Mailbag: Hamilton, Young, Relievers, Infante, Spending

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag and some of the answers are longer than usual. Please use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions. I know the form sucks, there’s no confirmation message or anything like that, but trust me, your questions go through.

(Jonathan Moore/Getty)
(Jonathan Moore/Getty)

Many asked: What about Josh Hamilton?

Lots of questions about Hamilton this week for whatever reason, so I’ll try to cover all the bases. First, no I don’t think the Yankees should look into trading for Hamilton even though the Angels are so clearly down on him. A contract like that — big bucks for a player in his mid-30s who is already declining and has injury issues — is exactly the kind of contract the Yankees need to avoid. Hamilton is owed $90.2M (!) through 2017. Nope.

Second, if the Angels release Hamilton, it’s a different story. They’d be on the hook for all that money and the Yankees or any other team could sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees don’t need another left-handed hitting outfielder/DH type, so he doesn’t make sense for the roster, but, in a vacuum, the idea of going after Hamilton in that case is fine. The Angels have treated him like crap and the Yankees won’t do that. They didn’t even treat Alex Rodriguez as poorly as the Angels have treated Hamilton.

Third, I actually wouldn’t trade A-Rod for Hamilton right now. Forget about A-Rod’s hot start. We’ve got two declining players with off-the-field baggage (Hamilton’s is much more severe) signed through 2017, except one is owed $64M and the other is owed $90.2M. Alex is also a better fit for the roster as a righty hitting corner infielder. There are very few players in MLB who I wouldn’t take in a trade for A-Rod. Hamilton is one of them. Make no mistake, the Yankees want A-Rod gone, but not enough to take on Hamilton’s contract.

Jamie asks: Chris Young might not be an everyday caliber player, but would he be an everyday upgrade over Carlos Beltran? Or is best situation platooning them? (Assuming Beltran coming back to life is an impossibility!)

Well if Beltran coming back is an impossibility, then Young is definitely the better everyday option. In reality, a Young/Beltran platoon is probably the best short-term option, and I would be surprised if the Yankees committed to that. At least right now, maybe later in the season if Beltran doesn’t start hitting. A Ramon Flores/Young platoon could probably out-produce Beltran at the moment, especially if we count defense, though the club owes Beltran a lot of money and they aren’t prone to knee-jerk moves. Look how long Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Brian Roberts lasted in recent years.

Aaron asks: Obviously this is a little ways off, but could you see Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino forming a new Core Four? Assuming they all stay in the Yankees system of course.

No. Let’s stop it with the next Core Four stuff. It’s never happening again. We’re talking about two no-doubt Hall of Famers and two borderline Hall of Famers (and a third borderline Hall of Famer!) all coming up with one team at the same time and spending nearly two decades playing together. That’s an impossible scenario to replicate. Let’s just let Judge, Bird, and whoever else be themselves. I strongly feel the “next ______” line of thinking is tired. These guys are all human beings and they’re all unique. Just let their careers play out without worrying whose shoes they will fill.

Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)
Fulmer. (Peter Aiken/Getty)

Bob asks: Seeing the numbers Vanderbilt players Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer are putting up is there any chance the Yankees could get one of those players at the 16th pick?

No on Swanson, yes on Fulmer. Swanson is the best all-around college position player in the draft (he’s hitting .354/.455/.628 this spring) and a true shortstop — he’s playing short now but played second as a freshman and sophomore in deference to Vince Conde, who the Yankees selected in the ninth round last year — and guys like that tend to come off the board very early. Swanson is a projected top ten pick right now and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he comes off the board in the top five.

Fulmer came into the spring as more of a mid-to-late first rounder, but he’s climbed draft boards these last few weeks because he’s been untouchable (1.69 ERA and 90/24 K/BB in 64 IP). Fulmer is a short righty (listed at 5-foot-11) and there’s still a bias against short righties throughout baseball, which may work against him come draft day. Either way, he sits mid-90s with a power breaking ball and off-the-charts competitiveness. Fulmer is far more likely to be available when the Yankees pick 16th overall than Swanson, though I would be shocked if Fulmer is still on the board by time their second pick comes around (30th).

