Archive for Players
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the replacement level replacement first baseman.
The Yankees acquired their 2013 starting first baseman with only six days to go in Spring Training. Mark Teixeira suffered a wrist injury in early-March and at the time he was expected back in mid-May, so the team only needed a stopgap for six weeks or so. The Red Sox gave their lefty bench bat spot to Mike Carp and cut Lyle Overbay loose with a week to go in camp, which is when New York pounced. He was the best available option.
Much like most of the team’s veteran retread pick-ups, the 36-year-old Overbay was quite productive for the first 50 or so games of the season. He wasn’t exactly hitting for average or getting on-base, but Lyle hit for a surprising amount of power and had a knack for big, late-inning hits. During an 86 plate appearances stretch in early-to-mid-May, Overbay hit .269/.318/.526 with eight doubles and four homers while pacing Robinson Cano for the team lead in runs driven in. Many of those runs he plated came in crucial situations:
- April 28th: Two-run homer against R.A. Dickey to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead in the seven inning.
- May 10th: Overbay went 4-for-5 with five runs driven in against the Royals, including a sixth inning run-scoring double that broke the tie and gave the Yankees the lead.
- May 20th: Solo homer against Orioles lefty Troy Patton to break the tie and give New York a lead in seventh inning lead.
- May 25th: A solo homer off Rays righty Josh Lueke gave the Yankees the lead in the 11th inning.
- May 28th: Broke a scoreless tie with a run-scoring single against Matt Harvey.
From the start of the season through the game with that single against Harvey, Overbay managed a robust 0.928 WPA, meaning he chipped in close to a full win of value with timely hits despite having a mediocre .251 average overall. His numbers with runners in scoring position (.268/.367/.415 in 49 plate appearances) were okay but he was a monster in situations defined as “close and late” (.286/.407/.714 in 27 PA), though sample size caveats apply. “Close and late” plate appearances come in the seventh inning or later with a one-run lead or the tying run at least on deck, plus anything in between.
Overbay played well enough in the first two months that even after Teixeira returned from his wrist injury at the end of May, the Yankees kept his bat in the lineup by sticking him in right field, a position he had not played since rookie ball in 1999. The right field experiment lasted four games and was mostly a disaster defensively. Well, not mostly. It was an outright disaster. No one could blame Overbay though, the team was desperate for offense and he was one of their most productive players, so Joe Girardi & Co. did what they had to do to help the team win.
Teixeira re-injured his wrist during a series against the Angels in mid-June and eventually needed season-ending surgery, allowing Overbay to reclaim the first base job outright. He hit an acceptable .266/.346/.415 with five doubles and three homers in 28 games between Teixeira’s injury and the All-Star break, which was fine production for an offensively starved team. Overbay carried a .251/.307/.436 (101 wRC+) batting line into the break. He was also playing strong defense, which is pretty much his calling card.
The second half is when things went really south. Because Kevin Youkilis was hurt in addition to Teixeira, the Yankees did not have a proper right-handed platoon partner for Overbay. He was out there everyday, against righties and lefties, and it completely exposed his weakness against southpaws. It also might have worn him down physically. Lyle closed out the month of July by going 10-for-42 (.238) with no walks, three doubles, and a homer (.381 SLG) in 12 games.
August was slightly better — .250/.307/.324 (72 wRC+) in 20 games — though he did have a stretch of 18 straight plate appearances without a hit towards the end of the month. September was just brutal — .163/.250/.245 (36 wRC+) line in 20 games — and by the middle of the month he’d lost his starting job to Mark Reynolds, even sitting against righties. Overbay started just ten of the team’s final 19 games and four of their final eleven games. He’d hit his way out of the lineup.
That .251/.307/.436 (101 wRC+) batting line in the first half was broken down into .272/.330/.485 against righties (224 plate appearances) and .198/.247/.309 (89 plate appearances against lefties). Overbay hit just .220/.272/.314 (58 wRC+) in the second half, including .234/.292/.339 (137 plate appearances) against righties and .171/.194/.229 (36 plate appearances) against lefties. His overall season batting line was .240/.295/.393 (93 wRC+) with a huge platoon split: .258/.316/.430 (103 wRC+) against righties and .190/.232/.284 (35 wRC+) against southpaws.
Overbay is perfectly symbolic of the 2013 Yankees. He was asked to be play everyday and hit near the middle of the order after being cast aside by a contender because they didn’t even have a spot for him on the bench. The only reason he got the job was because the Yankees don’t have any internal solutions for, well, almost anything. Lyle did an admirable job in the first half of the season and had a bunch of big hits, but his performance was below-average overall and well-below-average compared to the typical first baseman. Stepping in after being signed less than a week before the start of the season is not easy, but Overbay was a net negative in 2013 and the very definition of replacement level (0.0 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR).
