Stomach Punch

The Yankees are placing Andrew Miller on the DL with a strain in his left forearm. Joe Girardi said that he “won’t throw for 10 to two weeks and then you go from there.”

Well we know that Betances will close while Miller is down, but the problem is, who replaces Betances? Wilson has been mediocre. Lindgren doesn’t look ready. Capuano and Rogers aren’t the answer. This is going to get interesting to say the least.

 

Ian Kennedy Would Be Fine

Most articles describing the Yankees first round draft pick, James Kapreielian, compare him to Ian Kennedy. It is meant to explain that while he has talent, his ceiling is not huge, perhaps that of a #3 starter in a good rotation. The thing is, that is a great return for the #16 pick in the draft.

The problem with the draft is that for all the scouting money poured into it, it is still a crapshoot. First round picks should be sure things, but going back in draft history shows you how uncertain they really are. Let’s look at the 2006 draft, Ian Kennedy’s, for an example.

Including supplementary picks, there were 44 selections made that June. Of those 44, 11 didn’t make the majors. Of the remaining 33, ten have appeared in only a handful of games.

Ian Kennedy was the 21st player taken, and the 13th pitcher.  Let’s look at each one.

First, and number one overall, was Luke Hochevar. Hochevar has made 128 mostly terrible starts in the bigs and is currently a middle reliever.

Greg Reynolds was second overall and had three cups of coffee in the bigs.

Brad Lincoln was fourth overall and is currently in AAA with a 9-11 record in the bigs.

Brandon Morrow was fifth overall and is hurt again, but he has had a few decent moments in the bigs.

Andrew Miller, yes that Andrew Miller was sixth. Clearly, he is a dominant reliever, but he was a failed starter in the bigs.

You can’t argue with the 7th, 10th, and 11th overall picks except to say they should have been taken higher. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer are all brand names and two of them may reach the Hall of Fame.

And then there is the quartet of Kasey Kiker (12th), Jeremy Jefress (16th)Kyle Drabek (18th), and Brett Sinkbell (19th). None of them has done anything to write about in the bigs.

Then there is Kennedy at 21. And while some of the names taken after him in the first round (Daniel Bard, Joba Chamberlain, and David Huff) are familiar, you probably need to go to the seventh round and Doug Fister, to find a pitcher taken later who has clearly had a better career. (Chris Archer was taken in the fifth round and looks like he will far surpass him too, but he needs to put in a few more years.)

So, I am perfectly ok with the Yankees taking an Ian Kennedy type of player. If you look at the way the system works today, it is the smarter play. There are basically four ways to acquire talent.

1- MLB draft

2- Free agency

3- Trades

4- International signings

International signings are going to be huge risks because you sign the players when they are 16. Free agency is going to be risky and expensive. Trades are probably where you can get the most value, but they are also the hardest to execute. That leaves the draft and teams can certainly swing for the fences, but the smarter approach is to aim for base hits. If you create a draft pipeline of major-league caliber players, not necessarily stars, just players who belong on big league rosters, your team will have more assets than other teams. That gives you leverage in trades and less holes to fill with free agency.

That seems to be what the Yankees have done more of in recent years. They are drafting college players (lower ceilings but easier to project) and seeing good results. Their top pick last year is already in the majors and two of the three before that- Judge and Jagielo- are getting close. Nothing is guaranteed with draft picks, but the Yankees will happily take another Ian Kennedy.

Warren Warning

The popular perception of Adam Warren is that he is becoming an invaluable piece of the Yankees’ rotation. With his 3.64 ERA, he is quickly becoming the third-best pitcher in the rotation and when/if Ivan Nova returns Warren isn’t the guy who should go back to the bullpen. It’s a nice story, but it is completely wrong.

Yes, Warren has a 3.64 ERA while Sabathia and Eovaldi have higher ones, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. For a better look, let’s rely on FIP and scratch beneath the surface. Warren hasn’t been good as much as he has been lucky. His FIP is a 4.67, higher than both Sabathia’s and Eovaldi’s. This isn’t a surprise as he is striking out only 5.3 per nine innings while walking 3.1. He is giving up more home runs than he historical has yet hitters are only hitting .247 against him. Add it all up, and his ERA will be going up in the not so distant future.

