Mailbag: Samardzija, Cano, Strasburg, Gregorius, Lineups

Ten questions in the mailbag his week. Email any mailbag questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com throughout the week. The “For The Mailbag” form is kaput.

Samardzija. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Daniel asks: Do you think Jeff Samardzija can be had on a 1-year pillow contract? He’s made over $30m in his career so he might be interested in holding out for a big deal after 2016 instead of taking a medium-sized deal after this season. Think 1/$15m could work?

I think it’s possible. He’s having a really down year (4.87 ERA and 4.13 FIP) but was excellent just last season (2.99 ERA and 3.20 FIP), so it’s not like you have to look far back to see the last time he was really good. Samardzija is only 30, and while he’s established himself as a workhorse (sixth in innings since 2013), his arm is ostensibly fresher than most 30-year-olds’ because he spent a few years as a reliever and split time between baseball and football as an amateur.

At the same time, this might be Samardzija’s last best chance at a big payday. If he has just an okay year in 2016, the contract offers might not be so great after the season for a guy closing in on 32 who is more hype than production. How much is he willing to bet on himself? That’s the real question. The Yankees do have several ties to Samardzija — Larry Rothschild was his first big league pitching coach and special assistant Jim Hendry was the Cubs GM when they drafted Samardzija — so I do think he’ll be on their radar this winter, especially if he’s willing to take a one-year pillow contract. That would fit the roster/future payroll nicely and free up Ivan Nova for a trade.

James asks: What would the Yankees have gotten had they traded Robinson Cano in the final year of his contract? Considering the Yankees (should have) known he was going to get a massive contract should they have traded him?

I could have sworn I remember reading somewhere that the front office wanted to explore trading Cano back in 2013 because they knew they were unlikely to re-sign him, but ownership nixed the idea. Can’t find it now though. Maybe it was a dream. Anyway, Cano was a super-elite player back then and even one year of him would have netted a handsome prospect package. David Price was just traded for a top 20 overall prospect (Daniel Norris), a big league ready starter (Matt Boyd), and a Single-A lottery ticket (Jairo Labourt). A similar package for Cano would have been appropriate. From what team? Who knows. The trade landscape was very different back then. Not trading Cano looks like a mistake in hindsight. I think the bigger mistake was not doing enough that season to get him help to make a run in Mariano Rivera‘s final season.

John asks: What happens to the players on the Gulf Coast League teams after their season ends? Do they all just go home, or do some or all of them hang around Tampa waiting to see if they’re needed at the other minor league squads until those seasons are done?

Many are sent home after the season but some are assigned to other affiliates — Donny Sands joined Low-A Charleston, for example, and some pitchers joined other teams — for the final week of the regular season and postseason. Others are kept around Tampa to stay sharp leading up to Instructional League, which starts fairly soon. In a week or so. Once the minor league season ends for all affiliates, guys either go home or are assigned to Instructs.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Kevin asks: Who would say no to a trade along the lines of Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova and Gary Sanchez for Steven Strasburg and Danny Espinosa trade this offseason?

The Nationals would. They won’t sell low on Strasburg like that. Gardner is awesome, and he would definitely help the Nationals, but a 32-year-old is not going to be the centerpiece of a deal for Strasburg. Nova will be a free agent after next season and Sanchez is just a prospect. Strasburg is a borderline ace when healthy. (I know people like to say he hasn’t lived up to the hype, but he had a 3.02 ERA and 2.84 FIP in 649.1 career innings coming into 2015. What more do you want?) Espinosa’s bat has bounced back now that he stopped trying to play through injuries — he played through a broken wrist and a torn rotator cuff in recent years — so he’s a quality two-way middle infielder under control through 2017. Three years of Gardner, one year of a back-end starter, and a Triple-A prospect isn’t enough to get one year of a potential ace and two years of a quality middle infielder.

Chris asks: Domingo German. Looking at the 40-man roster on the Yankees site, it looks like he’s only on the 15-day DL. It would seem to be the simplest way to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Am I missing something? Is putting him on the 60-day something that costs them something in terms of his clock?

