Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Ravens and Cardinals are the Monday Night Football Game, plus the Islanders are playing as well. The NBA season starts tomorrow, apparently. You folks know how these threads work by now, so have at it.
Trusted scout Tim Naehring has received a “major promotion” and will replace departed assistant GM Billy Eppler, according to multiple reports. Eppler left the Yankees to take over as the Angels GM earlier this month. An official announcement is expected soon. Apparently the Yankees may also shuffle some other front office personnel into new roles as well.
Naehring, 48, will hold the title of Vice President of Baseball Operations — not Assistant GM like Eppler — and assume all of Eppler’s responsibilities. That essentially means he will take over as Brian Cashman‘s right hand man. Cashman indicated he would look outside the organization for Eppler’s replacement but preferred to promote from within.
The Yankees hired Naehring back in 2007 after he spent time working for the Reds. He has had a trusted voice in the organization for a few years now — Naehring was the first to recommend Didi Gregorius, for example — but reportedly turned down promotions in the past so he could remain close to his family in Cincinnati. I guess this promotion was too good to pass up.
Naehring, a former Red Sox infielder, was one of three internal candidates to replace Eppler. Scout Jay Darnell and player personnel head Kevin Reese were also in the mix, reportedly. I don’t know anything about Naehring’s front office skills, so I have nothing to offer. Sorry. All I know is Cashman trusts him enough to make him his top lieutenant.
According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are looking to add a right-handed bat to their lefty heavy roster this offseason. They really struggled against southpaws down the stretch — they hit .248/.320/.345 against lefties as a team in September — and part of that was missing Mark Teixeira. Greg Bird was great, but the Yankees really missed Teixeira.
Adding a right-handed bat makes perfect sense — four regulars are left-handed and two others are switch-hitters with considerable platoon splits — the question is where does this player fit on the roster? The Yankees are locked into players at every position other than second base, where they’re said to be “leaning towards” playing Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley.
Assuming Refsnyder and Ackley share second base duty, the Yankees will have the backup catcher (John Ryan Murphy), a backup middle infielder (Brendan Ryan?), the other second baseman (Ackley or Refsnyder), plus a fourth player on the bench. That fourth player figures to be an outfielder, and Chris Young mashed lefties this year, so that won’t help the team improve against southpaws.
Ideally the Yankees would replace Ryan with a true platoon right-handed bat — Joe Girardi used Ryan against lefties this summer, but please, no more of that — except I’m not sure who fits the role. The player needs to be able to play shortstop, otherwise the Yankees won’t have a backup for Didi Gregorius. Someone who can play shortstop and hit half-decently will be hard to come by.
Unless there’s a surprise trade this offseason, which is always possible, the Yankees could add another righty hitting fourth outfielder and hope for more help from others like Murphy and Refsnyder, who figure to see even more time against southpaws this year. The Yankees do need another righty bat, I agree with that completely, but looking at the current roster, fitting that player on the team will take some creativity.
Last offseason the Yankees focused on trades more than free agency, and to me, the most surprising trade was the one that sent Manny Banuelos to the Braves for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve on New Year’s Day. Trading Banuelos seemed unlikely only because his stock was at an all-time low, and the Yankees figured to hang on to him another year to see what happened as he got further away from Tommy John surgery.
Instead, the Yankees cut bait, and acquired an established big league reliever and a little known left-hander — I am a total baseball nerd and even I had never heard of Shreve — to bolster their bullpen. Shreve, who gained extra exposure as an amateur at the College of Southern Nevada because scouts flocked to see one of his teammates (some kid named Bryce Harper), appeared to be a throw-in. He turned out to be much more.
When Spring Stats Don’t Matter
Shreve, 24 at the time, was pretty much an unknown heading into Spring Training. He did reinvent himself last summer by simply throwing harder — Shreve decided to air it out instead holding back for the sake of location. The result was across the board improvement. The Yankees were convinced the new version of Shreve was here to stay, hence the trade.
The Grapefruit League was not too kind to Shreve. The Yankees used him more like an established reliever than a guy trying to make the team — Shreve was often the first guy out of the bullpen so he could get his work in and head home, that sort of stuff — and he allowed eight runs in 11.1 innings. He was especially bad at the end of camp, when back-to-back-to-back ugly outings in late-March seemed to cost Shreve his Opening Day roster spot.