But that doesn’t mean that Warren isn’t valuable, he is just valuable in a different role- righty arm in the bullpen. If you look at Warren’s splits, you can see that something dramatic happens after pitch 50 in a game. His OPS against shoots up even though his BABIP is much lower than during his first 50 pitches. The Yankees need a righty arm in the bullpen and putting Warren back there when Nova returns is the right way to go.

 

A Small Surprise

We knew the Yankees were going to have to make a roster move to get Masahiro Tanaka activated today. We knew the roster move would involve a pitcher. What is surprising is that the move is a DFA of David Carpenter. Carpenter was brought in to be a power righty in the late innings and he flopped. His strikeout rate plunged while his home run rate increased. His ERA is almost five, but his FIP is even higher. Clearly he wasn’t getting it done, but it is still a surprise. I say that for two reasons. First, they just traded Manny Banuelos for Carpenter and Shreve and Carpenter hasn’t even reached arbitration eligibility yet.  Second, by removing Carpenter from the bullpen, the Yankees now have five lefties and two righties in there. That could be a serious problem.

Now the first reason doesn’t bother me at all and actually encourages me. The Yankees recognized that Carpenter was sunk cost and they decided the best course of action was to get rid of him and find a different solution. That’s a great way to think in a sport where guaranteed contracts tend to paralyze decision making. (Carpenter is only making $1.3-million, but still the cheap/easier move would have been to demote Lindgren.)

The second reason is more of a worry to me because five lefties is a huge number and it only works if the lefties can get righties and lefties out. Here the Yankees may have some issues. Not with Andrew Miller, he clearly gets both out. And not with Justin Wilson. His numbers aren’t pretty so far, but his FIP is 3.06 and he has held lefties to almost the exact same OPS as righties in his career. The problem is that beyond that we just don’t know what the remaining lefties are capable of.

Capuano is the long guy, and so far this season he hasn’t gotten lefties or righties out. How his FIP is almost two runs less than his ERA, but an ERA over 4 is still below average in the majors this year. Then you have Shreve and Lindgren, two guys with potential, but not much in the way of a track record. Those two are the key to this move. If they can pitch to both lefties and righties, the Yankees have made a smart decision. If they can’t, expect the bullpen shuttle to warm up quickly. It’s a gutsy move and one that I like, but there is plenty of risk to it.

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.

New York-New York

The Yankees took the first round of the subway series. Due to a scheduling quirk, we will know if these teams are both playoff contenders the next time they meet in September- games 146, 147, and 148.

We will also have the answers to four questions which featured prominently in this series and so far this season-

1- Is Carlos Beltran finished? The early results are not encouraging and the eye test is worse. I never liked this signing, but I wasn’t expecting this big a drop.

2- On a positive note, is Mark Teixeira capable of being productive again? Almost the direct opposite of Beltran in the way he is hitting and the way he passes the eye test.

3- Can Didi handle the pressure he is under? The bat has been slowly improving, and while his defense has taken a  lot of criticism, objective fans will recognize that he is getting to a lot of balls his predecessor wouldn’t have come near to. The problems are two-fold, fans unfairly expecting him to be Jeter, and the media consumed with picking his every move apart. I don’t think Girardi did him any favors benching him last night versus the left-hander.

4- Can Nate Eovaldi become the pitcher his stuff says he should be? Curt Schilling was right (that hurts to write) about his lack of fastball command. Last night was not a good night for the flamethrower, but the early results are encouraging. His walk rate is lower than his career rate and his strikeout rate is way above it. He will be fascinating to watch going forward.

For now, let’s enjoy a subway series win and look forward to a matchup tonight where first place is on the line. That’s right, at 11-8 the Yankees have a share of first with Tampa, the team coming to the Bronx tonight.

 

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…..