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Know Your 40: David Aardsma

After missing nearly all of the last two seasons, can the former Mariners closer return to his old form?

Jed Jacobsohn

The 40-man roster can be a bitch and a half to understand sometimes. Frequently, a healthy portion of that 40 is unidentifiable to most fans. Hell, I would not know Francisco Rondon from Joe Smith if I bumped into him on the street, and even now I could not even tell you where he was last year. I can assume planet Earth, but not much else, and if it’s Clay Rapada, I can’t even guarantee you that.

That being said, it’s worth exploring the background of these many players, from the stars like Derek Jeter to the no-name youngsters like Jose Ramirez. Certain players’ presence on the 40 can be simply baffling at times (see: Reegie Corona a year or so ago), but there is often a method to the madness. As we inch closer and closer to the first whiffs of freshly-mowed grass on the Spring Training baseball diamonds and the subsequent sneezing fits, we will learn more about these 40 players presently on the roster and any additions/subtractions the Yanks make in the meantime.

We’ll start with the one man diabolical enough to boot Hammerin’ Hank from the first slot in the Baseball Encyclopedia of players upon his big league debut nine years ago—TheDA53.

Name: David Aardsma
Position: Reliever (RHP)
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 31 (born 12/27/1981)
Height: 6’3" Weight: 205 lbs.
Remaining Contract: One year, $500,000
2012 statistics: (Rk/A-/A+/MLB) 7.2 IP, 3.52 ERA, 9.4 H/9, 4.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9

The former Seattle Mariners closer and hero of Rice University’s 2003 College World Series team did not have as successful a rehab in 2012 as he would have liked. Not so long ago, Aardsma was one of the top relievers in the game. It took him awhile to mature as a major-league caliber pitcher as he bounced around four organizations in four years between ’05 and ’08, but after yet another trade in January 2009, he had a breakout season in Seattle.

Aardsma threw his 94 mph fastball more than ever high in the zone with better location, and that improvement (19.6 wFB) combined with a mighty-generous 53.9% fly ball percentage in spacious Safeco Field to make for a great year. He won the job as closer and saved 38 games in 42 opportunities, pitching to career-highs in nearly every major category, including innings (71.1), ERA- (59), FIP- (71), K/9 (10.1), and fWAR (1.9). Aardsma was good again in 2010, though not nearly as dominant following some regression in K/9 and FB%. Hip labrum and elbow injuries have plagued him ever since, limiting him to just one major league inning over the previous two seasons.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery on July 22, 2011, Aardsma was unsigned in the offseason until Yankees GM Brian Cashman decided to give him a shot to recover and regain his form on a cheap one-year deal with an option for 2013. This upcoming season was exactly what Cashman had in mind for Aardsma when he brought him on last February; anything they got from him in ’12 was considered a bonus. They did not get much, as a midseason setback pushed his return back to September.

The story of Aardsma’s 2012 was not so much about performance as it was rehabilitation since pitchers can often be slow in recovery from elbow injuries. Now a year and a half distanced from his TJ surgery though, ’13 will offer an excellent opportunity for Aardsma to prove he can still pitch in the pros. Relievers are notoriously fickle, and roles almost always annually change. At his best, Aardsma can fit in nicely with David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain as late-inning options to precede Mariano Rivera, and the "proven closer" tag is nice to have around for insurance. If he struggles, the Yankees are not under any major financial obligation to keep him hanging around.

It is hard to know what to expect from Aardsma once the season commences. Even at his best in ’09, his walk rate per nine innings was still an unsightly 4.29 and high fly ball rates are not exactly the best for a righthanded pitcher at lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium. Strikeouts are strikeouts however, and if Aardsma can fully regain his fastball velocity and mix in his slider and splitter, he should still be able to get his outs. He was a classic low-risk/high-reward signing last year; let’s see what he can do.

Update: Aardsma is no longer on the 40-man roster, as he was designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training.