Yankees

The A-Rod Problem

The Yankees short-circuited Alex Rodriguez’s return to the lineup last night by suddenly sending him to Trenton and making it sound like he won’t be back in the Bronx until tomorrow at the earliest. That’s a short term answer to what is looking like a long term problem- A Rod’s lack of flexibility.

The Yankees decided last year that Alex is only a DH now. That handcuffs Joe Girardi when he is making out a lineup as he can’t DH other guys without sitting Alex, but other guys are clearly good DH candidates. When Alex is hitting, that’s a small sacrifice, but when he isn’t it is a real problem.

And Alex hasn’t really hit this year. He was actually starting to hit when he got hurt, but his overall numbers are ugly- .194/.275/.444  Add in the fact that Carlos Beltran is clearly not a good fielder anymore and you can make a convincing argument that Beltran should be the full-time DH. The problem with that is then you start Aaron Hicks presumably, and he hasn’t hit enough to justify that.

For now the Yankees should run Alex out there most of the time. When they face a LHP they should always use him. When they face a tough righty, they should consider benching him and let Beltran DH. Try that until the All-Star Break and see what happens. If Alex hits reasonably well, keep that plan in place. But if he continues to hit the way he has until now, then the Yankees need to reduce his AB’s even further and start to think about cutting ties permanently with him.

At The Quarter Pole

The Yankees entered the second quarter of their season last night and are still sub-.500, but are within three games of that mark for the first time in 22 games.

The offense has looked better, scoring runs at a rate of 4.42 per game in May versus 3.36 in April. The pitching has been better too, dropping the runs allowed from 4.73 in April to 4.11 in May. So the trends are positive, but the questions still linger. Here are my questions heading into the second quarter.

1- Will the starters do enough? The formula is simple, six innings and then the Big 3. But the starters aren’t even averaging six innings an appearance and their cumulative ERA of 4.82 is 23rd in MLB. If you want a reason for optimism, every starter has a FIP lower than their current ERA.

2- Is there someone who can provide a “4th” arm out of the bullpen? The Yankees will need someone else besides the Big 3 to step up and be able to provide outs in a big spot. I don’t think Chason Shreve is that guy. Is it Goody or Yates? That’s a big question.

3- Is Texeira’s start a sign or a fluke? Advanced stats are mixed on this one. His walk rate and line drive rates are encouraging, but his strike out rate has surged as has his ground ball rate. Furthermore, his BABIP is .265, so bad luck isn’t really an issue.

4- Is Girardi going to implode before the All-Star Break? I worry about Joe, he just looks stressed and I think he is managing stressed. He pulled Eovaldi from a one-hitter the other night after 85 pitches and went to the Big 3. He can’t keep doing that.

5- Is the bench going to help? Hicks looks better, though his overall numbers are bad. Ackley has done nothing of note, and Torreyes is fading fast. Could the Yankees look to Refsnyder as the permanent bench player?

Overall, you have to give the Yankees a grade of C- or D+ so far, which is better than the F they would have earned two weeks ago. But it is also a long way from where they want to be.

Keep On Shuffling

The Yankees overhauled their roster before tonight’s game to get fresh arms, and a full bench. Phil Coke is DFA’ed. While Chad Green and Conor Mullee are headed back to Scranton. In their place are Luis Cesna, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder.

I wouldn’t expect any of them to last long. Refsnyder is probably only here until A-Rod is ready to return later this week. Cessna or Pazos will be sent down when Saabthia is brought back Friday, and the other may be sent down for Johnny Barbato, who is eligible to return on the 19th. But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Yankees are using their 40-man roster efficiently, spreading out the innings over 15 or so pitchers instead of the usual 12. The way the starting pitching has been recently, don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

Better

I won’t argue that the Yankees have a long way to go. They are still four games under .500 and buried in the AL East. But make no mistake, they sent a message with this homestead. Winning series against Boston, Kansas City, and Chicago, is no easy feat, and neither is a 7-3 homestead.  Coming home with a 9-17 record, The Yankees had to rise to the occasion, and they did.

How did they do it? Much better offense and great bullpen work. In fact, while the offense was the chief worry coming into this homestead, I would suggest the rotation is the biggest one leaving it. Tanaka hasn’t looked great the last two times out, and he had been their only consistent starter.  Sabathia and Severino are on the DL, while Pineda looks completely lost. Chad Green will make his MLB-debut tomorrow and the Yankees will have to cross their fingers that he can give them some innings.

