Wednesday Night Open Thread

Six years ago tonight, the Yankees clinched their 27th World Series title with a win over the Phillies. Hideki Matsui was named World Series MVP. The Yankees actually started the season 15-17 but were pretty much unstoppable after mid-May or so. Once Alex Rodriguez returned and Phil Hughes settled into the eighth inning, the 2009 Yankees had no weaknesses. They’re still the last AL team to win 100+ games, you know.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. Not a whole lot going on in the sports world tonight. The Knicks and Nets are playing, and that’s pretty much it. Talk about either of those games or reminisce about the 2009 Yankees here. Go nuts.

Update: CC Sabathia returns home after completing stay at rehab center


November 4th: Sabathia completed his stay at the rehab center last Friday, reports George King. He’s back home with his family in New Jersey. Hooray for that.

October 28th: Got some good news to pass along. According to Jon Heyman, CC Sabathia is expected to check out of his alcohol rehab center either later this week or early next week. Neither the Yankees nor Sabathia have confirmed anything. Sabathia checked into the rehab center on October 4th, so his stay will last roughly four weeks.

Now just because Sabathia is close to completing his stay at the rehab center, it doesn’t mean his alcohol problem is behind him. Not at all. He’ll have to work on his recovery literally the rest of his life, and especially in the next few weeks and months and years. Rehab was just the start and so far everything is going well. That’s good to hear.

The baseball aspect of Sabathia’s rehab is kinda uncomfortable to talk about, but it is something we should discuss. Since he’s leaving rehab relatively soon, it should have no impact on his offseason routine. Most pitchers don’t begin throwing until mid-to-late November or even December anyway. Sabathia has confirmed that is his usual offseason schedule when discussing injuries in recent years.

The first few weeks of the offseason are downtime. This year Sabathia spent them in rehab rather than on vacation. Unless he has to return to rehab at some point — that would be next level bad and not for baseball reasons — there’s no reason to think Sabathia’s offseason routine will be out of whack this winter. He’s still a few weeks from throwing anyway.

The good news is Sabathia is getting healthy and apparently making progress. He’ll have to keeping working at it going forward of course, but it looks like he has a strong support group in place, including the Yankees. As far as baseball is concerned, there’s no reason right now to think Sabathia won’t be ready come Spring Training.

Bailey elects free agency; Yankees add Campos to 40-man roster, activate four off 60-day DL


Busy transaction day for the Yankees. After releasing Chris Martin so he could sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the Yankees announced a series of roster moves this afternoon. Here’s the recap:

Campos, 23, returned from Tommy John surgery this year and had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings, mostly with High-A Tampa. Campos came over in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade and was once one of the top prospects in the organization, but injuries derailed him the last few seasons.

Brian Cashman said over the summer the team would consider adding Campos to the 40-man roster if his stuff returned following elbow reconstruction, and apparently it did. Campos would have become a minor league free agent this weekend had the Yankees not stuck him on the 40-man. He was on the 40-man in 2014 before getting hurt. The Yankees non-tendered Campos last offseason and re-signed him to a minor league deal.

Lindgren had surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. German and Whitley both blew out their elbows and needed Tommy John surgery. German had his in Spring Training while Whitley had his in May. Williams hurt his shoulder running into the outfield wall in mid-June and eventually needed surgery. There is no DL in the offseason. These four had to be activated no later than Friday.

The Yankees declined their $2M club option for Bailey earlier this week, but he remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player. Apparently the team slipped him through waivers and dropped him from the 40-man roster. Rather than accept the minor league assignment, Bailey will try his hand at free agency. Makes sense. He seemed like a potential 40-man roster casualty this winter.

So, after all of that, the Yankees have just one open 40-man roster spot at the moment. The deadline to add players to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft is November 20th. Two weeks from Friday. They’ll have to clear some more spots. Austin Romine, Caleb Cotham, and Jose Pirela stand out as candidates to be removed from the roster.

Chris Martin heading to Japan after being released by Yankees


The Yankees have released right-hander Chris Martin so he can sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, the team announced. Martin has released a statement through the Ham Fighters saying he’s happy to join the team. (It’s really just the Fighters, but c’mon.)

