The Yankees are getting power from premium positions to make up for their outfield

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

Three years ago the Yankees made a decision to prioritize defense over offense in the outfield. They spent big to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, then a few months later they committed a market value extension to Brett Gardner. Yeah, they also brought in Carlos Beltran to play right field, but the other two outfield spots were occupied to players known more for their gloves and legs than their bats.

Fast forward to today, and things have played out pretty much exactly as expected. Ellsbury and Gardner have declined offensively as they get further into their 30s, meaning their defense is that much more important. Neither is the defender they were three or four years ago either, though I do think both are still comfortably above-average. As planned, it’s defense over offense.

The Ellsbury and Gardner contracts made it clear the Yankees were going to have to get power from their infield, because two of the three starting outfielders weren’t going to hit many balls over the fence. (Ironically enough, Gardner’s power spiked and his 33 homers from 2014-15 were 29th among all outfielders.) That is even more true today, as Ellsbury and Gardner have declined.

Infielders with power — especially middle infielders — can be hard to find, but the Yankees have managed to do it. Didi Gregorius joined the 20-home run club Tuesday night, about three weeks after Starlin Castro did the same thing. The Astros (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa), Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker), Nationals (Danny Espinosa, Daniel Murphy), and Rays (Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller) are the only other teams to get 20+ homers from both middle infielders in 2016.

A year ago Didi and Castro combined for 20 homers total — Gregorius hit nine and Castro hit eleven with the Cubs — and now they are able to put up those numbers individually. Sure, Yankee Stadium definitely helps, but these guys are both 26 as well, and entering what should be the best years of their careers. A power spike at this age isn’t uncommon. Also, I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced, so let’s check this out quick:

Castro: 57 ISO+ in 2015, 81 ISO+ in 2016
Gregorius: 50 ISO+ in 2015, 76 ISO+ in 2016

ISO+ is the same basic idea as OPS+. It’s the player’s ISO relative to the league ISO with a park factor applied — I used the handedness park factors at StatCorner — where 100 is league average. Anything lower is below-average and anything higher is below-average.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Adjusting for ballpark and the the increase in power around the league, Castro and Gregorius are still below-average power hitters this season. But! Compared to last season, they’ve both made improvements. Castro essentially went from 57% of the league average power output to 81%. Gregorius jumped from 50% to 76%. There’s real development behind their power. It’s not all Yankee Stadium and juiced baseballs.

In addition to the middle infield, the Yankees are also getting a ton of power from their catchers. In fact, they have two catchers with 19+ homers. Again: two catchers with 19+ homers! That’s pretty awesome. The team’s biggest power sources — catcher and middle infield — are positions not normally associated with power, which is a big positive. Going forward, having Gregorius and Castro up the middle with Gary Sanchez behind the plate will be very nice in terms of dinger expectancy.

The problem this season has been the lack of power from other positions. We knew Gardner and Ellsbury weren’t going to hit many home runs, but the Yankees have gotten very little from first base and DH, the two most premium power positions. When it’s all said and done, the Yankees will (probably) miss the postseason this year not because Dellin Betances blew some saves or Chase Headley had a bad April. It’s because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were complete non-factors.

Hopefully young players like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge can help provide some more pop going forward. Right now the Yankees are getting their power from the middle infield and behind the plate, which is a good building block. It’s also necessary because Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t the hitters they once were, and when you have two defense-first players in the outfield, the offense has to come from somewhere else. The Yankees are starting to get that production from elsewhere.

Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting for any power and he wants to change that next season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the trade deadline the Yankees have started a legitimate youth movement by calling up top prospects Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, as well as others like Tyler Austin and Ben Heller. Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are in the rotation as well, though that’s largely due to necessity.

The one young player who predates all those guys is Rob Refsnyder, who was up briefly last season and has spent much of this year on the big league roster. He’s appeared in 54 games with the Yankees this season and figures to be a lineup regular the rest of the way thanks to the Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury injuries.

The 25-year-old Refsnyder has not had much of an impact at the plate this year, hitting .248/.334/.309 (70 wRC+) with zero home runs and only nine doubles in 171 plate appearances. He will work a walk (9.9%) and make contact (16.4% strikeouts), but not much more than that. For a bat-first (bat-only?) player, that’s not enough to stick around.

Refsnyder wants to change that. He wants to add some power to his game this offseason and he’s got a plan to make that happen. Here’s what Refsnyder told David Laurila over the weekend:

“I’m going to try to hit home runs next year,” Refsnyder told me on Friday. “I’ve had a lot of good conversations with people and I’m going to try to completely change my game. I think it will help my career.”

“I’m going to go back to the drawing board and watch a lot of video,” said Refsnyder. “I’ll probably watch a lot of (Brian) Dozier video. Dozier doesn’t have too long of a swing — he’s pretty short and compact — and his pull rate is really high. I’ll look at Daniel Murphy, too. He changed his game from being more of a contact guy — trying to put the barrel on the ball — to pulling the ball in the air.

“I’m never going to be one of those guys who hits for opposite-field power. That’s OK. Mookie Betts pulls the ball with the best of them. He goes the other way, but not for opposite-field home runs. Mookie and Dozier are the type of guys I need to look at.”

It’s an interesting thought, a non-power hitter trying to become a power hitter, and it’s not unprecedented. Refsnyder has identified the right guys to study — Dozier and Betts have both hit for far more power in the show than they were expected to in the minors — though as a right-handed hitter, he won’t benefit from the short porch by adopting their pull heavy approach. That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth trying though. I have some thoughts.

1. He needs to do more offensively to stick around. Simply put, Refsnyder will never be much of an asset in the field. He’s worked hard to pick up first and third base this season and that’s good. We haven’t seen him at third yet, but at least now Refsnyder’s an emergency option here. He’s spent plenty of time at first and second bases with the Yankees, and in the corner outfield.

The versatility is nice, but Refsnyder’s overall defense isn’t very good. It’s not even average, really. For him to have value and staying power in the big leagues, he’s going to have to hit and hit big. A bad defensive utility man with a .600-something OPS is not the most valuable player in the world, you know? No one expects Refsnyder to become a 40-homer guy like Dozier (seriously, wtf?), but getting to 15-20 homers would be huge.

2. He can cover the plate and drive inside pitches. There’s more to being a pull hitter than looking for a pitch inside and yanking it down the line. Pitchers aren’t stupid, they know when hitters are trying to pull the ball, which is why they’re going to stay on the outer half of the plate. For all their warts, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann have been really good at punishing outside pitches the last few years.

As you might expect given his strikeout and contact (83.8%) rates, Refsnyder does a really nice job covering the plate. He can reach outside pitches and put them in the play. At the same time, he does his most damage on inside pitches, when he can whip the bat around and pull the ball to left. Here are some strike zone heat maps. Contact rate is on the left and ISO is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view and I recommend doing that so you can actually read it.

Rob Refsnyder contact and ISOThe brighter the red the better, the brighter the blue the … worser? Anyway, the contact heat map (left) shows Refsnyder can get the bat on the ball no matter where it is in the strike zone, inside or outside, up or down. Down-and-in is his one glaring hole and that’s not uncommon at all. The ISO heat map (left) shows that while Refsnyder can make contact all around the strike zone, the inside pitch is the only one he’s been able to drive in his MLB career.

Plate coverage is good! That’s a nice skill to have. Refsnyder’s ability to become a power hitter and hit more home runs is going to depend largely on whether he’ll be able to make consistent hard contact on pitches on the outer half. He had handle the inside pitch. The up-and-in pitch, to be more specific. Anything down and on the outer half of the plate is a different matter.

3. He needs to get the ball in the air more often. You’re not going to hit for power if you don’t hit the ball in the air, and so far this season Refsnyder has a 52.4% ground ball rate in the big leagues. It was 66.7% (!) last year. Here are his recent Triple-A ground ball rates:

2016: 53.9% in 230 plate appearances
2015: 59.2% in 522 plate appearances
2014: 53.2% in 333 plate appearances

Geez, that’s a lot of ground balls, huh? It’s no wonder Refsnyder hit only 35 home runs in just over 2,000 minor league plate appearances. He’s no Greg Bird when it comes to hitting the ball in the air. That’s for sure.

Moreso than driving outside pitches, figuring out how to get the ball in the air is going to be Refsnyder’s top priority as he works to hit for more power. This is a must. Only four players have a .170+ ISO and a 50%+ ground ball rate over the last three years: Ryan Braun, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Hunter Pence. Step one to hitting more homers is getting the ball airborne. Refsnyder knows that, I’m sure.

4. The upside outweighs the downside. The thought of a hitter revamping his hitting style and approach in an effort to hit more home runs can be scary. There’s a lot of muscle memory in Refsnyder’s swing and he’s going to have to alter it. What if the power hitting fails and he screws up his normal swing? It could be a career-ender.

It’s easy for me to say this because it’s not my livelihood on the line, but I think this is worth a shot. The upside is greater than the downside. As it stands, Refsnyder is basically a utility guy who might not be average on either side of the ball, and that’s a tough profile. Hitting for more power can help keep him in the big leagues longer. He doesn’t have to turn into Brian Dozier, he just has to do more than he has been. His current skill set may not be built to last.

Brian McCann can help the Yankees overcome their recent power outage

Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Brian McCann (34) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees smacked three home runs en route to their thrilling 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. A team hitting three homers in a game isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially in Yankee Stadium, but this is a team that hit three home runs total in their previous eight games. Not coincidentally, the Yankees were only 4-4 in those eight games.

The three homers in those eight games belonged to Jacoby Ellsbury, who dropped one into the short porch Monday, and Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro. Judge and Castro went deep in Kansas City. Somehow the Yankees failed to hit a home run in three games against the Orioles pitching staff in Camden Yards over the weekend. They’ve actually gone five straight games without a homer at that ballpark dating back to June, so yeah.

Some of the reasons for the recent power outage are obvious. For starters, Gary Sanchez stopped being Babe Ruth and came back to Earth. That was bound to happen at some point. Also, the Yankees traded home run leader Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline — Beltran still leads the Yankees in dingers — and replaced him with Judge, who has popped three homers but mostly battled contact problems since being called up.

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have combined for 20 home runs this season after combining for 64 last season. Brian McCann, the team’s other veteran power source, has 17 dingers of his own, though last night’s blast was only his third of the second half. Three in 38 games and 153 plate appearances. McCann has only two doubles in the second half as well, which is why he’s slugging .294 since the All-Star break. Ouch.

McCann is not old like A-Rod and as far as we know he’s not beat up physically like Teixeira, who has been nursing neck and knee issues pretty much all season. He has changed roles though, shifting from catcher to DH when Sanchez arrived last month. Moving to DH full-time is a big adjustment for a veteran. A lot of them struggle with all the downtime, especially initially. It’s an entirely difference experience for a veteran player used to being in the field.

Remember, McCann has been a starting big league catcher since he was 21, so he’s used to being in on every single pitch. Now he goes 45 minutes between at-bats. There’s only so much video and batting cage work that can be done between at-bats to stay sharp too. “I’m getting used to it. When all you know is catching, it’s just a new routine. I’ve got to find a routine to work for me,” said McCann last month.

A quick glance at McCann’s first and second half splits don’t reveal too much. He’s not striking out more or hitting the ball in the air less. Nothing like that. Here are the numbers if you don’t believe me:

Brian McCann splits

Going from a 32.6% ground ball rate in the first half to a 36.3% ground ball rate in the second half is not meaningful. That’s just the normal ebb and flow of the season. McCann has a career 36.7% ground ball rate and so far this season he’s right in line with that number. A drastic increase in ground ball rate, say to 48% or so, would be a big red flag. That hasn’t happened.

