Kuroda and McCann carry Yankees to 5-1 win over Red Sox


Source: FanGraphs

After a couple of rough losses these last five or six days, the Yankees rebounded with a sound 5-1 win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night. They pitched very well, they hit well, and they even played some nice defense too. Just don’t ask about the base-running. We’ll turn a blind eye to that. With the win, the Yankees clinched at least a tie of the season series against Boston for the eighth time in the last ten years.

I had plans tonight and missed the bulk of the game — I left right after that ridiculous double caught stealing in the first and got home in time to see Dellin Betances fan Mookie Betts in the eighth — so I can’t really talk about it in too much detail. Brian McCann had four hits including a two-run homer, and it would be really great if he finished the year strong so he can go into the offseason feeling good about himself. Brett Gardner singled in Jacoby Ellsbury for another run and Ellsbury sacrifice flied in Chase Headley to score another run. McCann singled in the fifth and final run in the seventh. Carlos Beltran was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

Hiroki Kuroda was fantastic, holding the Red Sox to one run on a double and three singles in seven innings of work. He struck out eight and did not walk a batter. Kuroda was on extra rest thanks to Monday’s off-day and he simply looks so much better whenever he gets an extra day or two. He now has a 3.30 ERA (3.32 FIP) in his last 17 starts and 109 innings dating back to June 1st. That is more or less the good version of 2012-13 Kuroda. He’s going out in style, assuming he is going out at all. Betances and David Robertson each allowed a base-runner in otherwise uneventful eighth and ninth innings to close out the win.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some additional stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees are now four games back of the Tigers for the second wildcard spot with two other teams ahead of them. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 3.0% with 25 games remaining. Brandon Workman and ex-Red Sox Chris Capuano will be the pitching matchup in Thursday night’s series finale. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch the game live.

Game 137: Back At It

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Last night did not go well for the Yankees at all. They didn’t pitch well and they couldn’t get out of their own way offensively. But this is baseball, and they’re back at it tonight with a chance to win. Both my favorite and least favorite thing about baseball is that they play every single day. Forget about last night and get back in the win column tonight. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. LF Brett Gardner
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. RF Ichiro Suzuki
    RHP Hiroki Kuroda

It’s much nicer in New York today than it has been the last few days. Cooler and not nearly as humid, with just a few clouds. Nice night for baseball. Tonight’s game will start a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Martin Prado day-to-day with mild hamstring strain

Martin Prado is day-to-day with a “mild, mild” left hamstring strain, Joe Girardi announced. Prado will not play tonight and he is unlikely to play tomorrow, but he could be good in time for Friday’s series opener against the Royals. He left last night’s game with tightness in the hamstring and had an MRI today. Prado has been one of the team’s best hitters these last few weeks, so losing him hurts.

Teixeira’s production slipping with each passing month

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

Coming into 2014, one of the bigger reasons to believe the Yankees would have an improved offense was the return of Mark Teixeira after he missed all of last season. Is he the same player he was a few years ago? Of course not. But even after wrist surgery it was a pretty good bet he would outproduce Lyle Overbay, and he has (106 vs. 86 wRC+). Overbay did an admirable job last summer, but the lack of first base production was part of the team’s downfall.

Teixeira changed his batting stance in Spring Training at the behest of hitting coach Kevin Long, who reportedly noticed his first baseman had picked up on some bad habits coming off surgery. Remember, Teixeira wasn’t 100% recovered at the start of camp, he was still easing back into things and did not play games until early-March. As I wrote in this May mailbag, Teixeira made the same adjustments as Curtis Granderson back in 2010: he closed his stance, stood more upright, lowered his hands, and used a two-handed follow-through.

The changes seemed to work too. Teixeira went deep five times in his first 15 games of the season and nine times in his first 27 games, good for a .271/.375/.573 (164 wRC+) batting line in 112 plate appearances. Obviously we all knew he wasn’t going to hit quite that well all season, but proving he was still able to hit for power so soon after wrist surgery was important. There was some hope he would be a capable middle of the order power hitter for a team in need of one, even after signing Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

The production hasn’t lasted, of course. Teixeira has hit .204/.305/.358 (85 wRC+) with only eleven homers in 318 plate appearances across his last 76 games. There have been some minor injuries — wrist inflammation, lat strain, finger contusion — mixed in during that time, but nothing that required a DL stint or even forced him to miss more than a week. Furthermore, Teixeira’s production has declined with each passing month:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ ISO HR HR/FB%
April 48 .231/.375/.487 145 .256 3 27.3%
May 106 .247/.368/.472 136 .225 6 23.1%
June 99 .241/.303/.471 109 .230 6 21.4%
July 75 .203/.320/.375 95 .172 3 16.7%
August 98 .193/.276/.307 64 .114 2 7.1%

Teixeira was able to continue hitting for power through the month of June before losing 58 points of ISO in July and another 58 points of ISO in August. His homer totals dropped accordingly. Combine that with fewer base hits in general — his walk rate has remained strong all season, with the normal peaks and valleys — and you suddenly get one really unproductive cleanup hitter in July and especially August.

