Not Feeling It

Usually a Yankees-Red Sox series brings fires me up. After all, I created a website around it! But, its a bit harder to get fired up about this series. We have the third and fourth-place teams in the AL East meeting about halfway through the season. What happened to these two teams?

Well, I don’t think the Yankees are a big surprise right now. Before the season I predicted 85 wins and they are on pace for 84. I think the biggest worry you have to have as a Yankee fan right now is that the run differential, -34, indicates they should be much worse than they are. They’ve lost 3/5’s of their rotation and the offense has been mediocre. And, they may burn the bullpen out by August at this rate. Unless some big reinforcements are coming, I don’t think this team finishes above .500.

Boston is a bit more interesting. Dustin Pedroia is having a terrible year, I wouldn’t expect that to last. Xander Bogarts hasn’t lived up to the hype and Jackie Bradley has been awful. But, they have two very good starting pitchers in Lackey and Lester and a nice bullpen, so they could easily make a run.

But for now we have two mediocre teams facing off in late June. If the names on the front of the uniforms read something other than “Boston” or “New York” would we pay any attention?

Time For Changes

The Yankees can’t hit. Well, some of the Yankees can’t hit. Looking at the team, your eye is drawn to five players- Beltran, Roberts, McCann, Soriano, and Jeter.  None of these guys are hitting at this point, but I think it is fair to expect McCann to turn things around, so let’s forget about him for now. Even if you don’t, he has a huge contract and isn’t going anywhere.

Soriano has been demoted to a platoon player with Ichiro. That’s a very smart move as he can’t hit righties anymore, so let’s forget about him for a minute as the Yankees may have solved that problem.

Beltran has been hurt and probably will hit, so let’s forget about him for a minute. Again, big rule contract applies here.

That leaves Roberts and Jeter, and here we have huge problems. Roberts is a switch-hitter who has always been better against RHP than LHP. That hasn’t changed this year, but his numbers against LHP (.231/.310/.288) are beyond bad. The Yankees need to at minimum bench him against lefties and put Ryan in there. At least he will provide some defense (more on this in a minute)  and his numbers against lefties in his career  (.247/.312/.323 ) are an improvement over Roberts’. But this isn’t much of a solution and the Yankees are going to need to address the middle infield soon.

That is because of Jeter. The fact that a 40-year old Jeter isn’t hitting is not a shock. But, his BABIP is over .300 and his line drive rate is 19%. That means he isn’t being hurt by bad luck, he simply isn’t hitting. Now Jeter is a guy you are loathe to count out, but the Yankees need to be realistic about him. Putting Jeter 2nd in the lineup isn’t doing anyone any favors. If he was hitting against LHP, you might be able to argue that he should stay there, but he isn’t  (.619 OPS vs. LHP and .609 OPS against RHP)  How much longer can the Yankees pretend he is going to hit?

Now if he could play defense, the Yankees would probably look beyond his hitting, but we know that isn’t the case. The Yankee announcers haven’t figured out that the reason for all the shifts this year is the defensive problems the Yankees have. We know Jeter has never been a very good shortstop and this year isn’t any different. What is different is that he doesn’t have Robinson Cano playing to his left and a fair number of grounders are getting through the middle.

Now defensive stats are tricky, but consider these numbers for Jeter and Roberts. Both of them are near the bottom of the AL in range factor for their positions.  Now range factor’s two flaws are the fact that teams that give up more flyballs will have lower range factors and having a great defensive player next to you will lower your range factor as he gets to more balls. Both are fair, so let’s look at a more general number- DER.

DER- or defensive efficiency rating measure how often defenses covert outs on balls in play. In 2013, the Yankees were 24th in the league at 69.7%. In 2014 they are 29th at 69.2%. Why have they dropped off? I would suggest it has something to do with Roberts and Jeter. If you don’t trust your eyes, or don’t buy range factor, just think about it. Defensively, the outfield is probably better than last year, or at least as good. Where do the most balls in play go to in a game? Exactly, short and second.