Now they head onto the road for seven games, return home for three games, and then head on the road for eight more. It’s part of an overall stretch where the Yankees are going to play 40 games in 41 days from May 2nd to June 12th, thanks to the earlier rain out in Detroit. That will test their depth and their resolve. One challenge down, plenty still to come.

The Best and The Worst

Over on fivethirtyeight.com they have a ranking of every team since 1903 using their ELO system. (For those of you unfamiliar with the site, it is run by Nate Silver, a Baseball Prospectus founder who got into political forecasting and runs the site under the ESPN umbrella.) It is a fun list to look at and contained some surprises for me.

1- The 1906 Cubs finished second, to the 1939 Yankees, with the 1927 Yankees finishing 3rd. Not a huge shock that the ’39 Yanks did so well, that was quite a team.

2- The 1998 Yankees were fifth showing how historically great that team was.

3- The 2009 Yankees were 33rd, which really surprised me. I don’t ever remember feeling that team was that good.

4- The 2004 Red Sox ranked 64th while the 2004 Yankees finished 256th. That works with my contention that they were simply better.

5- Before becoming the Yankees, the Highlanders were really bad, but he 1989, 1990, and 1991 Yankees all were near the bottom.  It is worth remembering how badly George Steinbrenner had decimated the team in the late 80’s and how great Gene Michael’s rebuilding job was.

6- The worst team ever was the 1904 Washington Senators, but the second-worst was the 2003 Tigers. Three years later they won the World Series. (Thanks to Greg for pointing out that it was only the ALCS. My brain is not what it once was.)

Anyway, it is a fun list and you can search it by team and year if you want.

Knuckling Under

Is it me, or do you also expect the Yankees to lose anytime they face a knuckleballer?  Granted, it doesn’t happen often, but it has seemed to stymie them every time this century. (Ok, they did hit Wakefield occasionally, but you get the idea.) What you have to hope is that tonight didn’t get them too much out of sync for the rest of this homestead.

You can never ask a team to sweep, so the Yankees have to be happy with this weekend’s result. Tomorrow brings a fresh challenge with the champs, Kansas City, in for four games. The Yankees get Chapman back from his suspension tomorrow as well which will make things really interesting.

I don’t know how the Yankees will use Chapman, but I hope they don’t decide that they need to use him in the 9th, Miller in the 8th, and Betances in the 7th. That makes sense in the playoffs, but for now I would much prefer they look at this as an opportunity to have two guys available every night to pitch the 8th and 9th.  The Yankees could certainly close down the final three innings of a game, but wouldn’t it be much more powerful to consistently close down the 8th and 9th? I think so.

 

Strange Moves

The Yankees made two curious moves in last night’s 1-0 loss, one looked good, the other looked bad.

The first move was the choice of outfield alignment. We have all seen the cannon that Aaron Hicks has for an arm, so logic would dictate that he play in either right or center field with Dustin Ackley taking left. That’s not what the Yankees did, putting Ackley in right and Hicks in left. Ackley vindicated the move with his game-saving catch against the wall in the 9th, but it still wasn’t the correct move.  You have to put Hicks’ arm in right to cut down on runners advancing out of respect for his arm. Worth also noting that whatever scouting the Yankees used to make the decisions (they wouldn’t specifically comment on it) Hicks didn’t have a defensive assist or putout, while Ackley had one and two, so the ball still found the guy the Yankees tried to hide.

The second move was more egregious because it didn’t make any sense, starting the 10th inning with Johnny Barbato instead of Andrew Miller. Girardi said they did it because they wanted to save Miller for when the Yankees had the lead. The fallacy in that logic is that they may never have the lead and while you can’t win the game in the bottom of the 10th, you can lose it. The second problem with that logic is why do you use Betances in the 9th then?

And now we come to a homestead that could well determine if this season is fixable. Ten games against two first place teams and the defending World Series champions. If the Yankees want to make a statement, the opportunity is there. If they are going to roll over and die, that opportunity is there too. They will have to avoid some raindrops, especially this weekend, but I suspect our worst fears will either be confirmed or rejected by the time we hit May 15th.

 

Swisher Time?-UPDATED

I get the impulse to bury the Yankees, they look awful, but 8-16 is hardly a death sentence. However, they need to change things up and A-Rod’s injury last night gives them that opportunity. Assuming he is headed to the DL, which it certainly seemed like in the postgame, why not callup Nick Swisher and see what he can do for this club?

