In The Middle

The Yankees are not getting any offense from the middle of their infield. Stephen Drew is below the Mendoza Line while Gregorious is barely above it. Both are failing at the plate, but after almost a quarter of the season it is clear that there is hope for one of them and real concern for the other.

Surprisingly, the hope is for Stephen Drew. Yes, his numbers are terrible- .177/.264/.345. Yes, his numbers have been terrible since 2014 started, but some of the more advanced stats paint a more optimistic picture. Compared to his overall career, Drew is hitting more home runs per plate appearance, drawing more walks and hitting more line drives. He is striking out at close career rate and hitting ground balls at exactly his career rate. Basically, he is hitting line drives, a good thing while his fundamental numbers haven’t deteriorated. His BABIP of .190 is really low, so it isn’t outrageous to suggest his luck will turn and he will be a productive player for the Yankees.

If Drew is the positive news, then Gregorious must be the negative and he is. Didi is hitting fewer line drives and fewer fly balls than he has in his career. His strikeout rate is higher while his walk rate is lower. His BABIP is .256, which is low but not like Drew’s is low. Worst of all, he is hitting RHP at only a slightly-better rate than LHP. When DiDi came here, the question was if he could hit lefties enough to be an everyday shortstop. He still can’t, but he isn’t hitting RHP enough now either.

If I were running the Yankees, I would continue to run both of these guys out there every day because I expect Drew to hit in the near future and because you have to give DiDi plenty of opportunities to turn things around. Most young players are not Mike Trout or Derek Jeter. They don’t just show up and instantly turn into stars, no matter what the hype about them says. The Yankees don’t need DiDi to become a star, they just need him to approach the average offensive output for shortstops in the league- .259/.309/.376. DiDi basically did that in 2013 for the Diamondbacks, so the potential is there, the Yankees need to keep letting him try to find it.

Do You Dare To Dream?

I loved the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade when it was made and I stuck to my analysis when he tore his labrum shortly after starting his Yankees’ career. I have not been afraid to criticize him for dumb decisions, but yesterday was a fun day for me. We saw Pineda show the potential to be exactly what the Yankees thought he could be- an ace. Now it is never smart to make too much of one start, so let’s not predict Pineda to win the Cy Young just yet. But I think we would all agree that the potential for that to happen is absolutely there. That’s all you can ask for.

Some people will revisit that Montero-Pineda trade today and declare the Yankees clear winners because of what Pineda did yesterday while Montero is playing at AAA. We won’t know who really won that trade until both players (and Noesi and Campos) are no longer playing, but it was the right move for the Yankees to make. They simply didn’t have a place to play Montero in their lineup regularly. They believed, and were proven right, that he wasn’t a big league catcher (he is trying 1B right now) They could not, given the construction of their roster, give Montero the DH spot on a regular basis. So they did the smart thing, they traded him for the biggest hole they had- pitching. It took two years after the trade went down, but last year they started getting a return on their investment. Montero could go on to be an All-Star, but the Yankees still made the right move for them.

And now you can start to dream about seeing the guy we saw yesterday continue to develop into an elite pitcher and leading this staff for years to come.

Until July

We won’t see the Red Sox again until July- right before the All-Star Break. Hopefully by then, Hanley Ramirez will have figured out that nobody is trying to hit him in an 8-1 game and Edward Mujica will realize that there is a way to plunk a guy and that wasn’t it. But enough about that silliness, the Yankees are playing good baseball right now and the question on everyone fans mind is if it can last.

The performances are approaching the size where you can draw some intelligent conclusions from them, but it is still early. Generally, three things stand out as encouraging. The offense is better than we thought it would be. The Yankees have scored 124 runs, good for  5th in the AL. Second, the bullpen has been great. Third, the defense has been solid and better than last year at turning balls into outs.

Are those three factors enough to propel the Yankees to the playoffs? In a flawed division like the Al East definitely. But there are injuries, trades and changes that will happen within the division over the next few months that will change the outlook of each club. It’s been a good start to the season, and sweeping the Red Sox in Fenway is always fun, but pennants aren’t won in May.