The number that most caught my eye there is the 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. That is tiny! McCann has a 13.4 HR/FB% in his three full seasons with the Yankees. That’s his true talent number. His average launch angle (18º vs. 20º) and average exit velocity (89.8 mph vs. 87.8 mph) have remained in the same ballpark from the first half to the second, so he’s still making similar contact. McCann laid into a pitch in Kansas City that looked gone off the bat …

Brian McCann fly ball

… before it got knocked down by the wind. That ball leaves the yard in Yankee Stadium or on a warm day at Kauffman Stadium. Stuff like that is how you go from a 15.9 HR/FB% in the first half to a 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. I don’t want to call it bad luck, but this sure seems like one of those things that won’t last. Hopefully last night’s dinger is an indication the correction is coming.

For now, the Yankees are a little light on power unless Sanchez gets red hot again or Judge figures out how to stop striking out. Castro will sock a dinger every now and then, otherwise they’re stuck hoping Ellsbury or Brett Gardner or Didi Gregorius hook one into the short porch every once in the while. McCann is the team’s best left-handed power threat, and for the offense to be at its best the rest of the way, they need him to start hitting more balls out of the park more consistently.

The Yankee offense has come to life in August, and it’s not all Gary Sanchez

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

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees were shut out by the Orioles and Kevin Gausman, which, unfortunately, has been all too common this season. They have no answer for Gausman at all. The young right-hander has made four starts against the Yankees this season and he’s held them to three runs in 27.2 innings. That’s a 0.98 ERA. He has a 4.41 ERA against all other teams. Sigh.

Thankfully, games like that, in which the offense no-shows, have been rare this month. Very rare, in fact. Yesterday’s loss snapped the Yankees’ five-game streak of scoring at least five runs, the team’s longest such streak in three years. The Yankees scored 14 runs Friday night and another 13 runs Saturday. They scored 10+ runs six times in the first 126 games of the season, then did it back-to-back days this weekend.

Even with yesterday’s shutout loss, the Yankees have scored 133 runs in August, making it their highest scoring month of the season. There’s still three more games to play before September arrives too. Here is the Yankees’ month-by-month runs scored ranks among the 30 MLB clubs:

April: 74 (30th)
May: 119 (22nd)
June: 129 (13th)
July: 97 (23rd)
August: 133 (4th)

Not surprisingly, power has played a big role in the Yankees’ sudden run-scoring ability. They’ve hit 40 homers so far this month, ten more than any other month this season. (They hit 30 in both May and June.) Obviously the arrival of Gary Sanchez has played a huge role in the improved offense. He’s hitting .425/.489/.938 (274 wRC+) with eleven homers in 21 games this season since being recalled after the trade deadline.

Sanchez is not the only reason the offense has been much improved this month though. Remember, the Yankees traded away Carlos Beltran at the deadline, and he was their best hitter for much of the season. It’s not like they simply added Sanchez on top of what they already had. Several players have improved their performance this month as well. Three others in particular have mashed in August:

April to July August
Starlin Castro .256/.292/.395 (81 wRC+) .309/.337/.557 (135 wRC+)
Aaron Hicks .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+)  .307/.342/.480 (121 wRC+)
Mark Teixeira .192/.269/.322 (58 wRC+)  .254/.359/.433 (116 wRC+)

That doesn’t include the red hot Ronald Torreyes, who has gone 14-for-26 (.538) with six doubles, a homer, a walk, and no strikeouts over the last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-contact hitter who can go on an insane BABIP-fueled run like this. Torreyes replaced Chase Headley at third for a few games while Headley nursed an Achilles injury, and he’s stayed in the lineup because he’s been so hot.

There are reasons to believe this is all legit too. Castro has always been a second half hitter; he has a career 86 wRC+ in the first half and 105 in the second half. Hicks is playing everyday again, something he wasn’t able to do for much of the first half. I know no one wants to hear it, but I truly believe the regular at-bats help get him on track. Teixeira? Well, he couldn’t possibly be that bad all season, right? I hope so. We have to hope and pray a little more with Teixeira than we do Castro and Hicks.

It hasn’t all been good news this month. That’s just the way it goes. Brett Gardner (78 wRC+) and Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) haven’t been great in August, which is kind of a problem because they hit first and second — directly in front of the molten hot Sanchez — most games. Brian McCann (77 wRC+) hasn’t done much either, and call-ups Aaron Judge (85 wRC+) and Tyler Austin (-11 wRC+) have cooled off following their big MLB debuts. You can’t really expect the kids to carry the offense though. Sanchez is the exception, not the rule.

Still, the point is the Yankees have multiple hitters locked in right now. Most of the season they were able to rely on Beltran and maybe one other hitter at any given time. Didi Gregorius was hot for a while. Then it was McCann. Then Headley. Then whoever. The offense never seemed to fire on all cylinders, and truth be told, it still doesn’t feel that way. At least now there’s more than one or two guys carrying to load. Sanchez has been getting the kind of help Beltran never received.

The Yankees beat up on some bad Orioles pitching Friday and Saturday night, which skews their August numbers a tad. They’re averaging 4.61 runs per game this month if you remove those two blowouts, which is still their second highest scoring month this year after June (4.78). Friday’s and Saturday’s games happened though. They count. Earlier this year the Yankees rarely beat up on bad pitching. They just did it on back-to-back days.

No one expects Sanchez to stay this hot the rest of the season. It’s pretty much impossible. Hopefully as he cools down others like Gardner and Ellsbury and McCann heat back up and create a deeper, more balanced lineup. Scoring runs can still be a struggle for the Yankees, we saw it yesterday, but they’ve done a much better job offensively of late. They’ll have to keep up this pace to continue climbing back into the postseason race.

Brett Gardner’s Disappearing Power

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Being a sports fan means you’re going to make predictions or statements or give takes; with that comes a lot of being wrong. Most recently, I was most wrong about fellow former UConn Husky and current Detroit Piston Andre Drummond. After he left Storrs following his freshman year, I thought he’d struggle in the NBA thanks to a lack of a refined offensive game. I was wrong and I was very glad to be wrong. Before him, I was (somewhat) wrong about Brett Gardner.

Though I’ve long been a fan of Gardner’s, I wasn’t always sure how he’d fare long-term in Major League Baseball. Despite a good batting eye that helped him get on base just about everywhere he played, I had concerns regarding his general lack of power. I thought that once he got through the league a time or two, pitchers would be able to knock the bat out of his hands by challenging him, thus negating his good eye at the plate and limiting his effectiveness as a hitter. I was wrong; Gardner’s lasted a long time in the league and has been a productive player for most of that time.

Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)
Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)

Part of that productivity came from a power surge in 2013 that lasted through 2015. From 2013-2015, he had ISOs of .143, .166, and .140 after never having an ISO greater than .110 from 2008-2012. Additionally, 2014 and 2015 saw him hit 17 and 16 homers respectively. This isn’t Barry Bonds level power or anything, but for Gardner, this was groundbreaking stuff. In 2016, though, that power reservoir has seemingly dried up.

This year, his ISO has dropped down to .116, his lowest since a .110 mark in 2011 — not including the partial season in 2012. Per FanGraphs, ZiPS rest-of-season projections forecast Gardner to hit only four more homers this year, bringing his total up to 11. While that would be higher than any non-2014/15 year, it’s still a drop from the last two years, though the ISO drop is the more pronounced of the two. As proof of that, let’s take a look at Gardner’s extra-base hit rate as a percentage of his hits. In 2014, 35.2% of his hits went for extra bases. That rate dropped to 30.4% in 2015 and is down another 5% to 25.3% this year.