German was on the High-A Tampa DL all season after having Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. He was in big league camp because he’s on the 40-man roster — the Marlins added him last offseason because he was Rule 5 Draft eligible — but the team was able to send him down despite the injury because he’s yet to make his MLB debut. They did the same with Manny Banuelos following his Tommy John surgery a few years ago. Anyway, German would have accrued service time had the Yankees placed him on the big league 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot. They would have lost an entire year of team control. (They called German up to 60-day DL him and clear a 40-man spot earlier this week, but one month of service time isn’t a huge deal.) The Yankees had to either burn a year of control or burn a minor league option with German this season, and they went with the option. I don’t blame them.

Nico asks: Is it theoretically possible that a team could put a player who they know to have non-public injury problems on waivers, then just let the claiming team have him? I’m assuming it’s against the rules somehow, but how so? Are waiver claims subject to a physical?

Injured players inevitably end up on waivers — not on purpose, of course — and if the claiming team finds the player is hurt, the league will void the claim and send him back to his former team. The injury is going to show up eventually and they can determine if it was suffered before or after the claim. This happened a few years ago with Brian Schlitter. The Yankees claimed Schlitter from the Cubs in January 2011, the Phillies claimed him from the Yankees in February 2011, then the Phillies found an injury in Spring Training, so the league cancelled all the claims and Schlitter went back to the Cubs. Anthony Varvaro’s waiver claim was rescinded earlier this year due to injury, as another example. Intentionally placing an injured player on waivers in an effort to foist him onto another team isn’t cool, man. It’s straight up unethical.

Nik asks: Austin Romine is 26 now. We’ve been hearing his name forever. How long before the Yanks cut bait on him? It seems he’s always “in the mix” but yet the Yankees keep drafting or trading for someone who ends up ahead of Romine on the pecking order.

They essentially did cut bait with Romine earlier this year when they outrighted him off the 40-man roster. He cleared waivers and was able to spend the year in Triple-A Scranton, which was nice from a depth perspective, but he has been passed on the catching depth chart by John Ryan Murphy and Sanchez. The only reason Romine received a September call-up is Sanchez’s hamstring injury. His development stalled out a few years ago — injuries played a part in that — and it didn’t work out. So it goes. Romine figures to be among the first 40-man roster casualties this winter — the Yankees could try to trade him first, but his trade value is nil — and this time he’ll be able to elect free agency should he clear waivers, which I’m sure he’ll do in hopes of joining an organization able to give him a greater opportunity.

Drew. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Drew. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Gene asks: I can’t believe I’m saying this,  but would it make sense to bring Stephen Drew back next year if he’d take a similar deal? He’s over .250 since the break, good and versatile in the field, and by all accounts well liked.

Drew has hit .251/.323/.483 (120 wRC+) with 12 home runs and good strikeout (14.8%) and walk (9.2%) rates since June 1st, which covers 229 plate appearances. He’s insanely hot right now, he won’t keep this up, but it’s not just a one or two week hot streak either. Drew’s been quite good at the plate for a while now, and his defense was never bad either. Let’s see how he finishes the season before worrying about re-signing him, but yes, it could make sense to bring him back, especially if he’d take another one-year contract. If Drew and Scott Boras try to parlay his late-season success into a two or three-year deal, then walk away. Drew was really bad for a long time there. Can’t forget that. This is an offseason issue though. For now let’s just hope he maintains his recent production and gives the Yankees something to think about this winter.

Dave asks: The Yankees have done an excellent job scouting & developing Didi Gregorius. They’ve given him the time to adjust and get comfortable. Beyond Brian Cashman, who in the organization should be given credit for his success?

It’s impossible to know the full answer to this. Jon Heyman reported back in April that special assistant Gene Michael “loved” Gregorius, so I’m sure he was part of the decision making. Eric Chavez, who played with Didi in Arizona and now works in New York’s scouting department, has said he was consulted as well. I’m guessing the Yankees used Chavez to get a feel for Gregorius’ makeup and clubhouse skills, traits they value highly. I have to think the analytics department, run by assistant GM Michael Fishman, played a role in the trade as well. It’s never just one person. Lots of people forget the “manager” part of “general manager.” The GM is only as good as the people working for him. As for Didi’s on-field development … gosh, it could be a million people. The coaching staff certainly, also his teammates. We’ve heard Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both took an active role in helping Gregorius early in the season. Acquiring and developing a young player is never a one-man job. Lots of people deserve credit when it goes right.

