Imagining Extreme Platooning

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

Okay, who’s about ready for Spring Training to end and the season to start? Nevermind the fact that this area is, apparently, about to get hammered with snow; it’s pretty much baseball season, dammit! At this point, all we can do is hope everyone gets through March healthy and heads into April charged up and ready to go. Additionally, all the principals of the Yankees seem to be performing well and, hair and arbitration cases aside (ugh), there isn’t much drama surrounding the roster formation; all we’re really waiting on is the fifth starter competition. In terms of the lineup, we know who’s going to be there, just not how it’s going to shake out.

I’ve touched on this a few times in the last month–there really hasn’t been much to discuss, huh?–but I wanted to revisit something I briefly mentioned in my post about Chris Carter:

If the Yanks really want to hammer lefties and eschew defense a bit in the process, they can. They can accomplish this dual ‘goal’ by being aggressive with their platooning in the outfield. Aaron Hicks can play center in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. Matt Holliday can “play” left field in place of Brett Gardner. The latter move would free up a spot for Carter to DH, giving the Yankees an all-right handed lineup against lefties, save for Didi Gregorius at short.

Joe Girardi does like to play matchups, though I’m not sure he likes it so much as to do what I suggested there. Still, it’s fun to draw up lineup scenarios and imagine what they would do. Frankly, the Yankees could destroy lefty pitching if they approached it with an eye towards ignoring defense (not likely). Taken to the extreme, they could go even farther than my suggestion.

C: Austin Romine

1B: Chris Carter

2B: Starlin Castro

3B: Chase Healdey

SS: Didi Gregorius

LF: Matt Holliday

CF: Aaron Hicks

RF: Aaron Judge

DH: Gary Sanchez

ON the plus side, as mentioned, this lineup would probably be death to left handed pitching. With Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench, late inning defense and match ups could be solved via substitution. The big snag in the plan, though, is using Sanchez as the DH. Every team in baseball hates using their second catcher. And, really, with Romine, is there really going to be that much of a boost? Probably not.

Little CC. (Presswire)
Little CC. (Presswire)

The best bet for a balance of platoon and potential is likely to be trotting out Sanchez at catcher, Greg Bird at first, and Carter at DH. Last year, it’s worth noting, Hicks didn’t live up to his potential against lefties, so if you buy that performance, you could swap out Gardner in center to help cover Holliday in left. Of the two, Gardner is preferable to Ellsbury against lefties.

For the first time in a while, the Yankees are going to be a bonafide threat to lefty pitching. When they want to, they’ll be able to put out an immensely powerful lineup against southpaws, which should help them steal some games. If they can do that while also exposing Greg Bird to lefties in hopes of him improving, it’s a win/win.

Open Thread: March 11th Camp Notes

Can’t stop won’t stop. The Yankees won again today. This win featured opposite field dingers by Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday, and Gleyber Torres. Torres took old buddy Justin Wilson deep with a little defensive swing on a pitch off the plate. It was: crazy. The Yankees have hit 24 homers in 16 games this spring after hitting 20 in 32 games last spring.

Masahiro Tanaka started and goodness, he was razor sharp. Seven strikeouts in four perfect innings. He fanned the first six men he faced. Bryan Mitchell followed and allowed a run on three hits and a walk in four innings. Good hitting, good pitching, and some good defense too. Start the season already. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the rest of the notes from Tampa:

  • Tyler Austin‘s foot is healing, though he still has a ways to go before resuming baseball activity. “Tyler is not ready to be out of the boot or off his scooter, but it is progressing and we were happy with what we saw,” said Joe Girardi. [Lou DiPietro]
  • Some other injury updates: Mason Williams (shoulder) could get in a game next week. Ronald Herrera (shoulder) has resumed throwing. James Reeves (elbow) and Kellin Deglan (shoulder) are still shut down. [DiPietro]

This is the open thread for the rest of the day. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. MLB Network is going to have the much anticipated USA vs. Dominican Republic game tonight at 6:30pm ET. MLB Network has other World Baseball Classic games right now (Venezuela vs. Italy) and at 9:30pm ET (Puerto Rico vs. Mexico), 12:30am ET (Cuba vs. Israel on tape delay), and 6am ET (Japan vs. Netherlands). The Knicks, Islanders, and Devils are all playing, and there’s a bunch of college basketball on the schedule too. Talk about all that stuff and more right here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Spring Training Game Thread: Tanaka’s Third Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this spring the rotation has looked, well, pretty much exactly as expected. The kids have shown promise but are also taking some lumps. Michael Pineda has continued his good start, bad start routine. CC Sabathia is just now getting into the swing of things following offseason knee surgery.

