Guest Post: Uniform No. 26: The Best of a Bunch of Stragglers

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He wrote a guest post about umpire Tim McClelland back in February and will now tackle uniform No. 26. Enjoy.

(Getty)
(Getty)

We complain that the Yankees retire too many numbers (21 by the end of the season) or should un-retire numbers. However, you look at statistics, particularly on Baseball-Reference, the Yankees seem to have an inordinate amount of numbers that have an insane list of players. Yet, 26 seems to stick out. Most recently, we associate the Yankees’ No. 26 with Eduardo Nunez, who was wearing it from 2011-2013 (he wore 12 in 2010, his first season). The first time the No. 26 was assigned by the Yankees was Cedric Durst, a former outfielder for the St. Louis Blues from 1922-1926. Durst joined the Yankees in 1927, but did not get his number 26 until 1929. He only wore 26 for one year, changing to 27 for the 1930 season. That season he was traded to the Red Sox with $50,000 for Yankee legend, Monument Park and Hall of Fame inductee Red Ruffing.

I am not going to go through the entire list of who wore 26 in this blog post, it would take forever. Since Cedric Durst, 71 other players have worn the No. 26 for the Yankees, currently with Chris Capuano wearing it. However, the No. 26 also seems for the most part to deal with a lot of straggler players. In 2012 for example, we had Darnell McDonald wear No. 26 (and cut his famous dreadlocks) for 3 games before being designated for assignment. Since 2009, the Yankees have assigned the No. 26 to 9 players: Austin Kearns, Kevin Russo, Greg Golson and Nick Johnson all in 2010; Eduardo Nunez in 2011; Ramiro Pena, Darnell McDonald and Eduardo Nunez in 2012; Nunez kept it for all of 2013; Yangervis Solarte took 26 after Nunez was designated for assignment in 2014, and after he was traded away, Capuano took the number.

The Best Batter to wear No. 26

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

You’re going to probably watch your eyes melt when you hear me say this, but Eduardo Nunez has arguably had the best statistics for all batters who have worn No. 26. In 270 games with the Bombers, Nunez had 201 hits, 10 home runs and 75 runs batted in. He hit for a .267 average, .313 on-base percentage and .379 slugging. Of course, when the Yankees promoted Nunez in 2010, they thought he was quite possibly the heir at shortstop for Derek Jeter and the future face of the franchise at shortstop. Baseball-Reference’s SABERmetrics have not been so kind to Nunez offensively, as he never produced higher than an 0.4 offensive WAR for the Yankees (he has a 0.5 bWAR for the Twins this season thus far, but he’s only played 17 games due to injury.).

However, his defense has never quite been the same as his offensive production. Nunez has played various positions all over the place since his debut in 2010 (3B, SS, the OF, DH and 2B). From 2010-2013, Nunez managed 30 errors at the shortstop position alone (14 in 2011 and 12 in 2013, correlating with his most active seasons with the Yankees (he spent most of 2012 in the minors, only had 4 errors). At third base, he had another 11 errors, and 1 at second base in 2012. When Yangervis Solarte hit his way into the scene during Spring Training in 2014, the Yankees clearly had enough of Nunez and designated him for assignment on April 1. Regardless of our opinions on Nuney, there has clearly been no sign of a better hitter wearing that number.

The Best Pitcher (and overall player) to wear No. 26

No. 26 has produced many pitchers as well, but there was no one better wearing the number than Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Hernandez, the Cuban free agent, signed on March 23, 1998 with the New York Yankees, two years after his brother Livan signed with the Marlins. During his first stint in New York, Hernandez started 121 games in the regular season for the Yankees, throwing 8 complete games from 1998-2000, when he was in his prime at ages 32-34. He racked up 791.2 innings in that span, striking out 619 (I am not kidding). He allowed 105 home runs and 707 hits. Despite all that, he only had 18 wild pitches when facing 3,324 batters. He had a 114 ERA+ and a 1.232 WHIP. In all, the first stint the Yankees had with El Duque resulted in a 53-38 record and a 4.04 ERA.

