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

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

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

Should the Yankees Consider Justin Upton?

[caption id="attachment_79992" align="aligncenter" width="570"]Justin Upton Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

(Editor’s Note- This post originally appeared on ESPN’s SweetSpot yesterday evening.  Thanks to the mothership for giving us a shout out)

The New York Yankees have yet to add any unrestricted free agents of note this offseason and have made it known that they are waiting until their big contracts come off the books until they go back into the high-priced free agent pool. They have managed to improve through trades for Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman, but not spending any money has left the team still weak in a few areas and with many questions.

There is, however, a free agent out there in his prime who could be exactly what the Yankees need to make another playoff push in 2016.

The top areas of concern may be the middle of the order and right-handed power. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran all turned back the clock in 2015 and were extremely productive when healthy. Rodriguez was the biggest surprise, coming off a full year suspension to hit .250/.356/.486 with 33 home runs and a 129 wRC+. Teixeira was having an All-Star season after his wrist was finally healthy, hitting .255/.357/.548 with 31 home runs and a 141 wRC+ until a fractured leg abruptly ended his season at the end of August. Beltran proved he still could produce after playing through an injury in a disappointing first year in the Bronx. He stayed healthy all season and came through with his usual big hits toward the end of the season. Beltran finished 2015 with a .346 wOBA and a 119 wRC+.

Betting on all three to repeat in 2016 is risky, given their advanced ages and injury histories. Once Teixeira went down, so did the Yankees’ offense. The lineup lost all balance and it was amazing to see how much it missed him. It was September and the Yankees had other players wearing down, but Teixeira could have made a big difference. The Yankees hit .233/.309/.393 with a 92 wRC+ as a team in September, which showed just how thin a tight rope they were walking when one of their big hitters went down.

For 2016, the Yankees are relying solely on Rodriguez and switch-hitters Teixeira and Beltran for their right-handed power. Castro will help balance the lineup, but doesn’t help in the power department. Aaron Hicks could be an overall upgrade over Chris Young, but Young had lethal power from the right side against left-handers. The Yankees traditionally build around lefty power because of their ballpark and that’s wise; however, they need more balance when facing tough lefties, as Dallas Keuchel showed in shutting them down in the wild-card game. Continue reading Should the Yankees Consider Justin Upton?

Yankees To Be A High Variance Team Again in 2016

Entering the 2014 season the New York Yankees had a ton of different variables that were going to alter the course of their season. They were completely unpredictable and it was impossible to know what the answers to the variables would be. It turns out the Yankees got mostly good answers. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda stayed mostly healthy. Luis Severino and Greg Bird were ready to contribute. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira were able to turn back the clock. Didi Gregorious and Nathan Eovaldi took steps forward. As we fast forward to this season, many of those same questions have to be answered affirmative again for the Yankees to get back to the postseason and they’re once again almost impossible to figure out. Continue reading Yankees To Be A High Variance Team Again in 2016

Reviewing The Rule 5 Draft Roster Situation

Tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set the 40-man Major League, Triple-A, and Double-A rosters in preparation for next month’s Rule 5 draft.  The Yankees always seem to be under a 40-man roster crunch and never seem to have enough spots for protection-worthy players who are Rule 5 eligible, and this season is no different.  Here’s a quick breakdown of where the roster stands, what other moves might be made to clear space, and my thoughts on what players the Yankees will, won’t, should, and should not protect.

The Roster: Currently stands at 38 players.  21 pitchers, 3 catchers, 6 infielders (not including Ackley), 7 outfielders (including Ackley), and 1 Alex Rodriguez.

The Potential Casualties: Caleb Cotham, Domingo German

Cotham is a 28-year-old MiL lifer who just made his MLB debut in 2015.  He pitched to a 6.52/6.55 ERA/FIP split in 9.2 innings and gave up 14 hits and 4 homers.  He’s most likely a Quad-A player at best, and the Yankees have enough to righty relief depth to make up for his loss.

German will be working his way back from TJS this year, and because of that he’s a prime candidate to get the “release/re-sign to a MiL deal” treatment that Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos got last year.  As a 23-year-old who’s never pitched above Low-A, German could also be another player the Yankees are willing to lose if it comes to that.

The Protected: Rookie Davis, Jake Cave, Chaz Hebert (only if roster spots are available)

Davis is the most obvious Rule 5 protection candidate to me.  He took a big step forward in 2015 and even though his experience at Double-A was limited, I think there’s a team out there that might try to snatch him up and hide him in their bullpen next season.  He and Cave are also top 20 organizational prospects and the I feel like the Yankees have done what they can to keep guys like that around for as long as possible the last few years.