And then there’s Masahiro Tanaka, the staff ace, who has been masterful in his first two Grapefruit League starts. Every fifth day last season the Yankees could count on Tanaka chewing up innings and pitching a high quality game. He’ll make his third start of the spring this afternoon. Here is the lineup the Tigers sent down from Lakeland, and here is the Yankees’ lineup, which looks an awful lot like a potential Opening Day lineup sans Didi Gregorius, who is still away at the World Baseball Classic:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP J.R. Graham, and RHP Brady Lail are all scheduled to pitch after Tanaka. RHP Colten Brewer, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Ben Heller, LHP Joe Mantiply, and LHP Chasen Shreve are the extra arms. Brewer and Coshow are up from minor league camp for the day. Brewer was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick from the Pirates over the winter.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Rob Refsnyder, 2B Ruben Tejada, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Miguel Andujar, LF Pete Kozma, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Billy McKinney, and DH Chris Carter will be the second string off the bench. C Francisco Diaz, C Jorge Saez, C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, SS Jorge Mateo, OF Dustin Fowler, OF Clint Frazier, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are the extra players.

Pretty much perfect baseball weather in Tampa today. No clouds and temperatures in the low-80s without that gross Florida humidity. Today’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. There’s also MLB.tv and the FOX Sports Go app. Enjoy the game.

Open Thread: March 10th Camp Notes

The Grapefruit League juggernaut marches on. The Yankees beat the Phillies this afternoon thanks to home runs by Chase Headley (three-run) and Aaron Judge (solo). Judge hit three Yankee Stadium homers in the game, but only one actually left the yard. The other two were caught on the right field warning track. Keep working on that opposite field stroke, Aaron.

Not the best start for rotation candidate Chad Green. He threw two scoreless innings, but also allowed two hits and three walks. Only 21 of his 43 pitches were strikes, per Erik Boland. He was pretty wild. Chance Adams had a vintage David Robertson outing (three walks, three strikeouts, no runs) while Justus Sheffield pitched around three hits and two walks in two scoreless innings. He fanned three. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Good news: Joe Girardi confirmed James Kaprielian‘s next outing will be in a Grapefruit League game. He threw a three-inning simulated game today, so he won’t pitch this weekend. A quick overview of next week’s schedule: Monday (off-day), Tuesday (road game, no TV), Wednesday (home on YES), Thursday (road game, no TV), Friday (road game on MLB Network). Hopefully Kaprielian pitches Wednesday. He’d be on normal rest from today’s sim game. [Mike Mazzeo]
  • Clint Frazier had to cut his hair today to conform to the team’s 40-year old hair policy. “I like my hair but I love playing for this organization more,” he said. Frazier and Girardi agreed it had become a distraction. A distraction! Only the Yankees could make something fun a distraction. In all seriousness though, Frazier’s hair was donated to an organization that creates wigs for kids with cancer, and that’s a great cause, so good work. [Bryan Hoch, Pete Caldera]
  • Hoch has the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for those who didn’t play in today’s game. Johnny Barbato, Aroldis Chapman, and Dietrich Enns all threw bullpen sessions. Luis Cessa, not Green, was scheduled to start today’s game, but he had a fever last night and was scratched. Cessa will throw a simulated game tomorrow instead. [Hoch]
  • The Yankees will be at home against the Tigers tomorrow afternoon. That game will be on YES. Masahiro Tanaka lines up to start.

Here is tonight’s open thread. I’m posting this a little earlier than usual because Team USA is playing their first World Baseball Classic game tonight. They’ll face Colombia at Marlins Park at 6pm ET on MLB Network. Pretty good pitching matchup too: Chris Archer vs. possible future Yankee Jose Quintana. Donovan Solano and Tito Polo are in the lineup for Colombia. MLB Network will have another WBC game on later tonight as well (Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico at 9pm ET). It’s cute they still budget only three hours for nationally televised baseball games. Anyway, the Nets are also playing and there’s a whole bunch of college basketball on too. Talk about those games or anything else right here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Outfielders on the wrong side of 30 [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome to Year 4 of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury manning the Yankees’ outfield. At the time Ellsbury signed in the 2013-14 offseason, it seemed like Gardner may quickly receive a ticket out of New York, but an extension for the speedster said otherwise. Three years of trade rumors have followed yet Gardner is still firmly planted in left field.

