Thoughts following the ten-game homestand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost five of the final seven games on their just completed ten-game homestand, and tomorrow they’ll open a three-game series against the lowly Braves. Atlanta is the worst offensive team in baseball (3.65 runs per game) and the Yankees haven’t hit for close to a month now, so maybe this will be the first three-game series in history in which the two teams combined for three runs total. (I assume that’s never happened before.) Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. Explaining a team-wide offensive slump like the one the Yankees are in right now is damn near impossible. There are a million different factors in play and every player is an individual with their own unique problems, but I can tell you what looks like has happened: this looks like an older team hitting a wall in the second half. Carlos Beltran is the only real exception. Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Chase Headley … pretty much everyone looks out of gas. Who knows if fatigue is the problem. I’m sure it’s at least part of the problem. Right now the Yankees are giving off the appearance of a team running on fumes. Add in some injuries (Mark Teixeira‘s shin, McCann’s knee, now Jacoby Ellsbury‘s hip) and some typically below average hitters (Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius), and you have a recipe for a stumbling offense. The Yankees look old right now, but, then again, so does every team when they’re struggling.

2. Thanks to that bone bruise in his right shin, Teixeira has played a total of six innings over the last ten days. He played the first few innings of the blowout loss Tuesday night, and was standing on deck when Beltran hit the walk-off sac fly Monday, but that’s it. Teixeira and the Yankees say he’s getting better, and I’m sure he is, but this was him running out a ground ball Tuesday night:

Mark Teixeira

Yeah, he’s not moving so well. Teixeira’s not speedy anyway, but geez, that is extra slow. So he’s barely played over the last ten days and the Yankees have been playing shorthanded the entire time because they didn’t want to place him on the DL. This isn’t the first time the Yankees (or any team, for that matter) have done this — we’ve seen more than a few day-to-day injuries turn into nine or ten days on the shelf — but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. The Yankees have played four one-run games since Teixeira has been banged up and have been short a pinch-hitter option for the late-innings because he’s not on the DL. Maybe it would have made no difference, pinch-hitting is hard after all, but man, playing with a 24-man roster for more than a week in the middle of an ultra-tight division race sure isn’t ideal. (The Yankees can’t even backdate the DL stint because he played Tuesday. Blah.)

3. Thanks to Luis Severino and various relievers, the Yankees went into yesterday’s game with an average pitcher age of 27.7 years this season, their lowest since 1971 (27.3 years). That average age is weighted by playing time, by the way. So the 24-year-old who throws one inning doesn’t count as much as the 35-year-old who throws 120 innings. The Yankees have the seventh youngest pitching staff in baseball this year — the Rays are the youngest (26.8 years) and the Giants are by far the oldest (31.7 years, next highest is the Royals at 30.3 years) — after being the fifth oldest last year (29.3 years) and the oldest the year before (31.8 years). The position players are still a little long in the tooth — oldest in MLB at 31.5 years, which ties back into the whole “looking old” thing in Point 1 — but the pitching staff is much younger, with guys like Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda all no older than 26. That’s exciting. Who knows if they’ll stay healthy or remain effective long-term, but man, it’s nice to see some youth on the staff. They’ve gotten significantly younger on the mound in a very short period of time.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. We’ve reached the time of year when I can’t help myself but to start thinking ahead to the offseason. It’s only natural, even with more than a month left in the regular season. The Yankees have zero expensive players coming off the books this year — Chris Capuano and Drew at $5M a pop, that’s about it — and they’re locked into every one of their position players aside from Drew. Yeah, they could move Gregorius and get a new shortstop, but that seems both unlikely and unnecessary. Their only tradeable position players are Gregorius, Gardner, and Headley — the rest are owed big bucks and probably have more value to the Yankees on the field than anything they could get in a trade — and the only one of those three the team could even attempt to replace from within is Gardner. Aaron Judge and Slade Heathcott are awesome, but it’s hard to see how the Yankees could go from Gardner to Judge or Slade (or both in a platoon?) and not take a huge production hit. Point is, barring a surprise, the offense is what it is. There’s no flexibility to improve without a shocker of a trade. The Yankees have to find a new second baseman and that’s about it this winter. The rest of the position player crop is set.

