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Kendrys Morales

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I have this buddy — most of you probably know him — who IMs me at least once a week clamoring for the Yankees to sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

And?

Drew we know makes some level of sense. The Yankees still need some infield help. Despite his relative health so far, and his improving performance, they can’t ignore the injury risk of Brian Roberts. Fun as he’s been to watch, Yangervis Solarte could go away at any time. The Yankees can’t really afford that kind of drop-off at this point.

Once they signed Carlos Beltran, Morales didn’t make sense for the Yanks. They had Mark Teixeira installed at first base, and with four outfielders they had their DH needs covered. There just weren’t enough at-bats for a guy who certainly deserves them. There was always the “if Mark Teixeira misses significant time” caveat, but other than that there wasn’t much connection between Morales and the Yankees.

Beltran’s injury changes the scene a bit. If he does require immediate surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, the Yankees have room to add a bat. With two MLB players waiting for a team to sign them, the Yankees have a perfect opportunity to improve.

Morales: DH and spelling Teixeira

The Yankees need a healthy Teixeira if they’re going to make a run at the postseason. They’ve already missed him for two weeks. To lose him again, especially with Beltran out, would further cripple the offense. We got a little scare earlier this week, when Teixeira sat out a game and complaining of tired legs. He ran poorly, even for himself, during the weekend series in Milwaukee.

Adding Morales gives Girardi a viable backup for Teixeira. Playing Morales at first allows Teixeira to take a full day off, or to rest up a bit at DH. Kelly Johnson could do that, sure, but what happens if Roberts gets hurt? Johnson can’t play the entire right side of the infield.

Morales’s primary role would be at DH, with Alfonso Soriano taking over in right field. His arm might not be fit for the job, but he’s shown considerably more range than Beltran this season. It’s a trade-off that the Yankees will have to take. They can still get Soriano days at DH and on the bench, as he’s been doing all year. That will free up some at-bats for Ichiro as well.

Drew: Mitigating Jeter

The rise of Solarte has made the Yankees infield a bit better than we anticipated going into the season. Unfortunately, Jeter’s defense has been even worse than imagined. The pitching staff has had its troubles, and it’s tough to blame the entire problem on shaky infield defense, but it sure hasn’t helped them. Drew is no defensive wizard, but he represents an upgrade over the current corps.

Signing Drew only works if Girardi makes Jeter the primary DH in Beltran’s absence. Perhaps Jeter can stay fresher if he’s off the field, providing a bit more offense than he is now. Drew plays his natural position, at which his bat provides the most value.

Given the state of the Yankees infield, there doesn’t need to be a very strong case made for Drew. He’d help.

What about pitching?

With three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the DL, the Yankees might need some pitching help. We know Ivan Nova is lost for the season. Who knows if CC Sabathia, with a degenerative knee condition, or Michael Pineda, with an injury so close to his surgically repaired right shoulder will come back — let alone come back and pitch effectively. If the Yankees are going to open their wallets, shouldn’t it aid the pitching staff?

In an ideal world, sure. But in the real world, there aren’t any major league caliber pitchers on the free agent market. A few might become available in July, but the Yankees can’t count on that. They have to take measures to improve the team where they can when the opportunities arise. Right now, the opportunities lie in Drew and Morales.

There is little to no chance the Yankees sign both, giving up their second- and third-round draft picks in the process. (Unless Boras comes up with one of his creative package deals, a la Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.) Either could help the Yankees if Beltran misses significant time. Strangely enough, it might even make them a more balanced team in the process.

Categories : Offense
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The total score of the weekend series: Yankees 14, Brewers 14. But they can’t split the series, so the Brewers ended the weekend on top, winning Sunday’s game in a walkoff. The Yankees came back from behind in both Saturday and Sunday’s games, but it wasn’t enough.

Jay and I look at the series that was, and then look ahead to this week’s series, both against the Mets. To talk about the crosstown rivals other team, we have Marc Carig of Newsday. You might remember him from the Yankees beat a few years ago. The man knows his Mets.

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CC Sabathia injured

(Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The Yankees will be without CC Sabathia for at least the next two weeks. After last night’s game he had an MRI on his right knee, which revealed fluid build-up. He will have it drained, which will keep him out of action and necessitate the DL trip.

The good news: the MRI showed no tear, so Sabathia should need only the minimum stay on the DL.

For right now the Yankees have recalled RHP Matt Daley. Joe Girardi says that Al Aceves is the leading candidate to take Sabathia’s start Thursday against the Mets. That’s not set in stone, though. Just before the Sabathia news broke, we learned that RHP Chase Whitley had been scratched from his start at AAA Scranton. Donnie Collins of the Times-Tribune speculates that Whitley could be up to replace Aceves as the long man, with Preston Claiborne headed back to AAA. It could just as well be Daley headed back to AAA tomorrow if that’s when they decide to make the move. Whitley is not on the 40-man roster, which causes further complications.

While Sabathia has struggled at times this season, he has shown some definite signs of life, particularly as he continues to strike out hitters. His problems seem to center on consistency. Perhaps he can right the ship upon return at the end of May.

Categories : Injuries
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Facing Mariano RiveraWe had a full year to gush over Mariano Rivera‘s greatness. It didn’t seem like long enough. And it still feels wrong that he’s not closing the door this year.

During that year we saw fans show their appreciation. Teams honored Mo with ceremony after ceremony, paying tribute with gifts as though he were an ancient king. Most pervasively, we saw the media stumble over themselves to gush about Mo.

His peers talked about his greatness, but it felt as though we didn’t hear enough of their stories. What did it feel like to stand there in the batter’s box against Rivera?

We get answers in the recently published book, Facing Mariano Rivera, edited by David Fischer. It contains stories of nearly 100 opponents who faced Rivera. (It also contains contributions from guys like Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and other teammates who never faced him, plus a number of pitchers and managers.) If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stand in the box and know what pitch is coming, and still not be able to hit it, this book will help get you there.

There is, to be sure, plenty of fluff praise for Rivera, the standard praise of his composure and class. But nearly every player says one thing that really stands out, that helps you more fully understand the opponents’ mindsets when they faced Rivera – with the game close enough for him to be in there, but still seemingly out of reach.

Here are two of my favorite excerpts:

Tim Salmon

Salmon debuted in 1992, when I was 10, thus at the very peak of my baseball card collecting phase. We all chased after his rookie card, and I’m fairly certain that we all had at least one. It really is no surprise that baseball cards lost all value when internet commerce was even in its infancy.

In his fourth season, Salmon accomplished something that at the time was insignificant. He recorded the first hit off of Mariano Rivera. He in fact recorded two that day, including a double. In his third at-bat he walked, which ended Mariano’s day. That was in 1995, when Rivera was still a starter.

In 13 at-bats after that, including postseason, Salmon went 0 for 13.

A lot of closers grunt and snort and spit, they scowl at you, and throw the ball under your chin, trying to intimidate you, which makes you want to bear down and beat them all the more. Mariano was never like that on the mound. He was pleasant; his demeanor was disarming, it was life facing an old friend. I think that works to his advantage. Hitters don’t have that extra motivation you might have against guys you despite who are flaunting their stuff and pointing to the sky and talking trash.

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Mo faced 1,013 different hitters during his career. Who was the toughest of them all? When asked last spring, Mo didn’t hesitate when he answered.

The toughest – and thank God he retired – (former Mariners DH) Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.

Martinez must have traumatized Mo when the latter was a rookie in 1995. In 7 PA he went 6 for 7 with two homers, a double, and a walk. Even when Mo was Mo in 1996, Martinez went 2 for 2 with two doubles. After that Martinez went 3 for 10 with three walks, two intentional. He was on an 0 for 6 slide against Rivera before he singled on August 14, 2004, the last time the two faced each other.

Just how badly did Mo want to beat Martines?

I think what makes him great is his command and his location; knowing where to throw the pitch. A good example is when I faced him in the 2000 American League Championship Series. I made the last out of the game. He got me out with a sinker inside. I never remember him throwing me a sinker before. that was the first tim I ever saw a sinker from him. He knew when to change his plan, when to go with something completely new, something different that you’re not expecting.

If you’re missing Mariano, and I sure am, this book is a nice little reminder of the greatness we witnessed night in and night out for so many seasons. You can flip around and read stories at random. I’ve been trying to find as many current players as possible, reading their stories when the Yankees face them this year.

Hardcover price: $17.71 – Click here to buy it on Amazon
Kindle version: $11.99 – Click here to buy it and start reading right now

There is something of a graphical element, since the book contains breakdowns of every hitter’s at-bats against Mo, so the hardcover might be better. But if you’re using Kindle on a tablet, it should render just fine.

Categories : Reviews
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Take pity on me, for I am an old man. Having not watched an inning of the Angels series, I rely on Jay and Mike to talk about how the Yankees turned things around and escaped Anaheim with a series win.

We also take a long look at the pitching staff, for both the short term and the long term. Plus, the requisite trade deadline talk, which you can expect from here through July.

