Thursday Night Open Thread

For the first time in two weeks, the Yankees had an off-day today. They’re 0-3 and have been outscored 16-8 in games immediately prior to an off-day this season, which doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just one of those things I keep track of for no apparent reason. It’s hard to complain about the way the Yankees have been playing of late anyway. They haven’t played this well in maybe three years now.

Anyway, there’s no Yankees game tonight but there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied. The Mets are playing, MLB Network is showing a regional game, the (hockey) Rangers open their second round playoff matchup, and there’s some other NHL and NBA postseason action as well. And the NFL Draft is on too. That snunk up on me. I had no idea. Talk about whatever you like here.

2015 Draft: Nathan Kirby

Nathan Kirby | LHP

Background
Kirby, 21, was considered unsignable out of high school in 2012. In fact, he was so strongly committed to Virginia that he didn’t even bother to take the mandatory drug test administered to the MLB Scouting Bureau’s top 200 draft prospects. (Declining to take the drug test made him ineligible for the draft.) Kirby has a 2.28 ERA with a 75/30 K/BB in 59.1 innings as a starter this year after pitching to a 2.96 ERA with a 149/46 K/BB in 146 innings split between the rotation and bullpen as a freshman and sophomore.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 lbs., Kirby consistently sits 89-92 mph with his fastball and will run it up to 94 mph on occasion. Depending on the day, either his low-80s slider or low-80s changeup will be his best secondary pitch, and Kirby has run in trouble because he can get too slider happy and predictable. His arm action is a little long in the back and can lead to occasionally spotty control and command. Kirby came into the spring as a potential top ten pick but some inconsistency has dropped his stock a bit.

Miscellany
Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and MLB.com ranked Kirby as the 7th, 19th, and 20th best prospect in the draft in their latest rankings, respectively. He’s the kind of prospect who tends to come off the board sooner than expected — college lefty with great stats, firm stuff, and a long track record of success — and will be dubbed a “quick mover.” The Yankees seem to emphasize polish and Kirby fits the mold. New York picks 16th overall this year but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirby is already off the board by that point.

Bullpen roles becoming clear just three weeks into 2015

Unofficially officially the closer. (Presswire)
Unofficially officially the closer. (Presswire)

It’s really fun when something goes exactly according to plan in baseball. Almost nothing goes as planned in this game, so on those rare occasions when things work out as intended, it’s cause for celebration. And so far this year, the Yankees’ bullpen is worth celebrating. The relief crew has been every bit as good as advertised coming into the new season.

With David Robertson leaving as a free agent and the Yankees not having a Proven Closer™ on the roster heading into Spring Training, we really had no idea how the bullpen would shake out. We had a pretty good idea who the team’s seven relievers would be — well, we had a good idea who four would be (five before Adam Warren was needed in the rotation) and who was in the running for the other three — we just didn’t know who would slot into what role. Three weeks into 2015, those roles are becoming clear.

Closer: Andrew Miller

For a number of reasons, the co-closers experiment never did get off the ground. It sounded great in theory, but Dellin Betances‘ sudden (and thankfully temporary) reversion to pre-2014 Dellin in Spring Training threw a wrench into things. For the first week, week and a half of the regular season, Betances had no idea where the ball was going and wasn’t exactly trustworthy in big spots.

That opened the door to the full-time ninth inning work for Miller. He got his first save in the second game of the season thanks to what appeared to be a matchup situation — Joe Girardi went to Betances to face the right-handed meat of the Blue Jays lineup (Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson) in the eighth inning and Miller got the final three outs against lesser hitters in the ninth. That’s all it took. His foot was in the door.

Closer is maybe the most unique job in baseball. Once a player has some success closing out games in the ninth inning, managers tend to stick with that guy going forward. Miller nailed down that first save, did it again five days later, and again four days after that, and boom. He is now very clearly the closer, recording eight of New York’s nine saves on the young season. Miller is the closer even if Girardi won’t admit it just yet.

“I still believe they both can do the job,” said the manager to Chad Jennings following Monday’s game. “It gives me a lot of options. It’s working the way we’re doing it. … (The plan is) just to stick with what we’re doing. I’m sure at some point one of them may be down and the other guy may have to do something else. Maybe they pitch a couple days in a row and I want to give one of them a day off. I still believe they’re really interchangeable.”