JonS asks: Why are relievers so volatile compared to starters?

Lots of reasons. First and foremost, they inherently work in small sample sizes, so if a guy struggles for a few weeks at some point, there won’t always be enough time to even things out. Think about all the guys who have a brutal outing early in April — say, six runs in an inning — and are still trying to work it off their ERA in August. Clubs are quick to pull the trigger and replace a struggling reliever too. Just about all relievers are pitchers who couldn’t start for one reason or another. Injuries, bad command, herky jerky delivery, lack of a third pitch, stuff like that forces them out of the rotation and are reasons why relievers tend to be unpredictable — they all have some kind of serious flaw to start with.

Mark asks: As a swap of ugly contracts, would you trade Beltran for Omar Infante? Garbage for more versatile garbage.

No. Beltran is owed more money but is under contract one fewer year — the Yankees owe him $30M through next season while the Royals owe Infante a total of $25.75M through 2018. I’d rather just get rid of the dead weight sooner. Infante’s versatility doesn’t really exist anymore either. He’s been a full-time second baseman since 2011. The last time he did the super-utility player thing everyone seems to love was 2010, when he was 28 years old. He’s now 33, can’t hit (75 wRC+ since the start of last year), and has lingering back and shoulder issues. I’d probably do the deal if the contracts were equal length. But yeah, I just want the awful contracts gone as soon as possible. I’m not sure how Beltran for Infante helps the Yankees aside from saving $5M spread across three years.

Joe asks: But seriously, IF A-Rod continues to hit like this and the Yanks make the playoffs, what are the chances he wins MVP? (My dream BTW)

I don’t think he would get enough support, so very small. Let’s say … 2%. It’s hard enough for a Yankees player to win a major award as it is — a Yankee needs a monster season far better than anyone else to win an award (think 2007 A-Rod), been that way for a few decades now — and I’m not sure A-Rod is capable of doing that at this point. He’s been awesome! But it was hard for peak Alex to win an MVP in pinstripes. Voters have shown they generally won’t support players suspended for PED ties for awards as well. Look at Melky Cabrera in 2012. He absolutely deserved MVP votes but didn’t get a single one.

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Anonymous asks: In the event Didi Gregorius completely falls on his face this year do the Yankees sign Ian Desmond? I’m very scared of his defense, more so that Didi’s offense and mental errors.

That would be the ultimate “if the Boss was alive!” move, wouldn’t it? Young player flops, replace him with the biggest available name. Desmond’s off to a strong start at the plate (122 wRC+) but he’s been a total disaster in the field. Errors are far from the best way to evaluate defense but his MLB leading eight errors do accurately represent his terrible play. Desmond hasn’t been able to make routine plays — he’s pulled the first baseman off the bag with throws, booted grounders, the works. Routine plays a Triple-A caliber shortstop needs to make. Desmond turns 30 in September so he’s not old, but he’s not going to be a shortstop much longer and his swing-and-miss tendencies have gradually gotten worse the last few years, which is a red flag. If the Yankees decide to replace Didi this offseason, I’d hope they’d steer clear of a huge contract for Desmond. That’s not something they need right now.

Tom asks: Do you think if Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano come back healthy and somewhat effective it would be smart for the Yanks to maybe trade Adam Warren + Justin Wilson + another minor piece for offensive help or even prospects? They can call up Jacob Lindgren and will still have 6 big league SP’s. What do you think that package can net?

I’m inclined to say keep the pitching depth, especially since Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are hardly guaranteed to make it through this season (or next!) in one piece. But, if they did look to trade Warren and Wilson for an upgrade elsewhere, I don’t think they would get a ton in return. We know what Wilson is worth on the trade market: Frankie Cervelli. An oft-injured yet sorta interesting part-time player with two years of control remaining.

