The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury with the idea of putting him on top of the lineup to pair with Brett Gardner. At least, that’s what the front office told us. To pay someone over $150 million, most teams expect more than speed and defense, they expect some top-notch hitting tools.
Ellsbury has a history of hitting well, particularly for average. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that he’s more than just a contact hitter, he has some very exciting power. Since his 32 home run season, the power has been quieted by some injury-plagued seasons. Ellsbury went nearly 1,000 plate appearances with just 13 home runs in Boston between 2012 and his free agency.
Despite what the Yankees say, part of their $20 million plus annual commitment to the center fielder is in the hopes that he regains his power stroke, particularly in Yankee Stadium. Left-handed hitters already have an advantage in the Bronx, but when you combine that with Ellsbury’s history, it’s not hard to see why the Yankees took a huge gamble on him.
So far he’s hit just four home runs, but there are some recent signs that Ellsbury is adapting his swing to pull with some power.
In the first two weeks of the 2014 season, Ellsbury did the exact opposite of what the Yankees were hoping for. He hit a ton of ground balls to the right-side of the infield with most of his fly balls and line drives to the larger left field and center field.
In the second half of April, Ellsbury continued this trend, though he did at least see a couple of ground balls hit to left side.
Not much has changed in the first half of May, we’re still seeing a ton of ground balls to the right side of the infield and fly outs to left field. After success over the first month of the season, it looks like teams started to figure out these trend, and although we didn’t see any extreme shifts, outfielders were certainly shading him for line drives and fly balls to left field.
Ellsbury began to hit more ground balls to the opposite field at the end of May, and he used more of the outfield during this time too. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, and in the month of May he hit just .231/.317/.327.
Over the last two weeks, Ellsbury has been hitting like crazy and he’s used all fields. This is exactly what the Yankees wanted when they signed him. He’s pulling the ball hard to right field, as well as hitting line drives to left field. He’s also had ground balls to both sides of the infield. Since May 28th, Ellsbury is hitting .393/.443/.554 with two home runs and three doubles. He’s certainly on a hot streak, which may or may not continue, but what’s most encouraging is his ability to spread the ball around the field. In the year of the shift, having the ability to place the ball is one of the most important tools of the game. Now that he’s able to do that and pull the ball, it’ll be exciting to see him re-enter Yankee Stadium after this trip to the West Coast. Continue reading Ellsbury Is Finally Starting To Pull The Ball
This spring, if I were to ask which team had the best rotation in baseball, the Nationals and Tigers were the two most obvious answers. The Rays, Red Sox, Braves, and Cardinals had a shot at this title before injuries and regression met them. The Yankees were in a similar discussion, though no one thought CC Sabathia or Michael Pineda would hold up for very long. Unfortunately, these fans were right, and as brilliant as the Yankees’ rotation looked in the month of April, the loss of Sabathia, Pineda, and Nova seemingly turned their pitching staff from a strength to a weakness.
Now that we’re a month and a half into the season, the Yankees’ rotation still hasn’t hit a perfect stride, but they’re certainly keeping themselves above water. In fact, the breakout season of Masahiro Tanaka could be one of the best pitching performances the Yankees have seen in the franchise’s history. Hiroki Kuroda‘s slow start certainly put a damper on expectations this April, but he’s put up a 3.44 ERA since May 1st. David Phelps and Vidal Nuno haven’t posted brilliant ERA’s, as both pitchers have been volatile, putting up a number of quality starts alongside a number of horrid ones. And finally, Chase Whitley is now one of the most underrated Yankees on this team, who through his first five starts owns a 2.42 ERA and a 2.28 FIP.
According to pitching WAR, the Yankees’ rotation now ranks fourth in baseball and second in the American League behind the Nationals, Cubs, and Tigers. They lead all of baseball with a 1.93 BB/9 and own a 3.85 ERA, which is extremely impressive considering the offensive atmosphere of Yankee Stadium and the AL East. This also comes at the hands of an awful infield defense that ranks 26th at converting ground balls into outs. And as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Yankees outfield has been somewhat of a disappointment as well, which according to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info ranks 23rd in baseball in converting deep fly balls into outs.
