The Yankees have made it clear that they’re willing to spend this offseason to fill out their starting rotation. The Bombers appear to be all in on Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka (pending MLB/NPB posting agreement) and have also been linked to Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza. By the time March rolls around, they’ll surely have made some moves to sure up their rotation. Given the other holes on the roster, though it’s hard to see the Yankees bringing in more than two established starting pitchers, meaning the Yankees will also need to rely on some of their internal guys to take on a bigger role in 2014.
As we saw last season, things can get pretty ugly when marginal players are pushed into key roles. Some players, like Chris Stewart and Jayson Nix, are backups for a reason. Many of the tertiary starting pitching options in the organization probably also fit that mold, which is why Phil Hughes more or less kept his rotation spot all season long. But David Phelps — in between his stints in the bullpen and on the DL — has hinted that he can be a serviceable starting pitcher.
Since breaking into the majors in 2012, Phelps has split time between the rotation, the bullpen, and the minors; and also missed a significant chunk of last season with a forearm strain. Despite being jerked around, he’s been fairly solid every step of the way. All told, across 23 starts and 32 relief appearances, Phelps has compiled 186 1/3 big-league innings with a 4.11 ERA, backed up by an even better 3.81 SIERA.
His only prolonged stint in the Yankees starting rotation took place during the two months preceding his forearm injury. Over that 12 game stretch, he was inconsistent — he had two atrocious starts where he yielded a combined 13 earned runs over a combined 2 2/3 innings — but otherwise very good. In total, he posted a 4.93 ERA and 4.24 SIERA overall. Those two terrible outings are a somewhat concerning, but are also just two starts. He could have been pitching with forearm pain on those days for all we know.
Steamer projects Phelps’ 2014 season to be similar to his last two, but over 32 starts 189 innings. That innings total is probably a bit rosy, but his projected ERA of 4.37 seems about right. An ERA in the mid 4’s isn’t anything to write home about, but does have some value — roughly 2 WAR over a full season — and would be more than acceptable from a fifth starter, even on a playoff team.
The scouting report on Phelps has always been that he has a good fastball, but his secondary pitches are nothing special, leading many to profile him as a future middle reliever. In all likelihood, that’s where he’ll end up a few years down the road once his velocity starts to tail off. For now though, it looks like David Phelps has what it takes be an asset in the back end of the Yankees rotation, and at the very least, has earned the chance to show what he can do.
This post was originally written for Pinstripe Alley.
Photo by Anc516 (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons