Thoughts following the end of the 2015 regular season


The regular season is over and for the first time in three years, the Yankees are going to the postseason. They finished 87-75 and clinched a wildcard berth. Under the old setup, the Yankees would be playing the Royals in the ALDS as the wildcard team. Under the current system, they have to play the Astros in the wildcard game first. Should be fun. Intense, nerve-wracking, nail-biting fun. Here are some end-of-season thoughts.

1. Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees this year and hit .250/.356/.486 (129 wRC+) with 33 home runs. That is pretty awesome. Much better than I expected coming into the season — I was hoping he’d be league average with 15 homers or so! — given his age, long layoff, and hip issues. A-Rod offered nothing tangible beyond his bat — no defense, no base-running, nothing — though he did seem to be a good clubhouse dude. Rodriguez has always gone out of his way to help young players and stuff. All in all, I don’t think A-Rod’s return could have gone any better this season. Yeah, it would have been nice if he were able to play the field once in a while, but I’m happy with a highly productive DH.

2. Greg Bird did a tremendous job filling at first base, especially as a 22-year-old kid thrust into an everyday job for a team in a postseason race, but the Yankees really missed Mark Teixeira down the stretch. They missed his bat against lefties — Bird started strong against southpaws but that didn’t last, so he went 5-for-31 (.161) against lefties in the final month of the season — and they missed his middle of the order presence. Having Teixeira in that cleanup spot allowed everyone else to slot into a more appropriate lineup spot. Brian McCann, for example. He spent a lot of time batting fourth after Teixeira went down after spending most of the season batting fifth. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it was. Everything seemed to fall into place behind Teixeira. The Yankees lost a lot of thump (and defense!) when he went down.

3. Brett Gardner has always been a better first half player — he has a 115 wRC+ in the first half and an 88 wRC+ in the second half in his career — but his second half slide was extreme this year. He went from .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) prior to the All-Star break to .206/.300/.292 (67 wRC+) after the break this season. Huge drop off. The ultra-plugged in Jon Heyman reported last week the Yankees are concerned about how Gardner tends to wear down during the course of the season given his all-out style of play, and I’m not sure what the team can do about it going forward other than giving him more days off early in the season. Maybe start him five times a week instead of six or seven? The Yankees could tell Gardner to turn it down a notch, but that rarely works. It’s in his DNA to play all-out. Either way, Gardner’s massive second half slide took a big bite out of the offense. The lineup works so much better when he’s seemingly getting on base two or three times a night.

4. Gardner’s slump short-circuited the top of the lineup, but not nearly as much as Jacoby Ellsbury being a complete non-factor following his knee injury. He hit .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) in his first 170 plate appearances, got hurt, missed seven weeks, then hit .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) in 331 plate appearances after returning. The end result was a .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) season batting line with 24 (!) extra-base hits. Ichiro Suzuki hit .281/.314/.364 (85 wRC+) with the Yankees. That’s what the Yankees got out Ellsbury this year. Ichiro production. Awful. Given the five years and $110M left on his contract, the Yankees have to hope Ellsbury never fully recovered from the knee injury and that’s what dragged his production down, and that he’ll be ready for Spring Training. Because if he was fully healthy and he put up those numbers … yikes.


5. The decline of Chasen Shreve was a huge late-season blow to the bullpen. Shreve was excellent for most of the season, especially so when his role was expanded during Andrew Miller‘s month on the DL. His problems started in early-August and gradually got worse, so much so that Shreve was unusable come the end of the season. It really got out of hand. Shreve went into August with a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 40.2 innings, including a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 13.2% walk rate. He allowed three homers and three of 23 inherited runners to score (13%). After August 1st, Shreve had a 6.11 ERA (8.96 FIP) with a 21.9% strikeout rate and an 18.8% walk rate in innings. He allowed seven homers and 12 of 20 inherited runners to score. Gosh. He really collapsed. Shreve’s confidence has to be shot and I can’t imagine the Yankees will carry him on the wildcard roster at this point. (I know I projected him to be on the wildcard roster last week, but I can’t see it now.) Losing Shreve in the middle innings really thinned out the bullpen down the stretch. It hurt.

