When we last left our Lord Preston Claiborne, King of the Andals and the First Men, he was exiled north of The Wall, to the frozen wasteland known as Scranton (sorry for the Scranton joke, dad...Lackawanna County pride!). Claiborne was sent down in favor of lefty reliever David Huff when Joe Girardi figured out - about three months too late - that Boone Logan cannot get out left-handed hitters.
While there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding Claiborne's promotion, most of it has revolved around the fact that he was demoted instead of overstuffed sack of relief dookie Joba Chamberlain. That anti-Joba rage is totally justified, of course, and Joba himself proved it when he couldn't make it through one inning on Friday night with the Yankees up by seven runs.
However, all the anger directed at Joba has obscured the fact that the Yankees were losing a valuable bullpen piece in Claiborne, regardless of who else stayed on the roster. Sir Preston has taken a bit of a beating recently, and there has been a feeling among Yankee fans that he is no longer useful. To make their point, they point to his ERA splits - 5.06 in 13 appearances (16 innings) since the beginning of July.
So do these numbers truly indicate Claiborne had outlived his usefulness leading up to his demotion? As always, reliever ERA needs a bit of context. Most of that 5.06 ERA comes from the four runs he gave up two weeks ago against Detroit - take away that appearance, and his ERA sits at a comfortable 3.00 in 15 innings. Of those last 13 appearances, Claiborne has given zero runs in nine of them.
For a middle relief pitcher like Claiborne, it is also important to consider the runners he has inherited - 14 runners over his last 16 innings. Of those 14, Claiborne allowed only two to score. That, my friends, is nothing to sneeze at.
When evaluating Claiborne's second-half performance, I believe there has been a bit too much "correction-phobia" - we all know his first-half dominance was unsustainable, and we fear a massive correction to the mean. That correction has come, but it hasn't made Claiborne useless. He was still an important part of the bullpen, providing quality innings and, most importantly, length. Of Claiborne's 34 appearances this season, 15 were for more than one inning. Replacing him with Huff means the Yankees have tossed away a multiple-inning pitcher in favor of a classic one-out lefty. Considering the struggles of three-fifths of the Yankees' starting rotation, and the overall uselessness of Joba, that is a big loss.
I give Girardi credit: he is trying to solve the long-standing lefty relief problem. It remains to be seen if Huff is the answer (I'm skeptical), but even if he is successful, this has become a classic case of robbing (righty) Peter to pay (lefty) Paul. There no excuse for it at this point. Just fire Joba already...like, into the sun.