Thoughts following Gleyber Torres’ Tommy John surgery news

Gleybaby :( (Scranton Times Tribune)
Gleybaby :( (Scranton Times Tribune)

Over the weekend, top prospect Gleyber Torres managed to tear the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on a play at the plate. He will have season-ending Tommy John surgery. It sucks so much. Sooo much. The injury combined with the disaster West Coast road trip make this one of the worst weeks in recent Yankees history. No doubt about it. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the injury and the fallout.

1. If this injury comes with a silver lining, it’s this: the injury is to Gleyber’s non-throwing elbow, and he’s a position player. The Tommy John surgery rehab timetable for position players is usually 6-8 months, not the 14-16 months it is for pitchers nowadays. The Yankees say they expect Torres to be ready in time for Spring Training — the Arizona Fall League or winter ball isn’t going to happen though — and that isn’t aggressive at all. There is always risk with surgery and the lost development time shouldn’t be ignored. Torres is going to lose 300 or so plate appearances and he’ll never get them back. At the end of the day, this is a severe injury, but it is also fairly straightforward and correctable. And he is only 20. It’s not like he’s 25 or 26.

2. A torn elbow ligament and Tommy John surgery is pretty darn common these days, though the way Torres tore his ligament is pretty unique. When’s the last time someone blew out their elbow on a slide? Heck, when’s the last time someone blew out their non-throwing elbow? Usually the ligament tears during a throw, even with position players. I can’t remember ever hearing of a player tearing his elbow ligament on an impact play like a slide into home plate. Weird. Torres must have really come down on that elbow hard, huh? Or maybe the ligament was already frayed and on the verge of tearing, and the slide was the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the end of the day, it was a fluke injury suffered during a fairly common baseball play. It’s just weird that it resulted in this injury.

3. As good as he is — and Torres is insanely talented — probably the biggest weakness in his game right now is his baserunning. He’s overly aggressive and it leads to a lot of pickoffs and outs on the bases. There were a few of them back in Spring Training. Torres would push the envelope when he shouldn’t have, and the result was an out. Not a fatal flaw! A correctable flaw through experience. Here’s the slide that resulted in the injury:

That’s not a headfirst slide. That’s more of an awkward feet first slide with an arm extended. Perhaps the awkwardness of the slide contributed to the injury. I mean, it almost certainly did. Torres plays with a lot of energy and you’d hate to take that aggressiveness away from him. Pushing the envelope is a good thing (at times). But, in this case, that aggressiveness combined with crummy slide fundamentals led to an injury. Gleyber’s baserunning issues resulted in something much worse than an out this time.

4. Interestingly enough, after Torres got hurt Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique told Amy Moritz the Yankees teach their players not to slide headfirst. Headfirst slides are too dangerous. Here’s what Pedrique told Moritz before the torn ligament was discovered:

“It’s one thing that we teach as an organization, try not to have the guys slide head-first, any base and especially home plate because of all the gear the catcher has on,” Pedrique said. “When I saw the slide it was a concern and then afterwards when I saw him stay on the ground, definitely it was a scary moment for everybody. He came back from the hospital. Everything’s normal. So from that end, we’re very excited he didn’t get hurt worse. Again, that’s one thing we try to tell the player and teach them how to slide. But in the moment of the game, the competition, sometimes they don’t use the information to slide feet-first.”

“Injuries are part of the game but if we can avoid one like that one, we’re going to do the best we can to make sure they understand the reason why we don’t like the head-first slide,” Pedrique said. “He’s a young guy. He has a long way to learn about a lot of things in the game but he has a lot of talent and again thank God he didn’t get hurt worse.”

Mike Trout tore ligaments in his thumb during a headfirst slide a few weeks ago. Feet first slides are dangerous too! Everything in baseball is inherently dangerous. Former Yankees prospects David Adams and Ravel Santana suffered catastrophic ankle injuries on feet first slides and were never the same. But there are so many tiny bones and ligaments in your hands. Players are bigger and faster than ever before, and when you hit that bag with all that force, it can be easy to break or tear those little bones or ligaments. I’m guessing the Yankees are not the only team trying to teach their players to avoid headfirst slides, and I’m glad they’re doing it. Sometimes the player’s instincts take over and they go in with their hands though.

5. I absolutely believe the Yankees were planning to call Torres up at some point, possibly soon after the All-Star break. They promoted him quickly from Double-A and there’s been chatter they were grooming him to take over at third base. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Gleyber still needed to improve his defense at third before getting called up, but I think he would have gotten comfortable there fairly soon. He made a remarkable amount of process this season otherwise. Now a call-up is completely off the table. Even if you didn’t love the idea or weren’t sold on Torres being a short-term upgrade at third base, the option existed. Now it doesn’t. That bites. I thought Torres would be up at some point in the second half and help right away. Not like Gary Sanchez helped last year, but enough.

6. So, with that in mind, the Yankees are probably going to ramp up their search for third base help. I’m not 100% convinced they’ll buy at the trade deadline, but they will do their due diligence. Chase Headley has settled in following an uneven start to the season. He hit .251/.329/.383 (92 wRC+) last year and he’s at .249/.329/.364 (86 wRC+) this year. This is pretty much who he’ll be going forward. It’s one thing to sit Headley for a top prospect like Torres. It’s another to sit him for a veteran you pick up in a trade. Guys like Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie might not be enough of an upgrade to sacrifice the prospects. Mike Moustakas would be a different story, though the Royals have climbed back into the race, so he might not be available now. Furthermore, teams know Torres is a non-option now, so the Yankees doesn’t have much leverage. That top prospect they could call up instead of trading for your guy isn’t available. Right now, my guess is Headley will be the third baseman the rest of the season. I didn’t think that was the case before the Torres injury.

7. All things considered, the injury is worse news for Torres than the Yankees. He was maybe weeks away from making his big league debut, and now he’ll have to wait until at least next season, maybe longer if the Yankees decide to be be cautious after surgery. The Yankees aren’t losing anyone off their big league roster — I personally thought Torres would get called up, but it was not set in stone — and they’re not losing a trade chip either because Torres is presumably atop their untouchables list. Tommy John surgery for position players has an extremely high success rate — the only position players to have a real hard time with the rehab are catchers, who use their arms so much — and Torres didn’t even hurt his throwing elbow. The injury bites because Torres will miss so much development time. That’s baseball. Players get hurt but there’s still another game to play tonight. The division title ain’t gonna win itself. Onward.

Thoughts following the nightmare West Coast trip

You wouldn't like Judge when he's angry. (Presswire)
You wouldn’t like Aaron when he’s angry. (Presswire)

So that road trip could have gone better, huh? If it makes you feel any better, the Yankees were one reliever getting hot away from going 4-3 in the seven games rather than 1-6. They had a lead with no more than six outs to go in three of those losses. “These are the times you find out what you’re made of as a team,” said Matt Holliday to Erik Boland after yesterday’s game. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. I think the odds are pretty good, maybe as good as 70/30, that Chance Adams will make his next start in the big leagues. CC Sabathia is going to be out a while and piggybacking Luis Cessa and Chad GreenJoe Girardi didn’t trust Cessa to go through a lineup a third time last year, so it’s not just yesterday — doesn’t strike me as something the Yankees would do for an extended period of time. Adams hasn’t slowed down a bit since the promotion to Triple-A, and heck, he’s already thrown more innings with the RailRiders than Jordan Montgomery did last year (40.2 to 37). It’s getting to the point where there’s no sense in wasting those bullets in the minors when he could possibly help you win in the big leagues, you know? Maybe the Yankees want to wait until his command improves, though they’re not shy about using command-challenged pitchers in the rotation at the big league level. There’s an open rotation spot and an open 40-man roster spot. Seems like it might be about that time to give Adams a shot.

2. The Gleyber Torres injury stinks and I’m glad it’s not more serious. It looked pretty bad. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the play was A.J. Pollock last year. He fractured his elbow on an similar play at the end of Spring Training and missed basically the entire season. Here’s video of the Pollock injury. Looks like an innocent little slide! Torres is going for more tests today, though initial x-rays came back negative and he was diagnosed with a hyper-extension, so that’s encouraging. Hopefully there’s no ligament damage or anything. Torres says he already feels better, for what it’s worth. Anyway, that’s just a fluke-ish injury on a common baseball play. It happens. As long as the injury isn’t serious, the biggest negative here is the lost playing time, specifically the lost reps at third base. Gleyber’s bat has come around the last two weeks or so — he’s gone 18-for-45 (.400) with three doubles, one triple, and two homers in his last 12 games — but everyone in the organization seems to agree he needs more work at third base before being a big league option. The injury doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a big league call-up later this season. It might delay it a little bit, however.

3. The bullpen struggled big time during the West Coast trip, and with that happening, Dellin Betances‘ recent workload has become a bit of a hot topic. His lack of work, that should be. YES put up this graphic during Saturday’s game:

dellin-betances-workload

Ten innings in five weeks for one of the best relievers on the planet on a first place team. Yeesh. That is partly due to the offense. The Yankees have won a ton of blowouts this season — they’re 19-2 in games decided by at least five runs, which is nearly one-third of their games played — and Betances doesn’t pitch in blowouts. It’s also due to the fact he was the closer and got saved for save situations, which is silly, but it is what it is. Here’s what I wrote after the Aroldis Chapman injury:

I wonder whether it would be smart to let Tyler Clippard close rather than Betances. Clippard could start the ninth inning fresh with no one on base, allowing Betances to remain a setup man and potentially put out fires in the seventh inning on occasion … Hopefully Clippard and Betances (and Warren) are lights out and who pitches when isn’t a big deal. I just worry we’re going to see seventh or eighth inning leads evaporate with Betances sitting in the bullpen, being held back for the save situation.

That is pretty much exactly what happened on the West Coast trip. The Yankees had a late-inning lead in three of the six losses. In another, the game was tied in the seventh. Betances pitched in one of those games. Sigh. Dellin has thrown 21.2 innings through 67 games this season. Through 67 games last year, he’d thrown 32.2 innings. The year before it was 35 innings. The year before that is was 38.2 innings. Considering Betances wore down in September each of the last two seasons — and that the postseason is a very real possibility for the 2017 Yankees — perhaps the light workload now will pay dividends later. Then again, Dellin has always been a guy who needs regular work to keep his mechanics in check. He says so himself. Surely there was a happy medium to be struck while Chapman was out, right? Something between being overworked and throwing only ten innings in five weeks? Whatever. What’s done is done. It just irked me to see Betances marginalized by the save rule.

4. As for the rest of the bullpen, I said the other day the Yankees might need more help than a healthy Chapman, and a potential problem is that bullpen help tends to be quite expensive at the trade deadline. It’s not just the Chapman and Andrew Miller types. The Dodgers gave up Yordan Alvarez, a really good prospect (No. 14 in the Astros system), to get Josh Fields last year. Josh Fields! Even though I’m not the world’s biggest Clippard fan, getting him for a busted prospect last summer was a pretty shrewd move, and I’m hoping Brian Cashman can swing something similar this trade deadline. I just have no idea who that pitcher is, that veteran change of scenery guy. John Axford, maybe? A.J. Ramos? I’m not sure. And are any of them better than what the Yankees already have? I suppose they don’t have to be, necessarily. They’re better than someone in the organization and the extra depth helps. Point is, I get the sense the bullpen we see right now won’t be the bullpen the Yankees have in August and September.

5. Last weekend Aaron Judge hit that hilariously awesome 495-foot home run against the Orioles, though I thought it was only his second most impressive home run of the game. He hit an opposite field shot a few innings later. Remember this?

That’s not a bad pitch! It’s a really good pitch, actually. Jimmy Yacabonis threw a nasty little 96 mph two-seamer that started off the plate away and rode back in to clip the outside corner. Beautiful pitch. Judge just reached out and flicked it into the right field seats. Insane. He was down in the count 1-2 at one point. He took a borderline pitch for the 2-2 count, then hit that home run. Great at-bat that resulted in a home run off a pitch most hitters either take for a strike or try to foul off. The man is amazing. Throw a bad pitch and he’ll hit it 495 feet. Throw a good pitch and he’ll take it the other way 400 feet. All the “he’s a better pure hitter than he gets credit for” stuff that circulated as he came up through the minors is so true, isn’t it?

6. Does the recent Jean Segura extension mean anything for Didi Gregorius? Segura, who was two years away from free agency at the time of the extension, received five years and $70M coming off a season in which he hit .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+). Gregorius is hitting .330/.351/.500 (124 wRC+) right now, and if the Yankees were to sign him after the season, he’d be two years away from free agency. Similar point of their careers and similar platform year production, with the giant caveat that Gregorius still has 90-something games to play this year, so who knows where his numbers will end up. Remember, Segura hit .252/.285/.331 (65 wRC+) with +0.3 WAR from 2014-15. He stunk. Then he had one big year and got paid. Why? Because good shortstops are valuable and damn hard to find. Gregorius was good during his first two years with the Yankees and he might be taking his game to another level this season. I know the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors. That’s great. I don’t consider their presence enough of a reason to not explore a long-term extension with Gregorius. If nothing else, an extension would make him more valuable in a trade. The Segura deal provides a contract benchmark. You can be sure Gregorius and his agent will reference it in any extension talks.

