Through 72 games, the New York Yankees are sporting a record of 45-27 and are first in the AL East, by far and away the best division in baseball. So far, there is little reason to panic. The team is on pace to win 101 games and has scored the second most runs in baseball. The Yankees have done all of this with numerous injuries (Nick Johnson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Marcus Thames, etc, etc.), but one injury not listed is, in my opinion, one of the most consequential so far throughout the year. The injury? Alfredo Aceves and his ailing lower back. Check out the article to see my reasons as to why the Yanks need to get their “Ace” back in the bullpen as soon as possible.
Carrying Forward: Let’s compare the Yankees’ winning percentage as a team from 2009 and 2010 based on the inning and game situation. In 2009, when the Yanks were winning entering the 6th inning, they won 94.3% of their games at 66-4. When they were losing, they won 27.3% of the time (18-48). So far in 2010, the Bombers are winning 84.6% (33-6) of their games when entering the sixth frame with the lead. Also, when entering the sixth inning down, the Yanks are 4-18 for a percentage of 18.2%. One of the reasons? Not as many walkoff hits, sure. They happened last year at a frantic pace. However, in 2009 Alfredo Aceves pitched 21.1 sixth innings throughout the year, and through those innings, he allowed opposing batters to have an OPS of .734. Compare that to reacquired Chad Gaudin, who has allowed a sixth inning OPS of 1.352 (!). Granted, Gaudin does not pitch every sixth inning, but if a starter needs to leave the game early, who is there to step up? A healthy Alfredo Aceves can help the team stay in games, which may attribute to why he won 10 games last season.
A Model of Consistency: Why was Alfredo Aceves so versatile in 2009? He held games, earned a save, and even started and picked up a win. The reason he could pitch anywhere with success was because of how consistent he was, regardless of whom he was facing. While had held opposing hitters to .220/.275/.359 splits, it did not greatly deviate depending on whether he faced a lefty or a righty. Actually, he was better against lefties, allowing splits of .212/.255/.305 against lefties and .228/.280/.414 against righties. When a manager has a reliever you can leave in to be effective against a David Ortiz or a Kevin Youkilis , it rests the other arms in the bullpen for when their services are necessary.
The Ace is Clutch: In 2009, Alfredo Aceves faced 72 batters in a situation of “high leverage”. For those of you who aren’t sabremetricians like I pretend to be, a “high leverage” factor is achieved when pitching in difficult situations. So think of Mariano Rivera closing out a game with a runner on third with one out to raise the leverage factor and think of Nick Swisher pitching against the Tampa Bay Rays down by ten to lower it. Anyway, his stats for those 72 plate appearances are as follows: .177/.254/.177, 17 Ks, 5 BBs, 4 GIDP, o extra base hits allowed. I would have certainly liked to see him get called on in relief in a few games this year. Like this one. Or that one.
All of these things being said, I do know that back injuries are very serious not only for pitchers, but for any athlete in any sport. The Yankee organization has been known to take a very conservative approach to players returning from injuries, such as allowing hitters to DH instead of play the field or having players miss starts. It appears the Yanks are doing the right thing thus far with Ace, and when he (hopefully) returns this summer, he’ll be ready to go again.
Note: All stats used were found on Baseball-Reference.