The Yankees have won five games in a row (six of their last seven!) and they’ve done it with offense, with pitching, and with defense. One phase of the game is not carrying them, it’s all three. Unlike last April, when the team played well but it felt like we were waiting for the other shoe to drop for certain players (Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, specifically), this year’s success feels far more sustainable. I can’t be the only who feels like that, right?
Anyway, Carlos Beltran is not in tonight’s lineup after tumbling over the right field wall in foul territory last night. According to the various beat writers on the scene, Beltran had an MRI on both his wrist and shoulder and everything came back clean. He is sore though, and he will skip batting practice today and instead receive treatment. Beltran hopes to play tomorrow but Joe Girardi is fond of giving players that one extra day when they’re banged up. We’ll see. Here is the Rays lineup and here’s the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- C Brian McCann
- 2B Yangervis Solarte
- 1B Kelly Johnson
- 3B Scott Sizemore
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It is hot, humid, and pouring in St. Pete tonight, but none of that matters because of Tropicana Field. It’ll be a climate-controlled 72 degrees (or thereabouts) for tonight’s game whether you like it or not. First pitch is scheduled for just after 7pm ET and you can watch live on YES and, depending on where you live, MLB Network. Enjoy the game.
The Yankees are starting to get healthy. Or, really, several of their players have started working their way back after being shut down for various lengths of time. No one has actually come off the DL yet. Here are some updates on the walking wounded, courtesy of George King, Erik Boland, and Jorge Castillo.
- Mark Teixeira (hamstring) went 0-for-1 with two walks during an Extended Spring Training game yesterday and 1-for-5 with a strikeout today. He played the field both games and had to run hard on several occasions. “I will be fully ready to play Sunday and disappointed if I don’t.,” said Teixeira, who is eligible to activated off the DL on Sunday.
- David Robertson (groin) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session yesterday and is scheduled to throw in an inning in Extended Spring Training tomorrow. “Get Sunday and Monday off and be ready to go Tuesday,’’ said Robertson. He’s eligible to be activated off the DL on Tuesday.
- Brendan Ryan (back) got several at-bats in a simulated game this morning, his first game action since getting hurt. Because he missed just about all of Spring Training, Ryan’s rehab will be much longer than a handful of minor league games. He’s still a few weeks from returning.
- Jose Ramirez (oblique) was one of the pitchers to face Teixeira this morning. He missed all of Spring Training but is throwing now, so that’s good. No word on when he’ll rejoin one of the minor league affiliates.
Got seven questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Don’t be discouraged if I don’t pick your question. Usually it comes down to not having the room/time or simply not knowing the answer.
Chris asks: How about a trade for Chase Utley? Good idea and what might it take?
Yes, please. Forget about his insanely hot start — hitting .462/.517/.769 (247 wRC+) with seven doubles and three homers in 58 plate appearances — the 2011-12 version of Utley (112 wRC+) would do just fine for me. He’s a power hitting left-handed second baseman who draws a lot of walks and plays strong defense. He also has no platoon split and some experience playing first base. Oh, and he’s an elite base-runner even though he doesn’t steal as many bases as he once did. Utley would be a wonderful addition to any team, but especially the Yankees since they have a black hole a second base.
The problem is that Utley signed a two-year, $25M extension with the Phillies last season, taking a discount to remain with the team rather than test the free agent waters. Given the market, I think he could have gotten three or maybe even four guaranteed years as a free agent. I’m sure his hometown Dodgers would have been all over him. Utley has a partial no-trade clause and I have no idea what teams are included, but, more importantly, he’s beloved in Philadelphia and the only way the Phillies would trade him is as part of a total rebuild. I’d have no trouble giving up two top prospects to get him. Gary Sanchez and Manny Banuelos? Plus a third, lesser prospect? Fine by me. Utley would be a legitimate five or six win upgrade for the Yankees this year.
Aaron asks: If the D’Backs continue to struggle would the Yankees be more interested in Aaron Hill or Martin Prado?
Man, the Diamondbacks are just awful this year. The rotation especially. It could be historically bad. Both Hill and Prado would fit the Yankees’ need at second base, though they are different players who wind up providing similar value. Hill (7.3 fWAR from 2012-14) is more of a power hitter and average defender while Prado (7.8 fWAR from 2012-14) is a contact hitter and above-average defender. They are both owed similar money t00, $33M-35M through 2016. Prado can play third and left field, so he has that going for him. Either guy would work for the Yankees, but if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Prado because he does more things well and is two years younger. If either hits the trade market, the Yankees should be interested.
Daniel asks: If the Yankees are truly still not interested in Stephen Drew, is it because they are waiting to see what happens with the extension talks with the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez? Or are they just trying to ride out what they have?
I don’t think the Yankees are waiting for Hanley and I don’t think they should. Sure, he’s a great player and all that, but it seems likely he will sign a huge extension with the Dodgers rather than test free agency after the season. They Dodgers have said they want to keep him, Ramirez has said he wants to stay, and reportedly the two sides have been talking about a contract. Besides, Hanley wouldn’t help the Yankees at all this year, and even if they did sign Drew, there would be room on the roster for both next season. At this point, I have to think there is something in Drew’s medicals that are scaring teams away. The state of the shortstop position around the league is too terrible for him to still be unemployed because of draft pick compensation.
Tom asks: Although it’s still rather early to even think about it, which free agents in next year’s class do you see the Yankees making a push for?
Hanley would be at the top of that list for pretty obvious reasons. The other big names are Max Scherzer, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Since the team already has two huge pitching contracts on the books, I think they will steer clear of Scherzer. Headley seems more likely than Sandoval because the Yankees almost always lean towards the guy who walks and works the count. Plus I think there has to be at some concern Sandoval will eat himself out of the game if you give him $100M or so guaranteed. Here’s the list of free agents for the upcoming offseason. Other potential targets include J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, Luke Hochevar, and Luke Gregerson. That’s just my speculation, of course.
David asks: How excited can we get about Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka after these first
two three starts? They have both shown flashes of dominance (especially Big Mike) but to what extent do we need to temper expectations?
Get excited. Very excited. I’m more excited about Tanaka personally only because Pineda’s shoulder is still in the back of the my mind, and guys who have had arm problems tend to continue having arm problems throughout their career. Tanaka has a (much) deeper arsenal and isn’t as reliant on pure velocity as Pineda, which is another thing to consider. The best part is that this isn’t some one or the other hypothetical. Both are actually on the team. If you’re not going to get excited about these two 25-year-olds after these last few weeks, then what the hell is the point of it all?
Jack asks: Barring injury, who among the current five starting pitchers will be the first to be permanently replaced because of poor production? And when that happens who will be given the first shot at taking over the spot?
Let’s be realistic about this: CC Sabathia and Tanaka are not going anywhere because of their contracts. Hiroki Kuroda has earned a very long leash after the last two years and, given his first few starts, I have no reason to think his performance will fall off so much that the team wants to replace him. That leaves Pineda and Nova, and I guess it’s a toss up. Pineda seems more likely to be knocked out of the rotation by injury than poor performance, and Nova has already lost a rotation spot (2011 and 2013) due to poor performance. If I have to choose, I’ll say Nova. But I don’t think any of these guys loose their spots for anything but injury this year.
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering if Joe Girardi wasn’t are manager and you could have anyone else in his place, who would it be? For me, it’d be Clint Hurdle.
I’m not sure. A big part of the manager’s job happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, and we don’t know anything about that stuff. In terms of on-field moves, I’ve always felt Padres manager Bud Black does a really good job of putting his players in a position to succeed, either through pinch-hitters or reliever usage or whatever. Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Athletics manager Bob Melvin are both good at that stuff as well. I think you’d have to consider Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter as well. Gun to my head, I’d go with either Black or Melvin. I’ll say Melvin because he has experience managing in the AL.
Mike had some dental work done earlier today, and the rest of my day was busier than expected. We dropped the ball on the game thread, but it seemed to be a good luck charm for CC and the Yanks. The erstwhile ace won in Tampa Bay for the first time since 2010, and the Bombers turned a triple play behind him while also knocking out three home runs. It was, all around, a Solarte Party for a team that’s won five in a row.
CC’s Big Day
As Yangervis Solarte, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore turned a triple play in the second inning, CC shot his arms up in the air in celebration. The Yanks held a 4-0 lead, and for a minute, it looked like CC would crack. Yet, for the third time in his Yankee tenure, the infield turned a triple play. (The first involved A-Rod, Cano and Nick Johnson while the second was one of the zaniest rundowns you’ll ever see.) For a guy not known for his hot corner defense, Solarte had the presence of mind to head to the bag and flip to second. From there, it was nothing more than a routine play, and CC escaped.
From then on, it was relatively smooth sailing. A passed ball led to an unearned run while CC’s nemesis Sean Rodriguez lofted a home run in the 7th. By then, though, the Yanks led 8-1, and the Rays’ run was harmless. Sabathia again didn’t have much velocity on his fastball, but he hit his spots and changed speeds effectively. He ended the night throwing 72 of 107 pitches for strikes with six Ks.
Big Bats vs. Price
Offensively, the Yanks made tonight’s game look easy. The Rays opted to hold David Price back a day to face the AL East leaders, and it backfired. Price gave up six runs in five innings, and of the ten hits he allowed, six went for extra bases. The Yanks hit two triples in one inning, and Soriano and McCann went back to back in the 5th. After missing three games with a back injury, Brian Roberts went 3 for 5 with a double and a triple, and in the 9th, April superstar Yangervis Solarte lofted a Grant Balfour offering into the right field seats for his first Major League home run. Solarte, who had doubled earlier, is now hitting .373/.448/.569. It’s hard to imagine it will last, but it’s been a fun ride.
Odds and Ends
Carlos Beltran took a nasty spill when he ran full speed over the wall in right field. He seemed OK, but it sure would be nice if the Rays could afford a real warning track…Dellin Betances had a tough time throwing strikes in the 8th inning, but he still struck out three of the eight batters he faced. He threw only 16 of 31 pitches for strikes, but his stuff, when over the plate, is nearly untouchable. He now has 11 strike outs in 6.1 innings but 4 walks too…Derek Jeter is very quietly hitting .295 with a .380 OBP. With a .364 slugging, the power isn’t quite there, but I’ll take the average and OBP with no complaints…These two teams face off again tomorrow as Hiroki takes on Erik Bedard, making his first start of the year.
Jordan Brink | RHP
Undrafted out of Central High School in Fresno three years ago, Brink spent his freshman year and most of his sophomore year as a position player at Fresno State. He didn’t hit (.224/.292/.299 in 389 plate appearances) and wound up on the mound. Brink had a 3.92 ERA and a 65/25 K/BB in 59.2 innings last year, and this spring he has a 2.28 ERA with a 40/31 K/BB in 55.1 innings while working exclusively as a pitcher.
Despite a smallish frame — listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. — Brink offers big time power stuff, including a fastball that hit 96 mph during fall workouts and has sat 91-93 this spring. His best pitch is a hard and sharp curveball in the low-80s that sometimes looks like a slider. A good changeup rounds out his three-pitch mix. Brink is said to be a top notch competitor with off the charts makeup, and even though he hasn’t been pitching full-time very long, his delivery is compact and repeatable.
Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Brink as the 48th best prospect in the draft class in his most recent rankings. Baseball America (no subs. req’d) did not include him in their top 50. This draft is loaded with college pitching, enough that someone like Brink could slide due to his height and unimpressive performance this spring (K/BB, specifically). The Yankees don’t pick until the second round (55th overall) because of their offseason shopping spree and I think landing Brink would be a real coup. He has a fresh arm, he already throws three pitches, and he’s the kind of competitor they love.
This past offseason, the Yankees signed their five arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts totaling $16.4875M. Next winter’s class figures to be pricey as well, mostly because Michael Pineda will qualify for arbitration for the first time and Ivan Nova will be eligible a second time. Shawn Kelley will also be due a nice raise in his final year of eligibility.
Kelley is a Super Two, meaning he will go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three. The full explanation is here, but the short version is that some players (the top 22% in service time, specifically) with more than two years but less than three years of service time qualify as Super Twos and get four years of arbitration. It puts some more money in their pocket in exchange for teams manipulating their service time, basically.
According to agent Ryan Galla at CAA Baseball (h/t MLBTR), the projected Super Two cutoff for this coming offseason is two years and 128 days of service time, which is typically written as 2.128. David Phelps came into the season with 1.156 years of service time, so unless he gets shipped to the minors for about four weeks, he will qualify as a Super Two and go through arbitration four times instead of three. He will still not be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season.
Phelps will get a nice raise through arbitration but nothing crazy. He’d have to move into the rotation and pitch very well (and do it soon) for that. Phelps came into the season with ten wins and a 4.11 ERA in 186.1 career innings, and that’s the stuff that matters in arbitration. Not his FIP or his WAR. Old school stats reign supreme in arbitration. Tyson Ross went to arbitration with nine wins and a 4.34 ERA in 273.2 career innings last winter, which earned him $1.98M in his first year as a Super Two. That seems like a decent comparable for Phelps at this point.
The only other Yankee on the Super Two bubble is Austin Romine, who came into the year at 1.143 years of service time. He collected a bunch of service time while on the DL two years ago, in case you’re wondering why that number seems so high. Romine will reportedly not get the call to replace Frankie Cervelli today, which hurts his Super Two chances. He needs to get called up very soon and remain on the MLB roster (or the DL) for the rest of the season to have a shot at qualifying. That seems unlikely, but who knows. Even if does qualify, his 2015 salary should be a six-figure sum.
Nova and especially Pineda will be the Yankees’ big arbitration cases after this season. If Pineda keeps pitching like he has in his first two starts, he’ll be due a huge raise even after missing all that time to shoulder surgery. Kelley could get a nice salary bump depending on how many saves he picks up as well. Phelps will likely be a Super Two, and while he isn’t due a huge raise for next season, it does carry over and affect his future salaries.
After spending close to two months in Tampa for Spring Training, the Yankees return to the area for a four-game series against the Rays this weekend. Well, technically Tropicana Field is in St. Petersburg, so I guess they aren’t actually in Tampa again. Whatever. With any luck, this series will go as well as the four-gamer against the Red Sox last weekend.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays have lost three games in the last four days with a rainout mixed in. They’ve lost six of their last nine games overall. Tampa Bay is 7-8 with a -8 run differential on the season.
Manager Joe Maddon’s ball club comes into this series averaging only three runs per game with a team 94 wRC+, so they’re getting some guys on base but can’t bring them home. They have scored 14 runs total in their last nine games. Yikes. Tampa is perfectly healthy on the position player side with no one on the DL. The same can not be said of their pitching staff.
As usual, Maddon’s lineup is anchored by 3B Evan Longoria (118 wRC+), who remains annoyingly great. 2B Ben Zobrist (158 wRC+) has had a better year than Longoria to date, and OF Desmond Jennings (149 wRC+) is doing a fine job in a supporting roles. Reigning Rookie of the Year OF Wil Myers (47 wRC+) is off to a slow start and 1B James Loney (91 wRC+) has not yet carried over last summer’s surprising success.
OF Matt Joyce (198 wRC+) and OF David DeJesus (56 wRC+) split time in left field, though Joyce is seeing more at-bats lately due to his hot start. SS Yunel Escobar (54 wRC+) isn’t doing much of anything, ditto the catching platoon of C Ryan Hanigan (73 wRC+) and C Jose Molina (-48 wRC+). OF Brandon Guyer (11 wRC+), UTIL Sean Rodriguez (146 wRC+), and UTIL Logan Forsythe (46 wRC+) round out the bench. This year’s club features fewer platoons than what Tampa has employed in recent years.
Injuries have hit the Rays’ rotation really hard this year, so their staff is not nearly as strong as we’re used to seeing. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), Jeremy Hellickson (elbow), and Alex Cobb (oblique) are all on the DL and not particularly close to returning. The pitching prospect pipeline has dried up too, so Tampa has had to scramble to cobble together a rotation over the last ten days or so.
Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Had Tuesday night’s Rays-Orioles game not been rained out, the Yankees would have missed Price in this four-game series. Instead, it rained, and he was pushed back a day. It’s because I opened by big mouth earlier that afternoon. Anyway, the 28-year-old Price had a 3.33 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 186.2 innings last season, which almost constitutes a down year for him. His strikeout rate dropped (7.28 K/9 and 20.4 K%), but so did his walk rate (1.30 BB/9 and 3.7 BB%). Price’s ground ball rate (44.9%) was down from 2012 but in line with his career norms, and as usual he crushed left-handed batters (.220 wOBA). Righties had a little more success (.311 wOBA). Price is still a fastball-first pitcher, throwing his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and mid-to-upper-80s cutter roughly 70% of the time combined. When right, he backdoors the cutter to righties and it is just unhittable. It looks like a ball right up until darts over the outside corner. A low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball are his secondary offerings. Price is throwing the ball as well as he ever has right now, and last time out he struck out ten Reds in 8.1 innings of one-run ball.
Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Erik Bedard (Career vs. NYY) (No Pitcher GIFs)
Bedard, 35, opened the season in Triple-A before getting the call to help cover for injuries. This will be his first start for Tampa. Last season, the veteran southpaw had a 4.59 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 151 innings for the Astros, with a strong strikeout rate (8.23 K/9 and 20.8 K%) but poor walk (4.47 BB/9 and 11.3 BB%) and ground ball (36.4%) rates. He also had a reverse split, holding righties to a .333 wOBA while lefties tagged him for a .368 wOBA. Bedard’s fastball is mostly upper-80s these days, and he backs it up with his trademark big-breaking mid-70s curveball. He’ll also throw a low-70s changeup. Bedard allowed one run in four innings in his only Triple-A start, and one run in two relief innings for the Rays a few days ago.
Saturday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Chris Archer (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Archer finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last season thanks in part to his success against the Yankees. He dominated them, allowing just three runs on 12 hits and three walks in 22 innings across three starts. The righty also threw a two-hit, 97-pitch shutout in Yankee Stadium. Archer, 25, had a 3.22 ERA (4.07 FIP) in 128.2 innings last season with good peripherals: 7.06 K/9 (19.2 K%), 2.66 BB/9 (7.2 BB%), and 46.8% grounders. He is mostly a two-pitch pitcher, living off his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider. He’ll mix in the occasional mid-80s changeup, but only a handful per start. Unsurprisingly, he has a huge platoon split with that pitch mix, dominating righties (.227 wOBA) but getting dominated by lefties (.343 wOBA) in his short big league career. Archer got knocked around pretty good last time out (seven runs in five innings against the Orioles) but had two very strong starts to open the year.
Sunday: TBA vs. LHP Cesar Ramos (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
After losing out on the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training, the 29-year-old Ramos moved into the rotation following Moore’s injury. He has been a reliever the past four years, throwing 67.1 innings of 4.14 ERA (3.70 FIP) ball for Tampa Bay last year. His strikeout (7.08 K/9 and 18.4 K%), walk (2.94 BB/9 and 7.6 BB%), and ground ball (40.9%) rates were solid but unspectacular. Ramos sits right around 90 mph with his fastball as a starter, and he has the usual complement of offspeed pitches: mid-80s changeup, low-80s slider, low-70s curveball. He got demolished during his first start a few days ago, allowing four runs on three hits and three walks in only two innings against the Reds.
As for the Yankees, they need a spot starter for Sunday because of Tuesday’s rainout and Wednesday’s doubleheader. Since Shane Greene can not be called back up yet and there are no other realistic options on the 40-man roster, it seems like Vidal Nuno is the best candidate. Nothing has been officially announced, of course. The Yankees are off on Monday and can afford to go nuts with their bullpen on Sunday if need be.
Closer Fernando Rodney joined Robinson Cano in Seattle, so Maddon now hands the ball off the RHP Grant Balfour (4.85 FIP) in the ninth inning. He returned to the Rays this offseason after his deal with the Orioles fell through. RHP Joel Peralta (6.36 FIP) is his primary setup man, and with Ramos now in the rotation, LHP Jake McGee (1.75 FIP) is the only southpaw.
The middle relief crew is a parade of right-handers, including RHP Josh Lueke (6.00 FIP), RHP Brad Boxberger (1.13 FIP), RHP Brandon Gomes (4.90 FIP), and whatever’s left of RHP Heath Bell’s (4.48 FIP) career. Boxberger, Peralta, and Gomes all pitched yesterday afternoon, but none threw more than 17 pitches. As for the Yankees, check out our Bullpen Workload page to see who has thrown what and when. For the best Rays analysis, head to The Process Report and DRays Bay.
I’m not sure there has been a more discussed topic this year than infield shifts. The YES booth talks about them all the time, pointing out who is playing where and wondering why hitters don’t just bunt (so easy!). Same conversation, game after game, night after night. Shifts are the hot topic right now and they aren’t going away anytime soon.
The Yankees are no stranger to using infield shifts. We’ve seen them shift over the last two or three seasons from time to time, but this year they have cranked it up a notch and are among the leaders in shifts. During Sunday night’s game, the ESPN broadcast put up a graphic showing that the Yankees had used 79 shifts in their first dozen games, second only to the Astros (127). The Brewers were a distant third with 48 shifts. Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, and others told Pete Caldera they were planning to use more shifts this season back in Spring Training and they weren’t joking.
Using the shift requires quite a bit of data. You need to know the hitter’s tendencies, the pitcher’s tendencies (and preferences), your infielders, all sorts of stuff. It’s not as simple as telling the third baseman to mosey on over into shallow right field. At least not if you want to do it correctly. Buster Olney explained all the work and preparation the Yankees put into their new shift-happy ways earlier this week:
In order for this to happen, there needs to be a complete buy-in, from the front office to the last relievers in the bullpen, and as Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained it, the numbers were presented to the field staff during the winter — and the field staff embraced the idea. Then, early in spring training, the Yankees talked about the changes to come in a team meeting, and some of the most important voices in that first conversation were players who had been on teams that had used defensive shifts — Kelly Johnson, who had played with Toronto and Tampa Bay, and Brian Roberts, who played with the Orioles.
The Yankees practiced the shifts they would use in their daily workouts during spring training, and in the second half of the exhibition season, they began employing them in games. Yangervis Solarte has been the moving part in a lot of cases, shifting from third base to the right side of the infield against a lot of left-handed hitters, and the Yankees have shifted a lot against right-handed hitters as well.
The moment that may have demonstrated the Yankees’ complete devotion to defensive shifts happened early in the series against Boston, when Mick Kelleher — who oversees the coordination of the Yankees’ infield defense — employed a redesigned alignment against the speedy [Jackie Bradley Jr.], who doesn’t have a lot of track record in the big leagues. [Red Sox manager John Farrell] said before Sunday’s game that it’s not often you check the spray charts of your own hitters, but the Yankees’ decision to shift against Bradley made him wonder what data they had seen, and he had gone back and checked the direction of where Bradley had hit the ball in the past.
The Yankees used the shift the eighth most times in baseball last season according to Jeff Zimmerman, or, rather, they had the eighth most balls put in play while the shift was in use, if that makes sense. When the infield was aligned normally, opponents had a .307 BABIP against New York. When the Yankees used a shift, opponents had a … .325 BABIP. More hits were falling in whenever the Yankees shifted, which is the exact opposite of what’s supposed to happen. That agreed with the anecdotal evidence, that’s for sure.
Shift data is not yet available for this season, so we don’t know how effective they have been early in 2014. It seems like they are working more often than not — as with every defensive alignment, shifts will simply not work sometimes, with Mike Carp’s two-run single on Saturday standing out (video) — but there is no real way to confirm that right now. For what it’s worth, opposing teams had a .255 BABIP on ground balls against the Yankees prior to yesterday’s games, which is way worse than the AL average (.236) and identical to last season (.255). The shift is about more than ground balls though; Dean Anna was perfectly positioned to field some line drives on Sunday night.
“You’re going to be burned on it. You just want to have more instances of run-saving circumstances than run-yielding circumstances,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Ken Davidoff. “If you had a crystal ball, if you could conceive of what happens before it happens — if you could jump in your DeLorean and go back in time — you could turn every ball in play into an out. A perfect opponents’ BABIP is .000. The average is between .302 and .305. You want to beat that. If you beat that, you’re going to be pleased.”
The Yankees have held opponents to a .296 BABIP on all balls in play prior to yesterday’s doubleheader, down from .302 last year and their lowest since 2010 (.281 BABIP). The AL average prior to yesterday’s doubleheader was actually a .294 BABIP, down a bit from the number Eppler mentioned. The Yankees are right there — the difference between a .294 and .296 BABIP is one extra hit every 20 games or so — at the league average. Average isn’t bad! Especially not with a range-challenged infield. For what it’s worth, Davidoff cites data showing the Yankees are tied for the MLB lead with two runs saved via shifts in 2014.
I was worried about the infield defense before the season, especially considering the team’s generally ground ball heavy pitching staff. The infield defense has been a problem at times, no doubt about it — Ivan Nova‘s start against the Orioles stands out in particular — but I expected it to be a lot worse, honestly. Shifts appear to have helped compensate for the lack of range, and, really, using them is more of a necessity than anything for this team. This isn’t a fad. Shifts are here to stay like specialized relievers and pitch counts. The Yankees have aggressively adjusted their defensive approach and are a better team for it.