Guest Post: Aaron Hicks in August

The following is a guest post from Carlo Macomber, who goes by CoryWadeDavis in the comments. He’s previous written guest posts about Masahiro Tanaka, Didi Gregorius, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

From April through July, Aaron Hicks struggled mightily in his first season with the Yankees. There are no two ways about it. Hicks hit .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+) in 232 relatively sporadic PAs. That is unacceptable for a Major League player, but, to the disappointment of most fans, the Yankees stuck with Hicks through all of his struggles.

The Yankees have been rewarded for their patience as Hicks hit .280/.330/.439 (107 wRC+) in 88 PAs during the month of August. By no coincidence, Hicks’ much improved hitting has matched up perfectly with the Carlos Beltran trade that has allowed him to play regularly. However, all players are constantly making adjustments at the plate, and surely Hicks is no different.

Unfortunately, Hicks suffered a hamstring injury on the last day of the month. Nevertheless, let’s look to see what other differences there have been this month for Aaron Hicks other than simply playing regularly, while of course keeping in mind that this is only a small sample size.

Unsurprisingly, Hicks hit the ball harder in August than he had the first four months of the season. His hard contact rate in August is at 30.3%, up from 25.6% from April-July. His soft contact rate also dropped to 13.6% from 20.2%. This is clearly good news, especially because it shows that Hicks’ improved batting line is not entirely BABIP driven. His BABIP has increased significantly, from .220 in April-July to .306 in August, but the latter number is not absurdly high and seems to be the result of Hicks making much better contact.

Along with hitting the ball harder, Hicks has also managed to hit the ball in the air with more frequency this month. Check out this batted ball data:

Months GB% LD% FB%
April-July 49.4% 15.7% 34.9%
August 35.4% 21.5% 43.1%

While the drop in GB% is certainly noticeable, Hicks’ August LD% is quite encouraging. If Hicks had a 21.5% LD% on the entire season, he would be nearly tied with Buster Posey and in the vicinity of players like Miguel Cabrera. Of course, this is not to say Hicks will ever be remotely close to Posey or Cabrera offensively, but it is certainly encouraging that he is capable of putting up a similar LD%, even in the small sample of a single month.

Also, as baseball fans know, players with elite speed can thrive with high ground-ball rates, the vast majority of players are better off hitting the ball in the air with frequency. Didi Gregorius, a player somewhat similar to Hicks in terms of speed, has managed to drop his GB% from 44.7% last year to 42% this season. This has, of course, coincided with Didi’s breakout offensive season. Hicks’ April-July GB% was simply too high for him to have sustainable, non-BABIP driven offensive success. While his August GB% may not be completely sustainable given where has was for much of the year, if he could maintain a ground-ball rate around Didi’s 2016 level, Hicks could notice more continued success in the future.

Now, let’s take a look to see how Hicks has done more damage offensively based on pitch selection. Because Hicks only had a small number of PAs from the right side of the plate in August, the following comparison is going to focus on Hicks’ PAs from the left side (against right-handed pitching). With that being said, the graphic below shows (from the catcher’s point of view) Hicks’ swing rate on four-seam fastballs against right-handed pitching from April through July.

Aaron Hicks1

Hicks was quite aggressive on fastballs just about anywhere in the zone as well as fastballs up and out of the zone for the first four months of the season. Being aggressive on fastballs in the zone is generally a positive, but considering that Hicks pulled the ball at a 46.4% clip during this time frame, he probably would be better off attacking pitches on the inner-half of the plate only. (For reference, Brian McCann pulls the ball 49.8% of the time so far this season.)

Additionally, while Hicks struggled mightily overall during this time, he did minimal damage on fastballs up and out of the zone, which is not particularly surprising given the location, but is quite poor considering how often he chased those pitches. Hicks struggled so much from April-July, that it would seem difficult to find one particular issue. His fastball selection, however, certainly stands out as contributing to his struggles. Now, let’s take a look at the same chart except with the time period being the entire month of August.

Aaron Hicks3

While keeping in mind that one month is obviously a smaller sample size than four, Hicks was much more successful at laying off fastballs up and out of the zone. Those types of fastballs can be challenging to do much damage with, so this stands out as a clear improvement for Hicks! Another noticeable difference between the two charts is that Hicks has also been more selective within the strike zone. While still swinging at some fastballs in the outer part of the zone, Hicks has taken more of them, while looking to attack fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. He has even been slightly more likely to swing at fastballs in and off the plate. Given his tendencies to pull the ball, Hicks has improved greatly in August by being more selective with fastballs and looking to attack ones located on the inner-half of the plate.

Of course, the sample size of pitches that meet these criteria is quite small, but Hicks has done quite a bit of damage in August on fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. The increased selectivity has been paying off, as Hicks was an above-average offensive player for the month of August. However, it is, of course, unknown whether Hicks can sustain this kind of success over a longer period of time. Perhaps, he simply had a good month. The increased hard contact rate, increased line drive rate, and better fastball pitch selection, among other improvements, do provide a little bit of evidence that Hicks may have made real gains in his development. His recent injury obviously creates another obstacle on his path to sustaining this success, but it is certainly fair to say the month of August provided hope for Aaron Hicks as a hitter.

Guest Post: The Five Stages of Rebuild Grief

The following is a guest post from a longtime reader and commenter who goes by Robinson Tilapia in the comments. Enjoy.

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

In 1969, psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published the classic “On Death and Dying,” which introduced the world to her Five Stages of Grief.  Even if you only took a high school elective on psychology, you’ve probably come across the five stages.  They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Throughout the years, Kubler-Ross later expanded her model in order to incorporate other sorts of losses that were not necessarily related to death, such as divorce, displacement, and loss of job.

