Saturday, June 14, 2014

Can Heath Bell Be Of Any Value?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

The shuffling and re-shuffling of the middle relief deck has been a constant for the Yankees this year.  Early injuries to the rotation, some DL stints at the front end of the 'pen, and a lot of really poor performances have combined to a rotation of mostly mediocre characters through the last 2 spots and the Yanks are very much still in search of a couple of reliable options.  They've got rookie Jose Ramirez in 1 spot for the moment, and the recently-acquired David Huff in the other.  You'll remember him from his tandem starter duties with Phil Hughes last season.

Another move Cash made to add some organizational depth was signing Heath Bell to a MiL deal on Friday.  Bell was released by the Rays earlier in the season after putting up a 7.27 ERA in 17.1 IP and most recently he had been pitching some OK ball for the Baltimore Orioles' Triple-A affiliate (4.22/3.24 in 10.2 IP).  He's been on an accelerated downtrend for the last few seasons, so is there any reason to think he might have something offer the Yankee bullpen?

In short, no.  Bell looks like the classic type of reliever who got by on the strength of his velocity and weird delivery and lost his effectiveness once he started to lose said velocity.  All of his statistics point to the same diagnosis of age-related regression, one his secondary stuff was never going to be able to overcome.  He was striking out fewer batters than ever at the Major League level this season (13.6% K rate), walking more than ever (9.1% BB rate), and he's getting hit a lot (24 H, 14 ER allowed).

The prime reason for that is most likely his big drop in fastball velocity.  Known to average around 93-94 MPH in his peak years and still held at 93.1 on his 4-seamer as recently as last year, Bell's 2 and 4-seamer are both sitting in the mid-90s this year.  That's led to him using those pitches less and working more with his curveball and changeup, but neither of those pitches are plus offspeed offerings and his mid-80s change probably doesn't fool many batters when it's working off a low 90s fastball.

Bell is 36 years old and well on his way to turning 37, so none of this is unexpected.  He was never a really refined pitcher with multiple good pitches and plus control even in his heyday.  Now he's a guy with regular-at-best stuff and iffy command and he's having a hard time adjusting to that.  You can get excited about his 66.7% GB rate if you want to, but I'm going to chalk that up to SSS luck.  If 2 Major League clubs decided they didn't have a use for him in their bullpens, that tells me there isn't much left here.  Bell will serve a purpose as organizational depth while Triple-A SWB deals with some bullpen injuries, but I don't see much chance his time in the Yankee organization ends up being any more than that.

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