David Phelps’ contributions to the Yankees in 2012 cannot be understated. Quite simply, his work this past season – be it as a long-man or middle-reliever out of the bullpen, or a solid option to fill out the rotation during times of injury, Phelps delivered. Quite frankly, his efforts saved the Yankees’ backside on more than one occasion given all the injuries. So now that his rookie season is over, let’s take a crack at grading the latest home-grown Yankee pitcher.
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Phelps made his MLB debut this year, and what a year it was. He appeared in 33 games, starting 11 and went 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA over 99.2 innings. Phelps struck out just under one batter per inning (96 Ks). He also had a sparkling 1.194 WHIP, allowing just 81 hits and 38 walks. Additionally, even given his back-and-forth roles between the bullpen and the rotation, Phelps maintained a 2.0 WAR. More impressive was that Phelps was worth 23 RAA. Opponents hit a measly .223 against him. Considering that it was his first full season in the Majors, coupled with the inconsistent role due to injuries, Phelps’ ability was worth a lot of runs to the Yankees, particularly during stretches where the offense was inept, at best. Also encouraging was Phelps’ performance in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium: in 60.1 IP, Phelps had a 2.83 ERA and batters hit just .195 against him.
Further, there is no quantifiable stat on this, but Phelps was a solid (and sometimes better than the original) option for any type of pitching situation. He was able to come in to hold down the fort early in the season as a long man, when, say, Phil Hughes was unable to get through the fourth and Joe Girardi couldn’t burn the bullpen. He was an option for an inning or two of middle relief when the bullpen was thin between Robertson’s oblique strain and Mariano Rivera’s torn ACL. And, he was a more-than-worthy option to fill out the rotation when Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia went down, particularly after it was clear that depth was an issue (Adam Warren got shellacked in his only appearance above AAA and Freddy Garcia’s early season struggles made him the least viable option on the 25-man roster).
No roster moves were required to juggle Phelps, and his performance at every position was not only better than the alternative, but good, period. The versatility of Phelps also allowed Joe Girardi to effectively have three different pitchers in one spot on the roster. In a year where depth was very much tested, Phelps proved to be a valuable, not to mention cheap asset.
There are some caveats to Phelps’ season, however. Despite the numbers, it’s important to remember that the sample size (just about 100 IP), is so small that it may not be an accurate depiction of what he is capable of producing. Additionally, one or two bad outings could have negatively impacted his numbers. Still, the numbers are the numbers and should be appreciated, even if taken with a somewhat wary eye.
Another issue for Phelps was pitching deep into games when he started. Often, Phelps struggled to get past the fifth inning, and allowed his pitch count to escalate. In fact, in opportunities where Phelps was throwing pitches, 61-75 in any given outing, he only faced batters twice through the lineup. For what it’s worth, during Ivan Nova’s limited rotation action in 2011, the same issue happened to him; despite Nova’s results in 2012, he did learn to pitch deep into games.
Lastly, despite David Cone’s favorite mantra that Phelps could throw “any pitch in any count,” doing so didn’t promise great results. In a 0-1 count, 1-0 count, 1-1 count or 2-1 count, opponents hit .310, .353, .282 and .357, respectively. It’s an old adage for pitchers in general, but particularly for Phelps as he learns to adjust, it is critical for him to stay ahead in the count in order to have success.
- Must learn to pitch deeper into games
- Extremely versatile
- Still developing
- Room for improvement
FINAL GRADE: B+/A-
Overall, Phelps was a huge asset for the Yankees. He may not turn out to be the next Justin Verlander, but he is a viable option for the team moving forward. More importantly, Phelps proved his ability to pitch in the rotation. As the Yankees not only look to shave payroll, and the prices for pitching soar, it will be helpful to the Yankees to get the most out of their drafted and developed talent, particularly pitchers. Overall, there is still room for growth, but the Yankees should be very pleased with David Phelps’ performance in 2012, and should be able to count on him for an increased role in 2013.