Name: Cody Eppley
Position: Reliever (RHP)
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 27 (born 10/8/1985)
Height: 6’5" Weight: 205 lbs.
Remaining Contract: Under team control, pre-arbitration
2012 statistics: (MLB) 59 games, 46.0 IP, 3.33 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 9.0 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 6.3 K/9, 79 ERA-, 86 FIP-
(AAA) 7 games, 9.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.74 FIP, 2.9 H/9, 0.96 BB/9, 12.54 K/9
Cody Eppley: Keystone State native, VCU graduate, ladies' man, and a specialist's specialist.
Although he was officially a rookie last year, Eppley is actually only a couple weeks younger than the six-year veteran we just covered in this series, Joba Chamberlain. It took him awhile to make it to the majors after being drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2008. He was an extremely late draft pick too, taken in the 43rd round with the 1,293rd overall pick, so the simple fact that he's even made the majors considering how little was expected of him is actually quite an accomplishment.
Eppley's never had great velocity, averaging only a 87.8 mph fastball and 80.5 mph slider in his career, but the Rangers' minor league pitching coordinator gave him the idea of pitching at a lower, three-quarters arm angle like former bullpen whiz Jeff Nelson. Eppley tried it, and after taking a couple seasons to win the Rangers' confidence that he could excel above Low-A, he had a breakout 2010 campaign. Eppley dominated righthanded hitters to the tune of a .147 batting average against and made it from High-A to Triple-A over the course of the season, winning Texas's Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. He gave up just three runs in his first 40.2 innings in High-A and Double-A, striking out 11.9 per nine before hitting a rough patch in Triple-A Round Rock (4.08 ERA and 4.08 BB/9 in 28.2 innings).
The righty impressed Texas enough in 2010 that he was called up to make his major-league debut in late-April 2011, tossing a pair of scoreless innings against the Kansas City Royals. He was sent back down for the remainder of the season after 10 games, and he pitched decently outside of one absolutely horrendous game against his future team, the New York Yankees. The "Bronx Bombers" pummeled him for three singles, a walk, a grand slam by Francisco Cervelli, and a two-run homer by Mark Teixeira in a mere third of an inning. Thanks mostly to that game, Eppley's first big-league season ended with an unsightly 8.00 ERA and 8.03 FIP in nine innings. At Triple-A, Eppley pitched about as well as he did there in 2010--3.90 ERA, 3.81 FIP, but with an even worse 5.53 BB/9 in 43 games. He was not called up when rosters expanded in September and the eventual American League champions could have used another bullpen arm. Things were not looking too great for Eppley.
2012 brought a new chance for Eppley though, as on April 5th, he was claimed on waivers by the very same Yankee team that pounded him 11 months prior. Now with a different Triple-A club, Eppley dominated by pitching 9.1 scoreless innings, striking out 13 and walking only one. During this stint, Eppley went back and forth between the Traveling Roadshow and New York before returning to the Bronx for good on May 16th. Eppley was a surprising contributor for the remainder of the season, exceeding expectations with a 3.07 ERA in 29.1 innings through the end of July. He hit a rough patch in August though, and even a strong September was not enough to initially get him a spot on the playoff roster. Eppley eventually got there when they swapped Eduardo Nunez for him before the ALCS, and he pitched well by tossing 3.2 scoreless innings while appearing in all four games.
Eppley certainly stands to have a fine chance to make the major-league roster out of Spring Training after a solid debut in 2012, but the question about him will probably remain for the duration of his career: What is the point of carrying a righty specialist? Last year, he held righties to a .226/.276/.319 triple slash in 32.2 innings, but lefties clubbed him to the tune of a .346/.444/.444 batting line. In almost 20 fewer innings, he surrendered more runs to lefties than righties (nine to eight). His control escaped him against lefties as well: eight unintentional walks in 13.1 innings.
Yes, Eppley can certainly contribute given his success against righties. However, is there a place for righty specialists when most righties in the bullpen can at least be somewhat-competent against opposite-handed hitters? Do the Yankees have enough of such arms to make Eppley expendable? They certainly felt that way entering the ALDS last year, and they stand to enter the season with the same bullpen they brought into the playoffs with the exception of closer Mariano Rivera's return in place of Rafael Soriano. What do you think?
Also, never forget: