Tuesday Night Open Thread

Sigh. Another day without Yankees baseball. Getting real sick of this, you guys. Since the Yankees have been rained out, I suggest listening to this podcast I recorded with Zone Coverage earlier today. We talked about the Twins briefly before diving into a good half-hour of Yankees talk. If you can’t watch the Yankees play tonight, might as well listen to me bumble on about them instead, right? Right.

Here is an open thread for the evening. The Mets were rained out as well, but MLB Network is showing a regional game, plus there are a few NBA playoff games on as well. Talk about those games, Derek Jeter buying the Marlins, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Report: Derek Jeter part of ownership group with deal to buy Marlins for $1.3 billion

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It looks like Derek Jeter‘s dream of being an owner is coming true. According to Barry Jackson, Jeter is part of an ownership group that has agreed in principle to purchase the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria for $1.3 billion. There are still some details to work through, plus MLB and the other owners have to give approval, so the sale is not final.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is leading the ownership group and will be the “control person” while Jeter will have an “active role” with the franchise, according to Jackson. Sounds like a Magic Johnson situation. The Guggenheim Partners own controlling interest in the Dodgers, but Johnson owns a piece and is basically the face of the ownership group.

Loria has been looking to sell the team for months now and at one point reportedly had a $1.6 billion handshake agreement in place, but that fell apart due to political reasons. Loria purchased the Marlins for $158.5M back in 2002. He sold the Expos to MLB and bought the Marlins from John Henry, who then bought the Red Sox. It was essentially three sales at once.

Jeter has made it no secret he wants to one day own a team, and while he won’t have controlling interest in the Marlins, he has a piece of the pie. I have to say, I always figured Alex Rodriguez would buy into the Marlins. Not Jeter. The team is right in A-Rod‘s backyard. A-Rod buys the Marlins and Jeter buys the Rays. That’s how it’s supposed to work!

In all seriousness, it’s going to be kinda weird seeing the Cap’n promoting the Marlins, huh? What if he throws a ceremonial first pitch in a Marlins jersey? That’s going to be weird. I’m sure Hal Steinbrenner will love cutting Jeter and the Marlins a revenue sharing check too. That won’t be awkward at all.

Tonight’s game rained out, doubleheader set for July 16th

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Another night with no Yankees baseball. Tonight’s series opener at Fenway Park has been postponed due to inclement weather, the Red Sox announced. The game will be made up as part of a split admission doubleheader on Sunday, July 16th. That’s the Sunday after the All-Star break. The games will start at 1pm ET and 8pm ET.

The weather forecast in Boston is pretty terrible — it’s supposed to rain nonstop from now right through tomorrow afternoon, basically — and the next two days won’t be much better, but those games should at least be playable. Between off-days and the postponement, the Yankees have played three games in the last six days.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the postponement is good news because this means they will play one fewer game without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. The Yankees have played well in the super early going this season, but I’d still rather see them at full strength for as many games as possible. This rainout helps.

Neither team has announced their pitching plans for the next two days, though I assume both clubs will simply push everyone back. That means Luis Severino vs. Rick Porcello on Wednesday night, and Masahiro Tanaka vs. Chris Sale on Thursday night. We’ll see what the teams say, but that seems simple enough, right?

I do believe this is the Yankees’ first weather delay of any kind this season. It’s definitely the first postponement. I’m pretty sure we haven’t even seen the tarp for an in-game delay yet. Anyway, this is now six off-days in the first 24 games of the season for the Yankees. Not enough baseball!

Looking for positive signs amid Greg Bird’s early season slump

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Remember Spring Training? It was a fun time. The Yankees were winning on a near daily basis, the prospects were all playing well, and a now healthy Greg Bird looked like a budding middle of the order force. Bird hit .451/.556/1.098 during Grapefruit League play, and he led all players in homers (8) and extra-base hits (16). If nothing else, he looked healthy after missing last season with shoulder surgery.

Because baseball can be a jerk, Bird has followed up his monster Spring Training performance with a dreadful start to the regular season. He’s hitting .104/.204/.229 (23 wRC+) in 54 plate appearances, and basically all his success has come in one game, that 3-for-3 with a home run and a double effort against the Cardinals last Sunday. We all hoped that would be the start of big things for Bird. Instead, he’s gone 1-for-19 (.053) since. Woof.

