The Mike King Injury Fallout
I just don't understand: can someone explain to me why it is we can't have nice things?!? I didn't even watch Friday night's game. I was on the phone with my brother, who told me that King threw a pitch and immediately had his arm go limp. I knew before the official injury diagnosis came out that his elbow was broken and his season was over (as an aside: when you see a pitcher's arm go limp after a throw, it's a break; when the arm recoils, the UCL or flexor mass is torn...you'll impress your friends and family when you call it), and I've been in a state of malaise since Friday night. Official news of the break came late Friday night, and Monday we'll find out if the break caused damage to King's UCL as well. I feel terrible for Mike King. He's had a long, slow climb through the minors and on the shuttle to find a permanent role at the big league level, and between last season's solid performance and this season's breakout, he had finally done it. First and foremost, I hope Mike King's recovery goes smoothly and he's able to come back with the same velocity and slider that made him so effective this season.
But we don't have time to wallow in our sorrow for King, as the Yankees all of a sudden have a surprisingly thin bullpen. After Clay Holmes, Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga are flailing even when asked to swim in the shallow end of the pool, Wandy Peralta is dealing with an achy back, Shane Greene is a re-tread that can't really be counted on for important innings, and Albert Abreu and Lucas Luetge are probably best suited to low-medium leverage innings. I'm not particularly worried about the remainder of the regular season. The Yankees have enough pitching and firepower to get by with a solid record in the season's second half, enough to battle with the Astros for the best record in the AL and a first round bye in the playoffs. I'm concerned about doing what's best for the roster so that the bullpen is prepared for a long October run.
With all of that in mind, I have a few prescriptions for what ails the Yankees' bullpen right now, with an eye towards long-term health. They are as follows:
Trade for David Robertson yesterday. The Yankees need a good relief rental to supplement this bullpen, no matter how bullish I am about Yankee pitching in the minors or on the shuttle. David Robertson has experience pitching well in high leverage roles in two separate stints under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, and everything indicates that Robertson is basically the guy that pitched for the Yankees prior to Tommy John Surgery. Robertson has pitched to the tune of a 1.88 ERA with strong peripheral strikeout and walk rates, though FIP thinks he's due for some regression given the number of hits he's allowed this season. Statcast shows that his spin rates, opponent contact quality, and opponent whiff rates are elite, his pitch location heatmaps are the best they've ever been, and his trademark curveball is as good as it's ever been, with hitters batting just a .181 WOBA against it. Robertson is on an expiring contract and the Cubs are ready to sell. Even if they have to overpay to do it, this is a move that just makes too much sense for the Yankees. I would argue that a Robertson-caliber reliever is more important right now than an outfielder.
Make Schmidt and Sears permanent fixtures in the bullpen. Clarke Schmidt and JP Sears have ridden the shuttle all season in the name of staying stretched out at AAA. The needs are too desperate in the bullpen, and there are others are capable of filling in the rotation on the 40-man roster. Sears and Schmidt have proven that they can be electric in 1-2 inning roles out of the bullpen against the best teams in the AL East. They are both needed in that role now.
Release the Kraken. Luis Medina only has one option remaining. He has made significant strides as a starter this season, and he could potentially reprise that path forward this offseason. For now though, he is throwing more strikes than ever with stuff that is some of the most electric in professional baseball, with a 100 MPH fastball and two plus secondary pitches. Need evidence? From the beginning of the season through May 14th, Luis Medina threw just 58% of his pitches for strikes. He's thrown 64% of his pitches for strikes since, with excellent strikeout rates, passable walk rates, and very few hitters make good contact against his stuff. Flags fly forever, and I think Medina could bring a Joba Chamberlain type spark to the season's 2nd half (let's just make sure the midges don't follow the Yankees to opposing fields). I've waited a long time to see what Medina can do, and he's finally in a position to help the big club. He's on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees won't have to make a tough decision to fit him on the roster. Just do it.
This is my prescription to keep the Yankees on course and give them the best chance to maintain momentum towards a championship in 2022. I hope to see them take at least one or two of these ideas forward to stabilize a suddenly shaky bullpen.