RAB welcomes Jack Moore to the podcast. I met Jack back when he and I wrote for FanGraphs. Jack’s now all over the place, writing for The Score and Sports on Earth (you should check out his article that should be live Friday morning).

Having founded the Brewers blog Disciples of Uecker, Jack is not only a knowledgeable Brewers fan but also an elite blog namer. If you don’t know much about the Brewers, and I imagine many Yankees fans do not, Jack gets you up to speed heading into the weekend series.

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What a frustrating series. The Yankees got the hits, but didn’t plate the runners – 4 for 33 with runners in scoring position.

Jay and I run down the gruesome details in the most upbeat manner possible.

Then Sam Miller, an editor at Baseball Prospectus, joins us to talk about the upcoming Angels series. Sam covered the Angels for the Orange County Register for a few years. You’ll learn a bit listening to him.

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We have two guests this week, plus Mike returns to the podcast after a stint on the DL.

Mike and I discuss the state of the pitching staff, with Michael Pineda headed for the DL and Ivan Nova lost for the season. The Yankees do have a few holes on the roster, which leads to a very premature discussion of potential moves they can make.

Then Jay and I talk to ESPN’s Keith Law about some pine tar (and vaseline, and Crisco), Masahiro Tanaka, and of course plenty of Yanks minor league stuff.

Finally we have Tommy Rancel from The Process Report to talk about the upcoming Rays series. The season hasn’t gone quite as expected for the boys in Tampa, but as Tommy explains they do have some hope in the coming weeks. Thankfully, they still have Erik Bedard starting in this series.

Podcast run time :

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If you’re on Android, the feed should be updating in major podcast apps. (I know it has shown up in BeyondPod for me.)

As always, we appreciate any feedback you have.

Categories : Podcast
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In Episode 2 of the River Avenue Blues Podcast I’m joined by Jay Gordon. We run down the weekend series, which included some great baseball. Then it’s onto the Mariners series – and there’s a lot to say about them.

To add additional insight, we talk to Zach Sanders, writer for FanGraphs and noted Mariners fan. We touch on topics such as:

  • First impressions of Robinson Cano
  • Failures of the off-season plan
  • How a team known for pitching has been so bad
  • Things that will go better as the year goes on

Podcast run time 56:22

We’re still awaiting approval from iTunes, but we do have this fancy player that lets you play the podcast in your browser or download it.

Update: Instead of making things too complicated, we’re just going to use the old iTunes feed, which you can find here. The new episodes should populate soon.

Again, audio feedback is appreciated. Jay will have a better mic for the next episode hopefully.

Categories : Podcast
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We’re thrilled to bring back a podcast to RAB. Because of some technical issues, we’re relaunching as the River Avenue Blues Podcast. Instead of a strict weekly show, we’ll shoot for a new podcast at the beginning of each series, so we can talk about the Yankees’ upcoming opponents. Clearly we blew that deadline this time, but we now have something to shoot for.

Mike and I will continue behind the mic, although Mike is currently on the DL. We’ll reevaluate him before Thursday’s (or Friday’s) podcast. But we have a great guest this week: ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Buster will serve as in-game reporter on Sunday Night Baseball (Angels at Yankees) alongside Dan Shulman and John Kruk at 8pm ET. Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown begins at 7pm with Karl Ravech and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin.

Olney is also an ESPN MLB Insider on ESPN.com where he writes a daily column and hosts the Baseball Tonight podcast. As many of you know, you can find him on Twitter at @Buster_ESPN.

We talk about:

  • Obligatory conversation about the pine tar incident
  • Brian Cashman‘s job security
  • The next MLB commissioner
  • How the Angels overhauled their pitching staff without splurging on free agents
  • How the first few weeks have changed thoughts and predictions about the AL East

It was a great conversation, and thanks again to Buster for coming on the show for our relaunch.

Podcast run time 46:29

Since we wanted to post this before tonight, we have limited listening options right now. Here’s the link:

River Avenue Blues Podcast: April 26, 2014, Ep. 1

In most browsers you can just click on that and it will play in-browser. You can also right click to download it. As soon as we get a few technical matters in order we’ll have it up in iTunes and all other podcast providers. (FWIW, I love BeyondPod on my Android.)

One final note: I am aware of some audio and production issues in this episode. This is something we’re going to work on for future episodes. We have the hardware and the software, so we’ll get it right before long.

Categories : Podcast
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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The more deeply you examine the 2013 New York Yankees, the more unbelievable their win total seems. On the whole they did nothing well. The putrid offense, which ranked 28th in wRC+, was on display daily. Pitching? They ranked 18th in the league in ERA.

