Mailbag: Spending, Pitchers, Warren, Alvarez, Pirela

I’ve got 13 questions for you in this week’s massive mailbag. The best way to send us questions is with the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

DJ asks: From the fans’ perspective, are the Yankees in a lose-lose situation when it comes to spending money? If they splurge, the team is accused of buying championships. If they don’t spend $30+ million on a teenager, their fans accuse them of being penny pinchers.

I think that’s accurate. The Yankees don’t really care if people say they bought a championship and the fans shouldn’t either. It’s a silly thing to say. The “lose” component of spending big is that the vast majority of massive contracts go bad. Maybe not at first, but eventually. Everyone likes to say teams are paying for the elite years up front and will live with the bad years at the end, yet that never really seems to happen. Teams never seem to get as many elite years as expected.

At the same time, if the Yankees don’t spend, they’re accused of being cheap. It is a no win situation for the team and that’s just life in a big market. The Yankees deserve every bit of criticism they get for losing out on Yoan Moncada — you can’t talk about getting younger all winter then miss out on him for what fans perceive as a small amount and expect no backlash — but he is a special case as a 19-year-old potential star. Missing out on older free agents, even good ones like Robinson Cano or Max Scherzer, will draw the “they’re cheap!” comments when it’s really a blessing in disguise. But yeah, you’re right, the Yankees are in a no-win situation. Everything they do will be deemed wrong somehow.

Steve asks: Which pitchers from the Yankee farm system are most likely to join the team during the season?

Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, and Jacob Lindgren are the most obvious ones. It feels inevitable that Mitchell will wind up making a bunch of starts, maybe ten or more. Shreve came over in a trade this offseason and really isn’t a “from the farm system” guy, but he’ll probably start the year in Triple-A. Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder are two other candidates. I wouldn’t rule out Luis Severino, though if he does come up, it’ll likely be in the second half of the season. I think he’s an emergency option more than anything. Someone like Matt Tracy or Zach Nuding might sneak in an emergency spot start at some point as well. Mitchell, Lindgren, and Shreve are the “definitely going to be in MLB at some point in 2015″ pitching prospects for now.

Steven asks: It seems everyone and their mama is under control through 2017. Do the Yankees have any roster flexibility after the season?

Nope. The only contracts coming off the books after this season are the guys the Yankees signed to one-year deals —  Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Stephen Drew — and Garrett Jones. Esmil Rogers could be non-tendered too, but that’s really it. Well, I suppose a miracle could happen and Brendan Ryan will decline his $1M player option, but that seems unlikely. The Yankees are locked in to the bulk of their current roster through the 2016 season, when Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and maybe CC Sabathia come off the books. No real flexibility until then whatsoever.

Johnny asks: I read that Zack Greinke had a preventative elbow lubrication this week and Sabathia had 3 PRP Injections before the season. How does MLB differentiate these types of treatments from PED’s like HGH? The lines seem kinda blurry/gray. Am I missing something about preventative treatments?

The short answer is that neither Greinke nor Sabathia received a substance on MLB’s banned substance list. I’m no doctor or chemist, I have no idea why some substances are banned and others aren’t beyond what I’ve picked up as layman over the years, but I do know MLB allows HGH use under direction of a doctor. The lines are very blurry to me but again, I’m no doctor. A few years ago MLB and the MLBPA sat down, presumably with a team of doctors, determined what should be banned and what shouldn’t, and moved forward with that. That’s a dumb answer but that’s all I have. The lines are indeed blurry to folks like me.

Matt asks: There seems to be nothing but glowing reports on Yadier Alvarez. There also doesn’t seem to be too much public interest on the Yankees part. If they miss out on Moncada, do they go hard after this kid? Any chance to sign them both?

Obviously this was sent in before Moncada signed with the Red Sox. Alvarez is an 18-year-old right-hander who didn’t play at all in the Cuban league before defecting. Here’s a quick scouting report from Jesse Sanchez, who notes scouts believe Alvarez has “the potential to be at least a No. 2 pitcher because of his stuff and ceiling.”

Alvarez has a fastball that touches 98 mph with plus-slider and an above-average changeup … Alvarez is raw and could use some polish, particularly with his command, but he’s young and has time on his side. Given his age, position and potential price tag, one international scouting director said he prefers Alvarez over Moncada. Alvarez will likely start in the lower levels in the Minor Leagues and is a few years away from making his big league debut.

