CC Sabathia and One Bad Inning

To paraphrase The Wonder Years, growing up means watching your heroes turn human in front of you. This process is never easy in sports. Professional athletes have this marvelous–and marvelously frustrating–habit of making what they do look incredibly easy, like they could do it forever and ever, as naturally as anything you and I do. Then, the cliff shows up. Sometimes the decline is slow and gradual. Other times, the player pulls a Wile E. Coyote and looks down, plummeting dramatically. For CC Sabathia, and we Yankee fans who’ve had to “grow up” this season, it’s been a combination of those things. Sabathia’s performance has dropped off considerably, but it’s been going on for two and a half years now. Watching Sabathia, someone we’ve loved and revered for so long, go through this has been painful (granted, I’m sure it’s 100 times more painful for him).

2015 for CC has been a bit of a microcosm of his long decline: things go bad in a hurry, but those bad things tend to be drawn out in one excruciating inning. In five of his 15 starts this year, we’ve seen CC be anywhere from “great” to “alright, okay, fine” in parts or majorities of games, only to have One Bad Inning rear its disastrous head and ruin the start for everyone (appropriately enough, this happened to my softball team and me on Friday night).

In start number one against the Blue Jays, Sabathia surrendered five runs total; four of them came in the top of the second inning. During his matchup with the Mets, the fourth inning was his downfall. After recording outs on two of the first three batters, Sabathia then surrendered a run-scoring triple, a run-scoring single, and a two-run homer, leading to four of the seven runs he gave up. It’s worth noting that after the run scoring, he gave up another hit–a single to former teammate Curtis Granderson–before recording the third out on a lineout by John Mayberry, Jr.

Things were more or less normal for the next few starts until number seven on the year against the Rays. CC didn’t give up a lot of runs that game–four–and the Yankees won, but of the runs he gave up, three of them came in one inning, the seventh. Back-to-back homers by Logan Forstyhe and Joey Butler started the inning before CC got an out, gave up a double + error, followed by a sac fly to plate the third run of the inning. The Yankees were ahead 9-1 going into the inning, so this didn’t matter a ton, but was still indicative of Sabathia’s one-inning-struggles this year.

Sabathia looked great in his next start after the Rays game, but then came the dumpster fire that was the game against the Rangers: 2.1 innings, 6 runs–all in one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad third inning. CC was charged with those runs thanks to five hits, a walk, and a wild pitch. Let’s not relive that inning any further.

Last but not least, let’s look at his most recent start–one in which I was in attendance for–against the Phillies. He gave up six runs in this game, five of them coming in the fourth inning thanks to two homers, one each by Cameron Rupp and Miakel Franco. I want to focus specifically on the homer to Rupp because, continuing this theme, it encapsulates Sabathia’s struggles in one three pitch at bat. Here is the location chart, thanks as always to Brooks Baseball. Brooks labeled all three of those pitches as changeups. The one Rupp hit into the Phillies’ bullpen is in a location that a Major League hitter can’t help but drive out of the park, and it speaks to everything that’s happened to Sabathia since 2013: he’s lost location and he’s lost the effectiveness on pitches that once helped him get a ton of outs.

I won’t pretend to know what the answer is for Sabathia because I’m not sure there really is one. He’s not the same type of pitcher that Andy Pettitte was, so an Andy-Style reinvention probably isn’t going to happen. This One Bad Inning Syndrome doesn’t scream “Make me a reliever!” either. But running him out there every fifth day has already been bad and probably won’t get better. Since 2013, we’ve had to watch CC turn from hero to human; I’m not sure if we’ll ever see him as a hero again. Growing up sucks.

Thoughts heading into the series with the Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees dropped two of three to the lowly Phillies earlier this week, though at least they were able to salvage the series with a win yesterday. Now they’re off to Houston for a four-game set with the Astros. The Astros are good now. That won’t be an easy series. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

1. This year’s Yankees seem to be the opposite of last year’s Yankees. Last year the Yankees couldn’t score but they always got competent pitching, even when starters were dropping like flies in the first half of the season. This year they always seem to be getting enough offense and the pitching is letting them down. It’s not just the run of poor starts earlier this week either. The middle of the bullpen has been shaky for much of the season and earlier this year Adam Warren was pitching like a reliever masquerading as a starter. I’d rather have an all-hit/no-pitching team than a no-hit/all-pitching team if I had to pick one — you can slug your way into the postseason, the mid-2000s Yankees did it every year, but pure pitching and defense clubs seem to have a harder time getting to October — but the Yankees were supposed to be a strong prevention team this year. That part of their game has been woefully inadequate of late. The offense has better way better than expected.

2. I think the only player on the roster who is falling short of expectations is Chase Headley. I guess Michael Pineda too, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he hovered around a 4.00 ERA going forward now that he’s venturing into uncharted workload territory following shoulder surgery. Headley has underperformed but everyone else on the roster is either meeting reasonable preseason expectations or approaching the best case scenario. So Headley is pretty much the only guy on the roster we can point to and say “the Yankees will be in better shape once he turns it around.” That’s actually a good thing. You don’t want to be waiting for multiple players to turn things around. That said, the Yankees have just one guy underperforming and they still aren’t good enough to pull away in the AL East. I think Headley will turn things around. Eventually. At some point. I think. Then what?

3. Speaking of Headley, errors are a poor way to evaluate defense, we know that, but geez man, 16 errors already? As best I can remember only one of those errors came on a non-routine play too — this one against the Blue Jays. The other 15 have come on routine or at least makeable plays. Headley is still making non-routine and occasionally spectacular plays at what I consider an above-average rate compared to other third basemen, but the sudden inability to make routine plays is getting frustrating. (We’re talking about 16 errors in roughly 200 total chances at third, so it’s basically one error every dozen chances or so.) It’s got to be a mental thing too, not a loss in skills, right? He’s still picking hot shot grounders with the best of ’em. The infield defense was supposed to be a strength, and now that Didi Gregorius has gotten more comfortable, Headley is the weak link in the field. Baseball is weird, man.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I’m not a fan of the whole “when this guy comes back from his injury it’ll be like making a trade!” line of thinking. When guys come back from injury, you’re right back where you started, not better off. Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be like a trade deadline pickup, he’ll just be making the team whole again. That said, I think Ivan Nova is a little different, because you can never really count on pitchers coming off a major injury to contribute, no matter how high the success rate for the surgery. Coming into the season I had the “anything he gives them this year is a bonus” mindset with Nova, and, based on what we saw yesterday, it sure looks like Ivan will be able to help this season. Yeah, it was just one start and that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but he looks healthy and he was consistently pumping 93-95 mph. If he’d come out struggling to top 90 mph with no command, it would be a red flag. Nova looked like the pre-Tommy John surgery of himself and that’s a pitcher the Yankees didn’t have earlier this season. He is like a trade deadline pickup. Sorta.

5. Mark Teixeira‘s recent neck injury scares me, probably more than it should. He had three hits yesterday but it seems like the kind of injury we could wind up pointing back to in August and September saying “Teixeira was mashing until he hurt his neck.” Maybe the last few seasons have made me paranoid. That’s probably it. Teixeira’s been really good this year and the Yankees absolutely need him to continue being really good to contend. I’m not sure they’ll be able to hang in the race if his offense tanks like it did in the second half last year. Carlos Beltran has been much better of late and Alex Rodriguez has raked all year, but those guys are still injury risks. Adding a bat may not be a top priority at the trade deadline but I do consider it a need. Second base is the obvious spot to upgrade and Ben Zobrist is the top target for me. He fits the roster too well. (He fits every roster well.) Yeah, Stephen Drew mashes homers, but a .190 AVG and a .258 OBP is not acceptable for an everyday player. The Yankees should be actively seeking an upgrade.

6. Either it’s one hell of a coincidence or the Yankees have a pretty clear plan for Aaron Judge — he had 278 plate appearances with Low-A Charleston, 285 plate appearances with High-A Tampa, and 280 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton. Now he’s at Triple-A and will get about 280 plate appearances there the rest of the season. Give the brain trust a truth serum and I think they’d tell you they want Judge to be their everyday right fielder in 2016. How that happens … I don’t know. Beltran and A-Rod are still under contract next year. I guess the plan is wait until one gets hurt? A Brett Gardner trade is always possible but I find it very unlikely. He’s the best player on the team. (There, I said it.) Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Judge has to master Triple-A first before becoming an MLB option, and who knows what the roster will look like heading into Spring Training next year. I do think the team’s perfect world plan has Judge in right on Opening Day 2016 though.

Thoughts prior to Ivan Nova’s return to the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi announced Ivan Nova will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to the rotation tomorrow afternoon, in the Yankees’ series finale with the Phillies. Nova had Tommy John surgery late last April, so his rehab lasted 14 months or so. I have thoughts on this development. Time to share.

1. It goes without saying Nova’s return is a good thing. Getting a healthy pitcher back and beefing up the depth chart is never bad. That said, I really have no idea what to expect from Nova. Heck, even when he was healthy it was tough to know which Nova would show up from start to start. He’d have rough stretches and dominant stretches, which isn’t uncommon for talented young pitchers. Command was never really his strength though — he seemed to lack command all through 2012 and the result was the most extra-base hits allowed in baseball — and that’s usually the last thing to return following Tommy John surgery. Nova’s return could be a little rocky at first, and, if it is, there’s nothing the Yankees can do other than ride it out and wait for him to adjust to his new elbow.

2. So yes, while Nova’s return is a good thing, it does create some roster headaches. Girardi told reporters the Yankees will use a six-man rotation for the time being, something they’ve been talking about since before Spring Training even started. They want to give everyone, particularly guys with health questions like Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) an extra day of rest whenever possible, and the six-man rotation allows them to do that during this 20 games in 20 days stretch that is a little more than halfway complete. (Tonight is Game 12.) My guess is the Yankees figured the crowded rotation would take care of itself, either by someone getting hurt or Adam Warren pitching himself back into the bullpen, but that didn’t happen. The six-man rotation both gives the starters extra rest and gives the team time before deciding who to remove from the rotation.

Warren for 2B. (Presswire)
Warren for 2B? (Presswire)

3. I don’t think anyone expected Warren to pitch this well as a starter — 3.62 ERA (4.25 FIP) overall and 2.93 ERA (4.23 FIP) in his last seven starts — including the Yankees. Remember, he was only in the rotation to start the year because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. I think the Yankees figured Warren would simply hold down the fort, be serviceable but not really excel, and then slide back into the bullpen whenever someone got healthy. That didn’t happen. Warren complicated things (in a good way!) by pitching well. He took Capuano’s rotation spot — that was the easy part — and is now going to have to show he belongs in the rotation ahead of … who? Tanaka, Pineda, and CC Sabathia won’t lose their spots and Nathan Eovaldi is unlikely to as well. It’s either Warren or Nova, and my guess is Nova will be given a lot of rope coming off elbow surgery. Barring an injury, it’s hard to see how Warren remains in the rotation beyond next week. For shame.

4. When the time comes to activate Nova tomorrow, I have no doubt the Yankees will send Ramon Flores down to Triple-A Scranton and play with a three-man bench. Everything they’ve done the last few years says they will not play with a six-man bullpen. And, not for nothing, they need all the arms they can get right now. They’ve had some problems keeping the other team off the board the last week or so. Going with a six-man bullpen is not a good idea right now. So Flores goes down, Garrett Jones and Chris Young share a quasi-platoon in left, and John Ryan Murphy and Brendan Ryan are on the bench. The roster stays like that until … who knows. Until a starter is moved into the bullpen or Jacoby Ellsbury returns. This is another one of those “deal with it when the time comes” situations. Either way, like I said, I have no doubt Flores is going down and the Yankees will use a three-man bench while using the six-man rotation.

