No Need To Rush To Judge-ment In The Outfield

[caption id="attachment_80384" align="aligncenter" width="375"] Courtesy of the AP[/caption]

(That was my attempt at matching Stacey’s title from the other day.  It failed, I know)

Aaron Judge has been on the fast track since he was one of the Yankees’ multiple 1st round picks in 2013.  He breezed through the low-level Minors the way you would expect an experienced college hitter to, and he reached Triple-A last year after another successful short stint at Trenton.  Along the way Judge drew plenty of praise from scouts for being a better all-around hitter than they thought, and that added in with the rest of his impressive skill set surely helped build him to the unanimous top 100 prospect he is heading into this season, top 50 or top 20 in some cases.

Predictably, Judge felt some growing pains when he reached Triple-A last year.  Better, more experienced pitchers were able to exploit holes in his swing caused by his giant frame, and the talk surrounding Judge this spring focuses almost exclusively on the work he has done and will continue to do to close up those holes.  They’ll likely never be completely eliminated, natural byproduct of Judge’s genetics, but to truly reach his potential Judge needs to be able to handle better pitching and not settle into a low-average/high-strikeout profile.

Based on the early MLB success of top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird last season, the unspoken hope and expectation among fans and possibly the Yankee front office is that Judge will be better in his return trip to SWB this year, his swing and hitting approach will improve, and he will be primed to take over the right field job sometime later this season.  But in seeing how the Yankees have constructed their roster, I wonder if that accelerated timeline is still necessary.  The way I see it, the Yankees might be better served giving Judge more time in Triple-A to work on his hitting.  They’re certainly deep enough in the outfield to do it.

We know who the starting three in the Major League outfield are going to be, but look at everybody else on the roster.  The Yanks have added Aaron Hicks as the 4th outfielder and he can play all 3 positions.  They’ve got Dustin Ackley in the mix, and while he’s expected to take over primary backup first base duties he can also handle an outfield corner.  If anybody gets hurt, they’ve got Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ben Gamel on standby on the 40-man to step in.  Remember that Judge is not on the 40-man yet, so the reality is he’s pretty far down on the depth chart right now. Continue reading No Need To Rush To Judge-ment In The Outfield

Thoughts On The Aroldis Chapman Trade

How’s that for something unexpected?  I got a text from a friend yesterday afternoon while I was white-knuckling the drive home from work in a snow/sleet storm saying “Aroldis Chapman to the Yanks?” and I didn’t know how to take it.  I didn’t know if he was asking me if I thought it was a good idea, if there was a rumor out there I wasn’t aware of, or if he was just trying to start a hot stove conversation.  It didn’t occur to me that it might have actually been a trade the Yankees executed.  But they did and the 4-for-1 swap was quickly announced and confirmed by both teams.  This one really came out of nowhere.

Despite Chapman’s jaw-dropping on-field performance to date, this trade isn’t as fun to discuss as the Starlin Castro trade because of the circumstances surrounding Chapman presently.  Let’s be honest, those circumstances – the domestic violence allegations against Chapman and the potential impending suspension under MLB’s new domestic violence policy – are the only reason the Yankees made this deal and Brian Cashman openly admitted that in his statements yesterday.  Domestic violence is a hot button issue in the sports world right now, as it should be there and everywhere, and there is no way to discuss this deal without at least referencing the allegations.  To do so would be shortsighted and irresponsible.

At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not even close to the right person to discuss those parts of Chapman’s situation.  I gave up on the idea of pro athletes being role models and people that should be held to a higher standard a long time ago and I have no problem separating the seriousness of the allegations against Chapman the person from the potential benefits that his acquisition provides to my favorite baseball team.  I can root for the Yankees while acknowledging that not every member of the organization is a great person.  I know that the allegations against Chapman are serious, and if he is guilty of choking and hitting his girlfriend then he should be severely punished.  I also know that no arrests were made, no charges were filed, and I certainly wasn’t there that night to see what happened.  I’m in no position to pass judgement on Aroldis Chapman as a person and I’m going to choose not to do so as part of my analysis of this trade.

If we’re being honest I’m probably in no position to judge him as a baseball player either, but that’s what I do here at IIATMS and that’s what I’m going to get back to doing now.  So from a baseball standpoint, I absolutely love this trade.  Love it.  And given the way the Yankees have approached the trade market in their other moves this offseason, I have no reason to love it.  It didn’t address an area of need, at least not directly, and the team wasn’t necessarily trading from positions of depth in making the deal.  The move also added payroll, which we know Hal “Big Money” $teinbrenner doesn’t want to do, so the chances of the team doing anything even remotely significant to address their starting rotation on the free agent front all but disappear with this move. Continue reading Thoughts On The Aroldis Chapman Trade

Monday Morning Food For Thought: Hope For CC?