6. I think I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating: the bullpen shuttle was a good idea given the plethora of bullpen arms in Triple-A, but constantly swapping guys out didn’t allow any of them emerge as reliable relievers. They were throwing two or three innings at a time, then being sent out for a fresh arm. Having a perpetually fresh reliever in the bullpen was great! The Yankees really needed it for much of the summer. None of those guys had an opportunity to get consistent big league work though, and by the end of the season Joe Girardi didn’t know who he could and couldn’t use. It was impossible to evaluate those guys based on a smattering of innings — among the shuttle relievers, Branden Pinder led the way with 27.2 innings and no one else had more than 15.2 innings — and as a result, we still don’t know anything about their ability as MLB relievers. We learned nothing about them in 2015.

7. There is no denying the Yankees had a very ugly finish to the season. They won one of their last seven games despite playing relative bottom-feeders, and they looked terrible in all phases of the game. The offense was inconsistent at best, the rotation was not good, the bullpen was very shaky, and even Girardi’s decisions constantly backfired. Even the good ones. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. They limped to the finish, no doubt about it, but how we feel about the team seems to change from one day to the next. We’d all feel pretty confident right now had the Yankees finished with the same 87-75 record, but instead started slowly before surging into a postseason spot in the second half. I wish they would have been able to hold onto that seven-game lead and win the division, but, all things considered, this was a pretty successful year for the Yankees. Not too many picked them to contend.

8. Late last night the Angels officially announced they have hired Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler to be their new GM. He had been considered the front-runner for weeks, so this was no surprise. Apparently the two teams just waited to make sure they weren’t going to face each other in the postseason before announcing the hire. Eppler is the second person in the last week to be named a GM after cutting his front office teeth with the Yankees — the Braves (finally) named assistant GM John Coppolella their GM a few days ago; he spent the 2002-06 seasons wearing a few different hats for the Yankees, including director of baseball operations — and the Yankees’ third significant front office loss in the last two years. Two years ago scout Bill Livesey left to become a special advisor with the Pirates, and last October scout Gordon Blakeley left for an assistant GM job with the Braves. Livesey and Blakeley were advisors as much as scouts. They were with the organization a long time and had trusted voices. Aside from bringing in Jim Hendry three years ago, the Yankees tend to promote from within to fill front office roles. They seem to grow their own assistant GMs and department heads. Eppler was Brian Cashman‘s right hand man and losing him is a blow to the front office, but at the same time, it wasn’t a surprise. It’s been clear for a while he would get a GM job at some point. I’m sure the Yankees have already planned for the shifting front office dynamics.

8a. Quick and related note: I’m looking forward to seeing which current and former Yankees farmhands Eppler targets now, either in trades or as minor league free agents. That always happens, someone takes over as a GM and brings over a lot of his former favorite players, and there’s no reason to think it won’t happen with Eppler and the Angels. The Halos have a bad farm system and major depth issues — they had Jo-Jo Reyes (!) in the bullpen this weekend — so I’m sure Eppler will bring in some ex-Yankees to plug holes.

9. Alright, so what was your favorite moment of the season? I think the best individual game of the season was August 14th in Toronto — that was the Carlos Beltran pinch-hit three-run homer game, the one that ended with the Miller-Troy Tulowitzki battle — but the best game and favorite moment are usually different things. A-Rod’s 3,000th hit was very cool, so was his 660th home run to tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list. Remember that? It was a pinch-hit game-winner over the Green Monster. The McCann walk-off homer through the fireworks on July 3rd was awesome. Stephen Drew‘s early-season grand slam against the Orioles? Michael Pineda‘s 16-strikeout game? I know I’m missing a bunch of obvious memorable moments. The first one that jumped to mind when I thought about my favorite moment of the season was A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, so I’ll go with that.

CC Sabathia checks into alcohol rehab center, will not be available for postseason

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Monday afternoon the Yankees announced CC Sabathia has checked himself into an alcohol rehab center and will not be available this postseason. Here’s the statement Sabathia released:

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide.  But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

It takes an awful lot of courage for Sabathia to come out and admit this publicly. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sabathia could have easily taken an unspecified leave of absence but he admitted his problem. Good for him and his family. There is no wrong time to get help. You know that if someone you love has ever battled addiction.

“It wasn’t a phone call I was expecting,” said Brian Cashman at a press conference this afternoon. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this … What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

What does this mean for the postseason? I’m not sure. It’s uncomfortable to think about that right now. Sabathia’s problem is much bigger than baseball and I’m glad he’s getting the help he needs.

