Should we believe in Carlos Beltran’s breakout May?

Is Beltran's hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Is Beltran’s hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

To say Carlos Beltran had a slow start to the season would be a massive understatement. There is no sugar-coating the fact that for the first month of 2015, Carlos Beltran looked every bit like a struggling 38-year-old veteran in decline. He was unable to catch up to fastballs, repeatedly chased breaking balls out of the zone and was essentially a near-automatic out almost every time he stepped to the plate.

His numbers in April were just plain ugly — 11-for-68 (.162), seven RBI, 21 strikeouts, five walks — which ranked him among the bottom-10 players in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. According to weighted runs created — a statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value — Beltran was 76 percent worse than the league average hitter, ranking 181st out of 186 qualifying players in the month.

He was a black hole in the Yankees lineup, and scouts around the league were calling for him to become a platoon/DH-type player, citing how slow and un-athletic he looked in the field and at the plate. Yet Joe Girardi kept running him out there nearly every day, insisting that he’d find his swing again.

Two weeks into the month of May, and it looks like Beltran may finally be breaking out of his slump. Sure, Girardi hinted that Beltran was better than his numbers showed in April because of his high “exit velocity” — but who could have predicted this outburst? Beltran already has more hits and RBIs this month than all of April and, after going homerless in his first 98 at-bats of the season, he hit two homers in a span of four at-bats on May 10 and 11.

What has been the key to Beltran’s breakthrough? His recent hot streak is obviously a very small sample of less than a dozen games, so we can’t suddenly say that Beltran is completely fixed and back to being the highly productive middle-of-the-order bat who excelled with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013. But are there signs that he’s turned the corner and on the verge of being at least a capable hitter in the Yankees lineup for the rest of the season?

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First, let’s take a glance at his traditional batting stats.

CARLOS BELTRAN THIS SEASON

Month PA AB H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April 74 68 11 0 7 5 21 0.162 0.216 0.265 0.481
May 43 41 13 2 8 2 4 0.317 0.349 0.561 0.910

Bravo! Everything is looking good here: he’s getting on base more, he’s hitting for power and he’s significantly cut his strikeout rate. Remember earlier when we said that Beltran in April was 76 percent worse than league average in terms of his overall offensive production … this month, he is 50 percent above league average in that same stat.

Beyond those basic numbers, Beltran also appears to have made fundamental changes to his plate approach. Although his walk rate remains below-average, he’s become more aggressive swinging at pitches within the strike zone (that’s good!), and is making more contact overall (90 percent in May vs. 81 percent in April). He has cut his swinging strike rate from 9.3 percent to 6.7 percent, and has whiffed on just one pitch in the strike zone in May:

image (4)

His monthly batted ball profile also makes you optimistic that Beltran has become a different – and better – hitter in May. Most significantly, he is hitting the ball harder and is really starting to show his pull-side power stroke at the plate.

Beltran has doubled his line drive rate over the last two months, while increasing his percentage of hard-hit balls from 23 percent in April to 35 percent in May. Last month, only one of every three balls he put into play were pulled; this month, 60 percent of his batted balls have been hit to his pull side.

Another encouraging sign is that Beltran’s bat speed appears to have returned — he has had little trouble handling above-average velocity fastballs in May. He was just 1-for-13 in at-bats ending in a pitch 93 mph or higher during the first month of the season; this month, he has six hits in 10 at-bats ending in 93-plus mph pitches. After whiffing or fouling off 39 percent of those 93-plus mph pitches in April, he’s chopped that rate to just 19 percent in May.

Here’s what the “May” Beltran can do to a 94 mph fastball in his hitting sweetspot:

ezgif.com-gif-maker (2)

If there is one concern about Beltran’s recent hot streak, it’s that the entire thing has come against right-handed pitchers. Literally. He is 0-for-9 against lefties in May and 13-for-32 (.406) against righties. That’s not a serious problem yet because he’s had so few plate appearances against them – but given the fact he was awful against southpaws in April (3-for-20), too, you’d like to see him get a few hits from the right side of the plate this month before declaring him completely back.

Despite the small sample of his empty at-bats against lefties this month, there is a lot to like about what Beltran is doing at the plate in May. The improvement in his peripheral batting stats – i.e. the decline in his strikeout and whiff rates – combined with a better approach at the plate and real increases in his ability to hit the ball with power, indicate that Beltran’s performance in May just might be sustainable for a few more months.

If Beltran can remain healthy the rest of the season, the Yankees may have added yet another dangerous bat to a lineup that already was among the best in the league, giving them even more firepower to remain atop the AL East and on track for a deep playoff run in October.

Poll: Chris Capuano’s imminent return gives Yankees lots of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In his third minor league rehab start last night, left-hander Chris Capuano allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks in six innings with Triple-A Scranton. He stretched out to 76 pitches, which is the most important thing, not the results. Capuano is basically going through Spring Training right now, working to gain a feel for his pitches and delivery. Outs aren’t the priority.

Joe Girardi told reporters earlier this week the Yankees “shouldn’t really need to see much more than that,” referring to Capuano throwing six innings in his third rehab starter. “It’s possible (he could be activated for his next start), yeah,” added Girardi. By no means is Capuano some kind of rotation savior, but he’s a perfectly serviceable big league pitcher, and pitching depth is never a bad thing. His return may not have a big impact but it is welcome.

When the time comes the Yankees will have to decide how exactly to use Capuano and where to slot him into the pitching staff. I suspect they’ll use his first outing back as a way to give everyone else in the rotation an extra day. One of spot sixth starter things the Yankees have been talking about since before Spring Training. After that though, Capuano’s return gives the team plenty of options.

Option No. 1: Capuano to the rotation, Whitley to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Branden Pinder came up when Chris Martin hit the DL a few days ago and he feels like nothing more than a placeholder. He could go back to Triple-A pretty easily to clear a spot for Capuano. Chase Whitley has made three starts for the Yankees this year — one good, one bad, one great — but is a reliever by trade, and his long-term future likely lies in the bullpen. Plus his ability to go multiple innings could help lighten the load on the team’s other bullpeners. This would be the simple and straightforward “Whitley and Pinder are lower than Capuano on the pitching totem pole, so they get bumped down a notch” move.

Option No. 2: Capuano to the rotation, Pinder in the bullpen, Whitley to Triple-A

A few weeks ago Girardi kinda sorta admitted the plan all along was to stash Whitley in Triple-A early this season so he could come up every so often to make spot starts, giving the rest of the rotation rest. Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury then forced Whitley into the rotation full-time. With Capuano set the return, the Yankees could simply go right back to that original plan and send Whitley down so they can bring him up periodically when the other starters could use an extra day. Pinder would stick around as the last reliever in the bullpen in that case.

Option No. 3: Capuano to the rotation, Warren to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Through six starts, Adam Warren has looked very much like a reliever miscast as a starter. He hasn’t been bad per se — a 4.65 ERA and 4.31 FIP from your sixth starter is fine in moderation — but his effectiveness drops off considerably once the lineup turns over and his velocity isn’t close to what it was last year. He also seems to tire out around the 80-pitch mark. Warren went from 23.5 K% and 7.4 BB% as a reliever last year to 12.0 K% and 9.8 BB% as a starter this year. See what I mean? It all points to reliever.

With Capuano coming back, the Yankees have the option of sticking Warren back in the bullpen and leaving Whitley in the rotation until either Tanaka or Ivan Nova comes back in a few weeks. Warren would be able to step right back into that “trusted third reliever” role behind Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, giving Girardi a third option for high-leverage spots. The role Warren filled last year, basically. And since he’s stretched out, he could go two or three innings at a time if necessary. That’s valuable.

