Bullpen Notes: Availability, Cessa, Ottavino, Chapman

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The Yankees have won seven of their last nine games with a dominant offense. However, in that same span, the team has allowed 5.33 runs per game and eight runs a game in the last five days.

Going into a series against the Red Sox, that’s *cue Joe Girardi shrugging* not what you want. The Yankees will need to turn things around and that starts with the rotation giving the team something better than 5+ runs an outing.

But it also falls on the bullpen. So here are some notes, stats and speculation on the Yankees’ relief that has been less-than-stellar in recent days.

Who’s Rested for Boston?

Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman have each thrown on consecutive days. Nestor Cortes Jr. just tossed 54 pitches. David Hale is one day removed from a 46-pitch outing himself. Though Hale has been a godsend recently, he’s still subject to the recovery of a normal pitcher.

That leaves the Yankees with four presumably fresh arms for Thursday’s game behind Masahiro Tanaka: Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Luis Cessa. The former three each pitched in Tuesday’s mess/beauty of a baseball game while Cessa threw 55 pitches Monday. He may not even be ready for a full night of relief, though two days off hopefully has him rested enough.

Aaron Boone has been able to avoid throwing any pitcher on three consecutive days this season and I expect that to continue. Therefore, Cortes probably goes down for a fresh arm that can absorb innings.

Chance Adams started two days ago. Stephen Tarpley and Jonathan Holder can only come up through an IL stint as they’ve been optioned fewer than 10 days ago, though Brett Gardner may be ready for said IL stint. Daniel Camarena, Domingo Acevedo and Joe Harvey are the other 40-man roster options.

Luis Cessa and His Slider

OK, so Luis Cessa is good now? Maybe. But he has been fantastic for the last month.

In his last 17 innings (six games), he’s allowed just three runs (two earned) with 20 strikeouts, five walks and a .595 OPS against. That adds up to a 1.06 ERA as he’s lowered his overall mark to a career-best 4.13.

OK, let’s dig deeper: What is he doing to be more effective? His velocity is about the same as it’s been all season with mid-90s heat on his fastball. Instead of his heater, it’s been the slider that has taken off.

(MLB.TV)

Already his most effective pitch, he’s thrown it more than 50 percent of the time this month and has gotten whiffs 41.2 percent of the time. The spin rate is up to 2506 rpm from 2462 rpm in a sample of 67 pitches. However, for the season, he has allowed six home runs on the pitch. It’s not all peaches and cream.

Mike Axisa always speculated that Cessa could be an effective reliever if he went all-in on his fastball-slider combo. This may be the start of that, although I wouldn’t say Cessa has figured things out. It’s been a great last month. Let’s see him make it two.

Adam Ottavino, walks and lefties

Adam Ottavino has been the Yankees’ fireman this season, but he’s starting to run into a rough period. Though he’s still striking out as many batters as before, he’s also walking more than any season but 2017. That’s why his FIP (3.65) and xFIP (4.33) are lagging well behind his 1.60 ERA.

I think we’re reaching a breaking point with Ottavino. He has stranded 93.9 percent of batters and some of that is his ability to get strikeouts. However, basically no one can sustain that kind of mark. Either he needs to change or he may let the team down in a big spot soon.

One of his major issues is facing southpaws. Against same-sided hitters, he’s able to wipe them out with his slider. That’s why you’ll see him come in specifically to face J.D. Martinez at least once this weekend.

Lefties, meanwhile, have a .414 xWOBA against the slider and he’s forced to basically rely on his two-seam sinker against them. It’s been effective, but he still has a clear platoon split.

His strikeout rate dips from 38.6 percent against righties to 20 percent against lefties, while his walks rise to 18.3 percent. That’s a dismal 1.7 K-BB rate. Yikes.

What’s Wrong with Chapman Week ™

The inevitable Aroldis Chapman slump is here. Eight of his 17 walks this season have come this month. In the same seven-game span, he’s gotten just nine strikeouts and allowed six runs, blowing three saves. It’s only led to one Yankees loss, but it sparks the inevitable question: What’s wrong with Aroldis Chapman?

He has a month like this every season, usually right around an IL stint. Last season, there was his knee tendonitis, though that hasn’t bothered him this year.

There’s a pretty simple reason why he’s less effective this month: His velocity is way down. He’s averaging a little over 97 mph on his four-seamer after a 99-mph mark in June. He’s seen similar 1-2 mph drops in his sinker and slider.

(Fangraphs)

In addition, he’s only throwing 56 percent strikes for the month. It seems he has little command of his fastball, so hitters can sit on his slider in a way they normally cannot.

I don’t have an explanation for the velocity drop — he’s usually peaking around now — but whatever the issue, he’ll need to find a way to work around it.

Overall, this may simply be the big workloads early in the season for Ottavino, Chapman and the rest of the bullpen arms coming back to bite the Yankees. Luckily, they have a handful of days to acquire reinforcements, plus a 10-game leads to work around.

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4 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    One problem with acquiring the starter everyone wants? Unless they IL a starter or pull someone out of the rotation, that means going back to a 7 man pen. And losing the up and down spot (Cortes, Tarpley, etc) . And with Cessa and Hale out of options, how do they get a fresh arm if they need one? I think Green and German are the only guys with options? (maybe Kahnle too?)

    I guess they could give German a 10 day breather by optioning down, or they could do a 10 day phantom IL for CC or Paxton when they need a fresh arm, but the pen might end up getting taxed even more if they go to 6 starters.

  2. Lol sitting on Chapman’s slider. That first outing when the good FB command comes back is going to look ugly for those hitters. His velocity has really wavered this year. Boone related it to mechanics and that checks out, since he’s lost both velocity and the ability to locate altogether at once. Get on it Larry.

    • Namecap Spaceman

      If his velocity is down and his control/command is off, he’s either got a mechanical problem or some type of minor injury. Let’s hope he finds his way through it soon.

    • GhostofCharlesHudson

      Is it me or has he been used pretty sporadically this season? It’s like feast or famine with the starters on this team; either they’re going 6 innings plus on the regular and leaving with a massive lead that renders Chappy useless or else he’s called on for high leverage three games in a row. It’s like there’s no in-between. I’d almost-almost-prefer Boone just use him in the seventh or eighth sometimes even if he’s not needed just to keep his muscle memory fresh and mechanics consistent.

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