1996 Mariano/2014 Dellin: Dellin Betances

Boy this guy is some kind of luxury, isn’t he? Things got a little dicey for Betances at the end of Spring Training and the start of the regular season, but he’s turned it around and is back to being a multi-inning force at the end of games. It’s one thing to have a really great setup man like, say, Wade Davis or what the Yankees had with Robertson all those years. It’s another to have a guy who can do it for four or five outs fairly regularly.

Now, I don’t think we’ll Betances throw 90 innings again this season, that’s just not something a reliever can do year after year after year these days, but I definitely think we’ll see him get four or five outs on occasion. Heck, we’ve seen it already. Girardi used Betances to get five outs against the Rays eleven days ago then again to get four outs against the Tigers last week. It’s not necessarily something he should do every single time out, but Dellin gives Girardi the flexibility to pitch multiple innings if necessary.

With Miller locked into the closer’s job for the time being, Betances will remain in basically the same role he had last year, as Girardi’s go-to setup weapon. He’s settled into that role the last two weeks or so. The co-closers idea was fun. This works too. Dellin’s role is high-leverage outs-getter. That’s the most important thing.

Stop with the Coldplay jokes. (Presswire)
Stop with the Coldplay jokes. (Presswire)

Reliever Girardi Likes More Than We Realized: Chris Martin

So, Chris Martin. He had just an okay Spring Training, but Girardi and Brian Cashman and everyone else kept talking about how much they liked him, and now here he is at the end of April leading the Yankees with 12 relief appearances. I guess they weren’t joking around.

Martin started the year as the designated “only when losing” reliever — his first six appearances came with the Yankees trailing — but he’s gradually worked his way up the pecking order. Girardi used him for five outs in a two-run game Sunday night and then in a save situation when Miller was unavailable Tuesday. Considering the results (11 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 13 K), it’s hard to blame Girardi for giving Martin some more responsibility.

Previous members of the “Reliever Girardi Likes More Than We Realized” club include David Huff, Cody Eppley, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala, Sergio Mitre, and Brian Bruney. Martin was a scrap heap pickup — the Yankees got him in a cash trade with the Rockies after he’d been designated for assignment — who has already justified the minimal investment. He’s already worked his way into some important innings.

Reliever Girardi Doesn’t Seem To Trust: David Carpenter

Doesn’t it seem like Girardi still doesn’t fully trust Carpenter? He went to Martin for the save on Tuesday night instead of the more experienced Carpenter, then gave a weird answer when asked why he went Martin over Carpenter after the game. He basically said he was saving Carpenter for extra innings. Trust him in extra innings but not a save situation? Okay then.

Anyway, Girardi used Carpenter to get the final out of the seventh inning with a two-run lead Sunday night, then for a full inning in a tie game yesterday, but three of his four appearances prior to that came with the Yankees up by at least six runs. Two of them were with the Yankees up by nine runs. (Aside: Hooray for talking about the Yankees being up nine runs on occasion!)

Of those four appearances, the one Carpenter made with the score closer than six runs was the meltdown in Baltimore. Girardi brought him into the the sixth inning of a game the Yankees were leading by one, then Carpenter allowed three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Perhaps that blowup knocked the righty out of the Circle of Trust™ for the time being. That sure appears to be the case.

Lefty Specialist: Justin Wilson

One of the reasons Wilson was so interesting when he came over from the Pirates was his lack of a platoon split — from 2013-14 he held right-handed and left-handed batters to identical .268 wOBAs. And yet, Girardi has used Wilson as a left-on-left matchup reliever exclusively for nearly two weeks now. Here’s a real quick rundown of his recent appearances:

  • April 17th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Kevin Kiermaier. (strikeout looking)
  • April 19th: Brought in to face one batter, the lefty hitting David DeJesus, who was replaced by pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe. (fly out)
  • April 22nd: Faced five batters (two lefties, three righties) with the Yankees up six runs and then nine runs. Girardi was just counting down outs.
  • April 23rd: Brought in to face one batter, the lefty hitting Alex Avila, who was replaced by pinch-hitter James McCann. (ground out)
  • April 26th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Curtis Granderson. (pop-up)
  • April 27th: Faced three batters, two lefties (James Loney and Kiermaier) sandwiched around one righty (Brandon Guyer).
  • April 29th: Faced one batter, the lefty hitting Kiermaier. (line out)
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So Girardi hasn’t been completely opposed to using Wilson against right-handers lately, but more often than not he’s been brought in for pure matchup work and not to throw a full inning. It could be that he has fallen out of the Circle of Trust™ — Wilson was charged with two runs in that Baltimore meltdown — and is now working his way back into favor.