I try to find similar players when gauging a player’s trade value but Warren is tough because he has four years of team control remaining (counting 2015) and is a starter now after spending two years in the bullpen. Cesar Ramos kinda works but he was traded in a salary dump — the Rays took a bad control Double-A reliever in return for shedding his $1.3M salary. Maybe Tyson Ross? He was similar to Warren before his career took off with the Padres, and all he netted the A’s was a utility infielder (Andy Parrino) and a Triple-A depth arm (Andrew Werner).

A Warren plus Wilson package might net the Yankees something useful, but if you’re hoping they can get a top prospect or someone they could plug into their MLB lineup right away, you’ll probably be disappointed. Wilson and Warren are solid big leaguers but not stars, and many teams have players just like them in the organization. If the Yankees throw in a prospect, it might be worthwhile. Me? I say hang on to the depth.

Ian asks: I’m confused a bit by some of your analysis. On the one hand, you suggest that by not spending money the Yankees are negating their primary advantage. In the same chat you say they can’t keep overpaying for veterans. What gives? Moreover, if the Yankees do reset the luxury tax, they aren’t only saving money for themselves, but they are giving much much less money to other teams. Who are, after all, their competition. Thoughts?

I probably haven’t been clear enough. I absolutely think the Yankees should pay high salaries and have a top payroll. They’re in the biggest market in the game with a brand new stadium and their own television network. They print money. I understand the benefits of getting under the luxury tax threshold — in addition to resetting the tax rate, the Yankees would also be eligible for a revenue sharing rebate — but cutting payroll to get under the threshold doesn’t sit well with me at all.

That said, they have to spend smarter, specifically by steering clear of super long contracts that buy decline years in bulk. The years are the problem, not the dollars. Players don’t age differently just because you give them more money. These contracts limit flexibility and leave the Yankees with a bunch of unproductive players in their late-30s. Remember this past offseason, when it was reported the Yankees were willing to tack on the fourth year to get Andrew Miller and Chase Headley as long as the average annual value of the contract was lower? That’s completely backwards to me. The Yankees should be willing to pay a higher annual salary in order to keep the contract shorter. They shouldn’t use their financial might to absorb decline years. They should use it to avoid them.

Andrew asks: With Lucius Fox just being declared a FA and free to sign, should Yanks be all over him? 18 y.o. SS who probably would be a top 50 pick in the draft.

Fox, who shares a name with Morgan Freeman’s character in the various Batman movies, has a bit of a weird backstory. He was born in the Bahamas, attended high school in Florida (and did the whole high school draft showcase thing), then moved back to the Bahamas. There was some debate over whether he would be draft-eligible or considered an international free agent. MLB chose the latter and recently declared him a free agent, according to Kiley McDaniel.

McDaniel called Fox a “plus plus runner … (who) now projects to stick at shortstop with feel to hit from both sides of the plate,” and says he would have been a projected top 50 pick had he been draft-eligible. McDaniel also says Fox may not sign until after July 2nd, which means the Yankees would only be able to offer him $300,000 as part of the penalties for last summer’s international spending. In general, my stance is this: quality middle infielders are very hard to find, so any time the Yankees can scoop up a good middle infield prospect for nothing but cash, they should absolutely break out the checkbook. This is where they should go the extra mile, not for 37-year-old DHs.

DotF: Wade’s torrid streak continues in Tampa’s win

3B Miguel Andujar was featured in Baseball America’s Scout’s Video View today, so make sure you head over to check that out. You don’t need a subscription.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’re going to play a doubleheader Saturday.

Double-A Trenton (5-0 win over Portland)

  • CF Jake Cave: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K — got picked off first … had been in a 2-for-19 (.105) slump
  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — swoon
  • 3B Eric Jagielo: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — eight of his 15 hits have done for extra bases (four doubles, one triple, three homers)
  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-5 — he’s had a slow start, so he needed a good game
  • LF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 SB
  • DH Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • SS Cito Culver: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K — in a 5-for-33 (.152) rut
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HB, 3/2 GB/FB — 62 of 92 pitches were strikes (67%) and he picked a runner off first
  • RHP Nick Goody: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 32 of 46 pitches were strikes (70%) … 14/3 K/BB in 9.1 innings

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s win will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. MLB Network is showing a regional game tonight and there’s a ton of postseason hockey and basketball action as well, including the Islanders. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Yankees beat Tigers 2-1 behind Tanaka and Ellsbury, take three of four in Detroit

So that series couldn’t have gone much better. The whole road trip couldn’t have gone better, really. The Yankees eked out a 2-1 win over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon to win three of four in the series. They’ve won six of their last seven games overall and went 7-3 on the ten-game trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit.