Yankeemetrics: Stumbling to the finish line (Oct. 3-4)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Double Trouble
The Yankees had two chances to clinch homefield advantage in Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles … and two losses later, they had wasted both of them.

Ivan Nova started the opener and capped off his disappointing campaign with another dud. Following the game, Nova summed up his season with one word: “Bad.” Yup, that pretty much describes this: 6-11 , 5.07 ERA, 63 strikeouts, 33 walks.

He is the third Yankee starter in the last 20 years to finish a season with a win percentage below. 400, an ERA above 5.00 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 2.0, joining Darrell Rasner (2008) and David Cone (2000). Neither of those guys pitched another inning for the Yankees after those seasons.

Nova wasn’t the only Yankee pitcher who struggled in the afternoon. Chasen Shreve’s nightmare, late-season meltdown somehow reached a new low in the first game, too. Brought in to get the final out of the sixth inning, he allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base and four Orioles crossed the plate while he was on the mound (two inherited runners plus two of his own).

This was the fourth straight appearance that he gave up at least one hit and then was pulled after getting no more than one out. No other Yankee pitcher has put together a streak like that in the last 100 years.

The end result of the second game was the same as the first one, but don’t blame Luis Severino. The 21-year-old delivered a good-but-not-great outing in his final start of the regular season and put the finishing touches on a historic rookie campaign.

His 2.89 ERA is the third-lowest in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) by any Yankee pitcher to make at least 10 starts in his age-21 season or younger, and his WHIP of 1.20 is the second-lowest. The two guys ahead of him in ERA are Whitey Ford (2.81 in 1950) and Bill Stafford (2.68 in 1961), and Stafford is (1.16) the only with a better WHIP than Severino (1.20).

Dellin Betances coughed up the winning run with his ninth wild pitch of the season in the eighth inning. His nine wild pitches are the second-most in a season by Yankee pitcher who didn’t start any games, behind Sparky Lyle’s 10 in 1977.

It was also the first earned run he’d allowed on the road since August 27, 2014. His streak of 38 consecutive road appearances without giving up an earned run was one shy of the longest by any major-league pitcher, a record shared by Javier Lopez (2013-14) and Pedro Feliciano (2006-07).

The end, finally
The Yankees finished the regular season just like they started it … with a loss. And going back further, remember when the Yankees lost six of their first nine games to begin the season — well, they lost six of their final nine game to end the season, too. Deja vu all over again.

It was just the third time in the last 20 seasons the Yankees were swept in their final series of the season: in 2000 they lost their last seven games and 2011 they ended the season on a four-game losing streak.

The loss also was their tenth in 19 games vs. the Orioles this season, the second year in a row they lost the season series with Baltimore. It’s the first time they’ve lost consecutive season series against the O’s since losing three in a row from 1980-82.

So, the Yankees finished the season with 87 wins, their third straight season with fewer than 90 wins. The last time they had a streak like this was a seven-season stretch during the darkest days of the franchise in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The only other time they qualified for the playoffs (excluding strike seasons) with fewer than 90 wins was in 2000 (87 wins). So maybe a glimmer of optimism?

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s do-or-die playoff game, the Yankees are the Wild Card team for the fifth time in team history, but the first time since the new format began in 2012. The Yankees have advanced past the ALDS round just once in their previous four appearances as the Wild Card — in 2010 when they lost the ALCS to the Rangers. They’ve never reached the World Series as a Wild Card team.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 5th, 2015

Record Last Week: 1-6 (23 RS, 47 RA)
Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record) won first wildcard spot
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Astros (Tuesday in wildcard game)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Yankees drop season finale 9-4 to O’s, clinch home field in wildcard game anyway

The Yankees have successfully backed into the postseason. They closed out their 2015 season with a 9-4 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, though thanks to the Diamondbacks, they were still able to secure home field advantage in the wildcard game anyway. The Yankees went 1-6 in their final seven regular season games and finished the year 87-75 with a +66 run differential.


Miniscule Mike
In his biggest start as a Yankee, Michael Pineda didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Pineda put the Yankees in an early 2-0 hole in the first inning, allowing Matt Wieters to drive in Gerardo Parra (single) and Chris Davis (double) with a single down the right field line. Two-out runs are just the worst. Love scoring ’em, hate allowing ’em.