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a disastrous pick-up that still has not yet to pay any dividends.
When the season started, I said I would be thrilled if the Yankees got a hundred league average innings out of Michael Pineda in 2013. He had major shoulder surgery last May and was expected back sometime in June, so maybe asking him to throw even that many innings was a bit unrealistic. Labrum tears, even only anterior tears like the one Pineda had, are no joke. They’re career-altering injuries.
Rather than get those 100-ish average innings this summer, the Yankees got absolutely nothing out of Pineda for the second straight season. Literally zero pitches at the big league level. You know what? Forget about pitches. Pineda has not spent even one day on the team’s active roster since being acquired 22 months ago. Not one. The shoulder injury has wiped out his age 23-24 seasons and, more importantly, two years of dirt cheap, pre-arbitration-eligible production.
Unlike last season, Pineda did manage to pitch in official minor league games this summer. He started a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on June 9th, one year, one month, and eight days after surgery. Pineda allowed one unearned run in 4.1 innings that afternoon and eleven days later he surrendered just two runs (one earned) in four innings in his second and final rehab start with Tampa. The team was off for the All-Star break between the two starts, so he threw a simulated game instead.
Pineda moved up to Double-A Trenton and made two more starts, one good (six scoreless innings) and one not so good (four runs in three innings). He was then bumped up to Triple-A Scranton, where he allowed two runs in five innings in his first outing. On July 7th, with his 30-day rehab window about to expire, the Yankees activated Pineda off the 60-day for the first time since he joined the organization and immediately optioned him to Scranton to continue working his way back from surgery.
In five starts following the optional assignment, Pineda allowed eight runs in 18.2 innings — three of the five starts were scoreless — while striking out 19 and walking four. His comeback trail came to an abrupt end on August 2nd, when he exited a game after only two innings due to shoulder stiffness. Tests revealing no structural problems, just the usual inflammation and the like. Pineda was originally expected to be shut down for 7-10 days but instead his season was over. He didn’t even start throwing off flat ground until three weeks later.
All told, Pineda pitched to a 3.32 ERA (~3.75 FIP) with 41 strikeouts (9.1 K/9 and 23.8 K%) and 14 walks (3.1 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%) in 40.2 innings across ten minor league starts. Only three times did he a) complete five innings of work, or b) throw more than 80 pitches in a start. Velocity reports from the team were good, consistently in the low-90s and touching 94-95, but those came from the team. Gotta take that stuff with a grain of salt. Reports (and box scores) indicate Pineda regularly ran out of gas around the 65-70 pitch mark, which isn’t surprising following shoulder surgery, I suppose.
The only positive to come out of Pineda’s season was that he was activated off the DL and optioned to the minors early enough to both push his free agency and arbitration clocks back a year. That’s it. Brian Cashman said Pineda was healthy when the Yankees shut him down in August — they supposedly decided it was best to let him rest after rehabbing and pitching for over a year leading up to that point. He’s not going to pitch in winter ball or anything like that. The next time Pineda will pick up a ball in a competitive environment is when Spring Training opens in February and he’s given an opportunity to win a rotation spot, according to the GM.
There’s a decent chance Pineda will never be an effective big league pitcher again and, frankly, there’s a chance he will never throw a single meaningful pitch in pinstripes as well. It’s entirely possible. Missing two full years due to shoulder surgery (at a crucial development age, remember) is serious stuff. The Yankees had one chance to shoot the Jesus Montero bullet and they fired a total dud. They’ve gotten zero return from the trade. Absolutely nothing. Wrap your head around that. The trade and Pineda specifically have been complete and total disasters. Maybe it’ll look better in a few years, but right now it’s a catastrophic failure that set the team back … I don’t know how much. But it did.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s super-setup man and likely heir to Mariano Rivera‘s throne.
Over the last three seasons, the Yankees have been very spoiled in the eighth and ninth innings. Regardless of whether Mariano Rivera or injury fill-in Rafael Soriano was closing out games in the ninth, the one constant since 2011 has been the elite performance of David Robertson in the eighth inning. He has emerged as one of baseball’s very best relievers and has reached the point where dominant performances are expected, not a surprise.
The 2013 season was more of the same from the 28-year-old Robertson. He pitched to a 2.04 ERA and 2.61 FIP in 66.1 innings as the primary bridge to Rivera, only twice going through a rough patch. Robertson allowed five runs in a 5.2-inning, ten-day span in late April and then five runs in a 3.1-inning, eight-day span in early-September. That’s it. Two-thirds of his season runs allowed in 13.7% of his innings. The Yankees actually sat Robertson down for five days after the hiccup in September because of fatigue, which somewhat explains the poor performance.
