Introducing the Yankees’ All-Revenge team

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Plenty of players throughout baseball, but particularly in the American League East, develop the reputation as Yankee killers. Certain guys just play especially well when opposite the pinstripes. Howie Kendrick with the Angels comes to mind. So does the mysterious contributions of Pedro Ciriaco with the Red Sox.

But there is a special breed of Yankee killer: The former Yankee turned Yankee killer. The group I call the All-Revenge team. The guys who the Yankees let go, trade or otherwise give up on and have turned into a thorn in their sides, a few meetings a year.

So I unveil the All-Revenge lineup, former Yankees who have turned their former employers into a most despised adversary. (Note: I chose to use only active players and focused on players who have performed well vs. NYY since leaving the team).

C: Russell Martin

Why does Martin make the team? Martin is perhaps the most obvious thanks to the 2015 division race. He left the Yankees after the team chose to let him walk and instead go with Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli as his immediate replacements. When Martin came back to the AL in 2015 and was in a race with the Yankees, he was ready to pounce.

Over the course of 16 games (13 starts) in 2015, he hit .300/.362/.660 vs. NYY, hitting five home runs with a whopping 18 RBI. Particularly stinging was a two-homer game in September followed up by a go-ahead walk in the 11th inning the next day. He followed that up with four homers, nine RBI and a much more modest .207/.319/.431 line in 2016. He also tried to fight Gary Sanchez last September and extract his pound of flesh from the Yankees. The Bombers held him in check this series, but he’s been a menace in the past.

Signature game: The two-home run game vs. the Yankees on Sept. 11, 2015 was a masterpiece for Martin. He singled home a run to knock Luis Severino out of the game, hit a solo home run off Andrew Bailey and then hit a two-run shot off Chasen Shreve that all but finished off the Yankees. Honorable mention goes to his two-homer game last Aug. 16, which included a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning off Adam Warren. I’ll take the first one because of the division race implications.

1B: Steve Pearce

Why does Pearce make the team? Pearce has played for every team in the AL East except the Red Sox and he has more home runs against the Yankees (10) than any other team except the Rays (10). Pearce has a solid .293/.397/.579 line vs. the Yankees, a tOPS+ of 152, which indicates he’s much better against the Yankees than vs. other teams.

The Yankees gave Pearce just 30 PA in 2012, and he’s had 148 PA to pay them back over the last four years, picking up 34 hits, 14 of which have gone for extra bases. Five of his 25 career HBP are from Yankees pitching. He does special damage at Yankee Stadium with seven home runs with a .338/.419/.692 mark.

Signature game: Pearce has a plentiful number of performances for this list. He had a go-ahead homer off Adam Warren in an Orioles win on Sept. 9, 2015. He almost single-handedly beat the Yankees with a three-hit game last Aug. 28 with a home run and two-run single off CC Sabathia and Warren, respectively. (Man, Warren’s getting beat down in these games). His four-hit, two-homer game Tuesday would be a surefire winner if the Jays had won.

But his most clutch anti-Yankee moment came Sept. 14, 2014, again with the Orioles. With the O’s trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning at Camden Yards on Sunday Night Baseball, Pearce lined a game-tying double off David Robertson. He’d come home to score on a walk-off double from All-Revenge team honorable mention Kelly Johnson.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

2B: Robinson Cano

Why does Cano make the team? Cano leads the rest of the All-Revenge team infield, which has had less experience facing the Yankees, having done so only in the last three seasons. However, Cano did quick work to get onto this list. He’s batting .324/.377/.479 vs. his former squad and has three home runs. His batting average jumps up to .363 when you take out his 3-for-16 struggles against Masahiro Tanaka

Signature game: His highest Win Probability Added in his first two seasons with the Mariners came against the Yankees. He had two two-run homers against Michael Pineda on July 18, 2015, knocking in all four runs during the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Yankees. Both home runs came with the game tied and one-upped his former squad.

3B: Yangervis Solarte

Why does Solarte make the team? The No. 1 reason Solarte is here? There aren’t many third basemen to work with. Thanks to Alex Rodriguez for holding down the position for so long. Solarte still made a big impact in his three games vs. the Yankees last July. Six hits in 10 at-bats with two walks, a home run and two doubles. Batting .600 with a 1.767 OPS against a team, even in one series, still has merit.

Signature game: Even though the Padres lost, 6-3, Solarte had one of his four career four-hit games last July 3, scoring two runs and hitting a solo shot. Solarte turns 30 this July, so there’s a solid chance he gets more games to get further revenge for the Yankees trading him.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

SS: Eduardo Nunez

Why does Nunez make the team? Again, a lack of shortstops. But Nunez has still performed well. 15 hits in 48 at-bats vs. the Yankees. Only two extra-base hits, but one went for a home run. All of his 14 games against the Yankees were with the Twins, and now he’s playing a bevy of positions for the Giants.