7. Regarding last week’s amateur draft, my guess is the Yankees had to resort to Plan B with Clarke Schmidt and Matt Sauer. The player(s) they really wanted in the first round was off the board (Nick Pratto? Trevor Rogers?), and the backup plan was a below-slot deal with the injured Schmidt in the first round and Sauer (or a similar prospect who slipped) in the second round. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer kinda sorta hinted at that after the draft. “This could have easily become a three-straight-position-players at the top of the draft,” he said to Randy Miller. I don’t love the Schmidt pick and would have preferred one of the comparable healthy players still on the board, specifically Evan White (RAB profile), David Peterson (RAB profile), or D.L. Hall (RAB profile), but I’m just an idiot blogger. The Yankees are smarter and have more information than me. My educated guess, based on following the draft for nearly two decades now, is that selecting an injured mid-first round talent in the middle of the first round was not Plan A. The Yankees probably had their eyes on someone else, and when that someone else wasn’t available, they shifted gears.

8. I do like the Yankees’ recent trend of taking lower level arms in minor trades rather than cash and I hope that continues indefinitely. They’ve done this twice recently. They got rookie-baller Yoiber Marquina from the Indians for Nick Goody and Low-A righty Matt Frawley from the Pirates for Johnny Barbato. Both Goody and Barbato had been designated for assignment, so the Yankees had zero leverage in trade talks. They had to be moved and everyone knew it. That’s why the majority of players who have been designated are traded for cash. And from what I understand, the cash sum is usually equal to the $50,000 waiver fee, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. The Yankees don’t need cash. I’d rather see them roll the dice with lower level power arms. If they work out and contribute in some way (for the MLB team, as a trade chip, etc.), great! If not, well no big deal. The Astros had some success with a similar strategy, most notably getting David Paulino (Jose Veras trade) and Francis Martes (Jarred Cozart trade) as live-armed rookie ball kids, and developing them into top prospects. I see no downside to picking up a young arm as the last piece in a trade or instead of cash. Eventually you’ll hit on one of them.

Sunday Morning Thoughts

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Let’s start this with something obligatory, but wholly necessary. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads or step dads or dads to be or people (regardless of gender) who play the role of dad on a day-to-day basis. This is my first (official) Father’s Day and there is no ‘club’ more special than the one you ‘join’ when you become a parent. Every single cliche about it–fatherhood, parenting in general–I’ve found to be completely true. As I’m sure many of you did, I got my love of baseball–and countless other things–from my father and grandfather and I hope, one day, my son will say the same thing about my dad and me (and, of course, his mom, who’s just as big a fan). Either way, Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

California Nightmare

So, things have gone, uh, not well–industry term–for the Yankees on the west coast, have they? Walk off losses; bullpen meltdowns; injuries across the diamond. If there’s a bright spot in the 2017 season universe, this is the spot it’s farthest from. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, this will be the turning point in the Yankees’ narrative of this season. Should they fall out of first place and ‘revert’ to what we though they’d be this year, it’ll be because of this rough stretch. Should they recover, though, and go back on a winning streak when they get back to the Bronx, this horrible week will indicate the team’s resilience, its moxie, its fighting spirit. 

Like baseball itself–defined by what’s going to happen, not necessarily what is happening–this season will be defined by what comes next and how the Yankees go along for the rest of the month. It’s certainly been a fun and unexpected ride up to this point, and there is a bit of a ‘house money’ feel to the season. It will be disappointing if this is a negative turning point, but these last three months of baseball have been as fun as any since 2009.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

More Like Ta-NOT-ka, AMIRIGHT?!

What is up with Masahiro Tanaka? No, seriously, what the hell is up with Masahiro Tanaka? I’m out of answers, honestly. He’s clearly healthy enough to keep going out there–the team wouldn’t risk him, morally or financially–if he weren’t. He just…isn’t…good? That answer is one I find equally troubling because it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. He was Cy Young caliber last year and very good in the years prior. Is it possible he just turned into a pumpkin, became toast, seemingly overnight? Given that this is baseball and a pitcher we’re talking about, it’s possible. But it just doesn’t seem plausible.

