Mailbag: Refsnyder, Aviles, LaRoche, Schedule

Got six questions in this week’s mailbag. The best way to send us mailbag questions or comments or links or anything else is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Greg asks: What kind of stats can we expected from Rob Refsnyder at the major league level in 2015?

I’m not really sure how to answer this so I’ll start by saying Steamer projects a .262/.328/.390 (102 wRC+) line from Refsnyder next season, which seems reasonable enough to me. (Reminder: Projections are not predictions, they’re an attempt to estimate current talent level.) The jump from Triple-A to MLB is always the toughest, though to his credit Refsnyder never really had any kind of extended adjustment period whenever he was promoted in the minors.

Chad Jennings recently spoke to a scout who compared Refsnyder to Giants second baseman Joe Panik, saying it was a “very good comparison” of “two guys making the most of their ability, and both have the knack of putting the barrel to the ball.” The scout also said Panik was smoother at second base. Panik hit .305/.343/.368 (107 wRC+) with an 11.5% strikeout rate after a midseason callup this summer, and I’m pretty sure we’d all be thrilled if Refsnyder did that next year. It’s worth noting Refsnyder’s minor league track record is way better than Panik’s as well.

I think Refsnyder’s gaudy minor league numbers may have set expectations unreasonably high. If he comes up and hits like, .270/.330/.400 while playing a bit below average defensively, people are going to call him just another over-hyped Yankees prospect or whatever. It’s inevitable. In reality, .270/.330/.400 would be pretty damn awesome and huge upgrade for the Yankees at second base. I think his introduction to MLB might be similar to Brett Gardner‘s — up and down a few times the first year before settling in the second year.

T.J. asks: I know it is unlikely that the Cleveland Indians decline Mike Aviles’ option, or trade him, but wouldn’t he be one of the best options out there for the Yankees, at shortstop? He also offers more infield versatility.

I would prefer Aviles more as a bench player than a starting shortstop, though he does meet the relatively low standard of “better than Brendan Ryan” though. The 33-year-old Aviles hit .247/.273/.343 (74 wRC+) for the Indians this year and he’s been at that level for three full seasons now (75 wRC+ in 2012 and 79 wRC+ in 2013). He’s a righty but his numbers against lefties aren’t all that good (82 wRC+ since 2012), and, depending on the stat, he’s somewhere between below-average and average at short. Aviles can play second, third, and left field in a pinch as well.

Aviles. (Presswire)
Aviles. (Presswire)

The Indians have a $3.5M club option for Aviles and that’s kinda pricey for a player who has been just above replacement level the last two years, but then again guys capable of playing shortstop are hard to find. I’d be happy if the Yankees replaced Ryan with Aviles as their backup infielder, though that’s a relatively small upgrade. Not something that will make a huge difference. I would much prefer bringing Stephen Drew back on a one-year “prove yourself” contract than settle for starting someone like Aviles at short. He’s a pure bench player for me and has been for Cleveland the last two years.

Daniel asks: Maybe this is a stupid question since it’s so unlikely. But, to me signing Adam LaRoche would be a good move for this roster. Not saying it’s top priority or anything, but doesn’t a modest two-year deal for LaRoche to split time with Mark Teixeira at 1B and take a few DH at-bats seem like a good idea? He is a lock to play more games than Tex, and he still is good for 25 HR and probably more in Yankee Stadium.

I don’t see LaRoche as a fit at all. He’d help the offense and I’m sure he’d mash a bunch of homers in Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees don’t need another full-time first baseman who soaks up DH at-bats. He doesn’t fit the roster. Square peg, round hole, etc.

The Yankees need someone who can play another position — third base or right field are obvious spots — and back up first base easily. Someone who was able to do what Nick Swisher did from 2009-12, play another position full-time and sub in at first in a pinch. Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez are enough first base/DH types for one roster. LaRoche doesn’t make any sense for this team as is.

Nik asks: Reading your Chase Headley review got me to thinking: Has there ever been a player who played for two teams on the same day? Gotten hits for two teams on the same day?

Yes! It’s happened once in baseball history. On August 4th, 1982, Joel Youngblood played for the Mets against the Cubs in the afternoon and then for the Expos against the Phillies at night. He even traveled from Chicago to Philadelphia between games. Here is the box score for the first game, the box score for the second game, and the Wikipedia blurb:

On August 4, 1982, Youngblood became the only player in history to get hits for two different teams in two different cities on the same day. After Youngblood had driven in two runs with a single in the third inning for the Mets in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, he was replaced in center field by Mookie Wilson, and traded to the Montreal Expos for a player to be named later (On August 16, the Expos sent Tom Gorman to the Mets to complete the deal). Youngblood rushed to Philadelphia in order to be with his new team, and hit a seventh-inning single. Interestingly, the two pitchers he hit safely against, Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs and Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies, are both in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Isn’t that neat? Maybe it’ll happen again someday.

Brian asks: Not sure if you know or can answer this one, but do you have any idea on the process for doing an MLB schedule? Just seems like a massive undertaking.

ESPN put together a 30-for-30 Short on the making of the schedule a year ago. Here’s the 12-minute video (it autoplays), and here’s the short version: MLB executive Harry Simmons drew up the schedule each year until the husband and wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson were hired in 1982. They created the schedule every season until 2005, when MLB started using a computer system that randomly generates the schedule each year.

The Stephensons, who did much of the work by hand, had to deal with several division realignments and the introduction of interleague play over the years. MLB and MLBPA have a bunch of collectively bargained rules about travel and off-days and all that, plus each team had special requests each year (home for this holiday, away for that week, etc.), so yeah, it was a massive undertaking. I can’t really explain how they did it, it’s incredibly complex. Check out the video when you get a chance. Nowadays it seems like they just input a bunch of criteria and the computer spits out a schedule, which is how you end up with Derek Jeter playing his final game in Fenway Park rather than Yankee Stadium.

Mark Appel and the new pitch count in the AzFL. (Presswire)
Mark Appel and the new pitch clock in the AzFL. (Presswire)

George asks: Any update on the “make the game go faster” changes from the Arizona Fall League?

Unsurprisingly, many players aren’t a fan of the rule changes at this point. Players are routine-oriented and this breaks the routine they’ve been developing their entire life. Not being able to step out of the batter’s box between pitches, being forced to make the next pitch within 20 seconds … yeah I’m sure it’s an adjustment. Alexis Brudnicki recently spoke to some players about the rule changes, so check that out. Here’s one quote:

“It’s tough,” (Dodgers prospect Corey) Seager said. “You almost feel rushed. It’s not your normal (routine) where you can take your time, get your rhythm. It’s kind of on somebody else’s rhythm. It was a little rushed … getting on and off the field, getting your stuff done in the dugout and in the box mainly because you only have 20 seconds between pitches. You swing and then get right back in—it’s a little weird.”

Salt River Field is the only park with the 20-second pitch clock installed and there have only been a handful of games played their so far. Earlier this week MLB Pipeline reported games with the pitch clock (and some other rule changes) are averaging only two hours and 20 minutes, down from two hours and 51 minutes last year. Knocking a half-hour off the average game time is a pretty big deal, though we are talking about a small sample thus far.

I’m sure some of these rules will be changed and others will be eliminated before they are implemented at the MLB level. I’m sure there will be more complaints from the players, but there’s almost no way to shorten games without forcing them to make some kind of adjustment to their routine. Even shortening up commercial breaks between innings will be a big change for them. Hopefully MLB keeps at it and they come up with some solutions. Games are just too long nowadays.

No Yankees among 2014 Gold Glove finalists

Rawlings announced the 2014 Gold Glove finalists earlier today, and, somewhat surprisingly, no Yankees were among the players selected. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were their best Gold Glove candidates but neither made it. Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, and Michael Brantley are the left field finalists while Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Eaton, and Adam Jones are up in center.

Here is the full list of finalists. The Gold Glove winners will be announced Friday, November 7th. Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira were the Yankees’ last Gold Glove winners (both 2012).

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the night. Today is an off-day for the World Series as the Royals and Giants travel from Kansas City to San Francisco. The Islanders are playing and the Thursday NFL game is the Chargers and Broncos. Feel free to talk about those games or whatever else is on your mind right now.

Update: Hillman passes on chance to interview for farm system job

Thursday: Drellich clarifies Hillman was only offered the chance to interview for Newman’s job. He wasn’t offered the job itself. Drellich also says Hillman confirmed he was on a scouting trip to see the Astros and Athletics late in the season, so … Jed Lowrie I guess?

Wednesday: Via Evan Drellich: Former Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman confirmed the team offered him the opportunity to replace the retiring Mark Newman as their VP of Baseball Ops and head farm system honcho. He turned it down because he wanted to get back on the field and coach. “(Brian Cashman) said, ‘Trey, I would never hold you back from that,’” said Hillman, who was recent named the Astros bench coach. Gary Denbo will replace Newman.

In other news, Hillman also said part of his job this summer was scouting free agent-to-be shortstops. “I did three different trips scouting potential free agent shortstops to replace a guy named Jeter,” he said. I don’t think that means the Yankees will definitely sign a free agent shortstop this winter — they could always make a trade or, gasp, go with Brendan Ryan — but they are doing their due diligence. I’m sure Hillman was one of several people the Yankees sent to see the various impending free agent shortstops throughout summer.

