It is currently unknown who will for sure be in the Yankees bullpen beyond the recently signed Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard, but there is one pitcher who pitched well in his two months with the team last season who should be a relief pitcher again.
Adam Warren should be in the bullpen instead of the rotation this season because the Yankees inability to get the back end of the bullpen many times last year proved how much they need a strong middle relief. Right now on the official depth chart on the Yankees website they have him as a rotation candidate, which means that he will go into spring training as a candidate for one of the two open spots in the rotation.
Warren was selected by the Yankees in the 4th round of the 2009 draft as a starting pitcher out of the University of North Carolina. He pitched in the minors from 2009-2011, spent the 2012 season with Triple-A Scranton except for 2.1 innings with the Yankees and then spent the 2013 through 2015 seasons with the Yankees.
The 6-1, 29-year-old, who was born in Birmingham had his most successful season in 2014 when he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. He had an impressive 2.97 ERA in 69 games (78.2 innings) in 2014 with a 1.106 WHIP, 76 strikeouts, 24 walks, 23 holds and three saves. He showed he could excel in multiple roles in the bullpen, and improved his stats from the previous year when he was not a starting pitcher for the first time.
In 2015, the righty threw a career-high 131.1 innings since 17 of his 43 appearances were as a starting pitcher. Warren ended up starting the season in the rotation and then was moved back to his bullpen at the end of June. He ended the 2015 season with a solid 3.29 ERA in his 43 games with a very good 1.16 WHIP, a 2.8 WAR, 104 strikeouts, 39 walks and 10 homers allowed. These are solid overall stats but they were improved by the games he pitched in relief.
He made 14 starts to begin the season (and three from the middle to end of September) and had a 3.59 ERA those appearances, which is a quality ERA and about equals that of a No. 3 or 4 starter, but the Yankees have other younger candidates for the No. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation who are capable of that ERA. He has also proven that he can excel in the bullpen as he did last season when he returned to the Yankees.
Before the 2016 season, Warren and Brendan Ryan were traded to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. This was a great trade overall for the Yankees because Castro played well as he had a .270 average, a .734 OPS, 21 homers, 70 RBI, 29 doubles and 156 hits in his first full season as a second baseman, and the Yankees got Warren back at the trade deadline when they traded Chapman to the Cubs.
General Manager Brian Cashman wanted Warren back because even though he had struggled with the Cubs he knew he had pitched well under Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild in the past and he thought he would improve the bullpen after trading away Chapman and Andrew Miller.
When interviewed after being traded back to the Yankees, Warren blamed not really knowing his role with the Cubs for his subpar performance. It could also be that reuniting with Rothschild helped him pitch like he had in previous seasons. In 29 games with the Cubs, Warren made one start, threw 35 innings, had a 5.91 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP and had 27 strikeouts and 19 walks, which is a high strikeout to walk ratio.
However, after coming to the Yankees just before the trade deadline, his performance was much better than it was during his 29 games with the Cubs. He pitched in 29 games with the Yankees in the last two months (30.1 innings) and had an improved 3.26 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 0.4 WAR, six holds, four wins, 25 strikeouts, 10 walks and 11 earned runs compared to 23 with Chicago.
He makes sense for middle relief because of his drastic improvement in the last two months of this season helping to make the bullpen a strength when it was an unknown after losing Miller and Chapman. In some ways having a very effective middle relief can be just as important as a dominant closer because if the lead is blown in the 7th or 8th the closer will not pitch in the game.
Tyler Clippard is another pitcher who was not on the Yankees in the first half of the season but excelled with the Yankees in August and September. With the Diamondbacks in 40 games last season he had a 4.30 ERA but with the Yankees in 29 games he produced more like he did when he was an All-Star in 2014 as he had a 2.49 ERA with 26 strikeouts in his second tour with the Yankees.
It is likely but somewhat of an unknown if Clippard and Warren can both produce like they did towards the end of the season, which is why Warren should be in the bullpen. Unless the Yankees acquire an established middle relief pitcher, which seems unlikely, everyone in the bullpen besides Chapman, Betances and Clippard would be in their 1st or 2nd year.
It would be ideal to have Warren in the bullpen and only moved to the rotation in an emergency because that is where he is most valuable. If Warren is in the bullpen once again then the team’s bullpen can be top three in the league and will be a definite strength. The UNC product combining with Clippard to pitch the 7th would mean that young pitchers like Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve and Nick Goody’s role wouldn’t be as important.
According to Brooks Baseball, Warren relied on his fourseam fastball (93 mph) and slider (88 mph), while also mixing in a circle change (85 mph), knuckle curve (80 mph) and sinker (93 mph) this season. Many relief pitchers use a fastball and slider but his ability to throw three more pitchers makes him different.