Coming into the 2012 season, most people assumed that the pitching prospect that would make the biggest impact in the Bronx would be one of the Killer B’s. After all, they were talked up and hyped up like no other. Maybe some thought D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren would produce in Pinstripes after solid 2011 minor league campaigns. I bet not many people thought David Phelps would have the impact he’s had, though. Spot starter and long reliever extraordinaire, Phelps has seen his minor league success translate into success at the major league level.
In Phelps’ wake, we’ve seen Mitchell traded, Manny Banuelos miss nearly the entire year with an elbow injury, Dellin Betances demoted to Double-A, and Adam Warren rocked in his only major league start. Phelps has done more than enough to guarantee himself a postseason roster spot in my mind and I believe that Phelps should be in the rotation come 2013.
Before I get into what the 2013 roster and pitching rotation might look like and where Phelps might fit, let’s just take a look at his surprisingly solid numbers. Long before he made his Yankees debut this April, he had a long track record of dominating the minor leagues with high strikeout totals and low hit totals. His four year long minor league career record stands at 40-15 with a 2.51 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 515 innings, solid numbers all around. Phelps’ career minor league BB/9 ratio stands at a stellar 2.0, which has carried over into the majors in the form of a slightly higher but still respectable 2.7 BB/9 mark.
His major league mark of 7.5 H/9 is actually a full hit lower than his minor league ratio of 8.5 H/9 as well. This could mean Phelps is in line for some eventual regression, but still that 8.5 number is by no means horrible.
He’s never had a problem with giving up the home run either; Phelps has given up just 31 home runs over his minor league career, good for a 0.5 HR/9 ratio. In the majors, he’s given up ten home runs over 70 innings, but as we’ve seen with Phil Hughes, that’s almost to be expected from a fastball pitcher in a bandbox stadium.
He has a career 7.6 K/9 ratio, and in minor league stints in which he made more than ten starts, his career high came with the Trenton Thunder in 2010 when he posted an 8.6 K/9 ratio. Phelps has a career 3.70 K/BB ratio with that number coming within a few fractions away from four strikeouts per walk in 2009 and 2010. He’s always been a pitcher who records his outs via the strikeout, and that’s been evident in 2012. Phelps struck out 23 in 18 minor league innings this year while striking out 73 in 70 major league innings as well, good for a 9.4 K/9 ratio in 2012 thus far. In four of Phelps’ six starts this year, he’s struck out five or more, with the strikeout total at seven his last two starts. On the mound, Phelps shows absolutely no fear and attacks hitters relentlessly. That has to have at least a little weight too, right?
Lastly, Phelps has throw more than 150 innings twice and his career high stands at 158, so there most likely won’t need to be some magic Stephen Strasburg innings limit if Phelps found himself in the rotation next season. He can probably throw 180-200 innings without issue.
In his 70 major league innings, he’s posted a solid 2.96 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, a 3.48 K/BB ratio, a 1.8 WAR, and a 143 ERA+ (which would actually be good for ninth in all of baseball if he pitched enough innings). He’s filled in admirably for the likes of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte over the past few months and has provided solid long and middle relief in times when the Yankees bullpen has sputtered. In seven appearances from July 19th to August 9th, Phelps allowed just three hits and no runs over ten innings while walking two and striking out 14. His 4.50 ERA over his last three starts isn’t exactly to die for, but he’s been the victim of no run support and a Rafael Soriano blown save in his last two starts against Boston and Toronto respectively. It’s hard not to like Phelps and what he’s done for the Yankees this year, and with the Yankees rotation filled with question marks next season, he absolutely deserves a shot to be a member of the Opening Day rotation.
As of right now, there are just two names locked into next year’s rotation in my mind, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Kuroda’s contract expires at the end of the year and technically he isn’t a lock, but as I wrote about last week, it would be foolish to not re-sign him. After all, he’s unquestionably been the Yankees’ best pitcher in 2012. So that leaves three in house names for two spots, Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Andy Pettitte. If Pettitte officially declares he wants to extend his comeback tour into 2013, we all know he’ll be in that rotation as well. So the debate boils down to Phelps against Nova, and after the way Nova has humiliated himself this season, I’d be hard pressed to guarantee him a rotation spot as well. If it wasn’t for the rash of injuries that struck the Yankees rotation this summer, Nova would have found himself in Triple-A anyway, even before he hit the disabled list. In the offseason, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of the Yankees trading Nova and if he’s still on the roster come February, he’s going to have to pitch out of his mind in order to secure himself a spot on the rotation. If not, it’s Phelps’ for the taking. Personally, I feel that Phelps has the edge over Nova, but Nova is just one year removed from a successful 16 win rookie campaign and that season has a lot of weight when it comes to his short term future.
David Phelps has been everything the Yankees could have asked for and more. If he continues his success into September and beyond, I think he would have earned himself a more prominent role in the 2013 pitching staff. What say you?