Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Two weeks down, many more to go.  The Yankees snapped their pesky losing streak yesterday with a 1-run win over the Mariners.  They’ve got another off-day today before welcoming the A’s and Rays to town for the rest of this week.  6 games this week, all at home.  That’s a helluva good opportunity to turn this recent offensive slump around and get back over .500.  Here are some thoughts on the happenings over the first 2 weeks:

– It was good to see Alex Rodriguez get off the schneid with his 2-run homer to left to get the scoring started yesterday.  It was even better to see him do it against a fastball, which has given him plenty of problems over the first 10 games.  According to Brooks Baseball, A-Rod has seen 44 4-seam fastballs so far and has swung and missed at over 20% of them.  He’s also swung and missed at over 13% of the 2-seamers he’s seen, so clearly the heat is giving him some trouble.

Last year he surprised a lot of people by showing good bat speed and squaring up a lot of good fastballs.  This year it’s been the exact opposite.  Iwakuma doesn’t exactly throw smoke either, so I’d still like to see A-Rod do some damage against something moving 94, 95, 96 like he did so often last season.  Hopefully he can use yesterday as a springboard to correct whatever’s been causing the early fastball struggles.

– Speaking of fastballs, it was better than good to see the return of Masahiro Tanaka‘s FB velocity yesterday.  He threw 10 4-seamers and averaged 93.2 MPH on those pitches, maxing out at 94.5.  He also hit 93 with his sinker a few times, both of those values far above what he was throwing in his first 2 starts.  We heard Larry Rothschild say recently that Tanaka needs to stop thinking so much on the mound and trust his arm and his stuff.  Perhaps yesterday was the first instance of him taking that advice and letting it go with the heater.  He looked like a much different pitcher yesterday than he did in his first 2 starts, like he wasn’t holding anything back.  If he can consistently stay 92-94 with his fastball, it’s going to make the rest of his offspeed stuff that much more effective.

Carlos Beltran certainly looks like he’s picked up right where he left off last year.  After hitting .292/.364/.513 in the second half, he’s off to a .341/.357/.610 start in his first 11 games.  He’s not going to sustain that line over the whole year or even the rest of this month, but the hot start and the positive eye test is an encouraging sign that he can remain productive in this final year of his deal.  He looks completely relaxed and balanced at the plate, and his at-bats more than anybody else on the team’s seem to end with hard contact.

– On the opposite end of that spectrum, the bench production has been lacking in the early going.  Dustin Ackley doesn’t have a hit in 8 plate appearances, Aaron Hicks only has 1 in 13, and Austin Romine hasn’t made anybody forget that he’s Austin Romine.  The only player swinging a decent bat off the bench is Ronald Torreyes, who is 6-12, and he was expected to be the weakest offensive link of the bench group.  It could just be a matter of adjusting to irregular playing time and I’m sure Joe is going to start working Hicks in more to keep his outfield starters fresh, but it would be nice to see these guys hit a little bit when they’re in the game. Continue reading Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Quick Hit: Don’t Stress About The Rest

I mentioned this briefly in my game recap on Saturday night, but I wanted to go back and revisit Joe’s decision to use Dellin Betances with a 4-run lead in the 8th inning of that game.  There were people asking why he would use Betances in that situation and some early chatter of concern on Twitter about Joe overusing him.  I honestly almost laughed out loud reading some of the comments.

I tweeted this out yesterday morning, but if you’re unfortunate enough to not follow me, I’ll do it again here.  This was Dellin Betances’ workload last week:

Monday- Did not pitch (rainout)
Tuesday- 0.2 IP, 30 pitches
Wednesday- Did not pitch
Thursday- 1.0 IP, 13 pitches
Friday- Did not pitch
Saturday- 1.0 IP, 26 pitches
Sunday- Did not pitch (rainout)

3 appearances, 2.2 innings pitched, 69 pitches thrown.  Now the rainouts certainly helped limit Betances’ usage, but I would be willing to bet that Joe would have given Betances the night off anyway yesterday just in the interest of not using him back-to-back early when he threw 25+ pitches the game before.  Either way, Betances would have gotten another day off before going into today’s scheduled off-day, which Joe surely knew he had available to rest his bullpen.  5 off-days and 3 days of work.  That’s not a very strenuous schedule for the first week of the regular season.  For the sake of comparison, Betances pitched 4.1 innings in 4 appearances and threw 95 pitches over the first week of last season.  None of those appearances were back-to-back either.