He’s dropped back down to relatively normal levels of his power so it’s not horribly alarming, but it’s still disappointing to see since that added dimension of power helped make Gardner an even more valuable player. As such, it’s still worth looking at why these numbers have dropped back down. When Gardner was going right with his homers, he was pulling inside pitches over the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. Let’s take a look at Gardner’s pull numbers over the last three years, incorporating HR/FB%; Hard Hit%; and ISO (all per FanGraphs):

Year HR/FB% Hard Hit% ISO
2014 29.4 37.3 0.385
2015 62.5 28.2 0.367
2016 37.5 24.5 0.263

While Brett is still hitting for good power to his pull field, it’s down significantly from the previous two years. 2015 was a little fluky with regards to the HR/FB% as Gardner tended not to hit many fly balls last year; the ones he did hit, however, left the park at an insanely high rate. It’s expected that there’s been a drop off this year, but that’s been coupled with a steadily dropping hard hit rate to the pull field. Why might this be? Well, intuitively, when you’re pulling the ball, you’re doing damage on inside pitches. Is that happening for Gardner this year compared to 2014-15? Not so much.

GardnerProfile1415

There’s Gardner’s 2014-2015 zone profile by ISO. By taking a look at the inside pitches in the zone, we see ISOs of .300; .281; and .361. He also did damage on pitches actually inside and out the zone, ISOing .471 on those pitches; he was even able to golf some low/in pitches out of the zone for a .286 ISO. Now let’s look at 2016.

GardnerProfile16

That inside power has seemingly disappeared in 2016. Up and in, in the zone, Gardner’s still doing damage: .546 ISO. Middle-in, in the zone is still solid at .250, but there’s been a drop off from 2014-15. The low-in, in the zone and the two out of zone locations have produced virtually no power.

There’s no quick and easy answers in baseball, but a rough estimate for why Gardner’s power has dropped this year is that he just isn’t doing damage on inside pitches and isn’t pulling the ball with as much authority to his pull field as he did in the previous two seasons. Despite the lack of power, Gardner has still been reasonably productive in 2016. He’s walking at his highest rate since 2011 (again, discounting 2012’s limited scope) and striking out at his lowest rate since 2011. But the lack of power has Gardner’s wRC+ under 100 for the first time since 2011. While the team was nowhere near reliant on Gardner for power coming into 2016, the lack of it — and the general lack of production from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira — has been a disappointment. Hopefully next year, Gardner can regain his power stroke and increase his productivity.

Benching A-Rod against righties is a good start, but there are other lineup changes worth making

But that's not any of Al's business. (Presswire)
But that’s none of Al’s business. (Presswire)

Later today, Alex Rodriguez will return to the lineup after spending the last two days on the bench. He wasn’t hurt. The Yankees are looking for ways to improve the offense and sitting Alex against right-handers is the solution they came up with. With lefty Cole Hamels on the mound tonight, A-Rod will be back in there.

“It’s a hard decision. Alex has meant a lot to this club over the years, but right now we’re gonna do something a little bit different and see how it works,” said Joe Girardi to Howie Kussoy yesterday. “It’s been tough for him against right-handers. That’s why we’re looking at this … You perform, that’s the bottom line. We’re in the business of performing. Things change. Nothing is set in stone.”

Rodriguez certainly has struggled against righties this year. The demotion is not undeserved. He’s hit .200/.236/.348 (50 wRC+) with a 31.7% strikeout rate against them so far, and his at-bats have looked pretty bad. A-Rod can’t seem to lay off sliders away and is getting chewed up by good fastballs. Removing him from the lineup against righties is necessary and smart.

That’s not the only lineup change the Yankees can and should make, however. Everyone involved keeps saying they’re trying to contend — “We can’t keep treading water. I want to be a contender, not a pretender,” said Brian Cashman to Josh Thomson yesterday — yet they can’t maintain the status quo and expect different results. It’s almost July. Here are some other changes the Yankees should make.

