Ellsbury returning to better lineup than one he left behind earlier this season


Later today, the Yankees will officially welcome Jacoby Ellsbury back from the DL. (Andrew Miller too!) He missed 43 games with a knee injury and will finally return to the lineup tonight, seven weeks after getting hurt when he caught a spike during a swing. Injuries don’t get much flukier than that. What can you do?

At the time of Ellsbury’s injury, the Yankees were averaging a solidly above-average 4.38 runs per game, and that number has since climbed to 4.60 runs per game overall. The team managed to score 4.80 runs per game without their leadoff hitter. Go figure. Like many of you folks I figured the Yankees would have a harder time scoring runs simply because Ellsbury is one of their top hitters. Brett Gardner is a fine fill-in leadoff hitter, but still, the Yankees lost a good bat.

Earlier this season the Yankees relied heavily on the top of the order. That’s putting it lightly. They were totally dependent on the top of the lineup to score runs. Ellsbury and Gardner were getting on base, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were driving them in, and that was it. The bottom five hitters in the lineup were doing nothing. Ellsbury and Gardner got on, A-Rod and Teixeira got them in. If that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score.

Things are much different now because a few (not all) of those players at the bottom of the lineup have either turned their season around or simply picked up the pace a little bit. Here’s the quick rundown:

Date of Ellsbury’s injury Since Ellsbury’s injury
Brian McCann .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .297/.388/.559 (161 wRC+)
Carlos Beltran .236/.272/.386 (75 wRC+) .287/.349/.478 (130 wRC+)
Chase Headley .236/.284/.389 (84 wRC+) .263/.323/.351 (88 wRC+)
Didi Gregorius .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+) .270/.314/.392 (95 wRC+)
Stephen Drew .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+) .164/.231/.369 (62 wRC+)

There’s no correlation here. The five regulars at the bottom of the order didn’t start performing better — well, three regulars are performing better, Drew has been worse and Headley just changed the shape of his production without really improving much  — because Ellsbury got hurt. They didn’t step up their game because they had to pick up the slack. That’s a cheesy narrative. Those guys were playing below their talent level and simply picked it up as the season continued and the sample grew. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

Obviously McCann is the big one there. For the first few weeks of the season he looked like 2014 McCann, meaning lots of weak pop-ups and missed meatballs. It wasn’t pretty. He’s been substantially better the last two months or so, hitting for average and power while drawing more walks. McCann has been the guy he was with the Braves all those years and it’s added length to the lineup. Much-needed length.

Gregorius went from totally useless at the plate early in the season to competent now. That’s the best way to put it, competent. He’s not tearing the cover off the ball but he’s not a total zero anymore either. Headley did a surprisingly fine job filling in as the two-hole hitter — he hit .291 with a .340 OBP as the No. 2 hitter while Ellsbury was out, albeit with little power (.376 SLG) — though he’s a better fit for the lower third of the order, where he’ll hit now.

The Yankees won’t be firing on all cylinders when Ellsbury returns because Beltran is on the DL, and who knows how long he will be sidelined. Obliques are very tricky and easy to re-injure. Beltran has really turned things around the last few weeks and that’s a big bat that will be missed. Hopefully he’s able to make it back shortly after the All-Star break. Either way, his turn around was a huge reason why the offense improved so much in recent weeks.

Although the Yankees did score more runs per game with Ellsbury on the shelf, it doesn’t mean they’re better off without him. Hardly. It just means they’ll be that much better with him. He adds speed to a very station-to-station team and lengthens the lineup, not to mention improves the defense. The Yankees are a better team with Ellsbury healthy, and they’re even more dangerous when guys like McCann, Beltran, and Gregorius are producing.

Pushing CC Sabathia’s start back was an easy call, but it’s still only a temporary solution

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Late last week the Yankees announced CC Sabathia would not start as scheduled this past Sunday, and would instead get the ball today. Ivan Nova started Sunday on normal rest thanks to last Thursday’s off-day. Sabathia will start on eight days’ rest tonight, and, of course, he wasn’t thrilled with the decision. He’s a competitor, he wants to pitch.

“Don’t ask me what I’m working on,” said Sabathia to Zach Braziller last week. “It is up to them. Whatever they think is best is the schedule (is the one) that I’m following. It’s a break that I probably need, I guess. Take a step back, look at some things, try to be ready on Wednesday … It’s a good to get a break for my body, for sure.”

The team framed the decision as a chance to give Sabathia extra rest and extra time to work on things in the bullpen. “It gives him a few extra days. He’s been a guy that’s thrown every fifth day or sixth day,” said Joe Girardi to Andrew Marchand when the announcement was made. That was as predictable a response as it gets from Girardi, who protects his players as much as any manager in the game.

Sabathia may be getting some extra rest and time to work on things, but it’s clear what’s really happening here. The Yankees used their recent off-days to make sure Sabathia not only makes just one start before the All-Star break rather than two, but also to ensure he makes that start against the Athletics rather than the division rival Rays and Red Sox. It’s a no-brainer move. They had to do it.

The Yankees are sheltering Sabathia like a fifth starter because that’s what he is, their fifth best starter. (Really their sixth best starter, but let’s not get started with that again.) They’re putting him in position to hurt the team less. Like it or not, the Yankees are unwilling to pull Sabathia out of the rotation right now, so this it the next best thing. Keeping him away from division rivals and spacing out his starts as much as possible. It would have been foolish not to do it.

This is only a temporary measure, of course. The Yankees can use off-days and the All-Star break to limit Sabathia to one start in a 27-day span (!) if they really want — he started on July 29th, will start tonight, and they won’t need a fifth starter after the break until July 26th — but then what? They will have successfully avoided using their worst start for close to a month — I have a hard time thinking they’ll actually limit Sabathia’s starts that much — though that’s not a solution. It’s a band-aid.

Perhaps this is step one in the process of removing Sabathia from the rotation. Something like that won’t happen in an instant. That would be humiliating and there’s a gentler way to do it. It could be a gradual process and pushing this start back is the start of that process. Maybe next they’ll outright skip one of Sabathia’s starts using an off-day. I’m not saying that’s the right way to go about removing him from the rotation — ripping the band-aid off is almost always preferable to slowly peeling it away — but that could be the thought process.

For now, the team’s plan for Sabathia seems to be nothing more than hope. Hope something clicked in the bullpen during this recent break, hope he finds a way to be a competent starter going forward, hope he doesn’t hurt them as much as he has already this season. I love Sabathia, he’s been a great Yankee, but man, he has a 5.06 ERA (79 ERA+) in his last 352 innings now. That’s brutal. Pushing his start back was an easy decision and maybe that’s a stepping stone to a more drastic move in the future.

Yankees fall 4-3 to A’s on a Brett Lawrie homer in extras

The Yankees offense actually managed to score three run off of Sonny Gray tonight and Nathan Eovaldi pitched a solid game as well. However, in the end, the result did not favor New York — a pair of solo homers allowed by Yankee relievers doomed the team into an annoying 4-3 loss in ten innings. Less of these in the future, please.

Look at them veins on elbow (Source: Getty)

The Splitters

In the first inning, the A’s drew first blood when Josh Reddick drove in Stephen Vogt from second base on a 2-out RBI single. Eovaldi allowed another run in the third after giving up three straight singles to start the inning. He did, however, manage to get out of that inning without further damage by inducing a strikeout from Ben Zobrist and a double play from Reddick, which was neat.

I thought Eovaldi was not great but he showed some promise with his work-in-progress pitch: the splitter. He continued to utilize his new weapon tonight, which ranged from 88-90 mph and got some swings-and-misses. Also importantly, Eovaldi generated 62.5% ground ball rate, much higher than a 45.3% career rate.

After that disastrous 0.2 IP, 8 ER performance in Miami, Eovaldi has gone 3-0, 2.38 ERA in 22.2 IP with 17 strikeouts. The righty is far from the finished product we’d like to see, but using more splitters and getting better outcomes than the first few months of the season is welcome progress.

