Game One: Opening Day

The baseball gods teased us yesterday. The Yankees and Astros were ready to open the 2016 season Monday, but it rained and was pretty nasty in New York all day, so we waited. One more day we had to wait. Today, the waiting is over. The Yankees return to action this afternoon, fittingly against the Astros, the same team that beat them in the AL wildcard game last year.

Over the winter the Yankees did not sign a single Major League free agent, and they only made four five trades that directly impacted the big league roster. They have a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, some new middle relievers, and a new closer. The closer, of course, is 30 days away from joining the team. So the Yankees do have some new faces this year. They also look pretty similar to last season.

The Yankees are 63-49-1 all-time on Opening Day — they’re 20-4 in their last 24 home openers — but they’ve lost four straight and six of their last seven Opening Days. This afternoon they’re trying to avoid their first five-game Opening Day losing streak since 1934-38. Crazy, huh? Here is manager Joe Girardi‘s first lineup of the new season:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Like I said, the Astros are in town for the first series of the year this season. Here is their lineup.

Unlike yesterday, the sky is clear and it is nice and sunny this afternoon. It’s cold — temperatures are in the high-30s — and windy, so it’s not great baseball weather, but it’ll do. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Also, the MLB Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, so all you have to do is find the channels. The road to the 28th World Series title in franchise history begins today, folks. Enjoy the game.

Update: Mitchell to miss at least four months following toe surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

April 5th: Mitchell had surgery on his toe yesterday and will miss at least four months, Joe Girardi told reporters at Yankee Stadium today. Yikes. I’m not sure if that means four months until he’s back on a big league mound, or four months until he can resume baseball activities. Either way, it seems the best case scenario for Mitchell’s return is sometime in August.

March 31st: The Yankees are down another reliever. Earlier today the team announced Bryan Mitchell has suffered “Grade 3 turf toe on his left big toe and a fracture of the Sesamoid bone,” which is fancy talk for a broken toe. They didn’t give a timetable, but Jack Curry says Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months. He’ll see a specialist tomorrow and may need surgery.

“I felt something but definitely didn’t think it was this severe,” said Mitchell to Erik Boland this morning. He is on crutches for the time being. Mitchell, who was named to the Opening Day roster earlier this week, hurt himself covering first base in yesterday’s game. It was initially called a sprain, but apparently tests showed much more damage than expected. Rough.

The Yankees are already without Aroldis Chapman because of his suspension, and Andrew Miller suffered a chip fracture in his wrist in yesterday’s game, so it’s possible the team will be down three projected Opening Day relievers. Miller plans to pitch through his injury, but he has to see what the specialist says first. Chapman and Mitchell are definitely out for the start of the season.

Mitchell, 24, allowed one run on seven hits and three walk in 15.2 innings this spring. He struck out a dozen. The Yankees said they were holding a fifth starter competition, but apparently Mitchell was not included, because he would have won it with those numbers. He threw the ball very well in Grapefruit League play. Mitchell had a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings last year, though he was very good before taking a line drive to the nose.

So, with Chapman and Mitchell out, the bullpen right now is Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Ivan Nova, and three open spots. It would become four open spots if Miller can’t go. The Yankees have only four bullpen candidates remaining in big league camp (Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates) but they could always call someone up from the minors. They have a ton of young relievers in Triple-A.

The Mitchell injury not only hurts the bullpen, but he was also a piece of rotation depth. He may have been as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. The injury is unfortunate for the Yankees and it really sucks for Mitchell. This season was going to be a great opportunity for him to carve out a big league role and make a name for himself. Now it all has to be put on hold.

4/4 to 4/7 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I guess it’s fitting the Yankees will begin the 2016 season the same way the 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. The Yankees and Astros are playing on Opening Day for the second time in three seasons — they also finished the 2013 season against each other — even though they are not AL East rivals. Kinda weird. Blame the computer that generates the schedule. Anyway, let’s get to the first series preview of the new season, one day later than originally scheduled.

What Did They Do Last Year?

The ‘Stros went 86-76 with a +111 run differential in 2015, good enough to earn the second wildcard spot. As you know, they shut the Yankees out 3-0 in the wildcard game. Houston was actually in first place for most of the season before coughing it up the AL West lead late to the Rangers. Manager A.J. Hinch’s squad limped to the finish with an 11-16 record in September. Also, they went 53-28 at home and 33-48 on the road.

Offense & Defense

Overall, the Astros ranked sixth in baseball with 729 runs scored last year. They were second with 230 homers and fourth with a team 105 wRC+. Houston added no one to their lineup this past offseason. Not one notable position player addition. They will have a full season of OF Carlos Gomez, who came over at the trade deadline last year.