So what do the Yankees do with two guys who aren’t hitting and not playing great defense? Well, I think Roberts’ days are numbered. The Yankees just moved their AA second baseman to AAA. Their AAA second baseman, Jose Pirela is hitting .326/.365/.458 in 246 PA’s. He’s not that good, but I suspect he gets a chance soon. As for Jeter, I wouldn’t expect that situation to change for awhile.

Another Way To Go

Kendry Morales is the easy answer to the question of how to fix the Yankees offense. Morales has been a good hitter in his career and the thinking is that plugging him into this lineup will spark the offense. My question is, where are you going to play him?

Sure, if Mark Teixeira is out for a long period of time you can play him at first. But, it sounds like Teixeira is going to be back, just needing to rest from time to time. Carlos Beltran seems to be on his way back as well. Now Beltran could need surgery, the Yankees won’t really know until he plays a bit, but if he is on the roster that will tie up some DH AB’s. And even if he isn’t, how many games do you want Alfonso Soriano to play the field in? What about Jeter? The Yankees have plenty of DH types on their current roster and adding Morales would give them another one.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t understand how Brian Cashman could construct the 2014 Yankees without thinking about a backup who could play first, but that’s the reality of what he did. So, instead of reaching outside the organization for an answer, how about we try and solve this internally? I have an idea if Teixeira gets put on the DL. Recall Austin Romine, put McCann at first and let Murphy catch.

McCann isn’t hitting, but I don’t expect that to last. And, if he hits like he has in the past, he would provide adequate production at first. But this is more about finding out what the Yankees have in Murphy. Clearly they like him as they moved him ahead of Romine on the depth chart. His numbers this year are not realistic as he has a .441 BABIP (league average is .294 this year) and a line drive rate of 31% (league average is 20.2%), but there is something intriguing about him. At worst, he appears to be a very good backup catcher. At best, he could be a regular starter. That has a lot of value, maybe not for the Yankees with McCann signed for four years after this, but for some team. Murphy could be the chip who brings back a pitcher to stop the bleeding in the rotation. The Yankees need to find out and if Teixeira is going to miss time, I would rather they try this than go out and sign another player.

I Have A Problem

I have a problem with what David Ortiz said the other night about David Price. First, here are his comments:

“I have a lot of respect for the guy, man, but it’s over. I have no more respect for him. Last year we kick his ass in the playoffs, he went off, talking (expletive) about everybody, (Sports Illustrated writer) Tom Verducci and everybody. Players.We kind of got to talk on the phone. We kind of straightened things out. He was kind of upset. Me as a veteran I kind of let him know how things go in this game. Later on he called me and apologized because he knows he was wrong. He apologized in public. He apologized to myself. Everything was cool. So first at-bat of the season against him he threw at me.

I mean, it’s a war. It’s on. Next time he hits me, he better bring the gloves. I have no respect for him no more.

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

I was going to let him know. I respect everybody in this league and I get the same respect from everybody. If you’re mad because I take you deep twice, let me let you know, I have almost 500 homers in this league. It’s part of the game, son.”

A lot of people are focusing on Ortiz talking about war. Personally, I don’t believe he was literally comparing this situation to war or trying to disrespect troops in any way. War is used as a metaphor in sports by plenty of people and it would be great if they stopped it. War is a horrible thing and should never be trivialized like this. But, the war portion of Ortiz’s comments dominated the story, while the following got almost completely ignored-

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

There were many things Ortiz could have said here. He could have said, “You can’t be acting like a tremendous ass our there”. Or he could have said, “You can’t be acting like a total jerk”. But he decided to say “little girl” because apparently that is the same thing.  He also added a word for a female dog that is primarily used as an insult to women.

