. In alphabetical order here is the assumed five-man rotation for the Yankees with three weeks left until spring training begins.

1. Nathan Eovaldi
2. Michael Pineda
3. CC Sabathia
4. Luis Severino
5. Masahiro Tanaka

There is plenty of talent there to help the club reach the postseason in 2016, but it’s not sound judgment to believe it will take just these five starters. Each of the pitchers above, except for Severino, missed time on the disabled list in 2015. And this will be Severino's first full season in the big leagues, so expecting completely smooth sailing for him is also questionable.

During the offseason it is imperative teams do their best to build depth beyond their perceived starting five. The Yankees felt there was an issue, otherwise they would not have traded lefty reliever Justin Wilson for two Triple-A rotation arms. Plus, the club would not have continuously turned up in trade rumors looking for starting pitchers if they felt the grouping was solid.

The Yankees could have taken the route of signing a veteran bounce-back candidate like Doug Fister who inked a one-year deal with the Houston Astros Thursday for $7 million (it can rise to $12 million based on performance). Mat Latos, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum are similar pitchers looking to latch on with a team in an effort to rebuild their value.

The Yankees decided against even getting involved for Fister, so they might not be persuaded to look at the other veterans mentioned. That’s due in part to having what they consider an insurance policy already on their roster in Ivan Nova.

Nova agreed to a one-year, $4.1 million deal this afternoon, avoiding arbitration according to the YES Network’s Jack Curry. Curry tweeted that Nova’s deal includes performance incentives as well. It would stand to reason that those bonuses could be based on the number of starts Nova ends up making for the club in 2016.

Curry stated that Nova has battled consistency issues in another tweet, but the cost for Nova to be a swingman could be a certain value for the Yankees. He’s correct in the value aspect, but I questioned (and Curry agreed) whether someone like Nova who has continuously suffered from inconsistency in his career might have an even more difficult time fluctuating back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen.

Nova has 17 2/3 innings of relief under his belt and 614 innings as a starter in parts of six seasons in the big leagues. Yanking Nova between the rotation and the bullpen or merely waiting in the bullpen to mop up games could wreck havoc with his mind.

In my view, Yankees should have tried to sign Fister for what amounts to such a small commitment. I don’t believe there is such a thing as having too much depth especially when the initial five is so fragile. I can see plenty of scenarios in which Fister and Nova could have been taking turns in the rotation at the same time. But, now a bulk of the pressure will sit on Nova’s back, and we’ll see if the Yankees made the right call.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports 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.



Monday, January 25, 2016

Dissecting recent Steinbrenner comments on state of the Yankees

New York Yankees principal owner and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke with reporters Wednesday at the Owners’ Meeting about the state of the Yankees as spring training approaches. He covered a few topics of which I’ll dissect a bit here.

Payroll steadiness


Hal Steinbrenner
Photo credit: Jeffrey Putnam via Flickr
Steinbrenner has not relented on the notion that the club does not have to raise payroll substantially beyond the current approximation of about $215 million. Steinbrenner has discussed at length and reiterated that when significant money comes off the books – as it will in each of the next two offseasons – the club will be prepared to put a good portion of that cash back into the payroll.

I’ve been a proponent of this method that the Yankees have been working within over the last few seasons. With an up and coming farm system with one player already inserted (Luis Severino) and others getting ready to take over in key spots soon (Greg Bird and Aaron Judge) the Yankees will be more willing to reinvest at other areas of the roster.

Steinbrenner’s thoughts on payroll are always scrutinized by fans. He’s not especially loved by many who believe the Yankees should spend much more than they do considering the revenue the club drives. In my view, the business side of the organization is run quite well and I feel that when the long-term and cost-draining contracts are finished, the club will spend accordingly.

Optimism for 2016


Steinbrenner feels that the addition of Starlin Castro is one of the keys to 2016, and I’d have to agree. Second base has been a complete drain since Robinson Cano took off for Seattle. Castro will provide some stability in the role and allows the Yankees plenty of flexibility around the infield.

