The Yankees’ Midseason Unsung Hero Award Goes to Chasen Shreve

The Great Sports Void (a/k/a the days after Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game) is upon us and with it comes the “midseason review” articles.  Given the opportunity to reflect upon and evaluate a team’s first half, sportswriters and bloggers will typically assign awards or grades to a team’s players.  In Yankee-land, the consensus appears to be that Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Dellin Betances, and Alex Rodriguez have been the team’s most valuable players during the first three months of the regular season.

While there is no disputing the impact these players have had on the season, there is another member of the Yankees whose significant first half contributions have largely gone unnoticed.

Chasen Shreve is the unsung hero of the Yankee season.

Shreve, an eleventh round selection of the Braves in 2010, was the less-heralded half of the Yankees’ return for trading Manny Banuelos to the Atlanta Braves this offseason.  At the time of the trade, the more talked-about acquisition was hard-throwing reliever David Carpenter, who had compiled a 2.63 ERA and 141 strikeouts over 126 2/3 innings pitched in 2013-2014.  Since the Yankees had already traded away right-handed pitchers Shawn Kelley and David Phelps, most anticipated Carpenter stepping into a prominent position in the Yankee bullpen in front of the eighth-and-ninth inning tandem of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.

Once the regular season started, however, Carpenter and the other hard-throwing middle relievers struggled . . . mightily:  Carpenter – 4.82 ERA, Esmil Rogers – 6.27 ERA, Chris Martin – 5.63 ERA, Jacob Lindgren – 5.14 ERA.  The eventual release of Carpenter and ineffectiveness of the others left a void in the Yankee bullpen and threatened to leave the Yankees vulnerable in the middle innings.

But, somewhat unexpectedly, in stepped Shreve.

Due to his relatively modest spring training (4.76 ERA in 11 1/3 innings pitched), many fans may not even realize that Shreve was named to the opening day roster.  He was essentially the last man in the pen, and many believed that Shreve’s ceiling was as a lefty-specialist.  Others felt that Shreve was simply keeping the seat warm for twenty-two-year-old Lindgren, who had breezed through four levels of the minor leagues in 2014.

Shreve’s first action of the season was not memorable, as he pitched in relief of an ineffective Masahiro Tanaka on opening day and promptly surrendered a homerun to Toronto’s number nine hitter, Devon Travis.  Shreve’s appearance (in the sixth inning of a game the Yankees were trailing 5-0) appeared to solidify the notion that he was not viewed as an integral part of the bullpen.

Four days later, however, Shreve altered this perception during the nineteen inning game against the Boston Red Sox.  Taking the mound in the twelfth inning, Shreve threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out four batters.  Although Shreve was shipped to the minors after the game in favor of fresh arms, Shreve’s performance had dispelled any notion that he was a “lefty-one-out-guy” and provided a glimpse of what his role on the team was to become.

Shreve was recalled on April 21st, and immediately solidified himself as a key cog in Joe Girardi’s bullpen as he appeared in thirty more games leading up to the All-Star break.  Pitching 31 innings during that span, Shreve compiled a 2.03 ERA with 33 strikeouts, while holding opposing batters to a .170 average.   Perhaps most impressively, Shreve pitched multiple innings in half of his appearances, showing the ability to handle both left-handed batters (.239 average) and right-handed batters (.143 average).   Shreve’s documented versatility – appearing in high-leverage situations (having allowed only 3 of 13 inherited runners to score) as well as in a long relief role – has been a welcomed asset to the bullpen.

Shreve was also at his best when the Yankees needed him the most, which was after Miller was injured and Betances was shifted to the closer role.  While Miller was on the disabled list (June 10th through July 8th), Shreve compiled a 1.93 ERA while opposing hitters mustered only a .469 OPS during that stretch.  Shreve provided some much needed bullpen depth as he and fellow lefthander Justin Wilson locked down the seventh and eighth innings, helping to bridge the gap from the starters to Betances.

In terms of WAR, Shreve has been the second-most valuable member of the Yankee bullpen so far this season (Betances 2.0; Shreve 1.4).  Utilizing any metric, it is clear that Shreve has been a key contributor to the success of the Yankees up to this point.

Seemingly an afterthought in April, Shreve will now exit the All-Star break as one of the main relievers who will be heavily relied upon to support a playoff run.