As the playoffs approach and the Yankees continue to whittle down their magic number (currently 11) and get closer to locking up a spot in this year’s playoffs, examination inevitably turns to the construction of the playoff roster. In light of Nova’s outing last night, the Yankees will have a tough decision to make when determining who gets the long man job in the bullpen this year.
In 2009, the Yankees went with 11 pitchers in the ALDS: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Chamberlain, Rivera, Hughes, Robertson, Marte, Gaudin, Coke and Aceves. This year, the picture is almost complete. Sabathia, Pettitte (provided he’s healthy), Burnett and Hughes will all have a spot on the roster. That’s four of eleven. After that is the bullpen. Rivera is the closer, and Robertson, Wood, Chamberlain and Logan all represent mix and match options for Girardi in the late innings. This leaves the team with 9 pitchers. Barring injury, all of these pitchers will be on the postseason roster. This means the following five pitchers will be competing for the final two spots: Gaudin, Mitre, Moseley, Vazquez and Nova. Who deserves the 10th and 11th spot on the postseason roster? Here are their stats since the All-Star Break:
Chad Gaudin: 26.2 innings, 3.38 ERA, .674 OPS-against, 20 strikeouts, 9 walks.
Sergio Mitre: 24 innings, 4.44 ERA, .818 OPS-against, 10 strikeouts, 7 walks.
Dustin Moseley: 55 innings, 5.07 ERA, .793 OPS-against, 26 strikeouts, 24 walks.
Ivan Nova: 26 innings, 4.78 ERA, .771 OPS-against, 18 strikeouts, 9 walks.
As a result, it’s probably safe to say that Vazquez is the favorite for the tenth man in the bullpen. He has been excellent in relief thus far, and would at least be able to make an emergency start for the team should something go drastically wrong. There’s plenty of time left, and Vazquez could pitch his way out of the playoffs with a poor performance in relief, but if he continues to excel in these long-relief roles as the season ends it’s easy to imagine Cashman and Girardi penciling him in as the 10th man in the pen.
Assuming the Yankees go with 11 pitchers, this leaves a slot for one of Gaudin, Nova, Moseley and Mitre. It’s probably safe to say that it’s a two-horse race between Gaudin and Nova. Mitre and Moseley have been flat, and don’t provide any notable benefit to the club beyond being a living, breathing human being with the ability to stand on a pitching mound and throw 88 mph fastballs in the direction of home plate. They’ve been fine for what they are, but they really have no future in the postseason.
This leaves Gaudin and Nova. Over at River Ave. Blues, Joe Pawlikowski argues for Nova to be the eleventh man out of the pen. He shows that Nova has had success in the first two innings of his outings this year, and has generally succeeded in early work before struggling the third time through the lineup. He also notes that the Yankees really only have four effective relievers before Rivera, meaning that the club might need an additional arm that can provide innings in addition beyond Vazquez. Joe’s argument in favor of Nova is compelling, and Nova is certainly the more flashy choice, so to speak. He throws hard, he’s young, he’s a prospect, and, well, we haven’t had to watch him struggle, waste pitches and annoy us throughout the season like we have with Gaudin. Right now, Ivan Nova is the greener grass on the other side.
There is one advantage that Chad Gaudin brings to the table, though. In his career, he’s shown ROOGY tendencies and has been considerably better at getting out righties than lefties. He’s held righties to a .252/.323/.416 line with a very impressive 2.78 K/BB ratio in his career. Lefties have hit him much better, posting a .291/.385/.440 off him, and his K/BB ratio is a meager 0.92. This year he’s shown almost no platoon advantage, (.851 OPS against v. RHP, .853 OPS-against v. LHP), but of course the sample size is only 60 innings. If Vazquez is providing the team with 3 or 4 innings in one of the ALDS games, how much length do the Yankees really need from Gaudin or Nova? It’s possible their value to the team in the playoffs could be not only in their ability to pitch two or three innings, but also to come in in the 5th or 6th inning and retire several right-handed hitters before handing the game over to a better reliever.
The 11th man out of the bullpen ought not to decide the American League Division Series. Regardless, the Yankees will have a tough decision to make when considering Nova and Gaudin. If the season ended today, I’d go with Nova. But it doesn’t end today, and I hope the Yankees can use Nova in the bullpen down the stretch to see how he performs. If he has difficulty adapting, then Gaudin might be a better option. His recent success and platoon advantage mean that the Yankees could do far worse than him and his ROOGY upside. I know, I’m as surprised as you.
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