2016 Midseason Review: The Rotation

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, and bench. Now it’s time to cover the rotation.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Coming into this 2016 season, the common refrain was “if the rotation pitches up to its potential, the Yankees are going to have a really great staff.” And you know what? That wasn’t crazy. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have shown the ability to dominate, ditto Nathan Eovaldi at times. Luis Severino‘s debut last season was very good, and although the last few years didn’t go well, CC Sabathia had a new brace going for him. Ivan Nova was the No. 6 guy.

Naturally, the rotation has not pitched up to its potential. It’s tough to get five guys to do that at the same time. Heck, it’s hard to get two guys to do that at the same time. With the exception of Severino, the four starters behind Tanaka all put together a three or four or five start stretch in which they dominated, but it hasn’t lasted. The rotation comes into the break with a 4.81 ERA and 4.33 FIP, which rank 22nd and 13th in MLB, respectively. Let’s review the starting staff.

Masahiro Tanaka: An Ace On Extra Rest

Is there a more divisive pitcher on the Yankees than Tanaka? I don’t think so. Some see him as an ace, others see him as an overpaid mid-rotation guy. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Let’s start with some facts. Here’s where Tanaka ranks among the 96 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this year:

Innings: 117 (14th)
ERA: 3.23 (24th)
ERA+: 133 (25th)
FIP: 3.31 (13th)
WHIP: 1.11 (20th)
BB%: 4.6% (7th)
K%: 19.5% (57th)
GB%: 50.0% (25th)
HR/9: 0.77 (20th)
fWAR: 3.0 (7th)
bWAR: 2.7 (18th)

Tanaka is top 25 in everything except strikeout rate and is top 20 in most categories as well. When it comes to keeping runs off the board, which is the whole point of pitching, Tanaka is far better than average. He’s done it this year by changing up his pitch selection and emphasizing his sinking two-seam fastball rather than his four-seamer, and the result is way more grounders and fewer homers allowed. That’s good! Homers were a problem last year.

The season the problem seems to be extra rest vs. normal rest. It’s always something, right? As I pointed out last week, Tanaka performed better on normal rest from 2014-15. This year the opposite is true. Again, let’s look at the facts.

IP ERA FIP WHIP K% BB% HR/9
Normal Rest 49 5.33 4.36 1.39 17.8% 4.7% 1.83
Extra Rest 68 1.72 2.47 0.91 20.9% 4.6% 0.26

That’s a huge difference! Huge. Unignorably huge. I know the 2014-15 stats say one thing, but the 2016 stats say another, and they’re more relevant. Tanaka is a different pitcher this year than the last two years simply by virtue of being older and having more wear and tear on his arm.

There’s also this: Tanaka had elbow surgery this offseason. Remember that? I kinda forgot about it. He had a bone spur taken out of his elbow and was brought along slowly in Spring Training. That could absolutely have an effect on Tanaka’s ability to pitch on normal rest. The guy’s anatomy and offseason routine changed.

John Flaherty has said Tanaka’s stuff looks much crisper with an extra day of rest during various YES broadcasts, and while true, that’s one of those things that applies to every pitcher. Is the difference in Tanaka’s stuff so great that it leads to that huge difference in performance? Apparently so. The facts are the facts. Tanaka pitched like an ace with extra rest and a dud on normal rest in the first half.

Overall, Tanaka was really good in the first half. He’s never not been really good with the Yankees. Tanaka made 18 starts in the first half and allowed two or fewer runs 12 times. He has nine starts of at least six innings and no more than two runs allowed. Only Aaron Sanchez (12) and Chris Tillman (ten) have more among AL starters. Tanaka’s a top tier starter in the league.

Second Half Outlook: The normal rest/extra rest numbers are too drastic to ignore. The guy has been two totally different pitchers depends on his rest. Will that be the case going forward? Not necessarily, but the Yankees should proceed as if it will be. They should try to get Tanaka — and their other starters, for that matter — an extra day whenever possible. Chad Green could help make this possible. Either way, Tanaka is the Yankees’ best pitcher and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue to be the case going forward.

Michael Pineda: Proof Swings & Misses Aren’t Everything

The last Yankee pitcher as frustrating as Pineda was A.J. Burnett, right? Both guys oh so clearly had the stuff to not only get results, but dominate. Instead, they were generally mediocre because of bad command and their propensity for mistake pitches. Pineda has this nasty slider in his arsenal …

Michael Pineda slider… and yet opponents are hitting .204/.256/.290 against him in two-strike counts this year. The league average is .177/.247/.278. Pineda has been worse than average across the board. Furthermore, opponents are hitting .200/.200/.300 against Pineda in 0-2 counts, the most pitcher friendly count there is. That works out to a 158 OPS+ (!) because the league average is .152/.160/.226. Groan.

