Game 76: Save Us, Masahiro

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Five days ago Masahiro Tanaka chucked his second best start of the season. He struck out nine Rangers in eight scoreless innings, and looked like the Masahiro Tanaka we saw most of last season. It was awesome. We haven’t seen enough of that guy this year. The Yankees are going to need him tonight, because the lineup is short and the bullpen is taxed (again). The Yankees are capital-R Reeling. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Austin Romine
  7. DH Miguel Andujar
  8. LF Tyler Wade
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy in Chicago and there’s a bunch of rain in the forecast too. The rain is supposed to start right about now, and continue for a little while. We might be looking at a delay or two here. That’s not good. Hopefully the forecast is wrong. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 8pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Matt Holliday was placed on the 10-day disabled list with what the Yankees are calling a viral infection. He’s going back to New York for tests. The move is retroactive to Sunday, so Holliday can return as soon as next Tuesday … CC Sabathia (hamstring) will throw a simulated game tomorrow. If it goes well, I wonder whether he’ll be activated right away, or throw one more simulated game … Adam Warren (shoulder) threw 20 pitches in the bullpen. He’ll do that again in the coming days, and it’s possible he could be activated without going on a minor league rehab assignment … Tyler Austin (hamstring) could be headed to the disabled list … Greg Bird (ankle) worked out with Triple-A Scranton today, though he still has soreness and swelling. Joe Girardi acknowledged there is concern Bird may not make it back this year.

Roster Move: As expected, Andujar was called up. Duh. He’s in the lineup. He replaced Holliday on the roster. Told you this would happenChris Carter cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. So he’s still in the organization as a non-40-man roster player.

Joe Girardi and the coaching staff [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New year, same coaching staff. For the first time in a little while, the Yankees didn’t tinker with the staff surrounding Joe Girardi and will go into their second straight season with the same coaches.

That means Larry Rothschild is still the pitching coach, Alan Cockrell and Marcus Thames handle the hitters, Mike Harkey is the bullpen coach, Tony Pena and Joe Espada man the bases and Rob Thomson returns as the bench coach.

This doesn’t mean the job will be easy for these guys just because they remain in their roles. Each of them may have their most challenging job yet with the Yankees promoting their youth throughout the roster.

Joe Girardi

Girardi is entering his 10th season as the Yankees manager. Only two managers — Mike Scioscia with the Angels and Bruce Bochy of the Giants — have been in their current jobs longer than Girardi, who was hired in October of 2007. Stability hasn’t always been a trademark for Yankees’ coaches, but this is the second straight manager to last at least a decade. Not bad.

This is a contract year for Girardi: his four-year deal ends after the season. As in past years, the team isn’t going to extend him early, which will lead to plenty of speculation that the Yankees will move on at manager. That seems unlikely: the Steinbrenners appear to be happy with Girardi’s performance thus far and that’s for good reason. Girardi has been solid as manager. Still, that storyline will play out this season, especially if the team gets out of the gates slow.

In his 10th season, Girardi has perhaps his toughest days ahead of him. In the past, he’s been surrounded by veteran players who know the “Yankee way” and can indoctrinate the few young players moving onto the roster. But now Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are all gone in one fell swoop. The Baby Bomber movement has taken over with plenty of rookies, or at least inexperienced, players taking key spots on the roster. Girardi’s main job is making sure that all gels in the clubhouse.

He has some veteran help with Matt Holliday‘s addition or the continued presence of guys like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and co., but it’s still a challenge. For Girardi (and I guess Thomson), making sure inexperience doesn’t topple this team will be paramount to success. The one positive of having a younger roster is a lot less rest needed all around. Starlin Castro, for example, has played 151 games or more in five of the last six seasons. Fewer achy vets like A-Rod and Tex means more days with the team’s optimal lineup, whatever that may be.

Another change to the job will be instant replay. MLB has mandated that teams are quicker in requesting replays this season, so there will be less of the manager holding up play while the team’s replay people check it out. The Yankees’ guy, Brett Weber,  will have a tougher job this year (NY Times profiled him last year) and the team may need Girardi to go with his gut on challenges. The Yankees were the second-best team at getting calls overturned percentage-wise last year (Royals), but they also requested the fewest challenges (just 28). Maybe Girardi takes more chances with it and risks being quite as efficient in 2017.

Finally, Girardi’s job comes down to the bullpen. He once again has a strong back-end with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. I expect Chapman will have the 9th, Betances usually just the 8th and Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren would then be dispensed for the middle innings along with maybe Ernesto Frieri? Don’t forget Tommy Layne as a LOOGY! Girardi loves to get the platoon advantage.

And that’s not a knock on Girardi. His bullpen management is his best trait and is likely why the Yankees consistently outperform their Pythagorean record. He both has strong relievers to utilize and then actually utilizes them well. I don’t expect anything different in 2017.

