Tuesday Links: Pentland, Sleep, Luxury Tax, Rivera

The Yankees huddled around a small television in their Boston hotel to watch Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. (Photo via @TravelingSec)
The Yankees huddled around a small television in their Boston hotel to watch Mayweather vs. Pacquiao on Saturday. (Photo via @TravelingSec)

The Yankees and Blue Jays continue their three-game series at Rogers Centre later tonight. Until then, here are some miscellaneous links to check out.

Yankees step up after hitting coach’s wife’s health scare

Back in February, new hitting coach Jeff Pentland and his wife Liz received some bad health news, bad enough that Pentland considered resigning one month into his new job. According to George King, Liz Pentland tested positive for a cancer gene and needs to undergo a mastectomy. “She didn’t want me to (resign), but under no circumstances was I going to let her do this by herself,” said Pentland to King.

The Yankees stepped up to help their new hitting coach and his wife, specifically Joe Girardi and head trainer Steve Donahue. They helped arrange visits to the doctor and deal with insurance issues, among other things. Liz will have surgery later this week and Pentland will be away from the team for a few days. Assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell will fill as hitting coach for the time being.

“Without the New York Yankees, none of this happens. They have been fantastic,” said Pentland. “The doctors are experts in their field, top notch, and we feel very comfortable. We owe a lot to the New York Yankees, Brian Cashman and the whole Steinbrenner family. I guess it was meant to be that I became a Yankee.’’

The Luxury Tax Problem

As you know, the Yankees plan to get under the luxury tax threshold within the next two years. They tried and failed to get under the $189M threshold last year — missing the postseason and losing out on all that extra revenue played a big part in that, no doubt — but appear willing to give it another go in the near future. Like it or not, it’s going to happen.

Nathanial Grow at FanGraphs analyzed the luxury tax and confirmed what has become increasingly obvious with each passing year: the luxury tax threshold is increasing at a much slower rather than league revenues. When it was first implemented in 2003, the luxury tax threshold was set at 90% of the average team’s revenue. MLB and the MLBPA then agreed to switch to a fixed threshold, and now it is only 63% of the average team’s revenue. Here’s Grow’s blurb on the Yankees:

Take the Yankees, for example. From 2000 until 2005, New York’s payroll increased at approximately the same rate as the team’s estimated revenues. As soon as the Yankees faced a 40% penalty as a three-time violator under the new luxury tax framework adopted in 2006, however, the team’s payroll effectively flatlined. This has remained true up to today, even though the Yankees’ estimated annual revenues almost doubled from 2005 to 2014. As a result, today the luxury tax threshold is set at a level approximately less than 40% of New York’s estimated annual revenues.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of next season and ideally the next CBA would both tie the luxury tax threshold to revenue and reduce penalties, but chances are that won’t happen. The MLBPA already caved and agreed to a fixed threshold and stiff penalties. The best they can probably do now is increase the threshold. It has to be over $200M at this point and should probably be closer to $220M or $230M. The revenue is there to support it.

Yankees consulted with sleep therapists before staying Boston

I thought this was interesting. Following Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox, the Yankees stayed in Boston and flew to Toronto yesterday morning rather than travel right after the game as usual. They needed MLB approval to do that. According to George King, the Yankees consulted sleep therapists before making the decision to stay in Boston another night.

“You stay on a little more normal sleep schedule. You get here at 4 or 4:30 and we encourage guys not to go to bed at that time unless we are traveling. So (Sunday night) you can go to bed at 1:30 or two o’clock and sleep to 10, 10:30,” said Joe Girardi, who called the extra night in Boston an “organizational decision.” Obviously last night’s game didn’t go too well, but that’s not necessarily evidence the plan to travel in the morning was a bad. Sometimes baseball just happens.

I wouldn’t call it a market inefficiency, but teams nowadays are trying to gain a competitive advantage by getting their players more rest. Several clubs have upgraded their planes to improve travel conditions — the Mariners and Athletics were the first teams to do so, which isn’t surprising since they’re on the West Coast and fly so often — and now the Yankees are consulting sleep therapists to determine the best time to travel.

Mariano to receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor

ThisOn Sunday, Mariano Rivera will be one of 90 honorees to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, according to the Associated Press. There’s a ceremony and a gala and all that. The Ellis Island Medal of Honor recognizes those “who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity; all while maintaining the traditions of their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.” Pretty neat. Congrats to Mo.

