Estimating the length of Stephen Drew’s leash

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

Following a 2-for-4 effort in last night’s win over the Blue Jays, shortstop turned second baseman Stephen Drew is now hitting .167/.247/.359 (65 wRC+) on the season. He was hitless in his previous 17 at-bats heading into last night’s game and is in a 7-for-45 (.156) rut in his last 14 games overall. Drew has had his moments, most notably the grand slam in Baltimore, but so far he isn’t doing much better than the .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) line he put up a year ago.

Despite the lack of production, Brian Cashman recently gave Drew a vote of confidence and declared his job safe. “I think Drew’s been fine. Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew,” said the GM to Andrew Marchand last week. That’s not surprising. Cashman has always been the type to preach patience, and even if he was unhappy with Drew’s play, he wouldn’t tell the media. That’s just how the Yankees roll nowadays.

That said, if Drew doesn’t start hitting reasonably soon, Cashman and the Yankees will become impatient and look for alternatives. His defense has been very good, no doubt about it, but one team can only have so many dead spots in the lineup. And unlike Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees have no long-term stake in Drew. He’s on a one-year contract and figures to be gone after the season. So how long will his leash be? Let’s look at some recent precedents set by the Yankees.

The Tony Womack Leash

Gosh, the Womack signing was so bad. He hit .270/.314/.360 (72 wRC+) with 0.6 fWAR in nearly 1,000 games and 4,300 plate appearances as an everyday player from 1997-2003, had a career year thanks to some St. Louis Cardinals devil magic in 2004 (94 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR), and turned it into a two-year contract worth $4M with the Yankees. Gross.

Womack hit the emptiest .280 you’ll ever see during his first month in pinstripes (.280/.330/.329, 80 wRC+) and was erratic at second base, so in early-May the Yankees called up Robinson Cano and temporarily stuck Womack in left field, a position he’d never played before. By June, Womack was a part-time player on the bench. It certainly helped that Cano came up and hit right away, of course.

Womack’s leash was very short — he got one month as a second baseman and about a month and a half as an outfielder before being banished to the bench. We’re already one month into the season and Cashman’s comment sure make it seem like Drew is not in imminent danger of losing his starting job, but perhaps he ends up a part-timer like Womack come mid-June if he doesn’t right the ship.

The Brian Roberts Leash

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

This one is much more recent. The Yankees signed Roberts a year ago to replace Cano, giving him a one-year deal worth $2M despite a recent history of injuries and poor performance. He hit .246/.310/.356 (81 wRC+) and played in only 192 of 648 possible games from 2010-13. Replacing Cano is an impossible task, and the Yankees were hoping Roberts could stay healthy and be a pest at the bottom of the lineup. Nothing more.

Roberts did manage to stay healthy but he never did hit, putting up a .237/.300/.360 (84 wRC+) batting line in 348 plate appearances before being designated for assignment at the trade deadline, coincidentally when the Yankees acquired Drew. The Roberts leash is the trade deadline — hang on to Drew for the next few weeks, ride it out, then if necessary make an upgrade at the end of the July and drop him. So four months, basically. That’s the length of this leash.

The Raul Ibanez Leash

Man, Ibanez was awesome as a Yankees. Except for all those months he wasn’t. Before he started smashing all those clutch homers in September and October, Ibanez hit only .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) in 357 plate appearances as a corner outfielder/DH. And remember, Raul’s defense was really bad too. Really, really bad. He was a below-average hitter and a well-below-average defender. Not much to like there, at least not until he started hitting those homers.

The Yankees signed Ibanez to a one-year, $1.1M contract and they stuck with him all season. Raul’s a great guy and easy to like, but finding an upgrade at the DH spot wasn’t going to be all that tough, yet the Yankees stuck it out and were rewarded late in the season. So the Ibanez leash is the full season. The Yankees could stick with Drew, ride out the ups and downs throughout the summer, and hope it all works out in the end.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Miguel Cairo/Jayson Nix Leash

This is the worst kind of leash. This is the “he just won’t go away!” leash. Cairo played with the Yankees in 2004, 2006, and 2007 while Nix was around from 2012-13. Every time it seemed like these guys were about to be replaced or let go as a free agent, they managed to stick around. The Yankees kept bringing them back and we kept wondering why.

So imagine the Yankees not only ride out the season with an unproductive Drew, but bring him back next season in some capacity. And then maybe bring him back the season after that too. Don’t laugh. It could happen. The Yankees tried to sign Drew before both the 2013 and 2014 seasons before finally getting their hands on him. They like something about him and could continue to like that something after the season. The Cairo/Nix leash spans multiple years.