Signature game: Nunez had a clutch double off the bench in 2014 but it came with the Twins already leading and Matt Daley in the game. He also had a two-hit game with a home run last June. But his top anti-Yankee moment came in a game where he went 1 for 4 with a walk in 2015. On Aug. 17, his one hit was lined off Bryan Mitchell‘s face, ending the rookie’s night early and turning the game into a bullpen affair. I get wanting revenge, but that was ugly!

Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)
Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)

OF: Melky Cabrera

Why does Cabrera make the team? If Martin isn’t the captain of the All-Revenge squad, Melky would do just fine in the role. He’s batting .302/.350/.527 in 198 plate appearances against his former club. He’s actually played more seasons out of NY (8) than with the Yankees (5) at this point. In 2014 alone, he faced the Yankees 15 times, had hits in all but two games and racked up six multi-hit games.

Signature game: Cabrera’s first ever series against the Yankees came in 2011 with the Royals and he helped KC win the series in the clincher on May 12 with a two-hit night. Both his hits went for extra bases, including an RBI double (before getting picked off second) and a home run off Ivan Nova in a 11-5 Royals win.

OF: Curtis Granderson

Why does Granderson make the team? Granderson is the one player on this list with experience playing vs. the Yankees both before and after coming to the Bronx. He had four HR and 15 extra-base hits vs. the Yankees during his Tigers days (not including the ’06 playoffs). He’s 12 for 46 with four home runs and eight walks since joining the Mets.

Signature game: In his second game vs. the Yankees since moving crosstown, Granderson came through big time. He went 2 for 3 with two walks, a home run, three RBI and two runs scored. This game (May 13, 2014) was highlighted by both Vidal Nuno and Zack Wheeler exiting early and Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueling Alfredo Aceves in the battle of the bullpens. 2014 was a weird time.

P.S. If I was willing to include pre-Yankee days, this is the obvious winner.

OF: Austin Jackson

Why does Jackson make the team? Capping off the list is a player who never actually played for the Yankees. Jackson was a top prospect but was traded for the man above him on this team, never giving him a chance to don the pinstripes. In 158 plate appearances over 37 games against his ex-organization, he has a respectable .289/.361/.444 batting line with nine doubles, two triples and three home runs. Not to mention five stolen bases. In classic Jackson fashion though, he does have 48 strikeouts.

Signature game: Flash back to mid-August 2013, when Jackson was center fielder for the AL Central-winning Tigers. He led off an Aug. 10 game vs. Phil Hughes with a triple and scored, then later hit a solo dinger in the top of the fifth, helping knock Hughes out of the game. The Tigers would go on to win 9-3 after Jackson drew a walk and scored later in the game.

Disagree with a player making the team? Have someone else in mind? Or suggestions about current pitchers who have made good on their sweet sweet revenge against the Yankees? Let me know. The All-Revenge team can change series to series with one or two standout performances or with a trade. But for now, this is the lineup that prevails.

Defending putting Bryan Mitchell at first base

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees nearly won in the ninth inning on Sunday thanks to a crazy ninth inning comeback capped off by a two-run single by Didi Gregorius, but Chris Carter struck out with the winning run on third.

And then things went from exciting to downright bizarre. Bryan Mitchell, who pitched the ninth inning, moved to first base and Aroldis Chapman came into pitch the 10th. Chapman replaced the DH, Matt Holliday, in the lineup, batting third, while Mitchell was inserted into the lineup in the place of Carter, batting eighth. If you’re interested in the mechanics of how the lineup move worked, here’s the relevant rule.

The move didn’t quite work out. Mitchell missed a pop up in foul territory, but the error didn’t lead to a run in the 10th. Neither did the lineup decision hurt the Yankees in the bottom of the inning with Greg Bird getting hit by a pitch in Holliday’s vacated No. 3 spot.

But after a long time in between pitching the top of the 9th and the top of the 11th, Mitchell came back in and gave up three runs en route to taking the loss. It was the first time since 1989 that a pitcher threw an inning, moved to first base and then moved back to the mound in the same game. Wacky? Yes. But the wrong move? No. Here’s why:

1. A rusty Mitchell is likely better than Tommy Layne: With Jordan Montgomery lasting 5+ innings, the Yankees had already used Jonathan Holder, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances before Mitchell came in for the ninth. Adam Warren threw 36 pitches over 2 2/3 on Saturday, so he was likely unavailable. That left Mitchell and Tommy Layne for the 11th.