We know he will bring energy and positivity, two things the Yankees could sorely use right now. He is a switch-hitter which could help. And while a few weeks in Scranton isn’t enough to convince me he has turned back the clock, he is hitting there. He has played mostly first, but also a game in right field, and could do fill in there while primarily DH’ing in New York. Getting him on the 25-man would be easy, Greg Bird can be moved to the 60-day DL.

And I think it makes a lot more sense that calling up either Refsnyder or Judge. Those guys would be put into a pressure cooker that could seriously hurt their development. Swisher knows the drill and is looking for one last shot at the bigs. If A-Rod is DL-bound, let’s go with Swish.

UPDATE 5:45PM- A-Rod is indeed on the DL, but in the most Yankee-move possible, they have decided once again to go with 13 pitchers. That leaves a bench with three players on it and one of them is the backup catcher. Considering the off-day Monday and the fact that the Yankees only needed 2 innings from the bullpen last night, it is an extra strange move, unless you want to read it as a vote of no confidence in tonight’s starter- Sabathia. Assuming that is the case, I would expect a pitcher to be demoted tomorrow.

An Offensive Offense

Last night notwithstanding, and boy was I wrong about that one, the Yankees have been putrid with their bats. They are tied for 27th in runs scored and are averaging a minuscule 3.5 runs per game. While much has been made over their terrible batting average with runners in scoring position, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is they are not getting on base and they are not hitting for power. Let me explain.

You can read a math-heavy article about average with runners in scoring position and how little it actually influences run-scoring here, but let me try to condense and clarify. The two biggest factors in determining offensive output are OBP and SLG. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The higher the OBP, the more runners on base. The more runners on base, the more chances to score. The higher the SLG, the further the runners advance on base, again the result is more scoring chances. Yes, the Yankees are dead last in hitting with runners in scoring position at .203, but look at Arizona right above them at .206. The Diamondbacks are not hitting with runners in scoring position, but have scored 123 runs- seventh-most in baseball thanks to an OBP of .323 and a SLG of .457. (The Yankees are at .305 and .365.) Or take Atlanta, fourth-best in hitting with runners in scoring position at .290, but below the Yankees in runs scored with 79 because of OBP and SLG’s of .299 and .287 (SLG<OBP is not a common occurrence)

So if you believe me on that, figuring out what is wrong with the offense can be pinpointed easily. Use OPS+ which measures a players OPS figure compared to the league. 100 equals the league average, and every point away from 100 means a player is that percentage above or below average. So an OPS+ of 110 means 10% better, while 90 means 10% worst. Here are the numbers for the Yankee regulars:

Castro-139

McCann-120

A-Rod-108

Gardner-105

Teixeira-100

Beltran-95

Ellsbury-88

Didi-65

Headley-24

Now a small sample size warning should be flashing, but Headley’s number is terrible. He is 76% worse than an average MLB-er so far this year.  He is hitting line drives at the lowest-rate by far in his career (probably the reason he doesn’t have an extra-base hit) while hitting fewer fly balls in general. He is the anchor of this offense and the Yankees are smart to hit him 9th right now, but might be smarter if they played Torreyes more. The kid put up decent numbers in the minors and is only 23, and he can’t really do worse than Headley at this point.

But beyond that tweak, the Yankees don’t have a lot of bullets to use. So far Hicks is doing nothing offensively, and Ellsbury has started hitting a bit more recently. Ackley hasn’t hit either, and Castro is currently the best offensive player on the team while Teixeira is right at the league average. Didi is off to a bad start, but again the sample sizes are still so small. And while everyone points to the Yankees’ age, the three worst hitters in the lineup are the youngest in the lineup, with the exception of Castro. That could be a reason to hope for improvement, time will tell.

 

Trouble Ahead!

On the surface, facing David Price tonight might be the best thing for the Yankees’ moribund offense. After all, Price sports a 5.76 ERA and has been pretty lucky to win three games so far this year.

But don’t be fooled by the ERA, he has also been the victim of some extremely bad luck. Pick your advanced stat, but I like FIP, which takes the fielding out of ERA, and his FIP is 2.38. That’s in large part to his insane strikeout ratio of 14.0 per 9, but it is validated by the fact that Price has a BABIP of .386. So if Price pitches like he has so far this season the Yankees are in deep trouble and a shutout is on the table.

If they lose tonight they will fall to 8-15. That’s pretty ugly, but not an anomaly. I’ve been away and have some thoughts about why this is happening. I will share them tomorrow.