Sanchez lists ten teams with interest in Alvarez and one of them is not the Yankees. Ultimately, it’s not going to matter. Alvarez recently defected and has not yet even established residency in a foreign country, so he’s very early in the process of being declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

In all likelihood, Alvarez won’t be cleared to sign until after June 25th, meaning the Yankees will be unable to offer him more than $300,000 due to the penalties for last year’s international spending spree. If the unexpected happens and Alvarez is cleared to sign before June 25th, then yeah, I expect the Yankees to pursue him. But that’s not going to happen. The Yankees won’t be able to make Alvarez a competitive offer because of the international penalties.

Update: According to Ben Badler, Alvarez is not allowed to sign until July 2nd because he did not register with the commissioner’s office before the deadline to be included in the 2014-15 signing period. So the Yankees have no shot at him.

David asks: Given the hype surrounding Rob Refsnyder, do you think he’s at his peak trade value? And do you think the Yankees should cash in? If so, what do you think they can get?

Yeah, chances are Refsnyder’s trade value will never be higher than it is right now. There are only two ways his trade value can go up from here: 1) his defense improves tremendously in a short period of time, or 2) he gets called up to MLB and mashes for a few hundred plate appearances. Tommy La Stella is a pretty good comp for Refsnyder — both mashed in the minors but La Stella is the superior defender — and La Stella was traded for ex-Yankees farmhand Arodys Vizcaino this offseason, a relief prospect with major injury issues. If that’s the type of trade return the Yankees can expect, just keep Refsnyder. They need a potential second base solution more than another lottery ticket arm.

Dan A. asks: Are complete tear downs and rebuilds worth it for the high draft picks? What should be the Yankees approach for beyond this season?

First things first, the Yankees can’t tear it all down even if they wanted. Most of their contracts are untradeable. Pretty much the pieces they could move in a potential fire sale are Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and a bunch of middle relievers. Maybe someone would take Masahiro Tanaka despite the elbow issue, but that’s about it.

Secondly, there is no right answer as to whether complete tear downs and rebuilds are worth it. The Cubs seem to have done a good job but it’s way too early to say that for certain. The Astros have been intentionally awful for nearly a half-decade now and they only had the tenth best farm system in the game according to Baseball America’s organizational rankings in their 2015 Prospect Handbook. Imagine being that bad for that long and only having the tenth best system to show for it. Yikes. Anyway, I am generally against being intentionally awful, so I’ll say no, I don’t think it’s worth it. Rebuilding and not being an embarrassment at the same time is difficult but possible.

Rick asks: I keep seeing Jose Pirela mentioned as a possible 2015 bench player, or maybe even starting second baseman, yet I’ve never seen him listed in any top prospect rankings. Why not?

Pirela is a stats before scouting report prospect. He’s put up some nice numbers the last three years at Double-A and Triple-A but he doesn’t have any sort of carrying tool. Pirela can play several positions but none of them particularly well. He doesn’t have much power and isn’t a speed guy either. There’s nothing that jumps out at you other than the stats. Pirela is an Andy Phillips type. He puts up numbers so you can’t ignore him, but otherwise there really isn’t much to fall in love with. I’m sure we’ll see him plenty in the Bronx this year in a utility role and that’s his realistic ceiling.

Geno asks: At what point will all of the recently signed, young, international free agents be subject to the Rule 5 draft? Isn’t it usually around 6 years when they need to be protected or added to the 40-man. Are the rules different for international free agents? With all of these players they have signed recently at the same time eventually lead to a major roster crunch?

Last year’s international signees all signed 2015 contracts. That’s standard. International guys who sign in July sign contracts that start the following season. Just about all of them are under 18, so they’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible in five years, meaning during the 2019-20 offseason. That’s a very long ways away. By then half these kids will have flamed out in the minors — half if the Yankees are lucky, really, the attrition rate for international signees is so high because these kids are so young — and I’m sure a few others will have been traded away. If there’s a roster crunch in five years, the Yankees will be very happy. That means many of them panned out and they’ll happily deal with the consequences. It’s waaay too early to worry about that.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ralph asks: Girardi has mentioned Adam Warren as a closer option, but I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he beats out Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller. Could he be pumping his value up for a possible trade chip down the line?