As a mental health professional in my non-RAB life, I began toying with the idea of whether these five stages applied to baseball fans after their favorite team completing taking part in the selling-off process that frequently accompanies rebuilds.  Does this not constitute, after all, a form of loss for the fan?

I gave up pretty quickly on making the comparison once I looked at Kubler-Ross’s stages.  I really couldn’t relate to “denial” as the first thing you experience after trading away Andrew Miller, nor am I sure “bargaining” has a place there at all.  Instead, I spent an entire drive to work trying to name my own five stages for the process, which I’m sharing here.  While I doubt these will bring me anywhere near the acclaim Kubler-Ross received for her stages, perhaps they’ll be remembered about half as much as Ben’s (or was it Joe’s?) theory on Zen Baseball.

The Five Stages of Rebuild Grief are as follows:

Elation – The names are announced.  You’ve read comment after comment repeating these names: Clint Frazier! Justus Sheffield! Gleyber Torres!  They’re Yankees now!  You Google any scouting report you can get your hands on, damn the source.  You read about how Frazier has elite bat speed, how Sheffield is holding his own in A-ball despite being two years underage, and about how Ben Heller can dial it up to 100 at times.  Ben Heller, you ask?!?!  I hadn’t heard of him … and he’s ours now?!  You watch as MLB quickly updates their prospect rankings in order to include all the new guys, and you begin to write out that 2018 lineup.  Nothing can go wrong.

Doubt – You’ve now sat down for a few minutes, and have begun to digest them all.  You’ve done your fair share of reading.  Perhaps you even stumbled upon that rascal, Dave Cameron, giving you all these lovely comparisons on Clint Frazier.  Perhaps Freddie Freeman is on them.  Unfortunately, Wily Mo Pena may also be there (Note: I am making these comps up.  I figured Wily Mo Pena is as good a boogeyman as any.  Cameron has said none of this that I know of.)  You begin asking yourself why Texas would give up last year’s number four pick in the entire draft, even though everything points to a hamstring injury messing with their mechanics.  What else would they know, and does that mean Chicago knew something about Torres as well?  You wonder why Frazier, when Joey Gallo remained untraded at the deadline.  You start to ask yourself whether these were actually the right moves.

Justification – You log on to your favorite website’s comment section.  Others seem to be vocalizing the same doubts you’ve begun to have.  Could they be right?  Nonsense. THIS is what the fans wanted all along.  THESE are the players we wanted.  WE are getting younger.  Not only do I have zero doubts, but I’ve never been happier as a fan!  I will watch every game the rest of the way.  As a matter of fact, I think there’s a pretty good chance they make the playoffs.  Who are you to think otherwise?  GET ON BOARD.

Despair – You’re now on board, but there’s no turning back, is there?  Your favorite team is committed to having a Frazier/Aaron Judge/whoever-someone-else-wants-less outfield in the near future.  You begin to think about how Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Drew Henson, and Eric Duncan broke your heart.  You had visions of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams shagging down fly balls in the outfield, but they’ve stalled out in AAA due to injury.  That can’t all be on the individual, can it?  No … it must be the Yankees, who are now entrusted to develop these guys too.  This was a bad idea, and there’s no way out now.  Are the St. Louis Cardinals looking for new fans?

Acceptance – The only overlapping stage with Kubler-Ross.  You’ve taken that deep breath, and now realize that all those options are possible outcomes and, know what?  It all sounds like fun.  It’s new.  It’s different.  You don’t know where this is going, but you’re willing to be taken for this ride.  You’ve reached that peace.  Go Yankees.

When you read what others have to say, no matter how negative or “Pollyanna” they may appear, they are simply on this same ride with you.  They’re just at a different marker.

Enjoy the ride.

Guest Post: Austin Romine’s transition from top prospect to trusty backup

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places. He’s previously written guest posts on Chris Capuano, Ike Davis, and the bullpen.


Andrew Romine is a 30-year old light-hitting middle infielder for the Detroit Tigers. The switch-hitting Romine is hitting a paltry .230 in 74 at-bats this season and has only hit five homers since making his debut in 2010 for the Angels. However, to his younger brother Austin, Andrew is more than just a middling backup infielder.

“He was my hero for a while, forever, still is,” said the younger Romine, who has resurrected his career this season with the Yankees. “I owe him a lot, especially the last couple of off-seasons, getting my career back on the map. He’s really just been the guy for me to just listen to him and he’s got my work ethic back going hard and he’s one of the big reasons why I’m having success in the game right now.”

The Romine brothers are both trying to stick in the family business – their father, Kevin, played in the majors from 1985-91, a reserve outfielder for the Red Sox who hit .251 in 331 big league games. Just fourteen families have sent a father and two sons to the major leagues, including noteworthy baseball families such as the Stottlemyres, Boones and the Alomars.

The Yankees took Austin in the second round of the 2007 draft, 94th overall and 84 places before his big brother was picked by Anaheim in the fifth round. He was handed a million dollar signing bonus out of high school and back in the winter of 2010, Baseball America ranked Austin as the Yankees’ sixth-best prospect. But he could never find the major league consistency to stick and blew chances in Spring Training to seize the backup catcher role. He has also battled various injuries, notably two bulging disks in his back in 2012 and a concussion suffered in September of 2013.