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Settled Down
Much like Adam Warren on Wednesday night, Masahiro Tanaka seemed to struggle with his command in the cold weather in the first inning of Thursday’s game. The results weren’t as bad as Warren’s but Tanaka still allowed a first inning run on an Anthony Gose double, an Ian Kinsler ground out, and a Victor Martinez sac fly. He struck out J.D. Martinez looking with Miguel Cabrera on second to end the inning.

Then, like Warren on Wednesday, Tanaka settled down and found a groove. He retired 16 of the next 17 batters he faced with the only blemish a booming two-out double by J.D. Martinez in the fourth that stayed in the park because of the cold. The ball was well-struck and probably leaves the yard on a nice hot summer day. Martinez doubled again with one out in the seventh — hard-hit but not as hard-hit as the first double — and Tanaka followed that by walking Yoenis Cespedes, ending his afternoon.

The bullpen and infield defense picked up Tanaka out in that seventh inning. Justin Wilson was brought in to face the lefty hitting Alex Avila, who was replaced by righty pinch-hitter James McCann, who then ripped a hard-hit grounder to third base. Chase Headley snared the ball on his knees and fired a one-hopper to second to get the force out. Gregorio Petit made a real nice scoop. Great plays by both Headley and Petit. Dellin Betances then coaxed a pop-up from Nick Castellanos to strand runners on the corners.

All told, Tanaka limited a powerful Detroit lineup to one run on three hits and two walks in 6.1 innings. All three hits were doubles. He struck out six, got five ground ball outs, two foul pop-ups, and six fly balls outs. Only one or two of the fly ball outs were any kind of trouble. They were mostly routine. After two shaky starts to open 2015, the pre-injury version of Tanaka has returned these last two starts. He’s locating his fastball up and down, breaking off nasty sliders, and still throwing the embarrasplitter. It’s glorious.

Stop arguing, it was a balk. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Stop arguing, it was a balk. (Leon Halip/Getty)

AniBALK Sanchez
Despite his ugly early season numbers, Anibal Sanchez is a damn good pitcher and it was clear early in Thursday’s game he was sharp. He was locating his fastball well, particularly inside on lefties, and his changeup was dancing all over the place. Chris Young had the team’s first and only hit of the first six innings, singling to left in the second. Sanchez sat down eleven of the next 13 batters.

The Yankees caught their big offensive break — well, two of them, really — in the sixth inning, when Jacoby Ellsbury worked a nine-pitch at-bat to draw the leadoff walk. He stole second and moved to third on Brett Gardner‘s ground ball. That brought Carlos Beltran to the plate. Beltran struck out feebly to end the third inning with runners on second and third and two outs, so he had a chance to redeem himself. Instead, Beltran struck out again, taking some hittable fastballs over the plate before waving at a changeup in the dirt for the second out of the inning. Ugly.

It appeared New York was about to blow their best run-scoring opportunity when Ellsbury took matters into his own hands. Sanchez was working from the full windup and Ellsbury coaxed him into a balk by dancing off third base. Check out the play:


For whatever reason, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi did not call that a balk. Third base ump Gerry Davis had to step in to bail him out a few seconds later. Balk rules are weird, but c’mon. Sanchez was in the middle of his windup, stopped, stepped off the rubber, and threw home. Easy balk call yet Cuzzi missed it. Davis didn’t and Ellsbury was awarded home plate for the game-tying run. Jacoby can be game-changer on the bases and we saw it there.

