Going to the Headley

How bad have things become with Chase Headley? Men have a rather impolite saying when going to the men’s room. Perhaps you have heard of, “Going to the Head.” Lately, I have been saying that I am going to the Headley. And there is much about his first month of the season that sings the Ty-D-Bol theme song. His stats are clean, man, clean as a whistle. Looking for doubles? Nope. Triples? Nope. Homers? Nope. Hits with two outs with runners in scoring position? Hits with men on first and second? Hits with men on first and third? Hits with men on second and third? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

Chase Headley has gotten off to bad starts in his career. But never this bad. And, it would not be too much of a concern if it did not bookend how he finished 2015. September of last season was nearly as bad. That month, Headley played in 31 games and had twenty hits with only three extra base hits. Mind you, that is three more than this April. But even so, his triple slash line last September was, .179/.252/..223. That only looks good against this April’s .148/.277/.148.

I was really bullish on the Yankees getting this guy. I bought into that outlier of a season he had in 2012. To my embarrassment, in our IIATMS previews in 2015, I selected Headley as my biggest surprise to be in 2015. It did not exactly happen that way. I always loved his glove. And then last year happened and I cringed every time he threw the ball (as did Mark Teixeira). I was so wrong. According to Fangraphs.com, Headley was the seventeenth best third baseman in baseball last year. Even Yangervis Solarte was better. At least his fielding has been solid to great this season.

So what has happened to Chase Headley? His line drive percentage is comparable to seasons past. His strikeout rate has been stable with his history. There are two major differences. First–and I know everyone is sick of hearing about this stat–the velocity of balls off his bat are down. Second, he is taking many more pitches and swinging less often.

Let’s start with the second one because it sounds counter intuitive. It is good to be patient, right? Maybe. His overall swing percentage this season is at a career low of 35.5%. Compare that to his lifetime rate of 43.8%. There is a dramatic difference in the amount of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone. This year, that percentage is 18.2% compared to a career norm of 25.6%. That all sounds good, right? So far, yes. But then we come to the percentage of strikes.

In that latter category, Headley is swinging at 58.3% of pitches in the strike zone compared to a career average of 67.7%. In his monster year of 2012, Headley swung at 70% of strikes. My theory on this is that he is not as aggressive as he used to be and I believe I have observed this watching every game thus far. He should be mashing balls in the middle zone of the plate and too many pass by unchallenged. Then he is forced to swing at a pitcher’s pitch. He seems far too passive at the plate. This is my theory. Debunk at will. I fully admit that I am not as good a stat guy as my colleagues.

I also believe the above information bleeds into his amount of hard hit balls. Starting with his season in 2012 and covering the two following seasons, the percentage of balls he hit hard were near 35% or higher. Then last season, it went down to 28% and this year is at 23.8%. His home run to fly ball percentage took a big dip last season and, of course, is nonexistent so far this season.

Can Chase Headley recover? Sure, anything is possible. He won’t be THIS bad all season. That said, I am not sure he will become a productive hitter again for the Yankees. His offense had a negative value last year and we are now talking a season and a month of not being productive. His last two full months of play have been alarming. How patient the Yankees are will be interesting to see. The organization will probably be a lot more patient than I. Continue reading Going to the Headley

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

It’s Not a Blip: McCann is Old and Declining

[caption id="attachment_80021" align="aligncenter" width="525"]McCann HBP 2015 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

Every off-season, you get emptily hopeful pieces like this one that must’ve taken Newsday reporter Steven Marcus several minutes to write:

McCann wasn’t satisfied with his .232 batting average. “I don’t like looking up there and seeing I’m hitting around .230,’’ he said Friday from Orlando, Florida, where he was participating in a charity golf tournament. “I’ve got to get better. I’d like to hit .300 with 30 [homers].

Don’t scoff yet at Marcus cobbling an “article” out of a 5-minute call Brian McCann returned during a slow moment of charity golf: maybe Marcus got a real scoop on McCann’s new strategy to skyrocket his hit rate after seasons of .230, .256, .232, and .232? Here’s the money quote he grabbed from McCann: “‘I think Tex says it the best: walk more and hit for extra-base hits. The game today is about getting on base and driving runs in.’” So the Marcus scoop is that McCann plans to raise his batting average by improving the non-batting-average components of his OPS: his walk and extra-base-hit rates. In related news, I plan to lose weight by putting lifts in my shoes. Publishing dreck like that is an important part of how, when you put up a paywall for online access to your major-market newspaper, you get only 35 (!) paying subscribers.