Hitting, hitting and more hitting

Cockrell and Thames return, but many of their disciples do not. The two have been handed some interesting projects this season. They won’t have to worry too much about the veterans like Matt Holliday. Instead, they’ll have to work with 6-foot-7 rookie Aaron Judge to keep his strikeouts down or with Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez to make sure their rookie performances aren’t just mirages.

It’s tough to ever pinpoint exactly where a hitting coach makes his mark — best example for the Yanks in recent memory is Kevin Long working to correct Curtis Granderson‘s swing in the summer of 2010 — but any breakouts this year could come from Cockrell and Thames’ tutelage. Let’s hope they can make plenty happen.

Handling the pitching

(Getty Images)
Rothschild and Tanaka (Getty Images)

This season will be Rothschild’s seventh with the Yankees. Wow, feels like it’s been fewer but then you remember him working with big Bart in 2011 and others in the early 2010s. For the most part, Rothschild doesn’t have a new pitcher to work with this season. There are three veterans returning to the rotation, most of the bullpen was there at some point last season and even the guys fighting for the last rotation spot have big league experience (except Jordan Montgomery).

Rothschild will be judged on his ability to coax some solid seasons out of those back-end starters. Whether it’s Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino or Chad Green and Montgomery, there’s a lot of work ahead for the Yankees’ pitching guru. Rothschild has been known to get pitchers to increase strikeout totals, but getting a guy like Severino or Mitchell to improve their command will be much tougher. It isn’t even necessarily on Rothschild if they fail. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes with young pitchers.

And the rest

What can you really say about the rest of the staff? If you have a hard time accessing the performances of the hitting and pitching coaches, it’s even tougher with the bench or bullpen coach. Harkey begins the second season of his second stint with the Yankees. Seems like he never left for the desert, eh?

Meanwhile, Thomson has been with the Yankees since Girardi came aboard and has been the bench coach in two stints sandwiched around his time as the third-base coach. The bench coach seems like both another person for the manager to bounce ideas off of and another voice to work with the 25 personalities populating the Yankees’ clubhouse. Either way, Thomson has been solid enough in his role to stick around for 10 years.

Tony Pena has been here even longer. This will be his 12th season as a Yankees coach, now the first base coach after fulfilling other roles under Girardi and Joe Torre. Pena seemed to do a solid job as the Dominican Republic’s manager during the WBC and one has to wonder if he’ll be in consideration for another managerial gig (previously with the Royals) in the near future. Pena has a new full-time guy in Sanchez to work with behind the plate, which surely has him excited.

And then there’s Espada. He’s been perfectly fine as the third base coach. Like anyone in that position, he gets a ton of notice when he makes a bad send but otherwise has been left alone. He served a similar role for Puerto Rico at the WBC. If anything has changed for him, it’s that there are fewer base-clogging veterans like McCann or Teixeira and maybe a little more speed in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. Not much, but some. May be to Espada’s advantage in sending runners.

2017 Minor League Coaching Staffs Announced

Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)
Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)

Over the last several weeks, the Yankees have announced the coaching staffs for their various minor league affiliates. Minor league coaches are the unsung heroes of any organization. These are the folks who work directly with the top prospects, and right now the Yankees sure do have an awful lot of top prospects. Here’s a quick rundown of minor league coaching staffs for the upcoming season.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Manager: Al Pedrique
Pitching Coach: Tommy Phelps
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Defensive Coach: Doug Davis
Athletic Trainer: Darren London
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brad Hyde

Pedrique is returning to the RailRiders after being named International League Manager of the Year last season. Scranton won the division title, the IL championship, and the Triple-A Championship Game. The RailRiders went 91-52 last year, becoming the first IL team to win 90+ games since 2002. Pedrique has climbed the managerial ladder from Low-A Charleston (2013) to High-A Tampa (2014) to Double-A Trenton (2015) to Triple-A Scranton (2016-17). He served as Astros bench coach from 2010-11 and was briefly the Diamondbacks interim manager in 2004.

Pilittere is a new addition to the Triple-A staff. He was the Double-A hitting coach the last two years after holding the same role with Tampa (2014) and Charleston (2013). I’m sure many longtime RAB readers remember Pilittere from his stint in the organization as a player. This is already his sixth year in the system as a coach. Crazy. He was always considered a future coach during his playing career because of his leadership skills. Pilittere will be in charge of Clint Frazier‘s development this summer.

Also new to the staff is Davis, who is not to be confused with former big league lefty Doug Davis. This is a different Doug Davis. This Doug Davis was the Blue Jays minor league catching coordinator from 2010-16. He’s been coaching or managing in the minors since 1995, and spent the 2003-04 seasons as the Marlins bench coach. Slater, London, and Hyde are all holdovers from last year.