Maybe, but teams won’t change their evaluation of Warren based on anything Girardi says. Now if Warren does somehow win the closer’s job and dominates for half a season, then yeah, his trade value will go up. Teams do still absolutely pay for saves. Girardi was just expressing some confidence in one of his players. That’s all. Every manager does it every spring.

Adam asks: Why do you think there have been so many 2 year mini extensions with arbitration guys this winter? What is the upside/downside?

According to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, Eric Hosmer, Kelvin Herrera, Todd Frazier, and Bryce Harper all signed two-year contracts this offseason that buy out their first two years arbitration-eligibility but not their last. (Harper is a Super Two, so he’ll still have two years of arbitration after this deal expires.) The upside for the player is the security. They’re getting a nice payday relatively early in their career and don’t have to worry about being non-tendered after the season if they get catastrophically hurt or something like that. The downside is they don’t get rewarded if they have a huge breakout season in the first year of the contract.

The upside for the team is cost certainty for two years. And since arbitration salaries use the previous year’s salary as a base, the player’s salary in their final year of arbitration will be a little lower than expected if they have that big breakout season. The downside is the risk that the player suddenly forgets how to play baseball or gets seriously hurt at some point in the next year. I thought the Yankees might try to sign Eovaldi and/or Pineda to one of these two-year bridge deals earlier in the winter but that didn’t happen. It seems like these have become popular because they aren’t long-term commitments but still offer some of the benefits of an extension to both parties.

Simon asks: Is it just me or has the one number the Yankees have never issued is the number 0?

You are indeed correct. The Yankees have never issued No. 0 (or No. 00 for that matter) according to Baseball Reference. The only other numbers the Yankees have never issued are all high: 73-76, 78-87, 89, 90, and 92-98. Most of the high numbers that have been issued were issued fairly recently too. George Kontos and Brett Marshall wore No. 70 in recent years, Austin Romine wore No. 71 when he was first called up in 2011, Juan Miranda wore No. 72 from 2008-09, Humberto Sanchez wore No. 78 during his cup of coffee, Jose Outman wore No. 88 last year, Alfredo Aceves wore No. 91, and Brian Bruney briefly wore No. 99 a few years back. I get the feeling we won’t ever see a player wear No. 0 (or 00) in pinstripes.

Greg asks: Congrats to RAB on 8 years! What are your personal favorite Yankee moments from the past 8 years?

Obviously the 2009 World Series tops the list. A-Rod‘s absurd 2007 season was also a ton of fun. I went to about 25 games that year and I feel like I saw him hit 25 homers, including this walk-off grand slam. That game was fun. Bitterly cold, but fun. The Teixeira signing was really fun too. That was before Twitter, and I remember refreshing MLB Trade Rumors every minute waiting for the inevitable “Red Sox sign Teixeira” post. It was like …

11:30am: Red Sox progressing towards deal with Teixeira

12:00pm: Red Sox close to signing Teixeira

12:05pm: Red Sox on verge of deal with Teixeira

12:06pm: Yankees sign Teixeira

I have no idea if the time stamps are correct, I’m just trying to show how quickly it was (or felt like it was) coming together before it changed course and Teixeira was a Yankee. The contract hasn’t worked out as expected, but man, the signing itself was something else.

Phil Hughes‘ near no-hitter was pretty memorable. I don’t know if I’d call it a favorite moment, but I won’t forget it. He was dominating in his second big league start then bam, he blew out his hamstring. Andy Pettitte‘s return from retirement was pretty awesome as well. Joe and I were literally in the middle of recording a podcast when he news broke and we were both speechless. And, of course, saying goodbye to Andy, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter is way up the list as well. All tremendous moments I won’t ever forget.

