For obvious reasons — the team’s current needs; individuals’ early season performance — the idea of moving Dellin Betances and/or Adam Warren into the Yankees rotation is a popular topic of discussion. Those two have been terrific out of the bullpen, they were starters in the minors, and now the rotation is incredibly thin. The Yankees own decision makers often talk about giving young pitchers every chance to be starters before moving them into the bullpen. As a general rule, a good starter is more valuable than a good reliever.
So the conversation makes sense. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea, but I get why its tempting and why it might even work.
Three things that I think about:
1. It’s especially hard for me to buy the Betances argument. I always argued against the idea of moving him to the pen — if he couldn’t throw strikes as a starter, why would he be able to as a reliever? — but the Yankees made the change last season, and the impact has been undeniable. He’d been erratic out of the rotation, and he became consistent out of the bullpen. No one has ever questioned his raw stuff, only his ability to use it reliably, and even Betances acknowledges that the bullpen move has positively affected his ability to throw strikes regularly. He was given year after year to figure it out as a starter — despite scouting reports often suggesting the bullpen might be his eventually landing spot — and now he’s 26 having finally found a way to be an impact pitcher at the big league level. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t carry this consistency back into the rotation, but he’s on pace to throw close to 100 innings out of the bullpen, and those are clearly going to be meaningful innings going forward. I find it hard to be convinced that this bullpen success was seamlessly carry over to the rotation. I agree that it might, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk of knocking Betances off track again. The Yankees took heat for yanking Joba Chamberlain back and forth, now they’re supposed to do the same with Betances?
2. Converting Warren makes more sense to me, but only with 20-20 hindsight. Out of spring training, the Yankees bullpen was a massive question mark. No one knew whether Betances was the real deal, whether Dave Robertson could handle the ninth inning, or whether Shawn Kelley could repeat last year’s breakout results. Going with a sort of “take the best and see what works” approach, the Yankees opened with three late-20s minor league starters in their bullpen. As it turned out, the Yankees had rotation injuries so early in the season, that David Phelps and Vidal Nuno were still roughly stretched out enough to step into the rotation without facing extreme pitch limits. Warren was kept in the rotation because, of the three, he’s the one who had most taken advantage of that “see what works” approach. So far, he simply works as a late-inning reliever. No question Warren’s early season results would be more valuable if they were coming as a starter and not a reliever, but did it really make sense for the Yankees to keep Phelps, Nuno and Warren stretched out while their bullpen was overloaded with uncertainty? Getting Warren stretched out again right now would not only require trusting that he can carry this success into the rotation, it would also require losing him for several weeks while he builds innings in the minors.
3. Frustrating as it may be to see potential starters “wasted” in the bullpen, this is quite often the way relievers are made. The Cardinals are often cited as the model franchise these days, and their key late-inning relievers — Rosenthal, Martinez, Siegrist, Maness — are all in their mid-20s and all pitched (and generally pitched very well) as starters in the minor leagues. Look around the American League East, you’ll find the same thing: in Baltimore (Britton, Webb, Matusz); in Toronto (Delabar, Rogers, Cecil); in Tampa Bay (Jake McGee was a Top 50 prospect as a starter); and in Boston (Andrew Miller was the No. 6 overall pick who flamed out as a starter). Performance, need and opportunity all factor into these things. Doesn’t make it wrong to suggest a guy like Betances or Warren could be just as effective (and even more valuable) if he were moved back into the rotation, but I tend to think that situations like that are a pretty common. Every big league roster probably has a guy or two who might be more valuable in another role, but circumstance often sends them in a different direction.
Associated Press photos