Michael Pineda is changing things up … for the better

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

With the health of Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm/elbow a huge question mark following his latest DL stint, Michael Pineda has assumed the de facto role of ace in the Yankees rotation. While his 3.73 ERA is nothing special, his peripherals and defense-independent stats are flat-out ridiculous, and probably are the better indicator of his true pitching performance this season.

In 31 1/3 innings, Pineda has struck out 32 batters, walked two guys (!) and allowed two home runs. That all adds up to an AL-best 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a FIP of 2.20, which ranks among the five best in baseball. He’s even sporting a career-best ground ball rate of 55 percent, putting him in rare company this season:

There are three pitchers who are striking out more than one-quarter of batters faced, with a walk rate below five percent and are getting grounders on more than 50 percent of balls in play: Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Michael Pineda. Any time your name is on a short list with those two pitchers, you’re doing something right.

******

Prior to his first start of the season, I wrote here about one key improvement Pineda needed to make in order to truly stand out atop of the Yankees rotation: the ability to pitch deep into games. That obviously doesn’t tell the whole story of how he can develop into an ace, though.

Another trait the best pitchers in the game share is an arsenal that features at least three above-average, quality pitches they can throw in nearly any count. Pineda has always been able to unleash a devastating fastball-slider combo, and relied heavily on that mix last year, throwing those two pitches nearly 90 percent of the time. But this season he’s added a much-improved changeup which has brought him that much closer to achieving “ace” status.

Let’s take a deeper look at the development of this new weapon and how Pineda is using his newfound toy to dominate hitters.

Pineda clearly has more confidence in his changeup this season and is consistently going to that third pitch every outing. He has thrown his changeup at least 10 percent of the time in all five of his starts in 2015, a rate that he reached in just six of 13 starts last year.

Not only has he increased its overall usage from 9.3 percent to 13.6 percent, per Brooksball.net, he’s also more comfortable throwing it to both lefties and righties. He’s already thrown 25 changeups to right-handed batters this season, 10 more than he threw in all of 2014.

Another indication of his increased confidence in the changeup is his willingness to use it as an out-pitch, to complement his already-nasty slider. He’s more than doubled his changeup usage in two-strike counts over the last two seasons (from 9 percent to 20 percent), giving hitters yet another off-speed pitch they have to worry about when falling behind in the count.

MICHAEL PINEDA PITCH USAGE WITH 2 STRIKES

Year Fastball pct Changeup pct Slider pct
2015 28.5% 20.0% 51.5%
2014 44.9% 8.8% 46.3%

Although the pitch is still evolving, it’s been really effective for him in finishing off batters. Pineda has thrown 26 two-strike changeups and gotten eight strikeouts with those pitches (all swinging!) this season, giving him a changeup “put-away” rate of 31 percent that is tied for second in the majors (min. 50 pitches). Daniel Murphy had no chance when he decided to swing at this 87 mph two-strike changeup on April 24:

While strikeouts are nice and flashy and get the crowd pumped up, the real bread-and-butter of Pineda’s changeup is in its ability to get ground balls. Batters have put 13 of his changeups in play this season, and 10 of those have been grounders. That’s a ground ball rate of 77 percent on his changeup which puts him among the top-5 in the majors and is a huge jump from last year’s mark of 44 percent.

It’s no secret that the key to getting more grounders is to pound the bottom of the strike zone, and Pineda has done exactly that with his changeup this season. He’s improved the location of the pitch this season compared to last year, leaving fewer hanging changeups and burying more of those pitches below the hitters’ knees.

2014 changeup pineda

The changeup, however, remains a work in progress for Pineda. He’s struggled to command it on the edges, getting just four called strikes compared to 33 (called) balls this season, a rate that ranks in the bottom 10 percent among major-league pitchers.

While you never want to serve up meatballs in the middle of the plate, you need to at least occasionally throw something that looks like a strike in order to keep hitters honest. Pineda, though, has put only 10 of his 65 changeups (15 percent) in the zone. So far he has relied mostly on hitters’ poor discipline to get outs, which probably isn’t sustainable over a full season.

Despite the control problems, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the development and improvement of Pineda’s changeup this season. If he can continue to throw the pitch with confidence and become more consistent in its execution, Pineda could have three plus-pitches with which to dominate lineups – and should be nearly ready to put the title of “ace” next to his name on the back of his baseball card.

