Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Next Wave Of Bullpen Help

What was a very deep and dominant Yankee bullpen earlier in the season has quickly disentegrated into a struggling group of pitchers who seem to be in over their heads lately. They were able to tread water for a week or so after Mo and D-Rob went to the DL, but in the last games the lack of depth and lack of lights out talent has started to be exposed. Cory Wade and Boone Logan have both given up runs in their first appearances as the new bridge to the closer. That closer, Rafael Soriano, is still a bit of an adventure, and guys like Clay Rapada, Freddy Garcia, and Cody Eppley are being used in higher-leverage situations than Joe probably ever wanted to have to use them.

Combine all of that with the fact that this current group is close to being overworked due to the rotation's inability to provide length, and the seemingly omnipresent threat of more injuries, and there's a very good chance that the Yankees are going to have to make some more roster moves to keep the bullpen fresh and productive. When that time comes, and it could come soon, there are some viable options in Triple-A that could be of service.

Kevin Whelan- 2012 IP, 18 H, 4 ER, 10 BB, 34 K in 20 Appearances

Yankee fans should be familiar with Whelan from the solid job he did as the SWB close last season and the 2-game cup of coffee he had with the Yankees last June. He's pretty much picked up right where he left off in 2012, posting a 1.74/2.04 ERA/FIP split for Empire State and striking out 13.94 batters per 9 innings. His fastball-splitter combo has been more than enough for him to be effective, even dominant at times, at the Triple-A level. Whelan's biggest issue is command, as is the norm with most late-20s guys stuck in the Minors. But he has plenty of late-game experience and high-leverage experience as a MiL closer, so presumably he could be a better 1-inning option than Cody Eppley if he can throw strikes.

Manny Delcarmen- 14.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 9 BB, 17 K in 10 Appearances

Delcarmen looked like he was on pace to earn himself a spot in the Major League bullpen out of spring camp until a lat injury sidelined him. He also missed a chunk of time from mid-April to mid-May, but overall he has been very effective at limiting damage and striking guys out for Empire State. Like Whelan, Delcarmen has always been plagued by bouts of inconsistency with his command, and this year is no different as he sports a 5.52 BB/9. The 30-year-old also has a long track record of pitching in the AL East, and a track record of some success at that. Bare minimum, he should be able to provide some middle-inning depth if needed.

Juan Cedeno- 21.0 IP, 22 H, 6 ER, 7 BB, 23 K in 16 Appearances

For a guy who was never much of a strikeout pitcher at lower levels of the Minors, Cedeno's current 9.86 K/9 is a pleasant surprise. If Rapada hits the wall, Cedeno would probably be the next option if Joe were looking to continue to carry 2 lefties in the 'pen. He doesn't have much of a lefty/righty split to speak of. In fact, he's pitched more innings against right-handed hitters this season and has a lower ERA against them (2.13) than against lefties (3.24). His historically low K rates, better K numbers this season against lefties, and fastball-slider combo project him as more of a LOOGY option at the Major League level, however, and if it got the point that he was needed in the Yankee 'pen that's what his role should be.

Chase Whitley- 22.2 IP, 18 H, 8 ER, 9 BB, 19 K in 14 Appearances

The 22-year-old Whitley is an interesting case in that he's actually a fringe prospect in the Yankee system and has moved methodically up through the ranks to Triple-A in just 2 years. He's got 3 pitches that he mixes (fastball, slider, change) and has some flexibility to be used as a 1-inning or multiple-inning guy, although history suggests his performance starts to dip when he's used for multiple innings too often. Whitley has struggled a bit with his command and BB rate over the past 2 seasons at the higher levels, and his K rate has fluctuated, but the Yankees brass seems high on him. Whitley could conceivably use an emergency call up as his opportunity to break into the bullpen rotation long-term, similar to how D-Rob did years back.

Dellin Betances- 44.2 IP, 39 H, 26 ER, 38 BB, 39 K in 9 Appearances (All Starts)

It hasn't been a very positive year thus far for Betances in what is essentially a make-or-break season for him as a legit top prospect. He has a 5.24/5.89 split despite just a .266 BABIP against and has allowed an unsightly 79 total baserunners in just 44.2 innings pitched. If anything, his command and ability to repeat his motion has regressed from where it was last year, and the likelihood of him developing into a useful Major League starting pitcher dwindles with every walk-filled outing he has. There has been a growing call from analysts, bloggers, and fans alike to convert Betances to a relief role for over the past 2 years, and continuing injury/performance problems from an already depleted bullpen could be just the reason the Yankees need to make the conversion. Who knows? Maybe they get lucky and catch lightning in a bottle like they did with Joba in '07.

It's certainly understandable that a bullpen would suffer when it's without its 2 best pitchers, but the Yankees still need to play games and still need to be competitive. With the news that D-Rob is going to be out longer than the required 15 days, they don't have the luxury of just trying to get by for the next week and waiting for D-Rob to save them. If the ineffectiveness and overwork continues, it's very likely that someone from this group gets called up in the near future.


scooterb1 said...

Another thing to keep in mind: Since the offense cannotsee its way to score runs, this forces every pitcher (starting and relief)to pitch without making mistakes. And perfect pitching day-in and day-out is simply not possible. It's a terrible strain to put on your pitchers.

Unknown said...

That's a very good point. There's little margin for error right now, and that margin becomes even smaller when it's league average or below pitchers out on the mound.