Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Counting the Opening Day rainout, the Yankees enjoyed their fourth off-day in the span of two weeks yesterday. They only have two off-days in the next five weeks though, so the day in, day out grind is about to begin. Here are some thoughts.

1. I’m not sure anyone on the roster needed a good start to the season more than Jacoby Ellsbury. Yeah, you could argue it was Brett Gardner after his second half swoon, or Mark Teixeira after his broken leg, or Starlin Castro since he’s new to the team, but I think it was Ellsbury. He didn’t hit at all following his knee injury last season, and the Yankees owe him roughly $110M through 2020, so the team needs him bounce back strong this season. It’s imperative if they want to contend. Instead, Ellsbury has owns a .213/.260/.298 (56 wRC+) batting line and has made a number of notable misplays in the field. It’s still super early in the season — the Yankees have played 6.8% of their schedule — but yeesh. Anytime you feel like getting it going, Ells.

2. The propagation of runner in scoring position stats is easily my least favorite recent baseball trend. RISP success fluctuates wildly from game to game, series to series, month to month, and year to year — the 2013 Cardinals hit .330 with RISP and the 2014 Cardinals hit .254 with RISP even though they had the same damn team — and it has zero predictive value. Everyone thinks their team sucks with runners in scoring position. Know why? Because baseball is a game of failure, and the league right now is hitting .248 with runners in scoring position overall, which means fans are annoying more than 75% of the time. (No one seems to care about walks with RISP.) The Yankees did a terrible job with RISP against the Mariners. It was hideous. But it doesn’t mean much of anything. The constant updates (0-for-1, 0-for-2, 0-for-3, etc.) are the worst. There’s so much more going on.

3. Good gravy how awesome have Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller been? They’ve struck out 27 of 41 batters this year, or 65.9%, which is ridiculous. Major League hitters are the best ballplayers in the world. Even the guys we complain about all the time. The ones who aren’t very good relative to their peers. They’re still in, like, the 99.9999th percentile of humans athletically. Big league hitters are so good, and yet Betances and Miller completely overwhelm them. Did you see Sunday’s game? That was not a fair fight. Those Mariners hitters had no chance at all. Mariano Rivera was dominant in a unique way. He was all about precision and avoiding the barrel of the bat. (The career soft contact rate leaderboard is a personal favorite.) Betances and Miller just overpower hitters. It’s unreal. This is so fun. Just wait until Aroldis Chapman returns three weeks from yesterday.

4. The rest of the bullpen has been pretty good too. There were some questions about the middle relief, remember, but Johnny Barbato has been awesome and Chasen Shreve has bounced back well. Ivan Nova got rocked for that one inning in Toronto and Tyler Olson had a few forgettable innings over the weekend, and that’s about it as far as meltdowns go. Trading away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren created some very real holes — especially since Chapman was going to be out of action for a still undetermined length of time when the trade went down — and that was kinda scary. None of the shuttle relievers impressed in camp either. And yet, Shreve’s been great and Barbato has emerged as a weapon. The Yankees seem to be pretty good at this bullpen building thing, huh?

5. The first two turns (plus one start) through the rotation have not gone too well. To wit:

Rotation

That’s the five starters, and I’ll let you try to guess who is the proud owner of each of those sets of numbers. Point is, the rotation has generally been not very good. There have been some flashes of excellence — Nathan Eovaldi was dominant before hanging a splitter to Josh Donaldson, CC Sabathia was solid in Detroit, etc. — but that means nothing. The Yankees need to start seeing some sustained success out of their starting five. Quality starts are pretty dumb — what’s so good about a 4.50 ERA? — but it would be cool if the starters ran off a string of, like, eight of them in a row right now.

6. I’m in the minority, but I’m not too worried about Chase Headley. I don’t expect him to hit for much power, even in tiny Yankee Stadium, though he’s always taken his walks (seven walks and six strikeouts so far) and eventually his .190 BABIP will go back to normal. Especially since his soft contact rate (14.3%) has returned to his career average (14.8%) after last year’s spike (17.4%). Longtime RAB readers, especially those who frequent the chats, know I’ve been on Headley for years. Since his prospect days. His throwing seems to be back to normal, and I think he’ll settle in around .260/.330/.380 when it’s all said and done. That’s something like a 90-95 wRC+ these days. Not great, but not the end of the world either. I have a hard time thinking the No. 7 hitter is going to sink the season.

