Three days ago, in his latest clunker of a start, CC Sabathia failed to get out of the fourth inning. Joe Girardi gave the ball to his long man du jour, which meant the start of Alfredo Aceves‘ second tour of duty in pinstripes. The team signed him at the end of Spring Training to provide Triple-A depth after Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and David Phelps all made the MLB bullpen.
Aceves, now 31, was outstanding in relief of Sabathia, holding the Rays to three singles in 5.1 scoreless innings, striking out five and getting five ground ball outs compared to two in the air. He threw 72 pitches in those 5.1 innings, five fewer than Sabathia threw in 3.2 innings. The circumstances were unfortunate, but Aceves gave the team a real shot in the arm by soaking up so many innings and sparing the key relievers.
That type of performance was something the Yankees were not getting out of their long relievers for the first five weeks of the season. Girardi’s top relievers — David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Warren — have been truly outstanding so far this year (Kelley’s recent hiccup notwithstanding), but the other two bullpen spots have been both problematic and a revolving door. Preston Claiborne has been fine lately, but still. Look at this:
|Top Five Relievers||64.1||260||1||27.7%||8.8%||1.96||2.15|
I get that just about every team has crappy pitchers filling out the final two bullpen spots at any given time, but man that is a huge difference. Girardi’s top five relievers have been dominant. The other guys, the Claibornes and Chris Lerouxes and Bruce Billingses and Shane Greenes have been just terrible. Those numbers include Aceves’ strong work too, so imagine how much worse they were before Sunday. (No need to imagine: 8.63 ERA.)
A good long reliever is usually a luxury — Warren was quite good by long man standards last season — except right now it’s much more of a necessity for the Yankees. Because Nuno and Phelps are not fully stretched out and both Sabathia and (until last night) Hiroki Kuroda have been shaky, the club has gotten fewer than five full innings from their starter five times of the last 12 games. That’s bad. The rotation is giving the team no length at all.
With the rotation being such a weakness and no help on the way for the foreseeable future, the Yankees have two options. Either lean heavily on their oh so excellent late-inning relievers and risk burning them out, or find a competent long man. In Aceves, they might actually have that competent long man. No, he can’t pitch every day, but he’s certainly capable of soaking up three or four innings twice a week if need by. Leroux couldn’t do that. Neither could Greene or Billings.
Of course, there’s also a chance Aceves will pitch his way into the rotation. All he has to do is be better than Nuno andor Phelps and, well, that’s not really a high bar. Girardi told Chad Jennings that “anytime someone pitches well over distance, it’s going to trigger a thought” when asked about making Aceves a starter. You don’t need to try real hard to see him pitching his way into the rotation. In that case Nuno or Phelps would move into the long man role, which is still an upgrade over the other guys.
We need to be careful not to make too much of Aceves’ outing the other day. It’s unlikely the 2009 Aceves just showed up to the park that morning and is here to stay. Remember, he was throwing low-leverage innings against a lineup that was put together to hit a lefty in Sabathia, not a righty. Aceves was pretty terrible the last two years (4.95 FIP in MLB and 5.44 FIP in Triple-A) and that doesn’t go away because he was awesome for the World Series team a few years ago. He’s got to prove himself a bit. If he can be an effective multi-inning guy, the rest of the bullpen would fall right into place.
Right-hander Chris Leroux has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees designated him for assignment to make room on the roster for Al Aceves over the weekend. Chris Cotillo says Leroux accepted the assignment and will join the RailRiders. He’s got an MLB salary coming to him for the rest of the season, electing free agency would have forfeited that.
Leroux, 30, had a disaster outing in the 14th inning of last Friday’s game, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks. He got off to a rough start in Triple-A before being called up (12.79 ERA), but that was only 6.1 innings. Leroux looked very good in Spring Training and even though he stunk last week, it’s not the worst thing that he’s sticking around to soak up some Triple-A innings. · (4) ·
Through the first month or so of the season, I’m not sure anyone on the roster has been more disappointing than Brian McCann. The backstop has started his Yankees career with a 56 wRC+ in the first five-ish weeks, which ranks 177th out of 188 qualified hitters and dead last out of 15 qualified catchers. Chris Stewart had a 58 wRC+ last season, remember. The Yankees basically swapped Stewart for a balder, more expensive version in McCann. He’s been that bad so far.
