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Why Not Take Both Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral?

By Joseph Delgrippo ~ March 28th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Earlier in the week Mike Silva wrote a piece about whether the Yankees should take Clay Rapada or Cesar  Cabral. His points are valid and I agree that Cesar Cabral should be kept on the team. I am not a big fan of having two lefties in the bullpen just for the sake of having two lefties, but I do like the fact of having two effective lefties in a bullpen, especially if it helps the team now and down the road.

Since his rough start to spring training, where he allowed six of the first 13 base runners to reach base, including a home run, double, three singles (two were soft) and a HBP, Cabral has been fantastic.

Since that start, Cabral has limited ALL hitters to 6 for 30 (.200), one double and one earned run. He has also struck out the last six lefty hitters he has faced. Cabral throws a hard fastball consistently in the low 90s, can get it up to 95, plus a hard slider and a really effective change up, which drops straight down. The change up and slider gets most of the outs against righty hitters including six ground ball outs to the left side and three strike outs (including getting Chipper Jones).

These tools are what attracted Cabral to the Yankees (and to the Rays last season as a Rule 5 pick). If the Yankees do not keep him, Cabral will not get through waivers. With all the teams needing left handed pitching, especially someone as big (listed at 6”3”, 175, but appears bigger) and effective as Cabral, he will be snapped up.

Similarly, Clay Rapada, the epitome of LOOGY, has been the most effective lefty pitcher against lefty hitters in baseball over the last two seasons. Lefty hitters are 6 for 67, 1 HR, 6 BB and 22 strikeouts for a .090/.164/.134/.298 OPS. Plus, I cannot imagine the non-strikeouts being hard hit, either. So, why was this type of lefty pitcher still available so late in the winter to the Yankees? Primarily because he has been brutal against righties, with a career .359/.474/.692/1.166 OPS over 95 plate appearances.

And with the specialization of the game, the individual roster spots have much more value. Pure LOOGY’s are tough to find in today’s game, as teams prefer their left handed relievers also retire right handed hitters, too. In addition, multi-positional players, guys who can play multiple infield positions and outfield spots are in demand. How do you explain why Miguel Cairo still has a major league job? He plays five positions.

But Rapada has also been pretty darn effective against right handed hitters this spring. In 16 PAs, he has allowed three hits (one double), and two walks (one intentional). Included in those numbers is retiring Evan Longoria on a ground ball and striking out three right-handed hitters. That is added to the fact that not one left handed hitter in 16 PAs he has faced this spring has gotten on base via a hit. He has allowed one walk to a lefty and struck out eight.

I agree with Mike that, due to age and stuff, keeping Cabral makes lots of sense. Recently, Joel Sherman wrote an article about the Yankees lack of developing a starting left handed pitcher since Andy Pettitte. With his size and stuff, the Yankees would be wise to develop Cabral back into a starting pitcher. After this season of one (or two) inning relief stints, he could be sent to Triple-A in 2013 to begin as a starter once again*.  I say again because Cabral was a starting pitcher early in his pro career. If nothing else, if Cabral is successful as a starting pitcher, he would have more value on the trade market. If he struggles, Cabral could easily be converted back to a lefty reliever.

*Unlike this 2012 season where the Empire State rotation is full, I feel 40% of that rotation will be traded by next season and another could be in the Bronx. So, there will be room for developing Cabral there as a starting pitcher.

I would also keep Rapada. Although I have never really been a specialist, second lefty in the pen type guy, Rapada is too good to release. For the role he would be factored into, Rapada is as close as a sure thing as Mariano Rivera. The numbers against left-handed hitters he has put up the last two seasons (plus so far this spring) are virtually perfect in baseball terms. If released, Rapada will be picked up before he leaves the parking lot.

As Mike pointed out, the Yankees have been good at keeping these minor league veteran guys within their organization by offering them more money to stay. But with Rapada being 31 years old, I believe he would much rather stay in the majors on another team then ride a minor league bus for even a single month.

I know I would.

What would be wrong with keeping both Cabral and Rapada on the major league roster and optioning the overrated Cory Wade to the minors? I believe Wade might have an option left. Wade does not have the successful longer term results as Rivera, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano have; he is the biggest risk for “regression” of any Yankee reliever.

I believe Wade’s impressive 2011 season is an aberration of what his true pitching skills really are. Wade was constantly getting out of jams last season, most which he inherited. His 91% strand rate likely will not continue and his ERA was very distant from his FIP.

He was hot then cold before his Yankee tenure and as the league gets to see him more often, after a strong 2011, he probably will not be very good this year. This happened once before with Wade in 2008 and 2009 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That first year, Wade was great with a 2.27 ERA over 55 games, 0.925 WHIP and a K/BB of 3.40. Although Wade did not strike out many hitters (6.4), he walked them at a very low rate (1.9).

However, Wade’s numbers became drastically worse the following season, which saw Wade’s ERA balloon to 5.53 (more than doubling!), his WHIP rise to 1.373 and his K/BB decline to an abysmal 1.80. Hitters likely began to lay off his junk and when Wade was forced to come over the plate more often, he was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Virtually every number was much worse from that 2008 season to the 2009 campaign.

I believe Wade will continue with that trend and have a brutal 2012 season. His spring training efforts have already been brutal. His biggest positive last year is that he threw strikes and had batters chase his changeup. However, I don’t trust many relievers whose biggest out pitch is a changeup. As the National League hitters in 2009 learned to lay off that changeup and force Wade to throw the ball over the plate, so will the American League hitters learn the same this season.

Since Freddy Garcia (or another “failed” starter) will be sent to the bullpen, the Yankees already have a long man. They really don’t need Wade, but Girardi appears comfortable with him. George Kontos is healthy again and would be a better option if the Yankees ended up losing Wade and end up needing another right handed middle reliever.

Since Cabral will probably not clear waivers, and Rapada is very effective against LHH, I would keep both on the roster. You don’t need righty specialists, but do need lefty ones. To start the season, the Yankees will face quite a few left handed hitting teams including the Tampa Bay Rays (Carlos Pena, Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, Reid Brignac), the Minnesota Twins (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Ben Revere) and the Red Sox (Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney). Getting that big out in the 6th inning with men on vs. A.L. East rivals Ortiz, Gonzalez, Pena and Scott is where Rapada is perfectly suited. That leaves Cabral and Logan for other times when more than one lefty sandwiching a right handed hitter will be up to start a late inning.

The Yankees would be better off in the short term and the long run with both Cabral and Rapada while putting Wade out to pasture where he belongs.

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Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.

2 Responses to Why Not Take Both Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral?

  1. Desmond wasnaski

    Ummm. Is it me or has Logan been a Left handed specialist who can’t get lefties out? Maybe I’m thick but where’s the value?

  2. Chuck

    So, are you advocating keeping three LOOGY’s in the pen?

    Logan is out of options.

    Cabral would have to be sent back as a Rule V

    Rapada is a non-roster invite, meaning you’d have to remove someone to add him. Wade does in fact have options remaining, which means someone else would have to be removed.

    Not sure that’s the best option in the long run.

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