MLB Notes: Pitch Clocks, Domestic Abuse Policy, Umps

Mark Appel and thepitch count in the AzFL. (Presswire)
Mark Appel and the pitch clock at Salt River. (Presswire)

Got some general MLB notes to pass along this Friday afternoon. Believe it or not, the league also has a bunch of official business to take care of each offseason. It ain’t all trades and free agent signings.

MLB unlikely to implement pitch clocks for 2015

After testing a 20-second pitch clock at Salt River Fields in the Arizona Fall League a few weeks ago, it is “highly unlikely” MLB will adopt the system for the 2015 season, according to Jon Morosi. Games with the pitch clock at Salt River averaged two hours and 39 minutes per 77 plate appearances (average number in an MLB game) this fall after averaging two hours and 52 minutes last year.

MLB tested several other pace of game rule changes in the AzFL — batters couldn’t step out of the box, no-pitch intentional walks, etc. — and those will be voted on next week at the quarterly owners meetings in Arizona. The owners will also look at requiring managers to call for instant replay more quickly. I never did like the idea of a pitch clock, but I’m all for MLB improving the pace of play. Games take way too long.

MLB, MLBPA discussing domestic violence policy

MLB and the MLBPA have been discussing parameters for a domestic above policy these last few months and will meet again this month, reports Morosi. The two side are likely to hammer out an agreement and formally announce new protocols before the start of Spring Training. It’s unclear what the discipline will look like at this point.

At the moment, domestic violence cases are handled through a jointly administered treatment program. In the wake of the Ray Rice case, the NFL’s policy calls for a six-game suspension without pay for first-time offenders. That’s the equivalent of 60 games in MLB. (First-time offenders get 80 games for PEDs.) It’s no surprise MLB and MLBPA want to get an agreement in place before the season. Shame it took something the Rice case to put the wheels in motion.

MLB, umpires’ union agree to new five-year contract

Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLBPA won’t expire until after the 2016 season, but MLB’s agreement with the umpires expired this offseason. According to the Associated Press, MLB and the World Umpires Association agreed to a new five-year contract before their previous deal expired on December 31st.

No word on the terms or anything, but Jon Heyman had previous reported umpires were looking to be paid like “low-level players,” meaning $500,000 or so per season. Under the previous agreement, umps made up to $300,000 per year with a $357 per diem (!) depending on years of experience. I’m glad MLB and the umpires knocked this out. As much as we all complain about the umpires, replacement umps would have been a million times worse.

RAB Live Chat

No concerns about Yankee Stadium field after NYCFC announces schedule

(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)
(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

Early last year we learned Major League Soccer’s newest expansion franchise — New York City Football Club — will play its 2015 home games at Yankee Stadium. It’s believed NYCFC will also call the Bronx home in 2016 and 2017 as they look for their own stadium, but right now only the 2015 season has been confirmed. The Yankees own one-quarter of NYCFC.

NYCFC announced its 17-game home schedule earlier this week, which you can see right here. The MLS schedule runs from March through October, so it overlaps with the MLB season entirely. NYCFC will play their first home game on March 15th, while the Yankees are still in Tampa for Spring Training, and their final game on October 25th, right smack in the middle of the postseason.

Needless to say, having two teams playing two different sports share the same ballpark all season is less than ideal, but the Yankees have no concerns about the field itself. They said so when the entered into the agreement with NYCFC and reiterated it again earlier this week. From Dan Barbarisi:

“We have the greatest grounds crew and stadium operations people in the world,” (team president Randy) Levine said. “We feel very confident. We wouldn’t have done this unless we feel very confident that the field will be perfect for both soccer and baseball.”

Yankee Stadium has hosted soccer games before, including an exhibition game between Manchester City and Chelsea in May 2013, during which temporary grass was laid over the outfield. Perhaps that’s what they’ll do this year, though I’m sure doing that once is much different than doing it every other week. Here’s more from Barbarisi:

Yankee Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost has estimated that it will take three days (2½ in a pinch) to turn over the field from soccer to baseball. The schedule allows for three full days after every NYCFC home game before the Yankees take the field on the fourth day—save one, when NYCFC hosts the Montreal Impact on Aug. 1, before the Yankees host the rival Boston Red Sox just three days later.