The news of CC Sabathia‘s early offseason progress came out last week and reaction among Yankee fans was understandably “meh”.  That’s what happens when you’ve had the kind of poor last few seasons that Sabathia has had, and it all seemed to come to a head in 2015.  The performance was still bad, the health was still not good, and Sabathia finally had to confront an alcohol problem that he’s been dealing with for the last few years.  There was already little reason to expect much from Sabathia in 2016, and it wouldn’t be completely unfair to say his latest problems make it even less likely that he’ll be a positive contributor.

And yet he will remain in the rotation.  Joe and Cash have each already said as much in previous interviews and meetings with the media, and the current state of the rest of the Yankee rotation pretty much necessitates it.  The depth isn’t there, the collective health and injury risk factor is sky high, and the Yankees are severely limited in what they can add to help those issues thanks to their trusty 2-way, self-enforced limitation on spending money and trading away top prospects.  At the absolute least, Sabathia is going to be the team’s #5 starter on Opening Day.  Based on what he’s shown the past few seasons, that’s not a good sign for the Yankees’ chances in 2016.

But should we be taking his offseason workout progress more seriously?  Should this news of CC being “light years ahead” of where he’s been the last few offseasons not be completely brushed off as the introduction to another stereotypical “best shape of his career” ST story?  The reason Sabathia is so far ahead of where he’s been the last few offseasons is because he’s healthy.  That sounds stupidly simple and it is, but that hasn’t been the case the last few offseasons.  Those have been spent recovering from surgeries and working on delayed/modified workout schedules.  Not this year.  CC’s pitching arm is healthy and his knees are healthy, well as healthy are they’re going to be.  He’s been throwing all offseason and it sounds like he’s been working out hard.  He hasn’t been able to do those things the last couple of years and we’ve seen the results.  I’d like to think those results can improve a little when the guy is able to complete a full, normal offseason workout routine.

Don’t forget that CC did lead the Yankee staff with 167.1 innings pitched in 2015, and he looked better in his final few starts after a late August DL stint and return with his knee new brace.  He’s going to be wearing that brace for every start in 2016 and that should help the wear and tear that we know is going to build up on the right knee.  Between the brace, the extra rest, and the 2-week DL stint, maybe the Yankees learned some things about how to keep Sabathia fresher over the course of a full season.  Factor in the positive start to his offseason workouts and perhaps the light isn’t entirely snuffed out on Sabathia’s career.  Chances are he’s going to be more bad than good next year and it seems like everybody is already prepared for that outcome.  But if there’s even a small chance he’s got a little something left, simply being healthier than he’s been the last few offseasons should be taken as a positive sign.  We already know he can’t be effective anymore when he’s hurt.  It’d be nice to see what he can do when he’s healthy. Continue reading Monday Morning Food For Thought: Hope For CC?

What’s Up With The Yankees Attendance?

The only thing worse than how the New York Yankees played in their series against the Baltimore Orioles this week was the number of people in the seats. The Yankees announced just over 31,000 people on Monday, and just over 30,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Quite frankly, those numbers seemed generous as to the amount of people actually there. Empty seats have been an issue for the Yankees in recent seasons, but this was a new low. They’re averaging 40,007 fans this season, which is good for fourth in MLB, but nowhere near where they were in the previous decade Continue reading What’s Up With The Yankees Attendance?

Deja Vu in Atlanta?

Baseball is such a funny game with all its twists and turns, which is what makes the 162 game grind so exhausting on one hand, but so rewarding on the other hand if it ends up going your way.

The Yankees looked like an old, fragile and broken down baseball team heading into the deep south. It certainly seemed like things were just not headed in the right direction after losing five of seven games against Cleveland and Houston at home, which is a place they had been previously dominant all season long.

The Yankees were dominated by some great pitchers like Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Carrasco, but also could not hit against mediocre to poor ones like Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Scott Feldman. So even though the Braves are a bad baseball team, it wasn’t exactly reassuring. Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira had injuries and Alex Rodriguez was being replaced in the lineup by a pitcher (the wisdom of NL baseball at its finest).
Continue reading Deja Vu in Atlanta?

