2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Fernandez. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

As far as the Yankees are concerned, yesterday was the slowest Winter Meetings day I can remember. Very few rumors came out of Nashville and those that did mostly involved stuff we’ve already heard, like Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller being available. It was a boring day, to say the least.

“Clearly, I’m not comfortable with recommending anything that’s come my way, despite a lot of dialogue, and my opponents are not comfortable with the things I’m suggesting at this time,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. With a reportedly tight payroll, the Yankees continue to focus on trades, not free agents.

Here are Monday’s rumors if you missed any of the little bit that happened. Once again, we’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this open thread, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: The Yankees are among the teams “digging” on Jose Fernandez, meaning they’re asking around about his health, makeup, and work ethic. The Marlins understandably want five or six young players for their ace. Why ask for anything less? For what it’s worth, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said flatly “He’s not available.” [Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Clark Spencer]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have interest in Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Miami has liked Bryan Mitchell as a starter and Adam Warren as a reliever in the past, which seems backwards, but whatever. It’s the Marlins. [George King]
  • 10:38am: The Yankees have reached out to free agent catcher Tyler Flowers, who was non-tendered by the White Sox last week. He’s deciding between the Yankees, Rays, and Braves. I wrote about Flowers in last week’s mailbag. He seems like a Yankees type because he rated as an elite pitch-framer in 2015. Flowers is from Georgia and the Braves offer way more playing time potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in Atlanta. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 12:03pm: Five teams, including the Reds, Orioles, and Angels, have their eye on Jake Cave for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Cave seems like a goner. Whether he sticks on the 25-man roster all year is another matter. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 1:00pm: The Yankees are willing to include Luis Severino in a package for Jose Fernandez. The belief is the Yankees do not have enough to land Fernandez though, even if they include Greg Bird in the deal. [Joe Frisaro]
  • 1:32pm: The Yankees say Luis Severino is not going anywhere. He wasn’t in their offer for Jose Fernandez and there are no ongoing talks. Sounds like the Marlins are trying to get the Yankees to blink and include Severino in the package, more than anything. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees and Cubs have talked about a trade that would bring Starlin Castro to New York. No word on any other pieces that would be involved. Castro’s young and I guess that means he offers upside, but he’s also been among the worst players in baseball two of the last three years. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 6:08pm: Brett Gardner is not part of the current Starlin Castro talks with the Cubs. The Cubbies don’t want Jacoby Ellsbury either. Chicago is said to be working on all sorts of stuff — they’re after Ben Zobrist, discussing Javier Baez with the Braves and Rays, etc. — so this is part of some master plan for them. [Joel Sherman]
  • 6:14pm: Talks with the Cubs about Starlin Castro are in the early stages. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest, annoyingly so at times (it’s boring!), so chances are this is coming from the Cubs’ side. [Jon Heyman]
  • 6:37pm: The Cubs have “been curious” about Adam Warren, whatever that means. Warren’s not a sexy name but he’s become incredibly valuable to the Yankees. I’m not sure Castro is enough of an upgrade at second base to move him. [Joel Sherman]
  • 7:51pm: The Yankees and Cubs are moving closer to a Starlin Castro trade. The Cubs just agreed to sign Ben Zobrist so it’s only a matter of time until Castro goes. [Buster Olney]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Another slow day for the Yankees at the Winter Meetings. There is some ex-Yankee news from the other side of the world though: Hiroki Kuroda has decided to pitch in 2016, according to report passed along by Patrick Newman. He’s going to remain with the Hiroshima Carp. Reports indicated Kuroda was planning to retire this offseason after one final season in Japan, but I guess he changed his mind. He had a 2.55 ERA in 169.2 innings for the Carp this year. Kuroda’s awesome. Love ’em.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders, Devils, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about those games, Kuroda’s decision to pitch again, or anything else here. Have at it.

The Sorta New Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Pena. (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon we reviewed Joe Girardi’s season while acknowledging how difficult it can be to evaluate a manager. We only see the on-field stuff, which is a very small part of the manager’s job. Evaluating coaches is even more difficult. Outside of the pitching coach making a mound visit or the third base coach waving someone in, all of their work happens behind the scenes.