Three small, easy moves the Yankees can make to improve the margins of the roster

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

Even with last night’s disappointing come-from-ahead loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees have won 13 of their last 17 games, and they’ve played well in just about all phases of the game. Not truly great but good enough. They’re getting just enough offense and just enough starting pitching to support a strong team defense and a dominant bullpen.

The Yankees are not without their flaws, of course. The bottom of the order is mostly unproductive, like half the roster is at risk of physically breaking down in any given game, and some of the spare part players are providing little help. Garrett Jones failing to make that scoop in the eighth inning last night is a prime example. It was a tough play but one that has to be made.

The trade deadline is still several weeks away and the Yankees are unlikely to make a major roster move anytime soon. By major I mean adding a new everyday player to the lineup or a new starter to the rotation. (Chris Capuano is two weeks away from returning. That’s about as big as it’ll get until July.) The Yankees do have the ability to make some small upgrades to the margins of the roster though, and they don’t even have to go outside the organization to do it. Here are three that jump to mind.

Swap Petit For Pirela

This one is really straight forward. The Yankees were planning to call up Jose Pirela last Wednesday before Masahiro Tanaka got hurt and threw a wrench into things. Tanaka’s injury allowed the team to recall Gregorio Petit one day after sending him down and extend Pirela’s rehab assignment, which was actually a good thing because Pirela himself told Dan Pfeiffer he didn’t feel his swing was all the way back just yet.

Pirela went 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his first three rehab games before the Tanaka injury and has gone 12-for-22 (.545) with five doubles, one homer, two walks, and no strikeouts in five games since. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean he feels his swing is back to where it needs to be, but yeah. It sure seems like Pirela back on track after missing close to a month with the concussion.

For whatever reason Joe Girardi considers Petit a legitimate platoon option — he pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning last night! — but he’s not that type of player. Petit’s not much of a hitter at all. He’s been in pro ball since 2003 and has never really hit. No reason expect it to happen now unless he’s made a sacrifice to the BABIP gods. Pirela’s defense is not on par with Petit’s but his offense figures to be so far superior.

Petit surprisingly has an option left and that’s good. He’s worth stashing in Triple-A as middle infield depth since Brendan Ryan can’t even rehab one injury without hurting something else. This is a very simple move. Send down Petit, activate Pirela off the disabled list, and platoon him with Stephen Drew at second. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Swap Shreve Or Martin For Lindgren

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

I am going to die on the Jacob Lindgren hill this summer, aren’t I? New York’s top draft pick last year has struck out 14 of 50 batters faced in Triple-A and 24 of the 30 balls he’s allowed to be put in play have been ground balls. His career numbers are even better — 40.3% strikeouts and 80.6% grounders in 35 innings. Total domination from a quick moving college reliever.

The Yankees have played a lot of close games lately and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been worked hard. Betances pitched for the sixth time in the last nine games last night and Miller has appeared in five of nine. This is just one of those stretches where they’ve been needed a lot — at some point later this season they’ll go five or six days between appearances, that’s baseball — so anything the Yankees can do to make their lives easier, they should.

Last night Girardi turned to Chris Martin in the eighth inning and that didn’t work — he got one out and allowed two hits. That’s after nearly allowing a homer to Mookie Betts over the weekend. Furthermore, Chasen Shreve seems to be the quintessential “last guy in the bullpen.” He’s pitched in either mop-up spots or extra innings. These two have done nice work overall this year, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: you don’t let guys like that block someone like Lindgren.

The Yankees didn’t select Lindgren with their top pick last year because they think he’s a middle reliever. They believe he’s an impact reliever, and there’s no such thing as too many impact relievers. Betances and Miller are unbelievable. Betances, Miller, and Lindgren might be even better. Or it might not! At some point you have to find out, right? Lindgren’s a possible late-inning weapon. Martin and Shreve are the bullpen flavors of the week. Send down one, call up Lindgren, and let’s see what he’s got to offer.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Give Carpenter More Responsibility

This David Carpenter thing is crazy, isn’t it? It certainly appears Girardi does not trust him, possibly because of that big meltdown in Baltimore a few weeks ago. Carpenter threw one pitch in the Red Sox series and that was only because the bullpen was short-handed and Girardi had no choice to use him. Carpenter’s thrown six innings in the last 22 games and 3.2 of those six innings came with the Yankees up by at least six runs.