Players go through slumps all the time. Sometimes right out of the gate to start the season. It’s not often a talented young player hits .104/.204/.229 in a span of 54 plate appearances, however. When they do that, they tend to find themselves back in Triple-A. The Yankees are clearly giving Bird some rope here. To me, the biggest red flag so far has been this:

greg-bird

That’s Matt Andriese blowing a 92 mph fastball right by Bird. He’s late on it. Second straight pitch too! Bird swung and missed at a nearly identical fastball the previous pitch. We saw Bird punish all sorts of fastballs in Spring Training. He was turning around 97 mph heaters like it was no big deal. Now he’s getting beat by 92 mph fastballs in the zone? Yikes.

Here, for reference, are all the fastballs Bird has swung at and missed this season, via Baseball Savant:

greg-bird-fastball-whiffs

Swinging and missing at back-to-back 92 mph fastballs from Andriese two Thursdays ago was not an isolated incident. Bird has been doing it pretty much all month. Pitchers haven’t needed Aroldis Chapman velocity to get Bird to swing and miss at a fastball. Anything at 92 mph and above has given him trouble, even when it’s out over the plate.

As bad as Bird as been, there are some positive trends in his game that suggest maybe he’s getting closer to snapping out of it. You have to squint your eyes a little, but the trends are there. The question is whether they’re meaningful this early in the season and in this few plate appearances. For example, here are Bird’s strikeout rate and contact rate on pitches in the zone, via FanGraphs:

greg-bird-plate-discipline

Okay, that’s a start. The strikeout rate is coming down and the contact rate on pitches in the zone is going up.  Earlier this year Bird was making contact with fewer than 50% of his swings against pitches in the strike zone. That is unfathomably awful. When the pitch was in the zone, Aaron Judge managed to make contact with 74.3% of his swings last year, and Judge was terrible last season.

So while Bird couldn’t handle Andriese’s 92 mph heat two weeks ago, he has gradually been doing a better job getting the bat on the ball and avoiding strikeouts since then. That’s sort of a prerequisite for being a good baseball player. Making contact. Bird has a healthy 9.3% walk rate, but walks alone are not enough. He needs to do a better job making contact, especially on pitches in the zone, and he’s started to do that. Progress!

Making contact is one thing. Lots of players can do that. Pete Kozma can do that. Making quality contact is another. Quality contact is what separates good hitters from everyone else. Simply getting the bat on the ball isn’t enough. You have to be able to drive it too. Here is Bird’s hard contact rate, again via FanGraphs. It also shows a recent uptick:

greg-bird-hard-contact

Here’s something that surprised me: Bird has a 48.4% hard contact rate this season. That’s really freaking good. The MLB average is 31.1%. Going into yesterday’s games 228 players had batted at least 50 times this season, and only 13 had a higher hard-hit rate than Bird. Judge, who has been hitting mammoth home run after mammoth home run, has a 47.7% hard contact rate. This is a big deal. Bird is coming back from major shoulder surgery and he’s impacting the baseball. Good news!

Those two graphs are connected, of course. Bird is hitting the ball harder because he’s making more contact on pitches in the zone. And, as always, Bird is getting the ball airborne. His 30.0% ground ball rate is well below the 44.3% league average and ranked 18th lowest among those 228 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances prior to yesterday’s games. Hitting the ball hard in the air is Bird’s thing. Hit the ball hard in the air and extra-base hits will come. Bird is still doing that. Remember this?

greg-bird-fly-out

Bird hit a fly ball there Saturday afternoon. He hit the ball hard and he hit it in the air, and it was just short of the wall. Bird also had a line drive back up the middle taken away Sunday when Ivan Nova stuck out his glove and caught it. Bird has been dreadful so far this year. No doubt about it. But I can’t help but feel there’s a little bad luck in his .133 BABIP (!), especially given his hard contact rate.

Did you notice Bird’s positive trends — the improved hard contact rate and contact rate in the zone — started at roughly the same time? That all started when Bird came back from the nagging ankle injury and that illness. He spent five straight days on the bench earlier in the season due to the ankle and the illness. Since he’s returned, Bird is making more contact and hitting the ball harder. Coincidence? Maybe! But yeah, probably not. He’s probably healthier now than he was on Opening Day.

There is no denying Bird has been awful in the early going this season. And if he continues to be awful, the Yankees will have no choice but to consider sending him to Triple-A to get things straightened out. I don’t know when they’ll have that conversation. Maybe next week, maybe next month, or maybe at the All-Star break. But it’ll have to happen eventually if this continues. Sending Bird out there day after day to get his lunch handed to him helps no one.