5. Okay, so that said, here’s a remote scenario I could see playing out: Gardner gets traded (for a pitcher? a second baseman?) and the Yankees sign Jason Heyward. I don’t think Hal Steinbrenner & Co. will offer huge bucks to a free agent approaching or over 30 — yes, that includes the oh so perfect David Price — but I do think they’d bid big on a guy like Heyward, who is still so young. Heyward just turned 26 earlier this month and after a slow start to the season, he went into last night’s game hitting .289/.348/.439 (117 wRC+) with eleven homers and 20 steals. That’s pretty good. He’s also an elite right field defender and nowadays the Yankees are prioritizing defense. I’d say the chances of the trade Gardner/sign Heyward scenario playing out are very small, but the Yankees did try to trade for Heyward this past offseason, and I think he’s the one free agent they’d be willing to pay huge dollars because he’s so young. Young, a lefty hitter, works the count, plays great defense … Heyward’s everything the Yankees want in a player these days.

DotF: Amburgey homers again in Staten Island’s loss

LHP Josh Rogers was named the 25th best prospect in the Cape Cod League today by Baseball America (subs. req’d). “His three-pitch mix and strike-throwing ability give him a chance to become a back-of-the-rotation starter,” said the write-up. The Yankees selected Rogers in the 11th round of this year’s draft and gave him an above slot $485,000 bonus.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Pawtucket in ten innings, walk-off style)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-5, 2 K — why isn’t he playing second base in the Bronx? probably because he’s hitting .269/.357/.396 in 507 plate appearances with the RailRiders
  • 3B-1B Jose Pirela: 3-4, 1 BB
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-3, 1 K — left the game after grounding into a double play in the fifth … it would be pretty crummy if he got hurt just a few days before rosters were set to expand
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K
  • 1B-C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 R — not to get too far ahead of myself, but is Sanchez is hurt, Romine’s the obvious third catcher call-up in September
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 59 of 109 pitches were strikes (54%) … up from Double-A to make the spot start
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 25 of 42 pitches were strikes (60%) … 63/22 K/BB in 59 innings for the guy they got in the Shawn Kelley trade … Barbato figures to ride the bullpen shuttle next year
  • RHP Andrew Bailey: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 17 of 24 pitches were strikes (71%) … guessing he throws a tune-up inning Saturday or Sunday, then is with the big league team when rosters expand Tuesday
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 16 pitches were strikes (75%)

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network will air a few regional games. Also, ESPN will show the Cubs and Giants late tonight, if you’re interested. The Cubbies have won 21 of their last 25 games, you know. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else on your mind here. Except politics, religion, gun control, and pretty much anything else along those lines. Those are a no-go here. Talk about ’em elsewhere. Thanks.

Offense breaks out for two runs, Yanks lose 6-2 to Astros in Pineda’s return anyway

Thank goodness for the Twins, huh? After starting this ten-game homestand with a sweep of Minnesota, the Yankees had to settle for a split. Five wins, five losses. They dropped three of four to the Indians over the weekend and two of three to the Astros this week. Houston won Wednesday afternoon’s series finale by the score of 6-2.

Michael Pineda
(Elsa/Getty)

The Return of Big Mike
Michael Pineda‘s first start back from his forearm injury didn’t go too well. Not a total disaster but not good either. He allowed five runs in 4.1 innings — Pineda threw 71 pitches and was limited to 80-85 pitches in his first start off the DL — and the first run was kinda silly. Evan Gattis tomahawked a high fastball other way for a short porch solo home run. Look at the pitch location:

Evan Gattis home run

As master of this here blog, I hereby absolve Pineda of any and all blame for that dinger. Gattis went up and got it, and, to be fair, he has a knack for doing that. Here are the pitch locations for his 63 career home runs coming into Wednesday. Gattis likes very high pitches, got one, and smacked it out. So it goes. A solo homer isn’t the end of the world. The second run scored on two singles and a squeeze bunt single. The out wasn’t recorded at first because a) the play developed slowly, and b) Stephen Drew didn’t make it over in time to cover. Sums up the state of the team well.