Double-A Trenton Thunder

Manager: Bobby Mitchell
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Hitting Coach: Tom Slater
Bullpen Coach: JD Closser
Defensive Coach: Lino Diaz
Athletic Trainer: Jimmy Downam
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Anthony Velasquez

This will be Mitchell’s second season in the organization and second as manager of the Thunder. Trenton went 87-55 last season before losing the Eastern League Championship Series. Mitchell has big league coaching experience with several teams as an outfield and baserunning coach, and prior to joining the Yankees, he managed in the Cubs and Angels systems. Rosado (third year) and Closser (second year) are also returning to Trenton.

It’s worth noting Rosado’s work hasn’t received enough attention. Prior to joining Trenton, he spent four years as pitching coach in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and in recent years he’s had a big hand in getting pitchers like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, Ronald Herrera, and Daniel Camarena to take their games to another level. Rosado himself was a good young pitcher who made two All-Star Games with the Royals before his 25th birthday. (A major shoulder injury ended his career at 25.)

Slater replaces Pilittere after spending the last two seasons as hitting coach with High-A Tampa. This will be his ninth season in the organization. He’s held all sorts of coaching and managerial positions over the years. Slater will be the guy overseeing Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar this year, among others. Diaz is being promoted from the rookie Gulf Coast League while both Downam and Velasquez were with Low-A Charleston from 2014-16.

High-A Tampa Yankees

Manager: Jay Bell
Pitching Coach: Tim Norton
Hitting Coach: Eric Duncan
Defensive Coach: Raul Dominguez
Catching Coach: Michel Hernandez
Athletic Trainer: Michael Becker
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jacob Dunning

Welcome to the Yankees, Jay Bell. The former two-time All-Star joins the organization after spending the last 12 years or so holding all sorts of jobs, including big league bench coach (Diamondbacks from 2005-06, Reds from 2014-15), big league hitting coach (Pirates in 2013), and special advisor (D’Backs from 2007-09). Perhaps Jorge Mateo will one day have an out-of-nowhere 38-homer season like Bell after having him as a manager.

Norton is back with Tampa for the second straight season. This will be his fifth season coaching in the organization after injuries sabotaged his promising playing career. Duncan, New York’s first round pick in 2003, joins the Tampa staff from Staten Island. This is his first full season coaching gig and third season coaching with the Yankees. Last year it was reported farm system head Gary Denbo wanted Duncan to coach full-time, but he wasn’t willing to commit to it yet. Apparently now he is.

Over the last few years Hernandez has emerged as the Yankees minor league catching guru. Last year he worked with Luis Torrens in Charleston, and the year before he was with Gary Sanchez in Trenton. The Yankees don’t have a notable catching prospect ticketed for Tampa, though I suppose Torrens could wind up there if (when?) the Padres return him as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Dominguez is coming up from the rookie Gulf Coast League and is one of the longest tenured instructors in the organization. He’s been around since 2006. Becker is entering his fourth year with Tampa while Dunning is coming up from Staten Island.

Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Manager: Patrick Osborn
Pitching Coach: Justin Pope
Hitting Coach: Ken Joyce
Defensive Coach: Jose Javier
Catching Coach: Hector Rabago
Athletic Trainer: Michael Sole
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jeff Dolan

By all accounts Osborn is a rising managerial star in the farm system, which is kinda funny because he’s being moved down from Tampa to Charleston this year. He’s going to have a fun roster. Blake Rutherford, Dermis Garcia, Estevan Florial, Isiah Gilliam, Leonardo Molina, and Hoy Jun Park could all be with the RiverDogs in 2017. It’s not a coincidence the Yankees chose Osborn to work with those prospects. Osborn joined the organization in 2014 after spending several years managing the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Joyce is a new addition to the organization. This will be his 21st season coaching in the minors, so he’s been around. Joyce spent the last five years with the Giants. Prior to that he was with the Marlins and Blue Jays. Pope, yet another former Yankees minor leaguer turned coach, returns for a second season as Charleston’s pitching coach. Rabago was a 2009 draft pick by the Yankees and is already in his fourth season as a coach. He’s joining Charleston after spending the last two seasons with rookie Pulaski. Javier, Sole, and Dolan are all new hires.

Short Season Staten Island Yankees

Manager: Julio Mosquera
Pitching Coach: Travis Phelps
Hitting Coach: Kevin Mahoney
Defensive Coach: Teuris Olivares

This will be Mosquera’s third season as a manager and 12th as an instructor with the Yankees. He spent the last two years in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and prior to that, he was the club’s longtime catching coordinator. Mosquera worked with every catching prospect from Frankie Cervelli to Jesus Montero to John Ryan Murphy to Gary Sanchez over the years. Phelps is returning as pitching coach and Mahoney, a former organizational infielder, is moving up from Pulaski. This will be Olivares’ third season in this role.

Rookie Pulaski Yankees

Manager: Luis Dorante
Pitching Coach: Gerardo Casadiego
Hitting Coach: Scott Seabol
Athletic Trainer: Manny Ozoa
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Danny Russo

After spend the last three seasons managing the RiverDogs, Dorante will now lead all the young kids in Pulaski. This is his sixth season in the organization and fourth as a manager. Prior to joining the Yankees, Dorante was the Pirates big league bullpen coach from 2008-10. I know going from Charleston to Pulaski seems like a demotion, but minor league coaches don’t get demoted. They get replaced if they don’t do a good job. Dorante is most likely here because the Yankees want him working with specific players.

Both Casadiego and Seabol are new to Pulaski. Casadiego is making the jump up from the Dominican Summer League, where he was a pitching coach last summer. This is Seabol’s first coaching job. He’s a rookie. You might remember him from that one game he played with the 2001 Yankees. Fun Fact: At the time of his MLB debut, Seabol was the lowest drafted player ever to reach the big leagues*. The Yankees drafted him in the 88th round (!) of the 1996 draft. He was the 1,718th player chosen. Wild. Ozoa is returning to Pulaski and Russo spent last season with Staten Island.

* The lowest drafted player ever to reach the show? That would be Travis Phelps, Staten Island’s pitching coach. Phelps was an 89th round pick in 1996, taken 1,721st overall by the Devil Rays. Three picks after Seabol. Phelps made his MLB debut eleven days after Seabol. The 1996 draft went 100 rounds, though every team other than the Yankees and expansion Devil Rays dropped out by the 84th round. Tampa Bay dropped out after the 97th round, yet the Yankees kept going. Don’t ask me why.

Gulf Coast League Yankees East & West

Managers: Luis Sojo and Nick Ortiz

It is damn near impossible to find information about GCL coaching staffs, but those are the managers this year, according to George King (subs. req’d). Ortiz played a very long time (1991-2012) and all over the world without ever reaching the big leagues. He had been working as a scout with the Yankees, and is now getting into managing.

You know Sojo. He’s had on and off coaching stints in the farm system over the years, including managing High-A Tampa (2006-09, 2011-12) and serving as third base coach with Triple-A Scranton (2014). Sojo was an assistant field coordinator with the big league Yankees in 2015, whatever that means. Also, he managed Double-A Norwich in 2002 before coming out of retirement in 2003 to play with the Yankees after hitting a home run at Old Timers’ Day. Yup.

Miscellaneous

One name you may notice is missing: Tony Franklin. Franklin has spent the last ten seasons managing Trenton (2007-14) and Pulaski (2015-16), and according to Jed Weisberger, he will now be in Tampa full-time as the organization’s position player rehab coach. He’ll work with everyone from rookie ball kids to big leaguers. If a position player is rehabbing in Tampa, Franklin will oversee him.

Also moving into a new role is Greg Colbrunn, who sandwiched two stints as Charleston’s hitting coach (2007-12, 2016) around a three-year stretch as the Red Sox’s big league hitting coach (2013-15). Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2014 and left the Red Sox a year later to be closer to his family, who live in Charleston full-time. The Yankees announced Colbrunn will now be a roving hitting instructor, so he’ll travel from affiliate to affiliate to work with all the top prospects in the system.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Review]

Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)
Thomson and Girardi. (Presswire)

It’s time to do the impossible with our season review series: evaluate coaches. It can’t be done from where we sit. We can try, but ultimately we never do anything more than project player performance onto the coaching staff, and that’s sorta dumb. The offense isn’t clicking? Time to get a new hitting coach. The pitchers stink? New pitching coach. Same old story, year after year, all around the league.

These guys are coaches, not miracle workers. Almost all of their work takes place behind the scenes, and for every little mechanical adjustment that generates headlines, there are dozens that go unreported. Teams have far more insight into what their coaches do or do not do well. As fans, all we can do is speculate. Evaluating coaches from here is basically impossible. That won’t stop us though. Let’s review the year that was with the coaching staff.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Gosh, Thomson has been with the Yankees a long time. He originally joined the organization back in 1990 as a minor league coach. Since then he’s held all sorts of roles, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development before joining the Major League coaching staff. Thomson spent the 2008 season as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach and the 2009-14 seasons as the third base coach before resuming his role as bench coach last year.

As the bench coach, Thomson is Girardi’s right hand man, who from what I understand has a lot of responsibility communicating with players before and after games. I know a lot of folks think the bench coach is supposed to whisper sweet nothings into the manager’s ear and help him make strategic decisions, but that’s only part of the job. I have no real opinion of Thomson as the bench coach. He’s been at it a very long time and I have no doubt he has an awful lot to offer the team. Boring review is boring.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)
Rothschild and Dellin. (Presswire)

This was somehow Rothschild’s sixth season as the Yankees’ pitching coach. Geez, does time fly or what? Rothschild came under more criticism this year than any other season with the Yankees, mostly because Michael Pineda continued to be frustrating as hell and Luis Severino went backwards. “Who has he improved?” was a popular refrain, as if that could ever be answered with some level of certainty.

In 2016, CC Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher and had his best season in four years. Masahiro Tanaka transitioned from four-seam fastball pitcher to sinker pitcher (and back to four-seam fastball pitcher) to combat his home run woes. Severino took a massive step back, first with his command and then with the disappearance of his changeup. Chad Green learned a cutter and that was cool. Bryan Mitchell (walks) and Luis Cessa (homers) had good superficial stats but worrisome trends under the hood.

Overall, New York’s pitching staff was ninth in baseball with +18.2 fWAR this year despite being 15th in ERA (4.16) and 27th in innings (1428.1). That’s because their team strikeout and walk rates were, once again, excellent. They were fifth in baseball with a 23.1% strikeout rate and fourth with a 7.4% walk rate. During Rothschild’s six years as pitching coach, the Yankees are third in strikeout rate (21.5%), third in walk rate (7.3%), and third in fWAR (+115.2).

How much of the credit or blame goes to Rothschild? Beats me. All I know he’s highly regarded around baseball — “Larry is a master of psychology with big arm guys. He gets them to believe in their secondary pitches,” said a scout to Andrew Marchand and Wally Matthews last year — and he will be back next season, like it or not. The Yankees gave Rothschild a new one-year contract after the season.

Hitting Coaches: Alan Cockrell & Marcus Thames

For the third straight year, the Yankees had a new hitting coaching coach in 2016. In 2014 it was still Kevin Long. Last year it was Jeff Pentland with Cockrell as his assistant. This year it was Cockrell with Thames as his assistant. It appears the revolving door of hitting coaches will stop with Cockrell and Thames. If one or both was going to be replaced, they’d be gone already.

Cockrell. (Presswire)
Cockrell. (Presswire)

In 2016 the Yankees ranked 22nd in runs (680), 19th in home runs (183), 20th in AVG (.252), 25th in OBP (.314), 21st in SLG (.405), and 21st in wRC+ (92). (wRC+ is park adjusted, so it accounts for hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.) Below-average by any measure. That is partly due to Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez giving the Yankees 681 plate appearances of nothing, which I have a hard time blaming on the hitting coaches. Old players got old. News at 11.

“Good and bad. I’ll leave it at that,” said Cockrell to Brendan Kuty when asked to evaluate his season. “You always reflected on what you did or didn’t do or would do differently. In all honesty, I’ve done some of those things already. I’ve looked at some of those things and when it comes to our three, four, and five hole guys … We’ve been looking for offense in a lot of different ways. It’s a tough league, man. It’s been a grind.”

Going forward, the Yankees are going to give Cockrell and Thames much more young talent to work with, players whose best years are still ahead of them (hopefully). There’s Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin and Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. Don’t forget about Clint Frazier either. Thames, who has a history with many of these guys from his days as a minor league hitting coach, and Cockrell will be in charge of helping these players become impact big leaguers.

First & Third Base Coaches: Tony Pena & Joe Espada

The Yankees had a 77% success rate stealing bases this season, fifth highest in baseball, which I guess means Pena did his job as first base coach? He’s out there with the stopwatch timing the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time, determining whether his runners can steal second. There’s more to it, of course, and besides, Pena’s primary focus is working with the catchers. He’s going to put Sanchez through a full year of catching boot camp in 2017.

Espada is … well … not very popular as third base coach. Are any third base coaches popular? I don’t think so. At best, they’re overlooked because they’re not making mistakes. The Yankees had only 12 runners thrown out at the plate this year, tied for the second fewest in baseball, but gosh, more than a few of those 12 were egregious. Remember this?

Lordy. Rob Refsnyder tells you everything you need to know there. He slowed up rounding third because he did not expect to be sent home on a hard-hit single to Kevin Kiermaier, but Espada sent him, and Refsnyder had to pick up the pace. We’ve seen a few of those “why did he send him, geez?” sends the last two seasons.

Espada is generally conservative when it comes to sending runners home — he waved 55% of runners home from second on a single and first from a double, below the 68% league average — which is out of necessity more than anything. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only above-average runners on the roster. Espada’s not going to send guys like Sanchez and Bird home too often. They’re just not fast. Even with the conservative approach, there are still too many obviously bad sends for my liking. It’s bad. Bad bad bad.

Bullpen Coach: Mike Harkey

Harkey rejoined the Yankees this season after the team parted ways with Gary Tuck, who reportedly had some run-ins with the front office about their use of analytics. Harvey was New York’s bullpen coach from 2008-13 before leaving to join the Diamondbacks as their pitching coach. Arizona let him go after last season, so back to the Yankees he came.