Then there is the matter of Oct. 25, when NYCFC is scheduled to host the New England Revolution, a date that also figures to be right around the start of the World Series. If the Yankees make it that far, a person with knowledge of the situation said, several contingencies exist for handling the soccer game, including the use of other sites, ensuring that baseball’s postseason would not be affected.

Barbarisi hears the pitcher’s mound will not interfere with the soccer pitch and won’t have to be torn down and rebuilt every time NYCFC plays a game. That’s … reassuring? I am worried about the condition of the field next season, especially in the second half after it’s had a few months to get chewed up by the two sports and all the transitions back and forth.

I’m also certain the Yankees wouldn’t have committed to letting NYCFC play in Yankee Stadium if they weren’t confident the field would be in good shape. They have one expensive baseball team and those players are investments they’re trying to protect. I guess we’ll just have to see how this goes as the season progresses.

Mailbag: Mets, Smoltz, Nova, Jagielo, Bullpen, Banuelos

Got a nice big 15-question mailbag for you this week. Send us stuff through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. Trust me, the question goes through even though it doesn’t look like it.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Stu asks: If the Yankees offered Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius to the Mets, which starting pitcher(s) could they reasonably expect to receive in return? Would either team pull the trigger?

The Mets have six starters for five rotation spots — seven if you count Rafael Montero, who is MLB ready — and they’ve been shopping a few of them hard this winter, specifically Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon. Gee seems most likely to go. For Gregorius and Betances, I think the Yankees would have to ask for Zack Wheeler, and the Mets would say no. It’s weird, the Mets have six starters, but three have little value (Niese, Gee, Colon) and three have a ton of value (Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey). There’s no one in the middle who’d be a more appropriate return for Didi and Dellin. I really liked Niese a few years ago, before his recent arm problems, and I wonder if the Yankees could get him for a good not great prospect at this point, someone like Eric Jagielo maybe.

Jim asks: Did Hall of Fame voters overrate John Smoltz while underrating Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling? They both out-WAR him by a sizable number of wins, and Schilling also has a very decorated postseason resume. What was it about Smoltz that made him a first-ballot guy and for Moose and Schilling to not even get half of the vote?

Yeah I think he was overrated a bit. I wrote our Smoltz Hall of Fame profile at CBS and was a bit surprised — I thought his case was much stronger than it actually was. (For the record, I do think he’s a Hall of Famer.) I think playing with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine boosted Smoltz’s case — for more than a decade we heard Atlanta had three future Hall of Famers in the rotation, and as good as Smoltz was, he rode Maddux’s and Glavine’s coattails a bit — and also for some reason people love the fact that he was both a starter and a closer. For what it’s worth, JAWS ranks Schilling 27th and Mussina 28th all-time among starters. Smoltz is 58th after adjusting for his time as a reliever. I don’t understand why there was a such a big voting disparity but at the same time I do. Know what I mean? Smoltz was awesome, and when you play with two no-doubt Hall of Famers for so long, people start calling you a no-doubt Hall of Famer too. (Ben Lindbergh gave a longer answer to this very question last week, so check that out too.)

Steve asks: Isn’t Daniel Murphy the perfect comp for Refsnyder?

Aside from Murphy being a left-handed hitter and Refsnyder being a right-handed hitter, yeah I think that is a pretty good comparison. I would hope Refsnyder could develop into a better defender than Murphy, who remains comfortably below-average, but it might not happen. Second base is hard. One big difference between the two is strikeouts — Refsnyder struck out 105 times in 577 plate appearances last year between Double-A and Triple-A while Murphy’s career-high is 95 strikeouts in 697 plate appearances back in 2013. If Refsnyder turned into a right-handed Murphy, I’d be very happy with that.