So now the question becomes why has Teixeira’s performance fallen off these last few months? That’s tough to answer, especially because it may simply be “he’s not healthy.” The guy is coming off wrist surgery, after all, plus he’s shown a knack for all sorts of other bumps and bruises. Who knows what Teixeira might be hiding or trying to play through, or how the combination of injuries is starting to take its toll. We can’t know from where we sit.

As for some numbers, the amazing Baseball Savant says Teixeira’s average distance on balls hit in the air was actually at its highest in July, and August was higher than both April and May. Month-by-month pitch selection data for hitters usually doesn’t tell you anything useful other than at the extremes, and it isn’t particularly enlightening with Teixeira:

Batted Ball Distance (ft)
FB% CH% CB% SL%
April 217.8 69.5% 9.8% 10.4% 8.3%
May 233.0 57.0% 17.7% 12.7% 11.7%
June 249.8 62.2% 16.0% 9.8% 10.9%
July 254.6 69.0% 10.3% 8.0% 10.0%
August 234.7 60.0% 22.2% 9.2% 8.4%

Basically all this tells us is Teixeira is still hitting the ball has far as he has all year and pitchers have not substantially changed the way they’re pitching him. Those month-by-month changes in pitch selection are just the natural ebbs and flow of baseball. I’m not even going to bother posting the spray charts because they’re one big garbled mess that look no different from month to month because he’s a switch-hitter.

Figuring out the cause of Teixeira’s power outage is little more than guesswork. Maybe he just stinks at baseball now. That’s always possible. The wrist could be bothering him, Long could have given him bad guidance — Teixeira is still using his “new” stance, for what it’s worth — maybe Foul Territory is taking up too much of his time, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. What we do know for sure is that Teixeira’s production has dropped considerably as the season has progressed.

For all the recent talk about dropping Derek Jeter in the lineup, Teixeira doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot either. Ideally he’d bat seventh or eighth at this point, he’s been that bad these last few weeks, but you can’t bat everyone in the lineup seventh or eighth. The Yankees have a whole lotta number seven and eight hitters on the roster right now. Teixeira started the season very well and I was thrilled he was that productive so soon after wrist surgery. The production didn’t last though, and his fade is a reason why the Yankees are so far out of a postseason spot.

David Phelps throws bullpen session, could return next week

Via Chad Jennings: David Phelps threw fastballs and changeups as part of a 25-pitch bullpen session yesterday, his first time throwing off a mound since going down with elbow inflammation last month. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” he said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”

Phelps, 27, will throw all of his pitches during a 35-pitch bullpen session on Friday. If that goes well, he will throw a simulated game on Sunday. I assume that would be the final step before he is activated off the disabled list. The Yankees have already announced Phelps will return as a reliever — at this point of the season there isn’t enough time to get him stretched back out even if they wanted him to start — and I assume he will jump right into the late-game mix once healthy.

Postseason or no postseason, Yankees need to make big changes this winter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Barring some kind of Derek Jeter farewell tour miracle, the Yankees aren’t going to the postseason this year. They’ve dug themselves too big a hole without enough games remaining to climb out of it. That’s life. They’re not going to play in October because their play from April through early-September says they don’t belong there. If you’ve watched them at all this year, you know how hard it is to envision them stringing together enough wins to jump three teams and make up five games in the second wildcard race.

Now, even if the Yankees do somehow manage to sneak into the postseason, this year needs to be something of a wake-up call for the team’s decision makers. I mean, last year should have been the wake-up call, but instead the Yankees doubled down on the only thing they know how to do: spend money. They tried to spend their way back into the postseason — spend their way back in while letting their best player and one of the five best in the world walk away, remember — and it failed. Miserably. They’re probably going to lose more games this season than they did last year despite their offseason spending spree.

The season is close enough to being over that we can say, with certainty, the first year of the Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran contracts were disasters. There aren’t enough games left on the schedule to change that now. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka deals have worked out more than fine, at least until Tanaka’s elbow started barking, but McCann and Beltran have not. When you sign a 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract, you’re doing it under the assumption Year One will be the best. Year One is over now and the Yankees aren’t getting it back. It’s gone. Beltran’s deal is less damaging because it is shorter term but it still hurts. A lot.