The Yankees reshuffled their coaching staff last offseason. Hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were both let go, bench coach Tony Pena shifted to first base coach, third base coach Rob Thomson shifted to bench coach, and new hires Jeff Pentland (hitting coach), Alan Cockrell (assistant hitting coach), and Joe Espada (third base coach) were brought in. Well, Espada was working in the pro scouting department. He just shifted back on to the field in a coaching capacity. How did the new-look coaching staff perform in 2015? Let’s try to figure that out.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Thomson left a lot to be desired as the third base coach, especially in 2014, when the Yankees had the fourth most runners thrown out at the plate in baseball (21). The shift to bench coach means we have basically no way to evaluate him. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by a combined 13 wins from 2013-14. This past season they underperformed by one win. Want to blame that on Thomson taking over as Girardi’s second in command? Go ahead. Just understand we have no idea if that is actually the case. Girardi managed like Girardi, so I’m inclined to say Thomson didn’t put any crazy ideas in his head. Thomson’s been in the organization a long time and is highly respected around the game. I’ll defer to those folks. Thomson’s a-okay with me.

Hitting Coaches: Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell

Let’s call a spade a spade: Long was scapegoated for the Yankees failing to make the postseason from 2013-14. The offense was terrible those years, mostly because the roster left a lot to be desired, so the hitting coach took the fall. Stuff like this has been happening since hitting coaches became a thing. When the GM says he’s one the best hitting coaches in the game on his way out the door, you know he was scapegoated.

Anyway, the Yankees fired Long soon after the season in October, and it wasn’t until January that they hired Pentland and Cockrell, adopting the two hitting coach system that is taking over MLB. Both men brought big league hitting coach experience to the table. The result? The Yankees finished second in baseball with 764 runs scored in 2015, an improvement of 131 runs from 2014. Almost a run a game.

Of course, crediting Pentland and Cockrell for all the improvement would be like assigning all the blame to the Long. In my opinion, the biggest reason the offense improved was health. Carlos Beltran was relatively healthy all year. Mark Teixeira was healthy until the fluke foul pitch off his shin. Alex Rodriguez returned. Brian McCann was more comfortable in year two. Good players have a way of making a hitting coach look smart.

Here’s a quick side-by-side look at the 2014 and 2015 offenses, specifically their batted ball and plate discipline numbers:

2014 Yankees vs 2015 Yankees

The overarching numbers show the team’s plate discipline didn’t change much if at all, so there wasn’t any kind of significant change in approach. The 2015 Yankees did, however, hit more fly balls (slightly) and pull the ball more often. The big knock on Long was the offense turning into a bunch of pull hitters. Well, the Yankees pulled the ball even more under Pentland and they scored 131 additional runs.

One thing I think we can credit to Cockrell in particular is Didi Gregorius‘ midseason improvement. Gregorius told Brendan Kuty he used to have a long loop in his swing, but Cockrell worked with him to cut it down. “It can be mechanical. It can be thought. It can be fatigue,” said Cockrell. “There’s a lot of contributing factors. But I think once you’ve ID’ed that it is a little bit long, let’s work to shorten it. Let’s work to stay above the ball a little bit more. He’s (done) that.”

Hitting coaches are obviously important, though I also subscribe to the theory that they don’t have nearly as much on-field impact as it may seem. The offense was demonstrably better this past season than it had been from 2013-14, either because they had better players or better coaches (or both). Inevitably the coaches will get credit for that, especially after a change was made in the offseason.

However, the Yankees indicated they don’t believe Pentland was the reason for the offensive resurgence because he was let go after the season. After a relatively brief search, Cockrell was elevated to main hitting coach and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames takes over as Cockrell’s assistant. Another year, another new hitting coach to blame for every slump.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since 2011 and it’s become clear they have a lot of faith in him. For starters, he has a multi-year contract while most other coaches work on year-to-year deals. Secondly, the Yankees have acquired several young pitchers in need of refinement in recent years with the idea of turning them over to Rothschild for fine-tuning.