Open Thread: 2/26 Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Another day of Spring Training workouts is in the books. We’re only five days away from the first Grapefruit League game now. Here is the latest from Tampa:

  • The big story of the day was Masahiro Tanaka‘s third bullpen session of the spring. He threw 40 pitches with increased intensity and had no issues. “I was throwing with more force than the last bullpen. As far as hitting the spots, location, it was better than the last one as well,” he said. Larry Rothschild was pleased and Tanaka will throw again in a few days. [George King]
  • Bryan Mitchell and Chase Whitley also threw bullpens while Adam Warren and Andrew Miller were the notables to throw live batting practice. There’s a very large group of pitchers scheduled to throw tomorrow, including CC Sabathia, Andrew Bailey, Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, Dellin Betances, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Lindgren. [Chad Jennings]
  • Today was the first full squad workout and everything went without a hitch. All the position players took batting practice, the infielders took infield practice, the outfielders too outfield practice, etc. That includes Alex Rodriguez, who supposedly had the day’s most impressive batting practice session. [Jennings]
  • Brian Cashman confirmed that yes, A-Rod will be on the Opening Day roster. He also said his relationship with Alex is fine and he’s sick of talking about him. Cashman believes the situation has been addressed and the questions have been answered. [Brendan Kuty, Ryan Hatch, Dan Barbarisi, Andrew Marchand]
  • Remember the minor ankle injury that sidelined Jacoby Ellsbury at the end of last season? He took three weeks off to rest at the start of the offseason and it hasn’t bothered him since. [Mark Feinsand]

This is the nightly open thread. The (hockey) Rangers are playing and there is some college hoops on as well. That’s it. Use this thread to talk about anything anything and everything.

Mark Teixeira is not going to focus on beating the shift and that’s okay

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Position players reported to Spring Training yesterday and one of the first to talk was Mark Teixeira, who is now entering his seventh year as the team’s first baseman. Teixeira went into the winter saying he needed to get stronger following his first full year after wrist surgery, and he claims to have done that with a diet change and more weight lifting. Hopefully it works. We’ll see.

One thing Teixeira said he will not do is focus on trying to beat the shift this coming season. The shift is a hot topic around the game right now and Teixeira has been hurt by it as much as any hitter, particularly when he’s hitting from the left side of the plate. That said, he’s not going to change his approach. He’ll focus on hitting the ball over the shift, not around it.

“We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody,” said Teixeira to Chad Jennings. “That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter. So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift. I don’t want to ground out to second base. That’s not what I’m trying to do up there.”

Teixeira has tried changing his approach to counteract the shift before, most notably early in the 2012 season, and the result was a bunch of weak fly balls to left field. He eventually abandoned the plan during a late-May trip out to the West Coast. Before the trip, Teixeira hit .229/.305/.371 in 118 plate appearances as a left-handed batter. After the trip, he hit .246/.346/.480 in 208 plate appearances as a lefty.

After coming to camp that year telling anyone who would listen he was going to beat the shift, Teixeira gave up trying to the other way before the end of May because it wasn’t working for him. He used to be an all-fields hitter, but he’s not anymore for whatever reason. That’s the reality of the situation. At that point in 2012, Teixeira was at his best when he tried to pull the ball, so that’s what he did. Three years and one wrist surgery later, it’s hard to think he’ll be better able to go to the other way.

It’s easy to forget Teixeira was actually pretty good in the first half of last season. He hit .241/.341/.464 (125 wRC+) before the All-Star break, including .254/.330/.513 as a left-handed batter. After the break though, Teixeira only hit .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) overall and a very weak .151/.265/.262 as a lefty batter. First half Teixeira was really good and he sure as heck wasn’t trying to beat the shift. He says he wore down in the second half — hence the focus on getting stronger this winter — and the numbers back it up.

At this point of his career, two months away from his 35th birthday and two years after wrist surgery, Teixeira is what he is. He can still be a productive player even with the shift, he showed that in the first half of last season and also in the second half of 2012, so he should stick to what works. Brian McCann spent all last year trying to beat the shift and, like Teixeira early in 2012, the result was a lot of weak contact. This is Teixeira’s reality now. Trying (again) to change his approach will likely result in decreased performance and that only makes things worse.

New pace of play rules mean several Yankees will have to make adjustments in Spring Training

There will be less standing around in 2015. (Presswire)
There will be less standing around in 2015. (Presswire)

Late last week, MLB and the MLBPA announced a series of rule modifications designed to improve baseball’s pace of play. A few league executives were quoted as saying they aren’t necessarily trying to shorten games, they’re trying to eliminate some of the downtime within games. They don’t want players standing around and fans reaching for their phones between pitches, basically.