Romine had just 13 plate appearances in 2014 for New York and was cut two days before Opening Day last year, losing his spot to then-Yankee John Ryan Murphy. He was designated for assignment and slipped through waivers unclaimed. His days in pinstripes looked to be numbered. But he spent the next five months at Triple-A Scranton and made the most of his time there, when he really seemed to have no future in the organization.

“Well when they pull you in the office and they tell you that you’re not hitting and you need to hit, you need to show that you can handle hitting at the big league level, it kinds of puts something on your shoulder, not necessarily in a negative way, in a positive way — I wanted to show them that I can hit, I wanted to show them that I can do it, that I’m still a catcher that people want,” said Romine. “So I mean I went down there with the right mindset, I had gone down there before, years before angry, upset with myself and really taking it in a bad direction. But last year I went down and I wanted to prove that I can hit, not only to the Yankees but to everybody else in baseball so I went down there with a positive mindset and I know what I wanted to do and I put in a lot of work and it came out good.”

Romine was a key part in the RailRiders’ run to the International League North Division championship. He hit .260 with seven home runs, 49 RBIs in 92 games and was named to the midseason All-Star team. Romine received a promotion to the big club when rosters expanded in September but he played in just one game with the Yankees. Out of options, Romine came to Spring Training as a backup catcher candidate along with top prospect Gary Sanchez and veteran Carlos Corporan.

“I mean to tell you the truth, I figured it was going to be my last look,” Romine admits. “I kind of been passed over and put down on the list a little bit but every time you get in the lineup there’s a chance to show something, there’s a chance to prove something and that’s how I took it. I was relaxed and been there, like you said it’s my tenth time going around so I’ve been in this situation before, knew what to expect, just really relaxed and let what I can do take over.”

No one seemed to think Romine would actually win the job after Sanchez’s monster 2015 season and standout performance in the Arizona Fall League, but he said that he had finally slowed the game down and felt more comfortable than he’s ever been. Sanchez struggled, Corporan hit just .167 and Romine hit a respectable .289 in 38 at-bats. He won the job.

“I had an opportunity to win a job again even in a rough spot,” said Romine, who is now in his tenth season in the Yankee organization. “I had Gary, I had Corporan, I had a lot of catchers that might have been in front of me in camp and I just went in with the mindset that there’s always a chance and I had to hit to be noticed and that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to hit.”

Romine is trying to hit and he’s done just that. The 27-year-old is slashing .259/.276/.422 in limited time as Brian McCann’s backup. He has hit three homers and he’s batting .455 (10-22) with three doubles, 2 homers and 12 RBIs with runners in scoring position, the third highest average in the majors. In 169 major-league at-bats before this season, he had a .201/.244/.278 slash line with one home run and 11 RBIs.

Long considered the best defensive catcher in the Yankees’ system, Romine has also seemed to work well with the pitching staff, so much so that he may find himself becoming a personal catcher for Masahiro Tanaka, who is 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA in seven starts with Romine behind the plate.

Last Monday, Romine hit his first career go-ahead RBI in 8th inning or later off of Dallas Keuchel and he has performed better than anyone could have reasonably hoped. Backup catchers have remarkable staying power in the major leagues and Romine is making good on what was his last best chance to make it as a Yankee.

“There’s not very many chances in this game so to be passed over the year before for the job and to be able to get another chance to win it back and come back to New York is huge,” Romine said. “And I told myself I was going to take advantage of every opportunity that I got and that’s all I’m really trying to do.”

Guest Post: Adam Warren: The Once and Future Yankee

The following is a guest post from longtime reader Tarik Shah, who wrote about new old Yankee Adam Warren. Tarik previously wrote a guest post about the Yankee fandom in his family.


Ever since the departure of Robinson Cano to the Pacific Northwest, the Yankees have gotten cute trying to fill the gaping hole in their middle infield. First, in 2014, the ghost of Brian Roberts was given a shot, which predictably required the Yankees to acquire Martin Prado midseason. Prado performed admirably (147 wRC+ in 37 games), but it was not to be, as he was included in the trade that brought Nathan Eovaldi to the Bronx.

The 2015 season brought the great Stephen Drew experiment. The experiment, I believe, wasn’t to discover whether Stephen Drew could be a capable second baseman, but whether he could consistently hit a home run at the exact moment when the front office, coaches, and fans had exhausted their patience with his subpar play, thereby securing more playing time. By that metric at least, the experiment was a success.

Ultimately, this past offseason Brian Cashman made a risky move in acquiring the talented but enigmatic Starlin Castro from the Cubs. The new Yankee second baseman’s play thus far has been uninspiring. Castro accumulated 0.2 fWAR through his first 96 games. For reference, the much pilloried Stephen Drew accumulated 0.2 fWAR in 132 games. Of course, the cost to acquire this thus far unimpressive infielder is the subject of today’s article, Adam Warren. As has been widely reported, Mr. Warren is set to return to the Bronx as part of the trade that will send Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs.

When Warren was traded away, many fans were concerned as Warren had pitched well as a Yankee (2015: 3.29 ERA/3.59 FIP/3.89 xFIP in 131.1 IP). In particular, he occupied the often referenced, but rarely filled, Ramiro Mendoza slot. Such a player would be valuable to a team that had trouble in the back-end of its bullpen and rotation, so when the back-end of the Yankees bullpen and rotation stumbled, Warren’s loss was acutely felt.

However, casual fans, or those who only follow the Bombers, might be surprised to find out that Adam Warren has not performed well this year. In fact, his performance had been so poor, the Cubs recently demoted him to AAA (2016: 5.91 ERA/5.83 FIP/5.23 xFIP in 35 IP).

K% BB% HR/9
2015 19.5 7.3 0.69
2016 17.8 12.5 1.80

Giving up more walks, hits, home runs, and striking out fewer batters is no recipe for success. So what has changed for Warren, and what might he be able to tweak upon return to Yankee Stadium? The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at his batted ball profile is that he’s giving up more fly balls, and of those, more are going for home runs. The league average HR/FB is around 10%, so hopefully Warren can benefit from some regression to the mean. Even so, Warren’s xFIP sits at 5.23, which is not that far off from his 5.83 FIP. So, regression there will only help so much.

2015 22.8 45.2 32.0 8.3
2016 16.3 43.3 40.4 16.7

Warren has also not been as proficient at stranding runners this year, as he has throughout his career. His LOB% this year sits at 64.7% whereas it’s 75.8% for his career. Perhaps this too is an area where Warren can benefit from some regression.

As far as his pitch selection is concerned, so far in 2016 it seems that the only thing that Warren has changed is that he’s scaled back on sliders and curveballs, while going to his changeup more often. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help us explain why Warren has been struggling, as his change up has actually been worth 2.47 runs per 100 pitches.

2015 44.8 29.0 11.1 15.1
2016 44.9 25.5 7.5 22.1
Career 45.5 27.3 10.3 16.9

Has the velocity of his pitches decreased or changed significantly? It seems not. In fact, if you were to look at any number of Warren’s metrics you’d find that there has not been much of difference between what he did last year, and what he’s done this year, save for the results.

2015 92.5 87.2 79.4 84.3
2016 92.8 87.4 79.9 84.5

Unfortunately, this comes to an incredibly foreseeable and unsatisfying ending. Adam Warren has thrown 35 poor innings this year, not a very significant sample size. Reliever performance is volatile and subject to the effects of small sample sizes.

As far as can be told from the information available, Adam Warren the Cub is not much different from Adam Warren the Yankee, and yet, Adam Warren the Cub has not performed well. Brian Cashman knows this, and is hoping that with a little help from the cruel goddess of reliever volatility, Adam Warren can once again pitch like the Yankees version of Adam Warren.

Guest Post: Why the Opt Out Clause May Save the Yankees

The following is a guest post from longtime reader Don Sullivan. He recently wrote a guest post about the future of the Yankees’ top three relievers.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
A-Rod had an opt-out once upon a time. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At this point in time it is obvious to all that Free Agency in Major League Baseball isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to revenue sharing, gone are the days where small market teams no longer have the ability to lock up elite talent. With the constant injury risk professional athletes are exposed to, signing a contract for $20M+ and setting up you and your family for life is almost impossible to resist. (Bryce Harper notwithstanding, but his Under Armour deal certainly eases any financial burdens.) The Yankees no doubt have realized this, yet because of the constant pressure to win, they have been trotting out a patchwork roster.

However, gone are also they days, I believe, where you can lock up someone like Chris Sale (5 years $32M) without a player option (he actually has team options!). Opt-out clauses are becoming extremely popular. Once reserved for regrettable Yankee contract extensions (A-Rod and CC Sabathia), they have started to become almost mandatory for elite talent. Most recently and notably you saw it in the Stephen Strasburg and Yoenis Cespedes contracts, but also David Price, Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto. Even Ian Kennedy and Wei-Yin Chen secured opt outs.

Why is this relevant? Because it can bring elite players back to Free Agency for bigger contracts, thus putting the big market teams at an advantage again. Using the Sale contract as an example, imagine if his agent had negotiated an opt out after 2015? The player option trend has really just started to take hold and it will be a few years before teams like the Yankees can become the beneficiary of them, which brings me to my next point.

Although a different sport, the Yankees only need to look across town at the Knicks, for a horror tale in big spending and constantly mortgaging the future. For the sanity of all of us Yankee fans, they cannot and I believe will not turn into the Knicks. I do personally believe that this year, and next year, 2017, will be lost years for the ball club. This should be something most of the fan base, and ownership, comes to grips with.

Even with the Yankees losing the contracts of both Tex and Beltran after the season to clear up some payroll, there is no one hitting free agency worth big money. A 36-year-old Jose Bautista? No thank you. The oft injured 30-year-old Carlos Gomez? Nope. Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, Neil Walker, Colby Rasmus, Andrew Cashner? Yeah, this coming free agency crop isn’t going to turn the Yankees into World Series contenders.

Looking to 2018 is the reason (as noted in my last post about trading the relievers) you trade Dellin Betances if someone takes Jacoby Ellsbury. Is Ellsbury one of the Yankees 3 best position players on today’s team? Absolutely, however, today’s team is going nowhere. In 2018 and beyond, you hope that the ever improving farm system/international spending spree starts to bear some serious fruit and that the free agency market starts to return players of prominence due to the aforementioned player options. Players with Ellsbury’s tools (i.e. speed and no power) do not historically age well. Odds are the contract at $20M+ per year will be an absolute albatross on a, fingers crossed, young talented team that is a few free agent additions away from competing.

Right now, it actually will benefit the Yankees the most to act like a small market team. Pawn off their current major league aging assets, stay away from large free agency contracts (only because there is no one worth a large contract), and start to play some of the kids to see who is a part of the future and who is not. I am looking at you Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, etc. Yes, the Yankees financial might sets them apart from the rest of the league, but right now baseball has learned how to circumvent that. As noted, I believe that will change and it will greatly behoove the Yankees to have a young talented team that takes it bruises in 2017 and begins to reload the payroll in 2018 and beyond; then it will to sign stopgaps to long term deals and try and compete in 2017.

