Thoughts following the much-needed off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees had a much-needed off-day yesterday after playing 30 games in the previous 31 days. They have played just four of their last 17 games at home and will play two more games on the road today and tomorrow, against the Nationals. Then they’re off again Thursday. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

1. The middle of the bullpen has been pretty shaky — the non-Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances relievers have a 3.76 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 88.2 innings — and I’m wondering when the Yankees will start to make some changes. Not even personnel changes, just role changes. Will Chasen Shreve get a chance in high-leverage spots at some point, or will he continue to be the last man out of the bullpen? What about Branden Pinder? I think Justin Wilson has been better than the numbers (5.56 ERA and 3.33 FIP) — his disaster outing this weekend really skewed things — but there’s no reason for Joe Girardi to trust David Carpenter or Esmil Rogers right now. How long is the leash there? The Yankees should give Carpenter some more time to see if he gets back to being the reliever he was the last two years, but they can’t wait forever either. Jacob Lindgren is ready in Triple-A and Adam Warren could be a bullpen candidate once Masahiro Tanaka and/or Ivan Nova return, so the team has options. If the non-Miller/Dellin relievers don’t right the ship and really soon (like, before the end of the month), the Yankees should dip into their depth and try to find something that works. That’s why they built it up in the first place.

2. Exit velocity is all the rage these days and it’s easy to understand why. How hard a batter hits the ball is really important because yes, the harder a ball is hit, the more likely it is to drop in. That makes sense intuitively and the data backs it up as well. From Rob Arthur:

Exit Velocity BABIP cropSo yes, exit velocity is very important. I also don’t think it’s the be all, end all statistic either. Batted ball direction (opposite, pull, etc.) and angle (grounder, pop-up, etc.) are also important, especially the latter. Hitting the ball hard is good, but hitting the ball hard in the air is better than hitting it hard on the ground. At least I think it is. MLBAM made all this batted ball data available this year and it’s a frickin’ gold mine, but we’ve only scratched the surface and don’t fully understand it yet. This stuff is simple yet complicated — hitting the ball hard is good, but is hitting the ball hard in X direction and Y angle as good as hitting it slightly less hard at X direction and Z angle? That’s something that still has to be investigated. By the way, Garrett Jones has the second highest average exit velocity on the Yankees.

3. We’re now 669 plate appearances into the Brian McCann era and he’s hitting .233/.287/.405 (94 OPS+) with the Yankees. His production this year (92 OPS+) is basically the same as last year (94 OPS+), except he’s walking less (5.9% vs 3.8 %) and hitting for a little less power (.174 vs. 161 ISO). That’s … not encouraging for a 31-year-old catcher. McCann’s defense has appeared to slip a little as well, at least when it comes to blocking balls in the dirt, and he acknowledged that the other day. “Absolutely. Definitely, I take pride in what we do. It has to get better,” he said to George King when asked his passed ball/wild pitch issues. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I was all for signing McCann two offseasons ago, the Yankees needed power and they needed a starting caliber catcher, and he was by far the best available option at the time. But so far he’s been a disappointment with the Yankees. The offense hasn’t been there (especially away from Yankee Stadium) and now there are signs the glovework is slipping as well. It’ll never happen, Girardi seems content to ride McCann as hard as possible, but giving John Ryan Murphy a little more playing time could help. McCann may benefit from the extra rest at this point of his career.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

4. Aside from all the spring injuries (Luis Torrens, Ty Hensley, Domingo German, Ian Clarkin, etc.), things are going pretty well in the farm system so far this year. Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are mashing, Tyler Wade is breaking out, Jorge Mateo is holding his own following an aggressive assignment to Low-A Charleston, and both Rob Refsnyder and Gary Sanchez rebounded from slow starts in April. Luis Severino has been up and down, which could be the result of his blister, but either way it doesn’t make him unique among 21-year-old pitchers. They’re all up and down. Those are the guys the Yankees needed to take a step forward this year. The only top prospect having a subpar year is Greg Bird, who hit an un-Bird-like .226/.351/.419 (121 wRC+) before landing on the DL with a shoulder issue, but what are you going to do. Not every prospect is going to have a great year, and if the one who disappoints is the no-defense first baseman, so be it. Not the end of the world. I don’t know if the Yankees will have a top ten farm system at the end of the year, but they’re definitely moving in that direction, especially if they actually take first round players with their two first round picks this year. We should start seeing some of these top prospects soon, within the next calendar year, with Refsnyder first in line.