Mark asks: Is it just me or don’t you find it a little odd we’re now 42 days away from spring training and the Yanks still haven’t hired a hitting coach (not to mention a 1B coach too)?  You would think after last year’s feeble offensive output, Brian Cashman would have not only hired a hitting coach but also the team’s first ever assistant hitting coach by now!

Yep! Surprisingly, the knee-jerk reaction of firing the old hitting coach– I thought it was pretty obvious someone was going to take the fall after the Yankees missed the postseason for the second straight year, and once Cashman re-signed, Kevin Long was the obvious candidate to fall on the sword — may not be working out as well as expected. Just about every team has filled their coaching vacancies already. The pickin’s are slim. I’m of the belief that hitting coaches, while important, do not have nearly as much impact as everyone seems to think. The Yankees will hire someone eventually and everyone will blame him when the offense stinks again in 2015. Circle of life.

Eric asks: Why don’t the Yankees know what they’re going to get from A-Rod this year? He’s no longer suspended – why hasn’t he been checked out medically and put on the field to see what he has left? Thx.

Alex has been working out according to his Instagram account (journalism!), but what are the Yankees going to learn about him on a bunch of backfields against minor leaguers in the middle of the offseason anyway? Not a whole lot. If he rakes, they’d have to take it a grain of salt. If he stinks, they’d feel exactly the same way they do right now. The Yankees clearly expect nothing from A-Rod next year. That’s why they re-signed both Stephen Drew and Chase Headley and added Garrett Jones.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Bobby P. asks: Now that it’s been over a year since Robinson Cano signed with Seattle, and the Yanks are clearly moving in a different direction, has your evaluation of the club not matching the M’s huge offer changed? I realize how much money they would have been committing at the end of the deal but I can’t help but I just would have loved the chance to rebuild around Robbie moving forward.

Rebuilding around a 32-year-old middle infielder making $24M a year doesn’t really sound all that appealing. Don’t get me wrong, Cano is still an elite player, but his best years are very likely behind him, and that’s not someone you build around. Robbie is a “win now” player at this point of his career. You have him on your roster because you’re ready to win this year, not two or three years down the line. The Yankees desperately lack a star player and top notch hitter like Cano, but my opinion of his contract hasn’t changed at all. Love Robbie forever, but I’m glad the Yankees didn’t re-sign him at that price.

Dave asks: It seems like all but a handful of teams are trying to be competitive this year. Surely though, some of them will be out of the race by the trade deadline. Which top-of-the-rotation pitchers do you see becoming available mid-season?

The first name that jumped to mind was Johnny Cueto. Jon Morosi said the two sides haven’t make any progress in extension talks and Cueto’s agent told Mark Sheldon they won’t talk contract after the season starts. The Reds aren’t any good and they’ll get a haul for Cueto at the trade deadline. Much more than a silly draft pick after the season. Cueto is two years younger than Max Scherzer and every bit as good. He’s going to get a massive contract when he hits the market next winter. Other high-end starters who could become available are Cole Hamels (if he isn’t traded these next few weeks) and Andrew Cashner (who’s never healthy), though that’s just my speculation. I could see the Tigers shopping David Price if they fall out of the race as well.

Matt asks I know he’s really young, and not even in A ball, but what’s up with this Leonardo Molina kid? I never hear much about him, though I think he was pointed out recently as a young kid to keep an eye on somewhere.

The 17-year-old Molina received a $1.4M bonus as New York’s top international signing during the 2012-13 signing period. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called him an “an explosive, quick-twitch player” and “the most athletic prospect in Latin America” at the time of the signing. Molina had a rough pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks last summer (58 wRC+) but he played most of the season at age 16. He was a high school sophomore in pro ball. Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) ranked Molina as the team’s eighth best prospect a few weeks ago and called him a potential “first-division player/occasional all-star.” I think that ranking was pretty aggressive but Molina is definitely one of the top lower level prospects in the system. I expect him to return to the GCL this year simply because he’s so young.