5. Opening a 40-man roster spot for Nova will be a bit more interesting. The Yankees could call up Jacob Lindgren (elbow) and slide him to the 60-day DL, which would allow him to accrue service time, which the team wants to avoid. They’ve been hesitant do that “call up then 60-day DL” thing with other prospects in the past. That means someone will be designated for assignment, with Gregorio Petit and Jose DePaula standing out as candidates. Diego Moreno is another candidate as well. The Yankees have added three pitchers to the 40-man in recent weeks (Moreno, Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow) and could opt to jettison DePaula or Moreno while keeping the extra infielder. This isn’t a critical move, whoever they cut can be replaced relatively easily, but this stuff always interests me. Nova’s return means someone else has to go.

Brett the Maintainer

Excuse me for starting out on a philosophical note, but one slightly ironic certainty in life is that we have no idea why some things happen. That’s even truer in baseball, and a clear example of that is Brett Gardner. His success as an outfielder for the Yankees is one of the more pleasant surprises I’ve experienced in the last decade or so as fan. When he first came up, I liked his batting eye and I liked his defense, as did everyone else. However, I thought that his lack of power at the beginning would come back to bite him eventually; pitchers would challenge him in the zone, thus negating his good eye and patience, exploiting his lack of power. I’m glad I was wrong.

Taking the more micro view of things, I thought there would be a difference in performance from Gardner after Jacoby Ellsbury went down with an injury, but there really hasn’t been. Ellsbury last appeared in a game for the Yankees on May 19; at that time, Gardner was hitting .291/.366/.433, mostly out of the second spot of the lineup. Since then, through Friday’s game against the Tigers, Gardner has hit .259/.331/.454. There’s been a drop off in average and OBP, but nothing too significant, and that drop is balanced out by a boost in power.

Again borrowing from cliche philosophy, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Gardner moved up a spot in the order to the leadoff spot, a role he’s more than suited for; after all, he and Taco Bellsbury are fairly similar hitters. Going into writing this piece, I was expecting to find some differences in the way pitchers approached Gardner thanks to the new lineup spot, specifically the fact that there’d be no one on in front of him for his first time up which would be a change from the Ellsbury/Gardner configuration. During the opening stretch of the season before Gardner got hurt, Ellsbury was on base quite a bit–his OBP before going down was .412. In turn, Gardner came up to the plate with men on base in 55 of 127 at bats, 43%. Moving to the leadoff position lowered that to 33.33%, which is expected; you’ll always be starting with no men on in your first trip to the plate. Given that difference, though, and the move to the higher lineup spot, pitchers haven’t treated Gardner much differently than they did when he was a two hitter.

He has seen more ‘hard’ stuff since moving up in the order than he did to start the year, but the differences in results aren’t all that drastic, except for the increase in power on breaking pitches, moving from an ISO of .057 to an ISO of .333. His increased power against both hard and offspeed stuff as well just mirrors the overall increase in power noted earlier.

While the Yankees have struggled  in Ellsbury’s absence, Gardner’s been a more consistent presence than realized. The team’s been up and down all year, but he’s been steady, which is exactly what a team needs at the top of the lineup.

Chase Headley, the clutch Yankee

(Richard Perry/The New York Times)
(Richard Perry/The New York Times)

There are a ton of ways you can slice-and-dice Chase Headley’s first full season in the Bronx. Unfortunately, most of them paint the picture of a player having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, both offensively and defensively, and performing well below preseason expectations.

He’s on pace to post the lowest walk rate, on-base percentage and OPS of his career (excluding his cup-of-coffee season in 2007), and is just a few ticks away from career-worsts in batting average and slugging percentage. Overall, his park- and league-adjusted production is 16 percent worse than the average major-league hitter, a stunning reversal from both last season with the Yankees (21 percent better) and his career entering this year (14 percent better). Yuck.

And that’s just what he’s done this season at the plate.

In the field, he’s already matched his career-high in errors (13) — barely one-third of the way through the schedule — and he’s cost the team a whopping eight runs on defense (per Defensive Runs Saved). This surprisingly sloppy glovework comes on the heels of being ranked as one of the best fielding third baseman in baseball last year, and is really shocking given his stellar defensive reputation throughout his career.