Steinbrenner feels comfortable with the current six players looking to become part of the rotation. My concerns here are like Steinbrenner's many others'; health. The only starter without a health concern is Severino, but he’s got his own worry of getting ready to pitch in his first full season in the big leagues. If the rotation members do stay healthy and pitch to their abilities the Yankees could be in good shape, but there is no assurance that will be the case. I felt the club should have gone out and found another backend of the rotation innings eater, but it does not seem that will be case.

Lastly, Steinbrenner explained his happiness with the backend of the bullpen with holdovers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller being joined by Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees will surely be tough to beat on most nights when they have a lead after the six innings, but the negative here is that the middle relief is unsettled. The Yankees will be asking a good deal from younger relievers in setup roles. The players in question – Jacob Lindgren, James PazosBranden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow and Chasen Shreve – are all talented, but only Shreve has a modest number of MLB innings under his belt.

On Chapman allegations


Here is where Steinbrenner’s comments veered off the tracks for me. Steinbrenner invoked the “innocent until proven otherwise” stance concerning Chapman’s domestic violence allegations. Of course proving guilt in criminal cases is an important part of our rights as citizens of the United States, but there is a lot more to domestic violence cases than that.

In many circumstances of domestic violence the harmed party recants (as happened here) either under pressure from the abusive party or for other reasons potentially related to not wanting to be scrutinized in the news cycle as Chapman’s girlfriend certainly could have been. Since Steinbrenner’s comments on Chapman, the state’s attorney in Florida declined to bring charges against the Yankees closer.

Steinbrenner’s comments came off as unsympathetic even though he pointed out domestic violence is a “very sensitive subject.” Steinbrenner’s statement on Chapman was ill-advised and put him in a bd light. Maybe there will be a point in time where he'll see how his comments were hurtful and put the organization in a poor light, maybe more so than it already was where it concerned the trade for Chapman.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports 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.



Friday, January 15, 2016

The Cauldron: For MLB, Spanish-speaking interpreters are long overdue

Have you ever found yourself traveling in a foreign land and clumsily stumbling over every alien syllable in an effort to find the nearest bathroom, restaurant, or landmark? Lucky for us, on most city streets in the world, there likely is someone who speaks English. As a result, we tend to get away with only knowing a few, bare-bones basics of the local dialect.

But what happens when a foreign-born person comes to work in the U.S.? What if that person happens to be a baseball player, from one of any number of Latin American countries? Unlike most technical jobs, where speaking English often is a professional requirement, ballplayers can still excel in their roles without knowing all that much of the language, but being able to communicate with your professional peers certainly makes things easier.

Read more at The Cauldron >>>

Friday, January 8, 2016

Yankees acquire right-handed reliever Kirby Yates

The New York Yankees announced they have acquired right-handed reliever Kirby Yates from the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations.

The Yankees are surely in need of right-handed relief help as I mentioned earlier this week at SNY. However, I was thinking someone with a bit more of a chance to make an immediate impact than I figure Yates will provide.

Yates, who turns 29 in March, owns a 5.27 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 56.1 innings with a .253 BAA in 57 career relief appearances over parts of two Major League seasons (2014-15) with Tampa Bay. Yates has had some success in his limited major league career against right-handed hitters (.237/.295/.414) against him in his career.

The Yankees surely like his 9.1 K/9 rate and that he is a hard thrower, but there must be some apprehension as well considering his home run rate ballooned in 2015 to 4.4 per nine innings. That’s absolutely insane, and not needed in Yankee Stadium.

But, the Yankees depth at middle relief is thin, so the move can be viewed as simply one which fills the roster with another option for the club to look at this spring. I would expect more of these types of moves in the upcoming weeks, especially with the 40-man roster containing two vacancies after Yates coming aboard.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for SNY.tv. His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports 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.