Dellin's back. (Presswire)
Dellin’s back. (Presswire)

Battle of the Bullpens
Both starters were out of the game with the score tied 1-1 in the seventh inning, and while the Yankees’ bullpen was able to navigate through danger in the seventh, the Tigers’ bullpen couldn’t do the same in the eighth. It started once again with Ellsbury, who laced a hustle leadoff double to center and narrowly beat the throw. He was looking two all the way. Like I said, his base-running can be a real game-changer.

Gardner bunted Ellsbury to third base, which again put Beltran in the spotlight, but this time he didn’t have a chance to redeem himself/fail. The Tigers intentionally walked him to set up the double play and get the left-on-left matchup with Tom Gorzelanny against Brian McCann. It almost worked! McCann hit a ground ball to first base. Miguel Cabrera couldn’t handle it cleanly though, so there was no chance for a double play. They took the out at first and Ellsbury trotted in with the go-ahead run from third. The Yankees were up 2-1 with six outs to go.

Betances stayed on to pitch the eighth and, for the first time this year, he really looked like 2014 Dellin. Nasty breaking balls and upper-90s fastballs all inning. He completely overwhelmed Hernan Perez, Gose, and Kinsler, sandwiching two strikeouts around a weak tapper back to the mound. Vintage Dellin. And yet, he did not face Miguel Cabrera to start the ninth. Not-the-closer Andrew Miller came in even though Cabrera was 2-for-2 with a double against him in his career. (Miggy is 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Betances.) Pretty safe to say the co-closers experiment is over.

Anyway, Miller is a retired the side in order in the ninth inning for his sixth save in six chances. He struck out Miggy, got a ground out from Victor Martinez, and struck out J.D. Martinez for a clean 1-2-3 frame. Seven of his eight pitches were strikes. Headley made a great diving stop on V-Mart to save a single. It took some nice third base defense, but the bullpen retired all seven men they faced. Beautiful.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
I can’t remember the last time the Yankees played a series in Detroit in which Cabrera didn’t hit a massive home run. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout on Thursday and 2-for-13 (.154) with two walks and two strikeouts in the four-game series. That’s basically the best case scenario. V-Mart went 0-for-3 with a sac fly on Thursday and 0-for-10 with three walks (one intentional) with two strikeouts in the series. Pretty awesome.

Betances threw six straight curveballs to Castellanos to get the final out of the seventh, then threw eight fastballs and four curves in the eighth inning. Dellin has been throwing a ton of breaking balls lately but it seems he is starting to go back to the fastball now. That’s good to see. Betances is making real progress and starting to look more like the elite reliever he was last summer.

The Yankees only had three hits in the game — Ellsbury’s hustle double, Young’s second inning single, and a single by Petit off the bench. They only drew one walk too, and it was intentional. Four base-runners and they still won! That won’t happen often. I’m an idiot. They drew six walks. That’s a lot. Ellsbury’s speed had a major impact and some good ol’ fashioned small ball did the trick. Sometimes you have to win games like this.

And finally, Miller’s six saves currently lead the league. He’s struck out 15 batters in 7.1 innings so far this year. Two hits, four walks, no runs. As advertised. Maybe even better.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also, here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Do with them as you please. Now here is the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The ten-game road trip is over. The Yankees will fly back home this evening before opening a three-game weekend series with the Mets. Michael Pineda and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom kick off the Subway Series on Friday night. Fun fact: Pineda is seven months younger than deGrom.

Yankees will soon reach a crossroads with Jacob Lindgren in Triple-A

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the exception of last Wednesday’s massive meltdown in Baltimore, the Yankees’ bullpen has been a major strength so far this season. They own a collective 2.13 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 55 innings with a very good strikeout rate (26.5%) and a below-average walk rate (10.9%) that should come down once Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson get over their early-season strike-throwing issues. Hopefully get over them, anyway.

New York’s bullpen has thrown a ton of innings this season, fourth most in MLB thanks in part to that 19-inning game, so they’ve worked a lot and answered the bell. On the list of problems with the team, the relief crew is very far down right now. That said, there is always room for improvement, and when you rely on the bullpen as much as these Yankees, fielding the strongest possible bullpen seems like a no-brainer.