Here is Martin’s statement, via Yakyu Baka:

I am very pleased to officially become a part of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters organization. I want to thank the Fighters organization for the wonderful opportunity. I will do my best to meet the expectations of the Fighters and the fans next season by working hard during the off-season. I am ready to give what I have to help the team win a pennant and the Nippon Series.

Martin, 29, came over from the Rockies in a cash trade last offseason. He had a strong Spring Training, made the Opening Day roster, and was literally the first reliever Joe Girardi used in 2015 — Martin replaced Masahiro Tanaka on Opening Day and struck out all three batters he faced. Martin fanned 13 and walked two in his first eleven innings of the season. He even picked up a save in late-April when the usual late-inning guys needed a day to rest.

The 6-foot-8 Martin struggled in early-May, landed on the DL with elbow tendinitis, then spent the rest of the season on the bullpen shuttle. He finished the season with a 5.66 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 20.2 big league innings and a 3.18 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 28.1 Triple-A innings.

Forty-man roster space is limited this offseason and Martin figured to be a casualty whenever a spot was needed, especially since the Yankees are deep in right-handed relievers with minor league options. Since Martin was still under Yankees control, chances are they’re getting a little cash from the Ham Fighters for granting his release. That’s usually how it works. Martin will undoubtedly make quite a bit more money in Japan than he would as an up-and-down arm here. That’s why he’s making the move.

Between Martin’s release and the other transactions earlier this week, the Yankees now have five open spots on the 40-man roster. It’s really only one spot though — Domingo German (elbow), Jacob Lindgren (elbow), Chase Whitley (elbow), and Mason Williams (shoulder) have to be activated off the DL by Friday. The deadline to set the 40-man for the Rule 5 Draft is November 20th.

Update: The Yankees received $750,000 from the Ham Fighters for Martin, the team announced. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Update II: Martin received a two-year contract worth $1.7M, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith. He also gets $300,000 in incentives. Good for him!

The Best and Very Worst of Jacoby Ellsbury [2015 Season Review]


Two offseasons ago the Yankees decided to let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent, opting to let some other team pay for his decline years after getting what were likely the best seasons of his career. The Yankees had been on the other side of that move far too often the last few decades. They were usually playing for decline years after the player peaked elsewhere.

It was a wonderful change in philosophy that lasted no more than a few days. Soon after they learned Cano would not be accepting their final offer, the Yankees acted quickly to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year contract worth $153M. Fair or not, the Yankees are considered to have replaced Cano with Ellsbury. He was the next huge money free agent they signed. Ellsbury’s first year in pinstripes went well. The second? It was a disaster, and I don’t think that’s overstating it.

Back to Leadoff

Due to injuries and whatnot, Joe Girardi was forced to use Ellsbury as his No. 3 hitter for much of last season even though he’s totally miscast for the role. This year, with Derek Jeter retired and the No. 2 lineup spot freed up, Girardi was able to move Ellsbury back atop the lineup without batting Brett Gardner seventh or eighth or something ridiculous like that. He could bat his two best table-setters atop the lineup.

Spring Training was actually a bit of a mess for Ellsbury. He went 7-for-35 (.200) with one extra-base hit and only appeared in 12 Grapefruit League games due an oblique strain. He missed the final two weeks of camp but did heal up in time for the start of the season. Ellsbury was on the Opening Day roster and in his usual leadoff spot come the start of the regular season.

Leadoff Dominance

Ellsbury managed to play in a few tune-up games at the end of Spring Training, but he hadn’t played regularly since mid-March, so it would have been understandable if he came out of the gate a little slow. He did take an 0-for-4 on Opening Day, but, after that, Ellsbury was a leadoff dynamo. He reached base four times in the second game of the season (two hits, two walks) and 39 times in his next 19 games (!).

Despite hitting for very little power — he had three extra-base hits (two doubles and a homer) in April — Ellsbury was a dominant, game-changing force atop the lineup. He hit .321 with a .406 OBP in April, stealing eight bases and striking out only 14.6% of the time. Ellsbury’s best game of 2015 came at his old stomping grounds, when he went 4-for-4 and reached base six times at Fenway Park on May 3rd.

It happened so damn long ago that it’s easy to forget the Yankees had some trouble scoring runs early in the season. Ellsbury and Gardner got on and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drove them in. That was it. That was the offense. No one else was hitting, so if that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score. Ellsbury scored 24 runs in the team’s first 30 games. He didn’t even play in two of them. That’s how good he was early in the season.