Including CC Sabathia‘s good performance and Aaron Judge‘s absolute dominance, this development has surprised me the most, and I’m sure the same could be said for you all reading this. If there was one thing we were going to count on in 2017, it was Tanaka’s performance. Apparently not.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

All Rise

Aaron Judge. Aaron Freaking Judge. Major League leader in fWAR by a full win (4.4) over Paul Goldschmidt (3.4). Major League leader in wRC+ (200) by 24 points over Ryan Zimmerman (!! What year is it?!). Major League leader in OBP (.444), just edging out Goldschmit (.443). Major League leader in slugging (.704), again beating out Zimmerman by more than 20 (.681). Major League leader in ISO (.369) over Eric Thames (.347).

If you saw this coming, raise your hand, then put it back down, you liar. There are no more adjectives left to describe what Aaron Jude has done and is doing and (hopefully) will continue doing. This has been the most enjoyable player performance by a Yankee since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Like Alex’s did in his prime, Aaron’s at bats make you stop what you’re doing and watch because something special might (probably will at this point?) happen. That’s the fun of baseball and Aaron Judge is that feeling incarnate.

Thoughts before the start of the six-game homestand

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

The Yankees had an off-day yesterday, and tonight they’ll begin a six-game homestand with the first of three against the Red Sox. The Orioles will then be in town this weekend. After that, the Yankees are heading out to the West Coast for the first time this season. It’s been a while and I have some thoughts on stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Perspective time: The Yankees have played 54 games this year, exactly one-third of the season, and they’re 32-22 with a +70 run differential. I would have signed up for that in a damn heartbeat back in Spring Training. Furthermore, the Yankees have done that even though a) Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Aroldis Chapman all missed a month with injuries, b) Masahiro Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst starters in baseball, and c) first base has been an absolute black hole offensively. Pretty amazing the Yankees are where they are. Maybe they’re actually good? Not maybe. They are good. Even now, when they’re not winning as often as they did a few weeks ago, they haven’t completely cratered. They’ve been able to play .500 ball over the last few weeks. Even their slumps aren’t that bad. The Yankees have avoided those long rough patches that can sink a season. We’ll see how things go over the final 108 games of the season, but right now, it’s really tough not to feel good about this team going forward. The Yankees have some really fun and exciting pieces to build around for the first time in a long time.

2. One of those building blocks is Aaron Judge, who is hitting .324/.429/.681 (194 wRC+) with an MLB leading 18 home runs. I’ve always been a huge Judge believer and even I never expected this. PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection — the system’s most optimistic projection — coming into the season was .283/.380/.530 with 24 home runs. Judge would have to go hitless in his next 53 at-bats (!) to drag his slugging percentage down to .530. Mike Trout’s unfortunate injury means the AL MVP race is going to be wide open come the end of the season, and given the way he’s playing, Judge is going to be right in that mix. He went into last night’s games second in bWAR (behind Trout) and third in fWAR (behind Trout and, uh, Zack Cozart) in MLB, so yes, he has truly been one of the best players in baseball this season, rookie or veteran. My hunch is Carlos Correa, the best player on the best team in baseball, is going to benefit most in the MVP race from Trout’s injury. Judge will too though.

3. There are still 100-something games to go, though at this point, Judge is far and away the leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year. There’s no race right now. Judge would win unanimously if the voting were held today, which of course it isn’t. Andrew Benintendi was the popular preseason pick — he was my Rookie of the Year pick — but he’s hitting .269/.342/.413 (96 wRC+) and is under +1 WAR. The race right now is for Rookie of the Year runner-up, and you know what? It very well might be Jordan Montgomery. Here is the AL rookie fWAR leaderboard real quick:

  1. Aaron Judge: +3.0
  2. Mitch Haniger: +1.3
  3. Jordan Montgomery: +1.2
  4. Ben Gamel: +1.2
  5. Guillermo Heredia: +0.9

Two Yankees, two Mariners, and one Yankee-turned-Mariner. My point isn’t that Montgomery deserves to be the Rookie of the Year runner-up, just that the Yankees have two rookies on the roster providing good (Montgomery) to great (Judge) production. Last time that happened was when, 2005 with Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang? And that doesn’t include Sanchez, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, or Luis Severino, the youngest player on the 25-man roster.