But there’s a very good reason why every Yankee fan should thank Brian Cashman for signing Headley this winter:

Headley has performed better in clutch situations than any other Yankee hitter this season, and has raised his game when the stakes are the highest.

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First let’s take a look at the most basic “clutch” situation — hitting with runners in scoring position. Headley boasts a .308/.350/.635 in those plate appearances, one of the top three slash lines on the team. That’s pretty darn good.

Then, let’s add a little pressure and look at “close and late” at-bats, which is defined as the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one, tied, or has the tying run on base, at bat or on deck. Headley checks in with the team’s second-best batting average (.290) and on-base percentage (.389), and third-highest slugging percentage (.387). Bravo, Chase.

Finally, let’s see Headley performs in all high-leverage situations. Leverage is basically an attempt to quantify how tense and suspenseful any single at-bat is in a game. For example, there is a lot more on the line — in terms of winning or losing — when a batter steps to the plate trailing by a run in the ninth inning with two outs, compared to a similar at-bat in the third inning or if you are ahead by five runs.

Headley has the highest batting average (.333), slugging percentage (.625) and OPS (1.010) in high-leverage situations on the team. Boom! He’s producing at a level 83 percent better (!) than the average guy, a top-25 mark among all qualified players in the Majors this season.

It’s not only that Headley had performed really, really well in these high-pressure situations. The other part of the story is that Headley is also having perhaps the worst offensive season in his career, yet he’s come up huge for the Yankees in the biggest spots. Hitting .333 in high-leverage at-bats when you are hitting .245 overall is not the same as doing that when you are hitting .333 overall. The first guy is, by this definition, clutch; the second guy is … just awesome. How clutch, though?

FanGraphs has a statistic that attempts to measure this nebulous “Clutch” term, by comparing a player’s production in high-leverage situations to his context-neutral production. Headley has by far the highest Clutch score on the Yankees, and also one of the top-15 marks in baseball.

Sure, you can lament the fact that he’s been pretty mediocre overall; but you can also celebrate the fact that Headley has contributed positively in the most critical at-bats this season.

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Now, the big caveat in this whole discussion is that while these various clutch metrics do a good job of describing what’s happened in the past, they do very little to predict the future.

So instead of trying to analyze why Headley has performed like Bryce Harper in high-leverage situations, or debate whether he can sustain his clutch hitting, let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride. There are a lot of reasons to be disappointed in how much Headley has under-performed this season, but there’s also one big reason to be happy he’s on the team and his bat is in the lineup every day.

Thoughts following the 2015 Draft

Kaprielian. (Los Angeles Times)
Kaprielian. (Los Angeles Times)

After weeks of anticipation and three days of picks, the 2015 amateur draft came to an end Wednesday evening. The Yankees made 41 picks and now we have to wait until Friday, July 17th to see how many of them actually sign. It’s usually somewhere in the 25-30 range. Obviously some will sign sooner than others. Here are my reviews for Day One, Day Two, and Day Three, and here are some miscellaneous thoughts on the draft.

1. The Yankees once again went heavy on college players — 34 of their 41 picks were college players (83%), including ten of the first 12 — after doing so last year. (They took 82% college players in 2014. The league average is close to a 50/50 split.) Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said last year they are leaning towards college players because they’ve had better success developing them, and while that’s true, I also wonder if there’s some pressure from ownership. Not an explicit “go take college players” directive, but Hal Steinbrenner has been talking about the farm system not helping enough for two years now, so perhaps the staff feels some pressure to get guys through the system quick, which is why they’re focusing on college players. I would hope not, but these guys are only human, and they’re going to do what they can to please their boss and keep their jobs. I dunno, I’m just thinking out loud.

2. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing too exciting about high-probability college starters, though that doesn’t make UCLA RHP James Kaprielian a bad pick or anything. He’s a perfectly fine first round pick. He’s a quality prospect and was expected to go right in the middle of the first round somewhere. The Yankees were connected to a ton of bats before the draft, and I wonder if Kaprielian was Plan B after the bats they wanted were off the board. They were connected to Cincinnati OF Ian Happ (9th overall), Georgia HS SS Cornelius Randolph (10th), and New York HS RHP Garrett Whitley (13th) in the days and weeks leading up to the draft, for example. Perhaps the Yankees were hoping to grab one of those three and settled for Kaprielian when they were off the board. Then again, they were said to love California HS C Chris Betts, yet passed on him twice. Who knows. That the Yankees were connected to so many bats but changed direction and went for a pitcher makes me think the guy(s) they were targeting had already come off the board.

3. Speaking of Kaprielian, he is represented advised by Scott Boras and didn’t say a whole lot about when he expects to sign while speaking to reporters the other day. “I’m very happy about the opportunity. I’m going to let the business portion work itself out,” said Kaprielian to Andrew Marchand. Boras coaches these guys well. They don’t say anything that could hurt their leverage. Boras tends to wait until the signing deadline with his high profile draft prospects to squeeze every last draft pool penny out of teams, though I’m not sure if Kaprielian is high profile enough. The Yankees did take some cheap college seniors in rounds 7-10, so they will have extra bonus pool money to play with. I’m curious to see if that extra money goes to overslot bonuses for players taken after the tenth round or to Kaprielian, who is already slotted for $2,543,300. I wouldn’t be surprised if Boras managed to get his client a few extra grand. He’s good like that. Special assistant Jim Hendry is leading negotiations for the Yankees according to Bryan Hoch, by the way.

Holder. (USD)
Holder. (USD)

4. It kind of goes without saying the development of San Diego SS Kyle Holder’s hit tool will be a major storyline to track doing forward. The Yankees took the defensive wiz with their supplemental first round pick (the pick they received for losing David Robertson to free agency) and while there are no questions about his glove — seriously, I haven’t seen anything that says Holder is worse than a well-above-average defender at short — there are questions about his bat and whether he’ll hit at the next level. Apparently Holder made some mechanical changes before his junior season that allowed him to get the bat through the zone a little quicker, though who really knows. If Holder develops even an average hit tool, something that allows him to post a 90-100 OPS+ down the line, he’s going to be a seriously good prospect. Can the Yankees help him improve his hitting ability? Maybe! We’re going to find out. No one thought Brett Gardner would hit much and look at him. It’s not impossible.

5. I’m intrigued by two of the club’s junior college picks: Howard 2B Brandon Wagner (6th round) and Chipola 1B Isiah Gilliam (20th). They’re both position-less power bats, though that late in the draft teams are looking for unteachable skills, and power can’t be taught. Gilliam’s got an interesting backstory too. He’s only 18 yet he did a year in junior college because he graduated high school early, and, as I mentioned this morning, Eric Longenhagen says Gilliam once hit a ball over the Western Metal Supply building at Petco Park. Metal bats or not, that is quite the shot. Wagner will sign — the Yankees wouldn’t have taken him in the sixth round and risked draft pool space without knowing (and being willing to meet) his asking price — but Gilliam’s more of a question. He might require an overslot bonus, which is $100,000+ after the tenth round. I’m also interested in following BYU RHP Kolton Mahoney (16th), who doesn’t have a ton of pitching experience because he was on a Mormon mission for two years.

6. The Yankees selected only two catchers in this year’s draft — Oral Roberts C Austin Afenir (25th) and Catawbe C Will Albertson (40th), not counting UCSB C Paddy O’Brien (24th) because he is moving to the mound — after taking two last year, one the year before that, and three year before that. Almost all of them are organizational player types too, not prospects, which I thought was a little weird. The Yankees tend to hoard catchers because they’re hot commodities, but they’ve drafted just two catchers higher than the 12th round since taking John Ryan Murphy with the 76th pick in the 2009 draft: Greg Bird in the fifth round in 2011 and Peter O’Brien in the second round in 2012, and those guys didn’t last long behind the plate. The Yankees have signed a bunch of international free agent catchers in recent years, Luis Torrens most notably, but the catching prospect well has dried up a bit. It’s certainly not a point of emphasis early in the draft anymore. (The Yankees took Murphy, Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine, and Chase Weems reasonably high in the draft from 2007-09.)