Mitchell hasn’t been masterful this season, but he’s shown signs of becoming a competent middle reliever, particularly one who can get quality outs and go multiple innings. The best example was his two innings vs. the Pirates a week ago, when he work through two walks to throw two shutout innings. This is a 26-year-old pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a potential splitter. Even with his occasional control issues, there’s promise with Mitchell.

And yes, Mitchell was clobbered by the Orioles on Friday. But perhaps the best argument for Mitchell as a reliever was how he bounced back in the ninth yesterday. He even struck out Manny Machado after he tormented the Yankees all weekend.

If you want to go to Layne in the 11th, that means going with your LOOGY against a lineup constructed of only right-handed hitters. J.J. Hardy and Joey Rickard are 0 for 6 vs. Layne but Machado and Adam Jones are both 1 for 2 and both were locked in at the plate on Sunday. Layne holds lefties to a .515 OPS in his career while righties bat .282/.386/.449 off the southpaw.

So sending Layne out there, particularly with 9-1-2 coming up in the 11th, would likely end in defeat. Mitchell gives you more of a fighting chance and has the ability to last deep into games.

2. The move pushes need for position player/starter to 14th at the earliest: This was another option for the Yankees. Don’t want to keep using Mitchell or throw Layne in vs. the O’s? Fine, then you can put in a tired Warren, use a position player (Aaron Hicks?!?) or one of the starting pitchers, presumably Luis Severino, who is scheduled to start on Monday.

That seems silly and shortsighted. Let’s disregard a tired Warren. A position player is waiving the white flag. Why do that so early in extras? Going to Severino is risky in two regards. First, you risk losing tomorrow’s game because of your actions today. Luis Cessa would be on turn to pitch Monday and could be called up, but that’s less desirable than Severino on normal rest while on a roll. The second risk is injury to Severino. He didn’t go into Sunday expecting to pitch. Throwing your next day’s starter in doesn’t guarantee a win and can lead to some poor results.

Mitchell can take you through at least the 12th if not the 13th or, stretching him a bit thin, the 14th. Layne is good for two innings if he doesn’t lose it for you after one. Utilizing both to the max is the best plan, even if it goes awry. A few more scoreless innings should have opened the door for the Yankees to win.

Your other option is to save Chapman for whenever Mitchell is done, but you have to go to your best options right away in extras. Saving Chapman while Mitchell struggles through the lineup would have been a flat-out wrong call by Girardi. And losing the DH to keep Mitchell in the game for later didn’t change the result on Sunday.

Screenshot
(Screenshot)

3. Move hurt lineup but not immediately and not in a way that affected the game: Inserting Mitchell in the lineup for a hitter, even one who is struggling like Carter, isn’t ideal. Putting Mitchell at first while bringing Chapman pokes two holes in your lineup at once and you can only plug up one (Bird pinch hitting).

However, putting Mitchell and Chapman into the lineup didn’t affect the game and wouldn’t have for a few innings. Bird easily pinch hit for Chapman and was hit by a pitch. Holliday would have been intentionally walked with runners on second and third and one out. Mitchell wasn’t going to bat until the 11th and you could pinch hit for him if you fell behind or allowed him to hit or bunt if you’re tied. You still have Ronald Torreyes, who’s provided better ABs than Carter this year.

4. Mitchell didn’t lose the game so much as the RISP-fail did: It really shouldn’t have come down to Mitchell pitching the 11th and beyond. Carter had his shot in the ninth. Castro and Judge blew their opportunity with the bases loaded in the 10th. The team went 3-for-13 with RISP and blew a lead with a rookie reliever in the sixth. That’s worth questioning. Meanwhile, there weren’t really better options than Mitchell in the 11th and it’s dubious as to whether Layne could have done any better. Simply put, the offense needed to come through more often on Sunday.

Watching Bryan Mitchell play first base was downright fun. Sure, he gave the team a heart attack and missed a pop-up before making up for it two batters later, but watching a guy grin ear-to-ear in the middle of an extra inning game is infectious. I enjoyed the heck out of Mitchell’s inning in the field.

And the decision was quite close to working out. The Cubs won after a similar decision last year. A bad J.J. Hardy throw on Starlin Castro‘s grounder or a hit from Castro/Aaron Judge would have given the Yankees a win and made this a memorable moment in a great winning streak. Quibbling with the choice to keep Mitchell in simply isn’t worth it because it likely didn’t change Sunday’s result.