The April Heat Afflicting Alex

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

While we were fortunate to get a mostly mild winter here in the northeast, spring–let alone summer–has been slow to fully reveal itself, with temperatures hovering in the 50’s, bringing plenty of those damned April showers. Despite that, things have been rather hot for Alex Rodriguez in the batter’s box. No, that doesn’t mean he’s been hitting well. Rather, he’s been getting blown away by the heat, as Mark Simon noted over at ESPN. Ironically enough, this comes on the heels of an article at FiveThirtyEight.com positing that older hitters aren’t adversely affected by rising velocity. For at least one hitter this year, that general trend doesn’t apply.

Generally, I agree with Mike that it’s (probably) too early too worry about Rodriguez and his struggles; still, it’s worth looking into his performance this year, especially considering Rodriguez fared well against fastballs in 2015. Last season, Rodriguez slugged .725 against fastballs, good for a .409 ISO per Brooks. In the early going this year, things are quite the opposite: low average, low slugging, .000 ISO. Arguably more important than those results, though, is the ‘process’ with which Rodriguez is going through with old number one.

In 2015, Rodriguez had a relatively low 23.55% whiff/swing rate against fastballs. 2016, however, has been a different story, with a 50% whiff/swing rate on heaters. That swinging-and-missing has led to a 31.4% strikeout rate for Rodriguez, which is not only ugly, but would be a career high. Luckily, he’s only had 35 plate appearances in eight games this season, and strikeout rates don’t quite stabilize until 60 PA, per FanGraphs. There’s time to turn things around–it’s only April 17–but there is still cause for concern.

(BrooksBaseball.net)
(BrooksBaseball.net)

The above image is A-Rod‘s whiff/swing chart against fastballs for this year so far. Take a look at that middle-middle box in the strike zone. Whether they were challenge pitches or mistakes, Rodriguez has seen three fastballs that have been, quite literally, right down the middle; he’s whiffed three times on three swings on those pitches. Last season, he only whiffed seven total times on pitches in that location.

Short story even shorter, Alex is struggling to catch up to fastballs right now. Maybe it’s just early. Maybe it’s just a slump. Maybe it isn’t. Given his age, it’s right to be a little fearful, especially since this comes after he struggled against breaking pitches last season. There is plenty of time to right the ship and when a player is as talented as Rodriguez is, it’s wise to bet on him. But the end of the line comes for everyone and Rodriguez’s is fast approaching. This fastball-based negative trend is one to keep an eye on going forward.

Four truths about the Yankees six games into 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you’re reading RAB, you’re probably not new to this baseball thing. You know the season is still very young — the Yankees have played 3.7% of their 2016 schedule — and you know much of what happens in the first week of games doesn’t mean a whole lot. Outside of injury, I’m not sure anything you see the first week of the season should drastically change your outlook.

That doesn’t mean the first week is meaningless though. Last week Grant Brisbee wrote about the incontrovertible truths of Opening Day. All those little things we saw around the league in Game One that we know are true. The Diamondbacks are going to be holding their breath each Zack Greinke start for the next six years, for example. So, following Brisbee’s lead, I present four incontrovertible truths about the Yankees six games into 2016.

The regulars are going to rest. A lot.

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have been talking about this since last season, and so far they have been true to their word. Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran all sat last Friday simply because the Yankees had played three days in a row and had a day game following a late arrival into Detroit. That was the first real sign the team is committed to this plan.

Furthermore, Girardi told Ken Davidoff he was already looking ahead to Sunday’s postponement when using his bullpen Saturday. “It was one of the reasons I was willing to use the bullpen the way I did … Because I really, in my mind, never thought we were going to play (Sunday),” he said. The likely postponement and Monday’s off-day meant it was okay to use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller with a four-run lead.

The season is still very young and the Yankees are already going out of their way to rest their important players. Once we move past the schedule weirdness of April and get into the day-in, day-out grind of regular season baseball, the rest will only be more frequent and deliberate. Who knows whether this will actually help the Yankees avoid a second half fade. They seemed to determined to find out.

The starters are not going to pitch deep into games.

Through six games, exactly one starter has completed six full innings in an outing. That was CC Sabathia over the weekend. Here are the innings and pitch counts for the six starts made by the five starters so far:

April 5th: 5.2 innings, 87 pitches (Masahiro Tanaka)
April 6th: Five innings, 87 pitches (Michael Pineda)
April 7th: Five innings, 94 pitches (Nathan Eovaldi)
April 8th: Five innings, 95 pitches (Luis Severino)
April 9th: Six innings, 90 pitches (CC Sabathia)
April 12th: Five innings, 92 pitches (Tanaka)

Apparently no one comes out of Spring Training fully stretched out these days, so the Yankees are still easing their starters into things in the early going. (The cold weather in New York and Detroit didn’t help either.) Eventually these guys will be allowed to throw 100+ pitches. (I think.) That should lead to more starts of six or more innings.

That said, the lack of length from the starters is nothing new. Last season Pineda (5.95) and Eovaldi (5.72) both averaged fewer than six innings per start. So did Severino (5.67), and even when you subtract his one disaster start against the Blue Jays, he still averaged exactly six innings per start. Sabathia led the staff in innings despite averaging only 5.77 innings per game. Tanaka was the staff workhorse at 6.42 innings per start.

Eovaldi has never pitched deep into games, and while Pineda has shown the ability to do so on occasion, he doesn’t do it consistently. Girardi usually doesn’t let Sabathia go through the lineup a third time unless he’s really cruising (or the bullpen is really short), and Tanaka has been handled with kid gloves since his elbow injury. Severino? He’s just a kid and the Yankees don’t want to overwork him.

Only 88 times in 162 games did the Yankees get at least six innings from their starters last season. That was the eighth fewest in baseball and third fewest in the AL. The same staff is back this year, only with Severino replacing Ivan Nova and Adam Warren. Unless Eovaldi or Pineda suddenly figure out a way to be efficient, the Yankees are again going to ask their bullpen for 10-12 outs most nights.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Shreve is back in the Circle of Trust™.

Either due to fatigue or some other reason, Chasen Shreve crashed hard down the stretch last year. He was basically unusable in close games. Yet when Spring Training opened, Girardi talked about Shreve like he was one of the regular relievers, and there was no indication his roster spot was in jeopardy. A dominant spring (10 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) assured he was going to be on the roster.

So far this season Shreve has appeared in four games, and all four appearances came in fairly big situations. Look at when Girardi has brought him into the game:

April 5th: Sixth inning, runner on first, two outs, score tied.
April 7th: To start the seventh inning, score tied.
April 9th: Seventh inning, runner on second, two outs, Yankees up four. Miguel Cabrera (!) due up.
April 12th: To start the seventh inning, Yankees up by one.

That April 9th game really drove home that Shreve has a place in the Circle of Trust™. The Yankees had a comfortable lead, but Cabrera was due up with a chance to cut the lead in half — he had homered the previous day, remember — and Girardi still brought in the lefty Shreve. That’s the kind of situation where using Betances wouldn’t be so crazy. Instead, he went to Shreve, who got Miggy to ground out harmlessly to third.

The Yankees are going to be without Aroldis Chapman for another three weeks and four days, and Girardi has entrusted Shreve to be his No. 3 reliever behind Betances and Miller for the time being. And being the No. 4 guy when Chapman returns is no small thing either, not with the Yankees opted to build the team around their bullpen.

The Yankees will miss Teixeira when he’s gone.

I am a big Greg Bird fan and I’m glad the Yankees have him around as the long-term solution at first base. His shoulder injury really sucks. Hopefully it’s a bump in the road and not something that derails his career. Bird looks very much like someone capable of holding down the job for the next decade.

As good as Bird is — or at least projects to be — he does not combine high-end offense with high-end defense like Mark Teixeira. Very few do. I count seven first basemen you can comfortably project to be above-average on both sides of the ball: Teixeira, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, and Brandon Belt. All All-Stars, basically, because one-dimensional doesn’t really fly anymore.

Teixeira is no longer the hitter he once was, but he’s still really good, mostly thanks to his power. He has very few peers defensively. We see it every game with his scoops and the way he makes tough flips to the pitcher at the bag look routine. Dustin Ackley goes out and plays first for an afternoon, flubs two tough plays, and it stands out like a sore thumb. Bird’s glove is below even Ackley’s at this point.

