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:










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.


A Peek Behind The Curtain

I wasn’t around this weekend, but if you missed Michael Powell’s article detailing the ways the Yankees used public financing to build their new ballpark, you should read it now. It’s a potent reminder of how much of that palace was paid for by we the taxpayers.

I love the Yankees and will always support them on the field, but they are a bloodless business machine. Pretty much every professional team is, but the Yankees are really good at it. From $12 beers, $20 for five sliders with french fries, $30 hats, to the incredibly expensive tickets, the new place is a cash machine for Yankee ownership. The Yankees could put some of that back into the community and the city, rip up the tax-exempt financing they received, and pay some property taxes, but they won’t.

That’s the deal we make as sports fans and it is good to remember it. When Hal Steinbrenner says he doesn’t believe you need a $200-million payroll to win a championship he is really saying “I don’t want to spend $200-million on payroll because that is money I could keep in my pocket.” If he ever achieves that goal, do not expect ticket prices to decline or concessions to get cheaper. The owners are the hammers and we are the nails. That’s reality.

Sizzle Not Steak

The Yankees are signing Nick Swisher to a minor league deal with a June 15th opt-out. This move is getting a lot of ink, but it really shouldn’t.

It’s amazing how circular history can be- consider Swisher. In 2012 he was the Yankees’ right fielder and did a great job- .273/.364/.473- while switch-hitting and playing decent defense. The Yankees let him walk in exchange for a draft pick. That draft pick became Aaron Judge, the right fielder of the future.

Back to today and this move is essentially a no-risk lottery ticket. Swisher hasn’t hit in the past two years and he really can’t play the outfield anymore. His only potential use is as a first baseman and the Yankees are never going to use him unless Mark Teixeira gets hurt. If that happens, they have Swisher in the minors possibly ready to go and play first. If it doesn’t, Swisher probably leaves after June 15th for brighter pastures.

Let’s Overreact!

I get it, the media has air time to fill and column inches that need print, but the conclusions drawn three games into the season are pretty hysterical. The NY Press is up in arms that no Yankee starter has made it through six innings yet. But thankfully the bats are exploding. Maybe we could wait for some warmer weather and a few more games before we worry/exalt either of those facts?

But the biggest jump based on shaky reasoning has to be with Starlin Castro. Castor is now either Rogers Hornsby or Joe Morgan, maybe better. Yes, he has had an amazing three games, but again, THREE GAMES! And some of the stuff people are saying about it is just laughable. On YES they keep going on about how he is doing it in spite of the weather. Last I checked, Chicago in April isn’t exactly warm, so he might be somewhat used to the weather? Furthermore, look at Castro’s career. Guess which month is his best offensively? That’s right, April. He hits .324/.347/.459 in April. Over his entire career he is a  .282/.321/.407 hitter. I don’t think it is a faulty conclusion that this guy usually gets off to a good start.

I like Castro. This video with him cracks me up. (Though I think Didi steals the show with his head movements) I think Castro is going to have a fine season for the Yankees, but he isn’t going to become Robinson Cano in his prime. That’s ok,the average second baseman in the AL hit .262./.317/.402 last year. Castro has better career numbers than that, so if he can produce as he has in his career, and play solid defense at second, the Yankees will have an above-average player at second. After two years of watching Roberts and Drew play second, that will be thrilling for the fans as well.

On to Detroit.

Stupid Stuff

Three dumb things that I want to talk about.


9/11 was such an intensely personal event for all New Yorkers and a lot of us took refuge in sports. Ten days after that horrible day the Mets became the first team to play a home game in NYC. It was an incredibly emotional night and when Mike Piazza put the Mets ahead in the 8th with a home run, the crowd erupted in “USA” chants. It was a really great moment. Piazza later signed the jersey he wore and gave it to the Mets for safe keeping.

Well, the Mets SOLD it. It just came to light that the jersey is now being auctioned off by the person who bought it. The Mets originally claimed a mistake was made and the jersey wasn’t meant to be sold, but the jersey was authenticated by the team. Piazza is incredibly upset, as are a lot of people who can’t believe the Mets would be so stupid.


John Oliver makes a living skewering people and he turned his attention to the Yankees. Specifically, their high-handedness when it comes to Legends Seating and their attempts to keep the ‘riff-raff” out of it. Oliver decided a way to level the playing field, albeit temporarily, was to buy three sets of Legends seats and sell them to people for 25-cents each. The one condition was they had to send him a picture of what they would be wearing in the seats, and the more outlandish, the better.

That’s how two guys dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended up right behind home plate yesterday. The contest continues tonight and tomorrow, so keep an eye right behind home and see what shows up. It is a pretty hilarious bit by Oliver, you have to give him credit.

Thankfully, the Yankees didn’t take the bait, the turtles got to enjoy the game. But the Yankees need to act more humbly. I detailed the real reason behind the paper ticket ban in February and yesterday people had to walk a pretty far distance because of that. The Yankees are in this to make money, that is never in question, but they should be smarter about it and think about their image every now and then.


Finally an on the field incident. Baseball has a rule problem and Joe Girardi and the chief umpire yesterday agree on the solution. Let’s review.

Carlos Correa hits a weak grounder towards first. Betances grabs it and turns to throw to first, but Correa is running inside the baseline and on the grass so he can’t see the firstbaseman.   Betances tries to loft it over Correa, but throws it into right. Girardi claims obstruction, but is overruled because the umpires can’t judge whether it was simply a bad throw or if Betances was actually hindered.

That all makes sense, but the solution, which Girardi and umpire Dana DeMuth agreed on is pretty radical- drill the runner in the back. Girardi wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, comparing it to an assault. DeMuth said the following:

“Do it. Throw it into the runner’s back. Because then what’s happening? He is impeding.”

Now, you could argue that this is similar to the double-play grounder to second. Why does the runner going into second slide? Primarily because the fielder is going to whip a throw right into their chest if they don’t. Think about it, if you weren’t worried about getting drilled in the chest with the ball, it would make more sense to stand up all the way through the play and obstruct the fielder’s view of first.But you are, so you slide and hope to get into the fielder’s legs to disrupt the throw. I suspect that if you were worried about getting drilled in the back, you wouldn’t run inside the baseline, but that seems like a bad way to handle this. Baseball needs a better way, anyone have any suggestions?


Opening Lineup

We have an official lineup and Brett Gardner isn’t in it. The lineup is:










While I am not surprised that Girardi decided to put Hicks in against a tough lefty, I am surprised he put him 2nd. And, it is interesting how he has put two switch-hitters back-to-back and Didi in the 9th spot. I wonder if this is just an Opening Day alignment and things will be different in Game 2, or if this is the basic lineup with Gardner normally in for Hicks? Stay tuned.


Christmas Is Cancelled!

The home opener has been postponed, due to the return of winter in NYC. Seriously, it is nasty out there this morning, so there is no way to argue with this.

Personally however, this stinks. I had tickets and was really looking forward to a day of baseball, and then a night of rooting on UNC in the finals. Plus, I can’t go to the make up tomorrow.

But again it is the right call, 45 and rainy is not baseball weather, and kudos to the Yankees for doing it two-plus hours before the gates were due to open. That should prevent most people from even heading towards the Stadium.