Option No. 4: Capuano to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

This option seems unlikely, especially since Brian Cashman just told Lou DiPietro that “when I signed (Capuano), I signed him to be part of the rotation” the other day. Capuano does have bullpen experience though, including just last year with the Red Sox, when he had a 4.55 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 31.2 innings before being released. Rather than rearrange the rotation, the Yankees could simply stick Capuano in the bullpen and use him … somehow. I’m not sure what role he would fill (long man? lefty specialist? one-inning reliever?) but that would sort itself out in time. Always does. Option No. 4 is the most unlikely option. I don’t think it’s completely off the table though.

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The Yankees are going to have to make a decision once Capuano is ready to be added to the roster, which figures to be just a few days away now. This won’t be a particularly impactful decision — whatever option they choose could be reversed pretty easily — but it is a decision nonetheless. I think the Yankees will go with Option No. 2 and send Whitley down so he can again serve as the sixth starter. Whether that is a best option is another matter. What do you think the Yankees should do when Capuano returns?

What should the Yankees do when Capuano returns?

Yankees let one slip away, drop winnable game 4-2 to Rays

Blah. That was a yucky loss. The Yankees had a multi-run lead before making their first out, but were unable to tack on more runs before coughing it up late. Like I said, yucky. They fell 4-2 to the Rays.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Great Start, Bad Finish
Man, the first inning was pretty much perfect. Jacoby Ellsbury singled after a long at-bat, Brett Gardner singled, Alex Rodriguez walked to load the bases, Brian McCann singled in a run with a ground ball through the right side, then Carlos Beltran did the same thing. The first five Yankees to bat reached base, giving the team a quick 2-0 lead against the generally excellent Chris Archer.

Unfortunately, the Yankees never scored again. Stephen Drew lifted a fly ball to center field in the first inning but not deep enough to score A-Rod and his two bad hips, so those two runs were all they got. Ellsbury singled with one out in the second, but was thrown out trying to steal. Gardner followed that with a single … then was thrown out trying to still. Ex-Yankees farmhand Rene Rivera threw ’em both out.

I’m not really a fan of stealing bases that early in the game, especially with Archer struggling so much — seven of the first eleven batters he faced reached base — and the top of the lineup playing so well, but what are you going to do. Rivera made two perfect throws. The Yankees had just three base-runners the rest of the game and none of them made it as far as second base: Garrett Jones singled in the fourth, Gardner walked in the seventh, and Chase Headley singled in the ninth. Archer settled in and mowed ’em down.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

DomiNATE
Nathan Eovaldi pitched his best game as a Yankee but was somehow charged with four runs in 7.1 innings. What a dumb sport. He held the Rays to two infield singles and one line drive single against five strikeouts through the first six innings before a jam shot bloop, a walk, a wild pitch, and a single through the drawn in infield tied the game 2-2 in the seventh.

Joe Girardi opted to send Eovaldi back out for the eighth with his pitch count at 91 and I loved the move. Show some confidence in the kid. I definitely thought Joe was going to go to the bullpen. Eovaldi struck out Rivera to start the ninth then walked Kevin Kiermaier on four pitches with one out. I expected Girardi to yank Eovaldi then but nope, he stuck with him, and Steve Souza dunked a single just beyond a diving Drew. It was another well-placed jam shot.

That was the end of Eovaldi’s night. Dellin Betances came in, allowed a first pitch sacrifice fly to Evan Longoria to give the Rays a 3-2 lead, then uncorked two (!) wild pitches to let Souza score an insurance runs from second. All four runs were charged to Eovaldi even though you could count the number of hard hit balls the Rays had against him on one hand. This game can be so stupid sometimes. Four runs, six singles, two walks in 7.1 innings. I’ll take starts like this all season from Nate. He was awesome.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Leftovers
Girardi’s weirdest move of the night was replacing Jones with Mark Teixeira for defense in the eighth. Jones batted in the top of the seventh, so why not put Teixeira in for the bottom of the seventh when you still have the 2-0 lead? I had no trouble with Girardi’s pitching decisions, but I don’t understand the timing of the Jones-Tex move. Seems like he got caught sleeping in the seventh.