Rothschild. (Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

This past season’s project: Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi’s big but hittable fastball from the Marlins, then let Rothschild go to work. After a few weeks (months), Rothschild helped Eovaldi develop a legitimate out-pitch splitter that was the key to his midsummer run of dominance. Once he gained feel and really showed confidence in the split, Eovaldi was a much different pitcher. That’s something tangible we can credit to Rothschild.

The Yankees as a team had a 4.05 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 2015, ranking 16th and 13th in baseball, respectively. The rotation in particular had a 4.25 ERA (18th) and a 4.04 FIP (14th), yet I feel like it’s hard to blame Rothschild for the rotation being middle of the pack. The team gave way too many innings to CC Sabathia because of his contract and way too many innings to Ivan Nova following Tommy John surgery.

The only pitcher on the staff who I think really underperformed expectations was Michael Pineda, and I’m not sure he’s ever going to have an ERA (4.37 in 2015) that matches his FIP (3.34 FIP) because he’s around the plate so much — Pineda might throw too many strikes — and Yankee Stadium is not pitcher friendly. Rothschild’s done some really good things as pitching coach, including Eovaldi in 2015. I truly believe he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the game.

First Base Coach: Tony Pena

During games, the first base coach’s primary job involves timing the opposing battery to determine stolen base possibilities. He scouts the pitcher’s pickoff move and literally has a stopwatch to time the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time. I’m not joking. The Yankees stole only 63 bases in 2015, their lowest total in a non-strike season since stealing 39 bases (!) in 1993. They averaged 118 steals from 2003-14.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t have the personnel to steal more bases. Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his knee in May and pretty much stopped running after that. Brett Gardner‘s days of 40+ steals are over. Those two stole 21 and 20 bases, respectively. Know who was third on the Yankees in steals? Rico Noel with five. The Yankees were never going to be a big stolen base team this summer, though their 72% success rate was tenth best in the game. They had nine runners picked off, seventh fewest in MLB.

Pena’s value to the Yankees isn’t necessarily his work as a first base coach, it’s his work with the catchers. He’s been handed young guys like Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy over the years, and tasked with improving their defense. Cervelli’s defense improved tremendously over the years. Murphy’s was very good this past season. As a first base coach, who in the world knows how Pena performed. His best and most important work is with the catchers, and the Yankees continue to have strong glove guys behind the plate.

Third Base Coach: Joe Espada

Finally, a coach we can really evaluate. The Yankees had only 14 runners thrown out at the plate this summer, fifth fewest in the baseball, but that’s because Espada seems to employ an ultra-conservative approach. He waved a runner home from second on a single just 59.3% of the time, the lowest in baseball. The MLB average is 69.8%. Espada waved a runner home from first on a double just 51.1% of the time, second lowest in baseball and well below the 65.4% league average.

Of course, the Yankees are not a fast team, so the conservative approach isn’t all on Espada. Sometimes he just has to hold up slow runners because they had no chance to score. There were definitely times when Espada seemed to either misread plays or not know the outfielder’s arm though, leading to curious holds or bad sends. The most obvious example came on July 27th, when Teixeira was thrown out at home trying to score from second because Espada told him he could go “easy.”

After the game, the normal reserved Teixeira was upset because he could have gotten hurt. “There was no miscommunication. Joe just told me, ‘Easy, easy,’ which means there’s going to be no play at the plate. It’s just a mistake … That can’t happen. I’m sure it won’t ever happen again,” he said. Teixeira, Espada, and Girardi later met to talk it all out.

Espada’s conservative approach is part necessity (the Yankees lack speed in general), part sensible (no reason to risk it all the time given how the Yankees were scoring runs in the first half), and part his poor reads. Third base coach is a thankless job. They never get credit for a good job and are only noticed for mistakes. Espada’s conservative, and I also think there is room for improvement going forward.

Bullpen Coach: Gary Tuck

The bullpen coach typically acts as a second pitching coach, but Tuck’s specialty is catching. He’s regarded as a catching guru and McCann credited him for improving his throwing. McCann threw out only 23.1% of base-runners in his last three years with the Braves, but, under Tuck, that number has jumped to 36.5% with the Yankees the last two seasons. It was 35.9% in 2015.