Of course, Wilson’s strike-throwing issues are likely playing a role here as well. He’s always had a below-average walk rate — Wilson walked three of the first five and four of the first 13 batters he faced this year, and he’s walked five of 18 righties faced with only two strikeouts — and his early-season control issues may have scared Girardi off a bit. I can’t blame him. For now, Wilson is the middle innings lefty specialist and not someone we figure to see in real high-leverage spots anytime soon.

Long Man: Esmil Rogers

Coming into the regular season, this was the only bullpen role we could easily predict. We all knew Rogers was going to be the long man — he got stretched out as a starter in camp but Warren beat him out for the fifth starter’s job convincingly — and by and large he’s done a nice job. He’s got a 2.35 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 15.1 innings. What more do you want from a long man? Rogers is a necessary evil — everyone seems to hate him but a veteran long man Girardi can run into the ground to spare the more important arms is a nice thing to have. Not all innings are pretty. Esmil’s hear to pick up the ugly ones.

The Last Spot: Chasen Shreve & Co.

As always, the last spot in the bullpen has been a revolving door early on in 2015. Shreve has held it down for the most part but he’s already been optioned once in favor of a fresh arm(s). Kyle Davies, Matt Tracy, Joel De La Cruz, and Branden Pinder have all seen big league time this year. Trust me, it won’t be the last time Shreve is sent down for a fresh arm this year.

Bullpens have to be flexible — what’s the point of having all those guys sitting and waiting in Triple-A if there’s no way to get them on the roster when they’re needed? — and this last spot gives the Yankees that flexibility. Shreve is good! But sometimes the furniture needs to be rearranged, and as the low man on the bullpen totem pole, he goes down to Triple-A when needed. If Shreve pitches well and Martin hits the skids at some point, it could be Martin who winds up in the minors whenever a fresh body is needed next. That’s just the way it goes.

* * *

For all the talk about the co-closers system coming into the season, Girardi has made it pretty clear over the years that he likes having relievers in set roles. He doesn’t need to say it, it shows in the way he uses his bullpen. Girardi has always had a set closer and preferred to have a set eighth inning guy as well. He’s even had a set seventh inning guy at times. The various relievers have settled into those various roles these last few weeks, and I’m sure that makes Girardi happy. It’s easier to manage when you already know who is going to pitch in what situation. At the beginning of the season, that wasn’t always clear. Now it is.

Yankeemetrics: April 27-29 (Rays)

Two out of three ain't bad. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Two out of three ain’t bad. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Miller time
After beating the Rays in their series opener, the Yankees claimed sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time in nearly a year. Good job, guys!

Brian McCann notched the game-winning hit with a tie-breaking solo homer in the sixth inning. It was his 25th homer as a Yankee, with 21 of those coming at Yankee Stadium. He is the first player in franchise history to hit more than 20 of his first 25 homers as a Yankee at home, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The bullpen continued to do awesome things, holding the Rays without a run after Adam Warren left in the sixth inning. Dellin Betances pitched a perfect eighth inning, extending his streak of games with no hits allowed and at least two strikeouts to five. That’s something no Yankee pitcher has ever done in the last 100 years.

Andrew Miller — the non-closer — notched his eighth save in eight chances, becoming the first Yankee with at least eight saves in the team’s first 20 games. The last left-handed reliever on any team to get at least eight saves this early into the season was Eddie Guardado for the Twins in 2002.

Hi Jake, I’m Brian
The Yankees notched their fourth series win a row with a 4-2 victory over the Rays on Tuesday night. It also gave them a 10-2 record in their last 12 games, something they didn’t even come close to doing last season. Their best 12-game stretch in 2014 included a mere eight wins.