The Yankee rotation has prevailed regardless, and it has kept this team afloat while the offense struggles to find consistency. Looking at the state of the Yankees’ pitchers as it stands, the team is in a good position to maintain this for the next few years. Only Hiroki Kuroda projects as a free agent this winter, and Tanaka will be a Yankee until at least the end of 2017. Though none of them have emerged as top of the rotation starters, Nuno and Phelps have eaten enough innings that they deserve appreciation, and they are under team control through at least 2018. Meanwhile, Pineda and Whitley are under similar cheap team control, but with much more upside if they can remain in the rotation.
As Katie pointed out yesterday, I think we can appoint some of the success to Brian McCann‘s pitch framing, plate blocking, and game calling. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has also owned a nice run of strike out and command improvements with this team. The addition of pitching coordinator Gil Patterson from the Athletics at the end of 2012 also seems to have improved upon Nardi Contreras‘ previous work with the farm system.
Though there’s not much left in the pipeline, it looks like the Yankees have improved their development of young pitchers. This recent draft will add a number of college arms to the system that we can look forward to shortly. With the way things went with the Hughes and Chamberlain-era, a breakout season from Whitley and Dellin Betances could indicate that the Yankees’ pitching development has entered a less frustrating era. Continue reading Appreciating The Patchwork Rotation
Though it’s too early for the expected teams to begin their annual fire sale, we’re a month away from the All Star break, and it’s time for front offices to start considering whether they’ll be buyer or sellers next month. While a few teams like the Twins and White Sox have taken surprising leaps this season, and will likely become buyers if the standings hold up, teams like the Diamondbacks and Rays have taken an unanticipated downturn. We’ll still see the expected trade market open up around guys like Jeff Samardzija, but there could be some unforeseen names hitting the trade block.
A month of baseball can change a lot of records, but teams like the Rays, Cubs, and Phillies are starting to separate themselves from the rest of baseball as the worst of the worst. I suppose we could see a run from teams like the Padres, Diamondbacks, and the Astros, but these three teams are likely to be sellers at the trade deadline as well. Of course, the Cubs and Astros were expected to be sellers, and we’ve heard plenty about the rental players that they have to offer this year. There are now more interesting situations like with the Diamondbacks and Phillies, who are now rumbling to shake things up in their front office and on the field. These are two teams that could open up their own fire sale as early as July.
And for teams like the Cubs, Astros, and Padres that have been rebuilding for so long without much to speak of in terms of winning, they can look to the team in Miami for an example of a quick rebuild. Not every team has access to players like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, but Miami’s fire sale at the end of 2012 is no longer an example of greed and lunacy, but now an example of strategy. There’s no doubt that team owners are looking at Miami’s quick turn-around and asking questions about why their own teams are stuck in perpetual mediocrity. Perhaps this will open up more teams to following in their footsteps, making them more willing to trade their big assets for many smaller ones.
For other teams stuck at .500, like the Yankees, this could mean a very active trade deadline. Players like Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Jake McGee of the Rays, and Brandon McCarthy, Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill, and Martin Prado of the Diamondbacks could all be available.
With the success of the Marlins following their fire sale and the decline in free agency thanks to an onslaught of extensions, the trade market could become much more important in baseball. I’m beginning to expect a lot of trades by the July 31st deadline, and between all the losing teams rebuilding and all the average tams fighting for a Wild Card spot, there will be no lack of trade partners. Continue reading Expecting A Wild Trade Season
The Texas Rangers have run into some horrible injury luck this season, the results of which have them sitting eight games behind the Oakland Athletics. Despite missing Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez, and Geovany Soto, the team remains just two games under .500. After Fielder underwent neck surgery a few weeks ago, the Rangers called upon Mitch Moreland to take care of first base. After 184 plate appearances of poor production and defense, Moreland and the team will now likely conclude that it’s time for him to get a much needed ankle surgery which will keep him sidelined for the next three months.