Give Teixeira’s Knee A Break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even with Mark Teixeira going deep the last two days, my guess is Rob Refsnyder will be at first base against Hamels tonight. Not only is there the left-right thing, but the Yankees had a very long night last night, and Teixeira also just played three straight games after coming off the DL with a knee problem. Girardi said they plan to give Teixeira a little more rest just to make sure the knee doesn’t flare up again. Makes sense, right? Right.

The Yankees have to do something to get Refsnyder at-bats and Teixeira’s knee is going to need regular rest, so this works well. Maybe something like three games on and one day off for Teixeira? Or two games on, one game at DH, and one day off? That will be difficult if these homers the last two days are a sign Teixeira is snapping out of his season long funk, but the Yankees can deal with that when the time comes. The point is to get Refsnyder some more at-bats. The kid has to play.

Drop Castro In The Lineup

There are 168 players qualified for the batting title as of this morning. Starlin Castro ranks 156th with a .285 OBP. That is terrible. I know he’s hit some big dingers and has generally been better than Stephen Drew, but man, his at-bats are consistently the worst on the team. He hacks at everything. Execute a slider off the plate in a two-strike count and Starlin will go fishing, no doubt about it.

Castro’s hot start and consistent dinger production — not to mention his age and contract — has bought him a long leash in a fairly premium lineup spot. He’s been hitting fifth or sixth for a while now. That has continued even though others, specifically Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley, have out-hit Castro for weeks now. Here are some numbers since May 1st, a totally arbitrary date I picked because it’s the start of a month:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ 2B HR BB% K%
Castro 209 .231/.260/.372 64 7 7 3.3% 19.1%
Gregorius 193 .311/.344/.443 110 10 4 4.1% 8.3%
Headley 183 .279/.344/.412 104 8 4 8.2% 21.9%

So yeah, Gregorius and Headley have been way more productive players for close to two months now. Benching Castro won’t (and shouldn’t) happen — he’s still only 26 and at least has a chance to be a building block player going forward — but dropping him in the lineup shouldn’t be off the table. Moving him behind Gregorius and Headley would be totally justifiable given their recent production.

Give Gardner & Ellsbury More Rest

Remember the plan to rest the regulars more often? The Yankees talked about it all offseason and in Spring Training. It hasn’t happened though. The team got off to a slow start, so Girardi kept running his regulars out there in an effort to get things turned around. As a result, Brett Gardner has started 64 of 75 games while Jacoby Ellsbury has started 61. That’s more than I think the Yankees originally planned.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Gardner and Ellsbury have slowed down of late. Gardner is hitting .273/.340/.295 (75 wRC+) over the last two weeks and Ellsbury is at .222/.255/.244 (32 wRC+). I don’t know if giving them one extra day on the bench a week while help things, but that was the plan coming into the season, right? That plan shouldn’t be abandoned, especially with the offense being so hit and (mostly) miss. It’s time to try something different.

I know most folks are done with Aaron Hicks but I’m nowhere near ready to give up on him. Clamoring for the Yankees to sell and wanting to move on from Hicks are conflicting ideas. I say give Gardner and Ellsbury that extra day of rest per week and stick Hicks in the lineup in their place. The two veterans get more rest and hopefully stay productive while Hicks gets some at-bats.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bonus Non-Lineup Suggestion: Get Nova Out Of The Rotation

Ivan Nova stepped into the rotation a few weeks back and strung together three very good starts. The rotation was a total mess at the time and Nova did a really nice job calming things down. Props. Lately though, Ivan has been a mess, and following last night’s dud he owns a 5.32 ERA (5.07 FIP) on the season. That can’t continue. Chad Green has a 1.54 ERA (2.25 FIP) in 81.2 Triple-A innings and lines up to take Nova’s spot perfectly. The Yankees have plenty of dead weight in the bullpen they can cast aside, so put Nova back into a long relief role and give Green a chance to show what he can do.