I have no idea what will happen with Teixeira following the season. He’s going to be a free agent and the Yankees are skewing younger, but Bird’s injury threw a wrench into things. Whenever Teixeira is gone, either this offseason or next or the one after that, the Yankees are going to miss his two-way play. His glove is close to impossible to replace.

Thoughts following the back-to-back off-days

Starsky and Dutch. (Presswire)
Starsky and Dutch. (Presswire)

Thanks to Sunday’s rainout, the Yankees are coming off back-to-back off-days as they head into tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays. It’s not too early to call this a big series, is it? Yeah kinda. Then again, every win the Yankees pick up now is one fewer win they’ll need later. Anyway, I have some thoughts. Read ’em and weep.

1. Through five games the Prestige Worldwide™ middle infield has gone a combined 15-for-38 (.395) with two doubles, three home runs, two walks, and three strikeouts. This is working out pretty well so far, eh? Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius are not going to keep up that pace, we all know that, but it’s exciting to see the Yankees have two bonafide building block players at second and short. I’m a huge believer in building a team from the middle of the field outward, and rebuilding the middle infield in the post-Derek Jeter/Robinson Cano era was not going to be easy. No one is going to confuse Didi and Castro for Jeter and Cano, but these two guys sure look like they have the potential to stick around for a few years. Gregorius has been getting better and better since last May, and Castro has hit the ground running in New York. They’ve been awesome in the super early going.

2. As he’s struggled these last few years, we’ve heard CC Sabathia has been tinkering with all sorts of different pitches. Cutters, two-seam fastballs, two-seam changeups, the works. Most of the time nothing came from it. Late this spring there were reports Sabathia was working on a new cutter that is somehow different than his old cutter, and he actually threw it in his start Saturday. A lot. From Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia pitch selectionI’ve been doing this long enough to know getting excited about a new pitch after one outing is foolish, but you can’t ignore the new pitch completely either. Sabathia made a tangible change to his arsenal and it very well may lead to a change in his effectiveness. Not necessarily for the better either. The cutter could stink going forward for all we know. I’m rooting for Sabathia more than any other player on the roster this season given everything he went through last year, and if this cutter in any way helps his performance, great. Sabathia is a dude worth pulling for.

3. The list of available shuttle relievers has very quietly thinned out one week into the season. Bryan Mitchell is out with his broken toe and now Nick Rumbelow needs Tommy John surgery. Jacob Lindgren and Vicente Campos are down in High Class-A getting themselves back on track. That leaves Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, James Pazos, and Tyler Olson as the 40-man roster call-up options. I see Olson as a pure left-on-left matchup guy, so his usefulness is limited. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot thanks to Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension — Mitchell, Greg Bird, and now Rumbelow are 60-day DL candidates too — so they could always call up someone like Tyler Webb or Chad Green or Diego Moreno or whoever. Still though, if they need a fresh arm and either Pinder or Goody is unavailable because they just pitched, things could get interesting. The Yankees showed last year they’ll call just about anyone up, so don’t be surprised if we see Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Haynes, or Tyler Cloyd at some point.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I can’t say I expect the imminent Nick Swisher signing to amount to much, if anything, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing him aboard for a look-see. He’s going to take at-bats away from Chris Parmelee and Deibinson Romero (and probably Cesar Puello too) at Triple-A, and that’s no big deal. Swisher is 35 now, his knees are shot, and he’s been awful the last two years. Those guys usually don’t bounce back and produce, even in limited roles. Given Mark Teixeira‘s injury history though, adding first base depth is not a bad move, and if nothing else Swisher is a guy who knows the strike zone and already knows how to take advantage of the short porch. It would be awesome to see him come up and have some kind of impact. I’m just not expecting anything.

5. How about my boy Ronald Torreyes? I said I was irrationally excited about him soon after the trade — that was before the Yankees designated him for assignment, lost him on waivers, then re-claimed him on waivers — so seeing that 3-for-4 game in his first MLB start last week was pretty cool. I don’t think Torreyes is a future regular or anything, but I think he can be a pretty good bench player going forward. He’s only 23 — good thing the Yankees went young instead of putting Rob Refsnyder on the bench, eh? — and he’s a high contact/high energy guy who can handle the three non-first base infield positions. It’s almost like he’s Eduardo Nunez with better defense. Torreyes is that same kind of live-bodied athlete without the defensive headaches. Nice little find for the Yankees.