First of all, I have a hard time calling Kelly Johnson a first baseman, but with the Rangers injury troubles around the infield, it would be easy to find Johnson playing time. The Rangers currently have top prospect Rougned Odor playing second base, and while he’s hitting very well in his first 76 plate appearances, there’s reason to add depth at second base. Odor’s highest level of competition before the MLB was 282 plate appearances at Double-A, so there is concern that he was rushed to the big leagues. Recently, Odor also sprained his shoulder, and obviously the Rangers have to delicately monitor Odor’s playing time to prevent playing an injured prospect and stunting his development.
The Rangers’ only options in the infield at the moment are Donnie Murphy, who’s OPSing .596 in 110 plate appearances, and Luis Sardinas, who was also rushed the major leagues after OPS’ing just .611 in Double-A this season. The Rangers are in a tough position, but Kelly Johnson could be a cheap and effective band-aid.
The Yankees have refused to start Johnson at second base, opting to play the switch-hitting Brian Roberts and Yangervis Solarte. With Brendan Ryan, Solarte, and Roberts on the Yankees’ roster, the only real depth need for the Yankees is at first base. But the team has been unhappy with Johnson’s production at the corner, and recently they’ve worked Triple-A second baseman Jose Pirela at first base in preparation for the next Teixeira injury. While I would prefer to see Johnson at second base over Roberts, the Yankees don’t seem to share this opinion, in which case Johnson is expandable with some decent value in a shallow infield market.
Johnson hasn’t hit much with the Yankees this season, but that’s come in stagnated playing time while playing new positions. The left-handed hitter has a recent history of hitting home runs, something that the Yankees saw from him in April. A team like the Rangers may be willing to take a gamble that he’ll hit his stride in regular playing time.
The Rangers have so many needs at the moment that the Yankees actually match up very well. Weaknesses at the catching position, starting pitching, and first base could all be answered when the Yankees get back Francisco Cervelli, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia. The question is what the Rangers have to offer back, and as a team that’s spent so flamboyantly on rentals in the past, it’s not hard to imagine them giving up a prospect to desperately answer their 2014 needs. Continue reading Are The Rangers Interested In Kelly Johnson?
I’ve been an avid fan of moving Brian Roberts to a bench position, or perhaps even off the active roster, in favor of Kelly Johnson. Roberts hasn’t been good in five years, and despite limited playing time and learning new positions, I’ve preferred Johnson’s power potential this season. On the other hand, the Yankees seem to like Roberts’ ability to switch-hit. Being able to hit for both sides is really all he’s got going for him at this point, but that point is moot when the numbers continue to show that he can’t hit anyone.
Roberts is now batting .239/.317/.350 in 203 plate appearances this season. He’s started 49 games, and he’s shown that his age and injury troubles have hurt him both defensively and offensively. 2009 was the last time Roberts had an OPS over .800, and it was the last time he played a full season. I’d love to see Johnson get a chance at his true position of second base, but the team seems unwilling to give Johnson the torch. The Yankees could also give Brendan Ryan a shot at the position, but I’m not sure how much of an offensive upgrade he’d be over Roberts.
With the versatility of the switch-hitting Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees can now look for more offense in either second base or third base. Fortunately, the team has two hot-hitting second baseman in Triple-A and Double-A. EJ wrote about Rob Refsnyder last week and the right-hander has done nothing but hit since then. After posting a 1.001 OPS through the month of May, Refsnyder is now hitting .517/.533/.759 in 30 plate appearances in June.
As Refsnyder continues his breakout performance, we fans wait to hear exactly where he’ll be promoted. The notion at the moment is that the Yankees will move him to Triple-A, however that would create a log jam between another red-hot second baseman, the 24-year-old Jose Pirela, who is also mashing up Scranton with a .330/.367/.464 slash this season.
“There are more guys coming, and I think Scranton is going to see some more players coming up from Trenton too,” Cashman said. “Rob Refsnyder is swinging the bat really well in Double-A. Getting Pirela over at first base could very well open up a spot for him, too. Peter O’Brien is knocking the cover off the ball. You might see him coming up here soon.”