Pineda was so bad to start the 2016 season that there was talk of sending him to the minors or moving him to the bullpen. He had a 6.92 ERA through his first ten starts and 53.1 innings. Opponents hit .322/.371/.581 against him during that time. That’s basically Manny Machado (.318/.375/.569). Pineda turned everyone into Manny Machado for 50-something innings. GROAN.

But, in his last seven starts and 42 innings, Pineda has a 3.43 ERA and a .205/.256/.346 opponent’s batting line. That’s much better! That’s closer to Freddy Galvis (.234/.263/.368) than Manny Machado. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild gave reporters a vague “we tweaked some things mechanically” answer when asked about Pineda’s improvement a few weeks ago, so while we don’t know what exactly changed, we know something did change.

Overall, Pineda has a 5.38 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 17 starts and 95.1 innings. His strikeout (27.2%) and walk (6.3%) rates are phenomenal! His 13.9% swing-and-miss rate is fifth highest in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, and Jose Fernandez. Basically the four best pitchers in baseball. And yet, Pineda gives up a ton of homers (1.42 HR/9) and more than a hit per inning. Blargh. That describes Pineda. Blargh. Just … blargh.

Second Half Outlook: If the Yankees do come to their senses and decide to sell, Pineda could be one of the pieces moved at the deadline. He’s under team control one more season before hitting free agency, so he could fetch a decent return even with his maddening inconsistency. If the Yankees keep Pineda, I have no idea what to expect performance-wise. He goes from dominating to getting smacked around in a moment’s notice, often right in the middle of a start.

Nathan Eovaldi: So Good, Then So, So Bad

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

True story: On the morning of May 30th, Eovaldi had a 3.71 ERA (3.59 FIP) through ten starts and 60.2 innings. His strikeout (22.9%), walk (6.0%), and grounder (54.3%) rates were all excellent. The high-octane fastball and new splitter had turned Eovaldi into a reliably above-average starter. It was awesome. He and Tanaka were one heck of a one-two punch for the first two months.

Now, on July 13th, Eovaldi has a 5.18 ERA (5.09 FIP) in 97.1 innings. His last six starts were so bad — 31 runs in 30.1 innings! — the Yankees had to send Eovaldi to the bullpen. It went south so quick. Those six starts were, by far, the worst stretch of Eovaldi’s career. This wasn’t a case of a career mediocre pitcher regressing to the mean. This was beyond that. Something went wrong and no one seems to know what.

The good news is Eovaldi’s healthy. He was so bad in those six starts that I thought he was hurt. The bad news is no one seems to know what’s wrong. At least an injury would explain the sudden drop in performance. Eovaldi’s location has deteriorated, that’s obvious, but why? That’s up to Rothschild to figure out. In the span of six starts, Eovaldi went from extension candidate to mop-up reliever. Baseball is so dumb sometimes.

Second Half Outlook: Joe Girardi and the Yankees insist they see Eovaldi as a starter long-term, so I guess that means he’s going to return to the rotation at some point. Since Chad Green got lit up in his last start and demoted to the minors the next day, Eovaldi could be back in the rotation as soon as, well, immediately. When the second half starts. If not, he figures to get a shot as a middle innings reliever, or traded at the deadline.

Luis Severino: From Future Ace To Reclamation Project

Ugh. This 2016 season has been pretty crummy overall, but Severino going from young stud starter to punch line is the crummiest thing about it. Severino posted a 7.46 ERA (5.55 FIP) in seven starts and 35 innings before coming down with a triceps injury. Only twice did he allowed fewer than four runs or not allow a homer. It was not pretty.

After the injury, the Yankees optioned Severino down to Triple-A, which was something no one expected to happen before the season. His performance has been much better in Triple-A (3.18 ERA and 2.78 FIP), and thank goodness, because the worst thing ever would be Severino getting lit up in the minors too. The Yankees don’t seem to be in much of a rush to bring him back, which is fine with me.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

What went wrong with Severino? More than anything, his command of his offspeed pitches was just awful. He couldn’t locate his slider or changeup consistently, so most of the time he was out there with a fastball and nothing else. That ain’t gonna work. Those command problems didn’t exist last year, or at least when they did, they didn’t last very long. I’m not going to say they came out of nowhere, but it’s not like there were obvious warning signs last year.

Also, I think fans set expectations a wee bit too high for Severino coming into the season. There was talk about him being the best pitcher on the staff and possibly starting Opening Day and things like that, all of which was way way way too premature. The kid had eleven starts in the show. Anything less than dominance was going to be a disappointment. Expectations have since been re-calibrated.

Make no mistake, for the Yankees to contend this season, they were going to need Severino to pitch at a high level. Instead, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball before getting hurt, prompting the team to send him to Triple-A for more seasoning. Severino is basically catching up on all the development time the Yankees skipped the last few years by promoting him so aggressively. His season very quickly went from “help the team win” to salvage mode.

Second Half Outlook: There’s basically nothing Severino can do now to help the Yankees contend. It’s a little too late for that. The most important thing is getting his command issues sorted out so he’s ready to help them win next year, and if that means spending the rest of the year in Triple-A, so be it. Severino is too important to the franchise long-term to call him back up before he’s ready.

CC Sabathia: Return of the Ace, Temporarily

Hands down, the best story of this Yankees’ season to date is CC Sabathia’s early dominance. And yes, he was dominant. He pitched to a 2.20 ERA (3.33 FIP) through eleven starts and 65.1 innings — there was a two-week DL stint for a groin strain thrown in there — and he did it by shelving his four-seam fastball. Sabathia replaced it with a cutter …

CC Sabathia pitch selection

… that better allowed him to bust righties inside. Sabathia had toyed with a cutter before, but it never did stick. This year it did, and it was a tangible explanation for his improvement. So was the new knee brace he started wearing late last year, as well as his sobriety. How could being sober not help Sabathia on the field? Alcoholism is brutal.

Sabathia’s last four starts have not gone well (22 runs in 23 innings), though some regression was inevitable, especially when it came to home runs. He allowed two homers total in his first 65.1 innings, then allowed four in the 23 innings since. Even with these last four starts, Sabathia was the Yankees’ second best starter in the first half, and that’s definitely not something I expected coming into the season. What a pleasant surprise.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Second Half Outlook: Sabathia came into the break with a 3.77 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 15 starts and 88.1 innings, and I’m hopeful he can sustain that level of performance in the second half. That said, the last three years have not been pretty, so it would not be a surprise is Sabathia’s ERA kept rising. Either way, boy those first eleven starts sure were fun, weren’t they?

Ivan Nova: See? I Told You He’d Be Back In The Rotation

It’s easy to forget given how Sabathia pitched in the first half, but there was a rotation competition in Spring Training. Sabathia beat out Nova, who started the season in the bullpen before rejoining the starting staff after Severino got hurt. It was only a matter of time until Nova started again. No team gets through the season using only five starters.

Nova made six relief appearances before getting the opportunity to start again, and his first three starts were very good. He allowed three runs total in 16.1 innings while on a pitch count each time out. Things went south after those first three starts. Nova has a 6.34 ERA (5.17 FIP) in nine starts and 49.2 innings since. Check out his 2015 numbers and 2016 numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 94 5.07 4.87 15.3% 8.0% 49.0% 1.24
2016 80 5.18 4.88 17.6% 4.9% 55.7% 1.69

Pretty much the same guy. The idea Nova’s performance would improve has he got further away from Tommy John surgery was a sound one. We see guys do it all the time. It hasn’t happened though. Nova’s been pretty terrible the last nine times out, yet there doesn’t seem to be chatter about him being moved back to the bullpen. Those talks existed with Pineda and Eovaldi (and even Severino), but not yet Nova for some reason.

Second Half Outlook: Nova is going to be a free agent after the season, so there’s no long-term stake here. Both Eovaldi and Severino — and Chad Green, for that matter — have a chance to help the Yankees beyond this season, so whenever they’re deemed ready to rejoin the rotation, Nova should be removed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees moved him at the deadline either.

AL beats NL 4-2 for fourth straight All-Star Game win

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tuesday night in San Diego, the AL beat the NL by the score of 4-2 in the 2016 All-Star Game. That means the Yankees will have home field advantage when they reach the World Series in a few months. A bunch of Royals led the way offensively. Eric Hosmer hit a solo homer and Salvador Perez hit a two-run shot. They both went deep off former teammate Johnny Cueto in the second inning. The AL has won four straight All-Star Games and 16 of the last 20.

The Yankees sent three players to the All-Star Game and all three played, albeit briefly. Carlos Beltran came off the bench and took over in right field in the top of the sixth inning. He flew out to center field against Max Scherzer in the bottom half of that inning, then was replaced by Michael Saunders in the field in the top of the eighth. A short night for him, but that’s fine given his still not 100% hamstring. It’s not like Beltran is lacking All-Star Game experience.

Dellin Betances entered the game with a two-run lead in the seventh inning, so it was a familiar spot for him. He struck out Corey Seager swinging with a fastball, gave up a ground ball single through the right side of the infield to Daniel Murphy, got Paul Goldschmidt to fly out to center, then struck out Nolan Arenado swinging with another fastball. Betances threw 15 pitches and topped out at 101.1 mph per Pitch FX. Dellin being Dellin.

One inning later, Andrew Miller made his All-Star Game debut with a two-run lead. He got Brandon Belt to fly out to left, gave up a line drive single to Jonathan Lucroy, struck out Jay Bruce with a slider, gave up a line drive single to Starling Marte, then walked Adam Duvall to load the bases. Not the best night for Miller, who threw 28 pitches. Ned Yost replaced him with Will Harris, who struck out Aledmys Diaz to strand all three runners. Good job by Miller getting the rare rough outing out of his system in an exhibition game. What a teammate.

A few ex-Yankees playing in the All-Star Game as well. Robinson Cano drew a walk in his only plate appearance and was replaced by Eduardo Nunez for defense in the top of the ninth. Defensive Replacement Eduardo Scissorhands. What a world. Mark Melancon walked a batter and got a ground out in his one-third of an inning. Bartolo Colon was on the NL roster but did not appear in the game. Mets skipper Terry Collins said he was holding him back in case there were extra innings.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and WPA graph for the All-Star Game. Hosmer was named MVP after going 2-for-3 with a homer and 2 RBI. Now that that’s out of the way, we can get back to regular season baseball. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at home, with the first of three against the Red Sox. Michael Pineda and Eduardo Rodriguez are the scheduled starters. But first, two more off-days. Enjoy ’em.

DotF: Rutherford hits first pro home run in GCL win

Triple-A Scranton is off until Thursday for the All-Star break. The All-Star Game itself is Wednesday night. It’ll be broadcast on MLB Network. OF Ben Gamel, RHP Chad Green, OF Aaron Judge, and C Gary Sanchez were selected to represent the Yankees. Judge won’t be playing because of his recent knee injury though.

Double-A Trenton is also off until Thursday for the All-Star break. Their All-Star Game is Wednesday as well. LHP Jordan Montgomery, LHP Dietrich Enns, SS Tyler Wade, OF Dustin Fowler, C Kyle Higashioka, and RHP Jonathan Holder were all selected to the All-Star Game. Enns is in Triple-A now and was replaced on the roster by Holder.

High-A Tampa had a scheduled off-day.

Low-A Charleston (9-0 win over Rome)

  • 2B Hoy Jun Park: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — fifth in the system with 40 walks
  • SS Kyle Holder: 0-5
  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
  • 1B Chris Gittens: 3-4, 2 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 HBP — 9-for-19 (.474) with three doubles and two homers in his last five games
  • 3B Mandy Alvarez: 2-5, 1 R — 13-for-28 (.464) with Charleston … this year’s 17th rounder has a hit in all but one of his 20 pro games
  • C Luis Torrens: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — bumped up here after hitting .311/.360/.400 (132 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances with Staten Island
  • DH Gosuke Katoh: 2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 HBP
  • RF Alex Palma: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 8/0 GB/FB — 61 of 86 pitches were strikes (71%), plus he picked a runner off first … he’s allowed three earned runs in his last 36.2 innings (0.74 ERA)

[Read more…]

2016 All-Star Game Open Thread

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tonight in San Diego, baseball’s biggest stars will gather in Petco Park for the 2016 All-Star Game. There are even some Yankees there. That’s cool. As always, home field advantage in the World Series is on the line tonight. That’s pretty important. How else will Aaron Hicks hit a walk-off homer in Game Seven?

The Yankees have three All-Stars this year: Carlos Beltran, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. All very deserving, of course. This is Beltran’s ninth All-Star Game but his first as an AL player, believe it or not. Betances is here for the third straight year and Miller’s a first-timer. My guess is Beltran gets an at-bat or two at DH tonight while Betances and Miller join Kelvin Herrera and Zach Britton to get the last nine outs somehow. Here are the full rosters. There are 79 All-Stars this year. 79!

Although the game is being played in San Diego, the AL is the home team tonight. Weird. That’s a result of four straight All-Star Games (2015-18) being played in NL parks. The two leagues will still alternate home field advantage. The AL will be the home team in Nationals Park in 2018 too. Anyway, here are the starting lineups. Fans voted for the players and managers Ned Yost and Terry Collins lined ’em up:

National League
1. 2B Ben Zobrist, Cubs
2. RF Bryce Harper, Nationals
3. 3B Kris Bryant, Cubs
4. DH Wil Myers, Padres
5. C Buster Posey, Giants
6. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
7. CF Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
8. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
9. SS Addison Russell, Cubs

Starting Pitcher: RHP Johnny Cueto, Giants

American League
1. 2B Jose Altuve, Astros
2. CF Mike Trout, Angels
3. 3B Manny Machado, Orioles
4. DH David Ortiz, Red Sox
5. SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
6. 1B Eric Hosmer, Royals
7. RF Mookie Betts, Red Sox
8. C Salvador Perez, Royals
9. LF Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

Starting Pitcher: LHP Chris Sale, White Sox

Yost said yesterday the tentative plan is to pitch Corey Kluber, Cole Hamels, Aaron Sanchez, and Jose Quintana after Sale, in that order. The relievers will take over at that. Collins didn’t tip his hand too much. He did indicate Jon Lester would pitch at some point, and I’m sure hometown Padre Drew Pomeranz will get an inning too.

The All-Star Game will begin at 8pm ET tonight and you can watch on FOX. The AL has won three straight All-Star Games and 15 of the last 20, you know. Hopefully that dominance continues tonight. Enjoy the game.

2016 Midseason Review: The Bench

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, and outfielders. Now it’s time to cover the bench.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Despite their efforts to get younger, the Yankees still have a very veteran roster. In fact, they have only two regulars under the age of 31, and they’re the double play combination. Everyone else is on the wrong side of 30, which means the Yankees need a quality bench to give those players extra rest throughout the season.

As always, the Yankees started the season with three non-catchers on their bench: Aaron Hicks, Dustin Ackley, and Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes beat out Rob Refsnyder for the final bench spot in Spring Training — he not only out-hit him, but his ability to play short and third worked in his favor too — though a few weeks later both guys ended up on the bench anyway. Funny how that works. Times to review the bench.

Alex Rodriguez: The Designated Hitter Bench Player

A-Rod was not supposed to be a bench player. He opened the season as the team’s regular DH for the second straight season, though the combination of a hamstring injury and unproductive at-bats have limited him to only 47 starts in the team’s 88 first half games. The hamstring injury sidelined him for close to three weeks in May. More recently, the Yankees have benched A-Rod against righties.

Overall this season Rodriguez is hitting .220/.260/.382 (65 wRC+) with eight homers in exactly 200 plate appearances. That’s broken down into .198/.237/.333 (46 wRC+) with six homers and a 29.6% strikeout rate in 135 plate appearances against righties, and .267/.308/.483 (105 wRC+) with two homers and a 24.6% strikeout rate in 65 plate appearances against lefties. It’s easy to understand why they’ve decided to sit him against righties, right? Right.

A-Rod will turn 41 later this month, and really, it’s not much of a surprise when player in his 40s doesn’t hit, even one as talented as Alex. His 2015 season was marvelous. He was so good last year. Now he looks close to done, so much so that the Yankees have cut into his playing time. As with Mark Teixeira, it was probably foolish to expect him to repeat his 2015 effort. At the same time, no one expected him to be this bad. At least we still get to see this once in a while:

Second Half Out Look: Gosh, I wish I knew. There’s no reason to think A-Rod won’t be benched against righties to open the second half, though he is working out at first base, which could mean more at-bats. There’s a Catch-22 here. A-Rod’s not playing because he hasn’t hit but he probably needs more at-bats to get his bat going. The more interesting question will come after the season. If Rodriguez struggles all year, would the Yankees really cut ties and release him, and or will they handicap the roster for another year with a righty platoon DH? That’s another question for another time.

Aaron Hicks: The Fourth Turned Fifth Outfielder

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

When the Yankees acquired Hicks over the winter, they did so with the expectation he would play fairly regularly by rotating around the outfield and resting the regulars. At worst, he would platoon against lefties, against whom he’d hit .272/.360/.447 (125 wRC+) prior to 2016. The Yankees had a spare catcher in John Ryan Murphy and wanted an athletic, switch-hitting outfielder, so the trade was made.

Hicks fell well short of expectations in his first half-season as a Yankee. On both sides of the ball, really. He’s hitting .197/.261/.301 (46 wRC+) with three homers in 204 plate appearances overall — yes, he has more plate appearances than A-Rod — including .155/.218/.225 (15 wRC+) against lefties. The Yankees have given him regular at-bats at times, most notably when Alex was on the DL, but it hasn’t come together.

In the field, Hicks seems to have a knack for breaking the wrong way when the ball comes off the bat. He has good speed and often that bad first step doesn’t matter, but it has definitely come back to bite him and the Yankees at times. The one thing Hicks does insanely well is throw. Gee willikers does he have a strong arm. Needless to say, the start of Hicks’ first season with the Yankees has been a huge disappointment.

Second Half Outlook: Hicks doesn’t have any minor league options remaining, otherwise the Yankees would have sent him to Triple-A already. They’re not going to expose him to waivers — he’d get claimed in a heartbeat — or release him even though Joe Girardi‘s patience seems to have run out. (Refsnyder has seen more time in right lately as A-Rod rides the bench.) I could see the Yankees flipping Hicks as part of a deadline deal, but, mostly likely, he’ll remain on the roster in the second half and continue to get playing time as the Yankees try to get him going.

Ronald Torreyes: The Necessary Backup Infielder

(Brian Bahr/Getty)
(Brian Bahr/Getty)

Usually when a player changes organizations five times in the span of nine months, he doesn’t make an Opening Day roster. And yet, Torreyes did indeed change teams five times last season and over the winter, and there he was on the Opening Day roster as the backup infielder. He won the job by having a good spring and showing he was capable defensively all over the infield.