At the same time, we are starting to see the old Greg Bird at the plate, even if the results aren’t there yet. He’s making more contact on pitches in the zone. He’s hitting the ball hard and he’s hitting it in the air. He’s talking his walks. I’d be worried if Bird was still missing hittable fastballs, or if he was beating the ball into the ground. That’s not happening now. At least not as often as it did a few weeks ago. Small sample size caveats always apply in April and that is no different here. We have to reach a little bit because Bird has been so bad, but there are some reasons to believe he is inching closer to getting out of this early season funk.

Thoughts in the middle of the six-game road trip

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

The 2017 regular season is only 23 days old, yet yesterday was already the fifth off-day for the Yankees. Geez. I know there are always a lot of off-days in April because of weather concerns, but five in the first three weeks of the season seems … excessive. Whatever. It is what it is. Here are some thoughts as the Yankees gear up for tonight’s series opener against the Red Sox.

1. I know the Yankees lost the series in Pittsburgh over the weekend, which is especially annoying because Sunday’s game was very winnable, but overall, I would have signed up for an 11-7 start to the season in a heartbeat back in January and February. The 11-7 start isn’t a mirage either. Here are some numbers:

  • Run Differential: +30 (1st in MLB)
  • Team wRC+: 123 (1st in MLB)
  • Team ERA: 3.17 (2nd in MLB)
  • Runs Scored Per Game: 5.11 (t-3rd in MLB)
  • Runs Allowed Per Game: 3.44 (t-1st in MLB)

The Yankees also had the best record in baseball in Spring Training by several games, remember. What if they’re actually, you know, good? Keep in mind the Yankees are off to this good start despite not having Didi Gregorius at all, and getting only four and half generally ineffective games from Gary Sanchez. (Greg Bird hasn’t done a whole lot either.) The season is still young and I’m not going to read too much into this start. For example: I’m not buying Chase Headley and Starlin Castro as true talent 185 wRC+ and 178 wRC+ hitters, respectively. This good start has happened though. It’s in the books. And that’s exciting. The Yankees might not be heading for the .500-ish season many seemed to expect when they committed to the youth movement last year.

2. Speaking of Gregorius, my guess — and this is only a guess — is he returns to the Yankees for the start of the homestand Friday. That gives him three more minor league rehab games — poor Didi is going to go broke feeding the minor league kids during this long rehab stint — which could go nine innings at shortstop Tuesday, nine innings at shortstop Wednesday, nine innings at designated hitter Thursday, then back in the Bronx Friday. So far he’s played two seven-inning games at shortstop and one full game at DH. I’m looking forward to seeing Didi back in the lineup. Back in the lineup and back in the field. Ronald Torreyes has done a hell of a job filling in at short, but Gregorius is clearly the better player, so the sooner he comes back, the better it is for the Yankees. Hopefully these next few rehab games go well, the shoulder feels strong, and we see him back on the big league roster in the coming days. Didi is a fun player and I am pro-fun.

3. Sanchez is about two weeks away from returning based on the original four-week timetable given at the time of his injury. His rehab is progressing nicely — Sanchez has been increasing his throwing and hitting pretty much everyday since the middle of last week — and hopefully that continues. I know I shouldn’t do this because so much can change even in the span of two weeks, but I can’t stop myself from looking forward and thinking about what the lineup will look like with Sanchez and Gregorius. Does this work?

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. LF Brett Gardner

If Gardner continues to slump — he hit safely in seven of his first eight games, but has gone 2-for-24 (.083) since crashing into Rickie Weeks — Joe Girardi will have no choice but to drop him in the lineup. Then again, three lefties in a row in the wraparound 8-9-1 spots? Nah. Won’t happen. May you one day find someone as committed to you as Girardi is committed to breaking up the lefties. The lineup really isn’t something worth thinking about anyway. It’s going to change on a near daily basis. Aaron Hicks has been getting fairly regular starts so far — he has 44 plate appearances in 18 team games, last year he had to wait until the 28th game for his 44th plate appearance — and I’m sure that will continue. Also, Chris Carter is going to play as long as Bird continues to not hit. At the very least Carter will start against lefties, I believe. Still, the Yankees lead baseball in wRC+, my preferred all-encompassing offensive stat, and they’re going to get Gregorius and Sanchez back reasonably soon. That’s exciting.