4. Speaking of the rotation, the Yankees are one-third of the way through the season, and they’ve only used five starting pitchers so far. Montgomery, Severino, Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda. That’s it. The Cardinals and Braves are the only other teams to use no more than five starters this season. Seventeen teams, more than half the league, have used eight different starters already. The Yankees have played well overall this season, and they’ve also been blessed with good health, at least on the pitching side. Tanaka, weirdly enough, has been the only starter who has pitch poorly enough to make you think about replacing him, but his track record (and contract) all but assures that won’t happen. Will this continue all season? I seriously doubt it. Only one team this century, the 2003 Mariners, made it through an entire season with only five starters. If nothing else, the Yankees figure to use a spot sixth starter at some point to give their regular starters a rest. Point is, one of the reasons the Yankees are where they are is the fact their five best starting pitchers have stayed on the mound and made every start.

JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

5. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion and ongoing headaches are pretty scary. He suffered damage to his brain, that’s what a concussion is, and we’ve seen more than a few players have their careers derailed by concussions. Mike Matheny had to retire due to ongoing concussions. Justin Morneau was never really the same after getting kneed in the head a few years ago. One of the reasons both Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada had to stop catching was a string of concussions. Matheny, Mauer, and Posada were all catchers who took years of foul tips to the face mask, but still. Concussions can do serious damage and the Yankees have to be safe and careful with Ellsbury. Forgot about the “Aaron Hicks is awesome and he can play center field everyday in the meantime” thing. This is about protecting a player and his career and his quality of life. Yeah, I’m glad Hicks is getting a chance to play everyday, but I didn’t want him to get his chance like this. Hopefully Ellsbury comes out of this okay.

6. I’m actually a little happy Gleyber Torres struggled a bit in his first two weeks in Triple-A. Happy probably isn’t the right world. I think it’s a net positive though. Gleyber hasn’t failed much, if at all, in his career to date. In the grand scheme of things, it’s beneficial he’s facing some adversity and learning how to make adjustments. That’s not something you want a player to experience for the first time in the big leagues, though sometimes it’s unavoidable. (Severino never struggled until he got to MLB.) The fact Torres is still taking his walks despite having a tough time at the plate is an indication he’s sticking with his approach, and that’s what you want to see. When a player starts getting away from what makes him successful, that’s when you get a little worried. Gleyber admitted to D.J. Eberle the other day that he’s a little overwhelmed at the moment, and I appreciate the honesty. Baseball will humble you in a heartbeat. Seeing a top prospect struggle for any length of time is no fun, but in the long run, these rough few weeks with the RailRiders will help make Torres a better player.

7. Even though the starters aside from Tanaka have pitched well overall this season, the Yankees are still carrying eight relievers, which is such a waste of a roster spot. Chad Green is the seventh reliever in the bullpen, not even the eighth, and he’s pitched twice in the last 13 games. Tommy Layne has made three appearances and thrown 14 pitches (!) in the last 14 games. I get there’s always concern about extra innings or a short start or whatever, but whenever that happens, the Yankees have the bodies to get through it. They can then adjust their pitching staff accordingly the next day. I feel like that roster spot, the eighth reliever spot, could be better used on another bench player, especially with the corner infield spots being black holes. Greg Bird is coming back soon, so perhaps he’ll replace the eighth reliever. Ultimately, we’re talking about the 25th man on the 25-man roster here, and whoever that is won’t play a whole lot. It still feels like the Yankees are really overdoing it on arms right now when there are glaring needs at first and third bases.

Under the Radar

Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After what he did last summer, it’s hard to imagine Gary Sanchez running a low profile. He burst onto the scene with an impressive display that almost won him AL Rookie of the Year honors over a pitcher who was successful in the league all year. Immediately, he endeared himself to the game with his powerful displays and came into 2017 with great expectations and the combination of talent and potential to back it up. And then he got hurt swinging a bat in Baltimore and missed a lot of time. While that was unexpected in and of itself, here’s another thing that I didn’t expect: Gary Sanchez is having the best season of any catcher in the American League.

Thanks to Aaron Judge being, well, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino doing his ace thing, Aaron Hicks emerging as a legit player, Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday hitting bald bombs all over the place, and Starlin Castro reestablishing his All-Star status, Sanchez has taken a bit of a backseat with regards to attention this year. Missing time with an injury will do that, sure, but the overall success of the team has sort of buried the lede on how good Sanchez has been this year.

