Update: Eric Chavez leaves game with whiplash and possible concussion

9:11pm: Chavez left the game with whiplash and a possible concussion. He hurt himself while diving for a ball an inning prior to leaving the game. Chavez will undergo more tests, but I can’t see any way he’ll avoid the DL. It’s worth noting that MLB instituted the 7-day DL for concussions last season, just in case you forgot (I did).

8:31pm: Eric Chavez left tonight’s game for an unknown reason in the middle of his fifth inning at-bat. He appeared to get dizzy all of a sudden and had to be helped off the field. Very weird. Eduardo Nunez replaced him at third base, leaving the Yankees with just Chris Stewart on the bench. Update(s) to follow.

Game 24: Brighten Up

One of these tonight, please. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The weather in New York today seems to reflect my feelings about the Yankees at the moment. Just … blah. It’s overcast and has been raining on and off all day, kinda like how the Yankees seem to be going up and down over the last few weeks. The starting pitching has been mostly underwhelming but has improved of late while the offense started out well before some injuries robbed the club of some punch. It’s not ideal, neither the weather or the team’s recent performance. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
LF Andruw Jones
Russell Martin

RHP Ivan Nova

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET, though the weather isn’t great in New York. It’s been drizzling on and off all day and that’s expected to continue all night. Not baseball weather, but unlikely to cause a postponement or significant delay. The game can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Update: Yankees sign Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia

Update (6:08pm): Via Marc Carig, Garcia signed a one-year minor league deal worth $400k. So the report of six years and $16M was just slightly off the mark, eh?

5:00pm: Via Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia. The terms of the contract are unknown, but Brian Cashman shot down reports of a six-year, $16M offer back in March. I would be stunned if the deal came even remotely close to that number.

The 5-foot-7, 180 lb. right-handed hitter put up a .270/.313/.461 batting line during winter ball, though Badler says Garcia “doesn’t have any standout tools, so it’s hard for scouts to see him fitting in as a big league regular.” Whatever the signing bonus is, it will not count towards this year’s international spending limit. That doesn’t kick in until July 2nd.

Gardner still feeling pain in elbow, will be shut down for a few days

Via Marc Carig, outfielder Brett Gardner still feels some pain in his right elbow and will be shut down for a few days. He had been swinging a bat in the cage the three or four days and is eligible to come off the DL tomorrow, though that obviously won’t happen. Despite Gardner’s setback, the Yankees are not planning to call up another outfielder according to Joe Girardi. That is just insane.

April 2012 Monthly Wrap-Up

With one month officially in the books it’s time for this year’s inaugural edition of the Yankees Monthly Wrap-Up series. For those unfamiliar with my monthly rundowns, feel free to check previous editions out here.

At 13-9 (1.5 games out of first), April 2012 was a solid month overall for the Yanks despite some of the worst starting pitching any of us have seen from the team in quite some time. By comparison, a year ago the Yanks finished out April 15-9 and were 1.5 games up in first.

The Offense

The Yankee offense — and bullpen — were the reasons the team was able to compile a winning record in April. Not much to complain about here, as the Bombers had the second-highest wOBA in the AL after the Rangers, and the best offense in the game when adjusted for park and league. Interestingly, the Yankees’ .358 team wOBA in April was better than every monthly wOBA they put up in 2011 except for last August, when they annihilated the ball to the tune of a .378 wOBA. Out of the Yankees’ last 67 months’ worth of play (dating back to the beginning of the 2001 season), this was the team’s 21st-best monthly offensive performance by wOBA, and the 8th-best by wRC+.

The Yankees somewhat oddly hit a slightly-below-league average percentage of fly balls, but when they did put them in the air they cleared the fence at the best rate in the league. Less surprisingly they saw a below-league-average percentage of fastballs — I say less surprisingly because, as always, they hammered the fastball (top wFA/C in the league). They also saw the second-highest percentage of two-seamers.

On an individual basis, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher carried the day, and their significantly above-average performances helped pick up the disappointing months put up by notorious slow-starter Mark Teixeira (87 wRC+), and, more surprisingly, Robinson Cano (93 wRC+). I’m actually fairly surprised more hasn’t been made of Cano’s nonexistence at the plate thus far; he’s given the team almost nothing and it’s kind of crazy to think how good the offense could be if he were contributing. Russell Martin also had a forgettable month (88 wRC+), but he’s not expected to shoulder a significant portion of the offensive load. For those wondering, Jesus Montero hit .259/.271/.420 in April, while the Yankees have gotten .236/.304/.393 out of the players that have hit in the DH slot so far this season.

Starting Pitching

I more or less covered the Yankees’ wretched April starting pitching on Friday, but it’s worth nothing that CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were able to help keep the Yankees from registering their worst month of starting pitching in 10 years, though at 5.80 they did secure their second-worst month of collective starters’ ERAs since 2002.

At varying points during April CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova each looked very good, but each also contributed some shaky starts. Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes were flat-out terrible. If he had enough innings to qualify Hughes’ horrendous 2.9 HR/9 would be second-worst in all of baseball.

Bullpen

The bullpen was insane in April, with a 2.00 ERA that was the team’s third-lowest monthly ERA of its last 61 months. While ERA is a flawed metric — even moreso for relief pitchers — that’s still pretty ridiculous. The only months the Yankees’ relief corps have pitched to a lower ERA since 2002 were August 2002 (1.57) and August 2010 (1.82). I hope you all enjoyed the Yankee bullpen relief performance in April, because we won’t be seeing it again for a while.

Any conversation about the bullpen has to start and end with David Robertson, who continued the stretch of dominance he kicked off a year ago by allowing no earned runs over 11 innings and striking out 14.73 men per nine in April. One of these days D-Rob might give up a run, but let’s hope it doesn’t happen again for a long, long time. David Phelps was the only member of the ‘pen who really registered a “poor” performance by the numbers, although his ability to mop up multiple innings while mostly still keeping the team close was certainly useful, and his ledger is partially skewed by a presumably unsustainable propensity for giving up the long ball (2.04 HR/9). If Phelps can throw to an ERA anywhere near what xFIP thinks he can (4.11), he’ll be a more-than-serviceable replacement for Sweaty Freddy as the fifth starter.

On the Yankees and developing pitchers

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It’s no secret that the Yankees have been unable to develop any quality starting pitching over the last … I dunno, five or ten or fifteen years. It’s part of the reason why they had to go out and trade for a young arm like Michael Pineda, because they haven’t been able to produce someone like that on their own. In fairness, the farm system was ignored for a long time in the early-to-mid-aughts, but guys like Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, and Phil Hughes haven’t pan out in recent years.

I had been planning to write about the Yankees and their pitching development program for a few weeks now, though I just never got around to it. It’s going to appear as though this is stemming from Phil Hughes’ performance last night and Pineda’s injury, but that honestly is not the case. This post has been in the works for a while. This quote from that anonymous scout guy (he gets around quite a bit, no?) in John Harper’s latest column finally gave me the motivation to get this together…

“I know we all baby these guys now,” one scout said, referring to young pitchers throughout baseball, “but I don’t know, maybe the Yankees take it to an extreme with the innings limits and pitch counts, and their kids never learn how to push themselves when they’re a little tired in situations where they need to get out of trouble.

“It’s not just them, but you can only protect arms so much, and sometimes it doesn’t matter at all because pitchers are going to get hurt. I just look at Hughes and Chamberlain and I can’t figure out what happened to them, and now I don’t like what I’m seeing from [Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances] either.”

I feel like the Yankees have managed to find this perfect balance between being both overly conservative and overly aggressive with their pitchers. They’re conservative in the sense that they hold them to strict pitch counts, but aggressive in the sense that they run them up the ladder after a good half-season at a level. Just take Ivan Nova for example. He’s the exception, a generally unheralded prospect who threw 575.1 IP in the minors before making his first MLB start. Compare that to Hughes (275 IP) or Joba (88.1 IP (!)) and it’s not hard to see why Nova come up a more complete pitcher and able to contribute. Now obviously every pitcher is different and not everyone needs 500+ IP in the minors before being ready for the show, this is just one example using three guys we’re all familiar with.