Through the first 40 games of the season, Ellsbury hit .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) with 14 stolen bases, a lot of walks (11.2%), and not a lot of strikeouts (13.5%). That was on top of his typically stellar defense. Ellsbury wasn’t hitting for power — he had four doubles, a homer, and no triples in those 40 games, so yeah — but he was doing everything else. Hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases, catching the ball … everything. Ellsbury is a heck of a player when he’s at his best.

The Knee Injury That Changed Everything

On May 19th, against the Nationals in Washington, Ellsbury swung at a pitch and apparently caught his spike in the dirt. He tweaked his right knee, and while he stayed in the game to run the bases, he eventually had to be taken out. Here’s the play:

It looked innocent enough. Just a little tweak, nothing he couldn’t walk off, right? We see hitters take swings like that and shake their leg afterwards almost every day during the season.

The injury was bad enough that the Yankees placed Ellsbury on the 15-day DL immediately after the game. Didn’t even wait until the next morning. An MRI showed a knee sprain. The cool thing is Slade Heathcott was called up to replace Ellsbury, so prospect junkies like myself loved that, but damn yo, the Yankees couldn’t afford to lose Ellsbury. He was killing the ball.

The Yankees never did give a firm timetable for Ellsbury’s return other than to acknowledge he would miss more than the minimum 15 days. Come the end of May he was still limited to low-impact work in a pool. It wasn’t until June 5th that Ellsbury did any sort of baseball activity, and even that was only dry swings. He ran the bases for the first time on the 10th and took full batting practice for the first time on the 15th.

It wasn’t until June 29th that Ellsbury started a minor league rehab assignment. He got three at-bats as the DH with High-A Tampa that day, took the next day off, then played six innings in center field the next day. Ellsbury needed two days off after that because of what was being called general fatigue. He played two more minor league games on June 4th and 5th, then rejoined the Yankees on the 8th.

All told, the knee injury sidelined Ellsbury for 49 days and 43 team games. By time he returned, the Yankees had played more games without him (43) than with him (41). Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt. He’s a slow healer and we saw it this summer. It’s not that he suffered setbacks or anything like that, it just took him a while to get healthy enough to pass his rehab milestones.

Never The Same

Believe it or not, Ellsbury went 6-for-17 (.353) with a home run in his first four games back after the knee injury. It looked like he was going to pick up where he left off before getting hurt. That wasn’t the case though. Ellsbury fell into a deep slump and it lasted pretty much the rest of the regular season. He went 11-for-57 (.193) in 14 July games after the All-Star break.

Aside from the occasional mini-hot streak — Ellsbury went 12-for-28 (.429) in six games from August 13th to 18th, for example — Ellsbury was a major drain on the offense down the stretch. He returned from the injury and hit .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) in his final 74 games and 331 plate appearances of the season. Just take a second to wrap your head around that. I’ll wait.

Okay, back. We aren’t talking about a small sample or some arbitrary endpoint here. There’s nothing arbitrary about coming back from an injury. That’s a half season’s worth of playing time as one of the very worse hitters in baseball. In fact, a total of 143 players had at least 250 plate appearances from July 8th — the date Ellsbury returned from the DL — through the end of the season. Among those 143 players, Ellsbury ranked …

134th in AVG
137th in OBP
134th in SLG

… and that’s awful. He was legitimately one of the ten worst hitters in baseball after coming back from the knee injury. Ellsbury was so bad down the stretch that he didn’t even start the wildcard game. Think about that. In year two of a seven-year contract worth $153M, the Yankees determined Ellsbury was not good enough to start a winner-take-all game. Yikes. Worst of all, it was absolutely the right decision. He was that bad.

Between the great start and miserable finish, Ellsbury hit .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) with seven homers, 21 steals in 30 attempts (70%), a 7.0% walk rate, and a 17.2% strikeout rate in 2015. For reference, Ichiro Suzuki hit .281/.314/.364 (86 wRC+) in two and a half years with the Yankees. That’s what the Yankees got from Ellsbury overall this season. Ichiro production.

I thought Ellsbury’s defense took a step back after the knee injury, which is understandable. One of his legs had been compromised. He wasn’t bad defensively by any means, just not as good as he can be when fully healthy. All told, Ellsbury was worth 1.9 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR in 2015. He fell literally one plate appearance shy of qualifying for the batting title, but, if he had, he would have ranked 38th and 46th among 55 qualified outfielders in bWAR and fWAR, respectively.