I feel like my stolen base strategies are completely different from the Yankees’. I already explained why I didn’t like the Ellsbury and Gardner steals in the second, but then in the eighth, Gardner walked and didn’t budge. Isn’t that when you’re supposed to steal? In the late innings of a tie game when one run means so much? Seems like Rivera spooked them.

The Yankees had eight hits, all singles. In fact, all 14 hits in the game were singles. Ellsbury (two), Gardner (two), McCann, Beltran, Headley, and Jones had the hits. Gardner and A-Rod drew the walks. Archer’s really, really good. But man, they had him on the ropes in that first inning. Missed opportunity.

And finally, McCann took the blame for the three wild pitches after the game. (All three led to runs.) The last two were really egregious. Those were pitches he should have kept in front of him, or at the very least he should have kept Dellin’s second wild pitch close enough to prevent the run from scoring.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams again Wednesday night. Adam Warren and Nathan Karns will square off in the third game of this four-game series.

DotF: Capuano goes six innings in third rehab start

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Norfolk)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 1 K — drops his average all the way down to … .315
  • LF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 R
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 SB — 21-for-55 (.382) with seven doubles in his last 14 games
  • DH Kyle Roller: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP — fourth homer in his last eleven games
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • LHP Chris Capuano: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 7/3 GB/FB — 55 of 76 pitches were strikes (72%) and he picked a runner off first … he was scheduled for six innings or 90 pitches in what was probably his final rehab start
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%) .. ho hum
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/3 GB/FB — 15 of 21 pitches were strikes (71%)

[Read more…]

Game 34: More AL East Dominance

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

At 21-12, the Yankees have the very best record in the AL coming into tonight’s game. They’ve gone 16-10 against AL East opponents thanks in large part to the Rays — the Yankees have won six of seven games against Tampa this year, outscoring them 40-18 in the seven games. This brings back memories of the old Devil Rays days, doesn’t it?

Despite that success against the Rays, the Yankees are going to have their hands full tonight with Chris Archer, hands down the best non-Michael Pineda starter in the division at the moment. Archer’s been so good this season that, even after giving up nine runs in 9.1 innings in his last two starts, he still has a 2.59 ERA on the season. They’ll really have to earn a win tonight. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. 1B Garrett Jones
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s hot, extremely humid, and it’s supposed to pour tonight in St. Petersburg. Very heavy rain in the forecast, so the Tropicana Field roof will be put to work. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Nova, Capuano, Ryan, Lail

Same. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Same. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Rays continue their four-game series with the second game at Tropicana Field later tonight. Until then, here are some updates on injured Yankees, courtesy of Chad Jennings, George King, and Bryan Hoch.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session as scheduled this afternoon. It was his first time throwing off a mound since landing on the DL two weeks ago. Tanaka threw all of his pitches and everything went well. The Yankees are going to see how he feels tomorrow before determining the next step.
  • Ivan Nova (elbow) threw 33 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game earlier today. Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild were among those in attendance at the team’s complex in Tampa. “I was a little bit excited. It felt like I was doing too much. I guess I was trying to impress the manager and the pitching coach. I don’t know why,” said Nova, who will pitch in another ExST game on Monday.
  • Chris Capuano (quad) is scheduled to throw six innings and 90 pitches for Triple-A Scranton tonight. It’ll be his third and maybe last minor league rehab game. “We shouldn’t really need to see much more than that,” said Girardi. “We’ll make that determination on how he feels, but it’s possible (he could be activated for his next start), yeah.”
  • Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) was able to take batting practice yesterday. There’s still no firm timetable for a rehab assignment, let alone a return from the DL. Ryan started the season on the DL with a calf injury before pulling his hamstring a few days ago.
  • Brady Lail, who was hit in the head by a line drive in last night’s Double-A Trenton game, said he is fine on Twitter. Seems like he escaped with no major injuries, which is a minor miracle. Great news. That was scary.