The point here is that it is foolish to start getting worked up about Betances’ workload and whether he’s getting enough rest in the first week of the season.  He’s had plenty of rest and Joe hasn’t been working him too hard.  Had Betances not walked the yard and thrown the ball away on Opening Day, he wouldn’t have had to throw so many pitches.  Joe gave him a day off after that outing and he’ll have 2 days off after a 25+ pitch outing on Saturday.  He’s fine. Continue reading Quick Hit: Don’t Stress About The Rest

Thoughts On The Opening Day Roster

[caption id="attachment_80796" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Opening Day Sure looks nice without all the rain and snow, huh?[/caption]

It’s here.  At long last, it’s finally here.  It’s been exactly 180 days since the Yankees were shut out by Dallas Keuchel to end their 2015 season.  Now today they’ll get a chance to right that wrong as they take the field to kick off their 2016 season against Keuchel and the Houston Astros again.  Well, weather permitting they’ll do that.  Weather not permitting, I’ll have wasted some valuable PTO at work and I’ll have to burn more to watch Opening Day Part Deux tomorrow.

But for now we’re sticking with positive vibes only and assuming that they will get the game in today.  The Yankees put the finishing touches on their Opening Day roster over the weekend, and to me it’s both very similar and very different to last year’s roster and the rosters of the past few seasons.  There’s still the aging core that’s going to make or break the team and there are still tons of questions in the rotation, but there is a continuation of last year’s commitments to youth and the implication that the playing time balance will be more evenly distributed amongst the regulars and key bench players this season in an attempt to keep everybody (especially that aging core) healthy and productive.  In no particular order of importance, here are some more of my thoughts on the 25-man crew that will take the field today to start the 2016 season.

– Did CC Sabathia deserve the 5th starter spot on merit?  Certainly not.  But his paycheck and veteran status were never going to be ignored, and there is the argument to be made that the team should at least give him a few starts to get it together after his strong finish to 2015.  It’s not like Ivan Nova was pitching better than CC then and his 6-shutout innings in his final ST start wasn’t enough to erase his previous inconsistency, nor should it be.  Joe adjusted his strategy with CC last year and utilized him as a 5-6 inning pitcher.  There’s no reason to think he won’t do that again this season and it’ll be on Sabathia to prove he can be effective enough in that role to keep his job.  If he bombs, get him out of there.

– The challenge for Joe is going to be figuring out how best to use Nova out of the ‘pen.  On paper he should be effective in a shorter role, using his hard sinker and big curveball to generate swings and misses and lots of ground balls.  But that’s the same formula he’s never been able to master as a starter, so who really knows?  I’d like to see Nova get a shot as the Bryan Mitchell/Adam Warren multi-inning middle reliever and I think that’s how Joe will try to use him early to keep him as stretched out as possible.  You never know when another injury could strike and Nova is the clear cut #6 starter behind CC.  But if those injuries don’t come, Nova is going to have to prove he can be trusted with some important relief innings at some point.  If he doesn’t, he could fade into Bolivian.

– I absolutely love the decision to start Aaron Hicks today against the lefty.  Love it.  It’s a smart, simple, logical baseball decision completely removed from things like salary, experience, tenure with the team, etc.  It’s the exact opposite of the CC rotation decision and it suggests that Joe and the rest of his staff has learned from last season.  It’s not just about giving the really old guys like A-Rod and Beltran extra rest.  It’s about giving all the older veteran players rest and playing to the more favorable matchups as a way to facilitate that rest.  Aaron Hicks mashes lefties, Brett Garder and Jacoby Ellsbury really don’t.  Hicks is 100% healthy, Gardner and Ellsbury have dealt with slight injuries all spring.  Go with the guy who’s the better matchup and give those valuable veterans an extra day off early. Continue reading Thoughts On The Opening Day Roster

Monday Morning Musings A Week Away From Opening Day

It’s close now, real close.  In less than a week the 2016 MLB regular season will officially be underway, and in a few hours more than a week the same will be true for the New York Yankees.  The roster trimming continues, the speculation about who will and won’t nab the last few Opening Day 25-man slots has intensified, and the anticipation of first pitch next Monday is rising.  Here are some assorted thoughts on where the Yankees stand a week away from that first first pitch.

– At the start of camp, I didn’t think there was any way that Gary Sanchez wasn’t coming out of ST as the backup catcher.  I also didn’t think there was any way that Rob Refsnyder would come out of camp with a big league roster spot.  Two weeks ago, I completely flip-flopped on both of those thoughts and then Refs took a few ground balls off the dome and everything changed again.  The Yankees have made a clear commitment to get younger and build from within over the last few seasons, but it’s good to know that they still recognize when guys aren’t quite ready and are willing to give them the time they need to be fully prepared to come up to the show and contribute.  Sanchez has swung a cold bat all spring and Refsnyder needs more work at third base if he’s truly going to be an option there for Joe.  There’s nothing wrong with letting them work on those things in the lower-pressure environment of Triple-A, especially when there are other options for their positions available.