We have been spoiled as a fan base for the better part of the last two decades. I personally can see the light and will gladly take these next two years as “developmental” than go through the last 15 years of atrocities the Knicks have gone through in chasing the quick fix. I will be a Yankee fan no matter what for the next 40+ years, I will deal with a few bad years if it means a return to prominence and World Series appearances.

Guest Post: The Curious Case of Pineda’s Increasing Strikeout Totals and Declining Results

The following is a guest post from a longtime reader who goes by A Rare Ellsbury Fan in the comments. He’s a high school freshman and wishes to stay anonymous. AREF wrote about the perpetually enigmatic Michael Pineda.


For the first three (somewhat) healthy seasons of Michael Pineda’s Yankee career, the Yankees and fans have been left wanting more. Before the 2014 season, the only expectation on the shoulders of Michael Pineda was for him to finally put on the pinstripes and take the mound. After a dazzling 2011 rookie campaign in which he earned an All-Star selection with the Seattle Mariners, Pineda missed the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons with various arm and shoulder injuries. Since he finally got back on the mound in 2014, we have witnessed some very different shades of the man we affectionately (sometimes) refer to as “Big Mike.”

Unusual Dominance

The 2014 season was by far Pineda’s best in pinstripes and also statistically the best of his career, in an injury and suspension riddled sample size, admittedly. The big right-hander pitched to a 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) and allowed only 56 hits in 76.1 third innings. He kept balls in the park at an astounding rate (0.59 HR/9) while peculiarly inducing the most fly balls of his Yankees career (42.3%) and the lowest strikeout rate of his career (20.3%).

The first thing that jumps into my mind when I see these numbers is the luck factor. While there are many pitchers who make a living on weak fly balls, that has never really been Pineda’s MO besides that season. Also, in a homer prone ballpark in Yankee Stadium, the increase in fly balls should mean an increase in home runs, a far cry from the minuscule homer rate that he actually gave up in 2014.

Is it possible that Pineda was just generating weaker contact in 2014? Sure, and that likely contributed to some to it. Is it also possible that Pineda was a little fortunate that more fly balls weren’t leaving the park? That’s a likely possibility too. One thing that we do know, however, is that something doesn’t quite add up here.

First Signs of Trouble

After a strangely successful first half of the 2015 season, in which Pineda allowed 115 hits in 106.1 innings pitched to go along with a solid 3.64 ERA, the first real signs of trouble for Big Mike came in the second half of 2015. In that half, it seems as if Pineda’s string of good luck finally came to a screeching halt. Pineda maintained a similar hit to IP ratio (61 in 54.1 IP), but his ERA ballooned to a dreadful 5.80.

Overall, Pineda finished with a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) with 156 strikeouts and 176 hits allowed across 160.2 IP, the most since his aforementioned 2011 All-Star season. You may have noticed the increased strikeout rate (8.74 K/9) which jumped nearly 2 more batters a game from his highly successful 2014 season. He also was elite at limiting walks (1.18 BB/9).

The obvious conclusion here in the much discussed issue of Pineda not throwing enough “quality” strikes, meaning hitting the corners, bottom, and top of the zone, while not leaving pitches over the middle of the plate. This most likely played a part in the amount of hits given up, as well as the fact that he pitched nearly 100 more innings in 2015 than he did in 2014. Assuredly, with all that behind him, Pineda was primed for a bounce back 2016 season.

An Unexpected Step Back

The 2016 season to date has been a very, very bad one for Big Mike. Again, his strikeout rate is higher than It was last season (24.4% vs. 23.4%), but with it has come another inflated pitching line. So far, Pineda has a 5.88 ERA (4.04 FIP) with 90 hits against him in only 72 innings, all while opponents have hit .299 against him.

It’s not just the stats either. Pineda has looked lost on the bump, with body language indicating frustration.Any consistency that he once had with his slider, which is a devastating wipeout pitch at its best, is gone. Every time he throws one, you cringe and hope that it isn’t hit 450 feet for another homer. This is the worst we’ve seen from Pineda during his tenure with the Yankees, and it has not been pretty.

Overall, Michael Pineda is the biggest wild card on the Yankees staff. On some days he looks like a true front of the rotation pitcher, and on other days he looks like he belongs in AAA. With his free agency fast approaching, and his rotation mate Nathan Eovaldi having shown major strides the second half of last season and into this year, this is a critical time for Michael Pineda to get his act together.

There could be a time where the Yankees will need to choose between one of the two to extend long term, and at this point, it certainly seems to be leaning in Eovaldi’s direction. If Pineda can find his put-away slider again, it will not only pay major dividends for him, but it will make an already solid Yankees rotation even better. With this offense, we all know they need it.

Guest Post: Constructing the 1927 Team: The Spitballer With The 80 Name Tool

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, and Earle Combs.


It must have been a dream came true on October 8, 1927 for a 5-foot-10, 170 lb. right-handed pitcher from Cleveland, Ohio named Urban Shocker. In front of 57,909 people at Yankee Stadium, the team that history would consider the most dominant ever, won the World Series on a Game 4 walk-off wild pitch by Johnny Miljus. Urban never threw a pitch in that 1927 World Series despite having won 18 games in 200 innings for the World Champion Yankees. The 1927 season had started out in drama for the Yankees front office and the right-hander, yet, he still provided Miller Huggins what was expected. The man who had been a Yankee long before the rest of the champions was at a crossroads in his 12 year career. The 1928 season would be the last anyone would see from the lanky pitcher.

The Shockcor of Cleveland

The fifth child of a machinist, Urbain Jacques Shockcor came into the world on September 22, 1890 in the city of Cleveland, Ohio. His father, William H. Shockcor (born 1852), worked as the foreman of the Ship Owners’ Dry Dock Company on Old River Street, which did dry docking and general repair work on ships in the Cleveland area. The company had been created by Irishman Andrew Miller, and after Miller died in 1881, his sons ran the company. In 1900, the company was sold to the newly-formed Ship Owners’ Dry Dock Company.

The reason I am covering the history of this company is because in 1907, it was sold to the Chicago Ship Building Company, which sold it to the American Ship Building Company’s Chicago subsidiary. If the name American Ship Building sounds familiar to the Yankee fans, it should. George M. Steinbrenner III’s company (Kinsman Marine Transit) was bought out by American Ship Building in the early 1960s, and as a result, Steinbrenner got a controlling interest in the company, a decade before buying the Yankees.

Enough corporate history for one post; Shockcor’s mother, Anne Katherine (nee Spies) was born in 1858 and made her living as a local dressmaker. Their newborn son in September 1890 was their third son of five children. (The Shockcors would eventually have eight children in total, including another son, Clarence A.J., in 1892.) The Shockcors would soon move to Detroit, with their father becoming a member of the Woodmen of the World, an Omaha-based fraternity of woodmen.

The time in Michigan would be the place where young Urbain would make baseball his life. In 1912, at age 21, the young Shockcor would make his professional debut for the Windsor club of the Level D Border League, which had teams at Wyandotte, Pontiac (nicknamed the Indians), Ypsilanti, Mount Clemens (Bathers), and Port Huron in Michigan, along with the lone Ontario team. During his time at the Class-D Ontario team, Shockcor went between the positions of pitching and catching in 1913. In what historical record we have, he appeared in at least 27 games for the Windsor club, hitting a paltry .149 (.264 slugging). This included 13 hits: 3 doubles, 2 triples and a single home run.

His time as a catcher would be short lived, however, due to a freak accident during the 1913 season. When catching, he stopped a ball with his middle finger on his pitching hand and though the injury healed, it caused a hook at the end of the last joint. Though it ended his catching career, Shockcor found out that the pitching in his right hand was much improved with the injury. The hooked finger gave him a stronger grip on the ball and caused a ball to act like a spitball. In 16 games, the young Shockcor threw 131 innings, allowing 114 hits and 66 runs. His 1.122 WHIP and 2.75 led the team to a 6-7 record with him pitching.

In 1914, the 23-year old Shockcor went to the Class B Canadian League’s Ottawa Senators. This league, mostly within the province of Ontario, had 8 teams (Brantford Red Sox, Erie Yankees, Hamilton Hams, London Tecumsehs, Peterborough Petes, St. Thomas Saints and Toronto Beavers). Playing under player/manger Shag Shaughnessy, the young Shockcor hit in 55 games, with a .223 batting average (22 singles, 1 double) and threw a 2.17 ERA in 236.2 innings, with a 20-8 record.

In 1915, the young pitcher netted 38 singles, with 4 doubles and 3 triples (hitting .277/.350 in 137 AB). As a pitcher, he threw a minor league career high 303.0 innings, pitching to a 1.99 ERA and a 19-10 win-loss record. He struck out 185 players and walked only 40, which he thanked to his slow ball (spitball really) as the Senators won the Canadian League championship in 1915. (They also won the championship in 1912, 1913 and 1914.)

$750 and a Dream

In September 1915, the Yankees selected Shockcor (it’s unclear when he changed his name from Shockcor to Shocker) from the Guleph, Ontario team for $750. The Yankees wasted no time bringing him to Spring Training in 1916. He had a rough start to his Yankee career, because on an intrasquad game of March 16, 1916, he was spiked by Tim Hendryx on a grounder down the first base line. The stubborn Shocker was supposed to be out several weeks, but he managed to return on March 21.

Shocker made two appearances in the early parts of the 1916 season, once against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium, throwing three innings of two-run ball in relief of Bob Shawkey and Nick Cullop. The second was on May 3 against the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park. This time, Shocker gave up 2 runs in 1 inning in relief of Ray Keating. The Yankees put him on waivers and sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League on May 15. Bill Donovan and the front office had to choose between Shocker and Dan Tipple. Where Shocker only cost the Yankees $750, Tipple had cost the team $9,000! The fight to keep Shocker could be considered bloody, as the Yankees had $1,500 offers for him to play elsewhere.

The decision to send Shocker to Toronto paid off. Shocker went to Toronto and became an immediate ace. In 24 games (20 starts), he won 15 and only lost 3. The .833 winning percentage led the International League, but his 1.31 ERA did not. He only gave up 115 hits and 27 earned runs along with 73 walks and 152 strikeouts. This amazing season in the IL included an 11 and a 13-inning no-hitter for the 25 year old Shocker. Shocker threw 58 straight scoreless innings in Toronto at one point in time, and there was predictions by then that Shocker would be back in a Yankee uniform before the season of the IL was over. This was indeed the case.

On August 12 at the Polo Grounds, Shocker turned an 8-inning performance of 2 hits, 1 run, 1 walk and 7 strikeouts. He would be replaced in the 9th by Shawkey, but lost because Bullet Joe Bush threw a shutout and second baseman Joe Gedeon made a costly error. Shocker’s pitches were reported by The New York Times as “darting around like a Mexican jumping bean.” At the end of the season, Shocker accounted for 12 games, including 9 starts. Of those 9 starts, 4 were complete games, and 1 was a shutout. His W-L record finished at 4-3 and he only gave up 2 home runs in 82 IP. He struck out 43 batters, and walked only 32. Offensively, Shocker had 21 at bats, recording 4 hits, 1 RBI, 5 walks and 2 runs scored. His official batting line was .190/.370/.190. Shocker made $1,350 total.