5. Tommy John surgery really sucks for Chase Whitley. The success rate of elbow reconstruction is going down and it hurts guys like Whitley the most. The fringe players. Others like Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg have much more margin for error, so even if the surgery robs them of some stuff, they can still be really good pitchers. Whitley is starting from a much lower baseline. He’s more like, say, Scott Baker, someone with a useable pitch mix and command who is living on the edge more often than not. Whitley’s a marginal big leaguer who had a tough time cracking the MLB roster as it is. Now he’s going to spend a year, year and a half away from the game rehabbing, which is long enough to fall out of the picture. If one day Masahiro Tanaka needs Tommy John surgery, he won’t need to worry about his job when he comes back. Whitley doesn’t have the same luxury. This is potentially much more than a speed bump in his career.

DotF: Wade hits rare homer in Tampa’s loss

2B Rob Refsnyder was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week after going 12-for-30 (.400) with four doubles and two homers in seven games last week. Also, I missed this John DeMarzo article on OF Aaron Judge the other day, so check that out too. It’s a bit of a puff piece.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Charlotte)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 3 K — in an ugly 8-for-49 (.163) slump
  • RF Ramon Flores: 2-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 CS
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-2, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 1 K — extends his on-base streak to 20 games
  • DH Tyler Austin: 0-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, /2 GB/FB — 53 of 94 pitches were strikes (56%) … been a busy for days for him thanks to the brief trip to Kansas City
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 19 of 26 pitches were strikes (73%) … inherited runners on first and third with no outs from Mitchell, then struck out the side
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — seven of 12 pitches were strikes
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3/0 GB/FB — 14 of 30 pitches were strikes (47%)

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and they really need it. They just played 30 games in 31 days and only four of their last 17 games have been at home. Heck, just ten of their last 33 (!) games have been at home. That’s rough. Lots of baseball and lots of travel. It’s no surprise then that several Yankees told Dan Barbarisi they were looking forward to today’s off-day just to rest. They looked sluggish in Kansas City this weekend, that’s for sure.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Really light baseball schedule tonight, just seven games, but the Mets are playing and Matt Harvey is pitching. That game will be on ESPN as well as SNY. The (hockey) Rangers are playing Game Three of their third round matchup with the Lightning as well (8pm ET on NBCSN). No NBA playoffs tonight though. Talk about whatever here.

TiqIQ: Look Ahead: Royals, Yankees Prepare For Second Battle of AL Behemoths In Two Week Span

When the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals get together, it will mark the first confrontation between two of the American League’s elite clubs in Yankee Stadium following this past weekend’s three-game set at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. In fact, they own two of the best records in the league and sit atop their respective divisions in first place following the series in which the Royals took two of three from the Yanks.

As a result, it’s easy to figure that tickets for this upcoming three-game set at Yankee Stadium will be highly sought after, as this series looks like it will be the biggest test the Yankees have had through the first handful of weeks of the 2015 campaign.

When seeking out tickets for any games in this series, your best bet for the cheapest ticket prices will be from the Yankees, rather than dealing with the secondary market. Some seats even feature a significant margin between the two sources.

For instance, for the series finale on May 27, if you wanted to sit in the 200-level section, you could get tickets in section 215, row 11 from Yankees.com for $155, while seats in section 215, row 15 on the secondary market would cost you $266, which is a savings of over $100! There are similar differences for that same game, as seats in section 106, row 10 are priced at $110 through the Yankees, compared to $160 out on the secondary market for similar location in section 106, row 13. Again, that’s a monumental price margin.

Additionally, if you wanted to keep it simple and reside in the 400-level seats, you could get tickets for section 410, row 4 in the opener on May 25 for only $22 from the Yankees, while tickets for section 410, row 1 would cost you $29 from another seller.

Unsurprisingly, this trio of games might draw some of the biggest Yankee Stadium crowds of the year. New York is coming off their first back-to-back seasons of not making the playoffs for the first time since the mid-1990’s, so their strong start certainly has everyone in the organization, and the fans of course, rejuvenated and excited for what’s ahead.

The Royals have been just as terrific thus far, however, and will be game for the task of taking on another AL behemoth. They’ve received great play on both sides of the ball, having among the highest team batting average in all of baseball and one the AL’s best team ERA marks. They won the American League pennant last season before going down in the maximum seven games in the World Series, and up to this point, they’re proving it was no fluke whatsoever. This series could determine who the true superpower in the league is right now as we march closer towards June.