Outside of that, we really don’t have any way to evaluate Tuck. The Yankees did deem him expendable, however. He was let go following the season, reportedly due to a disagreement with the front office over the use of statistics. A few weeks later former bullpen coach Mike Harkey returned to the team as Tuck’s replacement. McCann’s improved throwing, which he sustained in 2015, is enough for me to say Tuck did some mighty fine work in pinstripes. That level of improvement is significant.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Tony Sipp

(Sarah Crabill/Getty)
(Sarah Crabill/Getty)

Over the last few offseasons, the Yankees have only spent whatever comes off the books following the season. They put the money back into the team and that’s basically it, no more. The Yankees only shed about $20M in player salaries after the 2015 season, and a little less than half that will go to covering arbitration raises. It’s no surprise they’re focusing on trades now.

Spending some (any) of those limited dollars on a relief pitcher may not seem like a smart idea, but with substantial rotation help unlikely to be on the way, improving the relief crew make sense. Besides, there’s a chance the Yankees could land themselves a bargain in left-hander Tony Sipp, who remains unsigned even though relievers are now coming off the board every few hours. Is he a fit? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Sipp is a journeyman. He started his career with the Indians, was traded to the Diamondbacks in the three-team deal that also sent Didi Gregorius to the desert, signed with the Padres as a free agent, then landed with the Astros as a free agent after being released by San Diego. The 32-year-old has thrown 363 innings in parts of seven MLB seasons (3.50 ERA and 4.21 FIP).

After arriving in Houston in 2014, Sipp’s performance improved considerably. Here are his last two seasons with the Astros and his two seasons prior to joining Houston.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2012 55.0 4.42 4.68 21.9% 9.9% 32.9% 1.47 .353 .288
2013 37.2 4.78 4.88 24.0% 12.6% 26.0% 1.43 .306 .378
2014 50.2 3.38 2.93 31.8% 8.6% 31.3% 0.89 .235 .227
2015 54.1 1.99 2.93 28.7% 6.9% 38.8% 0.83 .265 .265

Gosh, that’s like two different pitchers. Once he arrived in Houston, Sipp’s strikeout rate skyrocketed and he figured out how to retire right-handed batters, so he was no longer a left-on-left matchup guy. He was a true one-inning pitcher the last two seasons who just so happened to be left-handed.

Sipp’s walk rate is a little high — I’m not sure I’d count on him sustaining a 6.9% walk rate going forward, not based on his career to date — and he doesn’t get grounders, though that’s not necessarily a big deal because he’s been an extreme infield fly ball guy. His career rate is 13.5% infield pop-ups. The MLB average hovers around 9.0% each year. Strikeouts and pop-ups are a really great recipe for success.

Obviously there are reasons to be skeptical. Relievers work in small samples and weird stuff happens. When a career journeyman like Sipp suddenly puts it together, it’s easy to think it’s a fluke. There is a tangible reason for the improved performance against right-handers though, which led to the overall success. Let’s look at that now.

The Stuff

For the vast majority of his career, Sipp was a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy. Pretty generic. There are about a zillion lefties in pro ball with similar stuff. But, after picking him up off the scrap heap, the Astros got Sipp to use his splitter more often. Check it out:

Tony Sipp pitch selection

We saw Nathan Eovaldi go through the process of learning a splitter this summer. It’s not as simple as throwing the pitch more often. You have to get comfortable with it and throw it with conviction. That can take time.

The Astros got Sipp to use his splitter more often last year, and by this summer he was throwing it almost as often as his slider. It’s gone from show-me third pitch to legit weapon. That explains the improved performance against righties. Sipp now has a weapon for batters of the opposite hand. There’s an honest to goodness explanation for the improvement.

Middle reliever highlight videos are not exactly a hot internet commodity, but here’s a short look at Sipp’s split-finger fastball in action:

Chris Colabello, the last batter in the video, took that fastball down the middle because he was expecting a two-strike splitter out of the zone, the pitch Sipp used to strike out the first two batters. The splitter changes everything. The split itself gets swings and misses and it helps his fastball play up.

Sipp improved the last two years because he changed as a pitcher. Whether the improved performance is sustainable long-term remains to be seen, but, for now, all we need to understand the success is not a fluke. He added a new pitch and it changed his profile.