As the fine broadcasters at the YES Network are wont to remind us day after day, inning after inning, the infield shift is widespread throughout baseball these days and McCann is one of its most popular targets. He was one of the most shifted against hitters in baseball last season and the same is true again so far this year. That was to be expected. Other teams weren’t going to stop shifting against McCann just because he was wearing a new uniform.
The shift has taken more than a few hits away from McCann this season and again, that is expected. Teams wouldn’t shift if they didn’t work. His .204 BABIP is a career low, especially when compared to his other healthy seasons (.234 before shoulder surgery in 2012), and down quite a bit from last season’s .261 BABIP. This isn’t all because of the shift — 8.3% of his plate appearances have ended with an infield pop-up this year, the fifth highest rate in baseball. Infield pop-ups are pretty much automatic outs and death to BABIP. His career pop-up rate prior to 2014 was only 4.0%, so this is way out of the norm.
Between the increased pop-up rate, the career low (by far) 3.5% walk rate, the career high (by far) 34.8% swing rate on pitches out of the zone*, and the ol’ eye test, I’m pretty comfortable saying McCann is pressing like hell at the plate. He’s trying to squeeze sap out of the bat. It happens. New team, new city, fat new contract, no beard, it’s understandable. Players press. McCann isn’t the first and he sure as hell won’t be the last. We’ve seen flashes of the productive power-hitting catcher the Yankees signed, but he hasn’t shown up consistently yet. It’ll happen, hopefully very soon.
* McCann’s strikeout rate (11.3%) is far below the league average and his best since 2008, so it’s not like he’s having trouble putting the ball in play.
Getting back on track, other clubs have been shifting against McCann quite a bit this season and lately it seems like he’s making an effort to go the other way. He’s always been a dead pull power hitter and that’s a big reason why he was so attractive to the Yankees, but lately I feel like we’ve seen more attempts to go to the opposite field. It doesn’t always work, but the attempt is there. Remember this?
McCann had three hits in that game and all three were to left field. I remember he ripped a line drive foul ball in that direction as well. Obviously a double to the wall is an extreme example of beating the shift by going the other way, but McCann did attempt a simple bunt towards third base to beat the shift on Monday. Here’s the play if you didn’t stay up late for the West Coast game:
The bunt went foul — it’s not easy to bunt Major League pitching, you know — but McCann made the attempt. He tried to beat the shift in the most basic way possible: by rolling the ball to where the defenders aren’t standing. That’s all a bunt is.
I didn’t watch enough of McCann during his time with the Braves to know whether these attempts to beat the shift are new or something he’s been trying for years. I would greatly prefer the former and hope this is a new development. Thankfully, we can check that. With an assist to the intimidatingly great Baseball Savant, here are some numbers on McCann’s tendencies to pull the ball or hit it the other way over the last few seasons. The table doesn’t include last night’s game because stupid West Coast:
|Total Pitches Pulled||Away Pitches Pulled||Total Pitches Other Way||Away Pitches Other Way|
First, some explanations are in order:
- Total Pitches Pulled: Percentage of all pitches pulled to the right side of the infield or to right field. McCann saw 452 pitches prior to last night and he pulled 35 of them to the right side of the field, or 7.7%.
- Away Pitches Pulled: Percentage of pitches on the outer third or off the plate away that were pulled to the right side. McCann saw 270 pitches in those locations and pulled 15 of them to the right side, or 5.6%.
- Total Pitches Other Way and Away Pitches Other Way are the same thing, only with pitches that were hit towards the left side of the infield or left field. Got it? Easy enough.
This season, either consciously or through the mirage of small sample size, McCann has been pulling fewer pitches to the right side of the field. He’s going the other way more often and that is especially true with pitches away from him, the ones you’re supposed to serve to the opposite field for a Nice Piece of Hitting. More than a few players (coughMarkTeixeiracough) will still try to pull those pitches and wind up rolling over on them, hitting a weak grounder right into the teeth of the shift.
