Friday, May 15, 2015

Losing Starting Pitcher Chase Whitley
Is A Big Blow - To The Yankees Bullpen

By Barry Millman

The loss of starting pitcher Chase Whitley might seem relatively minor to some with the anticipated return of veteran Chris Capuano to the rotation this weekend.

After all, it's been pointed out by many fans and more than a few members of the media,  Whitley was destined to be replaced anyway by either Capuano or fellow rehabber Ivan Nova, who will follow him back to the Bronx in a few weeks.

But the immediate impact and ripple effects from Whitley's loss are significant, both in the near term and down the road. And here's why.

Whitley's injury means that Capuano will replace him in the rotation instead of converted long reliever Adam Warren. Whitley was able to provide roughly the same length as a starter as Warren and was a better starting pitcher, and Warren is a far better pitcher out of the pen than he is as a starter. Warren remaining in the rotation means Esmil Rogers will continue to be used in an extended reliever role that isn't wearing well on him. With Warren and Rogers both forced to continue  in uncomfortable roles producing diminishing returns instead of where their best value lies, that doesn't bode well for the rotation, the bullpen or anyone. And when Warren finally does return to the bullpen to pick up some of the long relief slack from Rogers, both their innings counts are going to be dangerously inflated, further impacting their likely value later in the season.

More than anything else, Wednesday's game underscored both the urgent need for Adam Warren to return to the bullpen as a long reliever, and how ill-suited Esmil Rogers is for that role. 

Rogers' 3.1-inning two-run appearance was the 5th time in 11 appearances this season he's gone past two innings. Last year, Rogers made 34 combined  appearances for the Blue Jays and Yankees totaling 45.2 innings and only went past two innings twice -- and one of those was an emergency spot start. That comes to 1.3 innings -- or roughly four outs -- per appearance.

This year he's already  pitched 22.1 innings. That means he's staying in an average of six outs per appearance and he's already hit half his total workload from last season with less than a quarter of the season gone. At this rate of usage, he'll surpass last year's innings total and pitch count before the All-Star break -- and there are already disturbing signs the rate of usage is affecting him.

 He's allowed multiple hits and at least one run in four consecutive appearances now after doing so just once in his previous four games. Thursday's game was the first time he'd walked two batters in an appearance this season. In his six April appearances he pitched to a 2.35 ERA. In his five May appearances, he's pitched to a 6.43 ERA.

Rogers has performed a difficult task admirably, but it's not one that he likely can keep up much longer. And despite Warren's last start in which he finally broke the six-inning barrier for the first time, his greatest value to the team is giving length to faltering starters out of the pen. 

As a career starter, Warren carries a 5.03 ERA -- right about where his current 4.50 has been bouncing this month --  with a 6.0 SO/9, 1.68 SO/W and opposing batters hit .279 against him with a .761 OPS. As a reliever, he carries a 3.23 ERA with a 8.0 SO/9, 2.59 SO/W and batter are .246 with a .698 OPS. There's no question he's a valuable reliever and little question he is, at best, a mediocre starter. The problem for Warren is that with Whitley going down, the mediocre starter must now remain in the rotation instead of the excellent long reliever returning to the bullpen to help out Rogers when Capuano returns as planned. He's currently at 38 innings on the year, which is roughly half his 2014 total of 78.2 innings with less than a quarter of the season gone -- just like Rogers.

The loss of Whitley means the two key relievers the team had counted on to add length to the bullpen will likely continue to be liabilities instead of assets, will continue to burn through innings at an accelerated rate and may ultimately be of little or no use later in the season.

You can email Barry Millman at Follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.