From May 1st through September 1st, a span of 48 appearances and 46.1 innings, Robertson allowed five runs and 43 base-runners. Opponents hit .182/.257/.252 against him during that time, which is more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team this summer (.193/.252/.286). He was pretty much automatic during those four months — Robertson didn’t blow a single lead and took only one loss, which came when he allowed a run in a tie game. There was every reason to feel confident when the Yankees handed a lead over to him.
Overall, Robertson struck out 77 batters (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K%) and walked only 18 batters (2.44 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%) while posting a career-best 50.9% ground ball rate. The most important thing to me is those walks. Somewhere around the All-Star break last season, Robertson simply stopped walking guys. It’s very cool but also kinda weird. Here, look:
This is a guy who walked 4.72 batters per nine innings (12.2% of batters faced) during the first four seasons of his career. Robertson then went on to post a 4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB% in the first half of 2012, but since then? A 2.20 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%. For whatever reason, either improved mechanics or improved confidence or something else entirely (all of the above?), Robertson cut his walk rate in half after the All-Star break last year. He followed up this season by showing it was no fluke. That’s probably the best thing the Yankees could have seen out of their setup man in 2013.
After three straight dominant seasons, Robertson has both raised expectations and put himself in position to be key long-term piece for the Yankees. Unlike much of the veteran dreck on the roster, it’s easy to see him as part of the next Yankees team to make the postseason and contend for a World Series title. Robertson is due to become a free agent next winter and barring a catastrophic injury, he’ll get paid top of the relief market dollars. He’s earned it. New York could bring in a Proven Closer™ to replace Mo this winter — it’s hard not to notice Joe Nathan will become a free agent in about a week — but they have the perfect internal candidate. Robertson has shown everything a team could possibly want to see out of a potential closer and he’s earned the opportunity to inherit the ninth inning in my opinion. Sustaining that improved walk rate this year clinched it.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the poster boy for the Yankees’ recent player development failures.
Man, these last six years and two months did not go according to plan for the Yankees and Joba Chamberlain. Not at all. He was supposed to be the future of the pitching staff, the hard-throwing strikeout machine who chewed up innings and was the New York version of Michael Wacha or Jose Fernandez or whoever is the young pitcher flavor of the week. Things didn’t go according to plan — not even remotely close, really — and Joba’s final season in pinstripes was a nightmare.
After returning from Tommy John surgery in the second half last year, Chamberlain struggled for a few weeks but closed out the season very well, creating some optimism that he would get back to his pre-elbow reconstruction form the further he got away from surgery. He opened 2013 in the seventh inning setup role behind Mariano Rivera and David Robertson but ahead of Shawn Kelley on the reliever depth chart. The Red Sox pounded Joba to three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Opening Day, but he followed by allowing just one run in his final 8.2 innings and nine appearances of the month.
Joba’s season was put on hold on April 27th, when he suffered a right oblique strain in the team’s 23rd game of the season. He apparently suffered the injury while filling in at closer during a game in which Robertson and Rivera were unavailable:
It was a cardiac save, no doubt about it. The oblique injury sidelined him for a month.
By the time Chamberlain returned from the DL, Kelley had begun to establish himself as the team’s go-to seventh inning reliever. Joba got his old job back but in his second appearance following the injury, he turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 lead in the span of two-thirds of an inning against the Indians. A three-run homer by Drew Stubbs did the trick. Boone Logan came in to finish the frame and Joe Girardi relegated Joba to lower leverage work for the time being.
In twelve appearances and eleven innings between the meltdown against the Tribe and the All-Star break — only two of those 12 appearances came with the Yankees leading, both times by seven (!) runs — Chamberlain allowed seven runs on 16 hits (three homers) and five walks. That’s a 5.73 ERA and 5.78 FIP. Opponents hit .333/.407/.542 against him during that time, pretty close to what Mike Trout hit this summer (.323/.432/.557). Joba turned everyone he faced into the best player in the world during a five-week stretch this season. Geez.
That game against the Indians was the last time Girardi used Chamberlain in a truly important situation. He made 20 appearances in the second half and only six times was the game separated by fewer than three runs. Two of those six were extra-inning games, last arm in the bullpen stuff. Only four of those 20 appearances came in games the Yankees were leading — twice by seven runs, once by four runs, and once by three runs. The three-run lead came in Game 160, after the Bombers had been eliminated from postseason contention.