Injury History

Sipp had Tommy John surgery back in July 2007 but has been healthy since. No DL stints, no day-to-day injuries, nothing. The elbow reconstruction is the only significant injury of his career. (He did miss three weeks with an oblique strain in 2006, which … whatever.) By 32-year-old journeyman reliever standards, Sipp’s medical history is about as clean as you’re going to find.

Contract Estimates

Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned this offseason, it’s that teams have a lot of money to spend. Contracts have been larger than projected in general, and that includes free agent relievers. For information purposes, here are Sipp’s various contract estimates (he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, so there’s no draft pick attached):

For what it’s worth, Jerry Crasnick reported yesterday that Sipp is looking for three years and $5M to $6M annually. That’s basically Zach Duke (three years, $15M) and Boone Logan (three years, $16.5M) money, and hey, maybe those are cautionary tales. Duke and Logan have been pretty terrible since signing their big free agent deals, and similar to Sipp, Duke had a tangible explanation for his sudden success because he reinvented himself as a side-armer.

Wrapping Up

The free agent bullpen market was pretty weak coming into the offseason and most of the top guys have already come off the board. Darren O’Day received four years and $32M. Joakim Soria got three years and $25M. Mark Lowe got two years and $13M. Heck, Ryan Madson got three years and $22M despite not pitching at all from 2012-14 due to an ugly medical history.

When I saw Sipp wanted only three years at $5M or $6M per year, it stood out to me as a bargain in this market. I thought Sipp was undervalued a bit coming into the offseason, but man, seeing those reliever contracts makes his asking price really seem like a good deal to me. The splitter explains his sudden success and he’s done it two years in a row now. This wasn’t a one-year blip. He did it in 2014 and did it again 2015 as he continued to emphasize the splitter.

The Yankees may not have much money to spend this offseason, but it appears Sipp can provide some real bang for the buck. Forget the left-handed thing. He’s a setup man caliber reliever capable of throwing full innings. He can provide additional bullpen depth and also help cushion the blow if the Yankees do indeed decide to trade Andrew Miller at some point. There’s always room in the bullpen for another good reliever anyway.

I can understand why anyone would be skeptical of Sipp going forward, especially since he’s not young, though I am a believer in the splitter and his ability to sustain his 2014-15 success going forward. It’s risky. No doubt about it. All reliever contracts are. Sipp does strike me as a great value play at his asking price though. Extra bullpen depth to help protect against a rotation littered with health concerns may not be a bad way for the Yankees to use their limited dollars.

Monday Night Open Thread

Day One of the Winter Meeting brought the usual collection of trades and signings and rumors, and pretty much none of them involved the Yankees. That isn’t unusual. The Yankees haven’t made a notable transaction at the Winter Meetings since 2010, when they re-signed both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Anyway, check out this Janie McCauley article on “lobby trades,” which no longer happen at the Winter Meetings because everyone is trying to keep things a secret. Pretty great stuff.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Cowboys and Redskins are the Monday Night Football Game, the Knicks are playing, and there’s some college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about any and all of those games right here.

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016 Winter Meetings

The 2015 Winter Meetings begin today in Nashville. Well, they actually began yesterday with some minor league presentations and stuff, but the fun stuff starts today. As always, there will be a ton of rumors and trades and free agent signings out of the Winter Meetings this week. Will the Yankees be in on the action? Maybe!

“Our team is fairly set, but we’re open to exploring any and all trade opportunities. If we can improve our team, we’ll do it. If we can’t, we won’t,” said Brian Cashman to Wally Matthews recently. He told Dan Barbarisi the team is focused more on trades than free agency — the Yankees are said to be seeking young pitching in any deal — but thinks they’ll end up holding onto Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. We’ll see.

We’ll keep track of any and all (legitimate) Yankees-related rumors right here throughout the day. Use this thread to talk about all the Winter Meetings action and keep the other threads on topic. Thanks in advance. All time stamps are ET. (Last year they were in San Diego and the time difference created a big headache.)