We’ve seen McCann roll over on outside pitches this year, everyone does it, but he is doing it less often than he had the last few years. He’s taking those pitches to left field nearly twice as often as he had from 2011-12. I’m not going to bother looking at inside pitches because inside pitches are supposed to be pulled and pulled for power. Not everyone is Derek Jeter, who is going to the Hall of Fame because of his ability to pull his hands in and drive those pitches the other way. You want McCann to pull inside pitches because that’s how he can do some real damage.
Anyway, this is good! I think. We still need to wait a few more weeks to make sure this newfound tendency to go the other way is not just sample size noise, which is always possible. The data matches what my eyes were telling me though. McCann is indeed trying to hit the ball the other way more often. That could absolutely be contributing to his early season slump too. It’s a change in approach and sometimes those changes take time. McCann’s been hitting one way his entire life and now he appears to be changing it up. Of course there are going to be some bumps in the road.
Are teams going to stop shifting McCann because he’s hitting the ball the other way more often? Nope. Here are his spray charts. He still a pull-first hitter who yanks a ton of ground balls and line drives to the right side of the field and teams will stack their defense accordingly. McCann does appear to be making an attempt to go the other way more, particularly with pitches on the outer third of the plate. That will change how teams pitch him more than the defensive alignment. The most important thing is that he is hitting more balls away from the shift. The first few weeks of McCann’s tenure in New York have been ugly, no doubt about it, but there seems to be some serious work going on behind the scenes, and that could have positive results in time.
This game had the look of another big letdown. Given the way the Yankees have been playing these last few days, it was easy to think the worst in the late innings. Instead, the Bombers got a big homer from an unexpected source and rallied for one of their biggest wins of the season. The final score was 4-3. Let’s recap the win over the Angels with bullet points because it’s late:
- HIROK Returns: For the first time this season, Hiroki Kuroda looked like Hiroki Kuroda. I mean the good version of Hiroki Kuroda we all know and love. He held the high-powered Halos — the same team that knocked him all over the park two starts ago — to three runs (one earned) on four singles, one triple, and no walks in 7.2 innings, striking out eight. As usual, the defense contributed greatly to the first two runs. This team can’t field at all. Anyway, after weeks of fumbling around with his slider and splitter, Kuroda had both working on Tuesday. He threw 100+ pitches (108, to be exact) for the first time in 2014 and looked very, very good. Exactly what the Yankees needed.
- Tied Up: The Angels jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third, but the Bombers rebounded to knot it up in the fifth. It was a three single rally: Yangervis Solarte to left, Brett Gardner to center, then Brian Roberts to center to score the first run. Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play to simultaneously score the second run and kill the rally. At this point, I’ll take the runs any way they can get them. It’s pretty clear this team won’t hit for much power, so it takes three singles and a double play to score two runs these days.
- Take The Lead: Man the eighth inning felt very much like Monday’s game. The first two runners reached and we were all sitting around wondering how they would blow it. Derek Jeter managed to get caught in a rundown between third and home for the first out, which only added fuel to the “they’re going to blow this” fire. Thankfully, Alfonso Soriano yanked a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield and Raul Ibanez‘s noodle arm wasn’t enough to stop Carlos Beltran from scoring from second. They only got the one run, but baby steps.
- Closers Are For Closin’: One night after throwing 34 pitches, Shawn Kelley was summoned to face Albert Pujols with two outs and a man on third in the eighth. Naturally, he fell behind in the count 3-0, battled back to 3-2, then served up the game-tying single on a hanging slider. David Robertson was up in the bullpen alongside Kelley, but for some reason was not brought into the biggest spot in the game. It nearly cost them in a big way.
- Re-Take The Lead: Brian Roberts hit a no-doubt solo homer off Ernesto Frieri with two outs in the ninth. This isn’t a joke. Brian Roberts really hit a no-doubt solo homer off Ernesto Frieri with two outs in the ninth to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead after Kelley blew the 3-2 lead a half-inning earlier. At +0.41 WPA, it was the team’s biggest hit of 2014. Baseball, man. It can be weird. Robertson retired the side in order in the ninth with ease. Like I said, closers are for closin’.