It was not surprising that McCann again delivered the big hits for the Yankees in this game, with two run-scoring doubles that drove in three of the team’s four runs. He continued his absolute ownership of Jake Odorizzi, going 2-for-3 against the Rays starter. That made him 10-for-16 with three doubles, a triple and two homers in his career against Odorizzi, by far his best batting average (.625) and slugging percentage (1.960) against any pitcher he’s faced at least 10 times.

Chris Martin subbed in for the non-closer Andrew Miller and closed out the win with a scoreless ninth inning for his first career save. Martin is the 15th player in major-league history at 6-foot-8 or taller to record a save. The Yankees have seemingly cornered the market on these tall relievers — five of those 15 have at least one career save with the franchise. The others are Dellin Betances, Jeff Nelson, Graeme Lloyd and Lee Guetterman.

K-Rod
On Wednesday afternoon the Rays managed to do something they hadn’t done all season – beat the Yankees. All good things have to come to an end, right?

Ultimately, the difference in this game was that the Rays had a couple more timely hits than the Yankees, as James Loney singled in the winning run with two men on base in the top of the 13th inning. Prior to that hit, the Rays were 3-for-42 (.071!) with runners in scoring position against the Yankees this season.

Alex Rodriguez might have had his worst day at the plate in his entire career. Not only did he ground into a game-ending double play, but he also struck out four times and was hitless in six at-bats. It was the first time he’s ever gone 0-for-6 or worse in a game in his 21 major-league seasons. It also marked the only time he’s grounded into a double play and had four strikeouts in the same game.

Michael Pineda wasn’t as dominant as he was in his last outing against the Mets, but still ended up with a respectable pitching line (5 2/3 IP, 2 R, 5 K, 0 BB) and kept the Yankees in the game. While his season ERA isn’t spectacular (3.73), his peripherals (32 strikeouts, two walks) are simply ridiculous.

He is just the third major-league pitcher in the last 100 years with that many strikeouts (32) and two or fewer walks in the month of April, joining Juan Marichal (1968) and Cliff Lee (2008). The only other Yankee to post those numbers in any calendar month was Hiroki Kuroda in September of last season.

Thoughts following the series with the Rays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees dropped the series finale to the Rays yesterday afternoon but what can you do. They still won the series and have won ten of their last 13 games overall. Can’t complain about that. I’ve already said what I had to say about Masahiro Tanaka’s injury, so let’s move on to some other stuff.

1. A few days ago we learned ex-Yankee Brandon McCarthy needs Tommy John surgery after tearing his UCL in his last start over the weekend, and the first thought that crossed my mind was “phew, the Yankees dodged a bullet.” I sort of hate myself for thinking that way. I was hoping the Yankees would re-sign McCarthy this offseason — I mean, did anyone not want the Yankees to re-sign McCarthy after the way he pitched in pinstripes last year? — but three years was my absolute limit, and even that made me uncomfortable given his injury history. The four-year deal the Dodgers gave him was totally bonkers in my opinion. That was asking for trouble. Maybe not Tommy John surgery in year one trouble, but trouble. McCarthy reportedly wanted to re-sign with the Yankees, so much so that he was willing to talk during the exclusive negotiating period, but the Yankees never seriously engaged him in contract talks. Given their decision to steer clear of McCarthy despite their obvious need for pitching, I can’t help but wonder if the team knew of some red flags with his elbow and stayed away for that reason. McCarthy did tell reporters he dealt with on-and-off elbow tightness last year, after all.

2. Given the way things played out this year, maybe the Yankees need to give Dellin Betances some more innings in Spring Training next year. Betances threw 12.1 Grapefruit League innings last spring and only 8.1 innings this spring, and it took him about four regular season innings to get back to being 2014 Dellin. Maybe 12 innings is that major number for him, maybe it’s just a coincidence. Obviously the circumstances these last two years were very different — Betances was trying to impress and make the team last spring, this spring he was just going through the motions because he had a roster spot locked up — and who knows what sort of impact that had. For whatever reason it took Betances a little longer to get to locked in for the season this year, and since he threw fewer innings in Spring Training, it’s a logical connection to make. Maybe the answer isn’t more Grapefruit League innings, but more throwing in general. More bullpen sessions, stuff like that. Betances has said several times he feels the regular work he gets as a reliever helps him keep his mechanics in check. More innings could be a good thing for him, at least when preparing in Spring Training.