At some point very soon, the Yankees are going to reach a crossroads with Jacob Lindgren, their top bullpen prospect who is currently wasting bullets in Triple-A. And that’s basically what he’s doing. Wasting bullets. Lindgren has struck out 42.1% of batters faced with an 84% ground ball rate in 32.2 innings since signing last year. He’s faced 36 batters in Triple-A this year — eleven have struck out and 19 others hit the ball on the ground. Exactly 80% of the batters he’s faced as a pro have either struck out or hit a grounder. Total domination.

Given how quickly he’s risen up the ladder and how much success he’s had in pro ball, I’m not sure what’s left for Lindgren to learn in the minors. He’s never going to be a control artist because there’s some funk in his delivery, so sitting around and waiting for his walk rate (career 12.1%) to come down seems like a waste since it might never happen. Lindgren’s not a starter who has to work on turning over a lineup three times or a position player who needs to iron out his approach at the plate or improve defensively. He’s a one inning, air it our reliever who isn’t being challenged.

Part of Lindgren’s appeal out of the draft was his ability to move quickly, which he has. He’s knocking on the door of the show nine months out of college. The Yankees have downplayed his MLB readiness since last year but that’s not really uncommon. Lots of teams try to pump the breaks on their recent draft picks. Here’s what scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Anthony McCarron after drafting Lindgren with the team’s top pick last summer:

“I kind of leave those decisions for other people. My job’s just to bring the talent into the system. But we just think as a group that he does have the capability of moving through the system hopefully quickly. Whether he’s good enough to go pitch in the big leagues right away, somebody else will make that decision. But he’s obviously advanced. He’s obviously gotten out really good hitters. There’s some history with guys doing this, but there’s also some history with guys getting to the big leagues as relievers too quick and it doesn’t last. We’d like to get impact and longevity from him, not just something that’s real quick.”

Development isn’t always nice and linear. Even David Robertson, another strikeout and ground ball heavy reliever, went up and down a few times before sticking for good. Chances are Lindgren will do the same, and those trips up and down are a learning experience. Right now Lindgren doesn’t seem to be learning all that much in Triple-A, but he will learn in the big leagues because he will be challenged, at which point he may have to go back to Triple-A to make adjustments. The sooner he comes up, the sooner the sticks for good, even if he rides the bus a few times before it happens.

The Yankees have moved Lindgren through the minors much quickly than any of their other recent reliever draft picks. J.B. Cox, another high-end college reliever selected in the second round (2005), spent his entire first full pro season with Double-A Trenton. Lindgren started his first full season in Triple-A. He did the Double-A thing late last year. The team hasn’t been shy promoting him. It would be ridiculous if Lindgren was still in High-A or even Double-A. He’s not though. He’s right on the doorstep.

I think the Yankees are planning to call Lindgren up very soon because they’ve moved him aggressively. Maybe it’ll even happen this weekend. Fitting him on the roster won’t be difficult — I like Chris Martin, but you don’t let a soon-to-be 29-year-old who was designated for assignment in the offseason stand in the way of a bonafide end game bullpen prospect, Martin can go to Triple-A for a few weeks — and even if the Yankees were playing the service time game, Lindgren’s free agency has already been pushed back a year. (Relievers are so volatile that planning six and seven years into the future with them seems totally pointless, but I digress.)

Given his overwhelming minor league dominance to date, every pitch Lindgren throws in Triple-A is a wasted bullet. It’s a pitch he should be throwing in MLB. I’ve been saying that since the spring. The Yankees are rapidly approaching a crossroads with Lindgren if they haven’t gotten there already — he needs to come up to be challenged so he can take the next step in his development. The bullpen has been very strong and I understand not wanting to fix something that isn’t broken, but this isn’t an attempt to fix anything. It’s a necessary step to continue Lindgren’s development that also has the potential make that all important bullpen even stronger.