Over the last two seasons, Pirela has averaged just under an .800 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A, so it’s not surprising to see him all the way up to an .831 OPS in 242 plate appearances this year. In the past, Pirela has shown some pop in his bat from time-to-time, some speed, a great ability to make contact, and a lack of strikeouts. His patience at the plate can be questionable at times, but he makes up for it by keeping his whiff rates low and making contact.
Recently, the Yankees tried Pirela out at first base as well, indicating that they’re ready to shake things up. I’m not sure if this move is to make room for Refsnyder at the Triple-A level while Pirela gets more experience around the infield, or if the Yankees want to call him up to the MLB in a similar roll to Johnson.
“He can swing the bat,” Cashman said. “As you see us moving the chess pieces around, you can see us struggling with the defensive part with the backup to Teixeira at first base. We’ve moved Sizemore over there a little bit. Now we’re moving Pirela over just to prepare for what ifs.”
Is Pirela an upgrade over Roberts? At this point, it seems that anyone that can swing the bat is an upgrade over the 36-year-old. The Yankees’ infield is in desperate enough shape to start rolling the dice on other players, and Pirela could potentially flourish in the Bronx. He’s run into a lot of success in Winter Leagues and outside of the Yankees’ pitcher-friendly minor league parks. At the moment, he’s hitting .350/.384/.504 away from PNC Field, though last year he actually had better numbers in Arm & Hammer Park than on the road. Over his career, he hasn’t shown major platoon splits, though he’s surprisingly hitting right-handers much better this season. Finally, though there was some concern about his defense, Pirela has experience at every non-catcher infield position, and he’s played the corner outfield as well, so he can offer the Yankees a lot of versatility if they want to bench older bats like Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, or Mark Teixeira.
At this point, Pirela’s biggest offering is that he’s not named Brian Roberts, but there is indeed some upside there. This isn’t the first time Pirela has dominated his competition, and there’s a decent chance that he could at least be a regular major league bench player. With the way the team is playing and the lack of production out of the second base position, it’s time to shake things up and see what their farm system can offer. With any luck, the Yankees may actually have a major league second baseman somewhere between Pirela and Refsnyder. Continue reading Shaking Things Up With Pirela Or Refsnyder
With the first-year player draft commenced, the last remaining big-name free agent is now free of his draft pick compensation. Teams no longer have to give up their highest non-protected pick to sign designated hitter and first baseman Kendrys Morales. Yesterday afternoon, we heard that Morales will finally decide on offers, and he doesn’t plan on taking his time.
Of course, the Yankees asked Morales to wait just a few more days. Unsure with the state of their own lineup, the Yankees are still interested in Morales’ bat, however they’d like to see how Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira respond to playing after dealing with elbow and wrist issues. Assuming one of these players needs further surgery or time on the disabled list, the Yankees would become the obvious favorite to land the switch-hitting Morales.
But if Teixeira and Beltran miraculously remain healthy for the rest of the season, it’ll be difficult to plug Morales into a regular position. Beltran figures to be the designated hitter for the majority of the remaining season, and placing him in right field would block Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki‘s bats and gloves. At first base, Teixeira is clearly the better player over Morales, and the only time Morales could play is if the Yankees plan to limit Teixeira’s starts due to his wrist. There’s also no real platoon advantage, since all three of Teixeira, Beltran, and Morales are switch-hitters.
There are a few ways to fit Morales’ bat into the lineup if the Yankees are willing to get creative. Against right-handed starters, the team could bench Soriano and put Beltran in right field with Morales and Teixeira each taking one of the designated hitter and first base spots. When it comes to left-handed starters, the Yankees could rest one Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury while putting Soriano and Beltran in the corner outfield spots. In both scenarios, you’re asking Beltran to play right field, where he’s looked like a detriment defensively. For the Yankees, who are desperate for offense, it might be necessary to take that downgrade defensively and receive better platoon opportunities, better injury insurance, and a deeper bench to rest the aging players.
Even with the designated hitter and first base spot seemingly blocked on the roster, the Yankees can find ways to play Morales regularly. This is an aging and injury-prone roster that needs to be constantly circulated to allow for rest. Signing Morales is more than a backup plan to Beltran and Teixeira, but also a depth addition that’ll let Girardi rest some of the overworked veterans. Morales does make sense for the Yankees, but the bigger question for ownership is likely on his contract demands. Continue reading What Can Kendrys Morales Do For You?
