Not Big Mike or Small Mike, more like Medium Mike [2015 Season Review]


Michael Pineda‘s four years with the Yankees have been eventful, to say the least. He missed the 2012-13 seasons following shoulder surgery, then pitched brilliantly in limited action around a lat strain last year. Despite the injury, what Pineda showed last summer was pretty encouraging. His fastball had life, his slider was nasty, and his changeup was promising.

The 2015 season was supposed to be Big Mike‘s coming out party. He was finally healthy, with the shoulder surgery far in the rear view mirror. What we saw last year was very exciting and it was not hard to dream up a scenario where Pineda was the ace of the staff and one of the game’s most dominant arms. We saw flashes of that this year. Mostly though, we saw inconsistency.

Dominance in Spring

Pineda has had some pretty eventful Spring Trainings with the Yankees. He was overweight and ultimately hurt in 2012. The next year he was still coming back from shoulder surgery and didn’t pitch at all. Last year he came to camp healthy and it was something of a feeling out process. No one knew what to expect from Pineda after two lost years.

This year, Pineda showed up to camp with expectations for the first time in three years, and holy moly was he sharp in Spring Training. Pineda started five Grapefruit League games, allowed three runs in 19 innings, striking out 23 and walking just one. It was Spring Training, we all know the stats mean nothing, but damn. Big Mike killed it in March. It was hard to contain the excitement.

No. 2 Starter

The Yankees decided to start Pineda in the second game of the season, between Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. They lost four of their first five games of 2015 and the one win was Pineda’s start, when he held the Blue Jays to two runs in six innings. He struck out six and walk one. Not a great start but serviceable. It was a cold and rainy night in the Bronx, so it was understandable.

Five days later the Orioles roughed up Pineda, scoring five runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. He did strike out nine. His next start was okay (three runs in 5.2 innings against the Rays), but, after that, Pineda went on a four-start tear in which he looked like the budding ace the Yankees thought they were acquiring back in 2012.

On April 24th, Pineda outdueled Jacob deGrom and held the Mets to one run in 7.1 innings. Five days later he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings against the Rays, and six days after that he threw eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Then, five days later on Mother’s Day, Pineda struck out 16 Orioles in seven masterful innings.

The 16 strikeouts were the most by a Yankee since David Wells struck out 16 Athletics on July 30th, 1997. They were the most by a Yankees right-hander since David Cone fanned 16 earlier that season, on June 23rd. There have been only six 15+ strikeout games in franchise history (Pineda, Wells, Cone, Ron Guidry, Whitey Ford, Bob Shawkey) and Pineda is the only one to do it in fewer than eight innings. Here’s the list.

The 16-strikeout game capped off a dominant four-start stretch in which Pineda allowed four runs on 22 hits and one walk in 28.1 innings. He struck out 34. Big Mike had a 2.72 ERA and a 1.90 FIP in his first seven starts and 46.1 innings of the season. Things were a little rocky early, but Pineda settled in and was starting to #shove on a consistent basis.

Small to Mid-Size Mike

Given how the rest of the season played out, it’s fair to wonder if Pineda exerted himself a little too much in that 16-strikeout game. He surrendered five runs in 5.1 innings next time out and showed nothing more than flashes of dominance the rest of the season. Pineda had some truly great starts down the stretch (like this one) but was generally inconsistent and mediocre, if not downright bad.

Following the 16-strikeout game, Pineda pitched to a 5.04 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 20 starts and 114.1 innings. His walk (3.7%) and strikeout (21.0%) strikes were excellent, and he was starting to get ground balls (46.5%), but Pineda was incredibly hit (.284 AVG and .330 BABIP) and home run (1.42 HR/9 and 17.0 HR/FB%) prone. He closed the season by allowing 35 runs in his final 54.1 innings. That’s not good.

Pineda did miss a little more than a month with a forearm muscle strain, the same injury that sidelined Tanaka and Andrew Miller for a month each earlier in the season. Pineda returned in late-August and finished the season healthy, so that’s good, but he struggled before getting hurt and again after getting hurt. The dominant Big Mike were all hoping to see never really showed up aside from that four-start stretch early in the season, which ended with the 16-strikeout game.

All told, Pineda finished the season with a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 27 starts and 160.2 innings. His had great strikeout (23.4%) and walk (3.1%) numbers — Pineda had the third lowest walk rate (behind Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon, the Yankees love their low walk guys) and the second highest K/BB ratio (behind Max Scherzer) among the 89 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings in 2015 — and got ground balls (48.2%) for the first time in his life.

The peripherals were magnificent. The actual preventing runs part? Not so much. Pineda was way too hittable this year for a guy with his stuff.

Before & After

Like I said earlier, it’s fair to wonder if Pineda put a little too much into the 16-strikeout game, leading to his poor performance afterwards. Maybe he threw off his mechanics, maybe he was hiding an injury, or maybe it was something else all together.

Let’s look at some PitchFX graphs to see if we notice any sort of difference before and after that Mother’s Day gem, starting with good ol’ velocity. I’ve boxed out Pineda’s starts after the 16-strikeout game.

Michael Pineda velocity

Looks fine to me. Pineda added velocity as the season progressed, which is totally normal, then it tailed off a bit at the end of the season, around the forearm injury. This looks fine. Pineda was relatively consistent with his velocity before and after the 16-strikeout game before getting hurt.

Now let’s look at the horizontal movement of Pineda’s pitches since he’s a fastball/slider/changeup guy. The changeup goes left-to-right and everything else he throws seems to go right-to-left. Even his fastball is more of a cutter.

Michael Pineda movement

Okay, now maybe we’re on to something. Pineda’s slider lost horizontal movement as the season progressed. Going month-by-month, the pitched averaged 4.54 inches of break in April, then 4.00 in May, then 2.47 in June, then 1.31 in July, then -0.45 in August — that basically means he was throwing sloppy backup sliders more often than not — before rebounding to 1.32 in September.

The swing-and-miss rate on Pineda’s slider actually went up as the season progressed — it had a 17.5% whiff rate in April and peaked at 26.1% in August before the forearm injury — but the whiff rate on his fastball dropped. It went 7.8% in April to literally 0.0% in August. No swings and misses on the pitch that month.

A pitcher’s arsenal is not just a collection of individual pitches. They all play off each other. The fastball sets up the slider and vice versa. That’s what makes it so tough. The hitter reads fastball out of the hand, starts his swing, then the thing slides out of the way. Pineda’s slider was less slider-y as the season progressed, and it hurt his fastball more than anything.

