For the first part of the offseason the Pinstriped Bible staff will be grading 35 of the Yankees' main contributors to the 2013 roster. Their entire season will be taken into account, even if part of it came at the minor league level. We continue this series with Preston Claiborne.
2013 Statistics: 44 games, 50.1 IP, 4.11 ERA, 99 ERA+, 4.14 FIP, 19.6 K%, 6.5 BB%, 1.25 HR/9, 0.2 fWAR, 0.3 rWAR
2014 Contract Status: Team-controlled, pre-arbitration
Preston Claiborne was arguably the Yankees Rookie of the Year. He was second among the Yankees six rookie pitchers with 50.1 innings pitched (behind Adam Warren's 77.0), and first with 0.2 fWAR. The only Yankee rookie with a higher fWAR was Melky Mesa's 0.3 fWAR in 14 plate appearances. Unfortunately, in a year with so many injuries, the Yankees needed to have a better Rookie of the Year.
Claiborne was drafted in the 17th round in 2010 as a senior out of Tulane University. He was a teammate of the Yankees third round pick that year, Rob Segedin, and many saw Segedin as the legitimate prospect of the two. Three years later, Segedin had an injury-shortened year in Double-A Trenton, while Claiborne became an important piece of the major league bullpen and the first Yankees draft pick from 2010 to make the major leagues. For all the failures of the Yankees' drafts in recent years, Damon Oppenheimer always seems to find legitimate bullpen arms in later rounds, from David Robertson to Mark Melancon and George Kontos to (hopefully) Mark Montgomery.
Claiborne had an ugly 5.67 ERA in 20 games and 46 innings out of the Tulane bullpen his senior season. He did have a strong rate of 55 strikeouts to 21 walks, however. He pitched with Tampa and Staten Island after signing, and over 31 innings he had a 2.61 ERA, 2.56 FIP, with 36 strikeouts to 12 walks. This was impressive for a 17th round pick, but he was also older for the level, and had four years of college experience helping him against many players who never played college baseball.
He did well in 2011, spending the entire season with the Tampa Yankees. He had a 3.11 ERA over 81 innings, but a 4.06 FIP due to his strikeouts dropping to 8.3 K/9 and his walks rising, leading to a lower 2.5 K/BB ratio. These rates continued to deteriorate in 2012, which he split between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. During 2012, he had a combined 2.96 ERA and a 3.12 FIP over 82 innings, with 8.6 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 2.17 K/BB.
Coming into 2013, Claiborne was seen as Triple-A bullpen material, with a chance to produce at the major league level. However, he impressed in spring training and almost made the club. He spent April with Scranton, and in 10.1 innings, he had a 3.48 ERA, 1.55 FIP, 8.7 K/9, and 0.9 BB/9. Promoted to the big league club in May, he made his debut on May 5th at home against the Oakland Athletics. He pitched two perfect innings with no strikeouts or walks. He would finish the month with a 0.61 ERA, 2.59 FIP over 14.1 innings. It may have been his best month of the season. His ERA climbed from 0.61 to 2.70 to 3.48 to 5.23 to 16.20 in September, while his FIP climbed from 2.59 to 4.20, dropped to 1.94, then climbed again to 3.78 then 12.85 (!) in September.
Overall, he had a 4.11 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 99 ERA+, 100 ERA-, 102 FIP-, 0.3 rWAR, 0.2 fWAR, with a 7.5 K/9 and 3.0 K/BB ratio with the Yankees in 2013. He was a league-average pitcher, which is extremely valuable for a major-league minimum player, and much better than anyone anticipated from him coming into the season.
How does he do it? Claiborne has four pitches: a four-seam fastball that he throws 33% of the time, a two-seam fastball he throws 26% of the time, a slider he throws 26% of the time, and a change-up he throws 13% of the time. His fastballs average 92.6 and 92.8 miles per hour, while his slider comes in at 84.7 mph, and his change-up at 86.5 mph.
His two-seamer and his slider were both hit hard by his opponents. The two-seamer was worth -1.75 runs per 100 thrown while the slider was worth -0.51 runs per 100 thrown respectively. Given that these two pitches accounted for just over 52% of his total pitches, you can see why that would be problematic. The negative value on his two-seamer is surprising, given the movement it showed during the season. On Brooks Baseball it shows he has 8.5 inches of vertical movement and -6.2 inches of horizontal movement. It also shows that the six sinkers that he left up and in had a 1.167 slugging percentage. Given this, it could be a small sample issue, or a pretty easy thing to fix, as it was a nasty pitch when he keeps it down or in off the plate.
I would give Claiborne a B- on the season. He wasn't excellent, but 55.1 innings of average pitching out of the bullpen was quite valuable for the team. Plus, he has the ability to get better with more experience, given the type of stuff he has shown. I expect him to have a spot in next year's bullpen, although more as a middle reliever than a late-inning option. Young, major-league minimum arms in the bullpen will be quite valuable and necessary if Plan $189 has any chance of success.
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