Following the All-Star break, Joba’s average Leverage Index when entering the game was 0.57. That ranked 220th out of 245 relievers to throw at least ten innings in the second half. Girardi didn’t trust him and rightfully so, but for whatever reason, he used Chamberlain in what was then the team’s most important game of the season, on September 19th against the Blue Jays. The Yankees were three games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column and were down two runs in the seventh inning against Toronto. Joba faced three batters and allowed a walk, a single, and a three-run homer. Just like that, the two-run deficit in a hugely important game became a five-run deficit.
That disaster against the Blue Jays wound up being Joba’s second to last appearance with the team. He finished the season with a 4.93 ERA (5.64 FIP) in 42 innings, and he also left an extra bad taste in everyone’s mouth when he told Rivera not to “shush” him while talking to his family during a road trip to Kansas City in May. Joba reportedly apologized and Mo played it off as no big deal, but still. It was not exactly appropriate.
Chamberlain will leave the Yankees via free agency this winter with a 3.85 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 444.2 career innings. I don’t think they’ll bring him back under any circumstances, not even on a minor league contract. At this point, I think it’s clear Joba’s failure to fulfill his so obviously enormous potential has more to do with him not putting in the necessary work — showing up to Spring Training overweight on more than one occasion is evidence of that — than the team jerking him around, but they didn’t exactly help matters either. Both share some of the blame, but after six years, the last four in the same role, most of it falls on the player. Joba will be some other team’s problem now. The disastrous 2013 season was a fitting end to a disappointing tenure in New York.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with former ironman who has been anything but recently.
When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira following the 2008 season, part of the appeal was his durability. A quad strain cost him a month in 2007, but otherwise he appeared in at least 145 games in five of his first six seasons. That includes 157 games during his walk year in 2008 and the full 162 games in both 2005 and 2006. He was an ironman.
That held true during Teixeira’s first three years in pinstripes as well, when he played in at least 156 games each season and 470 of 486 possible games from 2009-2011. That changed last season, when a nagging cough and a calf injury limited him to a career-low 123 games. With an offseason of rest and treatment, Teixeira figured to be as good as new come 2013.
When Spring Training opened, everything was fine. Teixeira was healthy and he played in five Grapefruit League games before heading to Arizona to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. During batting practice on March 5th, Teixeira felt some discomfort in what was first reported to be his right forearm but was ultimately his right wrist. He was shut down immediately and pulled from the tournament.
Teixeira went for tests the very next day and they confirmed a strain in the wrist, and injury that would sideline him for 8-10 weeks. He was going to be out of the already depleted Yankees lineup until at least mid-May. It was later revealed to be a tendon sheath problem, the same injury that derailed Jose Bautista and Mark DeRosa for extended periods of time in recent years.
Brian Cashman acknowledged there was only a 70% chance Teixeira would be able to avoid surgery, but things were going well during his rehab. His checkups went as expected and there were no problems reported during his minor league rehab assignment, so he returned to the team on May 31st, just a little later than expected.
Teixeira had an almost immediate impact after returning to the lineup. He hit a grand slam in his fourth game back, a three-run homer in his fifth game back, and then a solo homer in his seventh game back. The power-starved Yankees suddenly had one of their top power hitters in the lineup and it wasn’t a moment too soon.
A rough eight-game slide — 3-for-31 (.097) with nine strikeouts — following the three homers in four games binge, and while that was sucked, the worst came on June 15th, when Teixeira left the game with discomfort in his wrist. Initial tests showed only inflammation but about a week later surgery was recommended. Soon after that, Teixeira went under the knife. His season was over.
In between wrist injuries, Teixeira hit .151/.270/.340 (58 wRC+) with those three homers in 63 plate appearances spread across 15 games. That’s it. On the bright side, the World Baseball Classic paid for Teixeira’s salary during the first DL trip, which saved the team something like $8M. Unfortunately, almost all of that money went to Vernon Wells. Because he was activated off the DL before having surgery, the Yankees were the only hook for his salary during the season DL trip. They did recoup some through insurance, reportedly.
Teixeira’s performance has slipped these last few years, but the Yankees were almost always able to count on him to play every single day. That has changed these last two years, especially now given the uncertainty of a wrist injury. They can sap power for several months even after being medically cleared and returning to the field. For the first time in his career, Teixeira will come to Spring Training as a question mark next season, on top of already being a declining player. That’s not a good combination but it’s all too familiar for the Yankees.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the only Yankees rookie to make an overall positive impression.