In home runs, Sanchez’s six trail only Salvador Perez (11) and Alex Avila and James McCann with 7. Perez laps all catchers with 201 plate appearances; Avila (120) and McCann (125) have a handful more than Sanchez (119). In terms of wOBA, Sanchez is at .352, two points behind Russell Martin (.354) and a bunch behind Avila (.433!). wRC+ puts him behind Avila (176) and Martin (122), and tied with Evan Gattis at 121. He’s third in ISO (.190) behind Avila (.283) and Perez (.214). He’s tied for sixth in fWAR with Gattis (0.7), but has fewer games played than every player ahead of him AND every player behind him. What we should also note is that Alex Avila has played 20 games at catcher, but also 11 at first. He’s having a damn good season–seriously, I’d forgotten about his existence as a baseball player–but splitting time makes me give preference to the other guys on the list, especially Sanchez.

El Gary may not top the AL catching leaderboards in everything, but his combination of stats paints a fine, well rounded picture of a fantastic season. That this has slipped a bit under the radar speaks to a few things. Obviously, Sanchez’s teammates listed above have played a bit more and have shined, some of them unexpectedly. The team overall has been much more successful than anticipated and all of that has–somewhat rightly–overshadowed Sanchez’s solid, if not outwardly flashy, 2017 performance. Hopefully, the next few weeks net Sanchez some more attention and votes to get him to the All Star game. He deserves his first of what should be many.

Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.

Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.

I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.

And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.

It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.

That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.

And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.

Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.

But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.

(David Banks/Getty Images)
(David Banks/Getty Images)

Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?

The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.

It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.

Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.

So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.

“The Judge’s Chambers” is awesome, so of course people are complaining about it

Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)
Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)

When the Yankees returned home from their road trip Monday, a new feature at Yankee Stadium awaited them. The team unveiled a new 18-seat cheering section for Aaron Judge in right field named, for obvious reasons, The Judge’s Chambers. His name is just so damn punnable. People have been showing up to games in robes and wigs the last few weeks. Now they have a dedicated section.

Personally, I love it. I am for anything that injects some life and excitement into the ballpark. My only complaint is The Judge’s Chambers is kinda hidden. It’s tucked under the second deck in right field. Maybe move it over a section or two so everyone can see it? Otherwise it’s a great idea. The Yankees give out robes and styrofoam gavels, and everyone has a grand old time.

Naturally, some people don’t like the new ballpark feature. Many people, really. I’ve seen folks on Twitter and in the RAB comments say it’s too soon. It’s a distraction. So on and so forth. Billy Witz said it’ll become a punch line if Judge doesn’t keep hitting. Mike Mazzeo said the Yankees are “guilty of overhype.” Michael Kay said on his radio show he couldn’t imagine something like “Jete’s Seats” in 1996.

While I respect those guys and their opinions, man I couldn’t disagree more. The Judge’s Chambers is not about Aaron Judge or the Yankees. It’s about the fans and having fun. I know people like to think the Yankees hold themselves to a higher standard and wouldn’t stoop to such gimmicks, but come on. Have you seen the ballpark? It’s half-empty every night. Things have changed. It’s time for a new way of thinking.

These are the facts. One, The Judge’s Chambers is not a money grab because the Yankees are giving the 18 tickets to youth groups and other programs. Two, Judge is an extremely humble and down to Earth kid. (You should read this.) I couldn’t be any less concerned about this going to his head. And three, have you noticed how much fun the fans out there are having? YES showed a clip yesterday with a bunch of kids going nuts in The Judge’s Chambers. How is that bad?

What’s the worst case scenario here? Judge stops hitting and The Judge’s Chambers looks silly, so the Yankees remove it? I think the franchise will survive. It’s not like they wouldn’t hear constant reminders about Judge flaming out anyway. (See: Maas, Kevin.) Should they wait until Judge plays a full season? Okay. But why not wait two years? Or five? Or until he wins a World Series just to be safe? Why is any of that a better time than right now? We can always come up with a reason not to do something. Doing it is the hard part.

The Yankees are full speed ahead with their youth movement and Judge is at the center of that. He’s a great two-way player who represents the franchise well is an already very popular. The Yankees should foster that popularity and fan excitement. It helps improve the relationship between the team and the fans. The Yankees wouldn’t have had “Jete’s Seats” in 1996? Well, maybe they should have. This is baseball. It’s a game and it’s a fun. Don’t take it so seriously.