Greg asks: When Joe Girardi makes the annual starting line up card consisting of (almost) all September call ups, who will be on it?

I always enjoy seeing “no effs given” lineups in September, either after a team is out of the race or has already clinched the division title or something. You know what I mean, the lineups with no regulars and a bunch of call-ups. The Yankees only called up four position players on September 1st — not counting Dustin Ackley, who was activated off the DL — so they couldn’t field an entire lineup of call-ups, just most of one. These would be my lineups in various roster states. (No, I didn’t spent too much time thinking about this. Why do you ask?)

Current Roster Heathcott called up Sanchez healthy Slade + Sanchez
1. LF Dustin Ackley LF Dustin Ackley LF Dustin Ackley LF Dustin Ackley
2. 3B Jose Pirela 3B Jose Pirela 3B Jose Pirela 3B Jose Pirela
3. RF Chris Young C John Ryan Murphy RF Chris Young 1B Greg Bird
4. 1B Greg Bird 1B Greg Bird 1B Greg Bird DH Gary Sanchez
5. C John Ryan Murphy 2B Rob Refsnyder DH Gary Sanchez 2B Rob Refsnyder
6. 2B Rob Refsnyder CF Slade Heathcott 2B Rob Refsnyder CF Slade Heathcott
7. DH Austin Romine DH Austin Romine C Austin Romine C Austin Romine
8. SS Brendan Ryan SS Brendan Ryan SS Brendan Ryan SS Brendan Ryan
9. CF Rico Noel RF Rico Noel CF Rico Noel RF Rico Noel

They’re lineups, so there’s no right answer as long as you don’t do something like bat the best hitter ninth. With any luck the Yankees will get everyone healthy this month, clinch early, and trot out one of those call-up lineups in Game 161 or 162. Those games are always fun in a Spring Training kinda way.

DotF: Scranton clinches division title, Pulaski takes Game One

Got some links and notes to pass along:

  • LHP Ian Clarkin has faced hitters in live batting practice, assistant GM Billy Eppler told Chad Jennings. Clarkin has not pitched at all this year after suffering some kind of elbow injury in Spring Training. The minor league season ends early next week, so it’s unlikely he’ll get into a game.
  • IF Cole Figueroa has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. He was designated for assignment earlier this week to make room for September call-ups. No word on OF Tyler Austin yet. I’m guessing they’re trying to trade him before putting him on waivers.
  • Chad Jennings put together a really great breakdown of how the various minor league lineups have evolved this season. There’s been a ton of turnover since Opening Day, which is normal, but most of it is positive turnover. Guys getting promoted, etc.
  • Low-A Charleston will have a slightly new logo and new uniforms beginning next season, reports Josh Leventhal. They added “wrought-iron accents native to the Charleston area” to their classic chomping dog logo. Pretty slick.
  • And finally, SS Tyler Wade was named to the High-A Florida State League end-of-season All-Star Team, so congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton (12-2 win over Buffalo) they have officially clinched the division title for the first time since 2010

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — that’s his third homer of the season and his first since the one he hit in the big leagues before his injury
  • 2B Ali Castillo: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB
  • DH Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — leads the system with 50 extra-base hits
  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — 6-for-16 (.375) in his last four games … he’s second in the system with 49 extra-base hits
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HBP
  • 3B Cito Culver: 4-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K — you know the offense is clicking when Cito has four hits
  • LHP Eric Wooten: 4.2 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/9 GB/FB — 60 of 88 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 12 of 18 pitches were strikes (67%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 0/1 GB/FB — ten of 15 pitches were strikes … 84/21 K/BB in 62.1 minor league innings

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and hopefully they’re enjoying it, because after today they close out the season by playing 30 games in 31 days. Not ideal. Anyway, make sure you check out this Billy Witz article on third base coaches and the funky outfield corners in the AL East, like the lack of left field foul territory at Fenway Park and the cutout in right field at Camden Yards. They make directing traffic rather interesting.