You’d think that if they couldn’t put together a decent offense that they’d compensate with a solid defense. You’d be wrong. They ranked 24th in team defensive efficiency. The guys who couldn’t hit apparently also couldn’t field well.

The 2014 Yankees figure to perform a bit better on defense. They not only brought in an upgrade in Jacoby Ellsbury, but they get back Mark Teixeira. There are a couple of other subtle upgrades, too, that could add up to at least an average defense.

Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan

Derek Jeter as a defensive upgrade? Surely I’m just pulling your chain. Sadly, I’m not. Jeter did improve his defense for a few years starting in 2008, but by 2012 it had again declined. How can we expect he’ll provide any value in 2014, at age 40?

Defensive statistics have enough shortcomings that they’re hardly worth bringing into serious discussions. In fact, once the new fielding system becomes public, I think we’ll look back at UZR and laugh. Yet it’s troubling when not just UZR, but essentially every publicly available defensive metric says that Eduardo Nunez absolutely killed the Yankees at SS.

DRS: -28
UZR: -20.6 (-40.7/150!)
TZ: -17
FRAA: -11.4*

* This includes all defense, while the others are at SS only

Given Nunez’s deficiencies, Jeter could actually be an upgrade. Furthering the upgrade is a full year of Brendan Ryan on the bench. He’ll provide value as a late-inning defensive replacement and as an occasional starter when Jeter needs a day off. His high level of play could even offset Jeter’s to an extent, even in a fraction of the time.

There is little doubt that the 2014 Yankees will provide better defense at short than the 2013 Yankees. It’s no wonder the Yankees moved quickly to get Ryan into the fold.

Mark Teixeira

To be fair, the Yankees did find an adequate defensive first baseman in Lyle Overbay. He came nowhere near Teixeira’s offensive production, even if you erase his late-season slump. But on defense he held his own.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

At the same time, Mark Teixeira is on another level. If we could precisely quantify everything a first baseman does on defense, I have to imagine Teixeira would consistently rank among the league’s top five. He might not be the quickest or most athletic guy on the diamond, but his instincts and reflexes at first more than compensate.

Just because first base is all the way at the end of the defensive spectrum does not mean it lacks importance. Sure, plenty of big lumbering power hitters can stand at first base, but few play the position well. As Ron Washington so aptly put it, “It’s incredibly hard.”

Teixeira handles it with agility and grace. It’s easy to forget the days of Jason Giambi playing first.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner

In the last few years Ellsbury has improved his game in center field. A few years ago the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron and moved Ellsbury to left. Perhaps that was the kick in the ass he needed. Whatever the case, he tracks balls well and has plenty of speed, making him a high quality center fielder.

The Yankees had a very good center fielder last year in Brett Gardner. Speed takes center stage in Gardner’s game. He doesn’t always get the best read, nor does he always take the best route. But he makes a lot of plays, because he can compensate with his legs. This year he’ll play center a bit, but not on a day-to-day basis. This helps the Yankees outfield tremendously.

Again taking defensive metrics with a grain of salt (to the point where I won’t quote actual numbers), Gardner produced insane numbers playing left field in 2010 and 2011. Yes, he’s good, but multiple wins good? Here’s the thing with defensive numbers: they compare players at the same position. Since left field is reserved for those lumbering sluggers who don’t have much of an arm, they typically don’t play high-caliber defense. Gardner runs laps around them.

So the Yankees marginally upgrade in center, going from Gardner to Ellsbury. But they upgrade insanely in left field, relative to the league, because Gardner will track down so many more fly balls than his peers.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Ichiro

His bat might not have much left in it, but Ichiro can still run down balls in the outfield. This will come in handy at various points during the 2014 season. He’s the obvious defensive replacement on the bench, giving the Yankees a lockdown outfield in later innings. But that’s not his only role.

If everyone stays healthy – and given Ellsbury’s current injury that’s far from a given – Ichiro wouldn’t get many starts. But guys get bumps and bruises. Carlos Beltran could need days off to rest his knees. Ellsbury and Gardner will need days off here and there even if they do stay healthy. In each instance, playing Ichiro in right makes a degree of sense.

In the the case of longer-term injuries I’d like to see them call up Zoilo Almonte to take more reps, since he still has at least a modicum of big league potential. Ichiro is almost certainly gone after this season, and could be gone before that under the right circumstances. But as long as he’s on the roster, he’ll provide a good defensive option in right field when the Yankees need it.

Categories : Defense
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