Pineda tossed scoreless second and third innings before the wheels came off in the fourth. Wieters doubled — it was a single into the right-center field gap that Carlos Beltran helped turn into a double with his veteran gait — to start the frame, then Pineda got two quick outs, putting himself in position to escape the jam. Instead, J.J. Hardy poked a two-out, two-strike single back up the middle to score the run and give the O’s a 3-1 lead.

Joe Girardi went to Chris Capuano for the left-on-left matchup against Ryan Flaherty, and of course it didn’t work. It seems like every move Girardi has made over the last month has backfired, even the ones that made sense. Flaherty ripped a hard hit grounder back up the middle, it deflected off Capuano’s foot, and impromptu second baseman Dustin Ackley flat out whiffed on the ball. He was in perfect position to corral the chopper and throw to first for the final out. Instead the ball got by him and scooted into right field for a double.

Following an intentional walk to Nolan Reimold, Capuano allowed a two-run, two-strike, two-out single to Parra to break the game open. The Orioles were up 5-1. Pineda was charged with four of the five runs even though he was only actually on the mound for three of them. He allowed those four runs on six hits and no walks in 3.2 innings. He struck out five. Pineda had a 5.48 ERA after coming off the DL and a 5.04 ERA since the 16-strikeout game. Bad.


Four Runs Ain’t Enough
For only the fifth time in their last 12 games, the Yankees scored 4+ runs Sunday afternoon. They had chances, oh they had plenty of chances, but these days those chances only mean the other team has the Yankees right where they want them. The Yankees collectively seem to be squeezing sap out of the bat and are simply unable to capitalize on their opportunities. They get plenty of opportunities! But not enough runs.

The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on Ackley’s ground out. Greg Bird started the inning with an opposite field double into the left field corner and Chase Headley moved him up to third with a ground out. They scored their second run in the sixth inning, that on a Didi Gregorius triple. Reimold made an awkward diving attempt but flat out whiffed. Ackley singled as the previous batter and scored the run.

Later in the game, after the Orioles had blown it open (more on that in a bit), the Yankees managed to tack on two more runs. By then it was too little, too late. Beltran, Brian McCann, and Bird strung together back-to-back-to-back one-out singles in the seventh to score a run, then Headley drew a walk to load the bases. Ackley plated another run with a fielder’s choice, which in this case means a tailor made 6-4-3 double play ball Hardy bobbled. There’s the four runs.

Let’s talk about those blown chances now. In the very first inning, Alex Rodriguez walked and Beltran singled to right with two outs, putting two men on base. McCann then popped on the first pitch to end the inning. Gregorius followed Ackley’s run-scoring ground out with a two-out double but was stranded when Jacoby Ellsbury struck out. That’s three runners left on base through two innings.

Beltran drew a two-out walk in the third and was left hanging when McCann again popped up on the first pitch. Ackley tripled — Reimold made another awkward diving attempt in center — and Gregorius walked with two outs in the fourth, but then Ellsbury grounded out to first to end the inning. Didi’s run-scoring triple in the sixth was followed by an Ellsbury pop-up (first pitch, of course) and a Brett Gardner ground out. Another stranded runner.

After Ackley’s run-scoring fielder’s choice in the seventh, Gregorius popped up with runners at the corners to end the inning. He actually represented the tying run at the time. The O’s pulled away but the Yankees did put up a bit of a fight in that seventh inning. Either way, the Yankees left a runner on base in each of their first seven innings. They went quietly after that.


Blown Open
Obviously the decision to go to Capuano in the fourth inning was weird, but, to me, that’s on the front office, not Girardi. The Yankees didn’t add any pitching depth at the trade deadline — it was an obvious need at the time — so Girardi’s options were either Capuano or a bunch of kids. A bunch of kids who have done little to stand out in their limited time as big leaguers.

So Girardi went to Capuano and it didn’t work out. In the next inning he gave the ball to Bryan Mitchell, who walked Manny Machado and served up a mammoth two-run homer to Davis. He hit it the other way into the bullpens. Mitchell was pretty awesome for a while earlier this summer, then he got hit in the face by the line drive, and he hasn’t been effective since. The Davis homer made it 7-1 Fightin’ Showalters.