Here is tonight’s open thread. There are only six games on the baseball schedule tonight, but MLB Network will show a regional game a little later on. Also the college football season starts tonight as well. I’ll leave it up to you to find the games. You folks know how these thread work by now, so have at it.

International Signings: Medina, Garcia, Espinosa, Jimenez

The 2015-16 international signing period opened on July 2nd, just as it does every year, except this year the Yankees were effectively shut out from the top available talent. As a result of last year’s spending spree, the team can not sign a player to a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods.

That’s okay, the Yankees signed about three years worth of top talent last summer, plus they are very good at finding under-the-radar prospects. Both Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) signed for relatively small bonuses, for example. Anyway, the Yankees did indeed sign several international prospects this year. Here’s the little bit of bonus and scouting information I could dig up.

The Top Prospect: RHP Luis Medina

Medina, 16, is the best prospect the Yankees have signed this signing period, as far as I can tell. He received a $280,000 bonus plus a $120,000 scholarship according to the Dominican Prospect League. Kiley McDaniel got a firsthand look at Medina late last year. Here’s his write-up:

The best of a so-so group of pitchers that made the trip was RHP Luis Medina.  He sat 89-91 and hit 94 mph in a short outing but one scout told me he saw Medina a few weeks before and he sat 93-95, hitting 96 mph.  It obviously isn’t a super clean or polished delivery, but the frame has some projection, the arm works, he has some feel to spin an average or better curveball and the arm speed is elite.  There predictably isn’t much of a changeup at this stage either, but Medina looks like a sure seven figure guy right now and there’s time for him to develop some starter traits before signing.

Obviously the seven-figure thing didn’t happen. Medina, like most non-elite prospects his age, is very raw and a work in progress. He has good velocity and a quick arm, so that’s a good start. He has the unteachables. Now the Yankees need to help Medina refine his offspeed stuff and command.

Known Bonuses

In addition to Medina, bonus information for four other Yankees signees has been reported. RHP Deivi Garcia signed for $100,000 according to MYN Baseball RD, while C Robert Espinosa, IF Brian Jimenez, and OF Vinicio Martinez all received $50,000 bonuses. Espinosa also received a $60,000 scholarship. That all comes from the Dominican Prospect League. Each team gets six $50,000 bonus exemptions that do not count against their bonus pool, so Espinosa, Jimenez, and Martinez take half of those slots. Garcia’s the lucky one. He got six figures.

Unknown Bonuses

The Yankees also signed 16-year-old LHP Heiner Moreno out of a prospect camp in Panama, MLB announced. His bonus is unknown. Matt Eddy reported a slew of signings without bonus information: 3B Sandy Acevedo, 2B Diego Duran, RHP Rony Garcia, SS Jesus Graterol, LHP Argelis Herrera, SS Brayan Jimenez, C Moises Lobo, SS Kleiber Maneiro, RHP Alex Mejias, RHP Luis Ojeda, RHP Elvis Peguero, and 3B Alfred Pujols. I would love to tell you more about each and every one of these players, but I can’t do it. No information to be found. That’s par for the course when it comes to non-top international guys.

* * *

The Yankees were allotted a $2.2628M bonus pool for international free agency this summer. They spent $380,000 of that on Heredia and Garcia. Who knows how much all of those other players received though. There are 13 players in that “Unknown Bonuses” section and I’m sure some of them received a decent chunk of change. The Yankees can also trade their four international slots, but they don’t have much value. Bonus slots been included as throw-ins and instead of players to be named later in trades around the league. Hopefully we get more information about all these kids the Yankees signed at some point. I’m sure we will … eventually.

Learning to turn on inside pitches is the next challenge for Didi Gregorius

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

By and large, this season has been a success for Didi Gregorius. He had the unenviable task of replacing Derek Jeter — I underestimated the pressure of that job — and, after some early season hiccups, Gregorius has settled in and been an asset on both sides of the ball. His defense is clearly above-average at this point and his bat has come around as well.