The fifth inning didn’t end after the bunt. Pineda walked No. 9 hitter Jason Castro to load the bases with no outs, and Jose Altuve ended Pineda’s afternoon with a sacrifice fly to center. (Chasen Shreve came in and allowed both inherited runners to score.) Pineda yielded those five runs on six hits (five singles) and one walk. He struck out three and got seven swings and misses. Pineda’s stuff looked fine — his fastball averaged 92.9 mph — but it did seem to hit a wall in that fifth inning. He was missing his spots consistently by the end of the outing.

One thing that stood out: Pineda threw a lot of changeups. He said he wanted to emphasize the pitch more while on his rehab assignment and he did just that, throwing 14 changeups out of 71 total pitches, or 19.7%. This was only the third time in his career he threw at least 18% changeups. Pineda did it Wednesday, once in April, and once last year. It’s good Pineda’s working his changeup, but winning games is more important right now, and the Yankees haven’t done much of that lately.

Two Token Runs
The Yankees scored just two runs on the afternoon — they doubled their runs total for the series! — and both came on one swing of the bat. Didi Gregorius hammered a hanging Collin McHugh breaking ball into the second deck in right field for a two-run homer in the seventh. I didn’t know Didi had that in him. Greg Bird drew a walk prior to the homer.

Unfortunately, the homer came when the Yankees were already down five runs, so all it did was close the gap for a struggling offense. Aside from the two-run rally, the offense had four singles and three walks. Carlos Beltran had a single and two walks. He’s pretty much the only guy in the lineup who is doing more than nothing these days. It’s kinda the opposite of April, when you think about it.

All told, the Yankees scored four runs in the three-game series and had 15 hits total. In three games! Thirteen of ’em were singles, the other two a double and Didi’s homer. Probably safe to say this is more than a slump now. The Yankees have scored 64 runs in their last 21 games (3.05 per game), so this isn’t a one or two-series thing. Three weeks for an individual player is a slump, but three weeks for an entire offense? There has to be concern right now. How much is up to you.

Cy McHugh. (Al Bello/Getty)
Cy McHugh. (Al Bello/Getty)

Leftovers
The last best chance to get back into the game came in the eighth, when Beltran and Chase Headley drew walks. Bird, who is 3-for-23 (.130) with nine strikeouts since his two-homer game, flew out to the right-center field warning track. He just missed it. Hopefully Mark Teixeira comes back soon. The Yankees really miss him both at the plate and in the field.

Shreve allowed the two runners he inherited from Pineda to score on a hit, a walk, and a wild pitch. Branden Pinder walked the first man he faced then retired the next six to chuck two scoreless frames. Adam Warren allowed a solo homer to Gattis in the eighth inning and the just called up Nick Goody tossed a scoreless ninth.

The Yankees had five hits — single and homer by Gregorius and singles by Beltran, Headley, and Chris Young — and have been held to six hits or fewer in each of their last four games. It’s the first time they’ve had no more than six hits in four straight games since last September.

And finally, the Astros had been 1-11-3 in their last 15 road series coming in this series. The Yankees are now 7-9 with a -12 run differential at home in August, which is no bueno. They should be dominating at this ballpark. Alas.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for Wednesday’s game, and here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the 2015 season. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, which are updated daily. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The ten-game homestand is over and the Yankees have an off-day Thursday, their first in more than two weeks. They’ll head to Atlanta for a three-game weekend interleague series with the Braves after that. I’m guessing Brian McCann will get quite the ovation from the hometown fans. Masahiro Tanaka and Williams Perez will be the pitching matchup in Friday night’s series opener.

