The complex in Tampa is going to get much more crowded when position players officially report to Spring Training on Wednesday. Sure, a bunch of them are already in camp working out, but everyone will be there tomorrow. The Yankees will play their first exhibition game one week from today (vs. Florida State) and one week from tomorrow will be their first televised Grapefruit League game (vs. Pirates), so hooray for that. Here’s the latest from Tampa:
- Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Ivan Nova threw live batting practice while CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka threw in the bullpen. Pretty light day otherwise.
- Joe Girardi told Jacoby Ellsbury he will indeed bat leadoff and play center field. No surprise there. Also, the broken foot Ellsbury suffered late last year and played on during the postseason is fully healthy and not expected to limit him in camp. [Dan Barbarisi, Nick Cafardo]
- Derek Jeter will talk about his decision to retire following the season during a press conference at 11:30am ET tomorrow, which will air on the YES Network.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing, plus the Olympics are still going on as well. Talk about that stuff, Spring Training, Jeter, or anything else right here. Have at it.
The whole “Robinson Cano is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls” thing has been beaten into the ground and I really hoped we would never hear about it again once he signed with the Mariners, but apparently that is not the case. Over the weekend, hitting coach Kevin Long declined to take the high road when asked about Robbie’s tendency to jog to first. From John Harper:
“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’
“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure [Derek Jeter] talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.”
“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’
Joe Girardi was asked about Long’s comments yesterday and the interview was ended abruptly by the team’s public relations people according to Brendan Kuty, so this is a thing now. Everyone is talking about the hitting coach trashing the former star player when they should be talking about bullpen sessions and batting practice and how great everyone looks. It’s an unnecessary distraction.
Regardless of how true any of this is — we all know Robbie doesn’t run hard to first — Long was wrong to talk about it publicly. Doesn’t matter that Cano is no longer on the team and frankly that only makes it worse in my opinion. This is like the Red Sox talking about Terry Francona’s use of pain medication after he was let go*. Criticizing a former player after he leaves town is the ultimate low blow.
* Joe thinks Dan Duquette’s comments about Roger Clemens entering the “twilight of his career” are a more appropriate comparison. I agree.
On Tuesday, new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon defended his new star and fired back at Long. From Jerry Crasnick:
“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.
“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book (“Cage Rat”) proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”
The Yankees spent all winter talking about their “family” and the importance of having strong character guys in the clubhouse whenever they signed a new free agent. That shouldn’t stop at the players. Long is a high-profile member of the organization and he threw a former player — a former member of the “family” — under the bus on his way out of town. It was a classless move and everything the Yankees claim not to be. Dan Martin says Long has already reached out to Cano to offer an apology, but at this point the damage has been done. This became something when it should have stayed nothing.
The new Yankee Stadium has been open for five full seasons now, more than enough time to definitively say it is a hitter’s park, especially for left-handed hitters. The short porch in right is shorter than it was across the street, so we’ve seen plenty of balls that looked like routine fly outs go over the fence for the cheap homer. Anecdotally, I think the short porch has benefited the Yankees much more than it’s hurt them since 2009.
Because of that potential for the cheap homer, the Bombers have emphasized getting ground balls since the new park opened. The staff has gradually progressed from a 42.3% ground ball rate in 2009 to a 44.9% ground ball rate last year. Ground balls will again be a focus this year, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild has his staff focusing on the bottom of the zone early in camp. From Joel Sherman:
In bullpen sessions this year, pitching coach Larry Rothschild has introduced a technique he used in previous locales, but not with the Yankees — he has a yellow string that crosses the bottom of the strike zone and he actually is encouraging his pupils to hit the string.
Pounding the bottom of the zone should lead to more ground balls just because it’s tough to lift a ball at or below your knees, though the occasional golf shot is unavoidable. Whether this new drill actually leads to an increased grounder rate during the regular season remains to be seen, but hey, at least they’re trying.
In addition to an increased ground ball rate, emphasizing the bottom of the zone may also have a side effect: more called strikes. In a long but must read piece, Jon Roegele explained last month that the shape of the strike zone has changed during the PitchFX era. The zone is increasing in overall size but the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone has expanded downward. Here are two heat maps from his post:
Grey means no change in the percentage of called strikes from 2008 (first full year of PitchFX) to 2013 while white means fewer called strikes and black means more called strikes. Again, the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone gets bigger and bigger. You can click the image for a larger view, or, even better, click the link and read Roegele’s post for the entire analysis. It’s great stuff.