Update: Chase Whitley to undergo Tommy John surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Monday, 4:36pm: Whitley will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery, the Yankees announced. Team doctor Chris Ahmad will perform the procedure tomorrow. Not unexpected, but damn. Sucks. See you next year, Ace Whitley.

Friday, 6:05pm: Whitley does have a torn UCL, Girardi told reporters this afternoon. No decision has been on surgery yet. He’ll see another doctor in New York first. Capuano will start Sunday and push everyone else back a day.

5:51pm: As expected, the Yankees placed right-hander Chase Whitley on the 15-day DL this afternoon. He has a right elbow sprain, the team announced, which means his ulnar collateral ligament has been compromised somehow. Whitley went for tests today and Jon Heyman hears the initial diagnosis is indeed a UCL tear, so Tommy John surgery is a real possibility. The Yankees haven’t said anything about the exact nature of the injury yet.

Whitely, 25, left last night’s start in the second inning with an elbow injury. He told reporters after the game that his elbow had been bugging him for a while now, but he didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. “Tonight (the discomfort) just carried over to the game. I’ve been able to get through it in the game, and tonight obviously you could pretty much tell,” said Whitley to Chad Jennings.

If Whitley does indeed need Tommy John surgery, he would be the second Yankees starter to blow out his elbow on the Tropicana Field mound within the last 13 months. Ivan Nova tore his UCL in a start at the Trop last April and had Tommy John surgery soon thereafter So I guess we can blame the Rays, right? Heyman says Whitley will likely seek a second opinion before having surgery. I’d ask for a second opinion before having my moneymaker cut open too.

In four starts this year Whitley had a 4.19 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 19.1 innings. One start was good, one start was great, one start was bad, and one start was cut short by the injury. Whitley nearly made the team out of Spring Training, but the Yankees opted to send him to Triple-A so they could use him as an occasional spot starter to rest everyone else in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm injury pushed Whitley into the rotation full-time.

Joe Girardi confirmed Chris Capuano will replace Whitley in the rotation following last night’s game. Capuano threw six innings in his latest minor league rehab start earlier this week as he works his way back from a quad injury, so the timing worked out well. It’s unfortunate he’s coming back under these circumstances though. Girardi isn’t sure when Capuano will make his first start just yet. The Yankees have two off-days next week and don’t need their fifth starter again until May 26th.

For the time being, righty reliever Jose Ramirez has been called up from Triple-A to give the bullpen an extra arm. Presumably he or someone else (Branden Pinder?) will be sent down once Capuano is ready to be activated. There’s no need to activate Capuano just yet, so the Yankees get to carry an extra reliever for a few days. Ramirez, 25, has a 2.95 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 18.1 innings for the RailRiders this year.

Yankees losing a big bat during interleague play at a bad time for the offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon’s shutout loss to the Royals capped off a week in which the Yankees really struggled at the plate. After hitting five homers and scoring eleven runs on Monday, the Yankees scored just eleven runs in their next six games combined, with five of those runs coming Saturday. They were shut out yesterday for the first time all season.

This week, the Yankees will temporarily lose a big bat, and not to injury or anything like that. They’re set to play a quick little two-game series on the road against the Nationals, and NL rules mean no DH. Alex Rodriguez is hitting .250/.351/.563 (146 wRC+) on the year and Joe Girardi has already said A-Rod will be limited to DH duty going forward, which figures to put him on the bench in Washington.

“We haven’t talked about it. After Sunday there is an off day. I will have to see what we do there. I could depend on the next few days. Right now I haven’t thought about it,” said Joe Girardi to George King last week when asked about A-Rod’s status for the Washington series. Given the team’s newfound commitment to keeping Rodriguez off his feet so he can stay in the lineup, it’s tough to see how he’ll be a factor as anything other than a pinch-hitter these next two games.

Now, that said, Mark Teixeira fouled a pitch off his toe yesterday, and he eventually had to leave the game after trying to play through out. Thankfully x-rays came back negative, but Teixeira is still day-to-day, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise if the soreness lingers into tomorrow. A-Rod has already started one game at first base this year — it went awkwardly, like all things A-Rod — and starting him at first has to at least be a consideration if Teixeira can’t go. Right? Has to.

Girardi acknowledged Teixeira’s injury could lead the A-Rod playing against the Nationals — “It could,” said the skipper to King yesterday — but ultimately it doesn’t really matter who plays first base. Assuming the Yankees don’t suddenly reverse course and decide to play Alex at the ultra-demanding third base, they’ll be without A-Rod or Teixeira for the Washington series, and they’re basically the team’s two best hitters. Two best power hitters at the very least.

Teixeira has put up a .248/.366/.576 (149 wRC+) line on the season, and, if you had to pick between him or A-Rod for the Nats series, you’d have to pick Teixeira, right? They’re comparable hitters but Teixeira has the advantage of being a switch-hitter and an above-average defender at first. A-Rod’s two hip surgeries and recent hamstring issue figure to rule him out completely at third base, as it should. They can’t risk injury for two measly games. I love Alex, but Teixeira’s the more functional player right now by a considerable margin.

Girardi has a choice to make this week but not really. He’s going to lose a big bat during the series in Washington no matter what, and if Teixeira’s toe allows him to play first base, he has to play over A-Rod. I’m not sure I see a non-health reason to start Alex over Teixeira at this point. If Teixeira’s toe issue keeps him out of the lineup, then that’s a different story. I think the Yankees should run A-Rod out there at first over Garrett Jones in that case, even if it’s only for six or seven innings.

Either way, the Yankees are losing one of their very best hitters for the next two games, and that’s bad. The offense is having a real hard time scoring as it is. Remove A-Rod or Teixeira and suddenly the underperforming Brian McCann and Headley and Carlos Beltran have to carry even more of the load. The Yankees are catching a break by avoiding the Nationals’ top starters, but that doesn’t make me feel much better. The offense needs to break out of its funk, and they’ll have to do it the next two days without one of their top hitters.

Yankeemetrics: May 15-17 (Royals)

The large lefty officially has a winning streak. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
The large lefty officially has a winning streak. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Royal crush
The Yankees’ worst skid of the season continued with a 12-1 loss to the Royals on Friday night. Entering this series, they were the only AL team that hadn’t given up at least nine runs in a game this season. It was the first time the Yankees opened their season with a streak of at least 36 straight games allowing eight-or-fewer runs in each game since 1981 (38 games).

Michael Pineda‘s first start since his 16-strikeout game on Mothers Day couldn’t have been any more different than that historic one just a few days earlier.

He didn’t strike out his first batter until he got Lorenzo Cain swinging in the fifth inning, and that was the only guy that got rung up by Pineda in the game. Seems improbable, right? Almost. The last pitcher to get only one strikeout (or zero) in a game after whiffing at least 16 batters in his previous start was Mark Langston in 1988.

Although he struggled to put away batters, Pineda didn’t have any problems with his control, recording his fifth walk-free start of the season. Dating back to last September, Pineda hasn’t walked more than one guy in each of his last 10 games, pitching more than five innings in each of those starts. The only other Yankee in the last 100 years to fashion a streak like that was David Wells, who had also had a 10-game stretch in 1998 where he gave up one or fewer walks and pitched more than five innings in each outing.

Throwback Saturday
How do you snap your longest losing streak of the season? This formula usually works: a vintage performance from your former ace pitcher and a couple longballs from the middle of the order.

CC Sabathia scattered six hits and allowed one run over seven innings, earning his second straight win after going winless in his first six starts of the season. This was the fourth time Sabathia has started a game with the Yankees on a losing streak of at least four games – and he is now 4-0 in those four starts.

Chase Headley hit a tie-breaking three-run homer in the fifth inning and Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot in the ninth inning to provide the power in the Yankees’ 5-1 win. Three of Headley’s five homers this season have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead, and each of those three has come with two outs in the inning.

For A-Rod, it was his 10th homer of the season, and he joins Mark Teixeira as Yankees with double-digit homers in 2015. The only other seasons in the last 40 years when the Yankees had two players with at least 10 homers within the team’s first 38 games were 2005 (A-Rod and Tino Martinez) and 2009 (Teixeira and Johnny Damon).

A first for everything
As bad as the Yankees offense has been recently, they still had not been shut out in 2015 until Sunday’s 6-0 loss in the series finale. They were one of two MLB teams that had scored at least one run in every game this season, along with the Tigers and Blue Jays. It was the first time they had been blanked since September 15, 2014, snapping a streak of 51 straight games with scoring a run, which was the longest active streak among all major-league teams.

The loss was also the Yankees’ first one on a Sunday this year. Entering the game they were the only team undefeated (5-0) on Sundays in the majors this season.

Chris Capuano‘s first start of the season was “not what you want,” as he gave up four runs before he was pulled in the fourth inning. He’s the first Yankee to allow at least four runs in three innings pitched or fewer in Kansas City since David Wells on August 11, 2003. Sunday (May 17) also happened to be the anniversary of Wells’ perfect game against the Twins in 1998. So there’s that, at least.