Shawn Kelley might not be the highest profile player among the Yankees' walking wounded with Carlos Beltran, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova also on the disabled list, but that does not mean he isn't missed. Joe Girardi said yesterday that Kelley played catch at 75 feet, so hopefully that means he is progressing well.
Brad wrote here earlier today about how Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Chase Whitley need to pitch further into games and he is right: The Yankees are tied with the Rays for 26th in MLB in innings from their starters with 289.1 innings. This is causing Girardi to go completely out of his normal routine and rely heavily on Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. Those two and David Robertson are Girardi's only reliable relievers right now and if he had Kelley at his disposal, he would be able to lighten their workload.
Kelley has been a steal since he came over in a trade from the Seattle Mariners last season. He proved he could even handle being a closer this year when he saved four games with Robertson on the DL. Kelley has a 3.52 ERA and a 2.33 FIP in 15.1 innings this season. Kelley has always relied heavily on his slider, and this year he has thrown it even more than his fastball (55.5%). He has always gotten swings and misses with it, as he has a 17.56 percent career whiff rate on his slider. This helped Kelley strike out 11.98 batters per nine innings last season.
The only concern with Kelley is that his high fly ball rates could eventually catch up to him at Yankee Stadium. He has a career fly ball rate of 51 percent, but has never really given up a ton of home runs with his career HR/FB ratio at 9.9 percent, which is just a tick above league average.
The loss of Kelley and the lack of innings from the starters has really put Girardi in a bind with Betances and Warren. Betances is second in MLB in innings among relievers with 30.1 innings and Warren is 5th with 29 innings.
One of the reasons Girardi has been more comfortable giving Betances and Warren more innings is that they are former starters. Also, the fact that Betances is a 6-foot-8, 260 pound monster might mean that Girardi thinks he can handle more workload. He never let the more slightly built Robertson even get close to the MLB lead in innings pitched among relievers when he was setting up Mariano Rivera.
You can see why Girardi has had to use them so much because when they have been unavailable the Yankees have had issues. The Yankees have four losses this month that can be largely blamed on the fact that either Betances or Warren wasn't available.
Alfredo Aceves letting up a run late in a game cost the Yankees on May 10th at Milwaukee and May 22nd at Chicago. The trio of Aceves, Preston Claiborne and Matt Thornton could not get the job done on May 12th against the Mets and during the second game of the doubleheader against Pittsburgh on May 18th. Aceves came close to blowing yesterday's game too with Warren unavailable but was saved when Brett Gardner robber a home run from Yadier Molina.
The obvious concern is Warren and Betances tiring out later on this season. Warren has shown signs of tiring when he is asked to throw more than 25 pitches in an outing. Batters are hitting .533/.533/.867/1.400 against him after 25 pitches in 15 at-bats this season.
The eventual returns of Kelley and Pineda should allow Girardi more bullpen flexibility. If Pineda returns and the Yankees trade for another starter then two pitchers out of the Nuno, Phelps and Whitley group will be able to go to the bullpen. They should be able to provide length and effectiveness.
Kelley should return to his eighth inning role because he did nothing to lose it, and the way Girardi is using Betances to put out fires in the middle innings has been brilliant. There is no reason to deviate from that since often Betances is getting the most important outs in the game.
Kelley might be an under appreciated player, but his absence has been bigger than most realize. Girardi and the Yankees will greatly benefit from having another late inning reliever to work with upon his return.