Tim asks: Do you think the Yankees will move Jagielo to the OF now that Headley is here long-term and Miguel Andujar appears to be a more viable option and will be in Tampa this year?

Not yet even though the reports on his defense were pretty terrible last year. Jagielo is still two levels away from MLB and there’s no reason to move him off third right now. I think it’s more likely he gets traded now — probably to a team that still believes him at the hot corner — than moved to another position as the club tries to fit him in the roster puzzle. As bad as his defense supposedly looked a year ago, I think you have to give Jagielo more than one full year at third base. Worry about where he fits later, when he’s actually MLB ready. Same with Andujar.

Samantha asks: At the end of last season we heard a lot about the potential for a 6-man rotation. Right now it will be a struggle to fill even a 5-man rotation, but if a guy like Adam Warren does get stretched out and do well in Spring Training, will a 6-man rotation be legitimately considered?

I hadn’t really thought about it but it could be possible. Based on the roster right now, the Yankees will have a four-man bench, which means a six-man rotation and six-man bullpen. Betances and Esmil Rogers could both go multiple innings, Justin Wilson too, so that would make it easier to carry one less reliever. A six-man rotation would allow the Yankees to take it easy on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, all of whom have some injury concerns. A six-man rotation is possible but I don’t think it’s likely. Let’s see if they get through Spring Training with everyone in one piece first.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

P.J. asks: Let’s assume Ivan Nova comes back in mid June and pitches decently upon his return. He will be under team control for only one more season, 2016. With Luis Severino and Ian Clarkin ready do the Yankees look to trade Nova at end of the 2015 season and try and get something for him before he becomes a FA at the end of the 2016 season?

Severino and Clarkin shouldn’t have any impact on Nova. (Also, it’s unlikely Clarkin will be ready by 2016. Severino might be though.) Pitching depth is a good thing, and even if they were ready, Severino and Clarkin are no sure things. That isn’t to say the Yankees shouldn’t be open to trading Nova, they should be open to trading anyone and everyone for the right return, but they probably shouldn’t actively shop him either. At this point in time, I say keep Nova for 2016 and maybe even try to sign him to a little extension, say three years and $24M. Something like that. Nova didn’t get a big bonus as an amateur ($80,000), he just might be open to it.

Calvin asks: Are they finding a market inefficiency in bullpen depth that helps consistently out perform their Pythag?

Eh, I’m not sure I would call having a deep bullpen a market inefficiency, I’m pretty sure every team knows that’s a good thing to have. But I do think that’s part of the Yankees’ plan. A few months ago a user at reddit did a real nice quick and dirty analysis showing bullpen strength had a small correlation with outperforming (and underperforming) run differential, though there was a correlation nonetheless. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by 13 wins (!) the last two years and by 17 wins since 2008, and I think Joe Girardi‘s bullpen management is a big reason why. He has more weapons to work with right now than at any other point during his tenure.

Nic asks: What are the chances David Carpenter gets a shot at closing? That way Betances and Andrew Miller are saved for the more high leverage innings.

It’s possible, but he’ll probably have to pitch his way into that role. I think it’s more likely Betances closes and Carpenter takes over as the team’s primary right-handed setup man alongside Miller. Of course, Miller could also close since guys like Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve will be available for the lefty setup work. I’m not really concerned about who will close — the Yankees have plenty of options and will have a strong closer and a deep setup crew regardless. I’m just curious to see who ends up in the ninth. Betances dominated last year but Miller has the big closer worthy contract.

Nick asks: Now that Manny Banuelos has officially been traded, who was the best player that he was ever rumored to be in a package for? Who could the Yankees have gotten for him way back when?

According to the RAB and MLBTR archives, Banuelos was mentioned in trade rumors for Ubaldo Jimenez (when he was good), John Danks (when he was good), and Matt Garza back in the day, mostly from 2011-12. That’s all we’ve got. I’m certain Banuelos was involved in more trade talk, a lot more, but that’s all that was reported. Garza is the best of that bunch by default — Jimenez has been a disaster since 2011 aside from the second half of 2013 and Danks hasn’t been the same since blowing out his shoulder. Garza had two more years of team control at the time of the trade rumors and was worth 2.7 bWAR total during those two years, which ain’t much. Is it weird that I’d rather have three years of David Carpenter and six years of Chasen Shreve now than two years of Garza then? I don’t think that’s weird.