– We already know who that other option is going to be at backup catcher.  Now with Refs getting sent down yesterday, the question becomes who fills in for him as the final utility infielder.  It’s a 2-man race between Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes and I’m hoping with every fiber of my being that it ends up being Torreyes.  If ST stats mean anything, he’s been the much better hitter this spring (.313/.333/.375 in 32 ABs compared to .167/.231/.250 in 24 ABs for Kozma) and that should give him a leg up.  He’s also younger, he’s been healthier in camp, and he can play the same mix of positions that Kozma can.  I’ve said all along that I don’t want Kozma on this team.  He’s basically a Brendan Ryan clone and I think using a roster spot on a player like that is a waste.  Torreyes comes with a little bit of projectability thanks to his young age and his high-contact approach is a great fit for a part-time bench gig.  If it comes down to these 2 for the last bench spot, Torreyes is the clear choice in my mind. Continue reading Monday Morning Musings A Week Away From Opening Day

Predicting The 2016 Opening Day Roster Part IV

I haven’t updated my Opening Day roster prediction since before Spring Training started and a lot has gone down since then.  With less than 2 weeks until Opening Day, I think it’s about time for another revision and I think this is going to be the final prediction.  So mark it down, lock it in, here we go.  Barring injuries, here is the official prediction for Joe’s 25-man roster on April 4th:

Starting Lineup:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury– CF
2) Brett Gardner– LF
3) Alex Rodriguez– DH
4) Mark Teixeira– 1B
5) Carlos Beltran– RF
6) Brian McCann– C
7) Chase Headley– 3B
8) Starlin Castro– 2B
9) Didi Gregorius– SS

Starting Rotation:

1) Masahiro Tanaka
2) Michael Pineda
3) Luis Severino
4) Nathan Eovaldi
5) CC Sabathia

Bench: Austin Romine, Dustin Ackley, Aaron HicksRob Refsnyder

Bullpen: Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve,Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody

A few notes:

– I have no clue why I had Beltran over A-Rod in the batting order in the first few editions.  That’s obviously not happening.

– It looks like it’s going to be Austin Romine’s backup job based on the last few weeks.  He’s playing better than Gary Sanchez, he’s getting more work, and he’s hitting higher in the batting order.  Again, this ultimately isn’t a big deal.  Sanchez will get his turn and there’s nothing wrong with using a little more Triple-A time to get him swinging a hot bat again and bump back his free agency.  And if Romine surprises us in the first month and plays well, well that’d be just fine.

– If you would have told me the last time I did this that Rob Refsnyder was going to make the roster as the backup third baseman, I would have laughed in your face.  But who else could it be at this point?  Nobody left in camp to compete with him has hit worth a lick and Refs’ added positional flexibility and better stick make him even more valuable to Joe as a bench piece.

– Those first 5 bullpen spots are rock solid in my opinion, and I think Mitchell could already be starting to carve out a role as the #2 righty reliever behind Betances.  After that, though, it’s still wide open.  When the dust settles, I think we’re going to see Yates and Goody and in there.  Goody has pitched a lot and he’s been the most consistent of last year’s shuttle group.  He also hasn’t walked a batter in 7 appearances.  Yates has been sneaky great so far in ST (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K in 4 apps.) and he has 50+ innings of big league experience.  That’ll carry some weight with Joe when it comes time to make a decision, so go ahead and call Yates this year’s Chris Martin, the guy nobody expected to get a spot when camp opened but ended up sneaking on in the end. Continue reading Predicting The 2016 Opening Day Roster Part IV

Thoughts A Few Weeks Into Spring Training

We’re still less than a week into the game schedule, but it already feels like Spring Training has been going on for a while.  Does it feel like that to anybody else or am I just a weirdo?  Either way, all the spring storylines are starting to churn into motion with the beginning of games and it’s been mostly positive in Yankee camp thus far.  Here are some random thoughts on the early goings on.

Masahiro Tanaka is going to start on Opening Day.  Barring any unforeseen physical setback, that’s clearly the plan and one the Yankees started executing with his start yesterday.  It’s no coincidence that pitching yesterday lines Tanaka up to start on April 4th.  The Yankees have a timeline laid out for Tanaka to be ready to open the season and Tanaka seems both healthy enough and far enough along in his throwing to stick to it.  He threw a 60+ pitch bullpen session last week and I thought his stuff all had good movement yesterday.  He revved the fastball up into the low 90s and threw a lot of different pitches, so he doesn’t appear to be limited at all by the offseason surgery.  As long as he keeps hitting his pitch counts in every start from here on out, he’s getting the ball on 4/4.

– Sample sizes are way too small to be meaningful, but Rob Refsnyder has to be making an impression on the coaching staff.  He did a little of everything in yesterday’s game, singling, drawing a walk, stealing 2 bases, and making a couple of nice plays at third base.  They were pure reaction plays and Refsnyder made them and made the throws.  That’s what the Yankees are looking for.  Refsnyder continues to show that his bat is ready for the big leagues.  If he can just handle his business in the field and make the plays he’s supposed to make, I think he gets the last bench spot easily.