The Astros are currently without DH Evan Gattis (hernia) and backup catcher C Max Stassi (wrist), both of whom recently had surgery. They’re both on the disabled list, so we won’t see either guy this series. Since the season is just starting, here is each player’s 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS projection. There’s nothing else to look at right now:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
C Jason Castro .211/.283/.365 (76 wRC+), 11 HR, 0 SB .231/.303/.389 (89 wRC+), 12 HR, 1 SB
1B Tyler White .328/.443/.509 (163 wRC+) at AA/AAA .251/.336/.381 (99 wRC+), 10 HR, 0 SB
2B Jose Altuve .313/.353/.459 (120 wRC+), 15 HR, 38 SB .309/.346/.432 (112 wRC+), 11 HR, 40 SB
SS Carlos Correa .279/.345/.512 (133 wRC+), 22 HR, 14 SB .273/.340/.492 (126 wRC+), 25 HR, 23 SB
3B Luis Valbuena .224/.310/.438 (105 wRC+), 25 HR, 1 SB .238/.330/.425 (107 wRC+), 18 HR, 1 SB
LF Colby Rasmus .238/.314/.475 (115 wRC+), 25 HR, 2 SB .244/.316/.461 (111 wRC+), 21 HR, 3 SB
CF Carlos Gomez .255/.314/.409 (96 wRC+), 12 HR, 17 SB .259/.317/.433 (105 wRC+), 17 HR, 23 SB
RF George Springer .276/.367/.459 (129 wRC+), 16 HR, 16 SB .248/.341/.459 (120 wRC+), 23 HR, 17 SB
DH Preston Tucker .243/.297/.437 (100 wRC+), 13 HR, 0 SB .246/.299/.414 (94 wRC+), 19 HR, 2 SB
BENCH
C Erik Kratz .192/.214/.269 (28 wRC+), 0 HR, 0 SB .228/.283/.394 (87 wRC+), 7 HR, 0 SB
IF Marwin Gonzalez .279/.317/.442 (108 wRC+), 12 HR, 4 SB .257/.295/.385 (85 wRC+), 8 HR, 4 SB
IF Matt Duffy .294/.366/.484 (127 wRC+) at AAA .242/.297/.388 (87 wRC+), 16 HR, 2 SB
OF Jake Marisnick .236/.281/.383 (80 wRC+), 9 HR, 24 SB .244/.292/.380 (82 wRC+), 11 HR, 24 SB

That’s too many numbers for Monday morning. Sorry. Duffy — that’s not the Giants’ Matt Duffy, it’s a different Matt Duffy — is going to play against lefties, either for Valbuena at third or Tucker at DH. Actually, Tucker probably isn’t married to that DH spot. Hinch will probably rotate players in and out at DH while Gattis is on the DL.

Altuve, Springer, Correa, Rasmus, and Gomez occupy the top five spots in the lineup, usually in that order. The 6-9 spots are a bit more up in the air. The Astros have a pretty strong lineup. They are very strikeout prone; this largely unchanged lineup had a 22.9% strikeout rate last year, second highest in baseball. Altuve, who is an extreme contact hitter, is the only regular ZiPS projects to strike out at a rate lower than the league average. They hit homers and they strike out. That’s what they do.

Defensively, the Astros are very good in the outfield but surprisingly questionable on the infield. Sean Dolinar at FanGraphs put together some really cool defensive visualizations recently, so here’s the ‘Stros:

Astros defense

Blue is good, red is bad. The numbers are the projected runs the player at that position is expected to save (or cost) the team this season. Pretty cool, no? The eye test tells me Altuve is better than the numbers, for what it’s worth. I have a hard time buying him as a below-average gloveman. Either way, don’t hit it to Gomez. He’s incredible in center. Hit it to someone else.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Last season Keuchel was deservedly named the Cy Young Award winner after ranking either first or second in the AL in wins (20, 1st), innings (232, 1st), ERA (2.48, 2nd), ERA+ (162, 1st), WHIP (1.02, 1st), ground ball rate (61.7%, 1st), soft contact rate (25.2%, 1st), hard contact rate (21.3%, 1st), and bWAR (7.2, 1st). He was third in fWAR (6.1), fifth in FIP (2.91), seventh in strikeout rate (23.7%), and tenth in walk rate (5.6%). Keuchel also allowed zero runs in 17 innings this spring. Dude’s good, but you knew that already.