Game 16: End of the Road Trip

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

Considering it started with a series loss in Baltimore, this ten-game road trip has gone pretty darn well for the Yankees. They’ve won six of nine games so far — including five of the last six — and this afternoon’s series finale with the Tigers will determine if it’s a great 7-3 road trip or merely a very good 6-4 road trip. I’m greedy, I want the former.

Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound this afternoon and he is making his first start on normal rest this year. He’s made all of his previous starts — regular season and Spring Training — with an extra day of rest by design. Tanaka looked like the pre-injury version of himself in his last start, during which he threw only 85 pitches in seven innings. Detroit’s lineup is much tougher than Tampa Bay’s, but, when Tanaka is on, he can dominate anyone. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 1B Garrett Jones
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s still really cold and windy in Detroit, but thankfully there is no rain (or snow!) in the forecast this afternoon. The game will begin at 1:08pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Starters finally giving the Yankees innings and sparing the bullpen

Sabathia leads the Yankees in innings, just like the good ol' days. (Presswire)
Sabathia leads the Yankees in innings, just like the good ol’ days. (Presswire)

Heading into Spring Training, the Yankees had plenty of reasons to be concerned about their rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all missed significant time with injuries last season, Nathan Eovaldi was making the NL-to-AL transition, Chris Capuano is Chris Capuano, and Adam Warren had never held down a full-time big league rotation spot. Question marks were abound.

The Yankees lost Capuano to a quad injury early in camp and they took it very easy on Tanaka and Sabathia this spring, bringing them along slowly for completely understandable reasons. They’re also hoping to give them an extra day of rest between starts this month whenever possible, even if it means using a spot sixth starter. So far so good — everyone has stayed healthy aside from Capuano and they’ve all shown flashes of effectiveness, if nothing else.

One thing the Yankees were not getting from their rotation in the early going this season is length. New York’s starters completed six innings of work just three in the first ten games of the season — Pineda did it twice (6 IP and 6.1 IP) and Sabathia did it once (7 IP) — and they were averaging only 5.3 innings per start, which is no good. It’s no surprise the team’s bullpen has thrown the fourth most innings in baseball this season (55.0). (The 19-inning game skews things but those innings happened and contributed to the bullpen workload.)

Only once has Joe Girardi allowed his starter to throw 100+ pitches this year — Eovaldi threw 101 pitches against the Orioles last week — though that is partially by design. Like I said, the team is trying to take it easy on everyone early in the season, so Girardi isn’t necessarily letting them pitch as deep as they normally would. Of course, some early season starts were ugly and leaving the starter out there for 100+ pitches wasn’t doable. They were getting knocked around.

Over the last five games though, the last turn through the rotation, the starter has completed seven innings of work three times and come within one out of completing six innings the other two times. Tanaka and Eovaldi both completed seven innings and Sabathia threw an eight-inning complete game. Pineda and Warren both labored in their 5.2-inning starts but still managed to take the ball deeper into the game than the rotation had averaged in the first ten games of the year.

The Yankees have gotten seven innings from their starting pitcher four times in the last eight games and six innings five times in the last nine games. After averaging 5.3 innings per start through the first ten games, they’ve raised their season average to 5.8 innings per start through 15 games. The AL average is 5.6 innings per start right now, so the Yankees are just above that mark and they’re trending in the right direction.

As we’ve seen so far this season, the Yankees have a pretty dynamic bullpen, particularly at the end of games with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Not many clubs are using relievers as good as David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve in mop-up innings like New York did last night. Pitchers like that are logging setup innings for many clubs around the league. I mean, how many teams could afford to send someone like Shreve to Triple-A for ten days to get a fresh arm?

As good as that bullpen is, Girardi and the Yankees don’t want to use it as much as they’ve had to so far this year. Miller has already recorded a four-out save and a five-out save, and they don’t want outings that long to become the norm. The longer the starters can go, the easier it is on the bullpen, and the more effective the club’s key relievers will be late in the season. The Yankees weren’t getting many innings from their starters the first two turns through the rotation, but this last turn though was much better and it’s lightened the load on the bullpen considerably.