I think the scout in Harper’s column has a really good point about kids being unable to learn “how to push themselves when they’re a little tired in situations” while on strict workload limitations in the minors. Getting to the bigs and being effective as a young pitcher is hard enough, but you don’t want to compound the problem by having the kid standing out there in the fifth or sixth inning with his pitch count at 100 when he’s only thrown that many pitches in an outing a handful of times in his life. The big leagues is neither the time nor place for a pitcher to learn how to turn over a lineup three times or throw 100+ pitches in a start. It’s possible — not necessarily easy — to have a young player extend himself in the minors for the benefit of development without putting him at serious risk of injury. We know too much work can be bad for a young pitcher, but too little work can be harmful in a different way.

The whole point of the minor leagues is to help players develop the skills they need to be successful in the big leagues, and for pitchers that includes working deep into games — sometimes without their best stuff — and going through a lineup multiple times. That doesn’t mean they should run everyone out there for 120 pitches every five days, but this arbitrary five innings/80 pitches threshold we’ve seen employed so often in recent years accomplishes what, exactly? Hughes with Double-A Trenton in 2006 is a perfect example. He destroyed that league after his midseason promotion — 30.8 K% and 7.1 BB% with a 2.26 FIP in 116 IP — but he only threw more than five innings in 13 of 21 starts and not once in his final eleven outings. Again, we don’t have all the information from where we sit, but it’s hard to see how he was being challenged in that environment. More learning occurs when mistakes are made, not when things are easy.

Now obviously not every pitching prospect is going to work out, there’s some level of attrition that’s just unavoidable. Injuries are going to happen as well; pitchers can be babied to the nth degree and they’ll still get hurt. They’re cool like that. That said, I do think it’s fair to question how the Yankees have gone about developing their young pitchers in recent years, though we also have to acknowledge that as outsiders, we only have a small piece of the information pie. All we know about player development is what we’ve picked up as laymen over the years while reading Baseball America and Keith Law and checking box scores on a nightly basis. In the wake of Pineda’s injury and the failures of Hughes and Joba as starting pitchers, I do think that some level of self-reflection — more than the usual — has to take place on the Yankees’ part. What they’ve been doing has not been working.

The Roster Madness

At least there are plenty relievers available to mop up this mess. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have been playing with a 24-man roster the last few days as Nick Swisher nurses his low-grade hamstring strain, an injury that will reportedly keep him on the shelf for another 5-7 days*. To make matters a little worse, they replaced Brett Gardner with another pitcher — first Cody Eppley, then D.J. Mitchell — when the left fielder hit the DL with various right arm problems. Of the 24 usable players, only eleven are non-pitchers. That’s a little nuts.

* I can’t imagine we’ll see him any early than Tuesday, following the scheduled off day.

No one will replace Gardner’s defensive value, but the Yankees have compounded the problem by keeping Swisher active rather than replacing him a healthy player that can play the outfield competently. That’s led to Raul Ibanez and Eduardo Nunez roaming the outfield and costing the team runs on defense, sometimes in painfully obvious ways. I understand not wanting to lose one the team’s most productive players any longer than you have too, but we’re starting to reach the point where keeping him on the roster will the cost the team more than they’ll gain by having him back a few days earlier.

The easiest way for the Yankees to fix their two-man bench problem is to simply send down Mitchell and get back to a normal 12-man pitching staff. They’ll still have Freddy Garcia available for long relief, plus CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have started pitching deeper into games on a more consistent basis. Monday’s an off day as well, a built-in day of rest. The need for eight bullpen arms just isn’t all that great right now. No, the pressing need is another warm body for the bench, someone who can at the very least play passable defense in an outfield corner and maybe even pinch-run. They don’t need miracles, just someone like Melky Mesa for a week. That’s all.

More than anything, my biggest concern in this entire roster mess is that Swisher won’t get the proper time to heal and his low-grade hamstring strain turns into a high-grade hamstring strain. It’s very easy to re-aggravate a muscle problem, especially a lower body strain on an outfielder. A setback would put the timetable for Swisher’s return at weeks, not days. If they’re dead set on keeping him off the DL, fine. They just better not rush him back because well, the bench is short. With Gardner reportedly unlikely to come off the DL when eligible tomorrow, just send down a pitcher and get another capable body where one is really needed, the corner outfield.