The biggest rule modification now requires hitters to essentially keep one foot in the batter’s box if they take a pitch. They can’t watch a pitch go by, step out, fix their gloves, take some practice swings, then get back in the box. If they want to adjust their batting gloves, they have to do it in the box. The MLBPA signed off on the rule changes — MLB can’t just unilaterally make rule changes, the players have to agree — but not everyone loves them.

“It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher’s favor. After a pitch, you got to stay in the box? One foot? I call that bulls—,” said David Ortiz to Gordon Edes yesterday. “When you come out of the box, they don’t understand you’re thinking about what the [pitcher] is trying to do. This is not like, you go to the plate with an empty mind. No, no, no. When you see a guy, after a pitch, coming out of the box, he’s not just doing it. Our minds are speeding up.”

A few prospects in the Arizona Fall League — the one foot in the box rule and several others were tested during the AzFL — said they felt rushed during their at-bats and didn’t love the new rule, so Ortiz is not alone. He claims he doesn’t step out for the sake of stepping out, he steps out to refocus and dig through his mental toolbox to figure out what pitch might be coming next. It would be easy to bash Ortiz on a Yankees blog but I totally believe him. I’m guessing he is far from the only hitter who steps out to refocus in the middle of an at-bat.

So that got me wondering about Yankees players who might not like the new pace of play rules. Both hitters and pitchers since now there will be some pressure on the pitcher to throw the ball because the batter is in the box waiting. There’s no real way to quantify something like this, and I’m not Tampa so I can’t ask the players about it myself, but we can look at each player’s pace. Pace being the average amount of time that passes between pitches within their at-bats as measured by PitchFX. Here’s the data:

Player 2014 Pace Career Pace Pitcher 2014 Pace Career Pace
Alex Rodriguez lol 23.8 Chris Capuano 25.4 22.8
Jacoby Ellsbury 24.3 22.1 David Carpenter 25.3 24.3
Brett Gardner 23.9 23.4 Masahiro Tanaka 25.1 25.1
Stephen Drew 23.7 21.7 Adam Warren 24.8 22.7
Garrett Jones 23.3 22.6 Justin Wilson 24.5 24.2
Chris Young 23.3 21.9 Ivan Nova 24.1 22.1
Didi Gregorius 23.1 22.7 Dellin Betances 23.0 22.6
Chase Headley 22.2 21.6 CC Sabathia 22.7 23.7
Brian McCann 22.0 21.7 Michael Pineda 22.4 21.4
Mark Teixeira 21.7 20.8 Andrew Miller 21.9 20.4
Carlos Beltran 21.5 21.0 Nathan Eovaldi 20.6 20.6

The pace data matches the eye test. Anecdotally, McCann and Teixeira are pretty good at staying in the box during an at-bat and not wondering around after taking a pitch. Gardner, on the other hand, seems to step out and take a practice swing after each pitch. Tanaka certainly wasn’t the quickest worker on the mound last year and Nova seemed to be taking more time than usual — his pace sat right around 22.1 seconds from 2010-13 — maybe because his elbow was barking.

By and large, the Yankees have some really slow workers on the roster. The average pace in MLB last year was 23.0 seconds, and 13 of the 22 players listed in the table were at or above that last year. The Yankees as a team had a 23.0-second pace at the plate and a 23.6-second pace on the mound in 2014. Without the pace of play rule changes, those rates might have gone up this season. They’re a slow working group.

On an individual level, Ellsbury, Gardner, and Drew look like the hitters who will have to make the biggest adjustment staying in the box after taking a pitch. They’ll have to overcome that feeling of being rushed and it could be a piece of cake. Something they conquer in an afternoon. Who knows? The new pace of play changes probably won’t make much difference to Headley, McCann, Teixeira, and Beltran based on their paces.

On the mound, pretty much the entire staff will need to speed things up a notch thanks to the new rules, especially Capuano and Tanaka. Sabathia’s an interesting case because he’s been working faster and faster as he’s gotten older. When he first got to the Yankees in 2009, he was pushing a 25-second pace. He’s gradually knocked that down to less than 23 seconds. I guess the wily veteran has slowly been an adopting a “get it and throw it” mentality.