The bullpen coach is effectively a second pitching coach, though during games, he stands out in the bullpen and answers the phone. The most memorable part of Harkey’s season came on September 26th, when Girardi and Rothschild were ejected following Severino’s hit-by-pitch war with the Blue Jays. Harkey had to go to the dugout to take over as pitching coach.

With no coach in the bullpen, Tyler Clippard took over as the bullpen coach for the remainder of the game because he is the team’s most veteran reliever. It was Clippard’s job to answer the phone and wave his hat at the dugout to let them know the reliever was ready:

tyler-clippard-bullpen-coach

Out of all the GIFs I’ve made for this stupid site, that might be my favorite. How ridiculous. This has been, rather easily, the most exciting bullpen coach season review in RAB history.

Year Nine of the Joe Girardi Era [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager of the Yankees — only Miller Huggins (1918-29), Joe McCarthy (1931-46), Casey Stengel (1949-60), and Joe Torre (1996-2007) had longer continuous stints managing the team — was unlike any of his previous eight seasons at the helm. From 2008-15, it was win win win, even when perhaps it shouldn’t have been.

In 2016, the objective changed. The goal coming into this season was to win and the goal remained the same until the trade deadline, when the roster dynamic changed. The Yankees sold veterans for prospects at the trade deadline, and while they feigned contention in August and September, the transition had begun. Girardi’s mission became developing the young players the Yankees added to the roster.

Evaluating a manager is basically impossible from where we sit as outsiders. It’s not nearly as simple as comparing the team’s actual record to their expected record based on run differential — the Yankees went 84-78 this year despite a 79-83 expected record based on their -22 run differential — for what I think are obvious reasons. There’s randomness at play and the run differential/expected record theory isn’t perfect.

Only so much of what the manager does is visible. He builds the lineup and makes pitching changes, and occasionally calls for a bunt and a hit-and-run, things like that. Most of the manager’s work happens behind the scenes, where he has to manage and motivate 25+ alpha males for more than seven months a year. That happens in the clubhouse, on the team plane, at the hotel, on the phone, and at home.

Effort level has never really been an issue for the Yankees under Girardi, based on what I’ve seen. Every team looks lethargic when they have problems scoring runs and the Yankees are no different. That’s not what I’m talking about. The players play hard deep into the season and the mental mistakes are generally kept a minimum. Believe me, there are a lot of teams out there that are completely checked out mentally come September.

When it comes to on-field decisions, Girardi is as predictable as it gets. He puts his players in specific roles and sticks with them until it’s no longer possible. I’m sure the players appreciate that. They all like knowing their role. Let’s attempt to break down Girardi’s on-field decision making this past season.

Bullpen Usage

Girardi has a reputation for being a strong bullpen manager, and while I agree he is, that reputation has become a bit outsized in recent years. Dellin Betances has worn down the last few years, and Girardi’s late-inning bullpen management is paint by numbers. Closer pitches the ninth inning. Eighth inning guy pitches the eighth inning. Seventh inning pitches the seventh inning. At least one 2016 Yankee thinks that approach is questionable.

“I know when (Aroldis) Chapman came back to us for the Yankees this year, Dellin and I were kind if up in the air about what order we would pitch,” said Andrew Miller to Jon Heyman a few weeks ago. “And in some instances it created a mess because we were both warming up next to each other … I’ve been lucky to have (managers) that really handled the bullpen well. But you hate to have two guys warming up at the same time. It seems wasteful in a sense.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once Chapman returned from his suspension, Girardi was like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn’t know which toy to play with. There were multiple instances in which Betances would warm up in the seventh in case the starter got into trouble, but when he didn’t, Dellin would sit down and Miller would pitch the eighth. Rather than use Betances in the eighth because he was already warm, Girardi ended up warming up two pitchers. Wasteful, as Miller said.

Friend of RAB Eno Sarris attempted to develop an analytical method to evaluate managers — almost like a manager version of WAR — and one of his components was bullpen optimization. His analysis found Girardi was 12th best among all managers in optimizing his bullpen in 2016 — his best relievers faced the other team’s best hitters, etc. — but was also in the bottom third in rigidity, meaning he didn’t deviate much from assigned innings.

It goes without saying this analysis is far from perfect — it doesn’t account for all sorts of variables, like the days a reliever wasn’t available because he was puking his brains out in the clubhouse — though as a big picture look, it passes the sniff test. The results make sense to me. Girardi is flexible enough to use Betances outside his assigned inning under certain circumstances. Otherwise everyone pitches in specific situations.