In 1917, the young Shocker found himself permanently etched into the Yankees rotation under Bill Donovan. The 1917 season, however, ended up being a trying year for the young spitballer. Shocker tended to drink and when he was in Boston during the season, he and spitballer Ray Caldwell (who was known to be a heavy drinker) were fined by Donovan for not returning to the Lenox Hotel (an upscale hotel in the Back Bay) by midnight the night after a game. Shocker received a first-offense lenient penalty of $50 ($927 in 2016) while Caldwell was slammed for his drinking. Caldwell was fined $100 ($1,855) on June 29 for his actions, as well as suspended without pay for the next ten days. Both Shocker and Caldwell had managed to violate training rules and the latter did not show up to Fenway Park for the next game. (Caldwell would be fined by Ban Johnson in August for intentionally getting himself ejected by umpire Silk O’Loughlin because he didn’t want to have to perform in the game or be with his team.)

Statistically, 1917 was also trying in terms of the performance on the baseball field for the 26-year old. Shocker appeared in 26 games for the Yankees, but only started 13 of them. In those 13 games, Shocker had 7 complete games (no shutouts) and accounted for a 104 ERA+ (a drop from his 112 ERA+ the previous season in a smaller sample size.) In all, Shocker matched his 1916 season in ERA (2.61) and managed to only give up 5 home runs, while sustaining a 68/46 strikeout/walk rate.

While there was improvement over the 1916 team, Donovan and the front office traded Shocker in January 1918, along with catcher Les Nunamaker, utility man Fritz Maisel, pitcher Nick Cullop, super-utility man Joe Gedeon, and $15,000 to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Eddie Plank and utility man Del Pratt. Plank would end up refusing to report to the Yankees and retired. This trade has been considered one of the most lopsided deals the Yankees have ever made. Miller Huggins, now in charge of the Yankees, was told that Shocker had a poor personality, and in 1925, noted that he never would’ve traded him had he known more.

To The Browns and Back

Because this is a Yankee blog, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about Shocker’s time in a Browns uniform. However, I will note a couple important things about his time in the St. Louis uniform. The first is that Shocker’s trade would be made even worse because he became an ace against his former team. The New York Times called him “The Great Nemesis” of the Yankees.

Second, his 1918 season was interrupted by World War I and his requirement to go to serve after being drafted. On June 31, 1918, Shocker reported to duty, but that didn’t stop him from pitching. He pitched for the Battle Creek, MI based baseball team. Shocker had given the Browns 9 starts and 5 relief appearances before ending the season abruptly.

The 1919 season was also interrupted by his military service (this time at the beginning; he returned from war on April 1). Shocker threw an average season for the Browns, who had him make 25 starts and 5 relief appearances. His stats would amount to a 2.69 ERA and a 13-11 record. At the end of the 1919 season, the spitball was banned by baseball’s managers. After lifelong Cleveland Nap/Indian Ray Chapman was killed by the Yankees’ Carl Mays on August 17, 1920, the league banned it following the 1920 season. The 17 spitballers in the league, including Caldwell and Shocker, were allowed to continue to throw it under a grandfather clause.

After the 1920 season, Shocker became the ace of the Browns and went on a rampage. In 1921 and 1922, the young Shocker started 38 games for the Browns and threw over 300 innings both times. His ERA during those times fluctuated, with a 2.97 ERA in 1922 and 3.41 in 1922. Three of his known ejections also occurred in the Browns uniform, for bench jockeying in 1920 and arguing balls and strikes twice in 1922 and 1923 respectively. On December 17, 1924, the St. Louis Browns traded Shocker back to the New York Yankees for the aforementioned Bullet Joe Bush, pitcher Milt Gaston (who would live to 100 (died in 1996)) and pitcher Joe Giard (Giard would end up being a Yankee again in 1927).

The Second Time Around

In 1925, now suited for his best chance at a championship ring, Shocker returned to his old team, now under the leadership of Babe Ruth. Miller Huggins noted his regret for the trade on the day of the announcement, saying it was a “grave injustice” that he was ever traded Shocker in the first place. The spitballer had a pretty average season for the Yankees, with a 3.65 ERA in 30 starts (41 appearances in total) and came to a 12-12 record for a seventh-place Yankee teams. In 1925, he also maintained an 88/52 strikeout/balls rate, giving Miller Huggins a 117 ERA+ performance. However, during the 1925 season, the health problems began to show, without anyone’s knowledge. Shocker developed a heart ailment, but he kept the details to himself.

The 1926 season was the year Shocker had waited so long for. The 1926 Yankees were a healthy team, and Shocker led a young rotation to the American League pennant with a 3.38 ERA in 32 starts (9 relief appearances). His record was 19-11 and represented a 114 ERA+ on the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig-led Yankees. That year the spitballer finished third in wins (19) and winning percentage (.633), along with a fifth-place showing in lowest opponent OBP.