This past season was a very important one for right-hander Adam Warren. Coming into 2013, he was a 25-year-old who had put together back-to-back good but not great seasons with Triple-A Scranton and appeared destined for a third stint in Northeast Pennsylvania because of the numbers crunch. Instead, injuries to Phil Hughes and Clay Rapada opened roster spots and Warren made the team out of Spring Training.T
hanks to Hiroki Kuroda trying to snag a line drive with his bare hand, it took all of two games before the Yankees needed to use their long man this year. Kuroda exited the game early and in came Warren against the high-powered Red Sox, against whom he allowed just one run in 5.1 innings of work. Warren struck out four, walked one, and threw 86 total pitches after being fully stretched out as a starter in camp. It was an excellent follow-up to his ugly big league debut last summer.
As the long man, playing time was predictably sporadic. Warren made just three more appearances in April before becoming something of a regular in May, throwing 15.2 innings across six appearances. By the end of that month, the right-hander was sitting on a 2.10 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 25.2 innings of work. That included three appearances of at least three shutout innings and four appearances of at least three innings and no more than one run allowed. It’s a difficult role to excel in, yet Warren was doing it.
Appearances were again infrequent in June — he only pitched three times that month and was actually optioned to Triple-A at one point, but he never appeared in a game in the minors and was recalled four days later when Mark Teixeira went on the DL — but that month also featured Warren’s best outing of the season, when he chucked six innings of shutout relief against the Athletics in the marathon 18-inning loss on June 13th:
Warren struck out four, walked two, and allowed only four hits while throwing 85 pitches in the appearance. The Yankees went on to lose the game, but not because of their long man. He was nails.
In 43.2 innings prior to the All-Star break, Warren managed a 3.09 ERA and 3.83 FIP. His strikeout (7.21 K/9 and 19.1 K) and homerun (1.28 HR/9 and 12.8% HR/FB) rates were just okay, but he was limiting walks (2.47 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%) and getting ground balls (48.5%). By no means was he star or even a super important cog in the pinstriped machine, but Warren had established himself as a big leaguer. A young big leaguer at that, something the Yankees desperately needed.
The second half of the season didn’t go as well — 3.78 ERA and 4.97 FIP in 33.1 innings — particularly a five-game stretch after the All-Star break. Warren allowed seven runs on ten hits (three homers) and six walks in 9.1 innings across those five appearances, but thankfully it was just a minor hiccup. He recovered in mid-August and closed out the season well, allowing just seven runs in his final 24 innings (2.63 ERA). That includes five scoreless innings in a spot start in Game 160, after the Yankees had been eliminated.
All told, Warren pitched to a 3.39 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 77 innings across two spot starts and 32 long relief appearances in 2013. He made six appearances of at least four innings and in those games he surrendered only four runs total (1.27 ERA), three of which came in one outing. Joe Girardi even used him in some seventh inning setup situations as his bullpen got worn down and depleted by injury later in the season. It is worth nothing, however, that Warren’s platoon splits were pretty drastic:
Does that mean Warren should never face left-handed batters again? No, at least not yet. We’ve got a long way to go before we relegate him to righty specialist status. Getting lefties out is definitely something he will have to work on going forward though, especially if he’s going to continue being a multi-inning guy.
I think an important part of the season for Warren was that he stayed true to his starter roots and threw five different pitches in relief. According to PitchFX, he threw his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s sinker, mid-80s slider, and low-80s changeup all at least 18% of the time. He broke out his upper-70s curveball about 11% of time. Most guys stop using their third or fourth (or fifth) pitches and stick with their two best out of the bullpen, but not Warren. He mixed it up and as a result, he should come to Spring Training with an overall better feel for all of his pitches.
When he does come to camp next year, Warren is expected to compete for a rotation spot, pending the team’s moves this coming offseason. He showed he can turn over a lineup more than once as a long reliever this year and, if nothing else, he’s earned the opportunity to compete as a starter next year. Even if the competition is rigged in favor of someone else — the Yankees are known to do that from time to time, you know — Warren still deserves a nice long look during Grapefruit League play. New York didn’t have much success with young players or their farm system this year, but Warren was a definite bright spot. He could have easily stalled out by repeating Triple-A a third time, but instead he got an opportunity with the big league team and took advantage.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.
Despite all the optimism about an Opening Day return, Father Time remained undefeated as Derek Jeter was slow to recover from his offseason ankle surgery and unable to start the season with the Yankees. That gave the team the opportunity to do something they’ve seemed eager to do for a long time: play Eduardo Nunez everyday. Jeter’s injury was the perfect chance to play the kid without him having to look over his shoulder.
For about three games, everything went fine. The 26-year-old Nunez went 4-for-10 with a walk in the season-opening series against the Red Sox, but then he took a pitch to biceps in the fourth game and went into a deep 7-for-55 (.127) slump through the end of the month. The bat wasn’t working, but Nunez actually showed off some improved throwing mechanics and went from disaster to merely shaky in the field. Errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but he did go from 30.1 innings per error from 2010-2012 to 62.3 innings per error in April 2013. Like I said, shaky instead of a disaster.