The Yankees never did see it that way, apparently. Shreve survived every round of cuts and was indeed included on the Opening Day roster, as the third lefty reliever behind Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson. His specific role — lefty specialist? full inning guy? long man? — had yet to be determined, but it always takes time to sort that stuff out anyway.
The main takeaway from spring was that the Yankees thought very highly of Shreve. They didn’t treat him like a kid with only 12.1 big league innings to his credit.
The Last Man out of the Bullpen
Understandably, Joe Girardi used Shreve like a rookie early in the season, wanting him to prove himself before trusting him in important innings. He made his season debut on Opening Day and faced five batters. They went: fly out to center, fly out to center, fly out to left, home run to left, fly out to center. Five fly balls, one of which left the yard. Inauspicious? Perhaps. But it was five batters, so who knows.
Shreve’s next appearance came four days later in that 19-inning marathon loss to the Red Sox. He held the high-powered Red Sox offense — or at least what everyone expected to be a high-powered Red Sox offense — scoreless over 3.1 innings. Shreve struck out four, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed three singles. He was marvelous.
The Yankees brought Shreve back ten days later, as soon as they could, and Girardi continued to use him as the last guy out of the bullpen despite that performance against the Red Sox. Six of his first ten appearances came with the score separated by at least five runs. Two of the other four appearances came deep in extra innings, when no one else was available.
Shreve pitched to a 2.61 ERA (3.18 FIP) with a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 13.2% walk rate in 20.2 innings through the end of May. He was pitching quite well in low-leverage work, and when Miller landed on the DL in early-July, Shreve’s role expanded considerably.
Emergence as a Setup Man
Girardi loves his bullpen roles, and when Miller went down, his eighth inning guy (Dellin Betances) became his closer and his seventh inning guy (Wilson) became his eighth inning guy. That left a void in the seventh inning, and with Carpenter proving unreliable, Shreve got an opportunity to pitch high-leverage innings.
While Miller was on the DL Shreve allowed just two runs in 9.1 innings across ten appearances. He struck out eleven and eight of those ten appearances were scoreless. His best outing came on July 1st in Anaheim, when he inherited a bases loaded situation with one out, escaped without allowing a run, then tossed another scoreless inning as well. As far as seventh inning guys go, Shreve was good as it gets during his month long audition.
Shreve had pitched his way into high-leverage work, which meant when Miller returned in early-July, the bullpen was that much deeper. Girardi has his seventh, eighth, and ninth inning guys, plus another option in Shreve who showed he could pitch in all sorts of situations. Throw in Adam Warren, who had just lost his rotation spot, and the bullpen was mighty deep for a little while there.
Through the end of August, Shreve posted a 1.89 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 52.1 innings across 49 appearances. He struck out 28.1% of batters faced while walking 11.9%. That is pretty damn awesome. Shreve wasn’t Betances or Miller, but he was an excellent setup option. He went from unknown to an integral part of the bullpen in pretty short order. The Yankees like whatever they saw out of Shreve last year and their faith was being rewarded.
Limp to the Finish
The last month of the season was a total mess for Shreve. Actually, it dated back to the start of August, when Shreve’s walk rate spiked big time.
Shreve walked ten batters in 11.2 innings in August — 18.2% of batters faced, which … eek — though he managed to pitch around the danger. He allowed just three runs in those 11.2 innings. The walks were bad but he was getting out of danger, mostly because he was still striking out a ton of batters. Shreve fanned 16 batters in those 11.2 innings.
That was not the story in September. Shreve continued to walk batters in the season’s final month (eight in six innings, and 19.5% of batters faced) and now the home run ball was starting to catch up to him. After allowing six home runs in his first 52.1 innings of the season, Shreve allowed four homers in those six innings in the final month.
All those walks and homers plus a little bad BABIP luck — Shreve had a .522 BABIP (!) in September, leading to 16 hits in those six innings — resulted in nine runs allowed in six innings. Furthermore, Shreve allowed eight of ten (!) inherited runners to score. In his worst outing of the season, Shreve inherited a bases loaded situation and walked in three (three!) runs against the Blue Jays on September 12th.