As you probably know, the Yankees traded El Duque to the Chicago White Sox on January 15, 2003 for Eddi Candelario and Antonio Osuna. Hernandez was immediately flipped to the Montreal Expos with Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer for Jorge Nunez and future-Yankee Bartolo Colon. El Duque did not pitch in 2003 due to a rotator cuff surgery. As a free agent in 2004, El Duque re-signed with the Yankees for $500,000! His 2004 season was definitely not as electric as his first stint with the Yankees, as he only started 15 games for the Bombers at age 38, pitching only 84.2 innings and a 3.30 ERA (which was his best since 1998 at that point). The next year he signed as a free agent to the White Sox and gained his 4th ring in his career. Interestingly, at the end of that season he was traded to the Diamondbacks with future Yankees Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young (!) for another Yankee, Javier Vazquez.

Hernandez, his eephus pitch and his unusual leg kick were one of the best things to come out of the 1998 season. What Yankee fan doesn’t love El Duque? I sure don’t. He had a memorable time in New York, throwing his glove to Tino Martinez at first base, making quality starts constantly and just being unusual compared to most pitchers. Unlike Eduardo Nunez, who has a very timid reputation in Yankee lore, El Duque is forever a favorite and overall the best player to wear No. 26 since 1929.

Notable Runner-Ups

There is no question that El Duque was the best overall player with No. 26, and the best pitcher. However, there are 70 other players who deserve comment, but I want to focus on one batter and one pitcher. Starting with the batter, you have to scroll back to the 1932-1938 seasons for the arguable second-best batter who wore the No. 26. This player was a catcher named Joe Glenn. Glenn was a backup catcher to the legendary Bill Dickey, debuting in 1932 when he was 23 years old. He wasn’t an offensive powerhouse, but as he got older, he managed to start hitting with some average (.233, .271, .283 and .260 from 1935-38). On October 26, 1938, Glenn was traded with Myril Hoag to the Browns for Oral Hildebrand and Buster Mills.

On the pitchers side is a name older Yankee fans should recognize, John “The Count” Montefusco. Montefusco, a recent addition to Old Timer’s Day, was acquired from the Padres by the Yankees in 1983 after a long career with the San Francisco Giants. He only pitched in 18 starts for the Yankees, a majority during the 1984 season. He did, however, managed a 3.55 ERA and a 19-7 record for the most part of that time with a 106 ERA+ in 208 innings. In total, he allowed 209 hits and 19 home runs with a 1.303 WHIP. Yes Montefusco wasn’t amazing as El Duque was, but there’s no question that Montefusco was one of the better pitchers to wear No. 26. The Yankees were actually Montefusco’s last team in the majors.

Finally, you look at the number 26, one of these days, someone is going to get that number and put it to good use. For those curious, after 26, the number 39 is the most-used number. One of the other pitchers who deserve credit for both 26 and 39 is the great Joe Niekro, who played for the Yankees during the same time as Montefusco, strangely enough. While Capuano has held the No. 26, it’s not going to be forever, and at some point, another straggler will probably inherit the number.

Game 57: Finish the Sweep

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The streaky 2015 Yankees are hot again, having won five straight and nine of their last 12 games overall. They swept the Royals a week and a half ago, swept the Mariners a few days ago, and today they have a chance to sweep the Angels. Those are three teams many people expected to contend coming into the season. The Yankees? Many counted them out.

Michael Pineda is not on the mound this afternoon. Instead, it’ll be CC Sabathia, who is starting on normal rest thanks to Thursday’s off-day. The Yankees are skipping Pineda’s start this weekend to control his workload. Regardless of who is on the mound, let’s hope the offense keeps up what they’ve been doing. They scored eight runs in each of the first two games of this series, the first time they’ve scored 8+ runs in consecutive games since September 2013, when they did it in three straight games. (They lost all three games!) Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very lovely day in New York. Nice and sunny, not too hot … pretty much a perfect afternoon for baseball. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:05pm ET, and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) continues to run sprints and stuff like that. He’s increasing the intensity a little each day … Gregorio Petit (hand) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Monday.

Chasing a Rebound

Even before they acquired him last season, Chase Headley was a player on the minds of Yankee fans for a long time. A switch hitter with power and patience, wallowing the Petco Pitcher’s Paradise, he seemed the perfect fit for the Yankees, even before considering his reputedly elite glove at third base. Many people, myself included, thought getting Headley at any point before free agency was something of a pipe dream. Like many other things I’ve said about baseball, I was quite clearly wrong about that.