Six-Man Rotation?-UPDATED 8:55PM

The Yankees have the second-best bullpen ERA in baseball and the 20th-best (or 10th-worst) starters ERA, yet they are going to go with a six-man rotation this time through. Chase Whitley has been recalled from Scranton to start today and Gregorio Petit has been sent down. This means the Yankees currently have only 12 batters on the roster, and none of the usual bench players can cover either second or short. Drew and Gregorious had better stay healthy tonight!

Beyond that, I question this move for a number of reasons. First, the Yankees have an off day already on Thursday so everyone would have gotten an extra day off anyway. But, after that day off, they don’t have another one until May 18th, so if you wanted to give the rotation a break, wouldn’t next week or the week after have been the right time? And by doing this, they move Pineda from starting tomorrow night to starting on Friday in Fenway- is that a great idea? And how long will this go on? If Tanaka stays on turn, and unless they are keeping the six-man rotation he will, he will pitch on May 5th, May 10th, and May 15th, with only the first start on six-days rest.

I wonder if the Yankees would have been better off limiting the pitches their starters threw and using the bullpen more if they wanted more rest? Considering the dominance of the pen so far, I would think it would be better to use them more and the starters less, but clearly the Yankees don’t agree. We will see how this all works out.

UPDATE 8:55PM- Now it makes sense, the Yankees weren’t trying to go with a six-man rotation, they had worries about Tanaka that have proven to be founded. He has a forearm strain and tendonitis in his wrist. He is conservatively out for at least a month, but I don’t’ see how anyone can really know for sure at this point. The only potential good news is that his UCL didn’t show any change, so it isn’t that, but the fact that his arm is in trouble again is very discouraging.

Hold On a Sec….

So the Mets aren’t quite ready to take over NYC. Yes, they could win the next two and take this series, but tonight the Yankees sent a message.

NL Rookie of the Year- they shelled him.

Eleven-game winning streak- it’s over.

Best 26-year old pitcher in NYC- your move Matt Harvey.

It’s one night and it’s certainly not conclusive, but tonight belongs to the Yankees.

Until tomorrow…..

This Will Be Fun

The Mets are coming to the Bronx and they are on an 11-game winning streak that makes them the best team in baseball.

But don’t sell the Yankees short. They went 7-3 on their most recent road trip and took 3-of-4 from the best team in the American League.

It’s still April, but this is about as good as it gets at the beginning of the season. Let’s enjoy the next three, they should be awesome.

They Needed That

Six games is not even five percent of a baseball season, but if the Yankees had lost last night, it would have been open season on the overreactions and condemnations in the press. For now, they have earned a slight reprieve.

I say slight because they are 2-4 and about to launch a 10-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa, and Detroit. They then come home and face the Mets. If they return from their road trip further under .500 the criticism will grow louder, and if they fail to win the series from the Mets-  look out.

One example of a popular overreaction in the media is the constant trumpeting of the Yankees’ error totals. The thinking is that the nine errors the Yankees have committed show that their defense is nowhere near as good as advertised, and might even be a big weakness. To that I say nonsense.

First, it is silly to make blanket statements about anything after six games. It is even dumber when you are relying on a subjective criteria like errors to do so. Errors simply don’t tell you a lot about defense. A player with great range might bobble a ball that a player with lesser range wouldn’t even get close to. Yet the player with the better range gets the error and the other player isn’t penalized for his range deficiency at all.

A better way to judge defense is DER- Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures the percentage of balls in play that a team converts into outs. For the Yankees, that figure current sits at 72.8%. That rate would have put them at the top of the rankings for 2014. But the sample size is way too small, so let’s table the questions about the defense for now.

And let’s avoid making other pronouncements. Sure, A-Rod has hit a lot, but are we really going to believe that he will keep doing so all season?  Yes, Drew and Didi have not hit, and Beltran looks old, but again we must beware the small sample. We simply can’t draw any intelligent conclusions at this point. What we can say is that the Yankees are 2-4. Not a good start, but not a total disaster. Let’s get through April and see where we are then.