Even with the disastrous finish, Shreve finished the season with a solid 3.09 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 59 appearances and 58.1 innings. His strikeout rate was very good (25.5%), though he did walk too many (13.2%), especially late in the season. Shreve did generate an average amount of grounders (46.0%) but was crazy homer prone (1.56 HR/9). No bueno.
Split Means Reverse Split
It’s fairly easy for left-handed relievers to get shoehorned into a left-on-left matchup role, especially early in their careers, though Shreve showed he could retire right-handed batters thanks to his nasty split finger fastball. He held righties to .207/.321/.418 (.320 wOBA) line with most of the damage coming late in the season. Shreve was not as effective against lefties (.256/.355/.383, .329 wOBA) but again, most of the damage came late in the year.
None of the scouting reports indicated the splitter was a key pitch for Shreve prior to the season. He was billed as a low-90s fastball guy — that’s after deciding to air it out last year — with an okay slider. Shreve’s splitter averaged 83.2 mph this summer — that’s a 9 mph separation from his 92.2 mph average heater — and both the pitch’s swing-and-miss (19.5%) and grounder (66.7%) rates were above the league average for splitters (14.9% and 47.8%, respectively).
The splitter was nasty but hitters did start to pick up on it later in the season, either because the league adjusted to him or because Shreve simply stopped throwing good splitters. After peaking in May, the swing-and-miss rate on the splitter declined every month of the season:
Shreve’s splitter was a dynamite pitch for the first four months of the season and above average over the course of the full season, but it abandoned him down the stretch and his performance suffered big time. He was fantastic for much of the season before crashing at the end. Story of the 2015 Yankees.
Looking Ahead to 2016
During his end-of-season press conference, Girardi said figuring out what happened to Shreve down the stretch was a priority heading into the offseason. He nearly pitched himself off the postseason roster — Shreve was on the wildcard card game roster, mostly because the Yankees lacked alternatives — and I don’t think he’s assured a spot on the 2016 Opening Day roster right now. Shreve will certainly get a long look in Spring Training and be in the bullpen mix, but, after the late season slide, he’ll have to show he’s back to being reliable before getting a roster spot.
2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees are not expected to pursue Yoenis Cespedes this winter. They’ll instead prioritize rotation help. The Nationals could make Stephen Strasburg available.
- Injury News: Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) had surgery to remove a bone spur and is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. Ian Clarkin (elbow) finally appeared in an official game, throwing four innings in his Arizona Fall League debut.
- The Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly parted ways. There have been no rumors connecting the Yankees to Mattingly yet, but they’re coming.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. RAB will be back to normal next week — I’ve been both busy and not feeling well the last few days — with season reviews and the usual. Game Six (Price vs. Ventura) begins at 8pm ET and can be seen on FOX Sports 1. The Islanders are playing as well. Talk about whatever.
Sunday: Going to use this as the open thread one more time. You’ve got football throughout the afternoon plus the Eagles and Panthers as the late NFL game tonight. The (hockey) Rangers are in action too. So talk about those games or anything else.
During the time that passed between October, 1996 to October, 2003, I went from being in fourth grade to being in eleventh grade. All-in-all, those were some formative and impressionable years. In all of those years but two–1997 and 2002–my favorite baseball team was in the World Series, winning four of them and losing two. They were also one out/inning/game away from making it there again in 2004 before, well, you know what happened. As I write this, I’m looking back at those years and taking away something I never thought I’d take away: those years did not mean all that much to me as a baseball fan.