How to handle Chris Sale’s dominance of the Yankees

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Yankees get their first crack at Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. However, there’s a fair amount of familiarity between Sale and the Yankees.

If you’re not familiar with the numbers, they’re gaudy, to say the least. In 53 1/3 innings against the Yankees, Sale has surrendered just 32 hits, 12 walks and 4 HBPs while striking out 61 batters and allowing just 13 runs (seven earned). That’s good for a 1.17 ERA and a WHIP of .820. Sale has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in MLB history with at least 50 innings against the Yankees (h/t to Katie).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, Sale is going to be tacking on a lot more innings to that total over the next three years. With team options, the Red Sox have Sale under contract through 2019 and there’s nothing saying they couldn’t bring him back on a longer contract when that’s up. We’re talking about a pitcher with five All-Star appearances in the five seasons he’s been a starter, and he hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the Cy Young voting. That’s a keeper.

So what does this mean for the Yankees? What can the Bombers do to counteract the way-too-early favorite for AL Cy Young? Here are a few things to know about facing Sale.

1. Lefties are practically useless against him: Sale is a beast but especially vs. lefties. He’s given up 114 home runs in his career and just eight were hit by left-handed batters. While RHBs have a .228/.283/.370 line against him, lefties are far worse at .202/.258/.268. No power and no average.

In his seven starts against the Yankees, Sale has faced few lefties. The Yankees started three against him in 2012 and in the six starts since, haven’t started more than two. Typically, it’s been the lefties you don’t take out of the lineup, the Robinson Canos of the world. You have to try and load up on the platoon advantage to neutralize Sale because his size and motion are so difficult to pick up for a LHB.

This is why you acquire Chris Carter and Matt Holliday. Not just for Sale of course. For any tough lefty. Sale, David Price, etc. Having a veteran with some savvy in the middle of the order can counteract Sale … as much as you truly can counteract Sale. When Sale took the mound vs. NYY last May, it led to a distinctive lineup with Aaron Hicks leading off, Brett Gardner batting seventh and no Jacoby Ellsbury. Sale threw a complete game, but the point still stands. Maximize your potential by platooning like crazy. You may see a lineup that goes something like this.

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Chase Headley, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, DH
4. Starlin Castro, 2B
5. Aaron Judge, RF
6. Chris Carter, 1B
7. Brett Gardner, LF
8. Austin Romine, C
9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

You have to sit one of Gardner or Ellsbury for Hicks here and moving the one lefty outfielder down the card makes sense, too. Last season’s lineup shows Joe Girardi is willing to do just that. He’s done some interesting things like put Yangervis Solarte in the five-hole as well. The lineups this season with Ellsbury batting fourth and so on have looked pretty peculiar, so Thursday’s lineup may just blend in.

2. Headley is key to hitting Sale: Headley has been much maligned at times during his stint in pinstripes, but boy can he hit Sale. He has the third highest OPS off Sale of any batter with at least 10 plate appearances. In 14 PAs vs. the 6-foot-5 southpaw, Headley is 5-for-13 with two home runs, a double and a walk.

Sale even helped Headley get back to being himself last season. After a horrible April and early May, Headley got his second extra-base hit of 2016 off Sale with this home run.

Girardi has put Headley near the top of the lineup card with Sale on the mound, both in 2015 and 2016. His first homer off Sale came back in 2014 during an interleague series between the White Sox and Padres.

The point being, Headley is really important here. I’m not sure I expected to be saying that, but here we are. Headley has similar numbers off the person I would say is Sale’s most logical current comparable, Madison Bumgarner. He has three home runs and 10 hits in 36 at-bats off Mad Bum. Go figure.

Only three other Yankees have multiple hits off Sale: Carter, Castro and Hicks. Hicks is 4-for-12 with a double, Carter is 2-for-13 with a double and a homer, and Castro is 2-for-11. Unsurprisingly, Carter has struck out seven times vs. Sale. Ellsbury and Gardner are a combined 1-for-16 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch and nine strikeouts. Welp.

3. Time for the Baby Bombers: I’m unsure if the Yankees were trying to be cruel last May, but they had Gary Sanchez make his first MLB start as the DH facing Sale. You will no doubt be shocked to learn he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

However, this is where having a few young, dynamic, right-handed bats comes in handy. Sanchez may be hurt right now, but he’ll get more opportunities off Sale during the next few seasons. Sanchez, Judge and even Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres can give the Yankees an element few teams have vs. Sale: An all-righty top of the lineup that can withstand him. They’ll surely have some troubles off him like Sanchez last May, but they’re NYY’s best shot. These guys will get plenty familiar with Sale over the next few years.