If they open up any more roster spots, they could use one to protect Hebert.  He had a quiet breakout season as a lefty starter at 3 levels and he reached Triple-A before the end of the season.  The Yankees obviously like him in some capacity because they sent him to the AZFL.  He’s been holding his own there as a reliever despite some command problems, and at 23 there is still time to see if he can develop as a starter.  The Yankees love their lefties and he’s put himself on the map as a potential starter or reliever. Continue reading Reviewing The Rule 5 Draft Roster Situation

Current State of the Yankees’ Rotation

[caption id="attachment_79339" align="alignnone" width="594"](NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    in action against the at Yankee Stadium on October 1, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 4-1. The Yankees clinched a wildcard playoff position and won their 10,000th regular season game. .[/caption]

The awfulness of the New York Yankees offense down the stretch got most of the attention and blame for the downfall of the second half, but the starting pitching played a role as well and the Yankees are in an interesting spot this offseason when it comes to their rotation.

The Yankees finished 18th in starters ERA at 4.25, but eighth with a 3.75 xFIP. The biggest issue was a lack of innings, as the Yankees finished 21st in MLB in starters innings and it felt worse than that. CC Sabathia of all pitchers led the team with 167.1 innings. This really manifested itself down the stretch when the bullpen performance fell off due to too many innings.

The things with the Yankees starting rotation is that it’s tantalizing with potential, almost like a tease. We’ve seen Masahiro Tanaka perform like an ace at times. We’ve seen flashes from Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi that suggest they can be good second and third starters. The problem is that between injuries and their own inconsistencies it hasn’t been shown enough.

Tanaka’s peripherals were better than his overall numbers last year and he fell victim to some bad home run luck. Tanaka held opposing batters to a .217 average in 2015 grounders were slightly up, his hard contact given up fell by four percent and his soft contact given up lowered by two percent. The velocity was a non-issue, as he threw harder in 2015 than in 2014, but the effectiveness of his fastball remains a big issue. It’s hard to be a top of the line starter without having an effective fastball. He allowed nine homers and a .318 average against his four-seam fastball last season.

Pineda is definitely the most baffling player on the Yankees. His 2.95 xFIP far outweighs his 4.37 ERA. His 8.74 K/9 ratio compared to his 1.18 BB/9 ratio is terrific, as is his 48.2 percent ground ball rate. Was it just horrible luck for Pineda with his .332 BABIP? It seemed like when things went bad for Pineda they snowballed. That seemed to happen when he didn’t have his good slider. Obviously, developing the changeup more would be big to help that. Maybe it’s a case of Pineda being around the plate too often since he doesn’t walk anybody. Larry Rothschild usually has pitchers overachieving for the Yankees and not underachieving. Pineda underachieved, so it needs to be figured out what exactly happened after his awesome start to the season.

Eovaldi definitely improved greatly over the second half of the season with his splitter, but you want to see it for longer to be completely convinced. Luis Severino made a great impact down the stretch, but outperformed his peripherals a little bit and should the Yankees rely on what will be a 22-year old at the top of the rotation?

The depth is pretty good if both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchel are considered starting pitchers. If Sabathia is the fifth starter by default again than Warren, Mitchell and Ivan Nova are some talented arms and  form a pretty good 6-7-8 to put in when the inevitable injuries hit.

This all screams for an ace pitcher who you could depend on for over 200 innings. It would make such a huge difference to slide everybody back a spot. You could conceivably have Eovaldi as your fifth starter. How awesome would that be? There are certainly guys like that available from David Price to Zack Greinke to Johnny Cueto. Of course the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees are much more likely to trade or sign a mid rotation innings eater pitcher and try to convince Yankees fans that Tanaka, Pineda and Severino will lead the rotation at the top based off flashes. That’s a risk that didn’t really work out last year, but since it’s the cheaper option it probably won’t stop the Yankees from doing it again. Continue reading Current State of the Yankees’ Rotation

A guest post: Do the Yankees always collapse in September?

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post from longtime IIATMS reader, Professor Longnose. If you’d like to write a guest post, feel free to email me at sgotsulias at gmail dot com. -SG]

Aren’t You Glad Girardi Rested the Yankee Players All Season So They Could Collapse in September the Way They Always Do??

I don’t know how many times I said that after a loss recently, but I said it often enough that I wondered if I was being unfair. The Yankees certainly had a September to forget this year, and I’m pretty sure I remember them doing it last year, too, but my memory is as short as most fans. Does Girardi always manage them to a limp finish? Fortunately, we have the data to take a look.

Here is a fairly complicated chart doing a fairly simple thing: comparing the Yankees winning percentage from the beginning of the season through August 31 with their winning percentage from September 1 through the end of the regular season for every year of Girardi’s managerial reign.

September Under Girardi Table 2

On the left is the Yankee’s record–wins, losses, and winning percentage–at the end of August. After that is their place in the standings at that date and the number of games behind they were (negative numbers are games ahead if they’re in first place).

Then come their expected chances of making the playoffs at the end of August, per coolstandings.com/Fangraphs. Percent chance of winning the division (DIV), winning the wild card (WC), and making the playoffs in general (POFF) are given. (Unfortunately, I can’t find playoff possibilities for August 31, 2014. I personally estimate their chances at that time as “crappy.”)

After that comes their September-October record. Then there is their final record with games behind and how they did in the playoffs if they made it.