Dustin asks: With the Yankees not in a position to get rid of rotation depth, do you think giving up on Manny Banuelos is a sign they are going to get another starting pitcher? Or are they really that down on Manny that they don’t even view him as a starter?

I expected them to go after more pitching depth even before the Banuelos trade. I think the trade means they were down on Banuelos and didn’t consider him a starting option in 2015. They probably didn’t have particularly high hopes of him turning into an option for 2016 either. The results weren’t encouraging last summer and Banuelos has essentially lost three years of development. He was hurt most of 2012, all of 2013, and spent 2014 shaking off rust. That’s a lot of development time lost at a critical age. It’s the kind of stuff that derails careers. It happens all the time. Such is life. Pitching prospects, man.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here’s a really neat video. As part of their “we’re all in the Hall of Fame now” tour, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz stopped by the MLB Network studios and put together a demonstration showing how they threw their signature pitches, so Johnson’s slider, Pedro’s changeup, and Smoltz’s splitter. Turns out Smoltz learned his splitter from Nardi Contreras, the Yankees’ special pitching instructor and ex-minor league pitching coordinator. He was a coach with the Braves way back when. Neat. Check out the video. It’s pretty cool.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Rangers, Devils, and Knicks are playing, and there’s college basketball on as well. You folks know how these thread work by now, so have at it.

Looking at Justin Wilson, the other lefty reliever the Yanks added this offseason

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As part of their bullpen overhaul this offseason, the Yankees sent Frankie Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson, clearing the way for John Ryan Murphy to take over as Brian McCann‘s backup. Wilson is one of three lefties New York has acquired this winter, joining Andrew Miller and Chasen Shreve. Miller is going to be a big part of the late innings next year while Shreve will probably be an up-and-down arm, at least at first.

Wilson’s role seems to be something in between Miller and Shreve. Not an automatic high-leverage option but probably not someone who has to fight his way onto the roster in Spring Training either. Wilson does have two minor league options remaining but I don’t get the sense he’s in danger of starting the year in Triple-A either, at least not unless he has a miserable showing in camp. For now, he’s part of the bullpen picture.

Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings he’s been trying to acquire Wilson for years — “As a matter of fact, I had this discussion with Pittsburgh two years ago. This exact proposal,” said the GM to Brendan Kuty in November — so the Yankees obviously like something about him. He is a hard-throwing lefty and teams love hard-throwing lefties, even if they have control problems. It’s no surprise Cashman had long-standing interest.

The thing is, I don’t know a whole lot about Wilson. A quick glance at the internet tells me he’s 27 and has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career big league innings, but there’s more to the story. What does he throw besides a big fastball? Can he get lefties and righties out, or is he strictly a matchup guy? That sort of stuff. So consider this an introduction to the Yankees’ newest lefty reliever. Well, second newest.

The Performance

Wilson, who was drafted out of Fresno State in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, has been in the big leagues for two full years plus one September. He was a starter throughout his minor league career and has been nothing but a reliever in MLB. Through the years, Baseball America (subs. req’d) noted Wilson’s spotty command was likely to land him in the bullpen long-term, and here we are.

During his two full years in MLB, Wilson has improved his strikeout rate while actually performing a tiny bit better against righties than lefties, at when it comes to strikeouts and ground balls. Here’s what he’s done against lefties and righties the last two years (I’m ignoring his September call-up in 2012 because he threw only 4.1 innings):

LHB wOBA LHB K% LHB uBB% LHB GB% RHB wOBA RHB K% RHB uBB% RHB GB%
2013 .233 17.9% 7.4% 50.7% .258 21.0% 10.1% 54.1%
2014 .306 22.1% 8.1% 49.2% .279 24.7% 11.0% 52.5%
Total .268 19.9% 7.7% 50.0% .268 22.7% 10.4% 53.4%

Note: I removed intentional walks from the walk rate, hence uBB%. Wilson walked five batters intentionally last year, 23rd most in all of baseball, and all five were right-handed hitters. It was skewing the data.