Ok, enough easy shots at lazy journalists who deserve it. Onto the real question, which is multiple-choice: McCann in 2016 is –
…(a) likely to improve, because Teixeira shared his secret plan, “hit more better”;
…(b) likely to improve, because it’s just a blip that his 2014-15 was worse than his 2008-13;
…(c) unlikely to improve, but that’s ok because batting average is just one component of value, and overall he’s still a strong player;
…(d) unlikely to improve, because he’s in real decline;
…(e) I love Newsday, so STF up, Scott.

Let’s not take (a) and (e) seriously, because if you believe those, then your name is Mrs. Marcus and I’m very sorry for insulting your husband. So the title of this post gave away my punch line: it’d (d); there’s a big bucket of evidence McCann is in real, long-term decline, not suffering a random drop in performance that he’s likely to recover from in 2016.

(1) He’s not hitting the ball as much, or as well. In 2015, his K rate reached a new high (18.1%, after a prior career rate of about 14.6%), his line drive rate reached a new low (16.7%, after a prior rate of just over 20%), and both his 2014 and 2015 hard contact rates also reached new lows (31.0% and 31.5%, after about 35%). It’s easy to say a one-year decline in outcomes (lower BA, fewer HR, etc.) is a blip if the hitter is making as much good contact as ever and not striking out more; in that case, the outcome decline probably reflects bad luck, like fielders happening to be in the right place 10-20 more times than last year. But with McCann, we have a very consistent picture of a hitter in real decline: striking out more, while hitting fewer line drives (the contact most likely to yield hits), and making less hard contact generally. Continue reading It’s Not a Blip: McCann is Old and Declining

Quick Hit: Jacoby Ellsbury Stinks

Were it not for Slade Heathcott‘s incredible timing, the big talking point from last night’s 9th inning would have been Jacoby Ellsbury and his potentially back-breaking GIDP.  On the first pitch from Brad Boxberger after Dustin Ackley singled to start the inning, Ellsbury rolled a grounder over to the first baseman to start a double play and clear the bases.  After a night of precious few offensive chances, Ellsbury took what looked like the last good one the Yankees would get and flushed it.

If you haven’t been playing close enough attention, Ellsbury has been doing a lot of that lately.  He’s slumping about as badly as anybody on the team has at any point this season, and it climaxed with that GIDP in the 9th.  Ellsbury wakes up this morning with a .254/.315/.354 batting line that is, quite simply, pathetic.  That .660 OPS is almost 30 points below Didi Gregorius‘ season line and a mere 3 ahead of everyone’s favorite Twitter punching bag Stephen Drew.  Among the 30 players who qualify as center fielders on FanGraphs and have at least 400 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury’s .293 wOBA and 83 wRC+ rank 23rd.

And it gets worse than that. Consider:

  • Ellsbury is 0-18 in his last 4 games.
  • He’s 1-27 in his last 6 games.
  • He’s hitting .104/.140/.104 in 50 PA this month.
  • He’s hitting .208/.253/.314 in 171 PA since August 1st
  • He’s hitting .210/.251/.328 in 258 PA since coming off the DL on July 8th

And he’s just 4-7 in stolen base attempts and has a 4.7% BB rate in that same time.  There’s nothing that he’s doing well as a leadoff hitter and yet for some reason he’s still hitting leadoff every day.  Remember that this is year 2 of a 7-year deal and Ellsbury just turned 32 last Friday.  This isn’t a case of a guy clearly being over the physical hill like Carlos Beltran.  Ellsbury is still technically in his prime.  That’s a scary thought when you imagine what the next 5 years could be like at this pace.

To be fair, perhaps Ellsbury is playing more hurt than he’s letting on.  He did miss a significant chunk of time with a knee injury earlier in the season, and the poor production along with the lack of steal attempts suggests that the knee might not be 100%.  Still, there are other players playing hurt right now and they’re finding ways to be productive.  If Ellsbury is healthy enough to be in the lineup every day, he’s healthy enough to get held to the same standards and right now he isn’t even coming close to meeting those standards.  He straight up stinks right now and he needs to start turning that around tonight. Continue reading Quick Hit: Jacoby Ellsbury Stinks

As The Rotation Turns

It’s been a challenging year for the Yankee starting rotation.  From injury scares to innings limits to uneven performance to forearm strains to unforeseen promotions to undeserved demotions and everything in between.  Yesterday was another chapter in that saga both on and off the field, as Michael Pineda looked terrible in the 2nd inning of his start against the Orioles before rebounding to complete 6 innings and the team announced that Nathan Eovaldi will be out for the next 2 weeks with what’s been called “elbow inflammation”.  Guys getting hurt and missing a few weeks?  That’s basically par for the course for the Yankees this year.