Link: Brian Cashman profile in Sports Illustrated

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Last weekend, I passed along a quick story about Brian Cashman telling Derek Jeter he would rather have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop during the Yankees’ contract negotiations with their captain following the 2010 season. The story came from a recent Sports Illustrated profile of Cashman by S.L Price, which recently made its way online.

The profile covers a little of everything — Cashman’s upbringing, his life through college, getting started with the Yankees as an intern during the mid-1980s, and eventually working his way up to GM. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

In 1989, Cashman graduated Catholic with a history degree and was mulling law school or a job with UPS when the Yankees dangled a position as baseball operations assistant. The way Bowden, just two months into his job as an assistant senior VP, recalls it, Steinbrenner walked the kid into the baseball ops office and into a crowd including Gene (Stick) Michael, Lou Piniella, Bob Quinn, Dallas Green and Syd Thrift. “I want to introduce you to Brian Cashman,” Steinbrenner said. “His dad is a good friend … and someday you’ll all be fired and he’ll be the general manager of the Yankees.” Everybody in the room laughed.

Anyway, it goes without saying the profile comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation. That’s why we’re linking to it. There’s some really fun and really interesting stories in there. Make sure you check it out.

Game 126: Big Mike Returns

BIG MIKE IS HERE

This homestand has not been too great for the Yankees. Not terrible, but not great either. They’re 5-4 in the first nine games, which is fine, except the homestand started with a three-game sweep over the Twins. The Yankees then lost three of four to the last place Indians and have split the first two with the Astros. A win today and it’s a good 6-4 homestand. (Again, not great, but good.) A loss and it’s a yucky 5-5 homestand.

The Yankees have played better at home (37-25, +39 run differential) than on the road (32-31, +15) this year, but not this month. They’re 7-8 with a -8 run different at Yankee Stadium in August, so after all that talk about the Yankees having a favorable schedule because they have all these home games in the second half, they haven’t capitalized. Lame. Win today, clinch a winning homestand, then go from there. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup, featuring the return of Big Mike:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. LF Chris Young
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Michael Pineda

Nice afternoon for a ballgame in the Bronx. It’s sunny — really, really sunny — with temperatures in the low-80s. Pretty much perfect baseball weather. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: Pineda was activated off the DL, obviously. Also, Nick Goody was called up from Triple-A Scranton to give the team a fresh arm. Chris Capuano was designated for assignment and Nick Rumbelow was send down to clear roster spots. Rumbelow can’t be recalled for ten days (unless there’s an injury), so he won’t be among the first wave up call-ups when rosters expand on September 1st.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a sore hip and isn’t available today. He might not be available Friday either. Ellsbury had some swelling last night but has not yet gone for tests … Dustin Ackley (back) will officially begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow … Brendan Ryan is available today after running around in the outfield and pitching two innings last night … Pineda, by the way, will be limited to 80-85 pitches or so.

Thoughts following CC Sabathia’s injury

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Two days ago the Yankees placed CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL with right knee inflammation after he left Sunday’s start in the third inning. He does not need surgery, so that’s good, and Sabathia is hopeful he can return once the 15 days are up. We’ll see. I have some thoughts about the injury and stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Sabathia has been very bad this year — 5.27 ERA (74 ERA+) and 4.82 FIP in 138.1 innings — and it’s easy to think the Yankees are better off without him, but remember, they only have four healthy starters right now. Michael Pineda and Bryan Mitchell are both on the DL, and while Pineda is set to return today, Andrew Miller‘s injury earlier this year is a reminder Pineda might not be 100% effective when he first returns. Hopefully he is. Adam Warren could move back into the rotation if need be but he’s not stretched out. He’s thrown more than 35 pitches just twice in the last two months. Removing an ineffective starter from the rotation is a good thing! Assuming you have the depth to replace him. Do the Yankees? Only if Pineda and Mitchell come back from their injuries with no issues, which are big ifs. The rotation was stretched thin even before Sabathia got hurt. Injuries are rarely — very rarely — a good thing.

2. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman indicated the Yankees will shelve their plan to use a six-man rotation in September following Sabathia’s injury, but I’m sure they’ll still insert a spot sixth starter whenever possible. It’ll be much easier to pull off once rosters expand a week from today. They could plug Mitchell — assuming he’s healthy! — or Warren into the rotation once in a while and have all the call-ups serve as innings-eating arms. The Yankees have used a spot sixth starter whenever possible this season, even when it meant playing with a short bench or a short bullpen, so there’s no reason to think they won’t do it after the Sabathia injury. It just means Mitchell or Warren will make those starts and someone else will be the long man in the bullpen. So the Yankees sacrifice a good bullpen piece to plug their rotation hole. Maybe that’s a sacrifice they can afford to make in September.

3. It’s impossible to know what the injury means for Sabathia and the Yankees long-term. Clearly the knee will have to be managed going forward, but we knew that already. I’m not sure the injury changes anything in that regard. Sabathia said he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen, and that’s great, so maybe that’s where his future lies. Perhaps this latest scare convinced him the knee simply won’t hold up for 100 or so pitches every fifth day. The injury definitely won’t push Sabathia into retirement, I’m pretty confident about that. For starters, he’s not leaving on all that money on the table. It wouldn’t be honorable, it would be stupid. Secondly, Sabathia’s not just going to quit and go out like that. This guy has pitched through everything and is a top of the line competitor. Like tippy top of the line. They’re going to have to drag him off the mound. The Yankees reportedly have insurance on Sabathia’s contract but the exact details are unknown. The policy might only cover his arm for all we know. Insurance usually doesn’t kick in until after a certain number of days missed — the Mets didn’t collect any insurance on David Wright until he missed 60 days, for example — and it might not kick in at all this year since the season is almost over. One thing at a time though. Sabathia’s injury means the Yankees are short a pitcher right now. We’ll have an entire offseason to wonder what it means for the 2016 Yankees. (And 2017 Yankees!)

4. Sabathia’s velocity had ticked up in his recent starts …

CC Sabathia velocity… and he admitted Sunday the added velocity was the result of a “screw it” mentality. Sabathia told Ken Davidoff he had been pitching through knee discomfort and a recent cortisone shot provided minimal relief, so he decided to simply air it out because holding back and trying to protect the knee wasn’t working. The options were a) pitch poorly while trying to protect the knee, or b) put the knee at risk and maybe pitch more effectively. Sabathia did (a) for much of the season, changed over to (b), and it lasted only a few starts. What an awful situation. Either pitch poorly with reduced stuff or increase the injury risk with no guarantee of performing better.

5. Gosh, how much pain must Sabathia have been in to come out of the game like that Sunday? This guy pitches through everything. Sabathia pitched through the bone spur in his elbow back in 2012 even though he couldn’t fully extend his elbow and had limited range of motion. He suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in a September 2013 game and finished the start. Sabathia came right out of Sunday’s game and didn’t try to throw a test pitch or even lobby to stay. He must have been in some serious pain. Criticize his pitching all you want. Sabathia’s always been a team first guy who never didn’t take the ball. To bow out of a game without a fight like that tells you he’d reached the breaking point with his knee. It was too much.

6. The Yankees signed Sabathia to his five-year, $122M extension during the 2011-12 offseason, and he’s now ended each season of the contract injured. In 2012 he had the bone spur in his elbow. In 2013 it was the hamstring. Last year it was his knee surgery, and this year it’s the knee again. (Well, I guess he might not finish this season hurt, but you know what I mean. He’s had physical problems each year.) Sabathia was very much on the Hall of Fame track before these injuries started to set in, and, after all the concern about all those innings on his arm, it’s his legs that are giving out. The bone spur in his elbow has been his only arm injury. Remember when everyone was worried about A.J. Burnett‘s durability when the Yankees signed him? He was healthy during his entire contract and then some. Pitchers, man. They all seem to get hurt, but predicting how and when and why is an exercise in futility.