Gregorius is hitting .272/.321/.372 (92 wRC+) overall this year and .298/.341/.411 (108 wRC+) since June 1st while the league average shortstop has hit .255/.304/.371 (84 wRC+) in 2015. If the post-June 1st version of Didi is here to stay, the Yankees have themselves one heck of a player. A 25-year-old left-handed hitting shortstop who is above-average on both sides of the ball? That’s pretty awesome. Considering how bad he looked in April, Gregorius now appears to be one heck of an asset.

One of the biggest reasons behind Didi’s midseason offensive breakout is his newfound ability to go the other way. We’ve all seen it these last few weeks. Gregorius was hooking everything to right field earlier in the season but now feasts on left-center field. They’re aesthetically pleasing hits. He strokes the ball to the opposite field and he’s found some success doing so. Someone deserves a lot of credit for the adjustment, whether it was Didi himself or the hitting coaches or someone else entirely.

The opposite field approach has worked splendidly for Gregorius the last few weeks, though there is a still way for him to take his offensive game to the next level: turning on the inside pitch. Here’s a strike zone plot of Didi’s batted ball velocity by pitch location. The darker the red, the more above-average the exit velocity. The brighter the blue, the more below-average (via Baseball Savant):

Didi Gregorius batted ball velocity strike zone

Gregorius can handle pitches down the middle or on the outer half of the plate. He’s learned to serve those balls to left field. But the inner half? Those pitches have tied him up this year and resulted is generally weak contact. This isn’t necessarily uncommon, hitting inside pitches is hard. (Throwing them is hard too!)

The Yankees just wrapped up a six-game road trip and during those six games Gregorius did indeed turn around some inside pitches and pull them with authority. He had 14 hits (!) on the six-game trip and eight were pulled to the right side of the field, including all three extra-base hits (one double, two homers). Look at the homer he hit in Atlanta:

The pitch was on the inner half of the plate, Gregorius got his bat around quickly, and drove the ball with authority to right field. Perfect. Exactly what you want a left-handed hitter to do with a pitch like that. (Here’s the strike zone plot showing the pitch was on the inner half.) The benefit of being able to turn on pitches like that is obvious for a lefty swinger in Yankee Stadium.

Now this is all much easier said than done. Being able to yank inside pitches to the pull field while still maintaining that opposite field approach is a tough thing to do. Usually only the great hitters can maintain that balance, so maybe it’s unfair and unrealistic to think this is something Gregorius will one day be able to do with regularity. Right now his power comes mostly from mistake pitches, and chances are that is how it will always be.

Gregorius has made a lot of progress this season already, however. He made the adjustment to go the other away and it’s paid huge dividends. Learning how to turn on inside pitches is the next step in his offensive development, and hey, if it doesn’t happen, so be it. This current version of Gregorius is pretty awesome as it is. At 25 years old though, and as a left-handed hitter playing his home games in Yankee Stadium, learning how to pull the ball could really turn Didi into something special.

Yankeemetrics: Fenway’s finest (Aug. 31-Sept. 2)

This guy is on fire.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
This guy is on fire. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Yankee wasteland in Boston
The Yankees had so many missed scoring opportunities in their 4-3 loss to the Red Sox on Monday night, it’s not worth recounting here. But know this: they left 14 men on base, their most stranded baserunners in any nine-inning game that they ended up losing by one run since Sept. 11, 2010 against the Rangers. And the last time they endured a loss like that against the Red Sox was July 17, 1996.

A plane trip to Boston couldn’t cool down the red-hot bat of Didi Gregorius, who had another four-hit night, and just missed being the hero when his ninth-inning fly ball was caught for the final out at the warning track by Rusney Castillo. Oh, and he did this: Sir Didi became the first Yankee shortstop with at least four hits in a game at Fenway Park since the immortal Rafael Santana on June 13, 1988. Yup, Mr. Jeter somehow never did that.

Carlos Beltran quietly reached a pretty cool milestone in this game with his 500th career double in the fifth inning. He’s now the only switch switch hitter in major-league history with at least 500 doubles, 300 homers and 300 stolen bases. The only other players to reach those totals (regardless of batting side) are Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Willie Mays and Andre Dawson.