Okay then, so Wilson’s not just a left-handed specialist. His numbers against righties and lefties have been pretty similar these last two years, though it’s worth noting he faced 181 lefties and 370 righties, so there’s quite the sample size difference. That said, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle clearly didn’t have any reservations about using Wilson against right-handed hitters. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why.

Consistently throwing strikes has always been Wilson’s bugaboo and he hasn’t shown any improvement throughout his career. He walked 10.7% of the batters he faced in Single-A, 11.8% in Double-A, 11.9% in Triple-A, and 10.6% in MLB. Wilson’s not a huge guy, he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., so it’s not like he’s got a Randy Johnson thing going on where he just has to learn how to control his body. Throwing strikes is hard. That’s all it is.

The good news is that even with those control problems, Wilson is an effective Major League pitcher against both righties and lefties. That’s a pretty valuable skill out of the bullpen. Like fellow offseason pickup Andrew Miller, Wilson is a true one-inning reliever who just so happens to be left-handed. (Jacob Lindgren, last year’s top draft pick, projects to be the same type of pitcher.) That is pretty darn cool. LOOGYs have their place, but lefties who can get anyone out are better.

The Stuff

As mentioned, Wilson throws pretty hard, sitting in the mid-90s regularly with his four-seam fastball. As a matter of fact, 38 left-handed relievers threw at least 40 innings last season, and only Aroldis Chapman (101.2 … lol) had a higher average four-seam fastball than Wilson (96.4). (Jake McGee was also at 96.4 mph.) Wilson throws very hard by southpaw standards.

The four-seamer isn’t Wilson’s only fastball though. He also throws a sinker and a cutter, which averaged 95.9 mph and 90.1 mph, respectively. So he has three fastballs — one that cuts away from lefties/in to righties, one that goes down, and one that stays true. Wilson also throws an upper-70s curveball and an upper-80s changeup, but rarely. PitchFX recorded 1,019 of his pitches last year and 67 were curveballs. Only eight were changeups. That’s less than 8% of his total pitches combined.

Wilson is basically a four-seamer/sinker/cutter pitcher with a show-me curveball. Here’s how the three fastballs have done at getting swings and misses as well as ground balls these last two years:

FF Whiff% FF GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% CT Whiff% CT GB%
2013 11.3% 41.7% 9.3% 65.2% 12.0% 66.7%
2014 12.3% 44.6% 3.5% 48.8% 14.4% 71.1%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 5.4% 49.5% 9.7% 43.0%

Based on the swing-and-miss and ground ball rates, the sinker is the worst of Wilson’s three fastballs. Or at least it was last year. Back in 2013 it was really good. These things can fluctuate from year to year because relievers inherently work in small samples. That’s part of the reason why they’re so volatile from year to year.

Wilson’s four-seamer and cutter are both above-average pitches based on the swing-and-miss and grounder rates. Comfortably above-average too. Here’s a good look at Wilson’s four-seamer (first and third strikeouts) and his cutter (second and fourth strikeouts) in action:

Wilson was a starter throughout his minor league career, but he was only a middling starter who projected to slot into the back of a rotation. Not someone a team plans a future around. Some guys are just better built for the bullpen, and Wilson’s strike-throwing issues are more manageable in relief, where he can rely on his high-velocity four-seamer/sinker/cutter combination. It just works.

Wrapping Up

I wasn’t quite sure what the Yankees got for Cervelli other than a reliever with decent numbers in his two MLB seasons. Wilson clearly has pretty good stuff, namely some lively fastballs that miss bats and get grounders, though his shaky control probably means he’ll never be regular in high-leverage spots. Most importantly, he’s not a specialist. He’s shown the ability to get both righties and lefties out.