6. James Kaprielian, last year’s first round pick, made his season debut last night with High-A Tampa and was pretty awesome. His stats are in the James Kaprielian Watch in the sidebar. Kaprielian threw only 60 pitches in his five innings, and that leads me to believe the Yankees are controlling his workload early in the season so he can help come August and September. This is exactly what they did with Luis Severino last year. The limited his work in the minors in April, May, and June, then turned him loose in the second half in the big leagues. They didn’t want to run into a situation where Severino had to be shut down in early or mid-September because his workload was getting out of control. It appears Kaprielian is on a similar plan. That doesn’t guarantee he will be up later in the season. It just means the Yankees want to be prepared in case Kaprielian does force the issue and come up.

The importance of rest, and the importance of having the best lineup as often as possible

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The 2016 season is only five games old, and already one thing is clear: the Yankees have a really good offense. Their 35 runs scored are the most in the AL and the fifth most in MLB overall, and their team 145 wRC+ is by far the best among the 30 clubs. (The Orioles are second at 132.) That’s despite being shut out once and losing a game to a rainout. The Yankees have scored at least eight runs in three games already, which is awesome.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The Yankees had a very good offense last season — they averaged 4.72 runs per game in 2015, second most in baseball — and the same roster returns this year, except the generally unproductive Stephen Drew has been replaced by Starlin Castro. Castro has been phenomenal so far. It’s early, no doubt about it, but right now the Yankees have a powerful lineup. It’s been fun to watch.

Of course, the offense faded big time down the stretch last season, and the Yankees are trying like hell to avoid that this year. The plan is to give the regulars more rest, and that plan has already been put into motion. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Chase Headley have all spent a game on the bench. The first three guys spent the same game on the bench, and that was the game the Yankees were shut out.

“Everyone asked me all about last year (why) guys got fatigued at the end of the year,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings after Friday’s shutout loss. “What really made me do this was: we got in late, we played three days in a row, it’s early in the season, you’ve got (players soon to be) 39 and 41 years old. I’ve got to manage them. Mac caught three days in a row (before) another short turnaround. It’s not ideally what you want to do, but it was kind of a product of the rainout.”

I am fully on board with giving the regulars more rest. I have no idea whether it will actually result in the Yankees avoiding another second half slide, but I can’t imagine it’ll hurt. More than a few guys looked out of gas down the stretch last year. Out of gas and banged up. Anything the Yankees can do to avoid that is a-okay in my book. Girardi has to be proactive, not reactive, hence resting players in the fourth game of the year.

There are two ways Girardi and the Yankees can approach this plan to rest everyone more often, I suppose. Here are the two possible courses of action I see:

  1. Rest everyone at once. That’s what happened Friday, when three regulars were out of the lineup. The upside here is you get the full strength lineup more often.
  2. Rest one guy at a time. This is the rest A-Rod one day, Beltran the next, McCann the next, and so on approach. You won’t have the full strength lineup, but you’ll have something close to it each day.

I honestly think there is a valid argument for both approaches, and really, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The Yankees could use each approach at different times throughout the season.

Personally, I’d rather see the Yankees rest one guy at a time. Sitting three or four of your best hitters in one game doesn’t automatically equal a loss — even the worst teams in baseball win 60-something games each year — but it sure puts you at a disadvantage. The Yankees don’t have a great rotation and they need their offense to carry them most days.

I think Girardi and the Yankees prefer to rest one guy at a time as well. Putting three regulars on the bench Friday was the result of some unusual circumstances. The Yankees lost Tuesday’s off-day to the Opening Day rainout, and they were playing an afternoon game Friday — it was the Tigers’ home opener — after getting into Detroit late Thursday night. It was a very quick turnaround. You don’t see many of those during the season.