13 times a charm
The Yankees overcame a really impressive performance by Rick Porcello (and his 5.47 ERA) on Tuesday night to win a pitchers’ duel, 3-1, against the Red Sox.

Porcello recorded 13 strikeouts in his eight innings of work, becoming just the third Red Sox pitcher in the last 100 seasons to reach that total against the Yankees. Roger Clemens struck out 13 Yankees on Sept. 30, 1987; Pedro Martinez got 13 punch outs against them on May 30, 2001 and then had 17 strikeouts in an epic one-hitter at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 10, 1999.

The New Jersey native also joined an even more exclusive club, though, when he got tagged with the loss. He is the only major-league pitcher in the last 100 years to lose a game against the Yankees despite getting 13-or-more strikeouts and allowing no more than one earned run.

Michael Pineda didn’t quite dominate like Porcello (only seven strikeouts), but his six innings of one-run, four-hit ball were plenty good enough for the win. It was also Pineda’s third straight start of no more than one run allowed against the Red Sox in Boston, a streak that is unprecedented for any Bronx Bomber since at least 1914. That’s right, Pineda is the first Yankee in more than a century to allow one run or fewer in three straight starts at Fenway Park.

The friendly confines of … Fenway?
It has been more than five decades since the Yankees enjoyed their trips to Fenway Park as much as they have over the last two seasons. With their win over the Red Sox on Wednesday, the Yankees have now captured the last six series played between these rivals in Boston. That’s their longest streak of series wins on the road against the Red Sox since taking seven in a row from 1956 to 1958.

The Yankees jumped out to an early double-digit lead, scoring eight runs in the second and then three more in the third. This was the first time ever that the Yankees scored at least 11 runs combined in the first three innings of a game at Fenway Park.

Red Sox rookie Henry Owens was on the mound for most of the damage and charged with seven runs in 1 2/3 innings. He’s the first Red Sox starter to give up at least seven runs while pitching fewer than two innings at Fenway against the Yankees since Luis Tiant (who was at the game!) on Sept. 29, 1976.

The young bats shined for the Yankees in this game, with three of their five home runs coming from Greg Bird (age 22), John Ryan Murphy (age 24) and Didi Gregorius (age 25). The last time the Yankees had at least three players age 25 or younger homer in the same game was Sept. 25, 1990 versus the Orioles.

But the biggest offensive star of the game was probably Stephen Drew, who went 3 for 4 with a homer and three RBIs. He’s the third Yankee No. 9 batter with at least three hits and three RBIs in a game at Fenway Park, joining Scott Brosius (June 19, 2000) and Pat Kelly (Aug. 15, 1995).

Thoughts prior to the ten-game homestand

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees wrapped up the six-game road trip yesterday and tomorrow they begin a long ten-game homestand. From here on out, the team will not be away from New York more than three consecutive days. The travel situation is very favorable the rest of the season. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. After all his injuries the last two or three years, who would have thought Mark Teixeira would become such a vital piece of the 2015 Yankees? He’s been the team MVP this year. Losing him for what is going to end up being at least a month is really, really tough. Teixeira’s two-way play is irreplaceable. There’s no way to replace both his bat and his defense. Can’t be done. The only thing the Yankees can do is hope everyone else steps up their game, allowing them to weather the storm. I like Greg Bird, he seems to have a plan at the plate and a knack for hard contact, but he’s also a 22-year-old rookie who’s been thrust into a postseason race. Not an ideal situation. (Remember, Bird was called up to spell Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on occasion, not play everyday.) Losing Teixeira to this dumb, fluke injury is a huge blow. They needed him to dominate just to establish themselves as contenders. Now they have to try to stay in the race without him.

2. Speaking of Bird, it sure seems the scouting report is attack him with high fastballs. Here are two strike zone plots from Baseball Savant. On the left is every two-strike pitch Bird has seen as a big leaguer, and on the right are all his strike threes. You can click the image for a larger view.

