Poll: The Backup Infielder

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

At some point during the road trip the Yankees are expected to welcome Alex Rodriguez back from the DL. He is eligible to be activated tomorrow, though following last night’s game Joe Girardi admitted that won’t happen. A-Rod has yet to test his hamstring by running at full speed. That’s kind of a big deal.

“He is not going to be ready on Thursday. He still has some hurdles to cross and get by, and he is not by them yet. He really hasn’t had a setback. We were hoping for 15 days, but it will be more than that,” said Girardi to George King yesterday. The team does expect to get Alex back “sometime in Oakland” though. He’ll be back soon, just not tomorrow.

Whenever A-Rod comes back, the Yankees will have to clear a roster spot for him, which almost certainly means demoting either Rob Refsnyder or Ronald Torreyes. I suppose the team could cut ties with Dustin Ackley, but that would surprise me. They could use the lefty bench bat and they wouldn’t have a backup first baseman. Refsnyder or Torreyes it is.

It’s easy to assume Refsnyder’s stint with the Yankees will be short-term a la Gary Sanchez last week — the circumstances aren’t quite the same, but you know what I mean — because, after all, Torreyes has been with the team all season and has mostly been fine. I don’t think that is necessarily the case, however. Refsnyder has the better track record offensively and he’s improved his versatility by playing third base and right field this year. He could stick instead.

For now both Refsnyder and Torreyes are on the roster until A-Rod comes back, whenever that may be. We’re not going to learn a whole lot about these two in the coming days, especially if they ride the bench, so we know pretty much all we need to know about them right now. Which one is a better fit for the bench going forward? Let’s look.

The Case For Refsnyder

Here’s a challenge: try to make a case for Refsnyder that doesn’t involve citing minor league stats from a year or two (or three) ago. Refsnyder is now 25 years old and he’s in his third year at Triple-A. His numbers have gotten worse each season (Triple-A wRC+ from 2014-16: 137, 123, 115) and he’s not a good defender at all. Refsnyder is, by all accounts, a great teammate and a hard worker. That matters. But so does everything else.

Refsnyder offers versatility in that he can play second and third bases in addition to right field, though we’ve seen him at second and third, and it’s not pretty. Right field? I’m not so sure. I haven’t seen him out there. He could be a Jason Heyward level defender for all I know. Seems unlikely though. So Refsnyder’s versatility isn’t as valuable as it may seem. Sure, he can play multiple positions, but if he can’t play them even decently, what’s the point?

That said, Refsnyder does have offensive upside, especially compared to Torreyes. He has more power — Torreyes has hit 22 home runs in over 2,600 pro plate appearances — and late last season he also showed the ability to spray the ball around a bit. And, even though his defense is below-average, it’s passable. Refsnyder probably isn’t someone you would be comfortable playing every day, but he can make spot starts here and there no problem.

The case for Refsnyder is built around his offense, and offense has been a problem for the Yankees much of the season. Especially against lefties too. They’ve hit .231/.289/.345 (78 OPS+) as a team against southpaw starters this year. We’ve already seen a few clubs call up lefties to make spot starts against the Yankees for that reason (Blake Snell, Cesar Ramos). Refsnyder’s righty bat would help the lineup whenever a lefty is on the mound. Torreyes has started 12 of 38 games. Start Refsnyder that often and his glove won’t be a huge issue.

The Case For Torreyes

Torreyes and Refsnyder are pretty much opposites. Refsnyder is bat first and glove second. Torreyes is bat second and glove first. Torreyes did get off to a fantastic start offensively, going 6-for-9 in his first three games, but that was never going to last and it hasn’t. He’s gone 4-for-29 (.138) since and is down to .263/.282/.342 (66 wRC+) on the season overall. Ewww.

(Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

That said, Torreyes does have an elite offensive tool in his contact ability. He’s struck out four times in 39 bats (10.3%) and his swing and miss rate is a measly 7.5%. Torreyes struck out in 6.2% of his minor league plate appearances, so this isn’t small sample noise, this is who he is. Few players in the game can get the bat on the ball as frequently as he can. Put the ball in play and generally good things happen.

In the field is where Torreyes really makes an impact. He’s an above-average gloveman who has already played the three non-first base infield positions this season, plus he’s spent a few innings in right field. Girardi has said he’s comfortable playing Torreyes pretty much anywhere. Offense can be hit or miss with bench players because it’s easy to lose rhythm with sporadic playing time. Defense seems to be more of a constant.

