Yankee Food for Thought: Making a case for David Phelps

The one debate that still has fire from last year is who is more deserving of being the fifth man in the rotation. The New York Yankees saw an incredibly down year out of Ivan Nova in 2012 and are hoping that the 26-year-old can rebound. In the other corner sits the other 26-year-old, David Phelps. What the Yankees saw out of Phelps was rather impressive considering he had big shoes to fill when CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte landed on the disabled list. Between these two, should Phelps be the one to take over the spot?

David Phelps can pan out nicely for the Yankees’ rotation in the future. (Image: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

Perhaps the biggest advantage Phelps has over most, if actually not all the pitchers on the 25-man roster is his versatility. Primarily a spot starter in 2012, Phelps has also been able to pitch from the ‘pen as 22 out of the 33 games he pitched in were relief efforts. Phelps pitched a total of 99.2 innings just this past season and that’s a pretty good transition from the minors for someone who will more than likely spot start and pitch long relief in the majors.

Against Phelps, hitters hit for a .223/.305/.377 slash line against him, which isn’t bad, but the fact that he gave up the long ball 14 times in less than 100 innings pitched is a tad concerning. Granted, Phelps is not alone in giving up home runs as teammate Phil Hughes was tied for second in the AL with the most home runs given up with 35. Now of course Yankee Stadium is known for having that short porch in right field, but only 50% of his home runs given up were at home.

Aside from problems with giving up home runs, Phelps was pretty sharp for the most part. He struck out 23.2% of the batters he faced, which is efficient work. Phelps did manage a 4-4 record with a 3.34 ERA, a WHIP of 1.19 and struck out 96 batters, so he was and still is a valuable asset to this team. I feel in fact if Phelps blossoms into a more established pitcher in 2013 that he may be one of the key faces in the rotation.

Now placing Phelps directly against Nova for 2013 almost seems futile. While Nova’s struggles were apparent (and believe me, apparent), he’s still going to be the favorite over Phelps come Spring Training. Why? Experience matters and Joe Girardi knows that. If Nova begins to falter, then yes, by all means we’ll see Phelps be a temporary starter until either A) Nova rebounds back or B) Michael Pineda is ready to return to action.

Nova I would hope is able to overcome his struggles heading into the new season. Looking down the road when guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte are more than likely retired and Sabathia ages, the rotation will be solely on the shoulders of guys like Nova, Phelps, Pineda, Hughes and maybe even Adam Warren and Manny Banuelos. Phelps, however, is the cog of this rotation with his versatility. He pretty much flew by the minors and doesn’t look like he has to go back to figure out his mechanics like some pitchers.

Phelps proved in 2012 that he is here to stay. Let’s see what exactly he can do this season and whatever role the Yankees use him for, I believe he’ll succeed.

Topics: David Phelps, New York Yankees

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  • Bill B

    I agree with your piece. Balanced. I, like you am guarded but have a strong feeling he may play a surprising role. I watched his composure after giving up the home runs and he stays poised. A good sign of mental toughness. With the older staff increasing the chance for injury and arm weariness we may see him often. What a well of experience to draw off of. I like him! Remember I said 97 victories. I stand by it although I face tough scrutiny.

    • Benjamin Orr

      I’ve been a Phelps fan from the get-go. His versatility is fun to watch because it gives him the potential to be really huge for the Yankees in the long run.

  • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

    Not sure I agree with the versatility argument. While it is great that he can pitch as a starter and a reliever, this is true for any big league starter. Sabathia or Hughes or any other starter on the Yankees could pitch in the pen if needs be, and the only reason Phelps has done so is because he’s not a good enough starter to stick in the rotation. This is nothing against Phelps, and I certainly think that the spot-starter/long reliever role is important, but I think it could be filled by any starter on the team.

    That being said, it’s really nice that the Yankees have a piece like Phelps who can fill in when other starters are injured or underperforming or need a rest. I hope that the Yankees and Girardi take advantage of him this season.

    • Benjamin Orr

      I don’t disagree that a starter/long reliever role could be used by someone else, ie Ivan Nova or even Phil Hughes, but realistically, I just don’t see it happening with them and especially with guys like Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte. Phelps obviously has a long way to go to earn a full trust from the team, but the way he stepped up in his first year was a pretty strong statement. I hope he can do the same this year.