We have to stop this. We have to stop equating being a girl with something bad. And we have to start noticing when people say things like this. It wasn’t that long ago that using a term that questioned a player’s sexuality would have gone almost completely unnoticed. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. But comments like this that equate being a girl with a negative thing persist. I don’t know if David Oritz even realizes the implications of what he said, but it is time he does.

I am the proud father of two girls. I want them to grow up in a world where people judge them by their character. I want them to grow up in a world where they are not limited by their gender. I know I am just like millions of fathers out there in that respect and I hope those numbers will help to change this behavior. Being a “little girl” is not an insult at all. We shouldn’t use it like it is and we definitely shouldn’t teach our children that it is.

A Tale of Two Ballparks

I can’t think of a better example of the differences between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field than the past 4 games. Monday and Tuesday in Yankee Stadium- 35 runs. Wednesday and Thursday at Citi Field- 5 runs. Two slugfests in the Bronx followed by two pitching duels in Citi Field.  And for those of you who feel baseball games are too long I agree, last night’s 1-0 game took 3:04 to complete.

The latest injury news for the Yankees is Carlos Beltran to the DL with bone spurs in his elbow. This was another predictable event, let’s just hope that he doesn’t need surgery. That would put him out 6-8 weeks. In the interim, expect the Yankees to go with Ichiro in right as a replacement. That’s a better idea than running Soriano out there, but the Yankees need to think about how they are using some of their players.

Let’s run through the offense a minute. McCann’s not hitting and neither are Jeter or Roberts. Soriano is also worthy of a look. I don’t worry about McCann and I am willing to give Jeter the benefit of the doubt for now, but Roberts and Soriano are worth discussing. Roberts has an OPS of .663, but against RHP he has a respectable line of ..267/.349/.414. This is not a shock as for his career he has hit righties much better than lefties. (.781 OPS vs. .710) Soriano has an OPS of .691, but he is killing lefties (.333/.352/.588) and disappearing against righties (.202/.238/.319) I am not about to suggest that a platoon of these two would work at second, Soriano left that behind him years ago, but the Yankees have some platoon options.

First, why not try Kelly Johnson at DH against LHP? Johnson has hit .238/.304/.492 against them this year. Nothing great, but a whole lot better than what Soriano has done. At second, how about putting Brendan Ryan there against LHP? Ryan doesn’t hit, but he hits lefties a bit more than righties and his defense is much, much better than Roberts. Normally, I don’t worry too much about defense, but I would bet almost anything that the reason the Yankees are shifting so much this year is to cover up their very poor infield defense.

The early fielding stats are not promising. Every regular infielder has below average UZR and RF numbers. The Yankees DER (how efficiently they turn balls in play into outs) has dropped from last year. (imagine if they weren’t shifting as much) Defense is going to be something the Yankees will need to watch closely as the year goes on.

 

Trouble

The Yankees are seeing the injuries pile upon their pitching staff. Today came the double blow of CC Sabathia being sent to the DL and word that Michael Pineda will be out more than four weeks. (Cynics will say Sabathia isn’t much of a loss these days, but I am not prepared to think that way- yet.)  Word is Sabathia will be back in 15 days, but with pitchers can you ever really know? Look at Pineda, he was supposed to miss four weeks and that has now been bumped to six.

So that leaves Kuroda and Tanaka as the only starters who have been here all year. We have Phelps, Nova and now Alfredo Acveves in the final three spots of the rotation. The good news is that they don’t play a team with a record above .500 until June. But they will be stiffly tested over the final three weeks of May.

Stand Up And Cheer!-UPDATED

Tonight Yankees’ fans have a chance to show they get it. Tonight Robinson Cano returns to the Bronx and he deserves nothing less than a standing ovation when he comes to the plate the first time.

It’s funny how Yankees’ mythology gets twisted and turned. Paul O’Neill has become a mythic figure. The club won’t give out his number because the fans didn’t like it when LaTroy Hawkins wore it. O”Neill was a great Yankee, but he has been retired for 13 years and nobody seems ready to move on. Meanwhile, Robinson Cano, who put up better numbers than O’Neill did, sees his number given to Scott Sizemore moments after he left the Yankees. That was a classless move by an organization that spends a lot of time congratulating itself on its class.