The slider wasn’t sliding less just because. There’s a reason behind the change, and, looking at the PitchFX data, it appears Pineda’s arm slot changed after the 16-strikeout game. Check it out:

Michael Pineda release point1Oh boy. That first data point after the 16-strikeout game is pretty scary. Pineda’s vertical release point dropped significantly — four and a half inches according to PitchFX, to be exact — immediately after the 16-strikeout game. It bounced back for a few starts after that, then began to trend downward and zig zag all over the place around the forearm injury.

We don’t know if Pineda exerted himself a little too much on Mother’s Day. The PitchFX data shows his slider didn’t slide as much and his vertical release point dropped, but correlation does not equal causation. It could be a coincidence. Remember, we already talking about a pitcher who has had major shoulder surgery. His arm may never work the same across a full season.

Whatever it was, Pineda did not meet expectations this season. He wasn’t terrible, the overall numbers are okay, but the Yankees were expecting high-end performance from Pineda. He was being counted on to be one of the leaders of the staff. We saw flashes of that and nothing more.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Pineda is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player for another two years and there’s always a chance the Yankees could use him in a trade this offseason. For now, he’s penciled as one of the five starters next season, except now expectations may be tempered a bit.

The Best and Very Worst of Jacoby Ellsbury [2015 Season Review]


Two offseasons ago the Yankees decided to let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent, opting to let some other team pay for his decline years after getting what were likely the best seasons of his career. The Yankees had been on the other side of that move far too often the last few decades. They were usually playing for decline years after the player peaked elsewhere.

It was a wonderful change in philosophy that lasted no more than a few days. Soon after they learned Cano would not be accepting their final offer, the Yankees acted quickly to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year contract worth $153M. Fair or not, the Yankees are considered to have replaced Cano with Ellsbury. He was the next huge money free agent they signed. Ellsbury’s first year in pinstripes went well. The second? It was a disaster, and I don’t think that’s overstating it.

Back to Leadoff

Due to injuries and whatnot, Joe Girardi was forced to use Ellsbury as his No. 3 hitter for much of last season even though he’s totally miscast for the role. This year, with Derek Jeter retired and the No. 2 lineup spot freed up, Girardi was able to move Ellsbury back atop the lineup without batting Brett Gardner seventh or eighth or something ridiculous like that. He could bat his two best table-setters atop the lineup.

Spring Training was actually a bit of a mess for Ellsbury. He went 7-for-35 (.200) with one extra-base hit and only appeared in 12 Grapefruit League games due an oblique strain. He missed the final two weeks of camp but did heal up in time for the start of the season. Ellsbury was on the Opening Day roster and in his usual leadoff spot come the start of the regular season.

Leadoff Dominance

Ellsbury managed to play in a few tune-up games at the end of Spring Training, but he hadn’t played regularly since mid-March, so it would have been understandable if he came out of the gate a little slow. He did take an 0-for-4 on Opening Day, but, after that, Ellsbury was a leadoff dynamo. He reached base four times in the second game of the season (two hits, two walks) and 39 times in his next 19 games (!).

Despite hitting for very little power — he had three extra-base hits (two doubles and a homer) in April — Ellsbury was a dominant, game-changing force atop the lineup. He hit .321 with a .406 OBP in April, stealing eight bases and striking out only 14.6% of the time. Ellsbury’s best game of 2015 came at his old stomping grounds, when he went 4-for-4 and reached base six times at Fenway Park on May 3rd.

It happened so damn long ago that it’s easy to forget the Yankees had some trouble scoring runs early in the season. Ellsbury and Gardner got on and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drove them in. That was it. That was the offense. No one else was hitting, so if that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score. Ellsbury scored 24 runs in the team’s first 30 games. He didn’t even play in two of them. That’s how good he was early in the season.

Through the first 40 games of the season, Ellsbury hit .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) with 14 stolen bases, a lot of walks (11.2%), and not a lot of strikeouts (13.5%). That was on top of his typically stellar defense. Ellsbury wasn’t hitting for power — he had four doubles, a homer, and no triples in those 40 games, so yeah — but he was doing everything else. Hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases, catching the ball … everything. Ellsbury is a heck of a player when he’s at his best.

The Knee Injury That Changed Everything

On May 19th, against the Nationals in Washington, Ellsbury swung at a pitch and apparently caught his spike in the dirt. He tweaked his right knee, and while he stayed in the game to run the bases, he eventually had to be taken out. Here’s the play:

It looked innocent enough. Just a little tweak, nothing he couldn’t walk off, right? We see hitters take swings like that and shake their leg afterwards almost every day during the season.

The injury was bad enough that the Yankees placed Ellsbury on the 15-day DL immediately after the game. Didn’t even wait until the next morning. An MRI showed a knee sprain. The cool thing is Slade Heathcott was called up to replace Ellsbury, so prospect junkies like myself loved that, but damn yo, the Yankees couldn’t afford to lose Ellsbury. He was killing the ball.

The Yankees never did give a firm timetable for Ellsbury’s return other than to acknowledge he would miss more than the minimum 15 days. Come the end of May he was still limited to low-impact work in a pool. It wasn’t until June 5th that Ellsbury did any sort of baseball activity, and even that was only dry swings. He ran the bases for the first time on the 10th and took full batting practice for the first time on the 15th.

It wasn’t until June 29th that Ellsbury started a minor league rehab assignment. He got three at-bats as the DH with High-A Tampa that day, took the next day off, then played six innings in center field the next day. Ellsbury needed two days off after that because of what was being called general fatigue. He played two more minor league games on June 4th and 5th, then rejoined the Yankees on the 8th.

All told, the knee injury sidelined Ellsbury for 49 days and 43 team games. By time he returned, the Yankees had played more games without him (43) than with him (41). Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt. He’s a slow healer and we saw it this summer. It’s not that he suffered setbacks or anything like that, it just took him a while to get healthy enough to pass his rehab milestones.

Never The Same

Believe it or not, Ellsbury went 6-for-17 (.353) with a home run in his first four games back after the knee injury. It looked like he was going to pick up where he left off before getting hurt. That wasn’t the case though. Ellsbury fell into a deep slump and it lasted pretty much the rest of the regular season. He went 11-for-57 (.193) in 14 July games after the All-Star break.

Aside from the occasional mini-hot streak — Ellsbury went 12-for-28 (.429) in six games from August 13th to 18th, for example — Ellsbury was a major drain on the offense down the stretch. He returned from the injury and hit .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) in his final 74 games and 331 plate appearances of the season. Just take a second to wrap your head around that. I’ll wait.

Okay, back. We aren’t talking about a small sample or some arbitrary endpoint here. There’s nothing arbitrary about coming back from an injury. That’s a half season’s worth of playing time as one of the very worse hitters in baseball. In fact, a total of 143 players had at least 250 plate appearances from July 8th — the date Ellsbury returned from the DL — through the end of the season. Among those 143 players, Ellsbury ranked …

134th in AVG
137th in OBP
134th in SLG

… and that’s awful. He was legitimately one of the ten worst hitters in baseball after coming back from the knee injury. Ellsbury was so bad down the stretch that he didn’t even start the wildcard game. Think about that. In year two of a seven-year contract worth $153M, the Yankees determined Ellsbury was not good enough to start a winner-take-all game. Yikes. Worst of all, it was absolutely the right decision. He was that bad.