For decades the Yankees conducted business the same way they do right now. They bought the best free agents available (or tried to, anyway) and by and large it worked. Free agency started in 1975, they won titles in 1977-78, had more wins than any other team in the 1980s, and dominated baseball in the late-1990s and 2000s. When you’ve got more money than every other team and you can simply buy the best players, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s the advantage of being based in New York.

That financial advantage is shrinking, however, and it has been since the luxury tax was implemented back in 2003. Aside from last year’s $228M outlier, the Yankees have had an Opening Day payroll in the $180M to $210M range since 2004. The average Opening Day payroll of the other 13 AL clubs (not counting the new-to-the-AL Astros) has steadily risen from roughly $60M to just over $100M during the time. Keep in the mind that MLB’s biggest payroll increases over the last few years belong to NL teams — the Dodgers, Giants, and Nationals, specifically. The payroll gap between the Yankees and everyone else isn’t what it once was.

Furthermore, free agency itself has fundamentally changed as teams lock up their best players to long-term extensions years before they’re eligible to hit the open market. The days of landing an in-his-prime star every winter are gone. It was only six years ago that the Yankees were able to pluck a 28-year-old CC Sabathia off the market to satisfy their pitching needs. Nowadays? Forget it. There’s a reason Masahiro Tanaka landed the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history without ever playing an MLB game. His age. Impact players in their prime are no longer available for just money.

For years we’ve justified huge money long-term contracts by saying you’ll live with the ugly part at the end for the immediate return now. Well, the Yankees have hit the ugly part. They’re at the ugly part of their long-term deals with Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. McCann and Beltran didn’t provide the immediate return either. That has left the team not just with unproductive players eating up a big chunk of the payroll, but little flexibility to replace them. Realistically, what are the Yankees going to do with Teixeira? Nothing. They’re going to grit their teeth and run him out there until his contract ends. That’s the only option.

The Yankees are caught in a cycle of relying on free agency to remain in contention. When the 2008-09 Sabathia/Teixeira free agent class started to fade, there was the 2013-14 Ellsbury/Tanaka class. The Bombers missed the postseason last year and responded the only way they know how, by spending money. The players they invested in did not provide the desired impact — back to the playoffs! — and that means the Yankees are going to do what now? Agree to another $400M worth of contracts this winter? That only continues the cycle with no guarantee of a return to contention, as we’ve learned this year.

Free agency is no longer a one stop shop that can turn a team around in a winter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, it obviously is, but it can’t be everything for the Yankees going forward. Not anymore. The game of baseball has changed these last few years but the Yankees have stayed the same and they’re being left behind. The standings don’t lie. The farm system needs to be more productive, the free agent signings they do make have to be better, and the trades have to be smarter. Remember when they added Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, both smack in the primes of their careers? Those moves were awesome. Taking on a bunch of money to get Vernon Wells? Not so much.

Personally, I believe the Yankees need to do a better job of focusing on depth, from the top of the roster to the very bottom. No more bad players. No more Brian Robertses and Ichiro Suzukis, who we all know aren’t going to work out the day the contract is signed. Those types of moves have to stop. I know it’s much easier said than done. Believe me. Also, the Yankees should absolutely bury the competition whenever another Tanaka or Jose Abreu comes along. That’s where you flex your financial muscle in free agency. Not tacking on a third year so you can outbid the Diamondbacks for 37-year-old Beltran.

I don’t believe any team with a huge payroll should ever have to endure a prolonged rebuild and, frankly, even if the Yankees wanted to tear it all down, they have little to move anyway. They’ve painted themselves into a corner and getting out won’t be easy or particularly pretty. There is a very strong likelihood things will get worse before they get better. Is Brian Cashman the man to turn things around and get the Yankees back on track? I don’t know but I really have a hard time believing he is at this point. He’s been running the show for an eternity and a different voice may be in order. That doesn’t guarantee improvement, mind you. A new GM could make things even worse, especially if ownership brings in a figurehead GM they can walk all over.

Look up and down the roster and there are five, maybe six players I can buy as being part of the solution and the next great Yankees team: Tanaka, Ellsbury, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, and maybe Martin Prado. I’d add David Robertson to that group if he wasn’t due to become a free agent in a few weeks and I can’t bring myself to include McCann in that group after the season he’s had. The Yankees’ entire team-building philosophy is going to have to change if they want to get back to being a perennial contender because the game is telling them it has to change. Their old way of doing business is painfully outdated and this winter is the time to start getting back up to speed, postseason or no postseason.

Update: Martin Prado headed for MRI on tight left hamstring

11:20pm: Prado has been preliminarily diagnosed with tightness in the hamstring, the Yankees announced. He’ll head for an MRI next.

10:43pm: Martin Prado left tonight’s game with a left hamstring injury, according to the army of beat reporters with the team. He will see the doctor tonight. No word on the severity or anything like that, but we’ll find out soon enough.