Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is David Aardsma's Return A Desperation Move?

Some discussion got stirred up yesterday afternoon after David Aardsma took to his Twitter account to drop hints that he was going to be activated by the Yankees today.  Aardsma has been out all year recovering from TJS, and already had his comeback temporarily put on hold after he suffered a setback during his rehab outings.  The expectation, at least mine, was that Aardsma would be shut down for the year to not risk further serious injury to his elbow and to allow him time to fully recover and fully prepare for the 2013 season, when the Yankees will have a dirt cheap 500k option on him.  Now it looks like plans have changed.

It's a little surprising to see Aardsma coming back this late in the season, and in a similar fashion as Andy Pettitte, without the benefit of real, actual game action as part of his rehab process.  At least it's surprising with respect to just Aardsma and his health.  When you factor in the workload being taken on by the bullpen recently, though, it does make some sense.  But enough sense to overlook the risks to Aardsma?

The Yankees have played 13 games in the last 2 calendar weeks, and have put a tremendous amount of stress on their bullpen in those games.  Collectively, the relief corps has thrown 45.2 innings in these last 13 games, including 11.2 in relief of Ivan Nova last Saturday, and the overall bulk of those innings has been taken on by the high-leverage relief guys.  As I stated last Friday, this has been caused primarily by the Yankees playing nothing but close games, a trend that has continued since Friday.  Each of the last 13 games have been 3-run games or fewer, 6 of them 1-run affairs.  With the bullpen having to take on more innings to cover for some poor starting pitching and Andy's pitch count, and Joe having to lean on his best guys to get wins in all these close games and maintain New York's slim division lead, the need for more quality arms is obvious.

The problem is that there hasn't been much quality beyond that core group that Joe trusts.  Cody Eppley hasn't gotten much work lately after giving up some key hits here and there, Freddy Garcia is only good in small doses, ditto for Derek Lowe, and the duo of Cory Wade and Justin Thomas made a 6-run lead in the 8th inning way more interesting than it had to be last night.  If Joe is going to get his best group of relievers to the playoffs with anything left in the tank, he needs another option that he can count on.

Enter Aardsma, who has tons of high-leverage late-game experience, some closer experience even.  If he's been deemed healthy, then he's an ideal candidate to fill this need.  My concern is that he's not entirely healthy, at least not as healthy in terms of game shape as he could be if he had the benefit of some more MiL rehab appearances.  Maybe it's just the sketchy nature that has surrounded almost every elbow injury in the organization this year talking, but I'm worried about Aardsma coming back without those rehab games and after already experiencing one setback with his elbow.

The decision has been made, and Aardsma will likely be available out of the bullpen tonight.  It's a move that really can't be argued from a competitive standpoint.  Aardsma is a better option than almost the entirety of the middle relief group right now, at least on paper.  But from a performance standpoint, with what we saw from Joba when he first came back, and a health risk standpoint, it is a move that's questionable.

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