As for Greg Bird, it makes sense to bench him for Carter in terms of trying to win that day’s game. However, starting Bird vs. Sale would be interesting for the long-term. Giving him some at-bats against him now could give Bird a chance against him in future meetings, plus Bird has hit lefties well in his early MLB career.

4. If he wasn’t on the Red Sox/facing the Yankees, Sale would be a lot of fun to watch: Sale’s mesmerizing. His herky-jerky motion is not something you’d teach any kid and that may be part of what makes it so effective. It’s different and it’s been nearly impossible to hit. He’s a consistent Cy Young contender for a reason and despite a motion many in baseball would label a concern, he’s remained pretty healthy, making at least 29 starts in four of the last five seasons.

And he’s quite simply fun to watch. He strikes out guys with ease, averaging 227 strikeouts a year since he moved into the rotation. How many pitchers do you see make hitters look like this?

sale-strikeout-gif

Or make Sanchez look like this?

sale-strikeout-sanchez

The Yankees are going to have to contend with Sale for a while and we may as well enjoy the ride. Pedro Martinez had some dazzling performances against the Yankees in the late 90s/early 2000s and beating him was a joyous occasion. It’d be nice to have a pitcher-against-the-Yankees rivalry like that going again and Sale is a prime candidate to make that happen. And even when he inevitably adds a win or two to his record vs. the Bombers, you’ll still be able to see one of the best of this generation take the mound.

Marketing the Yankees’ present with the past and the future

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the New York Yankees brand, the past is always present. But should the future take precedent?

Early in this season, the Yankees’ marketing near the stadium has brought the team’s historic past to the forefront. After two seasons where the souvenir cups featured current players, the new cups contain a smattering of World Series logos. Ads at the subway stops near Yankee Stadium highlight the 27 championships. Furthermore, the team has begun selling stadium-exclusive hats corresponding to each World Series win with unique details for each era.

When you think about the Yankees’ brand over the years, this makes a lot of sense. The brand has always been built upon a winning atmosphere. With a ridiculous number of championships has come an overwhelming number of fans scattered across the country but concentrated especially in New York. There is little doubt which is the No. 1 baseball team in the hearts of most New Yorkers.

And diehard fans identify with this sense of winning. They even demand it. They come to the park both due to a connection to the past and an expectation the current product will live up to the established expectations. But the diehard fans make up the 25-30 thousand spectators that will come to the park rain or shine, win or lose, championship or no.

So at least part of any marketing campaign each season needs to be focused on how to bring in the casual fan. The one who could live with themselves if they don’t make it to Yankee Stadium each year, let alone every month or game. Beyond simply going to the stadium, these are the fans that may only follow and watch the team a little, paying extra attention if the team is winning.

Does an appeal to a past filled with winning work on these casual fans? This, after all, is what the brand already is, so you’re emphasizing what you already have and not extending the brand. That isn’t a bad thing. Extending a brand further can dilute it and the accentuation on championships makes plenty of sense from a marketing perspective. However, I don’t know if this brings that extra 10-20K to the stadium. This is because I am a Yankees and baseball junkie and far from a casual fan.

The way I tried thinking about this was from the perspective of a Yankee fan considering a trip to Citi Field. I am not a Mets fan by any means, but if I’m in the city and the Mets are the only game in town, I’ll certainly consider it. I don’t think an appeal to the Mets’ past would get me to the stadium, but they don’t have the same past as the Yankees, making this an unfair comparison. A general Mets advertisement would make me consider the ride to Citi Field when I otherwise wasn’t considering it, but I would need something more to get me there.

In the recent past, that something extra has been the Mets’ pitching. I can say definitively that I went to Citi Field with the express purpose of seeing Matt Harvey in 2015. By that time, he was no longer a rookie or burgeoning star but a more established part of the team well into his third big league season.

But my trip to see Harvey made me think that maybe a marketing push around exciting young talent could work better than an appeal to nostalgia.

The Yankees don’t have the established talent of the Mets’ rotation right now or the flashy everyday veteran star of a Yoenis Cespedes. What they do have is some of the most exciting young position players who could potentially man the middle of the lineup for the next decade. For a baseball fan, that’s an exciting proposition. For a Yankee fan, even a casual one, that should be even more appealing, the chance to ostensibly get in on the ground floor of a new Yankee evolution.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

So a marketing push behind, let’s say, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird could set you up for the future. The team already utilizes their breakout potential in some YES ads and it’s not like they’re absent from the Yankees’ marketing materials. However, if you further establish the star power of those young players, it can help you down the road if they’re everything they’re made up to be. It would create a connection with fans, including the non-consistent ballpark goers, that you can play off of for years. It could potentially be the same as connecting fans with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in 1996 and riding that all the way to 2014 and beyond.