Anyway, Rothschild has emphasized the bottom of the zone this spring and it figures to help the Yankees both get ground balls and called strikes. Throwing strikes is hard though, especially to precise locations. It’s unlikely the entire pitching staff will suddenly start throwing everything right at the knees, but all it takes is one pitcher taking advantage of the bottom of the zone for this work to be worth it.
By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:
|1||2009||New York Yankees||AL||Robinson Cano / Derek Jeter / Alex Rodriguez / Mark Teixeira|
|2||1983||Milwaukee Brewers||AL||Cecil Cooper / Jim Gantner / Paul Molitor / Robin Yount|
|3||1977||Texas Rangers||AL||Bert Campaneris / Mike Hargrove / Toby Harrah / Bump Wills|
|4||1913||Philadelphia Athletics||AL||Home Run Baker / Jack Barry / Eddie Collins / Stuffy McInnis|
|5||1912||Philadelphia Athletics||AL||Home Run Baker / Jack Barry / Eddie Collins / Stuffy McInnis|
Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.
1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR
Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.
2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR
Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.
SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR
Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.
3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR
When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.
* * *
Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.
The Orioles have finally made a move to improve their team. According to multiple reports, Baltimore has signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a fiour-year contract worth approximately $50M. They’ll also have to forfeit the 17th overall pick. The Yankees were never connected to Jimenez but he was often mentioned as a potential fifth starter candidate should be remain unsigned for another few weeks and his asking price drop even more. That was always a long shot though. · (68) ·
Twenty-four years ago today, the Yankees signed Mariano Rivera as a 20-year-old amateur free agent out of Panama. He received a bonus somewhere around $2,500, so by today’s standards he was old and very cheap for an international player. Man, I’m really going to miss Mo. Here’s a recap of the day in Tampa:
- As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s bullpen and batting practice groups. Michael Pineda threw a bullpen session while Adam Warren, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and several others faced hitters in live batting practice.
- Pineda is open to pitching out of the bullpen and said he is motivated to return this year because he wants to play with Derek Jeter before he retires. “When I heard I was traded to the Yankees, I was thinking, ‘I get to play with Mariano Rivera, with Jeter,’” he said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted.” [Dan Barbarisi, Buster Olney]
- Brian Roberts said the Yankees reached out to him even before Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners, but he didn’t expect anything to come of it because he assumed they’d re-sign Cano. Brendan Ryan, meanwhile, thinks he might be used off the bench to replace Jeter for defense in the late innings. The team hasn’t said anything about that though. [Jorge Castillo, Anthony Rieber]
- And finally, former head trainer Gene
MichaelMonahan was at the complex today and will spend Spring Training with the team. [Meredith Marakovits]
This is your nightly open thread. The Olympics and college basketball are the only sports on television tonight, so it’s a good night to catch up on some sleep or House of Cards or whatever. Talk about anything and everything right here. Go nuts.
The Yankees spent an awful lot of money this winter to improve an offense that was their worst in two decades last year. They committed nearly $300M to a new leadoff man and two middle of the order bats, not to mention some complementary pieces for the bottom third of the lineup. A full season of Alfonso Soriano should help as well. They were pricey moves but also very necessary moves.
“I think we have a collection of very good hitters this year,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand last week. “I think our lineup is much deeper than it was last year from top to bottom. There’s more balance with some of the switch-hitters … I think there’s much more balance in our lineup. But as far as having that one guy that maybe you center the lineup around, I would say no.”
That last part about “having that one guy” to build a lineup around refers to the departed Robinson Cano. Girardi could fill out his lineup any number of ways this year but the team does lack an offensive centerpiece. That’s okay though. They lost one superstar but did upgrade at several other positions, so the overall result should be an improved lineup. They were never going to be able to replace Cano anyway. He’s the best second baseman in the game and that means he is irreplaceable by definition.
“Yeah, I think the great thing is, look at our lineup. We’re back to being the Yankees again,” said Mark Teixeira to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “Last year, we weren’t the Yankees. We had so many injuries and we had so many guys that should have been in there to be lots of anchors. That’s back. There’s not one guy that has to carry this team, but absolutely I expect to hit in the middle of the order, hit 30 homeruns and drive in 100 runs. That’s going to take pressure off everybody and help us win games.”
Teixeira, who will turn 34 shortly after Opening Day, is currently working his way back from right wrist surgery and will help further improve the offense. Lyle Overbay did an admirable job filling at first base last season but he’s no Teixeira and the Yankees will be better off at the position this year. No, we don’t know what to expect from Teixeira given the nature of his injury, but it shouldn’t be tough to improve upon the .229/.292/.397 (78 OPS+) the team got from the position last summer.