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

Reasons To Be Optimistic Heading Into Cleveland

I don’t know what my deal was yesterday, but I was in a funk all day.  Syanpses weren’t firing upstairs, body felt tired.  Apparently I needed an off-day just as much as some of you more pessimistic readers did and just as much as the Yankees did after their stinkbomb of a weekend against the Blue Jays.  This morning I feel better, and that’s despite waking up at 2 AM and not really falling back asleep.  I’m taking that as a good sign and running with it, just as the Yankees hopefully take their off-day as a chance to hit the rest button and move on from last weekend.  With that now firmly in the rearview, here are some reasons to feel good about the Yankees as they head out to Cleveland to start 16 games in 16 days.

They Can’t Hit Much Worse Than They Have

Everybody knows the numbers by now and how far back some of them went in terms of describing the team’s historical offensive ineptitude over the past 4-5 games.  It was awful, no other way to describe it.  The Yankees barely created any real scoring chances against Boston and Toronto and most of the runs they scored were on solo home runs.  Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, Teix, and McCann are all slumping at the same time and Stephen Drew has turned back into the rotten, decaying pumpkin he’s always been.  Put that 5-game sample up against the rest of the season, however, and you have to think there’s no way the Yankees will continue to hit this poorly.  They’ve been too good of an offensive club all year to go completely sour now.  A few guys will start to break out of it, some bad luck will normalize, A-Rod will swat a few homers, and everything will be fine.  It only takes 1 swing to break out of a slump.

Joe Can’t Manage Much Worse Than He Has

As putrid as the offense was last week, Joe made things much worse with his decision making.  He got tremendous starting pitching from his rotation and he straight up cost his starters and his team potential wins in at least 2 of those games.  Who knows how differently Sunday’s game could have turned out if he got Nova out and Warren in sooner?  Who knows what happens if he sticks with Andrew Miller longer?  Whether it was pitching changes, lineups, possible bunt calls, or pinch hitting decisions, Joe was brutal last week and he needs to get it together.  No need to over-manage and micro-manage just because you’re in a pennant race.  And if you must, at least be consistent with it.

Severino Goes Again Tonight

If you watched his debut last Wednesday, you know that Luis Severino has got the stuff to hang.  Experience-wise he was in way over his head and he still came out firing, looked calm and comfortable, and looked really good save for the 2-0 pitch to Ortiz.  Because of that inexperience, there’s something he can and will take from every start, and that on-the-job training teamed up with the Rothschild Effect should serve to make him even better.  The Indians are nothing special with the bats, but they do take a lot of walks and don’t struck out much.  Severino will have to be more consistent with his fastball tonight to keep his pitch count down and work deeper into the game.  If he does that, I expect he’ll pitch 6 innings or more and if that happens I expect the rest of his line will look good.

Bullpen’s Well Rested

Between the off-day and Sunday’s game, both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have had 2 straight days off and 3 in the last 4.  Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve have each pitched once in the last 3 days, and Adam Warren should be good to go tonight after 2 straight short appearances on Friday and Saturday.  The Yankees are set up to be able to take on more work if the starters don’t pitch deep into games and allow Joe to get aggressive with his top 2 late in games if his team has the lead.  That’s a very favorable position to be in. Continue reading Reasons To Be Optimistic Heading Into Cleveland

Has Alex Rodriguez Been What The Yankee Clubhouse Was Missing All Along?

Alex Rodriguez got an early 40th birthday present yesterday from his manager.  After having to take multiple brisk jogs around the bases on Saturday night, he got a day off in the series finale and watched his teammates put together another strong victory against a quality opponent.  Even though he wasn’t a direct participant in any of the on-field happenings, A-Rod did play a small part in the action by picking up Stephen Drew in a dugout pseudo-bear hug after his 2-run homer in the 6th.  It wasn’t all that different from the pseudo-bear hug he gave John Ryan Murphy after his 3-run shot completed the comeback on Saturday night.

In addition to the celebratory dugout hugs, we’ve seen A-Rod factor into a lot of the in-game team camaraderie stuff this season.  He’s always good for a laugh when he’s going first to third or second to home running the bases, and his rolling, tumbling, flop slide into home plate the other day on Chase Headley‘s 3-run double was a thing of comedic beauty.  He’s been shown yelling the loudest and celebrating the hardest in the dugout on big plays in games, he always does something worth watching during walk-off win celebrations, and he’s openly admitted that he’s more relaxed and having more fun this year than ever before.

