Yankees

Before You Get Too Excited….

From Buster Olney’s column today…..

“He (Pineda) is the first pitcher to go at least six innings and allow one run or fewer in each of his first two appearances as a Yankee since Kevin Brown in 2004″

Hopefully, the Yankees have padded all the walls in the clubhouse!

Did He?

Was Michael Pineda cheating tonight? This looks like a “foreign” substance to me. I certainly don’t think it was sweat and dirt.

But here’s the thing, the Red Sox didn’t ask the umpires to examine him. I can only think of three reasons for that.

1- They weren’t aware of it.

2- They were aware of it, but decided not to do anything now.

3- They were afraid to ask the umpire to look at Pineda because they didn’t want to have the Yankees return the “favor” against one of their pitchers.

I find reason #1 impossible to believe in this day and age. YES openly talked about it during the game and I am sure NESN did too. Someone could have gotten a message to the Red Sox to ask the umpires to check Pineda.

Reason #2 is plausible. This happens in hockey a lot when a team is aware that an opposing player is using an illegal stick. Since it’s a penalty, teams wait until the best moment to ask for a measurement so they can maximize their advantage. Now baseball is different. A pitcher who gets caught with an illegal substance is automatically ejected and gets an eight-game suspension. Maybe the Red Sox judged that it would be better to wait for a bigger situation to have the umpires inspect Pineda. I agree that the 10th game of the season is hardly a big spot. But, the Yankees’ got roughed up Tuesday and their bullpen is tired a bit of a mess in general. Losing Pineda in this game would have hurt and having him miss his next start would hurt even more. So I would say the Red Sox made a strategic error if they thought that it was better to wait than confront this problem now.

That brings me to reason #3 and this is where things get really messy. You may remember that Jon Lester caused a bit of controversy during the World Series. And Clay Buchholz, tonight’s starter, was accused of throwing spitballs last year. So maybe the Red Sox looked at the situation and decided they didn’t want to risk having one of their pitchers, both of whom I would consider better than Pineda, searched at some point in the future?  After all you can’t throw stones from glass houses.

Maybe David Ortiz gave us the answer when he said tonight, “Everybody in the league does it” Sadly, I think he did.

That Didn’t Take Long-UPDATED

Is anyone surprised that the Yankees are facing a injury in the first week of the season? I don’t think so, but the parlay of Mark Teixeira and his hamstring was probably further down your betting list.

I will never understand how Brian Cashman didn’t learn a thing from 2013. Last year the Yankees suffered injuries all over the place and Cashman had to scramble to try to fill those spots. This offseason, he brought in a lot of talent, but also a lot of fragile players. Yet he didn’t exactly stock the system with injury replacements. The Yankees readily admitted that they didn’t have a backup first baseman entering the season, but it appear likely they will need one now.

Kelly Johnson looked ok over there last night, especially when you take into account the fact it was only his third game ever at first, but I don’t think he is the solution. For one thing, that would open a hole at third. And while some will clamor for Solarte to fill that hole, I wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon just yet. If you look at Solarte’s minor league numbers, they suggest he is a guy who really only hits LHP. For instance, in 2013 he had an OPS of .681 as a LHB and an OPS of .828 as a RHB. The difference was less in 2012 (.716 vs. .809) but the trend is clear. This isn’t the guy you probably want facing righties every day. Putting him into a platoon seems like the best use of his talents.

And that will be the problem with Canzler if they call him up. His split in 2013 was almost .500 OPS points between LHP and RHP. Plus, Canzler isn’t on the 40-man roster and activating him will require the Yankees to say good-bye to another player. But there are not a lot of choices here. If Teixeira is going on the DL the Yankees need someone to play first. It’s too bad they didn’t plan for this in the offseason.

UPDATE 11:15 AM- Jack Curry tweets that the Yankees have DL’ed Teixeira and recalled Romine. Johnson is the first baseman for now with Solarte and Cervelli as the backups.

So, the Yankees are going to use a guy who has four games at first in his career as the starter and back him up with two guys who have combined for one game at first in their careers. This is depressing, but with their 40-man issues I understand it. I wonder what happened to Soriano’s work at first?