  • 11:30am: Andrew Miller remains available and the Yankees continue to seek a huge package in return. The Astros, who previously inquired about Miller, remain in the mix. [Joel Sherman]
  • 11:30am: At least one team has inquired about Nathan Eovaldi. Talks did not progress much, but Eovaldi isn’t off the table. Ivan Nova remains in play as well. [Sherman]
  • 11:30am: The Yankees are monitoring the market for Jose Fernandez, though the Marlins are seeking a massive haul for their ace. “The cost is so overwhelming that I don’t think he is really available,” said one executive. [Sherman]
  • 11:39am: The Yankees are interested in Asdrubal Cabrera to play second base. Cabrera is cool with that, according to his agent. The team insists they don’t have much money to spend. Asdrubal would give the Yankees a backup shortstop, allowing them to jettison Brendan Ryan and keep both Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley on the roster. [Jon Morosi, Brendan Kuty]
  • 12:22pm: Teams are expecting the Yankees to lose outfielder Jake Cave in the Rule 5 Draft later this week. The Mets could be a possible fit. As a left-handed hitter capable of playing center field, Cave is prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. [Adam Rubin]
  • 2:31pm: For what it’s worth, two team executives and one agent insist the Yankees’ unwillingness to spend on free agents is legitimate and not a smokescreen. [Mark Feinsand]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Joe Girardi: Some Questionable Second Half Decisions In An Otherwise Strong Season [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Evaluating a manager is a very difficult. First and foremost, the most important part of the job happens behind closed doors, in the clubhouse, where 25+ personalities are managed. Secondly, front offices are getting more and more involved in day-to-day decision making. Lineup construction, bullpen usage, stuff like that. Sometimes it can be hard to tell who is really calling the shots.

Joe Girardi just completed his eighth season as Yankees manager — can you believe it’s been eight seasons already? — so by now we’ve been able to pick up on some tendencies. He likes having a designated eighth inning reliever and, when possible, a designated seventh inning reliever too. Having the platoon advantage is important. He goes to great lengths to rest his players, particularly the veteran everyday position players.

Since we’re not in the clubhouse, all we can do is evaluate Girardi’s on-field performance, and even that is tough. He doesn’t swing a bat and he doesn’t throw any pitches. In the end, it’s up to the players to execute. All Girardi can do is put them in the best possible position to succeed. This is baseball. Sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. Let’s review the on-field aspect of Girardi’s performance in 2015.

Bullpen Usage

Girardi likes to have designated seventh and eighth inning guys, but has shown he will be flexible when necessary. Dellin Betances appeared in 74 games this season and on 19 occasions he was brought into the game in the seventh inning to put out a fire. Andrew Miller missed a month due to injury and still had four saves of at least four outs, fifth most in baseball.

Here’s a really quick graph plotting Leverage Index against FIP for relievers who threw at least 30 innings in 2015. There were 205 of them. Generally speaking, the best relievers have the lowest FIP, and you want them pitching the most important innings, so they should have a high LI.

2015 Reliever UsageGirardi was very good at using his best relievers — specifically Miller, Betances, and Justin Wilson — in the most important situations this past season. At same time, he used his worst reliever (Esmil Rogers) in the least important innings. That’s how it should work.

Reliever usage is tough to evaluate — we often have no idea who is and who isn’t available on a specific day — but there is evidence Girardi is among the best managers in the game at running a bullpen. Every manager makes questionable decisions from time to time, but Girardi does seem to make less than most. He’s good at using the right guy in the right spot.

Rest, Rest, Rest

The Yankees were the only team in baseball to not use a reliever three days in a row this past season. Two days in a row happened all the time, it has to in this day and age, but not a single Yankees reliever pitched three consecutive days at any point in 2015. Not even down the stretch when the team was fighting for a postseason spot..

“It’s the thought process from the beginning (of the year),” said Girardi to reporters in early September. “I don’t throw guys three days in a row. If they’ve thrown three out of four, I don’t throw them another. That’s thought, I think, really hard about that, how we use our relievers and how you keep them healthy during the course of the year.”

Resting relievers is obviously important, and for years Girardi has done an excellent job making sure he doesn’t overwork guys. The only glaring exception is Betances — he’s thrown 18.2 innings more than any reliever the last two seasons — and it’s possible his late-season control problems were the result of all those high-stress innings. Then again, Dellin has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary either.