- Leftovers: Solarte and Roberts were the team’s only players with multiple hits, though Jeter and Beltran both singled and walked … the infield defense somehow manages to look worse by the day. In that third inning, Solarte barehanded a bunt and threw over to first, except no one was covering because Mark Teixeira charged and Roberts was standing too far away on the shift … this umpire crew is awful. Home plate ump Scott Barry was barking at Kuroda and the infielders for no apparent reason in the seventh, then he never bothered to signal safe when Beltran scored the go-ahead run in the eighth. Just put your mask on and call the game.
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees will look to grab their first series win in Anaheim since June 2011 in the third and final game of the three-game set on Wednesday night. That was four series ago. Lefties Vidal Nuno and Hector Santiago will be the pitching matchup.
I feel like each of the last three losses have gotten progressively worse. First was the 14-inning game and the parade of stranded runners. Then there was CC Sabathia getting beat down and lackadaisical defense contributing to an inside the park homer. Then the usually excellent bullpen walked six guys in an inning, including five straight with two outs and three with the bases loaded. It can’t get any worse than that, right? Nowhere to go but up, I hope.
After these last few losses, I’m not asking for much tonight. A good start from Hiroki Kuroda would be wonderful, just so I know he didn’t forget how to pitch over the winter or something. A few hits with men in scoring position would be cool, though they did go 2-for-5 in those spots last night. Can’t really complain about hitting .400. Not terrible defense, particularly in right field? These last few nights have been an adventure out there. I dunno, just win please. Here is the Angels lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
The weather in Anaheim is just splendid, so don’t worry about a rain delay or anything like that. It’s probably been years since they had to roll out the tarp at Angel Stadium. The game is scheduled to begin a little after 10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.
RHP Jose Ramirez (oblique) was activated off the DL and added to the Triple-A Scranton roster, according to Donnie Collins. If he pitches well and stays healthy, I think we’ll see him in the big leagues later this year. To make room on the roster, UTIL Ronnie Mustelier was released. Pour one out.
Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Indianapolis)
- RF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 K — not his biggest game, but after an underwhelming season in Double-A, it’s good to see him get off to a strong start this year
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 1-4, 1 R, 2 K
- SS Dean Anna: 0-4
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — five doubles in his last six games
- CF Adonis Garcia: 2-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — 10-for-26 (.385) in his last six games
- C Austin Romine: 0-3, 1 K
- RHP Chase Whitley: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 60 of 88 pitches were strikes (68%) … easily the best start of his career, though he’s spent most of it as a reliever
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — only eight of 17 pitches were strikes (47%)
Well, I guess we have to talk about this. In his upcoming book The Closer, Mariano Rivera openly questioned Robinson Cano‘s commitment to being great and said he would take Dustin Pedroia over any second baseman. Ouch. Very un-Mariano-like comments. Here’s are the actual quotes, if you’re curious. Rivera went his entire career without saying something controversial and yet, nine months into his retirement, here we are. Gotta sell books somehow, I guess. I’m disappointed. I was hoping there’s be no Red Soxian smear campaign.
Anyway, here is your open thread until the game thread comes along later tonight. The Mets are playing, MLB Network will air a game (who you see depends on where you live), and there’s a bunch of NBA and NHL playoff games going as well, including the Nets. Talk about Mo’s comments, Cano, those games, or anything else here.
Alex Blandino | 3B
Blandino is a Bay Area kid from Palo Alto. He did not sign with the Athletics as a 38th round pick in the 2011 draft and instead followed through on his commitment to Stanford, where he hit .280/.352/.484 with 15 homers in 93 games as a freshman and sophomore. Blandino’s hit .289/.386/.470 with six homeruns and a 20/19 K/BB in 40 games this spring.
Listed at 6-foot-0 and 190 lbs., Blandino stands out because he has an excellent approach at the plate and an incredibly quick and balanced right-handed swing. The relatively modest performance these last three years belies his offensive potential, which has been hampered by Stanford’s one size fits all offensive approach. (They teach everyone to shorten up and shoot the ball the other way at all times, ignoring a hitter’s strengths.) Blandino squares the ball up consistent and makes hard contact, so there is power in there if a team can get the Stanford out of his swing. Some get through it (Jason Castro, Jed Lowrie), some don’t (Cord Phelps, Michael Taylor). Blandino has a strong arm and good footwork at the hot corner, though there are rumblings he might wind up at second base. Either way, whichever team drafts him will take him for his bat.