Here We Go

We are about an hour away from first pitch and the start of the 2014 Yankees season. If you want to see how big the changes are that the Yankees have made this offseason, consider the fact that Brett Gardner is the only guy who was in the 2013 Opening Day lineup and will be starting tonight. In fact, only three of the guys who were in that lineup are still on the Yankees. You can see the 2013 lineup here, but it is not for the squeamish.

The Yankees also made an interesting roster move today. They have DFA’ed Eduardo Nunez. They needed to open a 40-man spot for Solarte and Nunez was clearly the fourth-best reserve infielder at this point (Anna, Ryan and Solarte were obviously ahead of him)  It’s a bit of a shock as Nunez was once hailed as the future shortstop and the Yankees coddled him immensely. But he simply couldn’t handle the defensive side of the game and the Yankees went with safer choices. The question this raises is what happens in 2015? Nunez won’t be the shortstop and I would bet that Anna, Solarte and Ryan won’t be either. The minors don’t offer any obvious candidates, so I would assume an external candidate is the ultimate answer. So, how about Stephen Drew? He’s still out there and would still be a great addition to this team. Now, with no obvious future candidate, he would be a great addition to the 2015 team as well.

Just a thought, on to the 2014 season!

Are They Better?- Part 2

We took a look at the hitting the other day. Now let’s examine the pitching starting with the rotation. I am going to list the pitchers in the order they will pitch in 2014 and to make the comparisons easier list Nova as the #3 starter in 2013.

Starter #1

2013- CC Sabathia 14-13 4.78 ERA 2.7 WAR

2014- CC Sabathia 13-11 4.03 ERA 3.6 WAR

Difference +0.9 WAR

I think it is reasonable to assume Sabathia rebounds from last year, but also doesn’t resume his role as an ace.

Starter #2

2013- Hiroki Kuroda 11-13 3.31 ERA 3.8 WAR

2014- Hiroki Kuroda 13-9 3.74 ERA 2.8 WAR

Difference -1.0 WAR/-0.1 cumulative

I also think it is reasonable for Kuroda to fall back from last year.

Starter #3

2013- Ivan Nova 9-6 3.10 ERA 2.5 WAR

2014- Ivan Nova 11-9 3.96 ERA 2.1 WAR

Difference -0.4/-0.5 cumulative

Which Nova will we see in 2014? The guy who looked great in 2013 or the guy we saw in 2012?

Starter #4

2013- Andy Pettitte 11-11 3.74 ERA 3.2 WAR

2014- Masahiro Tanaka 12-8 3.61 ERA 5.1 WAR

Difference +1.9/+1.4 cumulative

If this can truly come to pass the Yankees will be in very good shape.

Starter #5

2013- Phil Hughes 4-14 5.19 ERA 1.3 WAR

2014- I know it is Pineda, but ZIPS only projects him for 81 innings, so I am using Phelps and Pineda which gives us a WAR of 1.5 combined

Difference +0.2/+1.6 cumulative

Tough for me to see how Hughes was 1.3 WAR last year, but so be it.

Bullpen

The problem with using WAR and the bullpen is that relievers don’t generally pitch enough to generate much on the WAR scale. However, the 2013 Yankees had two guys with WAR’s of 1.5 or better (Rivera and Robertson) Obviously, we know Rivera won’t be pitching this year and Robertson is predicted to lose 0.4 WAR from 2013. So, I am going to say the bullpen will be worse. And I will simply subtract the 1.6 WAR improvement in the rotation from the bullpen and say that the pitching will break-even compared to 2013. Not overly elegant, but I think it is on the right track.

Summary

Combining the pitching and hitting projections says the Yankees should roughly improve by 7 wins over last year. The problem again is that their 85-77 record from 2013 probably doesn’t accurately reflect their true performance. I am going to use their 2013 pythagorean number and say that the 2013 Yankees should have been 79-83, so seven more wins brings them to 86-76 in 2014. Is that enough to grab a wild card? I will examine that tomorrow when I make my annual predictions.