Between the great start and miserable finish, Ellsbury hit .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) with seven homers, 21 steals in 30 attempts (70%), a 7.0% walk rate, and a 17.2% strikeout rate in 2015. For reference, Ichiro Suzuki hit .281/.314/.364 (86 wRC+) in two and a half years with the Yankees. That’s what the Yankees got from Ellsbury overall this season. Ichiro production.

I thought Ellsbury’s defense took a step back after the knee injury, which is understandable. One of his legs had been compromised. He wasn’t bad defensively by any means, just not as good as he can be when fully healthy. All told, Ellsbury was worth 1.9 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR in 2015. He fell literally one plate appearance shy of qualifying for the batting title, but, if he had, he would have ranked 38th and 46th among 55 qualified outfielders in bWAR and fWAR, respectively.

Before & After

Something changed following the injury. Ellsbury was great, then he got hurt, then he was opposite of great. Here’s a breakdown of his performance before and after the injury. Let’s see if this shows any sort of red flags. (I included his 2014 stats for reference.)

Contact% Chase% GB% FB% Pull% Oppo% Soft% Hard% BABIP
2014 86.5% 27.8% 41.8% 33.5% 38.0% 25.4% 17.0% 28.4% .341
Pre-DL 87.5% 30.7% 47.2% 28.0% 38.4% 27.2% 23.2% 22.4% .379
Post-DL 83.2% 34.2% 44.3% 32.0% 37.6% 26.9% 24.1% 20.4% .261

Ellsbury chased more pitches out of the zone and made less contact after the injury, but the difference isn’t extreme. His batted ball profile didn’t change a ton either, a few percentage points in either direction, which is normal year-to-year — or this case, pre-DL to post-DL — fluctuation. The changes aren’t significant enough to be a real red flag in my opinion.

That’s good! You want Ellsbury’s underlying performance to be the same. He was awesome in the first half. Do it again! The fact he swung at more pitches out of the zone suggests to me Ellsbury wasn’t comfortable at the plate, either physically or with his approach. I’m going to go back to this image I posted a few weeks ago:

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

The screen grab on the left is from May, right before Ellsbury landed on the DL. The screen grab on the right is from September. They both show the instant Ellsbury’s front foot hits the ground as part of his leg kick.

The difference is pretty significant even though all of this is happening in the blink of an eye. In May, Ellsbury’s foot landed when the pitch was almost at the plate, and his body was rotating to uncork his swing. In September, his foot touched down almost as soon as the ball was out of the pitcher’s hand. He hadn’t even begun to load his swing yet. His swing was mostly arms.

Simply put, Ellsbury’s timing was off. Either because he was protecting the knee after the injury — that can happen subconsciously — or because he was a mechanical mess. The screen grabs capture something the stats don’t really show. Ellsbury was not right at the plate. He wasn’t putting himself in the best position to hit — I guess it’s more correct to say he wasn’t putting himself in the same position to hit as he had been earlier in the season — and that may explain his second half swoon.

Looking Ahead to 2016

There’s little chance the Yankees will trade Ellsbury this offseason. He has five years and another $110M or so left on his contract, and the team would have to eat a lot of that to facilitate a deal. His value is as low as it’s going to get. It’s not the worst contract in baseball but it is climbing the list. No doubt about it.

At this point the Yankees can do nothing but hope an offseason of rest will help Ellsbury get over whatever plagued him after returning from the DL. That’s where they’re at: hoping he was hurt and will be healthy come Spring Training. For now, there’s little reason to think the Yankees won’t go into the 2016 with Ellsbury as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.

The Solid Yet Unspectacular Brian McCann [2015 Season Review]


Two years ago the Yankees were desperate for catching help. That catching pipeline they put together in the minors didn’t amount to much — Jesus Montero was traded away, Austin Romine never developed, Gary Sanchez hit some speed bumps, etc. — so the team was forced into free agency. The Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli plan for 2013 failed miserably.

That venture into free agency brought veteran Brian McCann to the Bronx on a five-year contract worth $85M. Year one was a disappointment, at least offensively. The Yankees were expecting much more than a .232/.286/.406 (93 wRC+) batting line. Year two of the McCann era was better, but again, it was probably less than what the Yankees were expecting when they signed him, especially defensively.

More Comfortable in Year Two?

There was an awful lot of talk about McCann needing time to get comfortable in New York during and following his disappointing 2014 season. It was understandable too. He had a lot to process. New city, new teammates, new league, new division rivals, new coaches, new trainers, new pitching staff … that’s a lot to take in. It’s easy to understand why that may have impacted McCann’s performance.

“I think it’s typical with all of our guys. Unless you’re coming from the Red Sox, like (Jacoby) Ellsbury or Johnny Damon. They were used to that,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff about McCann’s adjustment period back in Spring Training. “I think our experiences have been, for players coming outside of the Northeast environment in New York, it doesn’t matter who you are. There’s definitely a settling-in period.”

McCann had kind of a normal Spring Training — he hit .234/.302/.404 with two homers in 19 games — for a veteran catcher. For him, the games were more about getting ready and getting familiar with the new pitchers on the staff, not so much about impressing coaches to a win roster spot. His job was safe. He was just going through the motions. At least this year he had an idea of what to expect in camp.

“I know the league a lot better,” said McCann over the summer. “I’ve seen all these guys for a fourth and fifth and sixth time. When you’re changing leagues, that’s kind of what you take for granted is facing the No. 1’s and 2’s, the lefty specialists all for the first time. I’m definitely more comfortable in that aspect.”

First Half Dominance

During the first half of the 2015 season, McCann put up a stellar .259/.331/.471 (117 wRC+) batting line with 14 home runs in 72 games. That was right in line with the .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) batting line McCann put up in his final season with the Braves. He was back to where he was prior to that disappointing 2014 season. It was great to see.

Amazingly, McCann actually started the season poorly, so poorly that he bottomed out at .228/.279/.382 (76 wRC+) with four home runs on May 19th, 136 plate appearances into his season. It not only looked like McCann wasn’t going to rebound in year two with the Yankees, but it looked like he was declining even further six weeks into the new season. It was pretty scary!