2014 Season Review: Broken at 1B without a backup

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

How durable was Mark Teixeira when the Yankees signed him after the 2008 season? Since his debut in 2003 he’d played in fewer than 145 games just once, when he appeared in 132 in 2007. He’d been on the DL just twice, totaling 41 games.

Even after he joined the Yankees, Teixeira stayed on the field. He averaged 155 starts from 2009 through 2011. Even in 2012 he didn’t miss a game until August. But that started a cascade.

As Teixeira tells it, the cascade actually started many years earlier, back in his Georgia Tech days. He broke his right ankle, causing him to miss considerable time. While he stayed on the field afterward, he feels, according to this Men’s Journal article, that the injury caused “a chronic overloading of the muscles and joints on his left side.”

An athlete in his prime can compensate and play through such issues.

An athlete at age 32? That’s a completely different story. While Teixeira took care to diagnose and rehab his underlying problems in the off-season before 2013, his efforts didn’t help him avoid a wrist injury that cost him essentially the entire season.

As we saw in 2014, Teixeira hasn’t shown much in the way of physical improvement since late 2012. Maybe missing a season left him out of game shape. Maybe he took it too easy on his surgically repaired wrist. Maybe the way he chose to rebuild his body wasn’t ideal. Whatever the case, Teixeira looked more broken down in 2014 than he did in even 2013. At least then he had a specific injury.

In 2014 Teixeira’s injuries ran the gamut:

  • Hamstring strain (his only DL stint)
  • Groin tightness
  • Wrist inflammation (to be expected)
  • Ribcage tightness
  • Back strain
  • Wrist soreness again (first the left, then the right)

And that’s not to mention the three games he missed when a catcher stepped on his finger, necessitating stitches. Not that it was his fault. (Well, other than him being slow enough that there was a play at the plate.)

All in all the injuries cost Teixeira 33 games (by Baseball Prospectus’s count). He started just 120.

He also produced the worst non-injury-decimated season of his career. His 101 OPS+ was a point lower than the 102 OPS+ he produced in his 2003 rookie campaign.

It’s not as though no one saw this coming. How much could the Yankees have reasonably expected from Teixeira after his late 2012 and 2013 season woes?

A lot, apparently, seeing as they didn’t bring in anyone as his backup.

The implicit vote of confidence cost the Yankees. Here’s a list of players who took reps at first base — previous games in parenthesis, 2014 games following.

Kelly Johnson (3) 27
Brian McCann (0) 16
Chase Headley (2) 7
Francisco Cervelli (0) 5
Brendan Ryan (0, duh) 5
Carlos Beltran (0) 1
Scott Sizemore (0) 2
Austin Romine (0 – though 13 at AAA in 2014) 1

To put that in clearer terms: the Yankees used eight players with a combined five games of MLB experience at first base — including six of whom had never played first in the majors — in 64 games.

Oops?

As was the case at second base, it’s not as though the Yankees had a ton of options to sign as a backup first baseman. They’d also need a candidate who can play another position, since there is no room on the roster for a dedicated backup first baseman. Someone like Lyle Overbay just wouldn’t make sense (especially when he has a chance at more playing time in Milwaukee). Mark Reynolds might have, but apparently he saw an opportunity for more time in Milwaukee as well.

Carlos Pena? He wasn’t half bad with the Astros last year — though he ended up being toast this year. Postseason Hero Travis Ishikawa was free to sign when Teixeira went on the DL in April. He had, uh, three games of outfield experience before this year. Pulling Doug Mientkiewicz out of retirement?

If we were still doing season reviews in the what went right/what went wrong format, clearly first base would have gone wrong. But the issue is as much the lack of a backup as it is Teixeira himself.

Given his failing health, it was a huge stretch to imagine that Tex could have started 150 games. I don’t think the Yankees planned on that. Yet given Tex is guaranteed to be in the lineup when healthy, they might have found trouble attracting a backup first baseman.

In terms of the effects on 2015 and beyond, though, Teixeira presents the largest problem. The Yankees can create a more solid backup plan this off-season. What they can’t do is replace Teixeira. They simply have to hope that, like David Ortiz and Jose Bautista before him, Teixeira fully recovers now that he is a full year removed from wrist surgery.

A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

(Difficult challenge: In the comments, don’t talk about: releasing Teixeira, how Tex is “soft,” how he always blames something other than himself. Seriously. You’ve beat all those, and more, to death.)