Platoon Advantage

The Yankees have consistently ranked among the best teams when it comes to getting the platoon advantage offensively. Here are the top three teams in percent of plate appearances with the platoon advantage in 2016:

  1. Indians — 70%
  2. Yankees — 68%
  3. Mariners — 68%

No other team was over 64%. The Yankees were helped out by having a bunch of switch-hitters — Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, and Mark Teixeira combined for 1,715 plate appearances, or 28% of the team’s total — but Girardi also does a good job with platoon bats. When Austin Romine started, it was usually against a lefty. When Rob Refsnyder found his way into the lineup, it was usually against a lefty.

There are times Girardi goes overboard — remember Brendan Ryan, Platoon Bat? — and sometimes he seems completely unable to anticipate the other team’s move. There were a few instances in September when Girardi would pinch-hit Brian McCann for Billy Butler against a right reliever, only to have the other team counter with a lefty reliever. He’d choose McCann against a lefty over Butler against a righty even though the numbers said it was the wrong choice. Nitpicky? Yes. Doesn’t make it any less true though.

Instant Replay

This was the third season of the instant replay system, and for the third straight year, the Yankees had one of the highest success rates in baseball. The call was overturned on 68% of their challenges. Only the Royals were better. They were at 69%. The Yankees had the highest success rate in 2014 (82%) and 2015 (75%) as well. Video review man Brett Weber is nails.

There’s also this: the Yankees were dead last with only 28 challenges this year. Last year they had the ninth fewest challenges. The year before they had they fifth fewest. Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Girardi is conservative with his replay challenges. We have three years’ worth of data telling us that. He only uses them for sure things. He’s not one to roll the dice. Remember this?

That’s a potential leadoff triple in the seventh inning of a game the Yankees were trailing by three runs. Replays sure made it look bang-bang. The throw was there but Headley kinda sorta swim-moved around it. And yet, no challenge. The Yankees challenged zero plays that game. Their replay challenge went unused that night, like the vast majority of them.

I said this the last two years and I’m sticking to it: I’d like to see Girardi be more aggressive with his challenges. So his success rate will take a hit. Who cares? They don’t give out a trophy for that. I get the argument that if you blow your challenge early in the game, you might not have it later when you need it. That’s the risk you take. Girardi challenges so few plays as it is. The odds of that happening are small.

I’m not saying the Yankees and Girardi should challenge every close play, but surely they can do better than 28 challenges in 162 games, right? Did really only that few blown calls go against the Yankees (for the third straight season)? No, of course not. Come on. Girardi’s (and Weber’s!) success rate is high. Consistently one of the best in baseball. It’d be nice if they were a little more liberal with the challenges rather than leaving so many unused.

The Farewell Tours

Girardi, who is fond of saying he’s not here to manage farewell tours, had to manage two farewell tours this past season. First came Alex Rodriguez‘s in August, then came Teixeira’s at the end of the season. Teixeira’s went far smoother than A-Rod‘s. Girardi helped create some of the A-Rod awkwardness.

“If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way,” said the skipper after A-Rod’s forced retirement was announced. Then, of course, Rodriguez didn’t play. The Yankees were in Boston, where A-Rod played his first career game, and he was denied the opportunity to play.

“I came to the stadium really excited, hoping I would play all three games or maybe two out of three,” said Alex after finding out he would ride the bench in the first game of the series. “He just said, ‘We’re trying to win games.’ It was surprising and shocking.”

“I’m aware of what my quotes were,” said Girardi. “That there would be conversations and I would try to get him in every game, I said that. But what I’m saying is, I made a mistake. And I’m admitting that. And I’m admitting that to everyone who’s watching because I have a responsibility and I’m trying to take care of my responsibility.”

The Yankees had sold at the deadline the week prior, and while the goal should always be to win, Girardi’s words sounded hollow. Especially since A-Rod sat for long stretches of time, but when he did play, he batted third or fourth. It made no sense. It was the Derek Jeter farewell tour but more convoluted.

Rodriguez’s final night with the Yankees was incredible. His final week was not Girardi’s finest moment. He said one thing and did another, and it just didn’t come off well. He’s in charge of the clubhouse and trust is important, yet he went back on his word with the most veteran and one of the most respected guys in the clubhouse. Eh.

Outlook for 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Given the direction of the franchise, the Yankees have to decide whether Girardi is the right manager to lead them through this rebuild transition. Managing a team designed to win right now is much different than managing a team built around a bunch of young players trying to find their footing in the show. Girardi had a team like that with the 2006 Marlins, so it’s not a completely new experience, but it will be very different.

Girardi’s contract expires after the 2017 season and it’s important to note Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner love him. If I had to bet right now, I’d bet on Girardi getting a new deal next winter. I also think the chances of a managerial change next year — as in after 2017, when his contract expires — are higher than they’ve ever been before. The Yankees haven’t played a postseason series in a while and that will only be tolerated so long, even with the youth movement underway.