Of all those seasons–and I’m being completely honest here–I only have a handful of memories. I remember falling asleep during Game 6 of ’96, only to wake up to Joe Torre covered in champagne at a press conference table. I have no recollection of watching anything from the 1998 and 1999 World Series, though I’m sure I did. I remember falling asleep before Game 1 of 2000 ended. I remember being at my aunt and uncle’s house for some reason while the Yankees got pounded in either game one, two, or six in the 2001 World Series. I remember falling asleep during Game Seven, waking up to hear Soriano’s home run on the radio, then falling asleep again, thinking they’d won, only to wake up to Luis Gonzalez’s heroics. I remember falling asleep in 2003 before Aaron Boone did his thing. All I remember of the 2003 World Series is the last out Jorge Posada made against Josh Beckett. I remember watching Game 3 of the ’04 ALCS at a friend’s house, thinking there was no way they wouldn’t close out that series the next night. I remember turning off Game 7 in the first few innings. Essentially, for most of the Yankee dynasty years, I was asleep when they were winning. This isn’t meant to be some commentary on the late start times of playoff and World Series games, but rather a revelation (confession?) about myself as a fan: I just didn’t care as much back then.
Perhaps seeing the Yankees win so many damn times numbed me to just how incredible it was to make it to the World Series. Perhaps I cared more about playing baseball than I did about watching it; again, I can’t recall watching many games on TV as a kid. I’m sure I did, but I honestly don’t remember it. My family and I made it out to the Stadium once per season, and maybe I went with a friend a handful of other times, but I wasn’t as immersed in it until later in life.
When I got to college, the fall of 2005, I was lucky enough to be placed with a roommate who was also a big Yankee fan. The combination of a passionate roommate, a lack of morning classes, and relative freedom meant I could finally watch just about as much baseball as I could. This was augmented by the advent of faster internet both at home and at school that enabled me to talk about baseball (or anything else) just about any time I wanted to. And because of that, this is when my baseball fandom really started. From that point until now, I’ve watched or listened to or followed a vast majority of games the Yankees have played. And because of that, I finally realized how hard getting there can actually be.
The (mostly) disastrous playoff losses the Yankees suffered in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012 felt worse to me than the losses in 2001 or 2003, and to some extent, 2004 did. Why? Personal investment. As a kid, I didn’t invest all that much in the Yankees. Like I detailed before, I have vague flashes of memories of those teams and that’s it; granted, this could be time and memory (or lack thereof) playing some tricks on me in 2015, but the level of care I put into the Yankees from 2005/2006 on dwarfs any feeling of affection I had for them during my younger and more vulnerable days. This is why the 2009 World Series win will always be my favorite.
While the “drought” between World Series wins was relatively short for the Yankees, the old ‘quality vs. quantity’ problem is what makes up the difference for me. The quality of those years of watching them not win–or really even come close–was much greater than the small quantity of years.
2004 was obviously bad and I was disappointed and upset and frustrated, but it didn’t shake me to my baseball core or anything. Looking back with some detachment, it’s clear that, given their pitching staff, the 2004 Yankees had no real business being in the 2004 ALCS, let alone winning it. For me, the worst playoff losses were the 2010 and 2012 ALCS’s.
I’m not going back to find it, but I remember tweeting in the late innings of that 2010 loss to the Rangers, something along the lines of “Don’t go out like this. Please, not like this.” Coming off of 2009, when I watched most every inning of most every game, a lot of that time spent right here on this very website, I knew what it took for a team to make it to and win the World Series. I knew how hard they’d worked, how much they’d given. I also knew they were the better damn team, which made the loss so biting and disappointing.
In 2012, the Yankees essentially no-showed in the ALCS and that–along with the 2011 ALDS, also against the Tigers–was probably the most painful experience I’ve had watching baseball. There was just nothing that went right for them. They couldn’t hit. They couldn’t pitch. It was hopeless from the start. That loss was more disappointing and more brutal for me than the one in 2004 was.
2009 showed me what a championship team looks like, in terms of team construction and that “fighting spirit” that meant they were never out of a game (though the latter here really comes from the former). I haven’t gotten that feeling from the Yankees since 2010, though there were flashes of it early this year. I liken the Yankees’ loss in the Wild Card game to that ALCS vs. Detroit in 2012: the chances of them winning weren’t great, but, of course, I couldn’t look away. Things felt somewhat doomed from the start, but it didn’t matter.
2009 also showed me that, as a Yankee fan, I’m an eternal optimist. Perhaps that, not the feeling of championship or playoff-entitlement, is what growing up in the presence of the last great baseball dynasty left me with, hope: the hope that the Yankees will always be in it, will always be there, will always hang around. They might not always come through like they did way-back-when, but they will always have the chance to get there.