James Pazos, Andrew Bailey, Branden Pinder, Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, and Caleb Cotham combined for the final eleven outs. Wilson and Miller threw five and eight pitches, respectively. That was just a tune-up so they didn’t go five days between appearances heading into the wildcard game. Cotham served up a two-run homer to Davis in what was likely his final at-bat as an Oriole. That was kinda cool.


The Yankees had ten hits and McCann was the only player with exactly one hit. Beltran had three and Bird, Ackley, and Gregorius had two apiece. The top three spots in the lineup went a combined 0-for-13 with two walks, both by A-Rod. The bottom four spots went 6-for-15 (.400) with two walks. McCann broke an 0-for-23 (!) slump with his seventh inning single.

Girardi emptied his bench in the ninth and got Rico Noel (ground out), Gary Sanchez (strikeout), and Jose Pirela (strikeout) one last at-bat. Pirela grounded out to second to end the season. Remember how it started? Masahiro Tanaka struck out Jose Reyes on three pitches. His first pitch of the year was a slider. That feels like a lifetime ago.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game and here are the final standings for the season. Hard to believe it’s been 162 games already. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the loss probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Bonus Out-of-Town WPA Graph
As I mentioned in the intro, the D’Backs beat the Astros in Arizona, clinching home field advantage in the wildcard game for the Yankees. Paul Goldschmidt’s seventh inning two-run home run off former Yankee Chad Qualls was the big blow. Here’s the box score and win probability graph for that game:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The regular season is over and thank goodness after that limp to the finish. The Yankees and the rest of the baseball world have an off-day Monday, then the AL wildcard game will be played Tuesday night at 8pm ET. It’ll be the Yankees and Astros. Tanaka will indeed be opposed by Dallas Keuchel, who will be working on three days’ rest for the first time of his career.

Angels name Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler new GM

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)
(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

According to Bill Shaikin, the Angels are expected to name Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler their new GM on Monday. The team has since announced the hire. Eppler was said to be the front-runner for several weeks now. He interviewed for the job back in 2011 and was reportedly the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto. Joel Sherman says Eppler will remain with the Yankees through the postseason.

“I cannot adequately express how excited I am for the opportunity Arte Moreno and the Angels have given me,” said Eppler in a statement. “The Angels are committed to Championship Standards. They are committed to being a perennial contender, and many of the pieces are already in place for that to occur. I look forward to a collaborative effort as we look to enhance and advance every phase of the baseball operations department. This is an organization with a tremendous amount of talent on and off the field, and I am excited to begin the next chapter of Angels Baseball.”

Eppler, 40, has been with the Yankees since 2005. He started as a scout and gradually worked his way up the ladder to assistant GM. While serving as head of the pro scouting department, Eppler and his staff were able to unearth cheap gems like Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, and Eric Chavez, among others.

Prior to joining the Yankees, Eppler pitched at UConn before an arm injury ended his playing career. He previously worked as a scout with the Rockies before hooking on with New York. Eppler is from Southern California, so joining the Angels is something of a homecoming for him.

Dipoto resigned as Angels GM back in July after a long power struggle with manager Mike Scioscia. Owner Arte Moreno sided with Scioscia, so Dipoto stepped down, which is kinda crazy. There are only 30 GM jobs, after all. They’re hard to get. The Mariners named Dipoto their new GM a few days ago. Eppler was in the running for that job too.

It’s unclear how or if the Yankees will replace Eppler in the front office. The Yankees still have assistant GMs Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman working under Brian Cashman, as well as a slew of advisors, most notably Gene Michael and Jim Hendry. There are countless others working behind the scenes as well.

It was only a matter of time until Eppler was poached by another club — he’s interviewed for several GM jobs over the years, including the Padres last year — and at one point I thought he was Cashman’s heir apparent. That didn’t happen. Eppler was said to be Cashman’s right hand man, so it’s a big loss for the front office.

Sunday Night Open Thread

The 2015 regular season is over and thanks to the Diamondbacks, the Yankees will host the Astros in the wildcard game Tuesday night. Paul Goldschmidt achieved True Yankee™ status with his two-run go-ahead home run off former Yankee Chad Qualls in the seventh inning. Biggest hit of the Yankees season, possibly. Here’s the video. I’d embed it if it were possible.

Here is your open thread for the rest of the weekend. There’s no more baseball tonight. The season is over for everyone. The late NFL game is the Cowboys at the Saints. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else right here.