After that, a little spreadsheet prestidigitation. The column “Were they better in Sep-Oct?” is their Sept-Oct winning percentage minus their pre-September winning percentage. If it’s positive, they were better from September on; if it’s negative, they were worse.

Then comes “By how many games?” That’s the previous column multiplied by the number of games they placed from September 1 on. If their winning percentage in September and October was .100 points higher than before that, and they played 30 games, then they won 3 more games in September and October than they would have if they’d played at the same pace as they did before then. As before, negative numbers mean they were that many games worse.

Here are my capsule summaries for each season (from here on in, “September” means “September and October regular season”):

2008: They had almost no chance going into September, and a great month wasn’t enough.
2009: Great before September, great in September, great in playoffs.
2010: Lousy September blew the division.
2011: Keeping approximate year’s pace in September won the division.
2012: Great September under pressure held the division.
2013: Lousy September finished what little chance they had.
2014: They had no chance going into September and they were mediocre.
2015: The Yankees had a very strong July, going 19-7, accounting for all of the games over .500 they were for the season. They had a 5-game lead over Baltimore and a 6-game lead over Toronto on August 1, when they were 58-45. They went 29-30 after that and blew the division.

So what does it all mean? Let’s do some light data mining, which is not a legitimate way to prove anything but is useful for coming up with hypotheses.

First, the Yankees don’t always have a terrible September under Girardi. It’s an even .500: I count 4 good Septembers and 4 bad ones.

There were 5 years when their possibility of making the playoffs as of September 1 was >90%. They had 3 good Septembers out of 5 in those years. In all 5 years, whether they had a good or bad September, they made the playoffs.

In the other 3 years, their chances were <15%. They had 1 good September and 2 lousy ones. In all three years they didn’t make the playoffs whether they had a good or bad September. So, basically, September didn’t matter to the Yankees as far as making the playoffs. When they had a great chance as of August 31, they made it; when they didn’t, they went home. Here’s one that I suspect bugs many Yankee fans: their September record when the division title was on the line. Twice they went into September with great odds of winning the division, once over 90%, once almost 75%. They won both times. But when the odds weren’t so good, when it was a fight, their record wasn’t as good. Three times they had reasonable but not overwhelming chances of winning the division, at 28.5%, 38%, and 51.9%. One of those years they had a great September and won; the other two they played poorly and blew it. Girardi really didn’t care about the 2010 division title. He admitted that eventually. Even though the rules have changed and a division title is more important now, he’s still managing like he doesn’t care about it. That probably had something to do with their losing in those two years. Another hypothesis: in 6 of 8 years, their September record was within 2.2 games of expected. That’s really not much of a variation. Basically, they play in September the way they play before September. A trend: In the 5 years from 2008 to 2012, they had 4 good Septembers and 1 bad one. In the three years since, they’ve had 3 bad ones and no good ones. Maybe—this would be shocking, wouldn’t it?—the team is getting older and running out of gas more now than they did. What does this tell us? Not much. Once again, I have to admit the data doesn’t say anything definitive about Girardi’s managing, at least at the level of this brief look at it. As usual, grab your crayons and draw your own conclusions. Continue reading A guest post: Do the Yankees always collapse in September?

Putting Together The Wild Card Game Roster

The Yankees are back in the playoffs.  That’s good news.  They only need 1 more win or 1 more Astros loss to secure home field advantage in the AL Wild Card game, which is also good news.  In addition to the decided advantage that will come with facing the Astros and Dallas Keuchel at Yankee Stadium, it also gives Joe a chance to rest a few guys over these final few regular season games in preparation for building his Wild Card game roster.  I’ve hesitated to write this post until I knew they were actually going to be in the game, but now that we know I can proceed.

The roster for the WC game goes back down to a standard 25-man, which the Yankees can load up however and with whoever they want because they will have the option of changing the roster again for the ALDS should they win.  In a 1-game, winner-take-all scenario, typical roster balance can be thrown out the window and I anticipate the Yankees will use 15 position players and 10 pitchers for this game.  Without too much organization, here’s how I see that roster breaking down:

The Starters: Brian McCann, Greg Bird, Dustin Ackley, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Masahiro Tanaka

These are the 10 players we’ll most likely see on Joe’s lineup card to open the game next Tuesday.  Maybe a righty infielder in place of Ackley against the lefty Keuchel, but that’s about the only difference.  Ackley has been swinging a hot bat all month against pitchers of both hands, and assuming he’s going to remain healthy over the next few days I don’t see Joe benching him now.  This is the starting 10 that gives the Yankees the best chance to win.

The Finishers: Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Rico Noel

We know we’re going to see those 10 to start the game.  We know we’re going to be seeing these 3 at or near the end of the game if it’s close, especially if the Yankees have the lead.  Deldrew Millances is the best 1-2 reliever tandem in baseball and Noel might be one of the fastest baserunners, something that can be a huge weapon in the postseason.  These guys are in. Continue reading Putting Together The Wild Card Game Roster