Now, even though the Yankees added some free agents and are getting some players back from injury, their lineup still isn’t as deep as it was as recently as two years ago. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more while Brian Roberts hasn’t been even an average hitter in three seasons. Derek Jeter is pushing 40 and coming off major leg injuries, so he is even more of an unknown than Teixeira. The bottom third of the lineup will be better than last season but still not very good.
Teixeira’s rebound is important simply to lengthen the lineup and give the team six above-average hitters rather than five. He’ll also be counted on to add some power to a team that still doesn’t have all that much and create matchup headaches by being a switch-hitter. Soriano, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann are expected to anchor the middle of the order, but adding even 2012 Teixeira level production (24 HR and 115 OPS+) could be the difference between a league average attack and an above-average one.
“I’d be lying if there wasn’t [lingering doubt about the wrist],” added Teixeira. “I said it this winter, everyone can go out after major surgery and go, ‘I’m fine, I’m going to be good as ever,’ but you don’t really know that until you go out there. For me, it’s just kind of two steps: make sure I’m healthy and that means taking full swings at a 95 mph fastball in a Spring Training game. And we have six weeks to figure that out. If that’s the case and I’m healthy and I can do that for a week straight, then it’s all about production.”
This will be Teixeira’s sixth year in pinstripes and he has gradually declined from offensive centerpiece to complementary player. He was still a really good hitter in his last healthy season — I think Teixeira’s decline is generally overstated, and I’m guilty of that — just not the hitter he was during his first year in New York. His importance to the lineup and the Yankees in general is easy to overlook, but he was missed last summer and that will again be the case if he and his surgically repaired wrist doesn’t rebound well this summer.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are done signing Major League free agents now that spring Training has begun. Brian Cashman is most concerned about the infield but they were unable to work out deals for Omar Infante and Logan Forsythe, and are apparently unwilling to meet Stephen Drew’s asking price.
While Drew is certainly the headliner here, the “done signing Major League free agents” thing applies to the bullpen as well. I’m much more confident in the team’s ability to create a good bullpen out of their in-house options than I am in their ability to cobble together a good infield, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see them add another veteran arm. The problem is none are available. Not good ones, anyway. · (63) ·
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Top stories from last week:
- In a surprising announcement, Derek Jeter said he intends to retire following the 2014 season. “Last year was a tough one for me,” he said in a statement. “As I suffered through a bunch of injuries, I realized that some things that always came easily to me and were always fun had started to become a struggle. The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would become time to move forward.”
- Spring Training officially opened as pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa on Friday. Joe Girardi discussed a number of topics in his opening press conference, and so far Masahiro Tanaka has acclimated himself well. CC Sabathia is down to 275 lbs. and Mark Teixeira is slowly working his way back from wrist surgery.
- The Yankees remain uninterested in Stephen Drew but they reportedly inquired about Ervin Santana recently. Bench option Emilio Bonifacio signed a minor league deal with the Cubs.
- The Yankees signed both Dean Anna ($500k) and Vidal Nuno ($504k) to one-year contracts for the 2014 season.
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 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?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
The first weekend of Spring Training is complete, though position players have not yet officially reported and the first full squad workout is still a few days away. Here’s a recap of the day in Tampa.
- Chad Jennings has the day’s bullpen and batting practice groups. Manny Banuelos plus a bunch of relievers were on the mound, including David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton. The pitchers will starting throwing live batting practice tomorrow.
- Mark Teixeira said his Spring Training plan is mapped out and he’s expecting to get 50+ at-bats, which is a normal amount. He is taking roughly 50 swings from each side of the plate right now and he feels a bit better from the right side. Tex also said he grew an inch this winter (!?) and hopes to play another five years. [Bryan Hoch, Sweeny Murti, Jorge Castillo, Dan Barbarisi]
- Apparently Peter O’Brien was the star of batting practice yesterday, hitting balls over the batter’s eye and off the scoreboard in left. “What puts his swing at a different level is the ease of it,’’ said hitting coach Kevin Long. [George King]
- Hoch has the list of guest instructors, which includes both Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui. Ronald Blum says Andy Pettitte will be in camp as an instructor as well.
Here is your open thread for the night. The NBA All-Star Game is on, ditto the Olympics. Talk about those games, Spring Training, or anything else right here. Enjoy.