All of this goes in direct contrast to the idea that was being spread through the usual media outlets leading up to the start of the season, that A-Rod was going to be a distraction.  That’s all we heard or read about heading into Spring Training?  How big was the A-Rod distraction going to be?  What kind of problems was he going to cause in the clubhouse?  How would his teammates be able to deal with the distraction and how big of a problem was he going to be?  “Distraction” and “problem” were the 2 words following him around the most, and no matter where people stood on the “can he still play and produce?” argument, it seemed like almost everybody agreed that he was not going to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.

Well here we are entering the final week of July with the Yankees playing great baseball and pulling away in the AL East, and it looks like things have never been better in the Yankee clubhouse.  Guys are confident, relaxed, having a good time, and their strong, positive group attitude has been noticeable after the last 2 seasons of on-field mediocrity and off-field blandness.  Not only did the 2013-2014 Yankees stink, they were snoozefests.  No energy, no attitude, nothing to really stir your emotions as a fan.  The small bit of energy that did get stirred up got stirred up when A-Rod came back in 2013 and played well in August.

Now he’s back again and the Yankees just so happen to be competitive and interesting again.  That can’t be a coincidence.  Whatever the fans and media (home or away) think about him, Alex has always had a good reputation as a clubhouse guy and teammate, and that reputation seems to be shining through more than ever this season.  Early in the year there were reports and photos of A-Rod working out with Didi Gregorius and giving him some tips at shortstop.  Recently Aaron Judge said that talking to and working with A-Rod in spring camp was the most beneficial experience he had preparing for this season, and I bet there’s been more than one rookie who’s gotten his set of tailored suits from A-Rod this season.

Pair all of that with the in-game celebrations/silliness and studly performance, and it adds up to the “new A-Rod” that’s become the talk of the town over the last month or so.  There are always going to be critics and always going to be fans who boo the guy for his past transgressions, but it’s hard to take umbrage with anything he’s done this season and impossible to ignore the impact he’s had on the Yankee clubhouse.  Through his professional approach to the game, now almost intimidating presence in the lineup, and the more laid back attitude he’s rolling with, he’s somehow made the 2015 Yankees both more serious and more fun than the last few editions.

Go figure, huh?  From potential clubhouse cancer to feel-good story of the MLB season.  It’s almost as if all those “A-Rod is going to be a distraction in the clubhouse” articles were written from positions of willful ignorance or personal bias.  He’s been anything but that this year and the recent spike in “I love this team” comments can and should be connected back to him.  Who would have thought that it would take MLB’s biggest villain to make the Yankees fun again? Continue reading Has Alex Rodriguez Been What The Yankee Clubhouse Was Missing All Along?

Bad Defense Continues To Hamper The Yankees

[caption id="attachment_76401" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Gardner-Jones Drop vs HOU The look of surprise on Jones’ face is actually pretty funny. Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

The Yankees dropped the series finale in Houston yesterday, and while there’s nothing wrong with splitting a 4-game road series against a division leader, yesterday’s game was another one of those frustrating “coulda, shoulda, woulda” losses that the Yanks seem to have a little too often.

They wasted a very good start by Michael Pineda (2 runs in 8 innings), didn’t muster but 2 hits against what has been a very hittable Colin McHugh this season, and they even committed a defensive error that was worse than anything you could see in the Little League World Series.  In the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Correa lofted a lazy fly ball to left-center field.  Brett Gardner had a bead on it, called for it, and then at the last second pulled back as Garrett Jones did the exact same thing coming for the other direction.  The ball dropped between them for what was scored a double, but then Gardner made things worse by kicking the ball to the wall in his attempt to pick it up.  This allowed Correa, hustling all the way, to come around to score and tie the game.

It was an inexcusable mishap, and to their credit nobody tried to make excuses for it after the game.  Joe said it was a ball that had to be caught, Gardner and Jones each said the same thing, and Pineda acknowledged that he was “surprised” by the play.  Maybe he shouldn’t be, because as embarrassing as the play was it also wasn’t the first time we’ve seen it happen this season.  Letting potential popouts drop between fielders has become a pretty common occurrence for the Yankee defense this year.  A few weeks ago it was Teix and Brian McCann letting it happen, and I want to say a month or so ago Chase Headley and Jose Pirela did the same thing.  Having that happen once in a Major League game is bad enough.  But three times??  That’s a problem. Continue reading Bad Defense Continues To Hamper The Yankees