Before & After

Something changed following the injury. Ellsbury was great, then he got hurt, then he was opposite of great. Here’s a breakdown of his performance before and after the injury. Let’s see if this shows any sort of red flags. (I included his 2014 stats for reference.)

Contact% Chase% GB% FB% Pull% Oppo% Soft% Hard% BABIP
2014 86.5% 27.8% 41.8% 33.5% 38.0% 25.4% 17.0% 28.4% .341
Pre-DL 87.5% 30.7% 47.2% 28.0% 38.4% 27.2% 23.2% 22.4% .379
Post-DL 83.2% 34.2% 44.3% 32.0% 37.6% 26.9% 24.1% 20.4% .261

Ellsbury chased more pitches out of the zone and made less contact after the injury, but the difference isn’t extreme. His batted ball profile didn’t change a ton either, a few percentage points in either direction, which is normal year-to-year — or this case, pre-DL to post-DL — fluctuation. The changes aren’t significant enough to be a real red flag in my opinion.

That’s good! You want Ellsbury’s underlying performance to be the same. He was awesome in the first half. Do it again! The fact he swung at more pitches out of the zone suggests to me Ellsbury wasn’t comfortable at the plate, either physically or with his approach. I’m going to go back to this image I posted a few weeks ago:

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

The screen grab on the left is from May, right before Ellsbury landed on the DL. The screen grab on the right is from September. They both show the instant Ellsbury’s front foot hits the ground as part of his leg kick.

The difference is pretty significant even though all of this is happening in the blink of an eye. In May, Ellsbury’s foot landed when the pitch was almost at the plate, and his body was rotating to uncork his swing. In September, his foot touched down almost as soon as the ball was out of the pitcher’s hand. He hadn’t even begun to load his swing yet. His swing was mostly arms.

Simply put, Ellsbury’s timing was off. Either because he was protecting the knee after the injury — that can happen subconsciously — or because he was a mechanical mess. The screen grabs capture something the stats don’t really show. Ellsbury was not right at the plate. He wasn’t putting himself in the best position to hit — I guess it’s more correct to say he wasn’t putting himself in the same position to hit as he had been earlier in the season — and that may explain his second half swoon.

Looking Ahead to 2016

There’s little chance the Yankees will trade Ellsbury this offseason. He has five years and another $110M or so left on his contract, and the team would have to eat a lot of that to facilitate a deal. His value is as low as it’s going to get. It’s not the worst contract in baseball but it is climbing the list. No doubt about it.

At this point the Yankees can do nothing but hope an offseason of rest will help Ellsbury get over whatever plagued him after returning from the DL. That’s where they’re at: hoping he was hurt and will be healthy come Spring Training. For now, there’s little reason to think the Yankees won’t go into the 2016 with Ellsbury as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.

Finding a way to create flexibility will be key to offseason for the Yankees


The 2015-16 offseason is now underway, but things really won’t get going until Saturday, when free agents can start signing with new teams. Even then the first few days and weeks of free agency can be slow. Like the regular season, the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once the offseason really gets moving, the Yankees will look for ways to improve despite limited maneuverability, both in terms of the roster and payroll. The payroll could always increase — these are the Yankees after all, they might has well have a money printing room in the basement of Yankee Stadium — but Hal Steinbrenner has been hesitant to give the thumbs up. That’s another topic for another time, I guess.

Roster flexibility is a different matter. Roster spots are finite. You’ve got your 25-man active roster and 15 reserve players on the 40-man roster. That’s it. For the Yankees, eleven of those 25-man roster spots are already accounted for thanks to guaranteed contracts. Add in arbitration-eligible players and it’s 18 spots. Then add in the no-brainer pre-arbitration guys and it’s 21 spots. Here’s the roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann Mark Teixeira Brett Gardner CC Sabathia Andrew Miller
Dustin Ackley Jacoby Ellsbury Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
DH Didi Gregorius Carlos Beltran Michael Pineda Justin Wilson
Alex Rodriguez Chase Headley Nathan Eovaldi Adam Warren
Luis Severino Ivan Nova
John Ryan Murphy ? ?
Brendan Ryan ?