Torreyes, who is only 23, started the season with an insane 8-for-17 (.471) hot streak that had people calling for him to start at third base. I get it, Chase Headley was off to a terrible start, but it was only a matter of time until Torreyes came back to Earth. Sure enough, he’s gone 6-for-48 (.125) since, and is hitting .219/.286/.297 (55 wRC+) overall. His walk (8.6%) and strikeout (14.3%) rates are good, so yay?

Not surprisingly, Torreyes has started only two of the team’s last 29 games. Gregorius has been awesome of late and Headley has been very good since May, plus Castro seems to have a very long leash, so there’s no real way to get Torreyes in the lineup. He’s been solid defensively wherever he’s played — second, short, third, even some right field — and that’s his primary value. Torreyes is a sound gloveman who will put the ball in that play. He’s the quintessential utility infielder.

Second Half Outlook: The Yankees do not seem to want to use Castro as their full-time backup shortstop — they’ll use him there now and then, but I don’t think they want him to be the guy — which means Torreyes will stick around through the second half. He’s essentially a replacement level backup infielder. He won’t kill them in spot start duty, but he’s not someone you want to run out there on an everyday basis either.

Dustin Ackley: The Perfectly Imperfect Role Player

For the second straight year, the Yankees opened the season with a player capable of filling in at first base, right field, and DH, three positions with starters who carry perpetual injury concerns. Last year Garrett Jones filled that role. This year it was Dustin Ackley. Jones played his way off the roster. Ackley got hurt before he had a chance to do the same.

That little dive back into first base resulted in a torn labrum that required season-ending surgery. It’s the same exact thing that happened to Mason Williams a year ago. Freaky, right? We see players dive back into first base a million times each year. The Yankees managed to have players suffer season-ending shoulder injuries in back-to-back years on pickoff plays.

Prior to the injury, Ackley hit .148/.243/.148 (9 wRC+) in 70 plate appearances spread across 49 team games. Not much playing time at all. At least his walk (11.4%) and strikeout (12.9%) rates were good, I guess. Ackley wasn’t good defensively anywhere (first, second, or right), which was to be expected. In theory, the Jones/Ackley slot is a good idea. Someone who can fill in at right, first, and DH, and maybe sock the occasional dinger into the short porch sounds like a useful bench piece. But, for the second straight year, it hasn’t worked out.

Second Half Outlook: There is none because of the injury. The surgery almost certainly ends Ackley’s time with the Yankees. He was going to be a non-tender candidate after the season to start with, and the injury all but clinches it.

Rob Refsnyder: Forcing The Issue

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees tried to find a way to get Refsnyder on their Opening Day roster. They had him work out at third base in Spring Training in an effort to increase his versatility, but the four-week crash course didn’t work out too well. Refsnyder took two grounders to the face right at the end of camp that all but assured Torreyes would be the backup infielder to start the regular season.

To Triple-A Refsnyder went, where he remained until A-Rod landed on the DL in May. He was on the roster for only a few days before being sent back down, though the Ackley injury got him back to MLB a few days later, and Refsnyder has been with the Yankees since. After teaching him third in Spring Training, the Yankees stuck Refsnyder at first base — he played there after literally one day of taking grounders at the position — when Teixeira was on the DL. Once Teixeira returned, the team started using Refsnyder all over the field.

All told, Refsnyder has played 19 games at first, ten games in right, five in second, and one at third. He’s looked fine at first base all things considered, though his inexperience has been painfully obvious at times. That was to be expected. Refsnyder is a bat first player though, and his numbers probably aren’t as good as you may think: .276/.337/.368 (86 wRC+) with no homers in 99 plate appearances.

Now, that said, Refsnyder has looked like he belongs. He takes quality at-bats (9.1 BB% and 16.1 K%) and he consistently hits the ball hard (only a 12.3% soft contact rate), so it’s only a matter of time until the results match the process. Eventually he’s going to hit a dinger, you know? With Hicks struggling and A-Rod benched, Refsnyder has seen more and more time in right field of late, so Girardi’s giving him a chance.

Second Half Outlook: I get the feeling we’re going to see a lot of Refsnyder in the second half, especially if the Yankees trade Beltran at the deadline and A-Rod remains glued to the bench against righties. The Yankees have asked a lot of Refsnyder — learn third, learn first, play second and right too, hit your way into the lineup, etc. — and he’s handled it well. He’s the only guy in this post who has earned more playing time.