Are They Better?- Part 1

I think last season was Joe Girardi’s best as manager. He guided a team devastated by injuries to 85 wins. If you look at the raw numbers last season, the Yankees probably should not have finished above .500. So, I would contend that the Yankees need to improve a lot more than their 2013 record would indicate if they hope to make the playoffs. Can they? Let’s take a look at the 2013 and 2014 squads through the lens of ZIPS projections and WAR.  (all 2014 #’s projections from Fangraphs)

Catcher

2013- Chris Stewart .211/.293/.272 0.5 WAR

2014- Brian McCann .258/.340/.451 3.1 WAR

Right off the bat a big upgrade. +2.6

Firstbase

2013- Lyle Overbay .240/.295/.393 0.0 WAR

2014- Mark Teixeira .248/.340/.464 1.8 WAR

Another upgrade +1.8/4.4 cumulative

Secondbase

2013- Robinson Cano .314/.383/.516 6.0 WAR

2014 Brian Roberts and Eduardo Nunez 0.7 WAR combined

A huge loss. -5.3/-0.9 cumulative

ZIPS thinks Roberts plays only 53 games, so I used Nunez’s projection to get closer to 162. Anyway you slice it, this is a big, big hole.

Shortstop

2013- Nix, Nunez, Jeter and Others about a -1.0 WAR

2014- Jeter/Ryan 1.4 WAR

A gain +2.4/+1.5 cumulative

ZIPS doesn’t like Jeter’s chances to play a lot, so it holds him to 69 games. I added in Ryan’s numbers.

Thirdbase

2013- A cast of thousands 0.0 WAR

2014- Kelly Johnson .232/.315/.405 1.5 WAR

A gain +1.5 WAR/+3.0 cumulative

When you look at the 2014 Yankees infield it is easy to be pessimistic, but look at what they are replacing! The saddest part about the 0.0 WAR for 2013 is that it took A-Rod’s Other than Cano, the 2013 infield was a disaster.

Leftfield

2013- Vernon Wells .233/.289/.349 -0.8 WAR

2014- Brett Gardner .259/.339/.388 2.4 WAR

A big gain +3.2/+6.2 cumulative

I wish I could forget the Vernon Wells experiment. I wish I could.

Centerfield

2013- Brett Gardner .273/.344/.416 3.2 WAR

2014- Jacoby Ellsbury .286/.341/.448 4.1 WAR

Not as much of a gain as you thought +0.9 WAR/+7.1 cumulative

Rightfield

2013- Ichiro Suzuki .262./.297/.342 1.1 WAR

2014 Carlos Beltran .267/.327/.479 1.8 WAR

A gain, but once again not as much as you would have thought. +0.7 WAR/+7.8 cumulative

DH

2013- Hafner, Soriano, Granderson and others +2.8 WAR

2014- Soriano .247/.297/.484 2.2 WAR

A small loss -0.6 WAR/+7.1 WAR cumulative

Yes, I had to get a bit creative to make the comparisons, but I think they work well enough. 7 wins of improvement is a good start, but the pitching is going to be just as important. We will look at that more tomorrow.

 

A Bluff?

The Yankees have made Francisco Cervelli their backup catcher. It’s not a surprise, he was out of options and they certainly weren’t going to release him. But I am not buying it.

For one thing, the Yankees have five catchers on their 40-man roster. That is about two too many and while depth at a position is a good thing, none of those five will be a free agent until 2017. Clearly, the Yankees can’t carry five catchers on the 40-man for the next three seasons.

The reason they need to clear this logjam is that they will start to hurt the development of these guys if they don’t. Austin Romine and John Ryan (Not J.R. anymore) Murphy will now split the catching duties at AAA. That’s not good for either one of them and right behind them is Gary Sanchez in AA. It’s no secret the the Yankees have some infield issues and some bullpen question marks. Turning Cervelli into a solution for one of those issues is a great idea and I suspect the Yankees ultimately will.

It Has To Be Pineda

I know the 5th starter job was a “competition” this spring, but the Yankees should cut to the chase and admit the obvious. Pineda has won the job.

