Tuesday Night Open Thread

Opening Day is always such a tease. We get all excited for the first game of the season, the Yankees finally play, then … an off-day. It’s the worst. I get it, if I bought a ticket to Opening Day and it got rained out, I’d sill like to go to Opening Day, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Oh well. Just more waiting for Yankees baseball. We’ve done plenty of that these last few months. What’s another night?

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Extra Innings package has a free preview this week, so find the channels and you can watch any baseball game you want tonight for no extra cost. The three local hockey teams are in action as well, so talk about those games or anything else right here.

Reminder: Make sure you don’t forget to vote in this year’s Prospect Watch poll!

Introducing our newest contributors: Katie Sharp and Sung Min Kim

As I mentioned in the open thread last night, we’ve added two new contributors to the site: Katie Sharp (@ktsharp on Twitter) and Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim). Sunny has written some stuff for us before and Katie is coming over from IIATMS. You’ll see their first posts very soon. To help you get to know our newest contributors, Katie and Sunny were nice enough to write up some background info, so consider this their introduction.

Katie Sharp

To be honest, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love sports – whether it was playing them or watching them. My dad (a Long Island native) made sure that I was a Yankee fan from day one, and although our trips to the Stadium were rare when I was kid, I devoured box scores every morning and tried to watch as many games on TV as I could. After a few years of working in the finance industry following college, I realized that my obsession with sports was just too big for me to remain a desk jockey for the rest of my life. I somehow then landed my dream job at ESPN as a researcher, and spent seven years there working mostly on baseball, college basketball and college football shows.

I got my start in blogging while at ESPN (the Stats & Info blog and the ESPN New York Yankees blog), and it was also there that I developed my love for quirky stats and analysis-focused writing. A year ago, I left ESPN and relocated to Vermont where my husband had gotten a new job, and that’s when I started trying to do this sportswriting/blogging thing on a more permanent basis. I’ve been a long-time and devoted reader of River Ave. Blues and was absolutely thrilled when the guys asked me to come on board as a writer. As for the type of writing you can expect from me, I’ll be doing my Yankeemetrics series recaps on a regular basis (first one on Friday!), and also contributing other stats-based analysis posts that hopefully will make you a smarter Yankee fan.

Sung Min Kim

Hi all! My name is Sung Min Kim. People around here like to call me Sunny and that’s fine. You can also refer me as SMK, which is my unofficial moniker in the student newspaper I work at.

I became a Yankees watcher when I moved to Connecticut back in 2002 – I was 11 years old then. I started to watch baseball consistently starting 2004 (sad, I know) and I’ve been a RAB reader since 2008. The earliest memory of reading the website was around the time when we drafted Gerrit Cole in the ’08 MLB Draft. I balanced reading between this website and LoHud Yankees Blog for my daily dose of the Yankees as a teenager so I’m pretty stoked to join the RAB crew!

I am currently a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. I major in broadcast journalism but I work a lot in online/print multiplatform kind of stuff. Last semester I had classes taught by Kevin Blackistone (Around the Horn panelist) and George Solomon (former sports editor for the Washington Post) so that was quite awesome and it definitely intensified my interest in sportswriting. Besides that, I am a staff news photographer and a music blogger for The Diamondback, University of Maryland’s independent student-run newspaper. Recently I won a regional award for breaking news photography (for this article) so that’s one thing in my life I’m proud for. Lastly, I’ve also been a college radio DJ for three years. I have a show every Thursday from 6-7pm at WMUC-FM.

Okay, enough with shameless plugs. Needless to say, I love baseball and I love writing about it. I’m very excited and fortunate to have an opportunity like this. I hope I can deliver some good content for you guys from now on and represent the website to its best. My Twitter handle is @sung_minkim and I tweet a lot about baseball, music and college life stuff. Thanks for reading!

Business Notes: Payroll, In-Market Streaming, Yankee Stadium Letters

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of these spare business-related links I had lying around, so I might as lump them into one post. Here are some miscellaneous links worth passing along.

Yankees open season with $219M payroll

According to numbers compiled by the Associated Press, the Yankees opened the 2015 regular season with a $219,282,196 payroll, second highest in baseball behind the Dodgers ($272,789,040!). That is the team’s second highest Opening Day payroll in history, behind the $228,106,900 payroll they had at the start of 2013. The Yankees added about $10.5M in payroll during the season from 2010-14 according to the numbers at Cot’s, so while the Yankees are starting the season at $219.3M, recent history suggests they’ll end the year at $230M or so.