Games like last night are pretty much the exact situation I had in mind when the Yankees acquired Carpenter. Starter goes seven innings, one of Miller or Betances isn’t available, so Carpenter is the guy to pick up the slack. That’s basically what he did for the Braves the last two years, when he had a 2.63 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 126.2 innings. Isn’t that the kind of pitcher who deserves a longer leash than one meltdown before being banished to the far corner of the bullpen?

Girardi is usually really good with his bullpen usage and decisions, I mean really really good, yet Carpenter has fallen out of favor for whatever reason. I really don’t understand it. With Betances and Miller overworked, this is the time to show a little more faith in the right-hander in high-leverage spots. At least more faith than Martin. Carpenter’s pitched in late-inning situations before and he’s capable of doing it again. He just needs the opportunity. There’s no reason to hide him.

* * *

These aren’t major moves and no, they’re unlikely to have a big impact. They are potential upgrades though, potential upgrades with minimal downside. Swap Petit for Pirela and work Lindgren and Carpenter into the late-inning mix ahead of Martin and Shreve. Nothing crazy here. These are three easy-to-make moves — really two moves and one role change — and three possible upgrades that could help the Yankees sustain this recent hot stretch a little longer.

DotF: Judge picks up three hits, Trenton loses anyway

Got a couple notes to pass along before we get to the game action:

  • Ben Badler (subs. req’d) has a firsthand scouting report from RHP Luis Severino‘s most recent start. Severino’s fastball was “parking at 94-96 mph the entire game and topping out at 97,” plus he was “flashing a pair of secondary pitches in his slider and changeup that were swing-and-miss offerings at times but were still inconsistent.” Sounds about right.
  • The Yankees have released 3B Christopher Tamarez, according to Matt Eddy. They signed him for $650,000 as one of their top international signings in 2011, but Tamarez hit only .261/.318/.337 in 192 pro games, none above rookie ball. Also, Eddy says the RHP Jordan Foley was placed on the 7-day DL. Not sure what happened there.
  • And finally, ex-Yankees farmhand RHP Jeff Karstens announced his retirement on Twitter. He was the team’s 19th round pick in 2003, threw 57.1 innings in pinstripes from 2006-07, then was traded to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady deal. Karstens retired with a 4.44 ERA (4.55 FIP) in 592.1 innings and made nearly $8M. Not bad for a 19th rounder.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day.

Double-A Trenton (6-1 loss to Erie)

  • DH Jake Cave: 0-5
  • RF Aaron Judge: 3-4, 1 R — 10-for-21 (.476) in his last four games
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • 3B Eric Jagielo: 1-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — seven of his last nine hits have been doubles
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 PB, 1 E (throwing)
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 K
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 1 K, 5/1 GB/FB — only 30 of 65 pitches were strikes (46%) … had four walks in 16.1 innings coming into this game
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/3 GB/FB — 27 of 37 pitches were strikes (73%)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 22 of 35 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Whitley brilliant but unfortunate series of events dooms the Yankees in a 3-1 loss to Blue Jays

So, let’s start with the good news: Chase Whitley looked like an ace out there. He’s definitely earned more trust with that gem. Okay, time for bad news: pretty much everything else that happened after he left. The Yankees had a chance to extend the winning streak to four and nail the first game of the series in the Rogers Centre, but the painful eighth inning got in the way and New York lost 3-1. For now, just be happy that we are still in the first place. Can’t win them all.

Ace (Source: Getty)

Chase the ace:

Whitley tossed seven scoreless innings, gave up six hits, no walks and struck out six. That’s a great line and yet it still doesn’t feel like it doesn’t do justice on how well he pitched tonight. He hit corners, lured hitters, changed speeds and made some great hitters look silly.

Only major blunder from Chase tonight came from the third inning. With one out, Ezequiel Carrera tried to bunt for a base hit. Whitley picked up the ball but did not get a complete grip and threw it way off target. Carrera advanced to third. Fortunately, Whitley got Devon Travis to strike out swinging and Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the inning. Phew.

It’s only been two ML starts for Whitley this season but he’s shown the ability to strike out hitters (11 K’s in 12 IP) and throw strikes (only 1 walk allowed). Definitely don’t expect him to maintain this sub-1.00 ERA but two sharp outings against division rivals is encouraging.

Roger Centre is no paradise (Source: Getty)

The eighth inning of doom:

Chase Whitley was mostly a reliever in minors. He did not adapt to a regular starting role until last year and needless to say, I don’t think it was a horrible decision to pull him after 90 pitches thrown, especially with the caliber of bullpen the Yankees have. Joe Girardi put in Chris Martin, who has essentially put himself into the Circle of Trust this season.