* * *

My hunch is Drew is closer to the Ibanez leash than the Womack leash. He might not necessarily remain the starting second baseman all season if he doesn’t pick up, but I do think Drew will be on the roster all year. And why not keep him around as a bench player if it comes to that? His middle infield defense is valuable and he’d be a better backup option than Brendan Ryan or Gregorio Petit.

The Yankees don’t have a 2005 Cano waiting but they do have Jose Pirela, who is expected to be added to the roster later today. Joe Girardi indicated Pirela will play against lefties, and he does well in that role, he may see more time against righties down the road. Rob Refsnyder is starting to heat up a bit and he’s looming in Triple-A, so the Yankees do have some other second base options to consider. Given how close the AL East race both is right now and figures to be throughout the summer, the Yankees shouldn’t stick with an unproductive Drew if a better option presents itself.

Yankees escape messy ninth with 6-3 win over Blue Jays

My favorite thing about the 2015 Yankees so far is that one loss is just that, one loss. It doesn’t spiral into two or three or four losses in a row like it the last two seasons. The Yankees rebounded from Monday’s tough series opening loss with a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday. This game was pretty stress-free for the first eight and a half innings. New York has won 14 of their last 18 games.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Led By The Leadoff Hitter
Jacoby Ellsbury is a pretty streaky hitter, and right now he’s absolutely locked in and pitchers just can’t him out. The Yankees had three-run scoring hits in the first five innings and Ellsbury was involved in all three. He led off the first inning with a single, moved to third on Brett Gardner‘s hustle double, then scored on Alex Rodriguez‘s double down the line. Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada was in the stretch right away.

In the second, Estrada was on the verge of a clean inning when Josh Donaldson tried to barehand Gregorio Petit‘s soft ground ball, only to throw it into the stands. I’m pretty sure Petit would have beaten it out anyway, but the throw gave him the extra base. Ellsbury made Donaldson and Estrada pay with a single slashed down the left field line. That gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead with Ellsbury scoring one run and driving in another.

The fifth inning rally started with another Ellsbury leadoff single, his second leadoff hit of the game and third hit on the night overall. Ellsbury stole second later in the inning but that didn’t matter — Mark Teixeira unloaded on Estrada’s first pitch fastball for a monster two-run homer to right-center. Gone off the bat, cleared the bullpens, so on and so forth. Estrada led MLB with 29 homers allowed in only 150.2 innings last year and pitches like that fastball to Teixeira show why. Batting practice.

The homer gave the Yankees a nice 5-0 lead in the fifth inning and made things much more comfortable with Joe Girardi understandably wanting to stay away from his key late-inning relievers if at all possible. Ellsbury led the way offensively with three hits in five at-bats, scoring two of the six runs and driving in another. He has an eight-game hitting streak and is 28-for-67 (.418) in his last 16 games overall. Yowza.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Big Mike Goes Eight
For the first time as a Yankee and only the second time in his career, Michael Pineda completed eight innings on Tuesday. Eight shutout innings too. And he did it a) after laboring a bit in the early innings, and b) on a night when the bullpen really needed a rest. That’s what an ace does. Pineda put four men on base in the first three innings and just two in the next five. He retired the last seven and 15 of the last 17 batters he faced.

The Blue Jays had their best chance to rally against Pineda in the third inning, after he walked number nine hitter Ezequiel Carrera on five pitches to start the frame. Two outs followed, but the Yankees caught a break on Russell Martin‘s two-out double when third base coach Luis Rivera held Carrera up. I thought he was going to score pretty easily with two outs, but I guess not. Pineda got some more help from Gardner when he snow-coned Edwin Encarnacion’s fly ball for the final out.

Big Mike was in cruise control after that. He held Toronto to five hits and one walk in those eight shutout innings, striking out six. Pineda also got eleven outs on the ground and another three on infield pop-ups. Considering the trouble he had in those first three innings, completing eight scoreless on only 101 pitches is pretty great. Big time outing from Big Mike. The bullpen needed it too.

Messy Ninth
So we’re never going to see David Carpenter in a meaningful spot again. Carpenter, who had thrown only 16 pitches in the last 13 days, allowed three runs on three hits and a walk while getting only two outs in the ninth. Andrew Miller had to come into the game for the final out, which he recorded after walking Jose Bautista to bring the tying run to the plate. Is Carpenter struggling because he hasn’t pitched or has he not pitched because he’s struggling? We’re probably not going to get much of a chance to find out the answer.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
I learned something new in this game: apparently the pitch is still live after a balk is called. That’s what happened on Ellsbury’s run-scoring single in the second. Estrada was called for a balk mid-delivery, threw the pitch anyway, and Ellsbury shot it down the line to score the run with two outs. Apparently it’s a free swing when that happens — the manager gets to decide whether to accept the balk or the outcome of the play. Who knew?