Average salary climbs to $4.25M

The average player salary in MLB climbed to $4.25M this season, so says the Associated Press. That is up from $3.95M last year and $3.65M the season before. “MLB’s revenues have grown in recent years, with the increase in national and local broadcast rights fees being a primary contributor. It is expected that player compensation will increase as club revenues increase,” said MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem to the Associated Press, stating the obvious.

This is the first time the average player salary has topped $4M. The average salary first broke $1M in 1992, $2M in 2001, and $3M in 2008. Clayton Kershaw is the game’s highest paid player this season at $31M, with Justin Verlander ($28M) and Zack Greinke ($28M) placing second and third. Also, Robert Raiola says the per diem for road days is $100.50 this season, up from $99 last year. That’s a nice little allowance but it’s actually not wildly out of line with what many folks with normal jobs receive during business trips. Either way, yeah, it’s good to be a baseball player.

Manfred hopes to have in-market streaming this year

Two weeks ago we heard MLB will soon announce a deal allowing fans to stream in-market games online. That report was a bit premature — no such deal is imminent — but new commissioner Rob Manfred did confirm to Brian Costa and Matthew Futterman that they are working on an in-market streaming service and hope to have it in place this year. From Costa and Futterman:

WSJ: You’ve discussed how important technology is to reach young fans. When will a 15-year-old in New York be able to watch a Yankees game on his phone?

Manfred: The best way to answer that question is to say the better part of my workday today was consumed by the topic of in-market streaming. It is particularly complicated in the context of a media market that is changing so quickly, but I do believe we will get a solution on in-market streaming in the relatively near future.

WSJ: Sometime this year?

Manfred: I hope so. I’d like to believe there will be games streamed at some point this year.

It’s unclear how such an agreement would work, though I’m guessing Yankees fans would have to subscribe to YES through their cable provider, then pay an additional fee to be able to stream online. YES did have an in-market streaming service a few years back that was totally awesome — if I remember correctly, you needed both a YES subscription and an MLB.tv subscription, and then had to pay an extra $50 — but it was discontinued for whatever reason.

Hopefully MLB gets this in-market streaming thing figured out and soon. It’s 2015. I’m very willing to spend my hard-earned American dollars for the right to watch the Yankees on my phone while standing on a subway platform.

No bids for YANKEE STADIUM letters

And finally, remember the giant old YANKEE STADIUM letters Reggie Jackson put up for auction? Darren Rovell says no one bid on ‘em. The only bid placed at least week’s auction was a phony $280,000 bid an auction house employee placed on Jackson’s behalf in an attempt to spur on other bidders. Reggie was hoping to get $300,000 to $600,000 total for the 13 giant letters. Practicality 1, nostalgia 0.

Poll: The 2015 Prospect Watch

"I will be the Prospect Watch." "Okay Aaron."
“I will be the Prospect Watch.” “Okay Aaron.” (Presswire)

One of our long-running features here at RAB is the annual Prospect Watch, where we pick a prospect, then keep track of his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Some say the Prospect Watch is a curse, I say the Yankees aren’t particularly good at player development. RAB’s pixels don’t influence career paths.

We’ve been running the Prospect Watch so long now that I’m starting to forget who has been featured. I know it all started with Phil Hughes, and last year we had Eric Jagielo, but I can’t remember all the names between those two. Jesus Montero and Mason Williams for sure, and I think Manny Banuelos as well. The Andrew Brackman Watch sounds like it was once a thing too.

Anyway, with the minor league season set to start on Thursday, it’s time to vote on this year’s Prospect Watch prospect. In the past I made an executive decision and picked my favorite prospect, but the last few years I’ve opened it up to a reader poll, and that seems better. It’s worked well so why stop? I do still get to pick the candidates, however. Here are the six players up for this summer’s Prospect Watch, listed alphabetically.

1B Greg Bird (No. 5 on my Top 30 Prospects)
Brian Cashman called Bird “by far the hitter” in the farm system a few weeks ago and the numbers back it up. The 22-year-old Bird followed up his dominant 2013 season (170 wRC+ in Low-A) by hitting .271/.376/.472 (139 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 14 homers, 14.3 BB%, and 22.2 K% in 102 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2014. Then he hit .313/.381/.556 (156 wRC+) with six homers in the Arizona Fall League and was named MVP. Then he hit .353/.421/.706 with three doubles and a homer during Grapefruit League play. All Bird does is hit. He’ll start the season back with Double-A Trenton.

OF Aaron Judge (No. 1)
Judge, 22, was the second of the team’s three first round picks in 2013, but he couldn’t make his pro debut until 2014 due to a quad injury. Judge proceeded to hit .308/.419/.486 (158 wRC+) with 24 homers, 17 doubles, 15.8 BB%, and 23.3 K% in 131 games across two Single-A levels last season. He showed a more advanced hit tool and approach than even the Yankees expected when they drafted him. Like Bird, Judge is ticketed for Double-A Trenton this month.