I think we can all agree Girardi is very good at giving his relievers the appropriate rest. Whether it leads to improved performance — or simply sustained performance later in the season — is another matter. There’s no real way to know that. Girardi is also pretty good at resting his position players, so much so that it might be overkill at times. Then again, he has a veteran team, and they need more rest.

Here’s a stat that blew my mind (that maybe shouldn’t have): the longest streak of consecutive games started in the field by a Yankee this year was 12 by Chase Headley, spanning July 23rd to August 4th. Twelve! Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury each started eleven straight games in the field at one point, though Beltran’s streak had an off-day mixed in. (Headley’s streak was 12 starts in 12 days.) No other Yankee started more than nine (!) straight games in the field.

Isn’t that wild? The Red Sox were the only other team in baseball who didn’t have a player start at least 15 straight games in the field at some point this season. (Mookie Betts was their leader at 13.) Part of this is platoons, which we’ll talk about a little more soon, but a lot of this is Girardi’s tendency to rest his regulars. If not once a week, then close to it. Did it help? It’s easy to say no considering the second half offensive collapse, but who’s to say the collapse wouldn’t have started in June without the rest?

Platoon Advantages

According to Baseball Reference, the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 73% of their plate appearances this season, easily the most in baseball. The Indians were second at 71% and no other team was over 67%. This is no fluke either. The Yankees were third in MLB last season (70%), 14th in 2013 (55%), fifth in 2012 (64%), and second in 2011 (65%).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Roster construction plays a significant role in this, but ranking top five in plate appearances with the platoon advantage four times in the last five years indicates Girardi is putting his hitters in position to succeed. That’s all he can do. Put guys in spots that optimize their skills. He certainly does that offensively.

On the pitching side, the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 47% of their plate appearances, 12th most in MLB. The league average was 46%, so the Yankees were basically middle of the pack. Last season it was 45% and the year before it was 40%, again right around the league average. I wish there were a way to separate starters from relievers, but there’s not. That would be more instructive.

Anecdotally, Girardi does seem to understand which relievers can face which hitters. Miller and Betances can face anyone, and Wilson and Chasen Shreve were not pigeonholed into left-on-left work. Girardi knew they could get righties out. Maybe Girardi doesn’t deserve much credit here because the Yankees haven’t had a regular reliever with a massive platoon split since Clay Rapada a few years ago. Offensively though, Girardi really maximizes those platoons.

Questionable Decisions in the Second Half

For the most part, the 2015 season was a pretty typical Girardi season from a decision-making standpoint. He did, however, make some curious move down the stretch. Two stand out the most to me. First, Girardi left a struggling Ivan Nova in to face Justin Smoak with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning on August 8th. Nova’s pitch count was over 100 and the game was scoreless.

Adam Warren was warming in the bullpen the entire inning and yet Nova was left in to load the bases and give up the grand slam. Two of the first three base-runners reached on walks, including a four-pitch walk to Edwin Encarnacion immediately prior to the grand slam. It was obvious Nova was fatigued, yet Girardi stuck with him even though Warren was ready. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the end, but geez, that was an obviously bad decision at the time.

Then, on September 23rd, Girardi attempted to use James Pazos, Caleb Cotham, and Andrew Bailey to navigate the middle of Toronto’s lineup in the sixth and seventh innings of a scoreless game. It went from 0-0 to 4-0 Blue Jays in the span of nine batters. Wilson and Betances were left sitting in the bullpen waiting for the eighth and ninth innings, which proved to be meaningless. (Miller was unavailable that day.)

That September 23rd game was more or less New York’s last chance to stay in the AL East race. The Yankees went into that game 2.5 games back of Toronto with 12 games to play. A win would have brought them to within 1.5 games of the division, but instead a bunch of September call-ups relievers gave the game away and created a 3.5-game deficit. Girardi didn’t show a whole lot of urgency there.

Those two moments in particular stand out as glaring mistakes and they contributed to the Yankees losing the division, though every manager makes major blunders throughout the season. Girardi has his moments like everyone else. I think he’s a net positive on the field through his bullpen usage and platoon work, and the same was true in 2015. September wasn’t the best month of his Yankees career, but the season overall was strong.