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Adam Warren deserves a crack at the Yankees’ rotation

For a pitching staff that lacks depth, Warren is being under-utilized in his current role.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The fifth spot in the Yankees’ rotation has fluctuated between mediocre and abysmal all season. No tears were shed when Ivan Nova was sent to Pittsburgh for two players to be named later at the trade deadline. Top prospect Luis Severino has yet to lead the Yankees to a win when he toes the rubber as a starting pitcher, and despite last night’s excellence, Chad Green managed to pitch just 18 innings in the first four games he started.

While the Yankees seem content to cycle between Green, Severino, and perhaps Luis Cessa, the best candidate to fill that role currently resides in the bullpen in the form of Adam Warren. He has been a victim of his ability to succeed wherever Joe Girardi and the Yankees see fit to pitch him. Since returning to the Yankees as part of the Chicago Cubs’ trade package to acquire Aroldis Chapman, Warren has pitched out of the bullpen nine times, yielded no runs, and struck out 11 batters while walking three. In short, he has been excellent.

However, as a starter for the Yankees in 2015, Warren was also quite good, and certainly better than Nova and Severino have been this season. In 17 starts, Warren threw 96 innings, had an ERA of 3.66, a WHIP of 1.219, and averaged 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings. In his lone start for the Cubs this season, Warren gave up one run over five innings, but struggled out of the bullpen as Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon juggled the circumstances that dictated his usage. Warren has commented that he prides himself on his versatility, but had a hard time adjusting to Maddon’s less than predictable usage patterns.

Even out of the bullpen, Warren features the arsenal of a starting pitcher. According to Brooks Baseball, he throws two fastballs (four-seam and sinker; 46% of pitches thrown in 2016), a changeup (19%), a slider (27%), and a curveball (7%). The primary difference between Warren the starter and Warren the reliever is that his stuff does improve out of the bullpen. This difference is reflected in Warren’s strikeout rates. As a starter, for his career, Warren has averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings. As a reliever, Warren has averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings.

When the Yankees dealt Chapman and Andrew Miller, they lost roughly 60 innings of All-Star caliber pitching. Given the team’s lack of depth, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, the Yankees need their best pitchers to give them as many quality innings down the stretch as they can. By limiting Warren to a setup role when he might be capable of turning over a lineup, the Yankees are under-utilizing an asset that is already in short supply.

In addition, if Warren pitches as he has in the past as a starter, this can inform how Brian Cashman chooses to pursue pitching through free agency and trades in the offseason. Relievers are far cheaper and easier to acquire than starters, so if Warren can perform capably in the rotation, the Yankees should use him as such.

The best case scenario for the Yankees would be for more than one of the group of Warren, Green, Severino, and Cessa to emerge as viable starters over the final 44 games of the season. The truest old adage in baseball is that you can never have too much starting pitching. Until the Yankees have the luxury of a starting rotation so deep they can place a capable starter in a relief role though, they should move Warren to the rotation and maximize his abilities.