7. Last year the Yankees had a conservative. college heavy draft because they had basically no choice. They surrendered a bunch of high draft picks to sign free agents and had a tiny draft pool. This year was a different story. They had an extra pick and the sixth largest bonus pool, yet they still went conservative, and I find that disappointing. I do wonder though if that was done in an effort to balance out last year’s international spending spree. The Yankees spent a ton of money of international amateurs last year and those kids are super risky. They have a ton of talent and upside, but they’re much less likely to fulfill their potential because they’re so far away from MLB. Lots of them will never even make it out of rookie ball. The draft gives the Yankees some safer prospects to help balance things out and not put all their eggs in the ultra-risky prospect basket. I don’t know if that’s what happened, but it’s certainly possible. Either way, I’d like to see the Yankees go after a little more upside in the future. These are the Yankees, they’re always going to be chasing stars, and it would be nice if they tried developing one or two of their own so they don’t have to pay through the nose for the decline phase of someone else’s one of these years.

Thoughts following the West Coast road trip

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

All things considered, the seven-game West Coast trip went pretty well for the Yankees. Yeah, they couldn’t get out of their own way against the Athletics, but the three-game sweep of the Mariners was pretty sweep. Ditto getting Masahiro Tanaka back, especially considering how sharp he looked. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the off-day.

1. The Brian McCann injury is a problem. He’s heading for an MRI today, and Joe Girardi told reporters yesterday that McCann has been nursing a sore foot for more than a week now. Apparently it became too much to take yesterday. McCann said it hurt most when he was squatting behind the plate, so yeah, that’s a problem. Hopefully this is something that can be knocked out with some treatment and a few days on the bench. If not, do the Yankees call up Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez? Romine would have to be re-added to the 40-man roster, and whenever McCann comes back Romine would have to go through waivers to go back to Triple-A. Sanchez could go up and down no problem. I suppose this depends on the severity of the injury. If it’s a short-term thing, Sanchez would be the easier temporary move. If it’s a long-term injury — we’re all hoping it isn’t, obviously — jumping through those hoops to bring Romine back would be best. Either way, losing McCann would be a major blow. The Yankees need him both in the lineup and behind the plate, and that’s coming from the world’s biggest John Ryan Murphy fan.

2. Brendan Ryan is close to coming back soon — he’s already played three minor league rehab games, including two at Triple-A — prompting Girardi to tell Chad Jennings earlier this week that he was “not so sure exactly what the move will be (to get Ryan on the roster), but our thought is when he’s ready, we’ll bring him back.” David Carpenter getting designated for assignment yesterday clears a 40-man spot for Ryan, who has to come off the 60-day DL, and I assume Jose Pirela will be sent down to clear a 25-man roster spot. Pirela hasn’t played well enough offensively or defensively to force the team to consider keeping him. As crazy as it sounds, Ryan might actually be the team’s best utility infielder option at this point. He’s not going to hit, we all know that, but he will at least catch the ball, something Pirela hasn’t done. Gregorio Petit? He’s basically the poor man’s version of Ryan. After spending the last few weeks wondering where Ryan fit, it seems like there’s a pretty obvious place for him on the roster right now. Funny how things work out.

3. The Carpenter move surprised me only because I didn’t think the Yankees would sacrifice the pitching depth and cut bait on a previously reliable reliever they controlled for another three years after only 18.2 innings. I thought they’d simply send Jacob Lindgren down and keep running Carpenter out there, hoping he’d figure it out. I’m sure they’ll be able to trade Carpenter for something before the ten days are up — nothing great, but something, and they might already have a deal lined up — but it sucks things fell apart so quickly. I am happy Lindgren is sticking around though, even if he’s not in the Circle of Trust™ yet. That takes a little time. Look at Dellin Betances last year. I think Lindgren could be a real asset out of the bullpen for Girardi once he gets settled in and realizes he’s a big league caliber reliever. It’s a shame Carpenter didn’t work out, but I am excited the Yankees showed so much faith in Lindgren. It would have been real easy to send him back to Triple-A.