McCann’s bat took off soon thereafter — he hit a home run in four consecutive games from May 25th to 29th — and he was an absolute monster at the plate the rest of the first half. From May 20th through the All-Star break, a span of 39 games and 154 plate appearances, McCann hit .288/.377/.553 (153 wRC+) with ten homers. His biggest homer came on July 3rd:

By WPA, that was the team’s biggest hit of the 2015 season. McCann appeared to be finally settling in as a Yankee and giving them the kind of offensive thump they were expecting when they signed him. He did not make the All-Star Team — Salvador Perez (fan vote), Russell Martin, and Stephen Vogt were the AL catchers — but easily could have. McCann was that good in the first half.

Second Half Swoon

Like most Yankees, McCann slumped big time in the second half. He did swat 12 home runs in 63 games after the break, but that came with a .200/.306/.395 (91 wRC+) batting line. Granted, a 91 wRC+ isn’t bad by catcher standards — the league average catcher had an 85 wRC+ in 2015 — but the Yankees were counting on McCann to be a middle of the order thumper, and he wasn’t doing that in the second half.

Looking at McCann’s batted ball profile, it’s easy to see what happened in the second half:

Brian McCann batted ballsThe blue line represents McCann’s fly ball rate while the green is grounders and the red is line drives. McCann put the ball in the air way more often in the second half, and it’s not just that he hit more balls in the air, he hit more weak pop-ups. You know what I mean, those uppercut swings that result in McCann immediately putting his head down after contact. These fly balls:

Brian McCann popup

We see an awful lot of those weak pop-ups when McCann is struggling that the plate. Fly balls like that are BABIP killers. They’re easy outs even the worst defensive outfielders can convert. McCann went from a .271 BABIP in the first half to a .191 BABIP in the second half.

The poor BABIP in the second half was not dumb luck. This is not a “just give him some more at-bats and it’ll even out” situation. McCann’s swing and approach in the second half resulted in a lot of those towering pop-ups that are easy for the defense to catch. He had a low BABIP because the balls he was putting in play were easy to turn into outs. It’s the same thing that plagued McCann in 2014.

McCann finished the regular season in a 3-for-28 (.107) slump and went 0-for-4 with three ground outs and a fly out in the wildcard game. He swung at the first pitch and grounded out to shortstop in the ninth inning to end the season.

That’s the kind of lifeless at-bat that was so prevalent late in the season. Not just by McCann, but by the Yankees in general.

Between the great first half — given that slow start, wasn’t it really more like 39 great games? — and the dreadful second half, McCann hit .232/.320/.437 (105 wRC+) with a career high 26 home runs this past season. The home runs are great! The Yankees signed McCann to hit dingers and take advantage of the short porch, and, sure enough, he hit 20 of those 26 home runs at Yankee Stadium.

McCann’s walk rate rebounded from a career low 5.9% last year to 9.7% this year, which is right in line with his career average (9.2%). His strikeout rate was actually a career high (18.1%) yet still below the league average (20.4%). McCann struck out 14.3% of the time last season. His power production increased a bit and his walk rate returned to normal in 2015, but McCann also had a .235 BABIP, which is the new normal. He has .241 BABIP in his last 2,000 plate appearances dating back to 2012.

At this point of his career, there’s little reason to think McCann will ever hit for a decent batting average again. Maybe he has a lucky year and some of those pop-ups start falling in, but that seems unlikely. Chances are McCann is a low average, decent on-base, high power hitter from here on out. That’s useful, especially at the catcher position, but it’s not star caliber production. It’s just solid. McCann is now two years into his contract and that’s really all you can say. He’s been solid. Nothing more.

Declining Glove

The Yankees value catcher defense very highly and that’s a huge reason why they targeted McCann. Not only was he one of the best offensive catchers in the league, he was also an elite gloveman. We saw it last season, when he threw out 37% of base-runners, rated as a top notch pitch-framer, and excelled at blocking balls in the dirt. He was the total package behind the plate.

This past season, McCann was something less than that. He still threw out a ton of attempted base-stealers — McCann threw out 28 of 78 this year, or 36% (league average was 32%) — but the various stats say he took a step back as a pitch-framer. Both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner rated McCann as right around league average in 2015. Last year both had him near the top.

Pitch-framing is rather fickle and I still have questions about the exact run values, but it is obviously a valuable skill you’d like your catcher to possess. The eye test is … tough. It’s tough to evaluate pitch-framing with your eyes because you don’t know if the catcher deserves props or if the umpire was going to call it a strike anyway. The stats say McCann’s framing took a step back this year. How much of a step back? That’s debatable. But a step back.


Blocking balls in the dirt is another matter. Those are pretty easy to evaluate with your eyes and gosh, McCann was pretty terrible at it this year. McCann was behind the plate for 56 passed pitches this year, fourth most in baseball. Here’s the funny thing: he was charged with one passed ball. The other 55 passed pitchers were wild pitches. That … yeesh. That seems hard to believe based on what I saw this year.

The Yankees do have a tough-to-catch pitching staff. Masahiro Tanaka, Chasen Shreve, and Nathan Eovaldi were bouncing splitters all summer and both Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances had no idea where the ball was going at different points of the season. But geez, just one passed ball? Really? That seems wrong. I remember seeing more than a few blockable pitches scoot away from McCann this summer.

Last season McCann allowed one passed pitch every 22.8 innings. This season it was one every 18.6 innings. That matches up with the anecdotal evidence — McCann allowed balls to get by him at a higher rate this summer. It’s not surprising either. He’s a 31-year-old catcher who has been a big league starter since age 21. That’s a lot of wear and tear on his legs. Of course McCann is not as mobile as he once was.

I’m going to go back to this word again, but McCann’s total package on defense was solid this year. He was great at throwing out base-runners but his framing and blocking took a step back. Between the offense and defense, McCann was an above-average catcher this summer, rather easily too, but the signs of decline are evident both offensively (bye bye BABIP) and defensively.

Looking Ahead to 2016

McCann has another three years and $51M coming to him, so of course he’s going to be the starting catcher next season. He should be too. I’m the world’s biggest John Ryan Murphy fan but McCann is the better player right now and should start. There’s almost no way to argue otherwise.

Joe Girardi indicated at his end-of-season press conference that he may begin to scale back on McCann’s workload going forward — he started 119 games behind the plate this year, his most since 2010 — which is smart at this point of his career. Fewer days behind the plate and a few more at DH could help keep him productive deeper into the season. Either way, McCann will be back behind the plate and in the middle of the lineup next year.

The First Baseman of the Future [2015 Season Review]


For the first time in a long time, the Yankees came into the season with some high-end prospects close to the big league level. We’ve spent the last few years talking about how the farm system was on the rise due to the team’s lower level talent, but geez, that’s lame as hell. Every team has talented players at the lower levels. That didn’t make the Yankees special as much as we wanted it to.