The key to this “rest the regulars” plan is the bench players. Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley have be worth a semi-regular lineup spot — I’m optimistic about both, but my opinion doesn’t mean anything — and so does Ronald Torreyes. If the bench guys produce, Girardi will have more flexibility to rest the veterans. Either way, the Yankees are at their best when the lineup is at full strength. That much is clear one week into the season.

Checking in on Ivan the Reliever

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The choice facing Joe Girardi for whom to pick for the fifth starter’s spot was not necessarily an easy choice; however, it wasn’t actually that consequential either; he Yankees’ season will likely not hinge on how the fifth starter performs and the differences between CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova as starters in 2016 are not big enough to make any decision horribly wrong or unequivocally right.  Both pitchers have had one appearance thus far and both have made their manager look pretty wise, small sample size caveats in tow.

Yesterday, Sabathia became the first Yankee starter to complete six innings in his win over the Tigers. Last Wednesday, Ivan Nova took over for a shaky Michael Pineda and earned a save in the Bombers’ 16-6 win over the Astros. He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out five across his four innings of work. As the defacto long reliever/this year’s Adam Warren, that’s exactly the type of performance the team is looking to get out of Nova and he delivered. So, how did he do it? To toot my own horn, he took my advice.

Back in January, I wondered about the possibility of Ivan Nova being highly successful in the bullpen given his repertoire of pitches. I ended the piece saying:

Ditching a fastball may seem like an odd choice, but it may be best for Nova if he’s going to succeed in a relief role. Moving into the ‘pen and out of the rotation is about simplifying your game and the simplest thing Nova can do is use his two best weapons–his bowling sinker and his effective curve. If he can do that and harness the power of those two pitches, perhaps he can move from just a long-man to an effective short reliever. The chances may not be great, but this is baseball, after all, and stranger things have happened.

Apparently, Ivan listened. In that relief appearance last Wednesday, Nova relied primarily on his sinker and his curveball; he threw 32 of the former and 13 of the latter. The sinker netted him a 75% grounder per balls-in-play rate and the curve got him an 80% whiff-per-swing rate. I’m a genius, huh? In all seriousness, this approach isn’t rocket science and it’s one that’ll make him successful as a reliever. The fewer pitches he uses, though, the more likely he is to run into trouble if one of them isn’t working. Still, if he’s a reliever, he won’t be turning the lineup over more than once–maybe one and a half times–and that can help mask the problem.

Given his background as a starter, it’s not likely that Nova will be deployed in a mid-inning situation. However, his appearance against the Astros shows that his arsenal makes him well-equipped to handle those situations. Even out of the bullpen, his sinker is still getting ground balls and his curve is still getting swings-and-misses. Ivan the Reliever is an experiment born out of necessity, but after one trial run, it seems like it’s one that could set up both the team and the player for success.

Thoughts following Opening Day

Fifth starter auditions now underway. (Presswire)
Fifth starter auditions now underway. (Presswire)

We had to wait one extra day, but the 2016 season has finally begun. The Yankees lost to the Astros yesterday for their fifth straight Opening Day loss. That’s annoying. The last time they won on Opening Day, Curtis Granderson hit a home run off Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain threw a perfect seventh inning. Here’s the box score. That feels like a lifetime ago. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. This is bugging me so I might as well start with this: what was up with those baseline introductions yesterday? The Yankees introduced the starting lineup, then they had the rest of the team come out of the dugout together and join them for the National Anthem (video). Doesn’t everyone usually get introduced on Opening Day? I mean, the Marlins introduced the clubhouse attendants before their Opening Day game last night. I’m not joking. I dunno, just seemed weird to me. I was expecting a full set of introductions, the coaches and bench players and bullpeners and everything. I couldn’t have been the only one who wanted to see Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller and Luis Severino and CC Sabathia be introduced before the game, right? Maybe the postponement screwed this up somehow. Hopefully it’s a one-year blip.

UPDATE: The Yankees and Astros agreed to the abbreviated baseline introductions because of the cold, reports Jim Baumbach. Only the managers and starting lineups were introduced because they want everyone unnecessarily standing in the cold. Disregard thought No. 1!

