(That's the "Joe is coming out to get me 'cause I pitched like dogmess" look if I've ever seen it. Courtesy of Getty Images)
Less than 2 months ago, Cory Wade was on top of the world, or at least on top of the bullpen. He had risen up to the role of setup man with Mo and D-Rob on the shelf and had me praising him for his new approach and lights out peripherals. Last night, Wade made his first appearance for Empire State after pitching so poorly in June that he was demoted to Triple-A to make room for Chad Qualls. A couple of commenters were quick to point out that Wade's hot start was almost assuredly not sustainable due to his lack of true dominant stuff and track record, and in the back of my own mind I was fully prepared to watch him regress a bit. But the quickness and horrible-ness with which Wade regressed was surprising. When your team considers Chad Qualls and his 5.39 FIP, 23.3 HR/FB %, and -0.5 fWAR to be an improvement over you, that's saying something.
Wade's collapse was so dramatic that it would almost be an understatement to say he regressed. He didn't just regress, he plummeted; he freefell; he pulled a Jason Bourne and just fell off the grid. The line between effective Cory Wade and awful Cory Wade is clear and impossible to miss. In the month of June Wade made 12 appearances, pitching just 9.2 innings. In those 9.2 innings, Wade allowed 21 hits and 15 earned runs (4 HR), with 5 walks and just 6 strikeouts. His last 2 outings were especially terrible, with 11 of the hits and 10 of the ER allowed coming in those 2 appearances, resulting in a final line of 13.97/8.76/.6.10, 5.59 K/9, 4.66 BB/9 for the month. Pick your least favorite Yankee reliever from the past 10 years and he probably didn't have a month that bad.
Not surprisingly, Wade's slide can be directly tied to him losing command of his pitches, most noticeably his fastball, curveball, and changeup. As he has upped his usage of those pitches (77.9% of his total offerings to date, up from 74.2% the last time I wrote about Wade), their effectiveness started to dip. Wade struggled to throw the fastball for strikes early in counts to set up his offspeed pitches, and he struggled even more to keep the curve and the change down in the zone, evidenced by 3 of the 4 homers he allowed last month coming off of hanging changeups. With his 3 most-used pitches not working, Wade has seen his contact rates level back out. His GB rate, which sat in the low 50s for most of the first 2 months of the season, is back down to 39.0%, and his LD rate is up to 22.0%.
As awful as Wade was in June, I was a bit surprised to see him sent down. I thought the 23.0 IP of 17-hit, 6-ER, 28-K ball he pitched from April to May, and the 39.2 IP of 2.04/3.76/3.80 ball from last season would have earned him a little extra time to work the kinks out. With D-Rob back in the 8th inning role, Soriano locking down the 9th inning, and Boone Logan, Cody Eppley, and Clay Rapada continuing to pitch well, the Yankees have more than enough bullpen depth right now to allow Wade to fall back into the Freddy Garcia "break glass only in case of emergency" mop-up spot.
That being said, the pitching staff has been shaken up a bit by the loss of 2 starters and the re-insertion of Garcia into the rotation, and Wade took one for the team and threw a lot of pitches in his last 2 appearances. With the Yankees needing some more middle relief, it wouldn't have made a lot of sense to keep him around if he couldn't pitch for days, and with Wade still having an option left, the Yankees have the benefit of being able to send him down to fix his problems in games that don't matter. All things considered, this is a win-win for both sides. Wade gets a chance to make the necessary adjustments in a low-stress environment, and the Yankees get to hang on to another viable bullpen option.
It's been a rough fall from grace for Cory Wade, made rougher by the fact that he was replaced by Chad Qualls. If relief pitchers were candies, Wade went from being a 4-pack of Reese's peanut butter cups to the leftover lemon Starbursts in a Starburst pack. Nobody likes the lemon ones, and you always eat all the reds and pinks and even the oranges before being left with nothing but the lemons. But if there is no other candy available, at some point you have to suck it up and eat the lemons. In Wade's case, not only did Joe and Cash not want to eat the lemon ones. They decided they would be better off tossing the leftover quarter-pack of lemons into the garbage and reaching for a wilted, rotting chunk of old lettuce. Such is the up-and-down life of a middle reliever, and now we get to wait and see where Wade goes from here.