Wilson has a little Boone Logan in him in that he’s a lefty with velocity held back by shaky command. (Wilson definitely doesn’t have Logan’s slider though.) The Yankees were able to straighten Logan out in his late-20s and get some nice years out of him, which is what they’re surely hoping to do with Wilson. He figures to slot into a middle relief role alongside Adam Warren and David Carpenter, setting up Miller and Dellin Betances, so we should see quite a bit of him in 2015.

Drew’s return gives Yankees both a balanced and lefty heavy lineup

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

As discussed earlier, the return of Stephen Drew impacts the Yankees in many ways, particularly with their roster construction. Drew’s return could mean the end of Brendan Ryan, it could mean Rob Refsnyder is going back to Triple-A, or it could mean Didi Gregorius is going to be flipped in a trade. Lots of possibilities.

What we do know is that Drew will play — at least at first, they didn’t sign him not to play — and that means the Yankee will have five left-handed hitters in the regular starting lineup. Three of the remaining four regulars are switch-hitters and one’s a righty. Here’s the quick breakdown:

C – Brian McCann (L)
1B – Mark Teixeira (B)
2B – Drew (L)
SS – Gregorius (L)
3B – Chase Headley (B)
LF – Brett Gardner (L)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
RF – Carlos Beltran (B)
DH – Alex Rodriguez! (R)

Dating back to the early-1990s, when then-GM Gene Michael was ahead of the curve in emphasizing patience and wearing down pitchers, the Yankees have prioritized switch-hitters. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada are the most notable examples, but over the years there was also Ruben Sierra, Tim Raines, Chili Davis, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, and others. The switch-hitters add balance and make it tough for opposing managers to match up.

The Yankees have a weird lineup dynamic right now because it’s both left-handed heavy and balanced at the same. Against a right-handed pitcher, they’ll have eight guys hitting from the left side of the plate. Nine if Garrett Jones plays instead of A-Rod. But, against a lefty starter, they’d still have four guys on the right side of the plate and two lefties (Gardner and Ellsbury) who can hold their own against southpaws. That doesn’t include fourth outfielder Chris Young, who I have to think will play against lefties. What else would he do?

Once upon a time — as in last year before Jon Lester and David Price were traded — having five lefties in your regular lineup in the AL East was less than ideal. That isn’t the case anymore. The best southpaw in the division at this point is probably Drew Smyly, at least until Matt Moore returns at midseason and proves he’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery. Mark Buehrle, Wade Miley, and Wei-Yin Chen are the only other enemy southpaws in the division. And, as Buster Olney (subs. req’d) noted yesterday, those three aren’t tough on lefties:

If you dig inside the numbers more, even the left-handers in the division don’t wipe out left-handed hitters. Mark Buehrle is not a hard thrower, and left-handers typically have done about the same against him as right-handers; last year, lefties had a .718 OPS against him, while right-handers were at .752. Left-handed hitters had a .670 OPS against Wei-Yin Chen, right-handers .746. Wade Miley, acquired this winter by the Red Sox, had .727/.752 OPS splits last season against lefties and righties, respectively.

On paper, the Yankees’ lineup seems to match up well with the right-handed heavy AL East pitching staffs. Plus there are more righty starters than lefty starters in baseball in general — last season, righty starting pitchers faced 43,945 batters while lefties faced 16,069, so it’s roughly a 75/25 split — so the team is in good shape when it plays other opponents too. And of course left-handed hitters have a distinct advantage in Yankee Stadium. The Bombers have plenty of lefties for all those righty starters and enough switch-hitters to maintain balance.

Obviously the offense is a far cry from what it was a few years ago, when Swisher was hitting eighth and Curtis Granderson was clubbing 40+ dingers as the third or fourth best player on the team. I do think the Yankees have upgraded offensively at shortstop and third bases this year, maybe even at second base too, but it’s still a below-average group overall. Being so lefty heavy will help in Yankee Stadium and against all those righty starters, yet the club isn’t ultra-vulnerable against southpaws either.