The Yankees scored their sixth run when Didi Gregorius singled in Brian McCann in the eighth. Stephen Drew broke his 0-for-17 skid with two singles, one off a lefty and one off a righty. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit except for Carlos Beltran, who went 0-for-4. Beltran has 16 hits this year — seven against Red Sox starters and nine against everyone else. The Yankees went 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position as a team.

Petit took a pitch to the right hand in his final at-bat of the game. He stayed in to play defense for one more inning before being taken out. Preliminary tests came back clean, but either way Jose Pirela is ready to be activated on Wednesday. Petit would probably rather sit on the big league DL for two weeks rather than go to Triple-A.

Teixeira’s home run was his tenth of the season. This was the team’s 27th game, and prior to this year, the fastest Teixeira ever reached ten homers was 38 games in 2009. He was a chronically slow starter earlier in his career, but still, beat your old personal best by eleven games? No gluten for anyone next offseason.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here is the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Blue Jays will wrap up this three game series on Wednesday night, when veteran southpaws CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle face off. Feel free to insert a joke about which one has the faster fastball.

DotF: Judge homers but Trenton loses again

RHP Jared Burton (lat) was activated off the minor league disabled list and sent to High-A Tampa, reports Brendan Kuty. I’m sure the big league vet will only make a few tune-up appearances with Tampa before joining the Triple-A Scranton bullpen.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Gwinnett)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 3-4, 1 R — 21-for-51 (.412) in his last 13 games
  • LF Ramon Flores & 2B Rob Refsnyder: both 1-4, 1 K — Flores threw a runner out at the plate
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-4, 2 K — threw a runner out at second … he’s really been struggling at the plate for a few weeks now
  • C Austin Romine: 0-4, 2 K
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 7 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 Balk, 7/7 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) — 69 of 103 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten of 15 pitches were strikes (67%) … ho hum
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — seven of ten pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 27: Big Mike and the Blue Jays

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees dropped a very winnable first game of this series with the Blue Jays last night, and it was one of those losses you could pin on anyone other than Chase Whitley. That’s baseball. You’re not gonna win them all.

Big Mike Pineda is on the mound tonight looking to get the Yankees back into the win column. They’ve won 13 of their last 17 but the bullpen could really use the night off. At least Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller could. This would be a good night for a blowout win. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Chase Headley
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s cool and cloudy in Toronto this evening. I’m guessing the Rogers Centre roof will be closed, but that’s just a guess. Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:07pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Update: Jose Pirela (concussion) is with the Yankees and will be activated off the DL tomorrow. No word on the corresponding move but I assume it’ll be Petit. Makes sense.

Injury Update: Mark Teixeira is dealing with a minor lat issue, Joe Girardi told reporters. That’s why he didn’t use him as a defensive replacement last night; he wanted him to have the full day off. It’s a nagging issue but Teixeira is playing tonight.

2015 Draft: Kyle Tucker

Kyle Tucker | OF

Background
The 18-year-old Tucker attends Plant High School in Tampa (Wade Boggs’ alma mater) and is committed to Florida. He’s consistently performed well against elite high school talent on the showcase circuit. Tucker’s older brother Preston played four years for the Gators and is currently in the Astros’ farm system.

Scouting Report
Tucker is listed at 6-foot-4 and 175 lbs., and he stands out most for his offensive potential. He has excellent bat speed and a sweet left-handed swing geared for consistent, hard contact. Tucker projects to hit for both average and power, especially once he adds some muscle to his rail thin frame. His sound approach suggests he’ll draw his fair share of walks going forward. Tucker is a good athlete, not a great one, and chances are he’ll have to move out of center field and into a corner spot down the road. He has the arm for right field but needs to improve his routes. Either way, Tucker’s a bat first prospect.

Miscellany
MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Tucker as the eighth, tenth, and 14th best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. Tucker came into the spring as a back-half of the first round prospect who keeps climbing draft boards. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and it’s looking increasingly unlikely he will be available when they pick. Despite their recent inclination for college prospects, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has always had a thing for bat first high schoolers (Tyler Austin, Greg Bird, and Ben Gamel jump to mind), and Tucker fits the mold.

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.