Greg Bird two-strike pitches and strike threes


Opposing teams are definitely attacking Bird with high heat in two-strike situations. It has been noticeable watching games and the PitchFX data backs it up. Teams have great scouting reports these days, even on kids who were just called up. I remember the Yankees using the shift against Jackie Bradley Jr. when he was first called up — Red Sox manager John Farrell said that prompted them to check the spray charts of their own players to make sure they weren’t missing something — and that’s another example. No, Bird doesn’t have much big league experience, but teams already know his strengths and weaknesses. Now it’s up to Bird to adjust to all those high fastballs — hitting high fastballs is really hard, he has to learn to lay off more than anything — and make pitchers beat him a different way.

3. I’m not surprised the Yankees are staying away from A-Rod playing first base, even against lefties. I think he could do it — awkwardly, but do it — if the team is really in a bind and has no other choice, and that seems to be their thinking. Emergencies only. Dustin Ackley and Austin Romine can play first base, and they could always stick Brian McCann there if necessary, so they have a few different options. Not great ones, but options nonetheless. A-Rod has looked out of gas at times in the second half, so the Yankees are trying to do anything they can to keep him fresh. Being 40 years old with two surgically repaired hips stinks, apparently. It’s an unfortunate situation because I’m sure they’d like to be able to sit Bird every once in a while, but keeping A-Rod as fresh as possible is the priority.

Martin. (Elsa/Getty)
Martin. (Elsa/Getty)

4. Following Tuesday’s call-ups, there are only six players on the 40-man roster who are not in the big leagues right now: Gary Sanchez (hamstring) and Jacob Lindgren (elbow), who are hurt; Nick Rumbelow and Nick Goody, who will be called up once their ten days pass after being sent down last week; and Chris Martin and Slade Heathcott. I thought Heathcott would get called up on September 1st and it was surprising when that didn’t happen, but I think the Yankees want him to play everyday with Triple-A Scranton rather than sit on the big league team’s bench after missing so much time with the quad injury this year. Slade is still under 300 plate appearances this year after playing only nine games last year. The kid needs at-bats and he’ll get them with the RailRiders, who are very likely to go to the postseason. They’ll be playing another two weeks or so. Martin? Not sure what the story is there. It seems like he’s next in line to lose his 40-man spot should a need arise, and I guess the Yankees just don’t think he is able to help them this month. He’s been passed by other players on the depth chart.

5. The Yankees called up Rico Noel just to be their pinch-running specialist this month, which got me wondering how often a guy like that is actually used. Terrance Gore pinch-ran nine times in 26 September games for the Royals last year, stealing five bases and scoring five runs. Quintin Berry pinch-ran eight times in 25 September games for the 2013 Red Sox, stole two bases and scored three runs. Freddy Guzman pinch-ran eight times in 31 September/October games for the 2009 Yankees, stealing four bases and scoring just two runs. So, all together, those three players stole eleven bases and scored ten runs in 25 pinch-running situations across 82 games. (There have been other September pinch-runners, both those are the three that stand out to me.) Pinch-running 25 times in 82 games doesn’t sound like much, but remember, these are high-leverage pinch-running spots. They’re not pinch-running in blowouts — 23 of those 25 pinch-running situations came in the sixth inning or later of a game separated by no more than two runs. Considering the standings and the fact the Yankees have some slow runners in the lineup, we’re going to see Noel pinch-run in some very big spots these next few weeks. The potential for impact is there, just in a very specialized way.

6. The YES booth had a conversation the other day about which pitcher the Yankees should start in a potential wildcard game. If I’m remembering correctly, David Cone said Masahiro Tanaka while John Flaherty said either Luis Severino or Nathan Eovaldi. Either way, it blows my mind anyone would consider starting someone other than Tanaka in a winner-take-all game. Eovaldi’s been great of late and Severino has been super impressive, but man, season on the line, I trust Tanaka more than anyone. I think he’s most likely to dominate and, perhaps more importantly, least likely to completely implode. Even Tanaka’s bad starts aren’t all that bad. He’s allowed more than three runs just five times in his last 18 starts and more than four runs only twice in those 18 starts. Forget about the contract. I want Tanaka in a potential winner-take-all game because of his wide array of weapons and unflappability. If the Yankees do have to settle for a wildcard spot, I hope they’re able to line up their rotation and give Tanaka that start.