In the Pinstripe Alley mythology, there is the concept of the Hate Vessel, “Player whose presence on the team encapsulates all our rage.” There’s nothing more interesting than seeing a player through the eyes of the fan, and no lens is more interesting than the Hate Vessel player.
There is the talented-but-frustrating player, where a fan understands the potential but is endlessly frustrated that the player never lives up to the hype. Michael Pineda falls right into that category, as did Phil Hughes at one point.
Then there’s the “tissue paper” player, where the player gets injured enough that fans perceive him to be made of literal tissue paper. Hello, Mark Teixeira and Nick Johnson.
There are also the fan favorites, and those can vary from time-to-time. That’s a fickle category. That used to be Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte not too long ago, and they’ve since been replaced by Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and Brett Gardner, depending on how the wind blows.
The Hate Vessel, though, remains a constant in a sea of variables. While opinions of players shuffle, re-shuffle, and adjust over a long season, the Hate Vessel remains as such through it all. Most of all, it exists because it requires one simple question: how is he still on the team?
This year we have zeroed in on none other than Anthony Swarzak, who I dub Hate Vessel 2016. Let’s take a walk through his entry in Hate Vesseldom, and where he stands in recent history.
Since 2000, Swarzak has the eighth-highest ERA- (139) among Yankees relievers (minimum 20 innings). Above him are some Hate Vessels of yesteryear.
There is Esmil Rogers (150 ERA-), and he lasted a remarkable 35 appearances before being designated for assignment last year. He somehow signed a $1.9 million contract with the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO, where he’s put up a ghastly 4.30 ERA. There is also Chris Capuano, Hate Vessel of 2014 and 2015. He was actually able to sustain a somewhat respectable 4.35 ERA in 2014, but collapsed to 7.97 in 2015.
The king of Hate Vesseldom, though, was none other than Sergio Mitre (6.79 ERA in 2009), who inspired the infamous “Mitre of the Week” feature on the Pinstripe Alley podcast. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the position players: Tony Womack (47 wRC+ in 2005), Stephen Drew in 2014-2015, Eduardo Nunez (-1.2 fWAR in 2013), Jayson Nix (71 wRC+ in 2013), and Chris Stewart (59 wRC+ in 2013).
It’s unfortunate, really. It’s sad because Swarzak was just put on the disabled list for a rotator cuff injury, and because he found himself to be the low-man on the totem pole after both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded. Had that not happened, he would be at Triple-A.
The same can be said for a lot of those former Hate Vessels, that they were not only poor performers but also victims of circumstance. The 2013 Yankees, where many of these players reside, simply fell into that role both because of the dreaded Plan 189, and because a number of starters fell victim to injury. That’s not their fault.
That’s why the Hate Vessel is such a fascinating paradigm of fandom in general—that a single player can encapsulate the anxieties of an entire bloc of people. In Swarzak, you see the Yankees’ lack of relief depth, as well as some complaints as to the pitchers Joe Girardi uses in important spots.
Not only that, but there are questions as to whether there aren’t better options available: as Jason pointed out a couple of days ago, there is Ben Heller (who was just recalled), Johnny Barbato, and Nick Goody, and they could all see similar usage as Swarzak. I suppose this is the front office trying to make due until roster expansion, but they shouldn’t be surprised by the result.
Luckily for everyone involved, the Swarzak hate is likely coming to a close. He should be back off the disabled list after roster expansion, so the Yankees will have a number of options, Luis Severino included, out of the bullpen.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be another Hate Vessel lurking around the corner, but it means that this phenomena ends for now. Yankees fans are anxious that even though the baby bombers are hitting, the team is spoiling winning games in the middle relief. Hopefully that turns around soon.