With his batting line sitting at a weak .200/.290/.275 through 95 plate appearances on May 5th, Nunez was pulled from a game after hurting his ribcage, apparently on a swing. An MRI came back clean but rest and treatment didn’t work, so a few days later the Yankees placed their backup shortstop on the DL. On the DL is where he stayed for two months and 57 team games. In typical Yankees fashion, his rehab moved very slowly.
Nunez returned on July 6th and five days later, Derek Jeter came off the DL (for the first time). Luckily for Nunez, the Cap’n hurt himself in his first game back and the shortstop position remained open. Eduardo went 16-for-62 (.258) with three doubles and a triple (.611 OPS) in between his return from the DL and Jeter’s second return from the DL. Nunez sat on the bench for a few games while Jeter played short, but on August 3rd, the shortstop job was his once again.
During the Cap’n's third DL stint, Nunez went a respectable 23-for-80 (.288) with seven walks (.341 OBP), three doubles, one triple, and one homer (.728 OPS) with four steals in four attempts. Jeter returned for about two weeks in late-August and early-September, but the combination of his need to DH and Alex Rodriguez‘s hamstring and calf problems kept Nunez in the lineup, either at shortstop or third base. Nunez had a very nice .295/.321/.487 batting line in September as the season wound down.
Despite that strong late-season performance, Eduardo’s season batting line sat at an ugly .260/.307/.372 (83 wRC+) with three homers and ten stolen bases (in 13 attempts) in 336 plate appearances. The league average shortstop hit .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+), so Nunez wasn’t far off the mark with the bat. The problem was, as always, his defense. That improvement he showed in April was not evident late in the season, when he was back to booting grounders and airmailing throws.
The various defensive stats — -20.6 UZR, -28 DRS, -12.1 FRAA, and -18 TotalZone — absolutely crush him at shortstop, like worst defensive player in baseball bad, but defensive stats don’t really work in small samples. Nunez only managed 608.1 innings at shortstop this summer, only about 40% of a full season. Going back to silly ol’ errors, he made eight in the final month and a half of the season, roughly one for every 35.3 innings in the field. Right in line with his pre-2013 work.
Both fWAR (-1.4) and bWAR (-1.5) agree Nunez was one of the ten worst position players in baseball this season. That’s out of the 955 players who had at least one plate appearance. If you don’t want to use WAR — I actually don’t, I prefer it for multi-year stuff but not single seasons — then all you need to know is that Nunez was (at best) a league average hitter relative to position this season while being well-below-average defensively. That adds up to a below-average player.
This was Nunez’s Big Chance. Capital letters. Jeter was going to be out for a while and even if he came back at some point, A-Rod and Kevin Youkilis were sure to miss a bunch of time as well. Instead, Nunez did nothing to stand out in regular playing time. He didn’t hit all that much — not even show a sign that there was something more to come, really — and his defense was bad. Nunez seems to have some serious backers in the organization though, so much like Phil Hughes The Starter, I get the sense he will continue to get chances to show he is something he probably isn’t, which in this case is a depth infielder best used in an emergency.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the best position player acquired by any team at the trade deadline.
Coming into the season, I think we all knew the Yankees were not going to hit for the same kind of power they have in the past. This was even before Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in Spring Training. You don’t replace Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez with Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Youkilis and not expect to hit fewer homeruns. Not realistically, anyway.
Once Granderson and Teixeira (and Youkilis) got hurt, the lack of power was alarming. At one point Yankees went nine straight games without a homer, their longest such streak since going ten straight in 1984. They went four straight home games without a dinger for the first time in new Yankee Stadium history and just the third time this century. The Yankees hit 18 homers in June and just ten (!) in July, the first time they hit 18 or fewer homers during a calender month since April 1989 (min. 20 games). They managed to do it in back-to-back months. Their 78th game of the season was their 31st homer-less game, matching 2012′s total. It was bad.
Aside from the lack of power in general, the biggest problem specifically was the complete lack of thump from the right side of the plate. From June 25th through July 28th, a span of 477 plate appearances, the Yankees did not get a single homer from a right-handed batter. Not one. Literally zero in 28 team games and more than a calendar month. That’s just unfathomable. Triple check the numbers kind of unbelievable. And yet, it’s true. The Yankees didn’t have the ability to close the gap or extend the lead quickly with one swing of the bat and it cost them games all summer long.
