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Adam Warren’s slump comes at a bad time for the Yankees

The trusted reliever has struggled of late. Should the Yankees be nervous?

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

When one considers the strengths of the Yankees, the bullpen likely comes to mind. The team’s relief corp currently owns a 2.92 ERA. That ranks third in all of baseball. One of the more familiar names in the bullpen is Adam Warren, a linchpin since 2013. Heralded as a Swiss Army Knife reliever, Warren has become one of Joe Girardi’s most trusted arms. He’s struggled of late, however, and that has cost the Yankees.

Warren’s rut has covered his five most recent appearances. The numbers stand out in direct contrast to his success earlier in the season.

Adam Warren’s 2017 Stats

Dates IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
Dates IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
April 2nd - May 11th 19.0 9.0 3.32 0.0 0.47 2.30
May 14th - 23rd 5.1 5.06 1.69 1.69 11.81 4.91

Granted, this is a notably small sample size. There’s also an inherent risk with dissecting appearances from relief pitchers. They’re incredibly volatile, fluctuating from year to year, as well as from appearance to appearance. Nonetheless, there are a few red flags that stand out as symptomatic of a larger problem.

For one, Warren’s strikeout rate has precipitously crashed back to earth. Earlier this season, he posted an above-average K/9 rate. That has come back down to his career norms, partially due to his hard regression over the last few outings. The prolonged downward trend raises some alarms, though. If he holds steady from here, things should be fine. If he continues to slip, however, Warren’s in for more trouble.

In addition to ringing up fewer strikeouts, Warren is allowing more hard contact. When batters hit the ball, they’re squaring him up. That was on display Tuesday night. Warren allowed a hard single to Salvador Perez before Jorge Bonifacio demolished a belt-high fastball. Like the strikeouts, this is a trend that has persisted throughout the season.

Increased hard contact and vanishing strikeouts are tell-tale signs of a slumping reliever. That’s one bad combination, and it has shown up in the results. He directly cost the team a win on Tuesday, so his struggles haven’t exactly been harmless. Warren’s been used in high leverage roles, and that’s resulting in some burns.

The good news is that this looks like a case of regression. Warren over-performed in some areas at the beginning of the season. Correction was inevitable. There’s some unfortunate timing involved here, though. The Yankees lost Aroldis Chapman to the disabled list, and the team could really use another late-inning option behind Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard. Warren would have fit into this role, but his recent slump makes that hard to justify. There’s never a good time to struggle, but this one is especially notable.

For the better part of the month, the Yankees have been caught in a lengthy battle with the Orioles for the top spot in the AL East. It’s not that early anymore. Barring an unforeseen meltdown, the team figures to be in the playoff race all summer. Banking wins now will prove important as the calendar pages flip. I’m willing to write off this blip as regression for now. That said, if Warren continues to struggle, the Yankees might want to look into removing him from high leverage roles.