SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Britton Aftermath, Lucas Luetge, Bruce Vs. Dietrich, and Good News On Sevy!
By Andy Singer
Until this week, news out of Yankee Spring Training camp has been almost universally positive. At the end of the day, that’s what Spring Training is supposed to be: a time for hope, even of the irrational kind. For those of you who have been reading my work here over the years, most of you will know that I tend to be hyper-analytical in my methodology, but Spring Training is the one time of year when I tend to take a break from that perspective and enjoy the optimism. However, now that the initial excitement has washed over me, my brain starts to shift into regular season mode, and I want to start seeing guys round into form. Most importantly, I worry about guys staying healthy through meaningless Spring Training games. While the Yankees have been mostly healthy, the first challenges of the Spring have approached, as both Zack Britton and Robinson Chirinos went down with injuries. The Yankees will now have to reformulate their bullpen plans, and Chirinos’ injury all but assures us that Higashioka will begin the year backing up Sanchez. Neither of these injuries are end-of-the-world scenarios, but they did help bring me back to reality a bit.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming! Every week, I see some new names in the inbox, and that’s what I like to see. If you’ve never joined the fray, hop on in, and ask a question – send us an email at SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer a few mailbag questions each week. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll talk about the bullpen in the aftermath of the Zack Britton injury, debate Lucas Luetge’s surprising performance, argue Jay Bruce vs. Derek Dietrich, and briefly discuss Luis Severino’s first bullpen session since his Tommy John Surgery. Let’s get at it:
Josh asks: With Britton going down until at least June, it seems like there are now 2 open spots in the bullpen. Who do you think is most likely to take those spots and does this injury change who might get a spot in the bullpen?
I’m not going to lie, losing Britton for a couple of months is a tough blow to the bullpen, as you could make the argument that he was the most consistent arm in the back of the ‘pen. Josh is correct: prior to Britton’s injury, I thought there was only one open bullpen spot realistically, so Britton’s injury bumps that up to two open bullpen spots. While I’m not sure that Britton’s injury really changes the calculus much, I do think Britton’s injury gives the Yankees more flexibility with the pitching staff in the first half of the season.
Due to the short season in 2020, workloads will need to be managed carefully in both the rotation and the bullpen to keep guys both healthy and fresh. In a starting rotation short on durability and recent innings, it was always going to be imperative to employ multiple arms in the bullpen that can throw multiple innings if needed. Of the guys expected to make the squad, both Loaisiga and Cessa are capable of throwing 2-4 innings if needed, though given Loaisiga’s injury history, I’m not sure if it’s advisable to ask him to go 2+ innings with any regularity. Additionally, of the guys vying for the 5th starter job, Nelson and German both have experience pitching out of the bullpen (and I’d opine that Nelson’s long-term home is almost certainly in the bullpen based on his command/pitch profile), so allowing one of those guys to pitch out of the bullpen to begin the year would give the staff additional innings potential right out of the gate.
Prior to Britton’s injury, I thought Nick Nelson was the best choice for the last spot in the bullpen, but I expected the job to go to one of the Non-Roster Invites (NRI) to ensure that the team maintained maximum roster flexibility early in the year (and potentially manipulate service time for certain young players). With Britton hurt, I think the Yankees can now add one of the NRIs and an additional reliever to begin the year. Based on that method, pick your favorite NRI (Leutge, Warren, etc.) and I’d argue that one of Nelson/Abreu/German becomes the other bullpen piece to begin the year.
Mike asks: Who is Lucas Luetge and is he for real?
It’s not often that a player takes me completely by surprise in Spring Training, but that’s exactly what has happened in Luetge’s case. I wrote about the open roster spots coming into Spring Training a few weeks back, and I didn’t even include Luetge in the write-up despite the fact that I included multiple NRIs with very little chance to make the roster. It has been reported that the Yankees have had a soft spot for Luetge for at least a couple of years, and even tried to sign him at some point last season. It’s incredible to me that the Yankees were that high on a reliever-only who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since a quick cup of coffee in the 2015 season. And yes, you read that correctly: the 2015 season. If Luetge makes the Opening Day Roster, I’d go as far as to say that it’s an Aaron Small level upset (for those of you too young to remember the Aaron Small story, look it up: it’s a good one).
I’ll tell you that I’ve been impressed by Luetge so far. I see what the Yankees see: multiple pitches with very high spin rates and a delivery that creates deception on top of that. He needs deception and spin rate because his fastball lives between 89-91 MPH. I’m not sure that Luetge has a long-term future with the Yankees, and he has an uphill battle to beat out Adam Warren, another NRI of whom the Yankees are clearly fond, but I think he’s a Major League reliever, which is saying something for someone who hasn’t thrown in the big leagues in recent seasons. The fact that we’re even talking about Lucas Luetge tells us that he’s more for real than any of us would have assumed prior to Spring Training. I admit it: I’m rooting for him. Who doesn’t like an underdog story occasionally?
Dave asks: One bench spot likely remains, who do you like: Jay Bruce or Derek Dietrich?
Neither, since I’ve always been a Mike Ford guy. OK, even I have to admit, that Ford probably isn’t a perfect fit based on how both Bruce and Dietrich look. However, I’m going to stick with what I wrote when I discussed open roster spots a few weeks back: Dietrich brings more flexibility, better recent performance, and a more well-rounded skillset. I know Jay Bruce has power, but I think Dietrich looks pretty darn good.
Multiple guys are going to need rest throughout the year, and I think when an evaluation is that close, as it is between Dietrich and Bruce, I take flexibility and a more well-rounded skillset every time.
Brian asks: Severino threw his first bullpen and supposedly looked really good to the point that the coaching staff almost told him to hold back. Thoughts?
I’m cautiously excited. Adding Sevy even at 85% of his former performance at mid-season could make the Yankees’ rotation as formidable as all but one or two in the postseason. That Sevy’s fastball sure seems to be popping in March is encouraging, but the Yankees would be right to make sure that he holds back a bit. I care far more that his fastball is popping in October than I do that it pops in March. That said, for a procedure as major as Tommy John, this can only be construed as great news.