But this can really backfire, too. I go back to the Harvey example. He was dreadful last year and that can create a bad taste in fan’s mouths. Or what about the ill-fated Dan & Dave Reebok commercials from before the 1992 Olympics. Relying on unestablished athletes can blow up in your face. What if the first baseman you’re advertising heavily starts the year 1 for 20? Or your catcher of the future injures his arm and is out for a month? Not many people are going to be excited about a cup or t-shirt of a player who appears to be a marginal talent.

So there are easy reasons not to go all-in on the youth movement. The risk is high despite the potential reward and the possible reality that youth talent may bring more casual fans to the park. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a near future with a slightly more than life-sized billboard of Aaron Judge dominating Time’s Square. With the dad jokes aside, the future of Yankees’ marketing seems to be on the current team, but the past may be the best present for now.

Warren’s versatility adds necessary element to Yankees’ pen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After Monday’s win, the Yankees’ top two relievers — Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman — are each on pace to throw 66.5 innings this season.

That total is still pretty high (47 pitchers threw more innings last year without making a start). However, it would hardly be a career-high for either and would mark a fourth straight season with a decrease in innings for Betances.

A big reason why neither pitcher should end up breaking a career-high in total innings is the presence of Adam Warren. The versatile right-hander has the best numbers of any Yankee reliever so far this year despite giving up his first three hits and a run on Monday. In nine innings, he’s allowed just the single run, walked only one batter and struck out nine. And he’s absorbed those nine innings in just five appearances.

This is hardly a revelation for Warren. He’s been giving the Yankees multiple-inning relief appearances since 2013, minus a four-month stint with the Cubs last summer and a little time in the Yankees rotation. Beyond the multi-inning appearances, he also has experience in taking high-leverage innings. At certain points in the last three seasons, he’s fulfilled late-inning roles for the Yankees, even taking the 8th inning of close games at times.

But this season, he’s entered in a complete hodgepodge of situations.

Apr. 2: 4th inning, two outs, two men on, Yankees down five
Apr. 5: 5th inning, two outs, one man on, down three
Apr. 8: 6th inning, no outs, up one
Apr. 15: 8th inning, one out, up two
Apr. 17: 7th inning, no outs, up four

If anyone can find a trend or consistent part in any of that, let me know. To me, the point is that Warren can take on literally anything for Joe Girardi. Yankees need someone to soak up 2-3 innings and keep the game within striking distance? Warren time. The starter only goes five and someone needs to get the ball to the top three relievers? Warren time.

Despite being clearly fourth in the bullpen pecking order behind Chapman, Betances and Tyler Clippard, Warren’s role is highly synergistic with those guys and the rest of the bullpen. He can take on enough innings to keep their innings down for late in the season. After Warren threw 2 1/3 solid innings on Monday, Girardi discussed everything Warren brings to the table.

“He’s a bridge. He’s a fill-in, in a sense, in the 7th, 8th or 9th inning, whatever I need,” Girardi said. “He just gives me a lot of versatility to our bullpen. And I think that piece is really important to have a really good bullpen, a guy that can do that and handle a number of different roles.”

A lot of relievers have trouble not knowing their role. It’s incredibly tough for a pitcher to be ready to go every inning from the 5th through the 9th, especially when they may warm up multiple times in that span. It can be exhausting and it’s the main reason why we don’t see pitchers in the regular season do what Andrew Miller did last postseason. That’s not to say it’s easy to do what Chapman or Betances do — not all innings are created equal and they pitch almost exclusively in high leverage spots — but they do have the added luxury of knowing the basic parameters of their appearances.

Warren doesn’t have that, but has done fine. Looking back to 2014, his last full season in the Yankees’ bullpen, he entered in the 6th inning 12 times, the 7th 25 times, the 8th 23 times and the 9th or later nine times. While that often meant soaking up innings with the Yankees behind, it more closely resembles the way Miller was used by the Indians last postseason than how Betances or Chapman are used right now.

Warren’s background as a starter and having recently thrown 100 innings (131 1/3 in 2015) shows that he can do this without completely breaking down. He did decline a bit towards the end of 2014, but he still had a 3.26 ERA after the break, which is nothing to sneeze at. The 29-year-old pitcher did come into the spring as a starter, yet even he realizes where he provides the most value right now.

“Being in the bullpen, you get a chance to pitch every day,” Warren told Bryan Hoch. “The way our starters are throwing right now, for sure, I feel my value is in the bullpen. I do enjoy being that flexible guy that you can throw around everywhere. For me, that’s where a lot of my value comes from.”