On July 26th, after about a week’s worth of rumors, team ownership pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cubs that brought Alfonso Soriano back to New York in exchange for minor leaguer right-hander Corey Black. Brian Cashman said he preferred to wait rather than trade a good but not great pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder, but ownership wanted Soriano and what ownership wants, ownership gets. The Cubs ate $17.7M of the $24.5M or so left on Soriano’s contract to facilitate the deal.
Just like that, the Yankees had a legitimate right-handed power source. Soriano whacked ten homers in his final 21 games with the Cubs and that carried right over into pinstripes. He went deep in his third game back with the team and 12 times in his first 32 games with New York. During a four-game rampage from August 13th through the 16th, Soriano went 13-for-18 (.722) with five homers and 18 runs driven in. That tied the all-time record for runs driven in during a four-game span in baseball history. Here’s where Soriano ranked in MLB following the trade (min. 200 plate appearances for the rate stats):
For the cost of a good minor league arm and $6.8M in salary obligation, the Yankees acquired a top 40 position player for the remainder of the regular season. Maybe top 30 or so depending on your opinion of fWAR and all that stuff. Despite not arriving until the trade deadline, Soriano finished second on the Yankees in homers (first among righties), third in runs driven in, and sixth in total bases (115). As an added bonus, New York finally had a player who could flip a bat, pimp a homer, and a put on a nice show:
Soriano was exactly what the Yankees needed: a legitimate middle of the order hitter who could hit the ball out of the park from the right side of the plate. His defense in left field was surprisingly solid as well, especially when ranging to his right towards the foul line. I thought he struggled a little bit on balls hit to his left and into the gap, but overall he was good defender. Certainly not below-average, which is what I had expected given his reputation with the Cubbies.
Unfortunately, Soriano’s heroics weren’t enough to get the Yankees into the postseason. He was the only player they acquired at the trade deadline, which meant many other holes (catcher, shortstop, rotation) were left unaddressed, and that led to the club falling short of a wild-card spot. Soriano did his part though. He was more than just the team’s best non-Robinson Cano hitter after the trade — he was one of the very best hitters in baseball and the team’s best trade deadline pickup since David Justice back in 2000.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the designated hitter who didn’t hit (and got hurt).
Ever since Hideki Matsui was allowed to leave and Jorge Posada called it a career, the Yankee have tried to keep their DH spot open and use it as a way to keep their regulars both fresh — “half-days off,” as Joe Girardi calls it — and still in the lineup. With Derek Jeter likely coming back plus Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and soon enough, Robinson Cano) not going anywhere thanks to their long-term contracts, expect the team to continue the rotating DH approach for the foreseeable future.
Last year the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez to serve as the left-handed half of a DH platoon and that worked well enough as long as you’re willing to ignore everything before mid-September. This season the Bombers turned to another veteran lefty masher, this time former Indians slugger Travis Hafner. Unlike Ibanez, Hafner was both injury-prone and unable to play a position, even in an emergency. Still, at $2M guaranteed, it was a relatively low (financial) risk signing.
Early on, it appeared the Yankees had struck DH gold. Hafner mashed out of camp, starting the season with a seven-game hitting streak (9-for-23, .391) that included two mammoth homeruns. Pronk went on to hit four more homers with nearly as many walks (ten) as strikeouts (12) during the rest of April and he carried that performance right into May. On May 14th, through 37 team games, Hafner was hitting .260/.383/.510 (140 wRC+) and was the team’s second best hitter behind Cano.
As if on cue, right when things seemed to be going well for the Yankees, Hafner’s surgically repaired shoulder started barking. He received a cortisone short and missed four days with tendinitis, and he actually hit well immediately after returning, like 6-for-19 (.316) with a double and two homers well. That didn’t last though. Hafner crashed and crashed hard in late-May and never recovered. In 54 team games from May 27th — the start of the home-and-home series with the Mets, in case you were wondering — through July 26th, Pronk hit .154/.218/.265 with four homers, ten walks, and 44 strikeouts.
With his season batting line sitting at .205/.300/.384 (86 wRC+) through 293 plate appearances, the Yankees placed Hafner on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem on July 27th. The move cleared a roster spot for Jeter. The bum shoulder kept Hafner out right until the final series of the season, when New York activated him only because he was healthy and they were obligated to activate him. He took an 0-for-4 (with two hit-by-pitches) in the final game of the season, his last act in pinstripes.
Including incentives, the Yankees paid Hafner a total of $3.125M for a .202/.301/.378 (86 wRC+) batting line with 12 homers in 299 plate appearances. He was brought in to mash right-handers, but he instead had no platoon split (88 vs. 85 wRC+ in favor of lefties). That’s a bad thing. Pronk did take advantage of the short porch in right field though, hitting .222/.300/.452 (100 wRC+) with eight of his dozen homers at Yankee Stadium. That was pretty much his only redeeming quality, taking advantage of the short porch.