– Joe pretty much came out and said it’s a 2-horse race for backup catcher between top prospect Gary Sanchez and faded former prospect Austin Romine.  Both of them had notable days yesterday with Sanchez getting the nod to catch Tanaka’s first start and Romine coming off the bench to hit 2 doubles.  The Yankees don’t appear to be too concerned about losing Carlos Corporan and they’ve got Eddy Rodriguez and a few other guys to handle things in Double and Triple-A.  I think they’re going to end up stashing Sanchez in SWB for a few weeks to push back his free agency, let Romine show what he can do as the season-opening backup catcher, and then try to sneak him back through waivers when it’s time to call Sanchez up.  That might not work if Romine plays well, but it’s the smart business decision.  One way or another, these next few months are likely Romine’s last hurrah as a Yankee.  Hopefully he does well enough to get himself a big league job somewhere else.

– Question.  Does anybody want these last few open bullpen spots?  I know it’s early, but a lot of those back end guys have not pitched well out of the gate.  I don’t know who I’d take after Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova if I had to choose right now. Continue reading Thoughts A Few Weeks Into Spring Training

Thoughts On The Aroldis Chapman Suspension

Rob Manfred handed down the Aroldis Chapman suspension yesterday, giving us a first look at what kind of teeth the MLB’s new domestic violence policy is going to have.  Chapman got 30 regular season games and said he will not appeal the suspension, which runs counter to what he said a week ago..  Chapman will be allowed to continue to participate in Spring Training activities but he will be out of action for over a month once the regular season starts next month, eligible to return on May 9th against the Royals.

I’ve got a few different thoughts about the suspension, most of them unrelated to each other, and my brain isn’t back to homeostasis after having to put on a really good cube monkey performance for the boss yesterday.  So if it’s alright, I’m going to dish these thoughts out in bite-sized chunks.

– My first reaction to the announcement was surprise.  I actually expected Chapman to get fewer games, like 20.  I thought the lack of charges filed would scare MLB and Manfred off from going heavy-handed on their first suspension under the new policy.  I thought MLB wouldn’t want to rock the boat with the players’ union and drop a really high number, not when they had the Jose Reyes case to use to establish a steeper penalty benchmark for future cases.  Good on them for not doing that and good on Chapman for not following through on his commitment to appeal.  That wouldn’t have been good for the first suspension case either and he deserved to be punished.  I’m sure there was a deal made by both sides to come to the 30 games with no suspension, but whatever.  You’re naive if you don’t think things like that happen.

– As far as the Yankees are concerned, I think they’re just glad that the announcement has been made so they can formulate their plan to start the season without Chapman and move on.  They clearly expected something like this from the minute they made the trade and they’ve got no shortage of relievers in camp, so that entire bullpen competition becomes even more interesting for the next month.  I’m sure Hal and his stooges are bummed that the suspension isn’t long enough to delay Chapman’s free agency, but screw them.  Now the Yankees know how long they’ll be without their new closer and now they figure out how to cover for him until May 9th.  Those are the more immediately important points from a 2016 Yankee perspective.

– It’s worth noting that Chapman will not be allowed to play in MiL games while he’s suspended, so he’ll be going a month plus without any kind of real game action.  He can use the team complex in Tampa to stay loose and stay sharp, but that’s still not even remotely close to pitching in the 9th inning of a live Major League Baseball game.  Will he be game-ready when the suspension is up?  Will the Yankees send him on a quick MiL rehab assignment to knock off some rust?  That’s something they’re going to have to think about. Continue reading Thoughts On The Aroldis Chapman Suspension

Everybody loves Alex

Welcome aboard the Alex Rodriguez love train, everyone! I am your conductor Stacey Gotsulias. I’ve been on this train for quite a long time and it is wonderful to see so many passengers coming aboard. Curmudgeonly baseball writers, stubborn Yankees fans and even fans of other teams have been boarding the love train these past few months, and it has been amazing. In fact, the train is so crowded that we may have to add some extra cars… All kidding aside, the complete turnaround of A-Rod coverage has been nothing short of a miracle. Last year, all eyes were on Continue reading Everybody loves Alex

Don’t Trost the Yankees, they’ll throw you into a Levine

It’s been a few days since Yankees’ COO Lonn Trost said some highly questionable things about the Yankees’ new ticketing policies for 2016 and I have been quiet about it because I wanted to take the time to gather my thoughts and express them in a polite and reflective manner. I didn’t want to fly off the handle which is what I would have done had I written something on the day when Trost’s comments first came out. Here they are in case you missed them: “The problem below market at a certain point is that if you buy a Continue reading Don’t Trost the Yankees, they’ll throw you into a Levine