Is This The Lineup?

With Jacoby Ellsbury back from injury, the Yankees are only short Didi Gregorious today. Today’s lineup is:

Gardner- LF

Ellsbury- CF

Beltran- RF

Teixeira- 1B

McCann- C

Headley- 3B

Rodriguez- DH

Drew- 2B

Ryan- SS

Put Didi in for Ryan and I suspect you have the regular lineup, but I hope I am wrong.

The Yankees are going to have a lefty problem no matter what. Gardner, Ellsbury, McCann, Drew, and Gregorious are all lefty bats, but bunching them up like this makes little sense to me. If you start the lineup with Gardner and Ellsbury and end it with Drew and Didi, you allow opposing teams the chance to bring in a lefty reliever for four-straight batters. Sure, the Yankees could counter with a pinch-hitter for Drew or Didi, but considering Ryan’s lack of hitting skills, that would probably necessitate a two-for-one swap where Young hits and Ryan comes in to field. I would prefer to see a lineup more like this:

Gardner- LF

Headley- 3B

Ellsbury- CF

Beltran- RF

McCann- C

Teixeira- 1B

Drew- 2B

Rodriguez- DH

Gregorious- SS

This breaks up the lefties as best you can, putting forth a lineup of L-S-L-S-L-S in the first six spots and then L-R-L in the bottom three. Yes, Rodriguez shouldn’t be hitting 8th behind Drew, but Torre did it almost ten years ago when he could really hit, so I don’t see the harm in it now.

The Final Stretch

Today is a weather day where I can believe Opening Day is right around the corner. In eleven days, the Yankees open their season on what will probably be a 25-degree and snowy day in the Bronx. But let’s put aside our discussion of the weather and look at the decisions left for the Yankees to make roster-wise

1- Who is the fifth starter? When camp opened it seemed that Chris Capuano would win by default. His injury opened up a competition and it looks like Adam Warren has won it. I expect he will be given the job in the next few days.

2- What does the rest of the bullpen look like? We knew Betances, Miller, Carpenter and Wilson were locks coming into camp, but the last three spots were up in the air. Based on spring numbers, Esmil Rogers and Chase Whitley, both stretched out as starters, would seem to have an edge. Beyond that, the seventh spot seems up in the air. Chris Martin has been up and down. Chasen Shreve has too. Too close to call.

3- Who is the backup catcher? Austin Romine hasn’t hit, either has John Ryan Murphy. Romine has to either make the team, or be exposed to waivers, so I think he might make it.

4- What about the bench? With A-Rod looking like the probable DH the bench has four spots left. One goes to Murphy or Romine. Garret Jones and Chris Young were locks from the start. The only intrigue was the potential for Jose Pirela to sneak onto the roster, and that seems to have ended with his concussion. Brendan Ryan should make the team in his place.

That’s it, barring injury we know 24-out-of-25 Yankees who will break camp in 11 days.

Why Not Try It?

The Yankees had been expected to try Alex Rodriguez at first base this spring, but apparently have backed off that idea. I don’t get it.Yes, the only way Alex Rodriguez makes this team is if he hits. And yes, the Yankees don’t want to use him at first, but isn’t positional flexibility a good thing?

The Yankees keep trying to find a guy who can play every position on the field. Don’t get me wrong, that person would be a bonus, but that person isn’t easy to find. But with a four-man bench, and if you carry 13 pitchers that’s what you have, you need guys who can cover more than one spot.

For the Yankees, that is even more important as Mark Teixeira last played 150 games in 2011. And while his wrist injury caused him to miss most of 2013, he is also prone to smaller, non-DL type injuries that leave him out of the lineup for five to seven days. Now the Yankees brought in Garrett Jones for those eventualities, but wouldn’t it be nice to have more backup?

Again, Alex’s place on this team is as a hitter, anything his glove does is a bonus. But if (when?) Teixeira gets hurt, the Yankees will want options. Spring training is the perfect time to give Alex a bunch of games at first and see what happens. Maybe he can handle it, maybe he can’t. What’s the harm in finding out?