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Are the Yankees doing all they can right now to give themselves the best chance to win? I don’t think so, not if Refsnyder is sitting on the bench for three days at a time and Nova is taking a regular rotation turn. Benching A-Rod is a good move that figures to improve the offense. There’s more than can be done though, and the sooner the Yankees start making other changes, the better off they’ll be. Sitting A-Rod should be step one, not the only step.

Carlos Beltran’s power surge comes at a great time for the Yankees

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Two nights ago the Yankees beat the Angels thanks to an eighth inning three-run home run by Carlos Beltran. It was an opposite field job into the short porch against lefty Jose Alvarez. Believe it or not, that was the team’s first three-run homer since April 7th, the third game of the season. Yeah, it had been a while. Beltran again gave the Yankees the lead lastnight, this time with a first inning two-run homer off David Huff.

Last night’s home run was the 15th of the season for Beltran, and that’s notable because he hit only 19 homers last season and 15 the year before. Even in 2013, his final year with the Cardinals, Beltran swatted 24 homers. He’s on pace to hit 42 dingers (!) this season. His .277 ISO and .549 SLG rank 11th and 13th among the 175 qualified hitters in baseball, respectively. The guy is 39, remember.

As you know, Beltran started last season horribly. He looked done. Like done done. He turned things around in May and raked the rest of the season, but he didn’t hit for power like this. Beltran hit his first homer last year on May 10th, in the team’s 32nd game. From that game through the end of the season, Carlos ran a pace of 26.6 homers per 150 games. That’s really good! It’s still far below this year’s pace of 38.8 homers per 150 games.

Check out Beltran’s rolling 20-game ISO since 2010, via FanGraphs. Aside from a spike early in 2012, Beltran hasn’t matched his current power rate at any point in the last six seasons:

Carlos Beltran ISOAs you can see in the graph, Beltran’s ISO gradually faded from early-2012 though the end of the 2014 season, and that is totally normal for a player on the wrong side of 35. Players lose bat speed as they age and their power suffers. That’s the way it goes. Beltran was no exception during that three-year period.

Since the last May though, Beltran has been hitting for power at a tremendous pace, and he’s kicked it up a notch through two months and change this season. He’s done it without a substantial change in his fly ball rate or hard hit ball rate too. Beltran’s not even pulling the ball more often to take advantage of the short porch. In fact, his pull rate is down, though as a switch-hitter, that helps him take aim at the short porch against lefties.

“That’s not the plan,” said Beltran when Chad Jennings earlier this week when asked if he’s trying to hit more home runs. “The plan is to just to try to put together good at-bats. Hopefully everyone in the lineup is capable of putting together good at-bats. The plan is not to go up there and try to hit homers. That’s a terrible plan, but (Monday) it worked out for us.”

There is one really obvious possible explanation for Beltran’s recent power surge: he’s healthy. Beltran spent most of 2014 playing through a bone spur in his elbow. He wasn’t all that good that season, especially in the second half. Beltran then had the bone spur removed in the offseason. It seems like it took him a few weeks early last year to get right physically, then once he started to feel really good in May, he took off and it carried into this season.

I also think there might be something tying Beltran’s performance to his contract status. This is going to sound cynical as hell, but money is a great motivator. We’ve all noticed Carlos running better in the outfield and on the bases this season, right? Is it unreasonable to think he’s in better shape than he has been the last few years because his deal is up? I don’t think so. This happens all the time in all sports.

The combination of good health and that extra contract year motivation could help explain Beltran’s recent power surge. Could is the key word there. We don’t know this for sure. The only thing we know for sure is that since May of last season, Beltran has really awesome at the plate, and he’s upped his power output considerably this season. He hasn’t hit for power like this since he was in his prime with the Mets years and years ago.

For the Yankees to have any chance to climb back into the postseason race, they’ll need Beltran to keep up this pace. He’s been their best hitter this season by no small margin and is their biggest power threat. And you know what? If the Yankees don’t get back into the race, this power surge will make Beltran that much more attractive to other teams at the deadline should the Yankees decide to sell. For now, Carlos’ power definitely qualifies as a good surprise this season.