Over the past few days the New York Yankees have seen a lot of pitching walk out the door.
To be fair to the team, they have received players in return, it wasn’t simply a matter of a couple of pitchers making a run for it. Although that story would be significantly more interesting, it would also set some dangerous precedents regarding team control.
In trades with the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers the Yankees have relinquished reliable swingman Adam Warren and dynamic left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. The first was a move to fill a hole at second base, the second a more puzzling push to acquire some young arms.
For a team that had such a good offence last year and suspect pitching at times, on the surface the Yankees do not appear to be dealing from a position of strength. It’s hard to make a prediction as to whether they can sustain these losses to their pitching staff because that will depend on a number of tricky variables, health being foremost among them.
What we can do is try to surmise the size of the hole the team has opened up within it’s own pitching staff by jettisoning Warren and Wilson. In order to do that we’re going to squish Wilson and Warren together into one Frankenpitcher named either Justin Warren or Adam Wilson (both are equally boring generic white guy names so take your pick) and compare him to other pitchers around the league last year to help conceptualize the void the Yankees have created.
Unless you have some kind of rare illiteracy that makes you unable to read headlines, and yet perfectly capable of getting about 280 words into a story you know what I’m getting at here. Our “Justin Warren” character looked an awful lot like Pirates starter Francisco Liriano last season.
It’s worth noting that a direct comparison like this is unfair because the pitchers were deployed differently. Liriano was used exclusively as a starter whereas Wilson and Warren were used a great deal out of the bullpen. However, the two Yankees pitched in a much more difficult environment which helps account for their similar WAR numbers despite different roles.
There are other holes to be poked in this chart as well. Realistically speaking, it is not a masterwork of statistical analysis. It will not significantly deepen your understanding of baseball and for that I am profoundly sorry.
Comparing Warren and Wilson to Liriano is simply a tool to help us conceptualize and perceive the loss of these two pitchers a little differently. If the Pittsburgh Pirates had lost Liriano in free agency pundits would be spending a great deal of ink and breath determining what ought to be done to replace him. Because the Yankees’ loss comes in the form of two relatively unheralded pitchers the perceived impact is not nearly the same as losing one prominent starter would be.
Warren and Wilson are both coming off career years and it’s more than likely they won’t produce in 2016 the way the did in 2015. That said, in order to replicate last year’s pitching performance the Yankees are already missing one Liriano-sized chunk of innings, even if it is a slightly different shape.
In past off-seasons the team would simply use free agency to plug a leak like this, but this year it seems less likely they’ll go that route. Instead they’ll probably have to find that production internally, which is a tall task.
After all, it’s pretty hard to whip up a Francisco Liriano type out of thin air.
(Photo: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)