New York Yankees: Why Clay Rapada Is the Most Underrated Bronx Bomber

Steven Goldstein@@GoldsteinNUContributor IAugust 6, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10:  NEW YORK, NY - Clay Rapada #39 of the New York Yankees  in action against the New York Mets during their game on June10, 2012 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

When you've stuffed as many stars onto a roster as the New York Yankees have, someone is bound to go unnoticed.

That someone is lefty Clay Rapada.

The sixth-year reliever came into the Big Apple with low expectations, joining an already-loaded Yankees bullpen. Rapada, who has played for five teams in the past five years, entered the Bronx with a pedestrian career 4.28 ERA and didn't stand to make much of an impact as the 2012 season kicked off.

Then, of course, the injury bug slithered into New York, flittering around the 'pen and taking a slew of key arms with it.

Rapada, who sported a six-plus ERA in 32 appearances with Baltimore last year, has had a scintillant season in pinstripes, becoming one of the Yanks' primary middle-inning hurlers and a shut-down lefty specialist. He's already played in 50 games and compiled a 2.76 ERA.

What's more, opposing batters are hitting a paltry .190 mark against the Portsmouth, Virg., native. He boasts a 2-0 record with five holds and just two home runs allowed.

Perhaps Rapada has fallen under the radar because of his notably short stints on the mound—38 of his outings have lasted less than a full inning. Still, his niche is firmly carved into this first-place Yankees team, and as the Bombers continue to vie for their 28th World Series in franchise history, Rapada will be a critical cog in the system.

Rapada, along with fellow relievers Cody Eppley and Boone Logan, has seemingly emerged from nowhere to provide an invaluable service for the Yankees. He's struck out prominent lefties like Washington's Bryce Harper, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena and the "Yankee killer" himself, Boston's David Ortiz.

Lefty-specialists are a dwindling commodity in Major League Baseball, and Rapada has become as valuable as any in New York's depleted bullpen. At 31 years old, earning just over $500,000 in 2012, Rapada is sorely under-recognized and under-appreciated by fans and media alike.

Rapada allowed just one earned run in all of June, and hasn't allotted more than three runs in a single month despite his frequent appearances.

As New York gears up for another postseason run, they will be met by a myriad of imposing lefty sluggers, including Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, Chicago DH Adam Dunn and Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder. Even within the AL East, formidable lefties like Ortiz, Baltimore outfielder Nick Markakis, and Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury wait in the wings. Having a reliable lefty specialist is something that many fans seem to be taking for granted.

While the jury is still out on Rapada's durability and consistency as the season progresses, he stands as New York's most underrated entity for now.