This year was different because of that upper level talent. And, given the club’s newfound commitment to young players, many of those players got an opportunity to help at the big league level this summer. Greg Bird, who I ranked as the fifth best prospect in the organization coming into the season, was one of those players even though he was what you could have considered a “blocked” prospect because of his position. Nevertheless, Bird got a chance late in the season and had an impact.

The Joys of Spring

The Yankees invited the 22-year-old Bird to Spring Training and he was arguably the most impressive young hitter during Grapefruit League play. It was either Bird or the resurgent Slade Heathcott. (Heathcott received a James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp, for what it’s worth.)

Either way, Bird appeared in 13 spring games and went 6-for-17 (.353) with three doubles and a home run. He stood out most for his ultra-refined approach and insanely quick hands.

Bird had almost zero chance to make the Yankees out of Spring Training. He just wasn’t at the point in his career where that was a possibility. That said, young players like Bird still have a chance to make a strong impression on the front office and coaching staff in Spring Training. You might not make the team, but you can put yourself in position to be considered for a call-up during the season, and that’s exactly what Bird did it in camp. He was dynamite.

Back to the Minors

The Yankees assigned Bird to Double-A Trenton to start the season — he ended last year with 27-game cameo for the Thunder — and he started slowly, going 7-for-39 (.179) with only three extra-base hits in the first eleven games of the season. Bird eventually got hot, raked for a few weeks, then landed on the DL with a right shoulder injury. He was sidelined a month.

Bird returned in early-June, crushed the ball for a month (143 wRC+ in 24 games), then was promoted to Triple-A Scranton as part of the team’s mass midseason promotions. He hit .258/.358/.445 (133 wRC+) with six homers, a 14.2% strikeout rate, and an 11.3% walk rate in 49 Double-A games this year. Bird shook off the slow start and showed no ill-effects following the shoulder injury.

After the promotion to Triple-A, Bird hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in only 34 games with the RailRiders, with an 18.0% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate. It was his first taste of the level and, like pretty much every other stop in his career, Bird put up big numbers. He hit .277/.356/.469 (139 wRC+) with 12 home runs, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 9.7% walk rate in 83 minor games split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015.

A Surprise Promotion

On August 13th, a little more than one week after calling up Luis Severino, the Yankees surprisingly called up Bird to bolster the bench. Trade deadline pickup Dustin Ackley was hurt and Garrett Jones hadn’t been all that productive, so the Yankees saw it as an opportunity for an upgrade. A marginal upgrade — the plan was to use Bird to rest Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on occasion, that’s it — but an upgrade nonetheless.

Bird made his Major League debut in Cleveland on August 13th, the day he was called up. They put him right in the lineup. Bird went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts as the seventh place hitter and first baseman. He started again two days later at first base — Teixeira sat on the 13th then served as the DH on the 15th with A-Rod resting — and went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in Toronto.

Bird’s first career hit came in his ninth plate appearance. He had been making solid contact but had a knack for finding gloves early on. That’s baseball. So, naturally, his first career hit was a little ground ball through the left side side of the infield.

Two days after Bird picked up his first career hit, Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin and suffered what proved to be a season-ending fracture. Bird’s stint as a bench player or spot starter or whatever you want to call it lasted five days. Bird replaced Teixeira off the bench that game, then, in the tenth inning, he sparked the team’s game-winning rally with a leadoff double against Glen Perkins.

That was Bird’s first career extra-base hit. Later in the inning he scored his first career run to win the game. He drew his first career walk in the seventh inning, in his first at-bat after coming in for Teixeira. Bird got a lot of “firsts” out of that way that night.

We didn’t know Teixeira’s injury was season-ending at the time, but it looked like he was going to miss at least a few days, so Bird was going to get an opportunity to play a few games in a row. It was an unfortunate way to get him in the lineup. That’s usually what it takes for a young player to get a chance though, an injury.

An Everyday Player, Suddenly

Teixeira started just one game the rest of the season. About a week later, with his shin feeling only slightly better, he started and played six innings against the Astros in a blowout loss. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning the next night. Teixeira did not play again the rest of the season.

In his first game as the starting first baseman, Bird went 2-for-4 and drove in a run. In his second, he went 2-for-4 with a pair of two-run home runs in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Twins. He provided all of the offense with his first and second big league dingers.

Bird was, like most players, consistently inconsistent the rest of the season. He went 3-for-23 (.130) with nine strikeouts in the nine games immediately following the two-homer game. Then he went 11-for-35 (.314) with three home runs in the next ten games. A 2-for-19 (.105) stretch followed that. On and on it goes. That’s pretty normal. Day-to-day consistency is a myth in baseball. The season is just a bunch of hot and cold streaks.

Bird’s most dominant stretch of the season was a seven-game span from September 15th to the 22nd, when he went 9-for-26 (.346) with three doubles and five home runs, including a homer in three consecutive games at one point. The third of those three was a go-ahead three-run shot in the tenth inning in Toronto, with the Yankees desperately trying to keep pace with the Blue Jays in the AL East.

The Yankees struggled big time in the final week of the season but not because of Bird. He was one of their few reliable bats down the stretch. Bird went 7-for-21 (.333) in his final seven games of the season and finished the year with an overall .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) batting line in 178 plate appearances across 46 games. He hit eleven home runs and drew a lot of walks (10.7%), but also struck out quite a bit (29.8%). Pitchers attacked him relentlessly with high fastballs. Here is the pitch type and location of his 53 strike threes.

Greg Bird strike threes

The high fastball is definitely a vulnerability for Bird right now. It is for a lot of hitters — fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone and above have a 9.1% whiff rate compared to 6.9% for all fastballs overall — so this isn’t unique to Bird. Opposing teams identified it as a weakness — they were throwing Bird high fastballs in strikeout situations the day of his debut, scouting reports are crazy good these days — and now it’s up to Bird to adjust.

The Yankees had only three hits against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros in the wildcard game and Bird had one of them, a solid line drive single to right in the second inning. Bird hit an acceptable .238/.347/.405 (110 wRC+) against southpaws like Keuchel overall this season — he hit .270/.341/.574 (147 wRC+) against righties — though it’s both a small sample (49 plate appearances) and quite misleading. Bird crushed lefties early and then went 5-for-31 (.161) against them in the final month.

Even with those late-season struggles against lefties, Bird was an excellent fill-in for Teixeira. The original plan was the play him two or three times a week to rest Teixeira and A-Rod, but the injury forced him into everyday duty, and Bird excelled. I didn’t think he would get called up at all this year coming into the season, the call-up was a total surprise to me, but Bird handled the promotion well. At least offensively. His defense remains rough around the edges.

Fly Balls & Hard Contact

Three things about Bird stood out to me during his relatively brief time as a big leaguer this season. One, he’s very calm at the plate. Joe Girardi called it a “slow heartbeat.” Bird seems very controlled with a bat in his hands. Two, he rarely hits the ball on the ground. And three, he hits the ball very hard. Combine two and three and you get a lot of hard hit balls in the air.