Keuchel, 28, is not going to blow hitters away. He sits right around 90 mph with his trademark sinker and a notch below that with his cutter. Sliders and changeups right around 80 mph are his two secondary pitches. Keuchel throws strikes with all four pitches, and like I said before the wildcard game last year, the best way to attack him may be swinging early in the count. (That’s worth doing a little more this season overall.) He’s not someone who will beat himself by falling behind in the count. The Yankees aren’t going to wait him out. Keuchel dominated the Yankees last season, but last season is last season. It means nothing now.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
The Astros grabbed the 28-year-old McHugh off waivers from the Rockies during the 2013-14 offseason, and he’s since turned into a very good rotation piece. He had a 3.89 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 203.2 innings a year ago, with strikeout (19.9%) and grounder (45.4%) rates that were about average. His walk (6.2%) and homer (0.84 HR/9) rates were good though. McHugh had a reverse split for the first time last summer and he didn’t add a pitch or change his pitch selection, so I’m inclined to believe it’s a one-year blip for now. He’s not a guy with a big fastball — McHugh averages 90 mph with his four-seamer and 87 mph with his cutter, which he throws a lot — but he keeps hitters off balance with a slow and loopy low-70s curveball. A while back Crawfish Boxes put together a cool look at how McHugh uses high fastballs and curveballs together:

Collin McHugh fastball curveball

The high heater and curveball look the same out of McHugh’s hand and come in on the same plane until the curve falls of the table. That’s the ol’ Ben Sheets approach and it can be really effective. That’s why hitters will look silly on 90 mph fastballs and loopy curves. The pitches look the same for so damn long.

Thursday (4pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (vs. NYY)
Last year the Astros picked up Fiers from the Brewers as part of the Gomez deal. Fiers, 30, had a 3.69 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 180.1 total innings in 2015, including a 3.32 ERA (4.39 FIP) in 62.1 innings for Houston. He threw a no-hitter with the Astros as well. Overall, Fiers had a good strikeout rate (23.7%) and an okay walk rate (8.4%) last year, but he’s generally fly ball (37.6%) and home run (1.20 HR/9) prone. Like McHugh, he had a reverse split last season that was out of line with the rest of his career. We’ll see if it sticks going forward. Fiers is a three-pitch pitcher who throws five pitches. Let me explain. His main pitches are a four-seamer right around 90 mph, a low-80s changeup, and a low-70s curveball. He throws those pitches a combined 90% of the time or so. Fiers will also mix in a handful of mid-80s cutters and low-80s sliders per start. (I wonder if the cutter and slider are actually one pitch with a wide range of velocities.) Enough that hitters have to be aware of them. Generally speaking, fly ball prone righties and Yankee Stadium do not mix.

Bullpen Status

The Astros made only two notable additions this offseason. They signed veteran RHP Doug Fister, who won’t start this series, and they traded a huge prospect package to the Phillies for RHP Ken Giles. Giles is one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He’s not at the Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller level, but he’s not far off.

Hinch announced yesterday RHP Luke Gregerson, not Giles, will be his closer this season. That’s probably a smart move. Maybe suprising, but smart. Here is the club’s bullpen with their 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
RHP Luke Gregerson 3.10 ERA (2.86 FIP), 24.7 K%, 4.2 BB% 3.36 ERA (3.34 FIP), 23.4 K%, 5.7 BB%
RHP Ken Giles 1.80 ERA (2.13 FIP), 29.2 K%, 8.4 BB% 2.75 ERA (2.70 FIP), 29.0 K%, 8.3 BB%
RHP Pat Neshek 3.62 ERA (3.94 FIP), 22..9 K%, 5.4 BB% 3.38 ERA (3.25 FIP), 24.8 K%, 4.6 BB%
LHP Tony Sipp 1.99 ERA (2.93 FIP), 28.7 K%, 6.9 BB% 2.96 ERA (3.02 FIP), 30.8 K%, 7.6 BB%
RHP Will Harris 1.90 ERA (3.66 FIP), 24.6 K%, 8.0 BB% 3.41 ERA (3.77 FIP), 24.5 K%, 7.9 BB%
RHP Josh Fields 3.55 ERA (2.19 FIP), 32.1 K%, 9.1 BB% 3.52 ERA (3.19 FIP), 28.1 K%, 9.2 BB%
RHP Michael Feliz 2.17 ERA (3.11 FIP) at AA 5.17 ERA (4.84 FIP), 17.8 K%, 9.1 BB%

The Astros have a very strikeout heavy bullpen. Gregerson also has a history of getting a lot of ground balls, though last season’s 60.4% ground ball was easily a career best. He gets a lot of grounders, but usually not that many.

The addition of Giles pushes Neshek and Sipp into middle innings roles regardless of whether he closes or sets up. Sipp added a splitter two years ago and is now much more than a lefty specialist. From top to bottom, this is a really good staff. There’s a reason the Astros allowed the fewest runs in the AL (618) last season. Giles (and Fister too, I guess) will only help that.