SS Jorge Mateo (No. 8)
Mateo is the new hotness. The 19-year-old is the fast riser everyone is touting as the next great Yankees prospect. A wrist injury limited him to only 15 rookie ball games last year (119 wRC+) but that isn’t enough to stop the team from sending him to Low-A Charleston this year. Mateo has elite speed, solid contact skills and patience, and surprising pop. He’s not going to hit a ton of homers, but he will steal a boatload of bases and could hit for a sky high average.

C Gary Sanchez (No. 3)
It seems like Sanchez is the black sheep of top Yankees prospects. He’s been around for a while and people are bored of him. And yet, Sanchez is a month younger than Bird, seven months younger than Judge, and he put up a .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) batting line with 19 doubles, 13 homers, 9.0 BB%, and 19.1 K% as a full-time catcher in a full season at Double-A last year. The Yankees are sending Sanchez back to Trenton this summer, where he will still be two years young for the level.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

RHP Luis Severino (No. 2)
The Yankees have a very position player farm system, so the 21-year-old Severino is only pitcher in this post. He had an absurd 2014 season, pitching to a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with 27.8 K% and 5.9 BB% in 113.1 innings while jumping from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings last summer. He was that good. The Yankees will have Severino start this season back in Trenton, but don’t expect him to be there long.

2B Rob Refsnyder (No. 13)
Since being the team’s fifth round pick in 2012, Refsnyder’s done nothing but hit. The 24-year-old has put up a .307/.400/.457 (145 wRC+) line with 70 doubles, 20 homers, 12.1 BB%, and 16.1 K% in 267 games at four minor league levels since the start of 2013. His worst performance at an individual level is the .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) batting line he put up in 77 games with the RailRiders last year. Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A to start the season but will surely make his MLB debut at some point this year, likely once he learns to play passable defense.

* * *

If you were hoping to vote for someone like LHP Ian Clarkin or 3B Miguel Andujar, sorry. Their time will come. I focused on players capable of putting up big numbers this year because hey, everyone wants to follow a prospect who’s dominating, right? The guys just holding their own are boring. To the poll.

Who should be the 2015 Prospect Watch?

Biggest issue for Masahiro Tanaka is trust in his elbow, not fastball velocity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees opened the 2015 season with a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka started out very strong, with dominant first and second innings, then quickly unraveled and allowed five runs (four earned) in the third. He pitched into and out of danger in the fourth and left the game after 82 pitches, the last 50 or so of which were pretty high-stress.

Tanaka’s velocity was a hot topic both before and after the game. It has been for a week or two now. Tanaka said in Spring Training he’s not focused on velocity because he’s throwing more sinking two-seamers, then he doubled down on Saturday by saying he doesn’t expect the velocity to return. Nothing was lost in translation. Tanaka made it clear velocity is a secondary concern this season.

PitchFX says Tanaka averaged 92.5 mph and 91.1 mph with his four-seamer and sinker yesterday, respectively, down negligibly from 92.7 mph and 91.4 mph last year. He did top out at 94.5 mph yesterday, so it’s not like he was out there with Jered Weaver velocity. Most pitchers add a tick or to as the season progresses and the weather heats up, and if Tanaka hadn’t done so much talking about his velocity this spring, we wouldn’t have even noticed it yesterday.

What stands out to me more than the raw radar gun readings is this: 27. Tanaka threw 27 fastballs out of 82 total pitches yesterday. Five four-seamers and 22 sinkers. That’s all. Before the elbow injury last year, Tanaka threw about 40% fastballs and 60% offspeed pitches. Yesterday it was roughly 30% and 70% overall and even more drastic late in his outing — only six of Tanaka’s final 33 pitches were fastballs (18%). He flat out abandoned his heater.

When asked about his lack of fastballs after the game, Tanaka said it was “because they were being hit,” which makes sense. It wasn’t just actual hits either. There were a lot of foul balls and balls in play off his four-seamer and sinker as well. The Blue Jays didn’t swing and miss once at those 27 four-seamers and sinkers, so they were getting the bat on his fastball each time they swung.

Clearly Tanaka is tentative with his fastball right now. Is it mental or physical? Who the hell knows. Considering he did reach back and top out 94.5 mph yesterday, my guess is mental. After the elbow issue last year, I would totally understand if Tanaka was hesitant to cut it loose. Heck, I had a tooth fixed last year and I didn’t chew on that side of my mouth for months even though the dentist said it was fine. I get it.