Here are Bird’s batted ball rates compared to the MLB average, just to give you an idea of how extreme his fly ball/hard hit tendencies really are:

GB% LD% FB% Soft% Medium% Hard%
Bird 26.7% 21.9% 51.4% 14.3% 41.0% 44.8%
MLB Avg 45.3% 20.9% 33.8% 18.6% 52.7% 28.6%

Among the 389 batters with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Bird had the lowest ground ball rate and the second highest hard contact rate. Only Giancarlo Stanton hit the ball harder, on average (49.7% … lol). Very, very few batters matched Bird’s combination of hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball in the air.

Actually, a graph probably works best here. Here are those 389 batters with 150 plate appearances, with ground ball rate on the x-axis and hard contact rate on the y-axis:

2015 Hard vs. GB

So yeah, when it came to hitting the ball hard and in the air this season, Bird was truly elite. Obviously small sample caveats apply, but I do think Bird’s batted ball tendencies are notable because they match the scouting report coming into the season. Here’s a piece of what Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote in his preseason top 100 prospects list, in which he ranked Bird the 81st best prospect in the game:

Bird’s swing is very short to the ball, and he accelerates his hands quickly for hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.

Consistently hitting the ball hard and in the air is a wonderful recipe for extra-base hits. I don’t know if Bird is a true talent sub-30% ground ball rate hitter, that seems very extreme — batted ball data has been recorded since 2002, and during that time only four of 729 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances have a sub-30% ground ball rate (Frank Thomas, Rod Barajas, Chris Carter, Jason Lane) — but the data matched the scouting report this year.

We’ll find out next season whether Bird can sustain his unique hard hit fly ball profile. What we saw out of him was pretty exciting though. He has a plan at the plate, he has power, and he seems to do a lot of damage when he makes contact. The strikeouts are the only significant red flag at this point.

(I suspect Bird will always be prone to strikeouts because he works so many deep counts. It just comes with the territory. You can’t drew a lot of walks and run 5+ pitch at-bats consistently without getting rung up a few times.)

Looking Ahead to 2016

Bird’s role next season is TBD at this point. He played more than well enough to be in the team’s future plans — he is clearly the first baseman of the future, there is little doubt about that — but Teixeira is under contract for another season, and he’ll be at first base in 2016. Teixeira had a pretty awesome year, remember. The Yankees are better with him at first than Bird.

This is a problem that isn’t a problem. Too many good players is a good thing. The Yankees could carry Bird as a bench bat again or they could send him to Triple-A for the time being. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Bird himself have not been the most durable players in recent years — Bird has had on and off back problems the last few seasons in addition to his shoulder injury this year — so my guess is there will be plenty of playing time for all three next year.

The Only Trade of the 2015 Season [2015 Season Review]


Thanks to a great June and July, the Yankees surged to the top of the AL East standings this summer. At one point their lead was as big as seven games. Several strong bounceback performances from key veteran players fueled that hot start.

And yet, the Yankees had some clear needs at the trade deadline. I thought they would aggressively look for upgrades considering they were in first place and hadn’t been to the postseason since 2012, but instead they made just one minor move, acquiring Dustin Ackley from the Mariners. Ackley had more impact than I ever expected.

They Finally Got Their Man

The Yankees had been after Ackley for a long time. We first heard they were after him back during the 2013 Winter Meetings, and they tried again to get him at the trade deadline last year. The Mariners wanted Bryan Mitchell in return and the Yankees said no thanks. They finally got their man at the trade deadline this year, after a few weeks of rumors.

The three-player trade sent outfielder Ramon Flores and right-hander Jose Ramirez to Seattle for Ackley. The Yankees dealt from positions of depth — Flores was one of many upper level left-handed hitting outfielders (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, etc.) in the organization and the Yankees have more right-handed relievers for the Scranton shuttle than you can count.

It’s worth noting both Flores and Ramirez will be out of minor league options next season, meaning they will have to stick on the big league roster or be exposed to waivers. The Yankees don’t have an obvious role for either next season and surely that factored into the decision to trade them. They acquired Ackley and managed to clear the 40-man roster logjam a bit. It was a fine baseball trade. It was also the only trade the Yankees made at the Major League level this season.

Not The Best First Impression

Ackley replaced Garrett Jones in the “bench guy who rarely plays” role. Ackley is six years younger, a bit more versatile, and the Yankees controlled him beyond 2015, so it’s easy to understand why they made the move. Plus there’s always a chance Ackley figures things out. He is still only 27, after all.

Ackley joined the Yankees after the trade deadline, and appeared in two of the first three games with the team. He came off the bench to spell Carlos Beltran late in a blowout win on July 31st, then did the same for Alex Rodriguez late in a blowout win on August 2nd. Remember blowout wins? Those were fun. Ackley went 0-for-3 in those two games.

Two days later, Ackley landed on the 15-day with a right lumbar strain. An MRI showed a herniated disc in his back, so they gave him an epidural, though there was a chance he would ultimately need season-ending surgery. Ackley was going to miss a month at the very least. Yuck. The Yankees ended up bringing Jones back while Ackley was out.


The epidural worked. Ackley did not need surgery, was able to play in some minor league rehab games at the end of August, then was activated off the DL when rosters expanded on September 1st. I gotta say, I was not expecting that. Back problems usually don’t go away that easily. Ackley had no issues whatsoever after coming off the DL, however, so hooray for that.

After returning, Ackley again slid into that “bench guy who rarely plays” role. He didn’t appear in his first game after coming off the DL until September 9th, when he went 1-for-3 with a double and a strikeout in a spot start in left field. Ackley came off the bench in a blowout loss on September 11th, then again in the first game of the September 12th doubleheader.

Joe Girardi started Ackley at first base in the second game of the doubleheader to give Greg Bird a rest, then he started him at first base the next day because Ackley had great career numbers against R.A. Dickey. He was 4-for-11 (.364) with a home run against the knuckleballer. Sure enough, Ackley had a big game, going 2-for-2 with a home run and a sac fly in the win.

The big game against Dickey did not earn Ackley more time in the starting lineup. He instead came off the bench the next day and picked up a pinch-hit single in the ninth against the Rays, which sparked a four-run rally for the win. (That was the Slade Heathcott home run game.) Ackley came off the bench with a pinch-hit single the next day as well, giving him hits in four straight at-bats.

Girardi decided to play Ackley at second base on September 16th, in the series finale against the Rays. It was only his second game at second base of the season — he didn’t appear at second at all in 2014 either — and while Ackley went 0-for-2 and was lifted late for defense, he showed he could handle the position. It wasn’t an entirely new experience for him — Ackley played 281 games at second from 2011-13 — but he did have to get reacquainted to the position.