Personally, I think Girardi’s a good but not a great manager in terms of on-field strategy. He’s not going to do anything that revolutionizes the game. He’s going to stick to the same approach because he’s stuck to that approach since the day the arrived in New York. A-Rod’s farewell tour notwithstanding, Girardi seems to do well in the clubhouse, and that’s the most important part of his job.

Yankees re-sign Larry Rothschild to one-year deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract, the team announced yesterday. Next season will be his 43rd in professional baseball as either a player or instructor, which is pretty nuts. No word on Rothschild’s salary. No one seems to care about coach’s salaries anyway.

Rothschild, 62, was essentially a free agent; his contract expired following the season. Brian Cashman indicated earlier this week the Yankees wanted to bring him back. “(The coaches are) signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes,” said the GM.

The Yankees hired Rothschild away from the Cubs following the 2010 season, and since then they lead the AL in WAR and strikeout-to-walk ratio. They’ve also set a new franchise single-season strikeout record in each of the last three seasons. Of course, there’s more to life than WAR and K/BB. The next good statistical way to evaluate coaches I see will be the first.

With Rothschild re-signed, the Yankees will return the entire coaching staff next season. I thought maybe the team would make a change at third base coach, but apparently not. The manager and coaches are all accounted for already. Now it’s time to make some upgrades to the player personnel.

Wednesday Links: Rothschild, CBA, Steinbrenner, YES

(Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

At noon today, Brian Cashman will hold his annual end-of-season State of the Yankees press conference. These things rarely bring major news — usually the only announcements are coaching changes — but Cashman is very candid by GM standards, so it’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say about the 2016 season and the team going forward. Until then, here are some links and bits of news to check out.

Rothschild hopes to return in 2017

The contract of pitching coach Larry Rothschild expired after the season, and he told Dan Martin he hopes to return in 2017. “We’ll see what happens,” said Rothschild. This is probably one of the things Cashman will discuss at today’s press conference. Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since the 2011 season, and since then the Yankees lead all AL teams in pitching WAR. They’re third among all 30 clubs.

Of course, evaluating a pitching coach (or any coach) is not nearly as simple as looking at WAR. I said what I had to say about Rothschild last month. I think the vast majority of the team’s pitching issues stem from their obsession with raw stuff over command and refinement. The Yankees have now missed the playoffs three times in the last four years, and they’ve replacing their hitting coach each of the last two offseasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rothschild is let go in a scapegoat move. We’ll see.

Manfred hopeful new CBA will be done soon

While speaking to reporters over the weekend, commissioner Rob Manfred said he is hopeful MLB and the MLBPA will finalize the new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon after the end of the postseason, according to Bob Nightengale and Ben Nicholson-Smith. “Both parties still have significant issues on the table,” said Manfred, who added this is not a “rip the agreement up, start over type of negotiation.”

I’m not in any way worried about a work stoppage — revenue is at an all-time high and both sides have too much to lose — though I am curious to see how the new CBA changes free agent compensation, the draft, and international free agency. My guess is the IFA system is changed pretty drastically. I don’t think MLB likes teams making a mockery of the system, like the Yankees did with their 2014-15 signing spree. Either way, change is on the horizon.

Steinbrenner among ten on Today’s Game Era ballot

Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame announced the ten-person Today’s Game Era ballot, according to the Associated Press. Among the ten are former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The Boss was previously up for Hall of Fame election through the Expansion Era committee, though he didn’t receive enough votes. The Today’s Game committee will announce their voting results during the Winter Meetings in December. Twelve of 16 votes are needed for induction.

The Hall of Fame restructured their voting committees recently — the Veterans and Expansion Era committees are no more, and have been replaced by the Today’s Game (1988-present), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Golden Days (1950-69), and Early Baseball (1871-1949) committees — and the new ones meet every few years. Steinbrenner, who I think should be in the Hall of Fame, is on the Today’s Game ballot with Mark McGwire, Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig.

YES ratings down in 2016

Surprise surprise: YES Network ratings were down this past season, according to Eben Novy-Williams. YES averaged approximately 218,000 viewers per game in 2016, down from roughly 233,000 per game last year, as best I can tell. Part of that is the squabble with Comcast; Comcast stopped carrying YES this year because they didn’t want to pay the rights fee. There are 900,000 or so Comcast subscribers in the Tri-State Area and I’m sure more than a few are Yankees fans.

From 2002-11, the first decade of the YES era, the network averaged about 400,000 viewers per game. Interest has waned in recent years thanks to some retirements (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc.) and non-playoff seasons. Novy-Williams says SNY had higher ratings than YES for the first time ever this season — SNY averaged a little less than 264,000 viewers per game in 2016 — which isn’t surprising given the Comcast issue and the fact the Mets went to the World Series a year ago.