So it is up to you, the fans going tonight to show Cano what he meant to the Yankees. For 9 seasons he was a wonderful Yankee. Yes, he was silly to say that he felt “disrespected” when the Yankees “only” offered him $175 million. And yes, he left because of the money, but so what? How many of you would stay at your current employer if another one came along and offered you almost 40% more money? Cano made his choice and its too bad he isn’t a Yankee anymore, but it does nothing to diminish what he did when he was here. He deserves your cheers tonight.

UPDATE 7:15PM- Terrible job by the fans booing Cano tonight. They really let him have it. It’s hard to understand how Cano gets booed like that for leaving because of the money, but Ellsbury and others get cheered for taking it.

As The Roster Turns

Well the Yankees had all sorts of roster moves today.

First, Pineda accepted a 10-game suspension. With the Yankees off Monday, that means they will only need to fill his rotation spot once while he is gone. I would assume David Phelps will get that call.

Next, the Yankees moved Nova to the 60-day DL, sent Dean Anna and Preston Claiborne to the minors, promoted Shane Greene from AAA and added Brian Billings to the team as well. With Pineda suspended, the Yankees only have 24 roster spots available. Because of the bullpen use last night, they are going with 13 pitchers (12 if you don’t count Pineda) right now. I suspect that Billings will be DFA’ed the moment Brendan Ryan is ready to go. (sounds like next week). Neither Greene nor Billings is a prospect so don’t expect much good to come from this. These moves are really about having fresh arms in the pen.

The Empire Is Huge

Here is a very cool map breaking down baseball fans by county.

You have to feel for Mets fans. Even in their home county, they are well outnumbered by Yankees fans.

Subtle He Is Not-UPDATED

Michael Pineda apparently doesn’t know to quit while he is ahead. He was tossed in the second inning tonight because he had an illegal substance on his neck. (It looked like the umpire said “pine tar” when he threw him out so I am going with that.)

Now, let’s put aside the debate about whether or not using pine tar to get a better grip should be illegal for a second. MLB has decided that it is and that means you have to be clever if you are going to use it. Putting it on your hand or neck is not clever. Doing it against the same team you did it against the first time is just stupid. I can’t believe that there isn’t someone in the Yankees’ clubhouse who could have shown Pineda how to hide pine tar somewhere less obvious. Al Leiter and David Cone talked about putting some grip on their belt in cold weather- these are not state secrets!

It you want to argue that this is a stupid rule, I won’t argue with you. I don’t like the idea of pitchers throwing 95-mph without control. But, that doesn’t excuse Pineda’s stupidity here. If he needed something to help him grip the ball he should have been way more subtle about it. John Farrell couldn’t let Pineda get away with such an obvious flaunting of the rules a second time.

Now there are a few issues going forward.

1- The Yankees are probably going to lose Pineda for 8 or 10 games. Let’s say two starts. Who will fill those? I suspect Phelps since the Yankees are going to stretch him out tonight a bit, but that will be the first challenge facing the Yankees.

2- What are the Yankees going to do about pitchers for the next few days. With the bullpen being forced to get six-plus innings tonight they will probably need a replacement arm or two. (Of course if this game keeps going the way it is going we could see Dean Anna pitching later) But, the Yankees just optioned Daley and Mitchell to the minors and cannot recall them without an injury. This could be a problem.

3- When/who will the Yankees choose to search in “retaliation” for tonight? The smart money is probably on Buccholz, but he isn’t pitching this series. The Yankees end the year at Fenway when the weather should be cool again. It wouldn’t shock me if they waited five months.

UPDATE Give Pineda credit. He stood up, answered questions, apologized and admitted he used pine tar. When was the last time you heard a MLB player do that?