Roll it back to the first month of the season and look what they’ve gone through.  Masahiro Tanaka made 4 starts in April and then went to the DL for a month with right arm problems.  The “he should have had TJS!!” crowd went into overdrive, but Pineda pitched like an ace and helped get the rest of the rotation through that month, highlighting his time at the top of the rotation with a brilliant 16-K performance against the Orioles in May.

The Yankees took another injury hit in May when Chase Whitley, called up to replace Tanaka in the rotation, hit the DL and the operating table for TJS on his elbow after only 4 starts.  This put the rotation on very shaky ground, as Eovaldi and CC Sabathia were not pitching well and Chris Capuano was not the answer to that open 5th spot.  Then May turned to June and Adam Warren began to emerge as the most consistent member of the rotation, meaning of course that he had to be banished to the bullpen to make room for the returning Ivan Nova.  This caused a fair amount of controversy among the fansbase and blogosphere, but Nova’s OK early performance and the return of Tanaka kept it from becoming a major issue.

As we’ve moved through the proverbial dog days of summer and into the final month of the regular season, we’ve seen Tanaka battle home run problems, Pineda hit the DL for a month with a forearm strain of his own, and Sabathia continue to struggle with what we now know was more knee pain.  Nova is going through the usual command problems that accompany TJS comebacks, Warren languishes away as a misused and under-used piece of the bullpen, and Eovaldi had blossomed into the best starter in the rotation before hitting the DL with this elbow inflammation.  And to top it all off, the Yanks went ahead and called up 21-year-old top prospect Luis Severino last month.  Because of all the aforementioned issues, there were calls for the team to add a starter at the trade deadline.  They elected not to go that route, instead putting their faith in Severino and the return to form of their other guys.

Now, with 3 weeks and change remaining in the regular season, it would be fair to say that Severino is the best and most consistent pitcher in the current rotation.  Tanaka has been decent, Pineda has shown signs that he’s back to being his usual self, Sabathia is coming back tomorrow with a new knee brace, but it’s the 21-year-old kid taking the ball every fifth day and putting the team on his back.  Who would have predicted that back in April?

As you might expect, all this turmoil and turnover has left the Yankees mid-pack in most key statistical categories.  They’re 18th in MLB in rotation ERA at 4.29 and 13th in FIP at 4.02.  Their 13.2% HR rate is third to last in the AL, and with Eovaldi’s injury they are now guaranteed to not have a single pitcher in their rotation make more than 30 starts this season.  It hasn’t been pretty by any stretch of the imagination and it seems like there’s been a new high for one pitcher, a new low for another, and a new injury creeping up every week, but somehow the Yankees continue to win games and wake up this morning with a chance to retake the AL East lead.

There has been no shortage of stories and drama in the Yankee rotation this season and I fully expect that drama to carry over into the offseason.  With 3 weeks left, they can delay that drama and write one more positive story if they can hold together long enough to get the team back to the postseason. Continue reading As The Rotation Turns

Was This The End For CC Sabathia?

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"]CC Sabathia future in doubt as Yankees fall out of 1st Courtesy: Bill Kostroun, NY Post[/caption]

I was in attendance for Andy Pettitte day yesterday at Yankee Stadium, and it was a huge day of mixed emotions. It certainly started off with a bang with the Pettitte ceremony. It was awesome, even if the crowd again gave a bigger applause to Derek Jeter just like they did on Saturday to Jorge Posada, which was annoying. To see your whole childhood out there on that field really makes you remember why you fell in love with this game and franchise. I even learned some things I didn’t know, like how Pettitte used to throw a knuckle ball. It was very cool stuff.

Then the game happened and it was a train wreck. Sure, a 4-3 game doesn’t seem so bad, yet it was the most excruciating Yankees game I’ve ever been to. There were 16 combined walks and the Yankees struck out 11 times. The umpiring seemed crazy inconsistent from what I could tell in my seats in right field. The Indians made countless errors and the Yankees could just never take advantage. Trevor Bauer was struggling badly coming in and could not find the strike zone, and yet the Yankees could not do anything against him. CC Sabathia was getting creamed, and Branden Pinder could not throw a strike to save his life. It seemed like there was a meeting at the mound every two minutes. I was at the game earlier this year when Masahiro Tanaka got bombed by the Tigers, and this was much worse to sit through.