2. Masahiro Tanaka‘s two-seam fastball was moving a ton yesterday. So much so that PitchFX appears to have misclassified a bunch of fastballs as splitters. I don’t remember Tanaka’s two-seamer ever moving that much. Here is the two-seamer he threw to Jose Altuve for the first out of the game. Altuve rolled over on the pitch and grounded out to short:

Masahiro Tanaka Two-Seamer

The location is not great, Tanaka did miss his spot up — he was doing that all spring, seems like his command has not come all the way back following his elbow surgery — but the point is that pitch really moved. I went back and watched some 2014 and 2015 highlights really quick and I didn’t see anything that moved that much. I wonder if Tanaka is using a new grip or something. Or maybe he’s just going with more two-seamers in an effort to get more quick outs because the Yankees don’t let him pitch deep into games. That really stood out to me yesterday. Tanaka’s heater was running all over the place.

3. Under-the-radar bright spot yesterday: Johnny Barbato. His first pitch as a big leaguer hit a dude in the wrist, so that sucked, but Barbato also struck out three of five batters faced. He threw 18 pitches and Astros batters swung and missed six times. That’s pretty great. Given the way the bullpen is constructed, it’s entirely possible there is nothing Barbato can do to avoid being sent down as part of the shuttle early in the season. He pitched very well in Spring Training though, and he’s got bat-missing stuff, so it looks like he has a chance to stick around long-term. With no Bryan Mitchell and no Aroldis Chapman, there’s an opportunity for Barbato to step up and assume some important innings. Assuming, of course, the Yankees don’t ship him to Triple-A for a fresh arm at some point.

4. Speaking of Mitchell, man does his injury suck. Both for the Yankees and Mitchell himself. The Yankees lost at worst a power-armed reliever and at best a piece of rotation depth. That hurts. The Yankees aren’t exactly loaded with rotation options at the moment. As for Mitchell, this season was a huge opportunity for him to establish himself at the big league level and in the team’s long-term plans. I really like him as a reliever — I’m not sure he can hack it as a starter without significantly improved command and/or changeup — and thought he had a chance to emerge as a trusted late-inning guy this summer. Replacing Adam Warren as the Swiss Army Reliever did not seem far-fetched at all. Injuries are part of baseball, but that’s too bad. Hopefully Mitchell can return in August and shove for eight weeks.

5. The Didi Gregorius home run got me irrationally excited. He hit it against a big time pitcher — that was only the fourth homer Ken Giles has allowed in 116.2 career innings — and it was the kind of pitch you expect hitters to punish. Look at the location:

Didi Gregorius home run

Every player sees a bunch of mistake pitches out over the plate like that each season. That’s baseball. Last year Gregorius was missing those pitches — maybe not missing, but he wasn’t doing major damage — and letting pitchers get away with mistakes. He didn’t hit his first home run of 2015 until his 61st game, remember. Didi hit .294/.345/.417 (109 wRC+) in the second half last season. He looked like a different hitter after the All-Star break and we’re all hoping it carries over to 2016. Gregorius is still only 26, you know. A young 26 too. (February birthday.) I think there’s still some untapped offensive potential in there.

6. I didn’t love the decision to sit Brett Gardner yesterday from a baseball perspective but I get it. Someone was going to sit in favor of Aaron Hicks — if it was Game 101 instead of Game 1, no one would think twice about it — and Gardner was the pick. It just seems like the decision was based 10% on what gave the team the best chance to win, and 90% on avoiding any sort of headache that would stem from sitting Jacoby Ellsbury again. That would be a big deal after the wildcard game. Sitting a high-profile player in a winner-take-all playoff game and then again on Opening Day would create a firestorm. That’s just the way the media is these days. I hate seeing stuff like that impact decisions, but it happens all the time, so the Yankees are hardly alone. Hopefully everyone hits this year and we can argue which outfielder should sit each game. You don’t want these decisions to be obvious.

7. Starlin Castro‘s movements and body language are very Robinson Cano like, are they not? Especially in the field. The way he scooped grounders and sidearmed the throw over to first base looked very much like Cano to me. Robbie had a smooth style of play and he made things look very easy on a baseball field. (As a result, lots of people called him lazy because he didn’t seem to be trying hard. Whatevs.) Castro is the same way. I’m not saying Starlin will be as good as Robbie one day, it’s unfair to hang that on the kid, but watching him at second base yesterday had a very familiar feel to it. It feel like Cano was back out there for a bit. I’m a weirdo, sorry.