Including this season, there are four years left on Ellsbury’s deal and two on Gardner’s. With a series of outfield prospects — or shortstop prospects soon-to-be outfield prospects — slowly making their march towards the major league roster, the days of both players taking the field simultaneously for NYY is quickly dwindling.

The wrong side of 30

Within three weeks of each other late this summer, both Ellsbury and Gardner will turn 34 years old. For two players that have made their names with their speed as their No. 1 tool, it’s not an ideal time in their careers. Many players like these two don’t age gracefully. That presents a grim reality for a squad reliant on both their skills if it’s going to be a playoff contender.

Both players have seen their stolen base numbers fall every season since 2013. They still combined for 36 in 2016, a respectable total but one each player used to eclipse individually. The duo on the base paths does have value regardless of decline. For what it’s worth, it seems like they could steal fewer bases if that was mandated. Gardner had the same stolen base percentage in 2016 as he did in 2015 but had five fewer attempts. Ellsbury had one fewer steal and one fewer caught stealing in 2016 than 2015.

Beyond stolen bases, both players are about average hitters at this points in their careers. Gardner hit .261/.351/.362 (97 wRC+) in 2016. His OBP improved over 2015 (.343) but his slugging percentage fell significantly (.399). Gardner had hit 33 home runs over 2014-15 but smacked just seven last year. On the bright side, he had just five fewer hits in 22 fewer plate appearances and he sliced 29 strikeouts (135 to 106) off his total.

Gardner’s average exit velocity decreased by nearly 2 mph (88.8 to 86.9) while his launch angle was slightly lower. He does still have the best eye of anyone on the team and his patience near the top of the lineup is a significant asset. Even when he makes outs, he tends to see a lot of pitches to the benefit of those who come after him.

As for his exit velocity, check out his charts from 2015 to 2016 below via Baseball Savant. His performance lagged on pitches low in the zone and inside while he greatly improved on pitches high and away.

gardner-2015-2016-exit-velo
2015 vs. 2016 (Baseball Savant)

Ellsbury, meanwhile, actually saw general improvement from 2015 to 2016. That makes sense: He injured his knee midway through 2015 and his performance declined sharply after his return. He went from a .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) line to a still-below-average but better .263/.330/.374 (91 wRC+) mark. That’s encouraging. He had 14 more extra-base hits in 125 more plate appearances in 2016 while seeing a small increase in exit velocity (87.1 to 87.4 mph)

Brian Cashman called out Ellsbury, saying the team expected more from their center fielder in 2016. That doesn’t mean a return to the 32-home run season he had with the Red Sox in 2011, but the team wants him to be a force getting on base and stealing bases. Ellsbury set the catcher’s interference record in 2016 but don’t expect a repeat of that dubious mark in this year: Hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with Ellsbury to move his contact more out in front. It may not make much of a difference, but hey, he does already have a home run this spring off a lefty pitcher!

Both guys played over 145 games in 2016 and that kind of durability would be a solid plus in 2017 as well. Age-wise, you may not be able to count on that, but that’s why you have Aaron Hicks and general outfield depth.

Lineup questions

Since Ellsbury signed his monster deal to join the Yankees, Gardner and Ellsbury have been in the top three of the Bombers’ lineup in varying orders at all times. That may change in 2017.

The reason to keep them at the top is simple: They add impressive speed and are two of the Yankees’ best in on-base percentage. Who doesn’t want fast players who get on base near the top of the lineup?

The duo at the top of the lineup has presented some problems for the Yankees. While they give the Yankees a speed dynamic to begin games, they are also easy targets for potent lefty relievers to take advantage late in games. Finding a way to split up the lefties would make a whole lot of sense for the Yankees, particularly if it meant moving a stronger bat like Gary Sanchez up in the lineup. Both players have also seen declines in their on-base skills recently, so there’s even more logic to splitting them up.

According to Joe Girardi, the Yankees are unlikely to split them up by moving one of them (Gardner) to the ninth spot. This wouldn’t really solve their problems as they’d still be back to back in the lineup after one time through. Most people have thought about the possibility of moving Ellsbury down to around sixth in the lineup.