Earlier in the week when the Yankees slotted Bryan Mitchell into the rotation, I knew it would mean I would be seeing Sabathia instead of Nathan Eovaldi. This was certainly bad news and I was not thrilled about it, and that feeling sucked because of what Sabathia has meant to this franchise. It wasn’t too long ago when you wanted to go see a Sabathia start.

However, the truth is sometimes painful in life, and Andrew Marchand’s story on ESPN New York last night was correct. The Yankees are much better off without Sabathia. If they still want to use a six-man rotation, Mitchelll would give them a better chance to win. If they do not, then the other five guys in the rotation are better options than CC. It’s very hard to write that. Sabathia lead the team to its last championship in 2009. He was everything an ace was supposed to be on and off the field during his first contract. Not many players in that clubhouse want to succeed as much as him. His teammates have his back at every turn because of how he has theirs. Continue reading Was This The End For CC Sabathia?

Looking At The Short And Long-Term Implications Of CC’s Latest Knee Injury

While we’ve all been calling for CC Sabathia‘s removal from the starting rotation for some time now, I don’t think any of us were rooting for an injury to be the reason he got removed.  Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened yesterday and now the Yankees are left to scramble again to keep their pitching staff whole while Sabathia is likely to hit the DL and ponder where he goes from here.

The condition of Sabathia’s right knee has been a red flag all year, with 2 drainings having already taken place and a cortisone shot administered recently.  In Andrew Marchand’s article on the injury yesterday afternoon, Sabathia himself basically admitted that he’s been protecting the knee all season and that his decision to say “screw it” and pitch as hard as he could without focusing on protecting it was the reason for his recent uptick in velocity.  There’s a lot of moving parts to this latest setback, so let’s break it down in terms of short and long-term effects to make it more manageable.

Shorter Short Term– In the immediate short term, not much really changes for the Yankees.  They were already planning to activate Michael Pineda from the DL on Wednesday, presumably to work in a 6-man rotation for the foreseeable future.  With Sabathia out, Pineda will step back in and the rotation will just continue along as a 5-man. Bryan Mitchell has already started pitching again after his scary on-mound incident last week, so the option of a 6th starter remains open should the Yankees decide to go that route in September.  They keep their rotation rest plans intact and Sabathia rests the knee to see if he can return this year.

Longer Short Term– The loss of Sabathia could put additional strains on an already hard worked bullpen.  The rotation hasn’t provided a lot of length all season, and we’re still a week away from rosters expanding.  Even if Pineda coming off the DL on an 80-90 pitch limit his first time out is a better option than a 100% healthy Sabathia with no pitch limit, the cumulative effect of multiple starts of 5-6 innings in a week isn’t going to help Joe give more rest to his relievers that need it.  Not that Sabathia was providing much length anyway.  He’s been one of the biggest drains on the bullpen all season.  But him being out does diminish the overall depth of the pitching staff, and that’s never something you want or need when you’re in the middle of a pennant race.  If Sabathia is going to be out for more than 15 days, that’s more slack for everybody to pick up.

Shorter Long Term (2016)– The question of whether or not Sabathia is even going to come back this season is a fair one to ask given the history of that knee.  As of the timing of this post, we still have not heard an official diagnosis on the nature of the injury.  I imagine we’ll get the results of yesterday’s MRI and that diagnosis later today, and depending on the severity there could be some impact on next year.  If Sabathia was holding back and pitching at less than full effort all year to protect his knee, there’s little reason to expect that to change next year.  The sad truth is that Sabathia’s knee might not be physically capable of standing up to the rigors of pitching anymore, and if that’s the case then the Yankees can’t afford to keep him in the rotation.  He’s no help to the team if he can’t pitch at full strength and pitch effectively every time out and it doesn’t sound like his knee will allow him to do those things in a starting role.  So if he isn’t a starter next year, what do the Yankees do with him? Continue reading Looking At The Short And Long-Term Implications Of CC’s Latest Knee Injury

That Happened Fast

Welcome to second place, Yankee fans. That happened quickly didn’t it? Thirteen days ago, the Yankees had a seven game lead in the division. Now they are a half a game behind the Blue Jays. I suppose if there is any good news, they are still two and a half games up in the wild card standings. The other good news is that this collapse did not happen at the end of the season. Gene Mauch is safe in that legacy.

What happened here? The bottom line is pretty easy to see. The Blue Jays have won ten in a row and seem incapable of losing (at the moment) while the Yankees have gone 3-7 in that stretch and have lost their last five in a row. Yes, that will do it right there.

