Among this spring’s battles for roster and positional spots is a war in which the Yankees cannot lose. That is the battle for the fifth starter’s role in the rotation.
Prior to breaking camp, our always willing to lend his opinion and do Joe Girardi’s job for him GM Brian Cashman crowned over-aged, overpaid, mediocre pitcher Chris Capuano the fifth starter. As fate would have it, either age or a lack of proper stretching before a game landed Capuano on the DL with a strain of his right quad. The 36-year-old who last pitched more than 150 innings in 2012 (also the last time he had an ERA under 4.20) was running to cover first base on a ground ball to the right side when he pulled up lame.
Capuano’s misfortune opened the door for more deserving pitchers to battle for the one remaining spot among the starting five. Initially the competition would be between 27-year-old Adam Warren, 29-year-old Esmil Rogers, and 25-year-old Chase Whitley. Rogers has slipped after an outing against the Tigers where he yielded five hits and two walks over three innings. It was a start that manager Joe Girardi had labelled as “important” to the former Blue Jay, and one has to believe it eliminated Rogers from the running.
That leaves a win-win situation for the Yankees. The powers-that-be already are familiar with what they have in Warren and Whitley, and it is clear that the “loser” of their competition will have a role in the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter. Let’s take a look at what they bring to the table and how they have fared to this point.
Adam Warren hasn’t started a regular season game since 2013, and has primarily been used in long relief for the Yankees with increasing success. Last season he pitched 78.2 innings and had a 2.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched). As FANGRAPHS describes in this article about Warren, he features both a 2 and 4-seam fastball that average 94 mph and has an above average change-up. He compliments those pitches with a curveball and a slider (cutter). The article does some comparisons between Warren and pitchers with similar skills and concludes that he is most similar to a Zack Greinke, Homer Bailey, or Matt Cain.
That’s some impressive company. While he certainly can go in a completely opposite direction than the three aforementioned accomplished hurlers, the fact that he has the same type of “tools” they do offers great potential from our fifth pitching spot. He hasn’t hurt his chances this spring either. To date, he has pitched 16.2 spring innings and holds a 2.70 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He has struck out 11 and walked just one batter. At this rate, he’ll not only win a starting spot - he’ll keep it.
Though younger than Warren, Chase Whitley has more starts in a Yankee uniform than his competitor. When the rash of injuries began its attack upon the starting rotation last season, Whitley was one of the pitchers called into duty. Through his first seven starts in 2014, Whitley held a 2.56 ERA and 3 – 0 record. As is often the case with youth, inconsistency set in, and three starts later the right hander found himself relegated to the bullpen. Whitley features three pitches: a fastball that averages around 91 mph, a slider and a change-up. As Chad Jennings of Lohud writes in this article, Whitley has been experimenting with adding a curve ball to his repertoire. So far, the results have been promising. Through 11 innings pitched in camp, Whitley has yielded just one run (0.83 ERA) and holds a 1.09 WHIP. Where opposing batters are hitting .266 off Adam Warren, their average against Whitley is just .220.
While it is clear who Cashman favors – he said that Warren is the “Secretariat” of the pitching corps – Joe Girardi has seemingly kept an open mind as to who will get that final starting role in the rotation. It has been written by others in the media that the Yankees aren’t sure whether Warren’s “stuff” will translate to being a starting pitcher, yet it is hard to discount how he has looked this spring. Likewise, even though Whitley pitched to mixed results last season, in this year’s camp he has looked nearly untouchable. It’s a dilemma I am sure every manager wishes he had, and definitely one that Girardi welcomes.
Once again, an injury to one of Cashman’s aging add-ons has finally opened the possibility of a deserving hurler that has made his way through the Yankees’ system to establish themselves in the Bronx. The question is which one will it be?
Either way, the Yankees will be the better for it. Both Whitley and Warren have upsides that make the Capuano re-signing seem ridiculous. Both add more to the rotation – and the bullpen – than Capuano could.
It’s one positional battle that will end in a win for the Yankees. My own opinion is that Warren will be our fifth starter, and will stay in that role through the season. He’s shown that he has the stuff to be a “keeper” on the staff. Whitley’s day is coming, make no mistake about it, and given what occurred last year, it would come as no surprise if he too ends up in the rotation during the 2015 campaign.What do you think? Let us know!