On Sunday afternoon, another Vidal Nuno start came and went, and like what's happened in numerous Nuno starts so far, the Yankees left with a loss. Following the three-inning, eight-run implosion, Nuno's ERA now sits at a staggering 5.90, which is 41% worse than league average and the fourth-worst mark in baseball among all pitchers with 50 innings. Nuno's not much better in other statistics, either. His 5.17 FIP is 29% worse than league average and seventh-worst in baseball. Opposing hitters are batting .293/.342/.506 with 12 homers off of him and an .848 OPS against him. Basically, Nuno turns hitters into Adrian Beltre.
The Yankees are dire for pitching help right now with CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova all on the shelf for increasingly long periods of time (the entire season in Nova's case). Thanks to the surprising Chase Whitley and the only slightly below average David Phelps, they've been able to get away with such question marks in the meantime and sit a couple games over .500, fully in the American League playoff race. Obviously though, there is room for improvement given Nuno's abysmal statistics. There's a reason Nuno was considered such an unlikely shot to make it to the major leagues despite some interesting minor league numbers. None of his pitches are even remotely impressive and he has to work off guile and hitting his spots. Often, that's not even enough. It is extremely difficult to be a successful junkballer in the majors, and Nuno is far from the first junkballing minor leaguer to hit a wall at the game's highest level.
With such a weak spot in their rotation and even Joe Girardi possibly growing frustrated with Nuno, the obvious response is to try to find someone else to take Nuno's spot. Unfortunately, it's a task easier said than done. To say that Triple-A Scranton's starting rotation has struggled is an understatement:
- Brian Gordon, best known for his cameo appearances on the 2011 Yankees, was the RailRiders' most consistent starter, and he was released after 13 starts wherein he featured a 4.75 ERA and 4.35 FIP.
- Shane Greene was a prospect who impressed the Yankees in spring training and last year in Double-A Trenton, but since his promotion to Scranton, he's been dreadful. The 3.66 FIP is nice, but it can only do so much to counteract the 5.77 ERA and 3.7 BB/9.
- Bruce Billings has similar numbers to Gordon, and he does not have a sterling reputation for performance either. Zach Nuding and Caleb Cotham have both posted ugly ERAs in their starts.
- Perhaps the only possible option is 25-year-old righty Joel De La Cruz, who has a 4.06 ERA, a 3.87 FIP, and a 2.4 BB/9 in nine games. However, like Nuno, he's another guy who doesn't get a lot of strikeouts, seems unlikely to succeed in the majors, and to top it all off, he has pitched dreadfully over the past month. So... thanks but no thanks, Scranton.
- Don't bother peeking at Trenton's rotation either, as there hasn't been much success there and Manny Banuelos is still throwing abbreviated starts in wake of his Tommy John surgery.
Thus, at first glance, it seems like the Yankees are stuck with Nuno. Their current long reliever, David Huff, has never been good as a starter, pitching to a 5.57 ERA with an .849 OPS against in his 54 career MLB starts. He is not an option. However, as Jesse suggested the other day, there might be one person in the 'pen with a decent chance to step into Nuno's spot and at least give the Yankees a little bit more hope: Adam Warren.
Yes, Warren has carved a useful niche for himself pitching out of the bullpen the last years. Yes, he has been especially effective in 2014 with a 2.19 ERA and a 2.65 FIP in 37 innings. However, with Dellin Betances dominating and David Robertson & Shawn Kelley now back in the fold and healthy after both missed a little time earlier in the season, there is less need for him as a reliever now. Chances are he would always have been more useful to the team in the rotation, where he would be able to pitch more overall innings.
The risk is that Warren has not been a full-time starter since he was in Scranton for the vast majority of the 2012 campaign. During his two seasons in Scranton, he pitched to an effective 3.66 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, and a 2.9 BB/9. He wasn't a star, but he at least appeared consistent and capable of possibly taking on a big-league spot somewhere down the road. Brian Cashman has even made comments suggesting that the Yankees still think Warren can be a starter for the parent club.
If they truly believe this to be the case, Warren's more impressive repertoire and caliber of pitches would make him an option at least capable of approaching Phelps's performance. He's already demonstrated that he is capable of getting big league hitters out through his two years in the bullpen. It might take him a start or two to get stretched out, but since none of the injured returning until late July, the Yankees should not dilly dally too long with an inferior starter in Nuno. Warren could give them a boost, and with the 'pen now more fortified, the Yankees' best allocation of resources would seem to be to swap Nuno out of the rotation in favor of Warren.