When Brian Cashman made the move to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to an exorbitant contract and re-sign Brett Gardner for the next five seasons, the Yankees knew that they’d need to get power from their infield. The hope was that they’d receive above average power from right field, first base, catcher, and the designated hitter, but outside of Brian McCann, the Yankees took a gamble that Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alfonso Soriano could withstand age-related regression and stay on the field. That gamble has flopped.
A stronger and more reliable offense would have more power options around the infield, but all three of Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and Jeter have shown very few signs of life with the bats. If not for Yangervis Solarte‘s breakout season, it’s hard to imagine where this team would be.
There’s a lot of blame to be spread around the offense, but the biggest problem with this team is a lack of production out of the third base, shortstop, and second base spot. As I mentioned, Solarte has been the only player hitting, which means that the other two spots he doesn’t play daily provide black holes of offense and defense nearly every game. With Teixeira out of the lineup, there are three black holes. And with Soriano struggling and Beltran on the disabled list, there are arguably five black holes.
Despite being the best hitter of the three, Kelly Johnson has received the shortest leash. As I mentioned on Tuesday, not only have the Yankees asked him to play out of position all year long, but they’ve asked him to play sporadically while they place an inferior player at second base. Brian Roberts continues to receive playing time, and he’s arguably been the Yankees’ second worst position player. Roberts hasn’t been good in five years, he’s a huge injury risk, and yet he’s started 45 of the Yankees 58 games compared to Johnson’s 34 starts.
And yet Derek Jeter, who’s now hitting .259/.320/.308 over 222 plate appearances, has now started in 49 of the Yankees’ 58 games. His OPS+ is an abysmal 77, his wRC+ is 76, his offensive WAR is -6.1, and no one can convince me that his defense has been any good. With all the shifts that the Yankees have done, UZR (-2.6) and DRS (-3) say that Jeter is now only slightly below average range-wise, but both stats do a poor job of dealing with shifts. By the eye test, Jeter has cost the Yankees many more runs, especially over defensive-wiz Brendan Ryan.
At both fielding and hitting, Jeter has been awful. The only reason that he’s started 49 games is because he brings fans to the ballpark. His line drive rates are down, his walk rates are down, fly ball rates are up, and strike outs rates are up, and yet he continues to not only play, but receive the second most at bats on the team by batting second in the order.
I have a lot of respect for Jeter, personally, and honestly can’t remember baseball without him, but I have gone beyond accepting his retirement, I’m looking forward to it. Though fans are willing to dish out money to see him play his last season in the Bronx, at what point will they stop paying to see a losing team?
As I mentioned, the Yankees’ poor performance isn’t all Jeter’s fault, but he’s indeed one of the factors that are hurting this team. At least Brendan Ryan can field, and Solarte didn’t look terrible at shortstop when he handled the spot, so it’s not like Jeter is Girardi’s only option at shortstop. Less playing time probably won’t happen for an organization trying to fill seats on his retirement, but moving him out of the second spot in the lineup would at least being to limit his at bats.
Continue reading Derek Jeter Is Hurting The Yankees
After claiming Wade LeBlanc on waivers yesterday, we knew the Yankees would be making a move to clear room on both the 40-man and active roster. Alfredo Aceves, who pitched to a 6.52 ERA in 10 games with the Yankees, was designated for assignment this afternoon. Preston Claiborne was also optioned down to the minor leagues while the Yankees called up Jose Ramirez from Triple-A Scranton.
Joe Girardi also announced that Carlos Beltran could be in the lineup as soon as tomorrow. I’d imagine the Yankees are trying to test both Beltran and Mark Teixeira as much as they can before Kendrys Morales signs with a team after losing his draft pick compensation tomorrow. The Yankees have not ruled out signing Morales, so learning the extent of Beltan’s elbow injury and Teixeira’s wrist injury could be an important factor in this decision. Continue reading Aceves DFA’d And Claiborne Optioned For LeBlanc And Ramirez