Ellsbury batting sixth would make a lot of sense. You split up lefties, you move a declining bat down and you give yourself speed in the second half of the lineup as well. However, Ellsbury has been lukewarm at best on the lineup. It’s understandable when you’re a veteran so used to batting in the top three. With Ellsbury’s reticence, the team may wait until later in his contract to move him in the lineup.

Still strong defensively

There are plenty of questions about Ellsbury and Gardner going into this season, but it’s tough to have many doubts about them defensively. After all, Gardner is coming off his first Gold Glove. Ellsbury is six years removed from his only Gold Glove. However, according to most defensive metrics, he rebounded from a poor 2015 season (-3.2 UZR likely explained due to his knee injury) with the glove to be a better center fielder again in 2016 (0.7 UZR). Gardner (-2.7 to 3.6) had a similar bounce, which could be partly thanks to fewer games in center field thanks to a healthy Ellsbury.

That’s really important for the Yankees. If the duo will continue to decline in any way offensively, they will need to at least stay viable defensively. When healthy, they both provide the speed necessary to cover at least 2/3s of the outfield and help the pitching staff. One issue, of course, is each of their respective arms. Gardner’s is below average, albeit decent. Ellsbury comes from the Johnny Damon school of outfield arm strength and teams will continue to take advantage of his weak arm in center field.

At some point in the future, Ellsbury is likely to move over to left field but not this season. That’s for late in his contract when his speed isn’t as viable and someone, whether it be Clint Frazier or Jorge Mateo, has proven capable of taking over center. At the very least, Ellsbury has significant left field experience from his early Red Sox career.

So far this spring, Gardner has played center field when Ellsbury has been off with Hicks tending to play a corner position. This goes contrary to last season when Girardi tended to keep Gardner in left field even when Ellsbury was out. The change may be to optimize the outfield to take advantage of Gardner’s extra range and superior angles to the ball. It’s something to keep an eye on as the season commences.

Gardner was clearly on the trade block this offseason. However, until proven otherwise, it’ll be Gardy and Jake again in the outfield for the Yankees. Both players may be on the downside of their careers, but they still have real value to the Yankees beyond the weight of their respective contracts. Count me among those excited to see if Gardner can bounce back in 2017 and whether Ellsbury’s 2016 bump up was a sign of things to come.

Spring Training Game Thread: Green’s Second Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees return to television today, thankfully, and rotation candidate Chad Green will be making his second Grapefruit League start. It’s his second start and third appearance. As I mentioned in today’s mailbag, there doesn’t seem to be a standout among the rotation candidates thus far, but there are still three weeks to go before Opening Day. Green could start to separate himself this afternoon.

What else should you watch today? Well, Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, for one. Or two, I guess. They’re both scheduled to come out of the bullpen. There’s a pretty good chance both guys will be making their final Grapefruit League appearance today before being sent out to minor league camp. We’ve reached that time of the spring. Here is the Phillies’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the causeway to Clearwater:

  1. CF Aaron Hicks
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. LF Clint Frazier
  9. SS Tyler Wade
    RHP Chad Green

Available Pitchers: RHP Chance Adams, LHP Jon Niese, LHP Justus Sheffield, and RHP Jonathan Holder are all scheduled to pitch after Green. LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Matt Marsh, and RHP Kyle Haynes are the extra arms. You know what? It might be RHP Mark Montgomery, not Jordan. The lineup card only lists “Montgomery.” Jordan last pitched Monday and he’s been on a strict every five days schedule this spring. Seems weird to send an extra pitcher who presumably can’t pitch. Marsh and Haynes are up from minor league camp for the road trip. Mark Montgomery might be as well. Whatever.

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Jorge Mateo, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Ruben Tejada, LF Rashad Crawford, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Rob Refsnyder, and DH Miguel Andujar will be the second string off the bench. C Jorge Saez, IF Pete Kozma, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo drew the short straws and had to make the road trip even though they aren’t scheduled to play.

The internet tells me the weather in Clearwater is typical Florida weather. A little cloudy but warm. Good baseball weather. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. If you live in the Phillies home market, you can watch the game on CSN Philly TCN. The game will also be shown on MLB Network, even in the New York market. There’s also MLB.tv. Enjoy the game.