The weird part of all this is Tanaka is apparently holding back with his fastball but is still willing to throw sliders and splitters seven out of every ten pitches. We’ve heard for years and years that sliders and splitters are bad for the elbow, especially when thrown a lot, so if Tanaka is still concerned about his elbow, you’d expect him to throw fewer non-fastballs, not more. Right? Tanaka abandoning his splitter would be a major red flag. Tanaka abandoning his fastball is just weird.

As good as his offspeed pitches are — Tanaka threw 55 non-fastballs yesterday and got a dozen swing and misses (22%), which is outstanding — Tanaka can’t go through the season throwing 30% fastballs. No non-knuckleballer can. The lowest percentage of fastballs thrown by a non-knuckleball qualified starter during the PitchFX era is 35.5% by … wait for it … 2008 Mike Mussina. Even late-career Moose and his mid-80s gas threw more fastballs on average than Tanaka yesterday.

Hopefully yesterday’s game was just step one for Tanaka. Step one towards feeling normal and trusting the elbow. Like I said, I totally understand why he would be tentative to cut it loose, but this can’t last forever. Hopefully as the season progresses and he realizes that hey, I’m healthy, Tanaka will gain more faith in his fastball and get back to being where he was before the injury last year. The guy we saw yesterday was a reliever. Not someone who can turn a lineup over multiple turns. The Yankees need much more than that from Tanaka.

“Physically, he seems to be fine,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I’ve watched him between starts all spring, play catch in between, and he’s building arm strength still. We went slow early in the spring, knowing that it’s going to be a work in progress, really. I think he’s holding his own right now. This isn’t the results that you anticipate or want, but I think you have to be reasonable the way you look at things. He is building arm strength and will continue to. There were positives with the split today, it was really good, and I think you’ll see him — as he stays healthy, you’ll see him pitch the way he has in the past.”

Ty Hensley out for season following Tommy John surgery

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Well this is awful. Alexis Brudnicki reports right-hander Ty Hensley had Tommy John surgery last month and will miss the 2015 season. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure. Hensley reported to Spring Training as a healthy player after being viciously attacked during the holidays.

Hensley told Brudnicki he hurt his elbow pitching in a minor league game. “I was throwing against the Pirates and I got two outs and then threw a pitch and my forearm starting getting really tight …. When I was warming up for the second inning it was really, really tight, but as the inning went on, it started getting better so I didn’t think too much of it,” he said. Here’s more:

“As far as one thing after the other, with the whole hip surgery thing and my ab surgery—call it what you want, but I call that a fluke because, it’s just weird,” Hensley said. “Now this on the other hand, it’s an elbow injury. I know it takes time and I’m going to have to learn how to throw again, but I’m confident.

“I’ve gone through some stuff and gotten through it already so at the end it’s going to be no big deal. I’m going to get through it just fine and I’m going to throw harder, my stuff is going to be better, and I’ll be stronger and better for it.”

The Yankees selected the 21-year-old Hensley with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 draft and injuries have limited him to only 42.1 pro innings. The Yankees reduced Hensley’s signing bonus from $1.6M to $1.2M after they found an “abnormality” in his shoulder during a physical, then he missed the entire 2013 season and the start of the 2014 season after having surgery to repair both hips as well as a hernia. Now he’ll miss all of 2015 after having his elbow rebuilt.

The minor league season doesn’t start until Thursday, yet the Yankees have already lost three top 30 prospects — three top 18 prospects, really — for the season. Domingo German (No. 11) and Hensley (No. 18) have both had Tommy John surgery and Luis Torrens (No. 6) had shoulder surgery. That’s brutal. The injury bug isn’t messing around this year. It bit hard and early.

Monday Night Open Thread

Got some great RAB news to share: we’ve added two new people! Well, one new person, and another who is going to post more frequently. New to the site is Katie Sharp (@ktsharp on Twitter), who you’ve seen most recently at IIATMS. She also covers the NFL at SB Nation. Katie will be contributing all sorts of posts, including her trademark Yankeemetrics series recaps. The non-new addition is Sung-Min Kim (@sung_minkim), who’s written several posts at RAB over the last few months. Sunny is going to help out with game recaps and contribute other posts as well. So welcome Katie and re-welcome Sunny to the site, everyone. We’re thrilled to expand the RAB family.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s loss will be replayed on YES at 10pm ET if you’re interested. There’s plenty of baseball on tonight — the Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, so find the channels and you can watch any game you want — plus the college basketball championship game is on and both the (hockey) Rangers and Nets are playing. Talk about whatever you want here.