2015 Draft Notes: Broadcast Info, Mock Drafts, Murray

Nikorak. (StudentSports.com)
Nikorak. (StudentSports.com)

The 2015 amateur draft will begin four weeks from yesterday, and while that is relatively close, it still leaves plenty of time for things to change dramatically. Players could shoot up draft boards, play themselves out of the first round, get hurt, all that stuff. These next few weeks are pretty tense for both the teams and the players. Years of hard work have been leading up to this point. Here are some stray notes with the draft drawing closer and closer.

Broadcast Info Announced

Once again, the first day of the draft will be broadcast on MLB Network this year, MLB announced. The first round, supplemental first round, and second round will be broadcast starting at 7pm ET on Monday, June 8th. A total of 75 picks will be made that night and the Yankees have three of them: 16th, 30th, and 57th overall. The Braves lead the way with five picks on Day One. In past years there were five minutes between picks in the first round and one minute thereafter. I assume that will be the case this year as well.

Thankfully, the Yankees have a scheduled off-day on June 8th this year. I remember a few years ago — I think it was 2008, the year they drafted Gerrit Cole — they were playing the Red Sox the night of the draft and it was impossible to pay attention to both the game and the draft at the same time. This year we’ll be able to focus on the draft without worrying about a game. Hooray for that. MLB really should give the draft broadcast a dedicated day, maybe the day after the All-Star Game. Having the draft compete against games means only the diehards are watching.

Baseball Prospectus’ Mock Draft v1.0

Chris Crawford at BP posted his first mock draft yesterday (subs. req’d), and he has the Diamondbacks taking New York HS OF Garrett Whitley with the first overall pick. As Kiley McDaniel noted, Arizona seems to be planning to take a player they can sign way below the $8.6M slot so they can use the savings elsewhere. Considering there is no slam dunk, number one overall talent like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in this draft, that strategy makes sense.

Crawford has the Yankees selecting Pennsylvania HS RHP Mike Nikorak with their first pick, No. 16 overall. Nikorak is the consensus best high school pitcher in the draft and would be a major coup with the 16th pick. I think he ends up going in the top ten somewhere. Crawford notes it “wouldn’t be a huge upset to see a (Mike) Matuella or Brady Aiken” land with the Yankees either. Matuella and Aiken were first overall pick candidates coming into the spring before blowing out their elbows and needing Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago.

MLB.com’s Mock Draft v1.0

Meanwhile, Jonathan Mayo posted his first mock draft of the season earlier today and he has the D’Backs taking UC Santa Barbara RHP Dillon Tate with the first overall pick. Mayo has the Yankees taking California HS C Chris Betts with that 16th overall selection. The Yankees and a catcher? That’s always a safe bet. Betts is a bat first catcher whose best defensive tool is his throwing arm. I’ve seen him comped to Brian McCann on more than one occasion, which means teams believe his bat will play at just about any position during his peak.

Murray Opts Out Of Draft

Texas HS SS Kyler Murray has opted out of the 2015 MLB draft, he announced on Twitter. Unlike other players who have simply asked teams not to draft them, Murray had MLB remove his name from the draft pool, so he is ineligible to be selected according to Teddy Cahill. Teams couldn’t even draft him if they wanted. This kid is pretty serious about college, huh? Not sure why he wouldn’t at least listen to offers.

Anyway, Murray will play both baseball and football at Texas A&M and has indicated he hopes to re-enter the draft and play in the big leagues down the road. He was the top two-spot athlete in the draft and a late first round/early second round talent, ranking as the 32nd and 34th best prospect in the draft class by Keith Law (subs. req’d) and MLB.com, respectively. Law said Murray “could very well be the second-best shortstop prospect in this year’s draft.”

I hadn’t seen anything connecting the Yankees to Murray before his decision was announced, but, since he is an elite athlete at an up-the-middle position, Murray figured to at least be on New York’s radar. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has gone after similar prospects like SS Carmen Angelini, OF Slade Heathcott, 2B Angelo Gumbs, OF Mason Williams, and SS/OF Austin Aune over the years. The Yankees are big on unteachable skills (athleticism, size, power, velocity, etc.) and Murray’s athletic ability sure qualifies. He’s no longer an option though.