In their latest rankings, Keith Law (subs. req’d ) and MLB.com ranked Blandino as the 29th and 78th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. He did not make Baseball America‘s most recent top 50. This draft is very light on college bats yet Blandino could go as high as the top 15 picks or as low as the late second round. Stanford hitters tend to fall in the draft because teams are wary of the bad habits formed — Austin Wilson went 49th overall last year despite top 10-15 tools, for example — so Blandino may or may not be available for the Yankees’ first pick (55th overall). He did perform well with wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer (.308/.363/.454) and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has shown an affinity for guys who perform on the Cape, so I’m sure there’s interest.
Earlier this afternoon the Yankees officially activated Brendan Ryan off the 15-day DL, just as we all expected. He had been working his way back from a back injury in the minors — seven rehab games plus who knows how many more in Extended Spring Training — and he takes Michael Pineda‘s spot on the roster. Pineda’s suspension expired, so he was placed on the 15-day DL with his back/shoulder injury. The Yankees got their 25th roster spot back and no other moves were required to accommodate Ryan.
The Yankees were forced to play with a three-man bench these last ten games due to Pineda’s suspension, so getting back to a normal four-man bench and 25-man roster will be nice only because it gives Joe Girardi some more flexibility. How he uses Ryan remains to be seen because, frankly, he’s a pretty limited player whose true value is very much up for debate given the sketchy nature of defense stats. He is a no-hit, all-glove shortstop, after all. I think we can all agree Ryan has zero value if he isn’t playing in the field and that’s something of a problem because the Yankees have shown no indication are willing to cut back on Derek Jeter‘s playing time just yet.
As I mentioned this morning, Jeter has not played a single game at DH this season. He’s been the starting shortstop exclusively. Given his age and shaky defense, that’s probably not something that should continue all season. He’s going to wear down if his recent slump isn’t an indication he has started to already. Using Ryan to give Jeter a day off his feet, either as the DH or a full day on the bench, is the most obvious way to use him. How often will that happen? Once a week feels like the bare minimum. Twice a week wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Yankees could use Ryan at second and third base once in a while — he hasn’t played a position other than short since 2009, for what it’s worth — but beyond that, he’s not very useful. That’s pretty much exactly how the Yankees used Dean Anna for the first few weeks of the season, but Anna was a career minor leaguer who could be buried on the bench for days on end and no one would care. Ryan’s making decent money ($2M) and his defense is an asset. Finding that balance between using him enough that he has an impact but not enough that he gets exposes will be tough.
Will Girardi and the Yankees be willing to use Ryan as a defensive replacement for Jeter in the late innings? I’m tempted to say no way, but I think there’s a chance it will happen. Girardi did pull Jeter for pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki earlier this season, something that never would have happened in the past. Maybe we’ll see Ichiro pinch-run for Jeter, then stay in the game to play right with Ryan coming off the bench to play short. That could be one way to make the substitution without being so abrupt. Pulling Jeter for Ryan in a straight “your defense sucks” move seems a bit harsh. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Getting Ryan back tonight will help just because he’s another warm body and the Yankees will finally have a full roster. He won’t fix the team’s main problem right now — get a damn runner in from scoring position already! — but he’s going to help somewhat. The needle will move a little bit. It’s a weird situation because Ryan has a very specific skillset and they don’t line up well with the iconic Jeter, not unless the Yankees commit to reducing Derek’s time in the field. Right now Ryan is just a relatively expensive infield caddy.
2:24pm: Pineda told Andrew Marchand he is scheduled to start a throwing program on Friday, for what it’s worth.
2:05pm: As expected, the Yankees have activated Brendan Ryan off the 15-day DL, the team announced. Michael Pineda was reinstated from the suspended list and placed on the 15-day DL with a “right shoulder muscle injury” in a corresponding move. He has a teres major muscle strain, which is right where the back meets the shoulder, basically. Ryan takes Pineda’s spot on the roster and no other moves are required. · (11) ·