Rafael Soriano1
Soriano. (Getty)

4. Now, that said, doesn’t it make sense for the Yankees to at least explore signing Rafael Soriano? They only have two right-handers in the bullpen, one awesome (Betances) and one not so awesome (Esmil Rogers). That’s not really a big deal because the various lefty relievers can get righties out, but we all know Girardi likes his matchups, so at some point he’s going to bring Rogers into a high-leverage spot to get the right-on-right matchup. It’s inevitable. Soriano had a 3.19 ERA (3.08 FIP) with a 23.4 K% with the Nationals last year, so while he’s no longer the Soriano of old, he’s probably better than Rogers and a more capable No. 2 righty complement for Betances. Soriano just fired Scott Boras, presumably because he’s not happy he’s still unemployed, so maybe he’d be willing to return to the Yankees on the cheap. One year and $2M or something along those lines. I don’t see much of a downside. If he won’t sign cheap, you don’t sign him. If he will sign cheap, bring him aboard and see what he can do. If he stinks, you cut him loose and wind up right back where you started. At the very least, it’s worth looking into Soriano and seeing if he’s willing to sign cheap and pitch in a quasi-setup role. There’s little downside.

5. Chase Headley‘s sudden inability to make routine plays this year is really annoying. It’s just routine plays too, you notice that? He still makes great defensive plays all the time. The routine ones are becoming an issue. That to me suggests at least part of the problem is mental. Thinking is bad in baseball. Bad things happen when players start thinking. Ideally they would rely on instincts. When Headley gets an easy play, he’s had trouble making it because there’s so much time to think. When he’s had to hustle to make a tough play, he’s made it with no problem. Maybe I’m wrong, but that what it seems like to me. Headley’s bat has come around of late (.300/.344/.450 in his last 22 games) and he still makes all the tough plays at third base, but the easy ones? They’re an adventure. It’s the weirdest thing. I think he’ll get over it in due time. But man, this has been a surprise. I was not expecting to get nervous every time a ground ball is hit towards third base this season.

6. Didi Gregorius has been hitting better of late (.299/.340/.420 in his last 14 games) and lately it appears he is really focusing on hitting the ball the other way. He was jumpy at the plate earlier this season, trying to hook everything to right field, but now Gregorius seems more relaxed and is stroking the ball out to left. The data backs it up too. Here are Didi’s spray charts before the start of the last homestand (the series against the Rangers) and since the start of the homestand, via Texas Leaguers. You can click the image for a larger view:

Didi Gregorius spray charts

Since the start of the homestand 14 days ago, Gregorius has pulled just four balls to right field, with two leaving the yard and two others falling in for hits. Everything else has been hit to left and center fields, so I’m not going crazy. He is spraying the ball the other way more often now. Is it intentional? Who knows. It appears Gregorius is focusing on hitting the ball to the opposite while still being able to unload and pull a pitch with authority when he gets something to drive. This is something to monitor. Didi still makes dopey plays in the field, but his bat has slowly but surely coming around.

7. Given how well he’s been hitting of late, I think the Yankees should play Garrett Jones in left field while Jacoby Ellsbury is out, at least against right-handed pitchers. I like Ramon Flores and think he’s going to wind up spending like a decade in the show as a Seth Smith type, but Jones has game-changing power, and the Yankees are better off with him in the lineup than Flores right now. If McCann has to miss time with his foot issue, playing Jones in left becomes even more of a no-brainer. They’d have to replace the lost left-handed pop somehow. Jones was terrible in April, probably because he rarely played, but he’s now 10-for-22 (.455) with three homers in his last nine games. Ride the wave, baby. Milk this hot streak for all its worth before he goes cold again. There will plenty of time to play Flores later in the season.