That’s not a crack on David Phelps, he has pitched well this Spring, but the Yankees never wanted him to “win” this thing. They wanted Pineda to take the spot because he has the biggest upside. Maybe Phelps can turn into a solid #4 starter in the bigs, but Pineda could be a top of the rotation guy. And for that reason the Yankees should stop pretending and talking about watching everyone pitch again. Pineda has been brilliant so far and based on that and his potential, the job has to be his.

Now people are getting all worried about the fact that the Yankees don’t want him to pitch 200 innings this year. They shouldn’t be. By making him the fifth starter, they should be able to skip him enough to avoid that from happening. (Though it is interesting to note that the Yankees open the season with 13-straight games. I can’t remember them ever doing something like that.)

So let’s say the rotation is Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tanaka and Pineda. What is the bullpen? Well Robertson, Kelley, Thonton and Phelps should be obvious choices. I like the idea of a second lefty and I think Cabral deserves a shot. After that it gets interesting.

Betances has been great this spring and Claiborne hasn’t. Would the Yankees take Betances based on his potential? I think so. Even if they don’t both have options and can be changed as needed. And that leaves one spot. (Well one spot if you assume the Yankees take too many pitchers-12- than they should) Warren deserves the final spot, but are the Yankees better served long-term with him in the AAA rotation? I would say yes, but I can understand why they wouldn’t want to force Warren to head to Scranton. The thing is, you could make the same argument about Vidal Nuno, so maybe the Yankees go back to Claiborne and stash Warren and Nuno in Scranton for depth?

I’m not sure when the choices will be made, but we are counting down to the end of camp. Only nine games left for players to make an impression.

Good Move, But….

Let me join the chorus of people who approve of the Yankees signing Brett Gardner to a contract extension. Gardner plays incredible defense, gets on base and can run like the wind. $13-million a year probably causes some people to blink but look at Michael Bourn’s current contract and you can see where this market is. The Yankees now have Gardner locked up through 2018 (2019 with a team option) the season where he turns 35. That’s a solid risk and absolutely the kind the Yankees should take.

But the thing everyone is ignoring in this move is what it says about the farm system. Going into 2013, a picture was being painted of a future outfield cosseting of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott. Austin and Heathcott got hurt and Williams forgot how to hit. None of them have made it to AAA, which means the Yankees really did need to bring Gardner back in 2015.

Now things are getting crowded in the outfield of the future. We know Ellsbury and Gardner will make up 2/3′s of it for the foreseeable future. There won’t be room for all of those guys who were supposed to be the future. Unfortunately, that’s ok because each of them has serious question marks hanging over them. The Yankees didn’t make a mistake signing Gardner, but it is another indication of the problems in their minor league system.

Shut Up Guys

Brian Cashman once had a great quote along the lines of “nobody cares when millionaires fight”. Listening to Larry Lucchnio and Randy Levine go at it today reminded me of it.

Larry “I named them the Evil Empire” Lucchino got things started with this gem:

“We’re very different animals. I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together. Other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankees style of high-priced, long-term free agents. And, uh, I can’t say that I wish them well, but I think that we’ve taken a different approach. … If you compare what we did last year in the offseason to what they did this year, there’s quite a contrast there.”

Two things come to mind when I read that.

1- Yes, there is a huge difference between the Red Sox 2012-13 offseason and the Yankees current one. BUT, take a look at the Red Sox 2010-11 offseason.

2- Where does he expect to find a receptive audience for these comments? Can you imagine being a Pirates’ fan and reading that?

Not to be outdone, Randy “I serve no purpose” Levine jumped into battle:

“I feel bad for Larry; he constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees. But I can understand why, because under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan two years ago, the Red Sox were in last place. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did a great job last year winning the World Series, but I’m confident Cash and Joe and our players will compete with a great Red Sox team to win a world championship this year.”

Way to take the high road Randy.

These are too men with too much money and too much ego. Just shut it fellas.

*****

Here’s an interesting/sad story about Jesus Montero showing up to Seattle camp 40 pounds overweight. Maybe Montero was a creation of PED’s and this is his way of surrendering, but the quote from the Seattle GM is damning-  ”I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.” Ouch.