(Source: Getty)

The All-Star

In the bottom of the first, Brett Gardner singled and Chase Headley worked a walk against the All-Star RHP Sonny Gray. A-Rod flied out (and looked quite displeased doing so because it looked like a meatball) and Mark Teixeira followed it with a strikeout.

Brian McCann, however, fisted an inside fastball towards left field for a bloop single, driving in Gardner. Garrett Jones also joined in on the fun with an RBI single to right. 2-1 Yankees.

This was Gray’s first game back after missing a start due to salmonella. His velocity was fine but his command was missing just slightly. He showed a little rust but not too much, going 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 ER and striking out 5. Yes, that would be a more than acceptable outcome for most pitchers but this is Sonny Gray we’re talking about – a top 5 starter in the AL. It’s still a fine, serviceable line but not his best effort.

The Hanging Breaking Ball

The All-Star Dellin Betances came into the game in the ninth inning with the game tied at three. In his first inning of work, Dellin was dominant – three up, three down with two K’s. In the tenth inning, he entered the game again for possibly another inning of work. During the Brett Lawrie at-bat, the YES broadcast showed Chris Capuano warming in the bullpen and I thought “the offense better score a run in the bottom tenth before he comes into the game.”

Just a moment later, however, Betances threw an absolute hanger to Brett Lawrie. The A’s infielder didn’t miss a beat – Lawrie drove it over the left field fence for a tie-breaking homer. 4-3 A’s lead. I mean, boy, that was as hanging as Dellin’s breaking ball could be. After not allowing a homer in 54 straight appearances, Betances allows one each in back-to-back games. Go figure.

The Changeup

With one out in bottom tenth, Gardner worked a walk to get the tying run on base. Headley followed it up with a pop out and A-Rod walked after not biting on Tyler Clippard’s series of changeups.

With runners on first and second and two outs, Mark Teixeira came up to bat. He managed to lay off the first three pitches (all changeups) to make it a 3-0 count. Clippard then threw a fastball right down the middle for a strike, 3-1. Next pitch, the righty threw another fastball one down the middle and Teixeira was clearly timing his swing as if Clippard was throwing a changeup. The ball hit the bat as Teixeira’s hands were going through the zone and it fouled off. 3-2.

On the next pitch, it seemed like Teixeira was fully anticipating a fastball – he swung and only thing his bat hit was thin air. Clippard struck Teixeira out on a 80 mph changeup to end the game. 4-3 Athletics. Womp.


Yeah, so Chasen Shreve has been absolutely lights out for the Yankee bullpen this season but he can’t be great all the time. It was unfortunate that he put a 90 mph fastball right down the middle for Billy Butler to drive it over the left field fence – it was one of those pitches that big league hitters just should not miss. It was also unfortunate that it only took that one moment to tie the game for the A’s and erased Eovaldi’s win. Oh well.

Two of the biggest hitters of the team – A-Rod and Teixeira – went for a combined 0-for-9 with 5 strikeouts. Ouch. Imagine the game outcome if the cleanup guys actually cleaned it up.

The Box Score, the Standings, the Highlights, the WPA

Here’s today’s box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA. 

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees will send C.C. Sabathia against Scott Kazmir tomorrow. If you somehow don’t know, Kazmir has been one of the better lefties in the Major League while Sabathia, well, has not been good this season at all. This definitely does not inspire much confidence but… excuse me while I try to stay optimistic here but… strange things have happened in baseball before numerous times.

DotF: Severino labors in Triple-A, Sanchez homers again in Double-A

RHP Brady Lail was added to the Double-A Eastern League All-Star Roster, replacing RHP Nick Goody, who has indeed been promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Congrats to both. RHP Joel De La Cruz was sent down to Double-A Trenton to make room for Goody.