So Girardi’s right. It is really important to have that guy in your pen. You look around the league and a lot of teams don’t have a similar arm who can both go multiple quality innings yet also has high leverage experience. Houston seems to have the prototype for this player in Chris Devenski, but there are few beyond him. A pitcher like Warren or Devenski can really complete a team’s bullpen.

Even though his ERA will be much higher than 1.00 for the full season, a healthy Warren gives Girardi a chance to rest his top three relievers without biting his nails or worry that a lead will implode. Or it gives him a chance to use just 1-2 relievers after only getting five innings out of a starter. Or whatever conceivable need comes up. While coming in with a four-run lead in the 7th inning as he did on Monday isn’t glamorous, it gives us a sneak peek at how Warren can be used optimally in 2017.

Gleyber, Chance and the Trenton Thunder’s home opener

(Steven Tydings/ River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the minor league season a week old, the Trenton Thunder finally came home Thursday night to open up the Arm & Hammer Park portion of their season.

If you’ve never been to the park, it’s a great experience, especially with a relatively packed crowd like last night. It’s a quintessential minor league experience with multiple mascots, a bat dog (!) and a chance to see future major leaguers up close for really cheap prices. That’s pretty ideal. Arm & Hammer Park is the place to be this spring/summer with how stacked the Yankees’ farm system is right now.

Here are my observations from Thursday’s game.

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

1. Gleyber mania: All of the Yankees’ top prospects over the last 15 years have come through Trenton at some point. Robinson Cano, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, etc. They were all with the Double A Yankees at some point. Having been a teenaged autograph hawk back in the day, I remember the reception for each player at this level.

For his first game, the reception for Gleyber Torres may have been the most fanatical. The Thunder were prepared with having their people near the first base line, but fans were lined up a couple rows deep mostly for Torres. I saw more Torres Topps cards than I thought existed. He dealt with it well, signing and going about his business.

Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

2. Gleyber a pro at the plate: Even though a 1-for-4 day wasn’t Torres’ best in Double A, he still put together an impressive night. He grounded out softly his first AB and was called out on a questionable third strike his second AB. Portland Sea Dogs lefty Jalen Beeks pounded him with strikes and didn’t face Torres after his command collapsed in the fourth inning.

Torres then got two ABs against the Sea Dogs’ bullpen, the first one being his best. He worked the count to 2-1 with a solid eye and then pounced on the fourth pitch. With Rashad Crawford trying to steal second, the second baseman covered the bag and Torres lined a ball right where he would have been. Just a solid piece of hitting. He grounded into a double play his last AB.

As for in the field, he wasn’t challenged much. He helped turn a DP in the eighth. That was about it for his fielding chances.

3. A tale of two Chance Adams: For four innings, Adams looked like Michael Pineda from Monday. He was getting ahead of hitters, pounding them with his 92-94 mph fastball and putting them away with either his slider or a second helping of fastball. He went to a full count and caught Red Sox’ top prospect Rafael Devers looking in an impressive at-bat.

Devers lined a ball up the middle to end Adams’ no-hit bid in the fifth inning and things came unraveled in the sixth. An infield hit and an error (more on each in a bit) set up the Sea Dogs and Adams simply didn’t look as comfortable in the stretch. He slowed down significantly after moving at a considerable pace in the first few innings. He walked his second batter of the evening, fought back with a strikeout, but then gave up a monster two-run double. He recovered to get another out and his night was done after 5 2/3.

Overall, not a bad outing. He really has some solid strikeout stuff and proved he can put away hitters, flashing his fastball, slider and changeup all night. He’s now 10-1 with a 1.89 ERA over 81 innings in Trenton and he may be ready for a new challenge.

4. Rafael Devers is a problem: With Andrew Benintendi in the majors, Devers is now atop the Red Sox’ prospect lists. He’s considered the top third base prospect in all of baseball by many outlets. He was No. 13 overall in Baseball Prospectus’ preseason list, No. 17 for MLB.com and No. 18 for Baseball America. Just two months older than Torres, he won’t turn 21 until October.

He put together four impressive plate appearances Thursday night. He worked a full count on Adams when Chance was cruising. He picked up the first hit of the game with a liner that nearly took over Adams’ head. With the bases loaded in the sixth, he clobbered an Adams’ pitch to deep centerfield. It would have been a three-run double if the runner from first didn’t slip rounding third.