4. Gardner hasn’t hit since crashing into Weeks and Holliday hasn’t hit since his back acted up, forcing him to sit out two games against the Cardinals last weekend. His slump actually goes back further than the two days on the bench. Holliday is in a 2-for-24 (.083) rut at the moment, and I suppose his back could have been giving him trouble before he sat out the two games. He did crush that long home run against the White Sox — at 459 feet, it is the third longest home run in baseball so far this year — so his back can’t be bothering him too much. Still, Holliday hasn’t been quite right for nearly two weeks now, which has been a bit of a drag on the offense. Between off-days and the interleague series in Pittsburgh, Holliday has essentially had five days off in a row — he pinch-hit in each game against the Pirates, that’s all — and hopefully that will get him on track, especially if the back is truly the cause of his problems. Then again, pretty much every player goes through a 20-something at-bat slump during the course of the season, so this might not be anything more than baseball being baseball. The combination of age (37) and a back injury, no matter how minor, still makes me wonder if something is up physically.

5. One more lineup related note: Ellsbury’s versatility within the batting order has been a pleasant surprise early on. He doesn’t fit anyone’s idea of a cleanup hitter, but Girardi has stuck him in the four spot a few times and Ellsbury has delivered. He’s hitting .435/.480/.565 (205 wRC+) with one home run in 25 plate appearances batting fourth, and .368/.400/.579 (182 wRC+) and one home run in 20 plate appearances batting fifth. (He’s also hit .176/.222/.176, 11 wRC+, in 18 plate appearances batting first, so yeah.) I don’t expect this level of production to continue because how could you? At the end of the day, Ellsbury is still a slash-and-dash hitter who has hit double-digit home runs only twice in parts of eleven big league seasons. Point is, the Yankees asked Ellsbury to hit in the middle of the order at the start of the season, something he’s never really done in his career, and he’s come through. Being able to move guys around in the lineup is a nice little luxury.

6. I’d like to see Bryan Mitchell get a little more responsibility, which is sort of a weird thing to say when he’s second on the team in relief innings. (Adam Warren has 10.2 innings, Mitchell has 8.2.) Right now Mitchell is the low-leverage multi-inning guy. He’s made seven appearances so far this season, and in each of those seven appearances the Yankees were either trailing when he entered the game, or winning by at least four runs. Mitchell can be wild. We saw it when he loaded the bases with no outs Sunday. But he also has really good stuff and can make hitters do things like this:

bryan-mitchell

For whatever reason Girardi has been more inclined to use Jonathan Holder in more important situations than Mitchell so far this season — Holder has been brought in to start the sixth with one and two-run leads already, and both times he failed to get out of the inning — and I’d like to see their roles reversed. I get that Mitchell can give you two or three innings at a time. There will still be plenty of opportunities to do that though. Mitchell has never been able to develop a changeup and I think he’s destined for the bullpen long-term because of it. I’d like to see him get a little more involved. Let him air it out for an inning a time and I think the Yankees will be pleasantly surprised.

DotF: Adams puts up zeroes, Gilliam has huge day at the plate

SS Gleyber Torres (shoulder) is inching closer to return. At least that’s what he said on Twitter. Torres was placed on the seven-day disabled list last Wednesday and he’s not expected to miss much time, so I suppose that means we could see him back as soon as the day after tomorrow. That’d be neat.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day.

Double-A Trenton (2-1 win over New Hampshire)

  • CF Rashad Crawford & DH Billy McKinney: both 0-4 — McKinney struck out once, Crawford thrice
  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-3, 1 BB — six strikeouts and eight walks in 13 games … he’s been on base 25 times in those 13 games
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 0-3, 1 BB — Ben Badler says he did some light work at first base before the game, though I wouldn’t read too much into that … players work out at other positions all the time
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 1-3, 1 SB
  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 53 of 95 pitches were strikes (56%) … down to a 0.82 ERA on the season … ten walks in 22 innings so far, which isn’t great … he didn’t walk his tenth batter until his 30th inning last year

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Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have yet another off-day today — I’m getting sick of all these off-days, aren’t you? — so, while we wait for the next game, I suggest checking out Travis Sawchik’s post on the necessity of mound visits. Aside from implementing a pitch clock, the single best way MLB can improve pace of play is reducing mound visits, especially by the catcher. Do mound visits by the pitching coach actually help at all? No one seems to know.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. ESPN is showing the Cubs and Pirates, and MLB Network will have a regional game later on. There are also a trio of NBA playoff games on as well. No NHL though. No one bothered to force a Game Seven this round. Lame! Talk about anything that isn’t religion or politics here.