Four open spots: two pitchers and two position players. With Warren and Nova in the bullpen — at least for this exercise — the Yankees have rotation depth in case someone gets hurt or unexpectedly falls apart. So those last two pitching spots don’t really come with defined roles. The closer is set, the setup guys are in place, the long men are there. They need two middle relievers, basically. The more dominant the better.

The position player spots are where it gets interesting because the Yankees need a backup outfielder and they need to find a way to better rest their veteran players. That will be easier said than done given the lack of versatility. Here are some possible ways to improve things.

Give Alex A Glove

The Yankees were very hesitant to play A-Rod in the field this year — he didn’t play the field at all after May 23rd and didn’t play a full inning in the field after May 5th — and I get it. He’s over 40, he’s got two surgically repaired hips, he’s not very mobile anymore. All good and valid reasons to keep him at DH.

That said, I think the Yankees should have him work out at first base a little more often next year. (Forget third base, that’s not happening at this point.) Not regularly, but maybe once every ten games? That frees up the DH spot for someone else and adds more flexibility. It’s not much, but it’s something. Alex is crazy good at this baseball thing. Give him time at first in Spring Training and he’ll pick it up.

Joe Girardi has already talked about finding a way to keep his veteran players fresh next year, and that includes A-Rod, who faded in the second half. He played 151 games this season and started 138. Maybe the magic number next year is 120 starts. Is there any chance it could be 105 at DH and 15 at first? That’s not too much to ask.

Put JRM Back On The Infield, Sometimes


The infield is not unfamiliar territory for Murphy. He played third base in high school before converting to catcher full-time after being drafted, and he played 14 games at third in the minors as well. The Yankees had him work out at first base late this year and Murphy routinely takes ground balls at third base before games, though most players work out at other positions in batting practice.

Murphy’s long-term value is greatest at catcher. Put him at another position full-time and he’s just another guy. The Yankees don’t need him to play another position full-time, however. They could just use him for spot start duty at either first or third base. Position changes are usually far-fetched, especially when they involve catchers, but the Yankees did have Murphy spend time getting familiar with first base this season, so it’s at least crossed their mind. He’s athletic enough and it’s a way to get him some more at-bats.

Put Refsnyder Back In The Outfield, Sometimes

To me, this is less realistic than putting Murphy at first or third base. Murphy’s a good defensive catcher. Refsnyder is a bad defensive second baseman who needs more reps there. Any time he spends in the outfield — as you know, Refsnyder was an outfielder in college before the Yankees moved him to second base — is time he could be spending at second base, where he needs work and is ultimately most valuable. Is putting Refsnyder in the outfield an option? Yeah. Of course. It’s an idea to kick around. I’m not sure having Refsnyder spend time in the outfield is best for his development at second base though.

Get A True Utility Man

The “go outside the organization” option. The Yankees could bring a true utility player type. They could go high-end (Ben Zobrist), mid-range (Martin Prado), or low-end (Mike Aviles). All three of those guys can play both the infield and outfield. And unlike Ackley, they can play the left side of the infield. (Ackley’s arm has been terrible since he had Tommy John surgery in college. Shortstop or third base ain’t happenin’.)

Zobrist or Prado would not necessarily be a bench player, they’d almost be like the tenth position player, capable of playing in a different spot depending on who needs rest. Aviles is not someone you want to give much playing time, so he’d be a Ryan replacement more than anything. Neither can hit and Ryan is the better defender, but he can’t play all three outfield spots like Aviles. You’d being trading some defensive competence for versatility, a trade that may or may not be worth making.

More than anything, the Yankees need to figure out a way to get their players more rest, whether that’s full days off or half-days as the DH. This past season they had no real backup third baseman and the DH spot was unavailable because of A-Rod. With limited roster flexibility, both in terms of players under contract and available roster spots, the Yankees will have to get creative.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today in a Players’ Tribune post about his massive dog, Derek Jeter subtly confirmed his engagement to Hannah Davis, in case you were still wondering if the rumors are true. Here’s the ring. Jeter’s dog, an Italian Mastiff named Kane, is pretty much as big as he is nowadays. It looks like a pretty awesome dog.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. All three local hockey teams are in action tonight but both of the basketball teams have an off-day. Talk about those games, Jeter’s dog, or anything else here.