Out of all roster spots, Tommy Layne's bullpen role is probably the least of the Yankees' worries. After all, the last man in the bullpen hardly puts any dent in a team's win total over a full season. A position like first base, where Greg Bird struggled before going on the disabled list and Chris Carter has faltered, should be of greater concern. Yet, making a change with the team's seventh or eighth reliever is an easy and low-risk move that the organization should consider immediately.
Entering the season, Layne's designated role was the bullpen's lefty specialist. Unfortunately, lefties have hit the southpaw better than righties this season. Layne has faced 25 lefties this season and has surrendered a .318/.400/.408 batting line, rendering him ineffective in the role. As the year has progressed, Layne has also seen time in mop-up duty, partly because he has needed work but also perhaps because he has fallen down the list of Joe Girardi's trusted relievers. This has resulted in Layne facing far too many righties, who have clobbered him to the tune of a .286/.375/.500 triple-slash line. The point has been reached where Layne isn't a useful piece on the roster anymore. Fortunately, there's another left-handed option who has distinguished himself in Triple-A and appears to be worth a look: Tyler Webb.
Webb, 27 next month, isn't exactly an exciting prospect, but he's been in the system for a long time and has pitched well at Triple-A for a while. The Yankees temporarily lost Webb to the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft, but Pittsburgh returned him before the season began. With lefties Tony Watson and Felipe Rivero in tow, there wasn't much room for another guy like Webb. It wouldn't have been crushing to lose him permanently, but now that he's back in the organization, it's great to have him as an option.
The nice thing about Webb is that he doesn't necessarily need to be relegated to a LOOGY role like Layne. This season, Triple-A lefties have a .438 OPS against Webb while righties posses a slightly better (but still poor) .489 mark. In prior seasons, righties have had a bit more noticeable advantage against Webb, but it's worth noting that scouts don't think he's limited to being a specialist. Here are Fangraphs' Eric Logenhagen's thoughts:
It's good to see Webb's splits backing up that assessment this season.
Webb is also no stranger to multi-inning appearances, which is another advantage over Layne. So if Girardi wants a LOOGY option that won't embarrass himself against right-handed hitters, why not give Webb a shot?
Aside from lefty/righty splits, Webb's overall numbers seem to merit an opportunity. In 26 innings across 14 appearances, the big 6-foot-5 southpaw is the owner of a 2.77 ERA, has struck out 38.1% of batters faced and has yet to walk anyone. Lots of strikeouts and no walks? That'll do. Such a performance isn't expected in the big leagues, nor would it likely translate, but Webb doesn't have to do much to be better than Layne. Based on what Webb's done in Scranton, it's hard to imagine his results being much worse than Layne.
As I conceded earlier in this post, the last pitcher in the bullpen isn't going to make or break a team. If the Yankees decide to stick it out with Layne, ho hum. It would probably be harmless. That said, there's also nothing to lose by designating Layne for assignment and summoning Webb. It's plausible that Webb would be an upgrade, and even though likely a marginal boost, I'd much rather see what the Yankees have in Webb than continue to roster a known entity like Layne.