When he joined the Yankees last season, Headley did about what was expected: provide good defense and get on base (12.9 BB%) and hit for a little bit of pop (.136). Mostly, he righted the ship at third base, which had been taking on an entire ocean of water in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. So far this year, through Friday, 6/5, Headley isn’t hitting all that great, and has had some hiccups in the field (along with a glut of spectacular plays, though). His line sits at .254/.305/.395, good for a .306 wOBA and a 93 wRC+. That’s not all that great to begin with, and it looks a little worse when compared to the average Major League third baseman , who’s wOBAing .318 and wRC+ing 102. It seems that we’ve been waiting for a big breakout from Headley and it seems like it hasn’t exactly arrived–at least at first glance. Looking a bit deeper, we’re smack in the middle of a month-long rebound from Headley.

From Opening Day through May 10, the day his OPS bottomed out at .633, Headley hit just .224/.280/.353, ‘good’ for a wOBA of just .295. His BABIP was a fairly low .274 and his ISO was just .129, both off from his career marks of .329 and .143 respectively. On May 11th, however, Headley started a hot streak that is ongoing. That day, he went 2-4 with a homer and four batted in to kick off a stretch that’s seen him hit .294/.337/.447, a .338 wOBA. His ISO in that stretch is .159, over his career average and over the average ISO for a 2015 third baseman (.155). As I’m fond of saying, there’s the ‘what,’ now let’s look for the ‘how.’ How did Headley start turning things around? Using the same date ranges as before (4/6-5/10 and 5/11-6/05), let’s jump into the batted-ball data that the ever-awesome Brooks Baseball provides for us.

In the early part of the season, Headley was getting eaten alive by fastballs, sinkers, and changeups. That’s a bad thing no matter what; it’s even worse when those are the three pitch types you see the most. He hit just .234; .167; and .167 against them respectively, with ISOs of .149; .000; and .056 respectively. Those marks are as ugly as his overall line was for that stretch of time. His BABIPs against those pitch types were also low: .278; .188; .231.  Since then, things have improved. From 5/11-6/05, Headley has reamed fastballs at a .393 clip with a .607 SLG (.214 ISO) and a .435 BABIP.  This marked improvement on ol’ number one has been sparked by a change in batted-ball type for Headley.

During this hot-stretch, Headley has gotten more grounders, line drives, and home runs (per fly balls/line drives) against fastballs than he did in April and early May. We know that grounders and line drives are way more likely than fly balls to be hits, so that helps explain the big uptick in average and BABIP. The increased home run totals speak for the jump in ISO. Similar things have happened against sinkers and changeups for Headley, too.

He’s hitting fewer grounders on balls in play against sinkers now (57.14%) than before (62.50%), which plays against what pitchers aim to do when they throw sinkers. And though he still hasn’t left the yard on a sinker (0.00 HR/FB+LD on sinkers for the year), he’s been hitting a higher portion of them, 33.33% to 18.75% for line drives.

Of the changeups Headley put into play in the first part of the season, he pounded 92.31% of them into the ground, which plays right into what pitchers are hoping for when they throw a change. The other 7.69% were line drives. Those totals have been altered quite a bit in the May-June hot streak as he’s lowered the ground ball rate t0 33.33% and upped the line drive rate to 41.67%. The most impactful change, though, has been that of the changeups he’s put into play (25% rate total), 25% of them have gone for homers. He’s gone from being mastered by changeups to mastering them right out of the park.

The rebound we wanted from Headley in early May seems to have arrived and is continuing as I write this and as you read it. What he’s hitting during this stretch is probably the upper bound of what we can expect from him as a hitter and may be hard to sustain. However, this is what we envisioned when we saw Headley traded to the Bronx last summer, something that made us pretty happy. Hitting like this would make that aforementioned pipe dream a reality.

Warren, big first inning carry Yanks to 8-2 win over Angels

That was close to a perfect win. Score a whole bunch of runs early, get a quality outing from the starter, then let the bullpen finish it off without making things interesting. Just perfect. The Yankees did all of that in Saturday night’s 8-2 win over the Angels. New York has won five straight and nine of their last dozen games overall.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

First Inning Offense
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Yankees led all of baseball with 51 first inning runs. It wasn’t close either — the Padres were a distant second with 42 runs. The Tigers (41) were the only other team with more than 38. The Yankees dominate the first inning and they did it again Saturday, scoring six runs and knocking the generally awesome Garrett Richards out of the game after two-thirds of an inning. Let’s recap the inning with annotated play-by-play:

Yankees Angels play by play1

(1) The first at-bat of the inning told us right away that home plate ump Alfonso Marquez was going to have a tight strike zone. At least two of those balls to Brett Gardner looked like strikes, and that was a common theme throughout the inning. Marquez squeezed, Richards had to come over the plate, and the Yankees made him pay. The zone was tight for both teams but the Yankees did a better job of capitalizing. Here’s the strike zone. Notice how nearly every borderline pitch was called a ball:

Yankees Angels strike zone(2) Chase Headley‘s single maybe possibly could have been a double play. It was a hot shot grounder second baseman Johnny Giavotella couldn’t handle, and it deflected off his glove and into shallow right field. It was a tough play, no doubt about it. With a little luck Giavotella could have had his glove up quicker, fielded the hopper, and gotten at least one out (if not two), changing the inning. That didn’t happen. The ball clanked off his glove and the Yankees were in business.

(3) Richards recorded one out among the first eight batters he faced, and that was a 400-foot fly ball to the center field warning track. I didn’t think it was gone off the bat — it looked like Mark Teixeira hit it juuust off the end of the bat — but it kept carrying and carrying before Mike Trout settled under it. That was the second hardest hit ball of the inning behind Brian McCann‘s two-run home run, which was another example of Richards getting squeezed, having to come over the plate, and the Yankees capitalizing.

(4) Low baseball IQ alert! Stephen Drew hit a soft chopper to first base, and for some reason Albert Pujols tried to catch Didi Gregorius wandering off second base rather than take the sure out at first in hopes of snuffing out the big inning. Pujols made the throw to Giavotella, Gregorius slid back in, and second base ump Tom Hallion called him out. The Yankees immediately challenged and the replays clearly showed that not only did Didi beat the tag, there wasn’t even a tag applied. Giavotella tagged his own leg, not Gregorius. The call was overturned, Didi was ruled safe, and the Yankees reloaded the bases on a boneheaded play by Pujols, arguably the greatest player of his generation and usually a pretty smart defender.

(5) I thought Gardner’s two-out, two-run single was a back-breaker. Four runs in the first inning is awesome! But if Gardner makes an out there, Richards probably stays in the game, the Angels stay within grand slam distance, and a really good first inning doesn’t make the jump to a great first inning. Tacking on those two extra runs rather than “settling” for the four-run frame was huge. Changed the complexion of the game completely.

(6) This was already the fourth time this season the Yankees scored 5+ runs in the first inning. They did it twice last year, zero times the year before that, and twice the year before that. The other 29 teams have done it three times combined this season (!). This was also New York’s sixth inning of 5+ runs this season in general (first inning, second inning, whatever) compared to nine last year and eight the year before that. Hooray big innings!

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Warren Report
It’ll get forgotten thanks to the big day by the offense, but Adam Warren turned in yet another very strong outing, holding the Angels to two runs in 6.2 innings. He threw a career high 105 pitches. After struggling to get through even five innings earlier this season, Warren has now completed at least 6.1 innings in each of his last five starts. He’s the first Yankee with five straight starts of 6.1+ innings since Masahiro Tanaka early last season. Who’d a thunk it?

Anyway, Warren retired the first nine batters he faced, then five of nine batters reached base the second time through the lineup. The Angels loaded the bases with an infield single and two walks in the fourth inning, so they were threatening to make it a game, but Warren was able to coax an inning-ending double play ball out of David Freese. The Halos then put the first two runners on in the fifth before Warren rebounded and limited the damage to one run on a sac fly. It was a long sac fly — Ramon Flores caught it at the wall — but it was just a sac fly.

Trout hit a solo home run in the sixth because that’s what Mike Trout does. What are you gonna do? The guy hits dingers. Luckily there was no one on base when it happened. Warren’s night ended when he walked Giavotella with two outs in the seventh — he actually had more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) on the night — but it didn’t come back to hurt. Justin Wilson retired Erick Aybar with one pitch to end the inning. Although Warren wasn’t as sharp on Saturday as he has been in recent weeks, this was his fifth straight quality outing nonetheless. Well done, Adam.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
T’was a catch. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Leftovers
The Yankees scored an insurance run in the second (Carlos Beltran singled in Teixeira) and another in the eighth (Teixeira walked with the bases loaded). The offense actually went kinda silent for a while — between Beltran’s single in the second and the start of the eighth inning, Angels pitchers retired 17 of 20 batters faced. The three base-runners were Gregorius (double) and A-Rod (walk, hit-by-pitch). Huh. Go figure.