The Yankees traveled to Citi Field for a series with the Mets next. Ackley had a pinch-hit double in the first game, a pinch-hit triple in the second game, then started the third game at second base and went 1-for-3 with a three-run home run.

Ackley started six of the next eight games — five at second base and one at first base — and hit two more home runs. He had unofficially taken over as the everyday second baseman, though at the time we didn’t know Stephen Drew had been dealing with concussion symptoms. It appeared the Yankees had simply benched Drew in favor of Ackley.

The Bombers faced a string of lefties at the end of the season and Rob Refsnyder cut into Ackley’s playing time, but he had made his presence felt. In 23 games and 57 plate appearances with the Yankees, Ackley hit .288/.333/.654 (161 wRC+) with four home runs. He hit .215/.270/.366 (75 wRC+) with six homers in 85 games and 205 plate appearances for the Mariners before the trade. Small sample size, absolutely, but Ackley did produce in that sample. The hits and homers counted.

More Contact, More Hard Contact

Remember, Ackley is not just some guy. It wasn’t too long ago that he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft (2009) and a top 10-15 prospect in all of baseball (2010-11 according to Baseball America). The Yankees rolled the dice on a very talented player who failed to develop as expected for whatever reason. It was a change of scenery move.

The short porch seemed to agree with Ackley — three of his four home runs in pinstripes came at home — but let’s look a little deeper to see if anything else changed under the hood after the trade.

K% GB% FB% LD% Pull% Middle% Oppo% Soft% Hard%
SEA 18.4% 45.3% 41.3% 13.3% 44.2% 32.5% 23.4% 16.9% 30.5%
NYY 12.3% 39.1% 37.0% 23.9% 41.3% 37.0% 21.7% 13.0% 43.5%

I wouldn’t read too much into this stuff because the sample is so small — Ackley put only 46 balls in play during his brief time with the Yankees. This is not meant to be definitive proof of a new approach or swing changes or anything like that. I was just curious to see the numbers.

Ackley didn’t strike out as often with the Yankees and he did produce more hard contact — especially line drives — so that’s promising. Whether it’s the result of dumb luck or some sort of tangible change in his approach or swing, we don’t know. I’m sure the Yankees acquired Ackley with the idea of tinkering a bit and trying to change some things. We’ll have to wait until next season to see whether Ackley is truly producing more hard contact in pinstripes.

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Yankees didn’t acquire Ackley in July only to non-tender him in November. He is projected to earn $3.1M through arbitration next year, which is nothing. There’s no reason to think the Yankees will non-tender him. At worst, he will return in that “bench guys who rarely plays” role. But, after his late season surge, Ackley could see more playing time next year. We’ve already seen reports indicating the Yankees are “leaning towards” using Ackley and Refsnyder at second base next season, for example. Barring a surprise trade, Ackley will be on the roster next year. I suppose his exact role depends on how well he plays.

Teixeira, Gregorius, Gardner among Gold Glove finalists


Earlier today, Rawlings announced the finalists for the 2015 Gold Glove Awards at each position. Three Yankees are among the finalists for AL Gold Gloves: Mark Teixeira at first base, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Brett Gardner in left field. All of the finalists can be seen right here.

Teixeira is up against Eric Hosmer, who won the last two AL Gold Gloves at first base, and Mike Napoli. Last year Teixeira’s defense slipped a bit — he looked rusty after missing most of 2013 due to wrist surgery — but he rebounded this year and was stellar. Hosmer figures to win based on reputation and stuff, but Teixeira has a legitimate chance to take home the Gold Glove.

As for Gregorius, he is up against Xander Bogaerts and Alcides Escobar, so a first timer is guaranteed to win the AL Gold Glove at short this year. Gregorius had a real shaky start to the season, both at the plate and in the field, but he turned things around in May and was outstanding the last few months. His defense was really excellent at times. Here’s a totally necessary highlight reel:

Gregorius actually ranked second among full-time AL shortstops in DRS (+5) and UZR (+7.4), behind only Francisco Lindor (+10 and +10.5, respectively), who is apparently ineligible for the Gold Gloves because he didn’t play enough innings at the position this year. Didi might actually win the Gold Glove. How about that?

Yoenis Cespedes, who only played half the season in the AL, and Alex Gordon are Gardner’s competition in left field. Gardner had a strong season in left but not as good as previous years, I thought. The defensive stats say he’s closer to average these days rather than far above. Gordon has won the last four AL Gold Gloves in left and will probably win again, not that it’s undeserved. He’s outstanding in the field.

The Yankees haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since Teixeira and Robinson Cano in 2012. Teixeira has five career Gold Gloves, including three with the Yankees (2009, 2010, 2012). The Yankees haven’t had an outfielder win a Gold Glove since Bernie Williams way back in 2000. Seems unlikely Gardner will get it this year, but you never know. Teixeira and Gregorius appear to have legitimate chances to win.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced in two weeks, on November 10th. Here is the selection and voting criteria, if you’re interested. Managers and coaches vote for Gold Gloves but there is also a statistical component, which is relatively new.

The Young Stud Starter We’ve All Been Waiting For [2015 Season Review]


Early last offseason the Yankees spent a lot of time talking about the need to get younger and get more results from the farm system. They were right, they definitely needed more youth and help from within, but would they actually follow through? Or was it just lip service? We’ve heard the “we need to get younger” spiel before.

The Yankees walked the walk last winter after talking the talk. The got younger through trades, most notably acquiring Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, and once the season started, they dipped into their farm system for help whenever a need arose. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams were both called up when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, and more relievers got an opportunity than I care to count.

No call-up had a greater impact in 2015 than right-hander Luis Severino, who came into the season as New York’s second best prospect. Coming into the season, I thought it was possible we’d see Severino this year, though likely as a reliever in the second half. The Yankees had other plans.

A Brief Look in Spring

The Yankees invited Severino to Spring Training and that was totally expected. They moved him very aggressively through the system last year and he finished the season with Double-A Trenton, so a Spring Training invite made sense. Severino, who turned 21 right as camp opened, made just two Grapefruit League appearances, allowing three runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings. He struck out five.

That was the first time many of us were able to see Severino pitch. It was only Spring Training, yeah, but getting a glimpse of rarely seen prospects is what makes all those meaningless games in March pretty fun in their own way.

Severino was sent to minor league camp on March 15th, as part of the first round of roster cuts. The Yankees didn’t keep him around for a longer look in Spring Training. They sent him to minor league camp so he could focus on getting ready for the regular season. The team wanted Severino to be ready to help whenever he was needed during the regular season.

