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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If there is a theme to my April baseball watching and writing it is this- beware small sample sizes. We have seen time and again players who get out of the gate quickly only to fall apart after the calendar turns to May. Joel Sherman provided a good example the other day with Vernon Wells. Another good example from that 2013 Yankee team is Travis Hafner. Hafner had 6 HR’s and a line of .318/.438/.667 when April ended and he finished with 12 HR’s and a line of .202/.301/.378 for the season. Those two examples are why we should be very, very, careful to avoid making any conclusions about the rest of the season from the results so far, and why the following should be looked at with a skeptical eye.
In an Economist blog post the other day the author took a look at Alex Rodriguez’s 477-foot home run on Friday and what it means for the rest of the season. I encourage you to read the article, but the key takeaway is the concept of signature significance- an idea named by Bill James that says that certain rare results have much higher predictive power than one game or even one swing normally should. Hitting a 477-foot home run is that type of result. The key quote:
The fact that Mr Rodríguez propelled a single baseball 477 feet means there is a very strong chance he is not the player we thought he was. Guys who are washed up just don’t hit 477-foot homers. Not even once.
I’m still wrestling with this idea and its predictive powers, but I find it a fascinating concept.
The Yankees needed a weekend like this one. Yes, Tampa is probably the worst team in the AL East, but after dropping six-of-nine, the Yankees will take any wins they can get. And with the win and other results Sunday, the entire AL East is within 1-1/2 games of each other.
And now comes a really interesting week. There are two teams which have reached double-digit wins in the season and the Yankees will face them both in the next seven games. First up, the best team in the AL- Detroit
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.