The casual baseball fan may not recognize the name David Phelps. He’s not an All-Star, he’s not going to win the Cy Young, and he’s not the type of pitcher with the word “Ace” branded to him. But David Phelps may very well be one of the most valuable players on the New York Yankees. In his first two years in the majors leagues, the 27-year-old has had mixed results as his numbers took a hit last year. His ERA went up along with his WHIP and his strikeout total went down from what it it was in 2012. But he allowed fewer walks and gave up less home runs. While Phelps had a down sophomore year for the Yankees, he has shown that he is good at what he does.
What does he do you may ask? Phelps pitches… in any role you give him. He’s displayed an ability to pitch in both middle and long relief and has performed well whenever he’s handed the ball for a start. I’m sure Phelps could close out a ballgame if he was asked to do so. He’s the pitching equivalent to former Yankees super utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. and that is what makes him so valuable to the team. When Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes struggled this past season, the Yankees called on Phelps to make a few spot starts and even added him to the rotation for a time. While he didn’t exactly “wow” during his starts he pitched effectively and usually brought the Yankees deep enough into games so that their strong bullpen could finish the job. In relief appearances he got timely outs and retired batters efficiently. Phelps is not gifted with overpowering skill so instead he relies on the fielders behind him and puts his trust in his catcher to make the right call.
Modern sabermetricians favor using pitchers in a universal role over of the classic starter/reliever/setup man/closer roles that are common place in the sport. So a guy like David Phelps, who has been successful in several roles, would help them support their idea of eliminating separate jobs for pitchers. So could Phelps be the first of a new breed of super utility pitchers? Of course he’s not the first of his kind but maybe now that sabermetrics is becoming more and more accepted in the game and he’s pitching in the spotlight of New York, more and more pitchers like David could quickly become common place. Of course Phelps will have to take his game to the next level very soon.
For the Yankees in 2014 specifically, Phelps could be a real boost in multiple spots. The Yankees bullpen is filled with questions and Phelps could a vital reliever in between the starter and the closer. If the Yankees can’t find a setup man they could easily take out a starter after the 5th inning and throw Phelps in to pitch the 6th, 7th, and 8th inning and then bring in David Robertson to close the game. That would be very useful in bridging over a lot of uncertainties and creating a more solid bullpen. In the pitching staff the Yankees have a few players who could break down and get tired at points and Phelps could make more spot starts.
Many times in baseball we see a player with no role as a player with no particular talent. Phelps may be the exception. He is not a starter. He’s not a reliever or a closer by any means. What David Phelps is, is a pitcher. He’s someone whose versatility gives him so much value on a Yankees team in which they need players to step up and contribute. If the Yankees want to win the World Series in 2014 they’ll need the help of their very special super utility pitcher.