Preparation in the Minors

The minor leagues are about development, first and foremost. And even though he was a consensus top 100 prospect coming into the season, Severino did have some things to work on this year. He needed to improve the consistency of his slider and changeup more than anything. There’s also the usual stuff every 21-year-old needs to work on: holding runners, fielding his position, repeating mechanics, that sorta stuff.

The Yankees also used Severino’s time in the minors to prepare him to join their rotation in the second half. He was there to learn, sure, but the Yankees also wanted to make sure his workload would not be an issue down the stretch in case they needed him. After going through the messy Joba Rules and seeing the Stephen Strasburg shutdown a few years ago, the Yankees wanted to limit Severino’s innings in an under-the-radar way.

Severino returned to Double-A Trenton to start 2015 and the Yankees didn’t let him throw more than five innings in a start, regardless of his effectiveness. He allowed one hit, struck out eight, and threw 53 pitches in five scoreless innings in his first start, but that was it, Severino was out of the game after five innings. Severino made eight starts with the Thunder and only once did he throw more than five innings: he completed six innings on 97 pitches on May 5th.

The reins were loosened a bit after Severino was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He made eleven starts with the RailRiders, averaged 5.2 innings per start, and three times completed seven full innings. Severino only averaged 88.3 pitches per start, however. He was throwing more innings but not necessarily more pitches.

In his 19 minor league starts this summer, Severino had a 2.45 ERA (2.45 FIP!) in 99.1 innings across the two levels. The Yankees deemed him ready for the big leagues.

Welcome to the Show

The Yankees called Severino up after failing to land a starter at the trade deadline. They kicked the tires on various pitchers but never did get close to anything. Severino was their solution. They said they were going to emphasize youth this year and this was by far the biggest sign they were committed to that plan. Remember, the Yankees were in first place and trying to hold off the Blue Jays when Severino was called up. Winning was the priority.

Severino made his MLB debut on August 5th against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. They didn’t exactly ease him into it, huh? Severino allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and no walks in five innings. He struck out seven. It was a rather impressive debut for the kid.

When it was announced Severino was going to be called up, Brian Cashman made two things clear. One, it was not an audition. Severino was joining the rotation and he was going to start every fifth day, good or bad. Two, Severino had no workload restrictions. I don’t believe that was 100% true — were they going to let him throw 230 innings? probably not — but the team had put him in position to pitch without an innings number hanging over his head.

The workload was not a concern and neither was Severino’s performance. He allowed two runs in six innings against the Indians in his second career start. His third start was easily the worst of his first six career starts, and it wasn’t even all that bad: three runs in six innings against the powerhouse Blue Jays in Toronto. Carlos Beltran lost a ball in the sun that opened the floodgates, as you may recall (video).

Though his first six starts, Severino pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 35.1 innings. He had a strong strikeout rate (23.5%) but walked a few too many (9.7%) and served up dingers (1.02 HR/9). That’s pretty common for a young pitcher. They walk people because they nibble, and they tend to be a little too cocky with their fastball and think they can get simply throw the ball by hitters at times, hence the homers.


As good as Severino was, the Yankees only went 3-3 in his first six starts because they never scored any damn runs for him. Twenty runs total in those six starts and only eleven when Severino was actually on the mound. In his seventh start, Severino finally had a clunker. The Blue Jays punished him for six runs on six hits and three walks in only 2.1 innings. It was ugly.

Severino shook off the bad start and dominated next time out, holding the Rays to one run in 5.2 innings. He struck out seven. That was good to see. Pitchers have disaster starts, it happens to everyone over the course of the season, but with a young kid like Severino, you want to see how he responds, and he responded very positively.

The Yankees slipped out of first place and limped to the finish line this past season, though it was not Severino’s fault. He pitched to 2.19 ERA (3.99 FIP) in his final four starts and 24 innings. Severino was available out of the bullpen for the wildcard game and if the Yankees had advanced to the ALDS, he likely would have started Game One.

In his first taste of the big leagues, Severino finished with a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings. He had a good strikeout rate (22.0%), but again, a few too many walks (8.6%) and homers (1.30 HR/9). That’s not uncommon for rookie pitchers. Severino got a ton of ground balls (50.9%) and didn’t have a huge platoon split, holding righties to a .213/.267/.435 (.303 wOBA) batting line and lefties to .244/.331/.374 (.314 wOBA).

I’m not sure you could have asked for more from Severino. The Yankees moved him up the minor league ladder very aggressively — he ended the 2013 season with four starts with Low-A Charleston after making six appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees, so yeah — and Severino answered the bell every time. He pitched well in pinstripes, handled a little adversity, and seemed very poised. Severino was damn impressive. We’ve waited a long time to see a Yankees develop someone like this.

Room for Improvement

Coming into the season, the scouting report on Severino said he had a big fastball and promising secondary stuff. The fastball sat mid-90s and touched 100 on occasion in the past, though we never did see him hit triple digits with the Yankees. (PitchFX says his fastest pitch as a big leaguer was 98.94 mph.) Both Severino’s slider and changeup were impressive yet inconsistent. That’s too be expected.

Now that he has spent some time in the big leagues, we have PitchFX data for Severino, so let’s look at how his stuff grades out. (MLB averages for starting pitchers in parentheses.)

% Thrown Avg. Velocity Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% (56.6%) 95.8 (91.9) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% (12.5%) 89.6 (84.5) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% (11.6%) 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Captain Obvious: Severino throws everything way harder than the average big league starter. We’re talking an average of 5 mph or so harder. That 12.5% MLB average slider usage is a little misleading because not every pitcher throws a slider, so that skews the numbers. Still, throwing 34.1% sliders like Severino did is on the high end. You won’t see many starters throw more sliders than that.

Also, Severino’s slider got way fewer swings and misses than the average slider. He got ground balls with the pitch, but the whiffs were few and far between. There’s clearly some room for improvement there, and it could be something as simple as pitch selection. Throwing a slider in some unconventional counts — pitching backwards, as they say — could lead to more swings and misses.

The PitchFX data more or less matches the scouting reports coming into the season. Severino has a big fastball and inconsistent secondary stuff, especially the slider. He’s only 21 though. This is par for the course. Severino still has some learning to do and the learning will take place the MLB level. The stuff he showed this summer was plenty good enough to succeed.

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Yankees have seven starters either under contract (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia) or team control (Severino, Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova) for next season, which means there will some number crunching this offseason and/or in Spring Training. Severino should be a lock for the rotation though. In fact, Joe Girardi pretty much confirmed it when he said the team is planning to “have Severino for a full year (in 2016)” during his end-of-season press conference.

Severino might not throw 200+ innings next year — he threw 161.2 total innings this year, up from 113 last year — but he will be counted on for high quality innings every fifth day in 2016. The Yankees have been trying to develop an young, impact starter like this for a long time. It appears they’ve finally succeeded with Severino.