Every starter reached base safely at least once other than Drew, though Drew reached on that weird Pujols play in the first. (It was scored a fielder’s choice.) Gardner (two singles, walk), A-Rod (three walks, hit-by-pitch), Teixeira (single, walk), McCann (homer, single), and Gregorius (single, double) all reached base multiple times. Gardner also stole a base because why not? The Yankees have been getting contributions from up and down the lineup during this five-game winning steak. Nice to see.

Unlike the series opener, the bullpen did not make things interesting in the late innings. Justin Wilson escaped the seventh, allowed a single in an otherwise uneventful eighth, and Chris Capuano retired the side in order in the ninth. Carlos Perez did work a 13-pitch at-bat before making the 27th out though. But see? It doesn’t have to be so hard with a huge late lead.

And finally, the Angels really had to tax their bullpen thanks to the short start by Richards. Cesar Ramos (20 pitches), Hector Santiago (45 pitches), Jose Alvarez (24 pitches), and Cam Bedrosian (40 pitches) all had to work quite a bit. That figures to play a role in the series finale Sunday.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, Bullpen Workload page, and Announcer Standings page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Angels will wrap up this series on Sunday afternoon. CC Sabathia, not Michael Pineda, will square off against fellow left-hander C.J. Wilson. Pineda is having his scheduled start skipped this week to control his workload. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or either of the other two remaining games on the homestand in person.

DotF: Sanchez homers again, Lail dominates in AA win

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Rochester)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 K
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 0-4, 3 K
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 K
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 4/4 GB/FB — 59 of 99 pitches were strikes (60%)
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 24 of 39 pitches were strikes (62%) … with RHP Luis Severino now in the rotation, it looks like Tracy got bumped to the bullpen
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 21 of 32 pitches were strikes (66%) … 27.0 K% this year after 34.0 K% last year

[Read more…]

Game 56: Bounce Back From The Win

"That was a really tough win last night." (Rich Schultz/Getty)
“That was a really tough win last night.” (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Last night’s win was one of those wins that felt like a loss. That ninth inning was such a near-catastrophe that it almost feels like the Yankees need to bounce back today despite picking up the W. That’s messed up, man. Wins aren’t supposed to feel like that.

But, on the bright side, the Yankees have won four in a row and eight of their last eleven games. They’re a streaky team these 2015 Yankees, and right now they’re on a hot streak. Adam Warren is on a hot streak as well, having run off four very good starts his last four times out. He’ll look to make it five straight tonight, and so will the Yankees. Here is the Anaheim’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

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

It’s a little cloudy tonight but otherwise it’s a nice night for baseball in the Bronx. Tonight’s game will start at 7:15pm ET and can be seen nationally on FOX. Enjoy the broadcast!

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) did some more light baseball activities today, running sprints and playing catch, that sorta stuff.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken

Brady Aiken | LHP

Background
The 19-year-old Aiken was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft out of a San Diego high school, but his deal with the Astros fell apart when the team found some red flags in his elbow. The two sides reportedly agreed to a $6.5M bonus before the physical, then Aiken later rejected a reduced $5M bonus. Aiken opted to do a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida rather than attend a four-year college, allowing him to re-enter the draft this year. Aiken blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in April, and reportedly it was something more complicated than a routine ligament reconstruction.

Scouting Report
Aiken, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., looks the part of a first overall pick when healthy. He sat 92-94 and touched 97 before getting hurt, and it played up because Aiken could sink it and locate the pitch exceptionally well. A tight curveball is his go-to secondary pitch and was a legitimate put-away offering before his elbow gave out. Aiken also threw an advanced changeup that gave him the potential for three well-above-average pitches. A clean and repeatable delivery helped him command all three pitches, though the fact that he has such a smooth delivery and still blew out his elbow creates concerns about his future durability. Aiken has drawn big time praise for his makeup, especially after he took the Astros ordeal and Tommy John surgery in stride.

Miscellany
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Aiken as the 22nd, 24th, and 27th best prospect in the draft in their latest rankings, respectively. Kiley McDaniel says Aiken’s camp has made his medical information available to teams, and while that isn’t uncommon, it is a little weird they’re making it available only by request and with special instructions. They’re trying to limit leaks, basically. The Yankees are reportedly steering clear of injured pitchers like Aiken, but they’re one of the few teams with an extra first round pick (16th and 30th overall) and the draft pool space ($7.885M) to make it work. Aiken’s talent is undeniable, but apparently his injury goes beyond routine Tommy John surgery, and that’s scary.