Eovaldi works very fast for a starter. His pace last year was the 15th quickest out of the 88 qualified starters, and this sort of ties into what we talked about yesterday, his need to slow the game down on occasion. The pace of play rule changes might not matter all that much to Eovaldi based on how quickly he usually works, but he is a guy who might be able to benefit from taking another second or two to catch his breath and collect himself in big spots.

MLB and MLBPA approved the rule changes last week in part because they want to give the players all of Spring Training to adjust. Shaving a second or even half a second off the time a player takes between pitches might not seem like much, but baseball players are creatures of habit, and they’ve been doing things their way for a long time. The Yankees in general have a slow working roster, so there will be a lot of adjustments to make. That doesn’t mean there will be negative results, it’s just something that has to be done.

Heyman: Yankees are “confident” they can void A-Rod’s home run milestone bonuses

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As much as they wish they could, the Yankees are unable to avoid the three years and $64M left on Alex Rodriguez‘s contract following last year’s suspension. They are attempting to void the $30M in historic home run milestone bonuses however, and Jon Heyman reports the team is “confident” they will be able to get out of the five $6M bonuses.

Long story short, the wording of the marketing agreement — it’s a marketing agreement, not a player contract, because MLB contracts do not allow bonuses based on stats like homers and RBI — allows the Yankees to say the homers are not be historic due to Alex’s performance-enhancing drug history. Here’s more from Heyman:

Yankees people are said to be confident A-Rod wouldn’t prevail in the expected skirmish over the $30 million, not only because of their belief that his drug missteps have rendered his marketing value nil, but also because of the phrasing in the agreement that requires that the Yankees “designate” the historic home runs as milestones, and perhaps even more importantly, the potential to call him to the stand under oath should he challenge their decision to refuse to pay, as is his right.

The clause, at one point, reads, “The Yankees are under no obligation to exercise its right to designate a historical accomplishment as a milestone provided that its decision is made in good faith and in accordance with the intent of the parties in the covenant.”

Heyman says A-Rod even contacted Scott Boras because he could be a witness in a potential grievance hearing. Boras was Alex’s agent at the time and negotiated the homer bonuses, but he reportedly declined to help Rodriguez even though he would be able to make a commission on the bonuses. (A-Rod fired Boras a few years ago.)

Boras might not back Rodriguez during a potential legal battle, but the union sure would. They legally have to because Alex is a member. It doesn’t matter that he sued them — the suit was eventually dropped, but still — last year as part of his scorched earth tour. Besides, the MLBPA doesn’t want to set any sort of precedent by allowing a team to void an agreement with a player.

Anyway, I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like the Yankees are going to say they decided in good faith the homers are not historic and more or less dare A-Rod to come after them and potentially testify under oath. The bonuses are pretty obviously historic though. The specific milestones (homers 660, 714, 755, 762, 763) in the agreement correlate to tying the four highest homer totals in history and taking over as the home run king. I mean, duh.

In reality, we’re talking about one $6M bonus. A-Rod is six homers away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time list with 660 dingers, but getting to 714 homers to tie Babe Ruth seems like a long shot. Alex would have to hit 60 homers from ages 39-41 after hitting 41 homers from 35-38. Doable? Sure. But it is unlikely at this point of A-Rod’s career. Is it worth the trouble to save $6M? Probably. But proving the milestone homers are not historic sounds like a tall order.

Only wrong answer at top of the lineup is one that doesn’t include Ellsbury and Gardner

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

On the very first day of camp last week, Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference and discussed the importance of settling on a lineup, among other things. “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important, because there are some people we don’t know exactly where they are at, and there are obviously some new people in camp,” he said.

The middle of the lineup is where the most questions exist. Figuring out the best way to align the three through seven spots with Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez will be Girardi’s toughest challenge, and he needs to see those guys in games before making a decision. The top and bottom of the lineup should be relatively easy. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top, Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew at the bottom. Boom, done.

