Ivan Nova was supposed to start the first game of the doubleheader Monday in Cleveland, but he couldn’t make the start because he injured his left side while throwing. It’s unclear when Nova will pitch again. With Nova unable to start, the Yankees called upon David Phelps.
Coming up through the minors, David Phelps was never regarded as a top prospect in the Yankees system – Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America ranked him 14th (in 2011) and 21st (in 2012), respectively. David Phelps doesn’t have an overpowering fastball, sitting in the low 90s with the ability to dial it up to 94-95 mph when he needs to. Of his secondary pitches – curveball, slider and change-up – the curveball is the money pitch, while the other pitches are fringe average. Among his secondary pitches, the curveball is thrown for the highest percentage of strikes (64 percent) and gets the most swing misses (33 percent). Without overpowering stuff, he relies on his plus or 60 grade (on the 20-80 scouting scale) command of all his pitches to generate outs.
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Usually, a pitcher with David Phelps’ profile wouldn’t be suitable for a fantasy baseball roster, but in 135 career big-league innings, between the bullpen and starting rotation, he has a strikeout rate of 23.6 percent and a walk rate of 8.9 percent with a 3.72 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. He complied those numbers despite having a really high HR/FB rate of 13.3 percent. According to FanGraphs an average HR/FB rate is 9.5 percent and an awful rate is 13 percent. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Yankee Stadium inflated his home run totals. However, only eight of the 17 home runs he’s allowed have been at home.
Most luck-based statistics, such as HR/FB rate, are expected to fluctuate back to the mean, but it is by no means a guarantee. Like all command and control pitchers, such as Phelps, with fringe average stuff, they need to hit their spots consistently to be successful. If they miss their spots and leave the ball in the middle of the plate, those pitches will find barrels and, subsequently, leave the ballpark. Below is a heat map of the pitch location of all the home runs he’s allowed. His ground-ball rate has increased from 43 percent in 2012 to 49 percent this year, which indicates he has a great opportunity to limit the number of home runs.
For the most of Monday’s game, David Phelps struggled with his command, allowing five walks and four hits in 6.2 innings. Despite all the men on base, he only allowed one run, a home run to Jason Kipnis. Most impressive was his ability to punch out seven batters by mixing his pitches effectively and throwing any pitch at any time. With no expected return date for Nova, and the rotation consisting of a 38- and 40-year-old, Phelps could be a mainstay in the Yankees rotation. If Phelps can enhance his command he can achieve his expected ERA or FIP of 3.66 and provide 6-9 strikeouts a game. On top of that he has three favorable matchups: Toronto, @Tampa Bay and the New York Mets. Phelps should be owned in all 12-team mixed leagues. Image courtesy of TruMedia Networks.