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees were rained out this afternoon, which is pretty lame. Everyone got all excited for Opening Day, then bam, no game. Sucks. What can you do though? At least the forecast looks better for tomorrow. They shouldn’t have any trouble getting the game in then.

This is tonight’s open thread. ESPN is showing the Dodgers and Padres (Kershaw vs. Ross) at 7pm ET and ESPN2 will have the Cubs and Angels (Arrieta vs. Richards) at 10pm ET. The MLB Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, you know. Find the channels and you can watch any game you want. The (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are playing, and the NCAA basketball title game is on too (Villanova vs. UNC at 9pm ET on TBS). Talk about those games or anything else right here.

PSA: T-Mobile customers can get MLB.tv for free this season. You won’t be able to use it to watch the Yankees if you’re in New York or stuck with the Comcast blackout, but it’s still great. Here’s the link.

Rainout Notes: Gardner, Headley, Lineup, Tanaka, Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks to the yucky weather in New York, Opening Day was postponed earlier today. The game will be made up tomorrow at 1pm ET. Everything gets pushed back a day. That’s why they have the off-day after Opening Day each year. Here are some notes from the rained out game, via Erik Boland, Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty, and Chad Jennings.

  • Brett Gardner will sit in deference to Aaron Hicks against Dallas Keuchel. Joe Girardi told everyone involved that would be the case over the weekend. Gardner said he’s disappointed but understands why he’s sitting (so benching Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be another big thing, basically).
  • Chase Headley, who has been dealing with food poisoning the last few days, was good to go today. He was scheduled to play. Headley did not play in the final few exhibition games late last week because he was sick.
  • This was the scheduled lineup for today: Ellsbury, Hicks, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Headley, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius. I assume it’ll be the same lineup tomorrow. At least Hicks is batting second and not Castro.
  • Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the season on normal rest this Sunday. The postponement means he won’t get the extra day of rest as originally scheduled. “He’s going to have to do it. It’s part of our schedule and part of what we’re going to have to deal with. He’s going to have to do it,” said Girardi.
  • Andrew Miller (wrist) will not wear any sort of brace during games. It digs into his skin and doesn’t allow him to move his hand comfortably during his delivery. He would need MLB approval for any brace anyway.

Sherman: Yankees tried to trade for Tyson Ross last July

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees tried to trade for Padres right-hander Tyson Ross prior to the trade deadline last July. The Yanks and Pads were reportedly discussing a deal involving Jorge Mateo and Craig Kimbrel before the deadline, and it’s unclear if Ross was included in those talks as part of a blockbuster deal, or as part of a separate trade entirely.

Ross, 28, has emerged as one of the better pitchers in all of baseball the last few years. He had a 3.26 ERA (2.98 FIP) in 33 starts and 196 innings last season with great strikeout (25.8%) and ground ball (61.5%) numbers, but a poor walk rate (10.2%). Among the 78 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in 2015, Ross ranked 11th in strikeout rate, third in ground ball rate, and 77th in walk rate. His peripherals are on the extremes.

Here’s some video from last season so you can get a look at Ross’ ridiculous two-seam fastball/slider combination:

The Padres have baseball’s third longest postseason drought — they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006, only the Mariners (2001) and Marlins (2003) have longer droughts — and last year they attempted a quick fix that saw GM A.J. Preller build an imperfect roster full of big names. They were way too right-handed heavy and way short on defense. I’m pretty sure ownership told Preller to go all-in. Either way, it didn’t work.

San Diego didn’t trade anyone away at the deadline last year, but they did move some pieces over the winter, most notably Kimbrel, Joaquin Benoit, Jedd Gyorko, and Yonder Alonso. They’ve reportedly been listening to offers for their entire rotation — they’re supposedly pushing James Shields and Andrew Cashner more than Ross — and have set a high price for Ross. That makes sense. He’s good and under team control through 2017.

The Yankees were looking for controllable pitching all winter and it’s easy to understand why. Luis Severino is the only one of their six big league starters who can not become a free agent within the next two years. Ross does not satisfy the “controllable behind 2017″ requirement but he is very good and would help any team win in the short-term. And who knows, maybe the Yankees would be able to flip Ross for a young controllable arm at some point.

The Padres don’t figure to be any good this season — for what’s it worth, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus project San Diego to win 74 and 76 games in 2016, respectively — which means Ross will be involved in a ton of trade rumors this summer. He could easily be the best player traded this July. If the Yankees had interest last year, I assume they’ll still have interest again this year. As always, the question is whether the price will be right.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 4th, 2016

Spring Record: 14-16-2 (116 RS, 155 RA)
Regular Season Record: 0-0, duh
Opponents This Week: Mon. rained out, vs. Astros (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Tigers (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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