(It’s worth noting that if the Yankees go with Refsnyder or Torreyes, Starlin Castro would have to take over as the backup shortstop.)

Keeping Torreyes would mean prioritizing defense over offense and, frankly, the Yankees could use help in both departments. That he puts the ball in play so much means he’ll occasionally run into a BABIP fueled hot streak, like he did early in the season. Zero power limits his offensive upside though. Torreyes is a classic bench guy who can play almost anywhere and control the bat.

* * *

I’m pretty sure I know how this poll is going to turn out, but I guess I’ll post it anyway. Both Refsnyder and Torreyes have clear strengths and weakness and they are different strengths and weaknesses, which is why this is not an insignificant question. If they had the same skill sets, then who cares? Pick one and move on. They offer different things and the Yankees have to figure out which one fits their needs better.

Who should the Yankees keep with A-Rod returns?

Severino should not automatically re-enter the rotation once healthy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Let’s get straight to the point: the Yankees were counting on Luis Severino to be really good this season. Everyone from Joe Girardi to Brian Cashman to Hal Steinbrenner said one of the reasons they expected the 2016 Yankees to be better than the 2015 Yankees was Severino. They were going to have him for a full season after his strong eleven-start debut a year ago.

Folks were calling Severino the ace of staff before the season got underway and there was even talk about starting him on Opening Day ahead of Masahiro Tanaka. I always thought the instant ace stuff was too much, too soon. Young players often go through growing pains and expecting a 22-year-old with minimal experience to lead the staff of a team trying to contend was very optimistic. Not everyone is Clayton Kershaw.

That doesn’t mean I expected Severino to be bad. In fact, I expected him to be pretty darn good, albeit with some inevitable bumps in the road along the way. ZiPS pegged Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher coming into 2016 and that sounded pretty good to me. I probably would have signed up for 175 innings of that before the season. A 22-year-old pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium? That works.

I certainly didn’t expect Severino to pitch this poorly. Not even the most pessimistic folks could have imagined this. One hundred and twenty nine pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings this season, and Severino ranks 127th in ERA (7.46) and 116th in FIP (5.48). Cashman said a demotion to Triple-A was on the table — the Yankees shuffled their Triple-A rotation to make sure Luis Cessa and Severino were on the same schedule — but, before that could happen, Severino got hurt. He left Friday’s start with a triceps strain.

Injuries often explain poor performance and in a weird way Severino’s injury felt like a bit of a relief. It was a possible explanation for his problems. Cashman shot that down though. Following the injury, the GM offered a brutally honest assessment of Severino’s season to date. From Justin Tasch:

“No, no, no,” Cashman said. “His stuff’s not there, bottom line. His arm strength is there, but his stuff is not there. He doesn’t have command of his fastball. He doesn’t have command of his secondary pitches. His changeup and slider have been inconsistent. It’s not health related.”

Cashman confirmed Severino will make a rehab start but would not commit to him stepping right back into the rotation once healthy, and that’s smart. Even if he didn’t leave Friday’s start with an injury, a demotion to Triple-A felt inevitable. It would have been very hard to justify continuing to send the kid out there every fifth day to take a beating.

Severino grabbed at his elbow on the mound Friday and that was scary as hell. These days it’s easy to assume the worst, meaning ligament damage. A triceps strain is not as severe as ligament damage but it’s still not good. Justin Verlander missed two months with a triceps strain just last year. Severino’s strain was termed “mild,” though who knows what that means. Chances are this won’t be a 15-day stint on the DL. Let’s put it that way.

What the injury does is buy the Yankees and Severino some time. Yes, it would be far more preferable to have him healthy and able to pitch, but that’s not an option. Severino has a chance to clear his head a bit — he’ll be shut down a week before picking up a ball anyway — and then be brought back slowly with a throwing program. It’s an opportunity to get back to the basics and fix whatever is wrong.

That “fix whatever is wrong” part is very important. I don’t think Severino should return to the big leagues until those command issues are solved and he’s having more success locating his slider and changeup. If that means he has to go to Triple-A for a few weeks once he’s healthy, fine. I think it’s reached that point with Severino. The Yankees will be getting CC Sabathia back Friday and they have decent enough depth in Cessa and Chad Green.