A-Rod planning to take ground balls at first base during All-Star break

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

According to Mark Feinsand, Alex Rodriguez is planning to take ground balls at first base during the All-Star break in an effort to improve his versatility and get into the lineup a little more often. Brian Cashman told George King it was Rodriguez’s idea to work out at first base, not the team’s. “I wouldn’t say he was encouraged. I was told he was more open to playing the field. Last year he was opposed to it,” said the GM.

A-Rod, who turns 41 in two weeks, is hitting .220/.260/.382 (65 wRC+) with eight homers in 200 plate appearances on the nose this year. That includes a .198/.237/.333 (46 wRC+) line against right-handers. The Yankees are now benching Alex against righties — he’s started only one of their last ten games — so he’s not playing much at all. He’s been a forgotten man. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. It’s about time! I’ve been beating the “give A-Rod a first base glove” drum since the offseason. I’m not saying he should play there every single day. Just having the option to put him there increases his versatility a bit. A right-handed platoon DH is the least flexible player possible. Getting Rodriguez comfortable at first gives Joe Girardi some more options. It’s not much, but it’s something.

2. There figures to be a decent amount of playing time at first. Mark Teixeira is now getting regular days off to rest his ailing knee — he hasn’t started more than four straight days since coming off the DL — so that clears some playing time for A-Rod, who probably needs to play more than once every ten days to get his bat going. Those spare starts at first could add up to another 100 plate appearances the rest of the season.

3. Rest won’t be a problem. One of the reasons the Yankees have been hesitant to play A-Rod in the field is fatigue. They don’t want him to get worn down throughout the season. That’s understandable, especially last year when he was playing so well. Nowadays the Yankees are straight up benching Rodriguez against righties, so they can schedule the starts at first in such a way that he’ll get the next day or two off because righties are on the mound. Fatigue isn’t much of a concern when you’re sitting three out of every four games anyway.

* * *

I’m glad A-Rod will spend the break getting work in at first base. That the Yankees didn’t ask him to do it tells you Alex is motivated and looking to get back into the lineup however possible. I can’t say I’m optimistic this will lead to anything, but you never know. With Teixeira’s knee acting up, Rodriguez could be forced into first base duty at a moment’s notice in the second half. At least now playing him in the field might be an option rather than off the table completely.

2016 Midseason Review: The Outfielders

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers and infielders. Now it’s time to cover the outfielders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have been making an effort to get younger over the last 20 months or so, but the one place they’ve been unable to do so is the outfield. They’re locked into three veterans making good to great money, and despite their efforts to move one of them over the winter, the Yankees didn’t get an offer they liked.

Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran returned as the starting outfield this season, and all three have been among the most productive players on the team. In fact, along with Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann, I’d said they were three of the Yankees’ five most productive players in the first half. Let’s review their seasons.

Carlos Beltran: Still Great After All These Years

Last April, Beltran looked done. Like done done. He was 38 and coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and he was caught so far between fastballs and offspeed stuff that it seemed like he was guessing at the plate. It was ugly. But, once the calendar flipped to May, Beltran raked the rest of the way, and it’s carried over into this season.

Beltran was, by no small margin, the team’s best hitter in the first half. He’s hitting .299/.338/.550 (132 wRC+) with 19 homers in 320 plate appearances, and he leads the Yankees in … drum roll, please … AVG, SLG, ISO, OPS, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+, doubles, homers, and RBI. Pretty much everything except OBP. (He’s fourth in OBP.) Carlos is 17th among the 167 qualified hitters in SLG and 21st in ISO, and he’s 19th among all players in homers. He hasn’t hit for this kind of power since he was in the prime of his career with the Mets.


Source: FanGraphsCarlos Beltran

The signs of aging are there. Beltran walks less (5.3%) and strikes out more (18.4%) than he did during his prime, and good fastballs have given him a hard time, but otherwise he’s still a very smart hitter with power who seems to have a knack for understanding how he’s being pitched. He’s even hitting lefties better than he has in years, putting up a 167 wRC+ against southpaws in 2016 after having a 75 wRC+ against them from 2014-15.

Beltran’s offense has been better than I think anyone could have reasonably expected. Even as good as he was from May through the end of the season last year, it wasn’t crazy to think the 39-year-old would slip some this year. That’s baseball. Instead, Beltran has been a monster at the dish and he has been since Opening Day, really. He hasn’t had any sort of extended slump this year. Most players will hit the skids for two or three weeks at some point. Not Carlos.

As you know, offense is pretty much the only Beltran provides these days. He doesn’t run well and he’s a terrible defender in right field. The Yankees have been able to give him more time at DH this year, first because Alex Rodriguez got hurt, and then because they’re flat out benching A-Rod. Beltran seems to be running better this year than the last two years, and call me a cynic, but I can’t help but that think that’s tied to his upcoming free agency. He’s playing for a contract and might be in a little better shape this year. Either well, Beltran has been the team MVP so far.

