Adam Warren has come a fair way in the last three months. Heading into spring training, he looked set to be the fifth arm in a stacked bullpen, seemingly demoted from his role as top right-handed middle relief option with the David Carpenter acquisition. It took a Chris Capuano injury to open up a rotation spot, which Warren earned once beating out Esmil Rogers. Behind Carpenter and Capuano on the staff, barely ahead of Rogers, he wasn't exactly mixing it up in the rarefied air of Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda.
As with any injury boosted push up the pitching totem pull, there was always the risk of sliding back down and initially Warren did little to lock himself into the rotation. His first six starts were largely mediocre, averaging just over five innings, striking out 16 hitters while walking 13. While never getting truly hammered, he had no quality starts either; none of first six outings went six innings. Meanwhile, Chase Whitley, having been called up to replace an injured Tanaka, had turned in a pair of excellent starts, including seven shutout innings in one of the hardest places to pitch, at the Rogers Centre facing the vaunted Blue Jays lineup.
As Capuano was nearing his return, one of the two was likely to make way and Whitley might well have leapfrogged Warren, at least until he attempted to pitch through elbow pain and ended up needing Tommy John surgery. Perhaps once again by default, but Warren earned a chance to keep making starts. As it happens, Warren was coming off his seventh and best outing of the year, going seven innings, striking out seven and allowing three runs against the Tampa Bay Rays. Perhaps unspectacular, but he gave the team length enough to spare the bullpen, and kept the team in with a chance to win.
Helpfully for a team desperate for mid-rotation consistency, Warren has now proceeded to do exactly that five straight times. His next four arguably even better than the start at the Trop which kicked off the streak.
Adam Warren has 4 straight starts with 2 ER or fewer and 6+ IP, the longest streak by a Yankee pitcher this season.— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) June 7, 2015
Six mediocre starts followed by five quality ones don't provide the largest sample sizes, of course, but the peripherals do show some significant changes since mid-May. Interestingly, not all positive changes.
|First 6 starts||4.65||3.77||1.23||4.65||4.28||0.58||6.7%|
|Last 5 starts||5.94||2.43||2.44||2.70||5.04||1.62||15.8%|
His strikeout rate has increased, the walk rate has gone down, A good sign, obviously. He is doing this while averaging 6 2/3 innings per-start, a significant jump from just over 5. Longer and better outings are a useful combination for a starting pitcher to be providing.
Where it gets interesting though, is the FIP which has gone up despite the doubled strikeout-to-walk ratio. A crucial factor there is the home run rate, which has almost trebled both per-9 innings and as a ratio of flyballs. Obviously Warren will need to keep the ball in the yard to continue to have success, but such a steep jump would suggest that some luck is involved. If so, it'll certainly help for that ratio to normalise heading into summer, as he'll probably start allowing more runs not of the long-ball variety. FIP may be right to not trust his current purple patch, he is allowing hits on just 18.9% of balls-in-play and stranding nearly 90% of his base-runners, neither anywhere near sustainable.
Still, even if there is some drop-off, Warren would be falling from a very high place. Perhaps more importantly though, is what this strong stretch has done for his confidence, and the confidence that Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman place in him. When Tanaka returned, Warren comfortably kept his starting spot ahead of Capuano, the veteran who was signed to fill a back-end rotation spot. No question of a spot by default this time. With Ivan Nova returning, there is a legitimate conversation about Warren having possibly jumped over CC Sabathia in terms of performance. it remains to be seen if Sabathia would actually be pulled from the rotation to keep Warren in it, and in any case this is a conversation to have once Nova is fully healthy. However, that this is even a conversation worth having is almost a moral victory at this point for Warren.
As long as he can consistently give the Yankees a chance to win, he is an asset in the middle of the rotation, a far cry from starting out the year as bullpen depth. Adam Warren may not be an ace, but in present form he is clearly providing value as a cost-controlled starting pitcher.