Devers added another single in the eighth for good measure. The lefty with some strong power looked ready to go at the plate and showed it with his performance. His swings were strong. He struggled to field a ball to begin the Thunder’s five-run fourth (it went as a hit), but he’s a prospect known for his bat first.

Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

5. Best of the rest: Billy McKinney had a line drive triple to the right field gap and a walk. The triple was perhaps the most impressive hit for a Yankees’ prospect during the game. Princeton product Mike Ford had a deep double to right and catcher Jorge Saez had a homer that cleared the high left field wall in left.

Miguel Andujar had an infield single but struggled with the rest of the game. His error in the sixth led to Portland’s three-run inning that included two unearned runs. As Mike pointed out in DotF, that’s three errors in seven games so far. Yikes.

Portland shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin led off that sixth inning with an infield single. He was easily exploited at the plate most of the night, but his blazing speed gave him the single. For a lot of players, it would have been a routine ground out to second. He beat it out with what has to be at least 65/70-grade speed.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury’s early production for real?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Eight games into the season, you’re bound to see a few eye-popping stats. Aaron Judge‘s 1.072 OPS comes to mind. Adam Warren‘s six perfect innings or Chase Headley‘s .393 average also fit that description.

A little less eye-popping but nonetheless surprising has been the solid start for Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees’ starting center fielder has been beset with criticism over the last few seasons while he hasn’t lived up to the contract. Even stripping away the contract, Ellsbury hasn’t been quite up to expectations with league average (or worse) seasons as he approaches his mid-30s.

So his .321/.345/.500 (144 wRC+) batting line definitely stands out when it comes to the Yankees’ early producers. This, after all, comes after a .263/.330/.374 season and with many projection systems expecting more of the same. Quite simply, a guy entering his age 33 season isn’t supposed to have a resurgence like this.

Then there’s the obvious question: Is this a resurgence or simply a small sample? That’s the quandary I want to tackle.

There are some basic reasons to expect that it’s a small sample size lying to our faces. First, he has a 0.0% walk rate and a .333 BABIP. The walk rate isn’t going to stay that way, but it shows he may just be putting the ball in play more. It also underlines how early we are in the season. The BABIP, compared to .296 in 2014, .301 in 2015 and .295 and 2016, is a little high and may regress soon. His average is buoyed by a few infield hits and he has an infield hit percentage more than double his career rate. He has also seen a rise in his soft contact percentage.

But there has also been some improvement in there, whether or not it’s sustainable. In this small sample, his hard contact rate and line drive percentage both increased. At least one of those infield hits was a line drive off the pitcher and likely would have gotten through the infield without a deflection. Here’s a look at his spray chart. Most of his hard hit balls have been pulled, but there are a few liners elsewhere.

jacoby-ellsbury-1

Pitchers have pitched Ellsbury on the outside part of the plate more often than last year and the few times he’s gotten balls low and inside, he’s produced solid exit velocity. His exit velocity as a whole is essentially the same after 24 batted balls as it was after 415 such results in 2016.

But it’s extremely important to note that he hasn’t had a single catcher’s interference yet this season. This could actually be the most critical sign. Ellsbury worked with hitting coach Alan Cockrell to get more out in front with his swing after last season, moving his contact point forward as to avoid flirting with his own MLB record for CIs.

And therefore, we may have a tangible reason for this jump in performance.

The bulk of Ellsbury’s damage has come against Alex Cobb, the Rays righty who was much more effective against lefties when he wielded his changeup consistently pre-Tommy John surgery. Below are gifs of Ellsbury swings against Cobb, one last September that ended in a pop up to left field and one from opening day at Yankee Stadium this year which produced an RBI double.

2015
2016

2016
2017

These ABs take place against the same pitcher at the same stadium with approximately the same location on the final pitch. Ellsbury is in the same spot in the box with a similar set-up and stride in his lower half. The only thing that may be different, other than the result, is the swing path. It looks pretty similar, but I’m also not certain that Cockrell and Ellsbury’s adjustment is going to be that demonstrative. It may be quite subtle yet still still able to help Ellsbury pull the ball with a line drive rather than rather than being late to the ball and popping out.

And yes, I realize he popped out with the bases loaded yesterday. That was not a good at-bat, but it also came against a lefty and we haven’t yet seen whether Ellsbury has overcome his platoon struggles.

Still, his early performance lends credence to the idea that he may have found something with his swing. It’ll take a lot more data to see for sure, but if there is anything real in Ellsbury’s improvement, it could be a significant boost for the Yankees with his contract running through 2020, not to mention it would be a major feather in the cap of Cockrell. At the very least, his strong production displays that he can still be a productive player at times, even if 2011 near-MVP Ellsbury is long gone.