Here’s where it gets interesting: is it better for the Yankees to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second, or vice versa? They are two extremely similar offensive players. If you don’t believe me, look:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR BB% K% SB/CS wRC+ RHP wRC+ LHP
2014 Ellsbury 635 .271/.328/.419 107 16 7.7% 14.6% 39/5 97 130
2014 Gardner 636 .256/.327/.422 110 17 8.8% 21.1% 21/5 116 96
2012-14 Ellsbury
1,594 .282/.336/.412 104 29 7.2% 14.3% 105/12 109 96
2012-14 Gardner
1,283 .266/.338/.418 110 25 8.8% 20.9% 47/15 111 106

Like I said, they’re almost the same damn player. Ellsbury hits more singles, strikes out less, and steals more bases. Gardner draws more walks and hits for more power. Neither has a crippling platoon split either. (Girardi has said he has no problem batting them back-to-back even though they’re both lefties.) The end result is two players with almost identical offensive value overall.

Over the years, all sorts of statistical analyses have shown the best hitter should bat second, but when you have two guys this similar, deciding whether to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second or vice versa comes down to a matter of preference. We have to start nitpicking. They’ve both gotten on base at the same rate, so the default “he has a higher OBP so he should bat leadoff” tiebreaker doesn’t even apply.

I see it this way: Ellsbury not only steals more bases, he’s also the more aggressive base-stealer. We’ve all seen Gardner sit around and wait until the third or fourth or fifth pitch of the at-bat to take off. It’s annoying. Ellsbury gets on and goes. Ellsbury and Gardner get on base at the same rate, but Ellsbury will get himself to second base quicker, and that’s who I want leading off.

In addition to that, Gardner has a bit more power — he had a higher ISO than Ellsbury last year (.166 vs. .148) and over the last three years (.152 vs. .130) — and batting him second means there should be a few additional runners on base when he bats. That will help turn some of those solo homers — Gardner hit 17 homers last year and 14 were solo shots because he batted leadoff and the eight/nine hitters (Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts, etc.) weren’t getting on — into multi-run blasts.

On the other side of the argument, we could say Ellsbury strikes out less than Gardner, meaning Girardi could be a little more creative with the better bat control guy hitting second. More hit-and-runs, that sort of thing. It’s an old school mentality but the Yankees are going to have to manufacture more runs that way this year. The three-run homers aren’t coming like they used to and Ellsbury’s contact skills (and both his and Gardner’s speed) is a weapon they can use.

Ellsbury was forced to hit third last year due injuries and whatnot, but he is totally miscast in that role. He’s at his best creating havoc in a table-setting role. Same with Gardner to slightly lesser degree. Unless the season gets underway and one guy is drastically outproducing the other, there’s no clear cut answer as to whether Ellsbury or Gardner should bat leadoff. The only wrong answer is the one where someone other than these guys hits first or second.

Open Thread: 2/25 Camp Notes

Coach Mo. (Presswire)
Coach Mo. (Presswire)

Position players reported to Spring Training today — everyone arrived on time and everyone passed their physicals, no issues this year — and a special guest instructor showed up as well: Mariano Rivera. “I’ve decided to come back,” he joked. He’ll be in camp for ten days or so. The odds Rivera could come back this year and dominate are like, 95%, right? Right. Here is the rest of the day’s news from Tampa:

  • It was a pretty light day on the mound. Esmil Rogers (live batting practice) and Justin Wilson (bullpen session) were the only no doubt Opening Day roster guys to throw. All the catchers took batting practice and Carlos Beltran went through a full workout. The rest of the position players begin working out tomorrow. [Chad Jennings]
  • Mark Teixeira said he lost 15 lbs. of fat and gained 13 lbs. of muscle this offseason by changing his diet — “No gluten. No dairy. No sugar. No fun.” — and getting back to lifting heavy weights. He feels much stronger than last year. Oh, and Foul Territory is not coming back. Lame. [Jack Curry, Brendan Kuty, Jennings]
  • Alex Rodriguez spoke to Joe Girardi and will work out at first base this spring. “I’d run through a wall for Joe,” he said. Girardi said he is planning to play A-Rod in the first or second Grapefruit League game next week. [David Lennon, Erik Boland]
  • Quote of the day from new hitting coach Jeff Pentland: “I’m only a good hitting coach if we have good players. I’m not a fool to think I’m better than the players.” [Boland]

Here is your nightly open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are playing, and there’s a ton of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games or anything else here.