Teams always have to balance the short-term with the long-term, though the Yankees have been focused more on the short-term over the last 20 years or so. In Severino’s case, they have to take the long-term view and do what’s best for him as a player, because that’s what’s best for the organization. Bringing him back once he’s healthy just because he’s healthy is a wrong move. There has to be improvement in the secondary pitches and command first.

Many young pitchers have gotten lit up early in their careers before finally finding what works for them. Go look at what Roy Halladay and Johan Santana and Zack Greinke did in their first few seasons as a big leaguer. It was ugly. That isn’t to say Severino will become those guys one day, it just means getting there isn’t always easy. Severino is obviously very talented, but right now he has some real flaws, and he shouldn’t return to the big leagues until he shows improvement.

Once expected to be a solution, Pineda is now just another part of the problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember back a few years after the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade, when there was that big rush to declare a winner? Pineda blew out his shoulder and Montero had a decent year in 2012, so the Mariners won the trade. Then Montero faded and Pineda returned with a vengeance in 2014, so the Yankees won the trade. There were a few back-and-forths along the way, sometimes on a game by game basis.

Ultimately the need to declare a trade winner is pointless. Now, more than four years after the trade, one thing is clear: neither team got what they wanted out of the deal. Montero did not blossom into the big righty bat the Mariners sought, and Pineda did not develop into a pitcher who could pitch near the front of the rotation. Both showed flashes but have fallen short. We can say that with certainty now more than four years later.

Pineda’s latest dud was a five-inning, five-run mess against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night that looked like most other Pineda starts these days. He fell apart with two outs in the inning, made miserable two-strike pitches, and let things snowball out of control. Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, Pineda ranks 101st in ERA (6.60) and 88th in FIP (4.96) among the 103 qualified starters. You can’t even hang your hat on his peripherals anymore.

“It’s easy to say it will turn, but it’s been too long,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to George King after last night’s game. “We are almost a quarter of the way through his starts. We need to straighten it out, especially in the stretch. He is going through a major bump in the road right now. He gets ahead in the count and the numbers worsen. From the stretch position the quality of pitches are not the same. We need to fix that.”

Pineda is very much a good control/bad command pitcher. He can throw strikes (6.9 BB%) but rarely quality strikes, and there was no better example of that last night than the two-strike sliders he hung to Nick Ahmed and Paul Goldschmidt in the second and third innings. Pineda got ahead in the count, had a chance to escape the inning, then put a cement mixer slider on a tee and paid for it. Throwing strikes is generally good. Throwing strikes down the middle is not.

In a few ways Pineda is a microcosm of the 2016 Yankees. He is so obviously talented with a chance to be an excellent player, but he’s not only not performing as expected, he’s going backwards. Pineda was fantastic around a lat injury in 2014, then he took a step back in 2015, and now he’s taken an even bigger step back in 2016. Sometimes players struggle and that’s just baseball. But with Pineda, he seems to be getting worse with each passing month.

At this point it’s hard to see how Pineda not only factors into the team’s long-term plans, but their short-term plans as well. Pineda is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Yes, there’s a lot of season left and he is under team control next season too, but we’ve been waiting for things to click and for Pineda to turn the corner for a long time now. Again, all he’s done is gone backwards. There have been no signs of progress.

The shoulder surgery a few years back total sucks and it’s impossible to know what kind of effect that has had on Pineda. Maybe he was doomed to disappoint from the start. Or maybe he was headed for the front of the rotation before his arm gave out. Either way, the Pineda the Yankees have right now is not very good and he seems to be getting worse. His inability to emerge as a rotation force is one of the reasons the Yankees have settled into this stretch of mediocrity that is going on four years now.

Pineda knocked around yet again, Yankees drop middle game 5-3 to Diamondbacks


Source: FanGraphs

I swear, the 2016 Yankees are allergic to sustained success. They went 7-3 on the homestand only to come out and drop the first two games of this series with the Diamondbacks. Tuesday night’s final score was 5-3. The Yankees are 16-22 and it’s been three weeks since they were within even three games of .500. Yuck. West Coast night games get bullet point recaps, so let’s dive in:

  • Little Mike: The D’Backs tagged Michael Pineda for nine hits in five innings and it felt like more. Only three of them came in two-strike counts and again, it felt like more. Pineda hung an 0-2 slider to No. 8 hitter Nick Ahmed for a run-scoring single in the second, and then he hung a 1-2 slider to Paul Goldschmidt for another run-scoring single in the third. He’s lucky Goldy didn’t hit that pitch out of the yard. Jake Lamb did hit a hanging slider out of the park for a two-run homer in the fifth. Five runs on nine hits and one walk in five innings. Pineda struck out nine, but who cares. He has a 6.60 ERA (4.95 FIP) on the season. Awful.
  • Cy Greinke: Zack Greinke is a great pitcher who has had a poor start to the season. You wouldn’t have known it by watching him Tuesday. His first seven innings were stress free — the only real blemish was Starlin Castro‘s second inning solo homer — before the Yankees got something going in the eighth and knocked him out of the game. A Carlos Beltran ground out and a Jacoby Ellsbury single drove in runs that eighth. Greinke was charged with three runs in seven innings but was far better than that.Didi Gregorius grounded out as the tying run in the ninth.
  • Sloppy Yankees: This was a brutally sloppy game by the Yankees. Brett Gardner took his time retrieving a ball in the corner in the second inning, allowing Chris Owings to stretch a double into a triple. Brian McCann took his time getting a passed ball that scooted to the backstop, allowing Ahmed to take second and third base. Chase Headley had a few balls clank off his glove. Errors happen, but there was some straight up laziness this game. Get your head in the game, fellas.
  • Leftovers: Chasen Shreve allowed a single and struck out two in two scoreless innings. That was the best he’s looked in a few weeks. Trainer Steve Donohue came out to visit him at one point, though Shreve stayed in, so false alarm … Ellsbury very nearly had his fifth catcher’s interference of the season, but home plate ump Fieldin Culbreth didn’t give him the call. Ellsbury argued, though the replays made it tough to tell whether he actually got the glove … the Yankees are 2-12 in games started by Pineda and Luis Severino this year. They’re 14-9 in all other games.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. The Yankees will try to avoid being swept Wednesday night, when Nathan Eovaldi and Shelby Miller toe the slab.

DotF: Trenton wins on Mitchell’s walk-off home run

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’re going to play a doubleheader tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (3-2 win over Richmond in eleven innings)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • DH Jared Mitchell: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K — walk-off homer
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 64 of 99 pitches were strikes (65%) … he’s allowed no more than one run in five of seven starts this season
  • RHP J.R. Graham: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 1/0 GB/FB — 24 of 38 pitches were strikes (63%) … first outing since being picked up in a minor trade over the weekend
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 1/0 GB/FB — 39 of 50 pitches were strikes (78%) … 34/4 K/BB in 21.2 innings

[Read more…]

Game 38: Which Pineda Shows Up?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night’s series opening loss to the Diamondbacks was ugly but not necessarily unexpected. The Yankees started a kid making his big league debut, and that’s always unpredictable, plus their best relievers were all unavailable due to their recent workloads. You’d still like to be able to steal a game under those circumstances, though more often than not you’re on the wrong end of the final score.

Tonight the Yankees are at full strength — or at least something approximating full strength — with Michael Pineda on the mound. Which Pineda will show up, the guy who gets hammered in the first inning or the guy with a knack for settling down and chucking scoreless innings? It would be nice to see the second guy without the first guy for once, you know? Here is the D’Backs’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a bit cooler in Phoenix today than it was yesterday, meaning the temperature is in the mid-80s rather than the low-90s. The Chase Field roof will be open. Tonight’s game is going to start at 9:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has yet to run the bases at full speed, so it’s possible he won’t be ready to come off the DL when eligible Thursday.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up three players from Triple-A, they announced: Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder. Chad Green and Conor Mullee were optioned down while Phil Coke was designated for assignment. The Yankees are back to a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench, and they have an open 40-man roster spot now.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Pirates signed ex-Yankee Francisco Cervelli to a three-year contract extension that runs from 2017-19. The deal is worth $31M. Good for Frankie. He wrote about his decision to sign with Pittsburgh at the Players’ Tribune, and the post includes anecdotes about how the Yankees signed him and the time they wanted to turn him into a coach. Neat stuff. Check it out.

Here is the open thread until the regular game thread for tonight’s game comes along. The Mets are playing, MLB Network is showing a regional game, and there are also NBA and NHL playoff games on as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

(By the way, David Well’s perfect game was 18 years ago today, hence the video choice.)