Martin got the reigning AL Rookie of the Month Devon Travis to ground out. Josh Donaldson followed that up with a single and so did Jose Bautista. With the cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion coming up, Girardi sub’d in Dellin Betances. On the first pitch curveball that the slugger did not particularly hit well … the ball dropped in front of Brett Gardner by the left field line for a fair ball and a run scored. Just last night, a David Ortiz line drive with bases loaded sucked right into the center fielder’s glove, and tonight, a blooper by Encarnacion falls right by the line and becomes a game-tying double. Go figure.

Former Yankee Russell Martin came in to pinch hit. With the count full, the catcher hit a hard grounder down the line that Chase Headley somehow caught. Headley’s throw, however, eluded Garrett Jones‘s glove as the first baseman couldn’t handle the hard bouncer in front of him. Two more Jays runs scored. 3-1 Toronto. Sigh. Mark Teixeira definitely would have handled that throw better but I don’t think it was an easy throw to cleanly scoop.

Leftovers:

Carlos Beltran went 1-for-3 but he did hit the ball hard on all three at-bats. He also hit a leadoff double in the seventh inning that got the only Yankee scoring going. I do have to mention that the only pitcher he faced tonight was R.A. Dickey, who is not exactly an overpowering guy, but Beltran’s bat seemed to show some life since the Red Sox series, which is good.

Brett Gardner walked twice but his six-game hitting streak came to an end as he also went 0-for-2. Jacoby Ellsbury did not go 4-for-4 tonight but he did get a hit so it’s 1-for-4 instead. Unlike last night, tonight’s game went by quite quickly but then again, I would definitely trade the faster pace of game for some more Yankee runs.

Box Scores, WPA, Standings:

Here is the box score and updated standings. Oh, and WPA.


Source: FanGraphs


What’s next:

The series continues at Toronto tomorrow. #BigMike goes against Marco Estrada, who gave up tons of homers last year (1.73 HR/9). Hope there’s another winning streak starting soon.

Game 26: We Play Today, We Win Today, Das It

Sorry Chase, but I had to use this photo. (Presswire)
Sorry Chase, but I had to use this photo. (Presswire)

The Yankees are coming off a pretty damn awesome three-game sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway Park, their best and most impressive series since at least 2012. I still have a baseball hangover. Tonight’s series-opener against the Blue Jays in Toronto almost feels like a trap game after such a hectic and nail-biter of a win last night. Hopefully that isn’t the case.

You know what the Yankees could really use tonight? A blowout win. A blowout win and at least six innings from Chase Whitley so Chasen Shreve and either Chris Martin or Esmil Rogers can handle the rest. Both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have worked a lot lately — they’ve both pitched in five of the last eight games — and it would be nice to give them a real night off, a night in which they don’t even have to think about warming up. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. 2B Stephen Drew
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Garrett Jones
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Chase Whitley

It’s cloudy and cool in Toronto this evening. Not sure if they’ll have the Rogers Centre roof open or not though. First pitch is scheduled. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

2015 Draft: Donny Everett

Donny Everett | RHP

Background
The 18-year-old Everett attends Clarksville High School in Tennessee and is committed to Vanderbilt. He made the jump from interesting prospect to high-end prospect at the World Wood Bat Championships last August, where he was the hardest thrower in the tournament and performed well against other elite prep players.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 lbs., Everett is a big boy and pretty close to maxed out physically, which is fine because he already sits 92-95 mph. He regularly touched 97-98 last summer and has reportedly hit 100 a few times this spring. Everett’s secondary pitches lag behind his fastball, with his hard low-80s slider showing more MLB readiness than his mid-80s changeup. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it from his size, but Everett is a really good athlete, which is why most expect him to be able to tone down his high-effort delivery and improve his location going forward. With that big durable frame and a good feel for pitching, Everett has all the look of a future workhorse.

Miscellany
Keith Law (subs. req’d), Baseball America, and MLB.com ranked Everett as the 17th, 27th, and 31st best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Law said he’s heard the Yankees have been “heavy” on Everett this spring in his chat last week (subs. req’d). The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year, and it has historically been tough to buy kids away from Vanderbilt, so they’d probably have to take Everett with the 16th pick and pay him accordingly. (Slot for the 16th pick is $2.54M.) Everett’s not just an arm strength high schooler, he has the ability to do more than throw hard, but he’ll need quite a bit of refinement going forward.