Second Half Outlook: One of three things will happen: One, the Yankees remain in the postseason hunt and they keep Beltran for a second half push. Two, the Yankees fall out of the race and trade Beltran to a contender at the deadline. Three, the Yankees don’t contend and don’t trade Beltran. Clearly, the third option would be the worst. I’d like to see the Yankees contend, but the team isn’t cooperating, which makes a trade the best outcome. Carlos definitely played his way into some nice trade value in the first half.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Separating The Player From The Contract

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

It’s impossible to look at Ellsbury and assess his play without thinking about his contract. He’s a good player making great player money, and so far this season Ellsbury has been exactly that: a good player. He owns a .279/.347/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with four homers and 16 steals, and he’s stayed mostly healthy too. That’s always a question, unfortunately.

Ellsbury actually started this season rather slowly, hitting .235/.278/.341 (62 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in eight attempts in April. He’s since hit .297/.373/.421 (115 wRC+) with three homers and eleven steals in 15 chances. Ellsbury has also walked (9.9%) nearly as often as he’s struck out (10.7%). We haven’t seen the disruptive baserunning this year, which could be a product of age — 32-year-olds usually don’t run much — or a minor hip injury he dealt with earlier this season.

Defensively, Ellsbury has settled in after a weirdly poor start to the season. His days as a Gold Glover are over and really, at some point during the life of his contract he’ll have to shift to left field. Not too many 33+ year olds are running around playing center at a high level these days. Ellsbury’s range is still good and his arm … well sometimes his throws reach the cutoff man on one hop. Let’s leave it at that.

Relative to his contract, Ellsbury is performing well-below expectations and he’s not likely to get better as he approaches his mid-30s. Relative to other center fielders, Ellsbury is a solid player who is worth a roster spot on a contending team. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can raise hell with his bat and his legs. He’s just not someone you want to pay $20M+ a year. What’s done is done though. Ellsbury has shaken off that slow start and is one of the more productive players on the team.

Second Half Outlook: Last season Ellsbury started well, then crashed horribly after returning from a knee injury. He’s healthy now and the outlook going forward is much more promising. Ellsbury is a good all-around player, and now that he’s hitting second rather than leading off, he figures to get some more opportunities to do damage with men on base. For the Yankees to have any chance at the postseason, Ellsbury is probably going to have to play at an All-Star level in the second half. He’s vital to their success.

Brett Gardner: Same Ol’ Brett, Just Without The Power

Brett Gardner is one boring baseball player. He’s hitting .257 with a .353 OBP this season. Last year he hit .256 with a .343 OBP. His career averages? A .263 AVG and a .346 OBP. Boring! Outliers are much more fun. Gardner is reliably productive each and every year even though a large segment of the fan base seems to think otherwise.

The difference between 2016 Gardner and pre-2016 Gardner is his power, which was never his calling card anyway, but still. Look:


Source: FanGraphsBrett Gardner

Gardner hit his power peak at ages 29-31 thanks in part to former hitting coach Kevin Long, who got him to be a little more aggressive and hunt fastballs early in the count. Gardner’s power peak was basically a league average ISO, but this year he’s well below that with a .098 ISO. He’s hit five homers this year, his fewest in the first half since 2011, when he hit four. (Not counting his injury shortened 2012 season.)

Gardner’s power outage is tied directly to his ground ball percentage. He’s put a career-high 55.2% of his batted balls on the ground this year, up from 45.3% last year and 41.7% the year before. Furthermore, when he pulls the ball, Gardner is putting it on the ground 69.9% of the time. Two years ago it was 49.7%. That’s no way for a left-handed hitter to take advantage of Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch.

Offensively, Gardner is doing just about everything he usually does except hit the ball out of the park. He’s hitting in the .255-.260 range, he’s drawing a ton of walks (11.6%), and he’s going to end up with 20+ steals again. The over-the-fence power isn’t there like it has been the last few years though. Don’t get me wrong, no one was expecting Gardner to swat 20+ dingers this year, but he might not even get to ten this season.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

On top of the offense is Gardner’s defense, which remains comfortably above-average and actually seems better this year than it was the last two years. Maybe it’s just me. The various stats like UZR and DRS agree, but eh. Let’s not rely on half-seasons of defensive stats. Between the solid defense and team-leading OBP, Gardner is once again one of the most productive players on the Yankees. His power has gone missing, and the Yankees have compensated by putting him in the leadoff spot, where the lack of pop is less of an issue.

Second Half Outlook: Gardner has a recent history of fading in the second half, but as long as he’s healthy, I expect him to be rock solid. I suppose the Yankees could look to trade him as part of a deadline sell-off, though they figure to push Beltran a little harder in trade talks given his status as an impending free agent. As with Ellsbury, the Yankees will need Gardner to produce at a high level to make a run at a postseason spot.