The Yankees and Brian Cashman have made it very clear they prefer hitters who hit for power and are patient at the plate, two traits that Hafner most definitely offered (on paper). It’s hard to ignore how his performance went south immediately after the shoulder problem in May, so perhaps his dreadful showing for most of the summer can be blamed on injury. Then again, no one should have been surprised when Hafner got hurt. Like so many players this season, the Yankees asked Pronk to do more than he was capable of doing at this point in his career and they got burned.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who finally got a big break before suffering a big break.
The Yankees made little effort to solidify the catcher position this winter. They were seemingly caught off-guard when Russell Martin took a two-year contract worth $17M from the Pirates in November — Martin was reportedly open to returning to New York on a one-year contract — taking the best all-around catcher in a weak free agent class off the market. Rather they overextend themselves for an imperfect solution (A.J. Pierzynski?), the Yankees decided no solution was best.
Spring Training started with what was supposedly a three-man competition for the two roster spots, but that was never really the case. The Bombers have a knack for holding fake competitions. Austin Romine was always a long shot for the Opening Day roster while, barring injury, Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli were the favorites. A career backup catcher and a guy who was sent to Triple-A to make room for the career backup catcher last year.
None of the team’s in-house catching options stood out offensively in camp — seriously, all one of these guys had to do to win the starting job was swing the bat decently during Grapefruit League play, but no one did it — but Cervelli showed off some seriously improved throwing mechanics, gunning down seven of 14 attempted base-stealers. That was enough to win him the starting catching job on Opening Day. This was how the Yankees sorted out their catching situation coming into a year in which ownership repeatedly called he team “championship-caliber.”
Anyway, Cervelli made the Yankees look very smart for a few weeks. He was one of the team’s best hitters out of the gate, picking up a single and a walk on Opening Day before hitting a homer two games later. During a two-week stretch in the middle of April, Frankie went 10-for-28 (.357) with three doubles, a homer, five walks, and four strikeouts. Cervelli started 16 of the team’s first 22 games and hit .269/.377/.500 (143 wRC+) with three homers in 61 plate appearances, plus he threw out two of four attempted base-stealers. For the first time in his career, he looked like a starting big league catcher.
Then, in the very first inning of the team’s April 26th game against the Blue Jays, Rajai Davis foul tipped a pitch off Cervelli’s unprotected right hand. It was a direct hit, right on the knuckles:
After being looked at by the trainer and trying to talk his way into remaining in the game, Frankie was lifted and sent for tests. X-rays showed a fracture in his hand that required surgery, which was expected to send him to the DL for a minimum of six weeks. Not only had the Yankees lost one of their most productive early-season players at a crucial position, but Cervelli’s big chance to show what he could as a regular catcher was kaput.
Those six weeks turned into at least two months when the Yankees slid Cervelli over to the 60-day DL to clear a roster spot a few days after the injury. He continued his rehab over the next several weeks at the team’s complex in Tampa and progressed to the point where he was swinging a bat and taking batting practice pretty much everyday, which meant an official minor league rehab assignment wasn’t too far away.
Unfortunately, since he’s a Yankee, Cervelli suffered a setback in early-July. It was a stress reaction in his right elbow — the precursor to a stress fracture, so they caught it early — which apparently happened when he changed his throwing motion to compensate for the hand injury. I’m not exactly sure how that happens, but it sounds plausible. Either way, it happened and Cervelli’s #obligatorysetback effectively ended his season. In the unlikely event he got healthy enough to rejoin the team, it wouldn’t have happened until late-September.
On top of all of that, the injury and the setback and losing his chance at a starting catching job, Cervelli was one of 12 players suspended 50 games in early-August for his ties to the South Florida performance-enhancing drug hub Biogenesis. Frankie did not appeal the ban and was officially done for the rest of the year. He suffered both a season-ended injury and a season-ending suspension. Rough. To his credit, Frankie faced the music and admitted he used a banned substance after breaking his foot in Spring Training a few years ago.
All told, Cervelli played in just 17 games this year before the injuries and suspension ended his season. He never got a chance to show if his hot start was something sustainable or if he could even play at an acceptable level as a starting backstop. The Yankees never got a chance to see that either, meaning right now they don’t know if he in the middle of a breakout age 27 season or if he was a small sample size fluke. Given the half-assed catching situation, the team had an opportunity to learn something about Cervelli, about whether he deserved to be in their plans going forward. Instead, he remains an unknown.