3. Speaking of Betances, it’s clear at this point he is the setup man and Andrew Miller is the closer. I don’t think the Yankees would suffer any if the roles were reversed — my only question: can Miller get four or five outs as often as Dellin? — but this arrangement could save them a lot of money when Betances becomes arbitration-eligible after next season. Saves pay and they pay big in arbitration. My go-to comparison is David Robertson vs. Addison Reed. Robertson got $1.6M his first trip through arbitration as an elite setup man (145 ERA+) while Reed got $4.875M as a mediocre closer (98 ERA+). Miller’s salaries are set thanks to his contract, so picking up saves won’t change anything there. Betances will go through the arbitration process and his earning potential as a setup man won’t be as great as it would be as a closer. That’s just the system. It sucks for Dellin — to be fair, he’s still going to get paid very well — but with Hal Steinbrenner continuing to talk about getting under the luxury tax threshold, the savings could be significant. Once a player takes over as closer, he tends to stay the closer until he completely falls apart, and there’s no reason to think Miller is at risk of losing it anytime soon. The job is his for the foreseeable future.

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

4. Adam Wainwright’s injury has sparked a new round of discussion about implementing the DH in the NL — Max Scherzer likes the idea, Madison Bumgarner hates it, so on and so on — and I’m all for it. I get zero enjoyment from watching pitchers hit and the argument that it adds more strategy is pretty hollow. More moves do not equal more strategy. In every single AL game the manager has to decide when to remove his starter. Every single game. In the NL, lots of times the decision is made for the manager because the game says he has to pinch-hit. The game situation calls for it. I don’t think the NL should specifically add the DH because of Wainwright’s injury — it was a total fluke and he didn’t even hurt himself in the act of hitting, he just took a step out of the box — but hopefully it sparks some serious talks about changing the rules the same way Buster Posey’s injury a few years ago helped spur along the new blocking the plate rules. (The union should be in favor of adding the DH in the NL since it’ll create a bunch of higher paying DH jobs.) Pitchers are hitting worse than ever and it’s time to bring the NL up to speed. It’s hard enough to do one thing well at the MLB level, whether it be pitching or hitting. Asking pitchers to do both is not feasible in the 21st century.

5. Didi Gregorius has quietly gone 8-for-30 (.267) in his last nine games — it’s an empty .267, but it’s better than what we saw earlier this year — and seems to be getting more comfortable with each passing game. The defensive brain farts are no longer an everyday thing and he hasn’t made a bad base-running play since the first homestand. Some progress is being made, a little at a time. No one promised it would come quick. Now, imagine if the Yankees had traded for Elvis Andrus instead. They reportedly had interest in him this offseason, remember. Andrus is hitting .230/.253/.299 (43 wRC+) this season after hitting .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in nearly 1,400 plate appearances from 2013-14. His defense has slipped in recent years and his eight-year, $120M contract just started this season. It’s one thing for Gregorius to not hit or field as expected. The Yankees would be in much worse shape had they traded for Andrus because he’s not hitting, not fielding, and is owed nine-figures through 2023. Didi might not work out, but at least the Yankees can walk away if necessary. He’s the lesser of two evils, I guess.

DotF: Flores and Refsnyder both double in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 win over Gwinnett)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI — hitting .386 as a part-timer this year
  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-5, 2 K
  • C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 10/3 GB/FB — 62 of 91 pitches were strikes (68%) … not a good time to have a bad outing with a rotation spot now up for grabs at the MLB level
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — eight pitches, six strikes
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 15 of 20 pitches were strikes … first time in his career he’s pitched back-to-back days

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today MLB released the 2015 All-Star Game ballot. Here’s the ballot. It’s all online this year. No more paper ballots at the ballpark. The Yankees are represented at every position by exactly who you’d expect. MLB just picks each team’s starter at each position and puts them on the ballot. This is where I remind you it is your duty as an RAB reader … nay, your duty as an American to vote Alex Rodriguez into the All-Star Game this year. The voting is open until July 3rd.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s loss to the Rays will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. The Mets are playing, ESPN is showing Phillies-Cardinals, and there’s both NBA and NHL playoff action as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

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