Also, RHP Wilking Rodriguez was activated off the suspended list and added to the Triple-A Scranton roster, according to Donnie Collins. Rodriguez was suspended 80 games in Spring Training after failing a drug test.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Syracuse)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — second straight game with a homer
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 2B
  • RHP Luis Severino: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 52 of 82 pitches were strikes (63%) … good results but a bit of a grind, lots of pitches
  • RHP Wilking Rodriguez: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 10 of 13 pitches were strikes (77%) in his season debut
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/3 GB/FB — 27 of 36 pitches were strikes (75%)

[Read more…]

Game 83: No Easy A’s

A-Rod liked by headline pun. (Presswire)
A-Rod liked my headline pun. (Presswire)

The Yankees open a three-game series tonight with the Athletics, the deceptively good Athletics. Their record is ugly (38-47), yet they’ve outscored their opponents by 49 runs this year. Only four teams in the big leagues have a better run differential. Blame a shaky early-season bullpen and a hideous 6-21 record in one-run games. They don’t have TWTW, I guess.

Point is, the A’s are better than their record indicates. They’re 18-14 since June 1st and their rotation has the second best ERA (3.00) and fifth best FIP (3.37) in baseball. The Yankees dropped three of four in Oakland a few weeks ago, so we saw how good this team is firsthand. Last place? Yeah, that’s where they are in the standings. But the A’s don’t have last place talent. Here is Bob Melvin’s lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It has been pretty gross in New York today. Hot as hell and really humid too. Sticky. There is some rain in the forecast for the late-afternoon/early-evening, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be enough to cause a postponement. Maybe a slight delay. We’ll see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it, both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) will be activated off the 15-day DL tomorrow … Mason Williams (shoulder) has resumed baseball activities. Throwing, hitting, that sorta stuff.

Judge, Severino both make top 20 of Baseball America’s midseason top prospects update


One day after Baseball Prospectus published their midseason top 50 prospects list, Baseball America did the same today. Unlike BP, the BA list is free to read. You don’t need a subscription. Dodgers SS Corey Seager is ranked as the best prospect in the minors by Baseball America and is followed in order by Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito and Rangers 3B Joey Gallo.

The Yankees have two players on Baseball America’s midseason update and they both rank pretty high: OF Aaron Judge is 13th and RHP Luis Severino is 17th. Baseball Prospectus also had Judge ranked 13th, though they were a little lower on Severino. He ranked 28th. Severino and Judge ranked 35th and 53rd on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 prospects list, respectively, so both made big jumps.

In a separate piece (subs. req’d), SS Jorge Mateo was listed as one of “five risers who likely will make the next edition of the Top 100 Prospects list” even though they didn’t make today’s updated midseason top 50. Here’s a piece of the blurb on Mateo:

Mateo has the ingredients to be special. He’s got bat-to-ball skills, power enough to project double-digit home runs and blazing speed on the basepaths. He’s refining his technique in the field at low Class A Charleston, particularly as it pertains to ranging to his right for balls in the hole.

According to the top 50, Judge is currently the best outfield prospect in baseball, unless you count Gallo, a third baseman the Rangers have played in the outfield on occasion because of Adrian Beltre. Severino is the fifth best right-handed pitching prospect and sixth best pitching prospect overall. Neat.

The farm system has been hit hard by injuries this year — RHP Domingo German, RHP Austin DeCarr, RHP Ty Hensley, and C Luis Torrens are all out for the season; both LHP Jacob Lindgren and 3B Eric Jagielo got hurt in June; LHP Ian Clarkin is still MIA — but Judge and Severino have excelled, and 1B Greg Bird was just bumped up to Triple-A as well. It’s nice not having to say “they have talent, but it’s all in Single-A” for once.

Andrew Miller to be activated off DL on Wednesday


Left-hander Andrew Miller will be activated off the 15-day DL on Wednesday, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He’s expected to step right back into the closer’s role as well. “That’s probably what I would do,” said Girardi. Jacoby Ellsbury is due to be activated tomorrow as well.

Miller, 30, has missed just about four weeks with flexor muscle strain in his forearm. Tests confirmed the injury was limited to his forearm muscle, and there was no damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. Miller threw a scoreless inning for Triple-A Scranton on Monday and told reporters today that he felt great.

I assume either Nick Rumbelow or Bryan Mitchell will go to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Miller. I’d rather see Mitchell stick around but it’s not a huge deal either way. Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve really stepped up while Miller was out, plus Adam Warren returned to the bullpen, so the late-inning relief crew suddenly looks real deep.