If you dig deeper, then two trends emerge: The offense has tanked and the bullpen is built to protect leads, not ties. Let’s start with the offense.

The top of the order has been brutal. When Jacoby Ellsbury came off the disabled list, he was batting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .400. Brent Gardner had a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .390. Ellsbury is now batting .260 with an on-base percentage of .330. He has an OPS of .507 over his last 28 days.

Gardner has a .548 OPS in that same time span and has dropped to .282 / .365. Neither has stolen a base in those last 28 days. The dynamic duo has been inert.

But the lack of offense over the last seven games in particular cannot be handed to Gardner and Ellsbury alone. The second base duo has been pathetic. Over the last seven days, the sour duo of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan have gone a combined 2-21 with no walks. Each has one hit in the past week. Drew’s one hit was a homer so his BABIP is .000 over that time frame, which has to make you laugh (if not cry).

Ryan came back from his most recent DL stint with a hot few games but again is the Brendan Ryan we all love to hate. As Brad lamented last week, how this has been allowed to continue halfway through August is truly amazing. It has been so bad that some are clamoring for a broken down,, aged Chase Utley to come and rescue the team. Seriously!?

Oh yes, the Yankees traded for a guy who can play second. His ghost is flying around somewhere.

The fans have come to expect so much from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. They are all having great seasons. When teams handle them or at least keep somewhat of a lid on them, the rest of the offense has to be capable of putting some runs on the board. This current Yankees team cannot. And that is why, after scoring 90 runs in nine games, the Yankees have scored nine in their last seven.

Watching the game last night, my stomach started sinking when CC Sabathia gave up his first run to allow the Indians to tie the game. When the Indians scored their second run with a gut-wrenching, two-out base hit, the spirit of gloom settled in. The great Yankees’ bullpen is very good with a lead and built for a lead. When there isn’t one and the offense cannot muster anything late and close, the bullpen becomes great at protecting ties or one-run deficits.

That is a good reason why the Yankees are 2-7 in extra-inning games this season and 1-4 in the team’s last five one-run games.

In a stretch like this, you always have to wonder if the team has just gone incredibly cold or if the team has just run into a bunch of hot pitchers. Or is it a combination of the two?  It does seem like all the team has faced the last nine games are knuckleball pitchers and flame throwers. It has the feel of that last playoff series against the Tigers doesn’t it?

There is still time this season and, like I said, at least this collapse didn’t happen the last week of September. The Blue Jays will not stay this hot. The Yankees will hit again (except at second base), Girardi will someday figure out not to bat Chris Young against right-handed pitchers and the bullpen can go back to protecting leads instead of holding the fort while the cavalry never comes. And who knows, Ellsbury and Gardner may steal a base again someday. Continue reading That Happened Fast

Quick Hit: Will No Help Ever Come To Second Base?

While the slumps at the top of the batting order were largely to blame for last week’s offensive power outage, it is worth looking down at the bottom and pointing out that second base has become a black hole again.  The Yankees did nothing to address the position before the trade deadline, seemingly viewing Dustin Ackley as more of a bench outfielder, and now they are reaping the rewards of that decision.

Since the deadline, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan have combined to go 5-28 with 9 strikeouts and 1 walk.  Only 2 hits have gone for extra bases and both of those came from Drew over a week ago.  In the games against Boston and Toronto, these 2 had 1 total hit.

At what point does that become unacceptable for the Yankees?  At what point is having an automatic out in the lineup every single day something that they’re going to address?  It’s great that they’ve been good enough everywhere else to ascend to the top of the division, but to still be sticking with these guys is insane.  It defies logic.  It’s almost as if the team is using that favorable division position as justification for sticking with something that’s clearly not working, and that would fly in the face of the always-stated commitment from ownership to putting a “championship-caliber” team on the field.

Not saying that there is a championship-caliber player to be had at second base right now, but there have to be better options than Drew and Ryan.  There are better options than Drew and Ryan.  If Rob Refsnyder can’t get called back up now, when the hell can he?  The dude’s prospect value is basically on life support at this point.  If Cole Figueroa can’t get a look after a .312/.369/.393 year in Triple-A and a respectable cup of coffee earlier, then why was he brought in?

I’m not asking Cashman to perform a miracle and I certainly am not trying to imply that I want Chase Utley around.  I just want the braintrust to admit that this Drew plan hasn’t worked out and pull the plug.  Do something to improve that situation and help the team.  They’ve won plenty in spite of the black hole at second base. Why not see what they can do with something different and potentially better? Continue reading Quick Hit: Will No Help Ever Come To Second Base?