The pennant-winning team sent Shocker to start Game 2 of the 1926 World Series against the great Grover Cleveland Alexander and the ace nearly matched Alexander. Urban mixed his pitches (spitters, curves, off-speed and fastballs) except for a Billy Southworth homer that gave the St. Louis Cardinals the lead for good. Shocker still wanted to start once again, leaving Huggins with the decision of pitching Bob Shawkey or Shocker in Game 6. Huggins chose to start Shawkey and kept Shocker ready for a Game 7. However, Shocker ended up being used in a 5-1 game from the bullpen and gave up a homer and single before retiring the side. The Cardinals won the game 10-2 and Shocker was furious that he had to come out of the bullpen in Game 6 and not start the game.

The 1927 season was the year everything came together for the great Shocker. Shocker led a pitching staff that included Waite Hoyt, George Pipgras, Wilcy Moore, Herb Pennock and Dutch Ruether. The team ran away with the pennant while Shocker threw 200 innings in 27 starts, pitching to a 2.84 ERA and an 18-6 record (.750 winning percentage (second highest in the majors that year). For the second consecutive season, Shocker walked more players than he struck out, despite the improved numbers everywhere else.

Shocker turned in his Yankee-best 137 ERA+ (his career high was 150 in 1918) and Babe Ruth had high respect of the spitballer. Ruth noted that “Rubber Belly” had gotten older, but was smart enough to make sure he could control the ball any way he wanted. Shocker’s health was deteriorating quickly from the heart ailment and when the 1927 World Series approached against the Pittsburgh Pirates, newspapers notes Shocker was the best pitcher the Yankees had, and that the Pirates were terrible against him.

The sweep of the Pirates meant Reuther and Shocker were not called for their starts. Shocker apparently had acquired heart disease circa 1925 and only a few knew of it. When December 1927 came around, Shocker’s health had continued to collapse. Shocker, who had weighed in at 170 for most of his career, had dropped to 115 and was fighting for his life. Shocker decided the time was right to pack it in, especially after sending the Yankees a message of his displeasure with them by sending his 1928 contract back unsigned. Shocker announced his retirement on February 16, 1928 (after a media brew-ha-ha in which Miller Huggins stated that they were ready to move on) stating that he wanted to devote time to his radio work in St. Louis and that his career was over with a good record.

The End

By April, though, Shocker had second thoughts and applied to be reinstated. Kenesaw Mountain Landis approved his application, letting him return on April 7, 1928. Seventeen days later, the Yankees signed Shocker to a 1 year/$15,000 deal and he would prepare to pitch. The press kept his wishes, making no comment about his health. On May 30, Shocker made his only appearance of the season, replacing Al Shealy in relief of a 3-0 games against the Washington Senators. He gave up three hits in two innings, but did not give up a run.

Throwing batting practice a few weeks later at Comiskey Park, the dying Shocker collapsed on the field. On July 7, 1928, after passing through waivers, Shocker was released from the contract he signed. Shocker noted that he took the deal in April because Yankees owed him $1,500 for moving expenses in 1925 for the trade back to the Yankees and the front office refused to pay it. Even after Huggins offered to pay the money himself, Shocker refused, only accepting the money from the club. He noted that he got his money back, four years late.

As for the post-release time, Shocker went to Denver to get his career revived, as well as seek medical attention for his heart disease. Despite playing for an independent team in Denver, Shocker was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver (the City Park West neighborhood) on August 13 for pneumonia. His wife spent his time at his bedside, listening to the Yankees win the pennant in 1928. Playing in a tournament in Denver on August 6, he was also stricken with what doctors called athlete’s heart (AHS), which is when the human heart grows and the resting rate is slower than normal. It is common in those who exercise over an hour a day, especially those who do endurance training.

On August 15 it was reported that Shocker was supposedly improving, but his wife Irene noted that he had a broken heart because he missed being in the pennant race with the Yankees. Shocker loved the game to the day he passed, listening to them 1,500 miles away in his death bed. With each loss, he felt the pain of the team losing, and with each win, he felt the joy in their victory.

Urbain Jacques Shockcor died at 7:10 am on September 9, 1928 at the age of 38, with the mix of pneumonia and heart disease. While the doctors used the medical reasons for his death, his wife cited the broken heart for the team. Even by the Friday before his death, they felt he had a chance to recover, but he had a relapse, leading to his death. On September 12, the Yankees announced that they would attend Shocker’s funeral, if it was delayed so they had the free chance before a series against the Browns.

Shocker’s body was moved from Denver to St. Louis, where over 1,000 mourners attended his funeral ceremony at All Saints Catholic Church. Lou Gehrig, Herb Pennock, Earle Combs, Mike Gazella, Gene Robertson and Waite Hoyt all served as pallbearers at his funeral. Brother Benjamin, the pastor at St. Mary’s Bays School in Baltimore (which Babe Ruth attended) also attended the funeral. The casket was brought to Calvary Cemetery in the northern end of St. Louis, where he was buried. The mood of the funeral carried over into the Yankees series against the Browns, who kicked them around.

Shocker’s career ended with a .615 winning percentage (187-117) in 412 games (317 starts) with a 3.17 ERA. This included 200 complete games and 28 shutouts. Though the save statistic would not be created until 1959 by Jerome Holtzman, Baseball-Reference credits him with 25 saves. Pitching to career 124 ERA+, Shocker faced 11,137 batters, striking out 983.

Shocker was one of the greatest spitballers in Yankee history, and if the ill-fated trade of January 1918 had never occurred, I’m confident there would be a plaque in Monument Park for the man who was really the first ace of the Miller Huggins era. It would only be fair. The kid from Cleveland became one of the best baseball pitchers in the American League and was gifted with an 80 name tool. The story of his early demise only leaves speculation to what Shocker could have been in 1928 and onward, but speculation is not for this historian.