Spring Training Game Thread: In Search of a Shortstop

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Thanks to Didi Gregoriusshoulder injury, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop that will last for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. They have a small army of okay-ish fill-in shortstops, and now they have to sort through them and figure out who can best handle the job. Opening Day is only eleven days away now. There’s not much time to evaluate.

On the mound this afternoon is Masahiro Tanaka, who is making his fifth Grapefruit League start. He’s looked excellent this spring, allowing only three hits and two walks in 13.1 scoreless innings. Tanaka has struck out 19 and is currently riding a 8.2-inning hitless streak. One more out to complete the hidden Spring Training no-hitter. Here is the Phillies’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the bay to Clearwater:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Chris Carter
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Tyler Wade
  8. LF Rob Refsnyder
  9. RF Billy McKinney
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Caleb Frare, and LHP Joe Mantiply are all expected to pitch after Tanaka. It’s a Johnny Wholestaff kinda day. Gallegos, Marsh, Frare, and Mantiply are all up from minor league camp. (Gallegos and Mantiply were reassigned earlier this month after being in big league camp.)

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Donovan Solano, SS Ruben Tejada, 3B Pete Kozma, LF Zack Zehner, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Rashad Crawford will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Abi Avelino, OF Clint Frazier, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo also made the trip. Zehner, Crawford, Haddad, and Avelino are up from minor league camp for the day.

It’s a very pleasant afternoon in Clearwater, the internet tells me. Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s. Perfect. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. If you’re in the Philadelphia market, you can watch the game on TCN. If not, you can watch on MLB Network and MLB.tv, even in the New York market. Enjoy the game.

It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training.

Bird, 24, missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, so while he was the favorite for the first base job coming into camp, the Yankees had to see how he looked following the lost season. It was fair to wonder whether he’d need time in Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing at the plate. That’s been a non-issue this spring.

Also, the Chris Carter signing gave the Yankees a viable first base alternative, and the team could have sent Bird down for service time reasons. Roughly two months in Triple-A would have “bought back” the year of control the Yankees lost to the injury last season. I totally get why teams manipulate service time, but I believe big league caliber players should be in the big leagues.

Now that the first base question has been answered, the Yankees still have to figure out right field (Aaron Judge vs. Aaron Hicks) as well as two rotation and two bullpen spots. And also shortstop following the Didi Gregorius injury. Those competitions are a bit more wide open at the moment.

Thoughts following the Didi Gregorius injury

(Matt Roberts/Getty)
(Matt Roberts/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt some tough news these last two days, as starting shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a shoulder strain while away at the World Baseball Classic. He’s going to be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks, and it’s possible he’ll miss all of April. Sucks. The Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop. I have some thoughts on the injury and the shortstop situation.

1. All things considered, I’m actually pretty relieved Gregorius will be shut down only two weeks. (He’ll then need some time to get back into game shape, and you know the Yankees will be cautious with him.) I was worried this injury would be something much more serious and keep Gregorius out for months, not weeks. A strain is by definition a tear, though obviously this isn’t something so severe he needs surgery. Worst case scenario was Gregorius having a big enough tear in his rotator cuff that he’d have to go under the knife. Thankfully that’s not the case. A little rest and rehab is expected to knock this out. Huge relief. Huge. Losing Gregorius really sucks because he’s a good player and fun to watch, but at least it isn’t worse. This is the best of a bad situation, I’d say.

2. Without Gregorius, the Yankees are going to be really short on left-handed power to start the season. It’s basically Greg Bird. That’s it. Perhaps Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury will turn back the clock to their double digit home run days, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have some righty bats who can take advantage of the short porch, so maybe the lack of lefty pop won’t matter. It will almost certainly create some lineup imbalance though. The only left-handed hitting replacement shortstop candidate is Tyler Wade. Everyone else is a righty. The Yankees are now looking at the possibility of a lineup with three lefties (Bird, Ellsbury, Gardner), one switch-hitter (Chase Headley), and five righties (Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday, replacement shortstop). I’d feel a little better about that if Ellsbury, Gardner, and Headley were better hitters than they are at this point of their careers. Alas.

3. Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty yesterday Wade is now indeed in the mix for the shortstop job, and while playing him everyday would be fun as hell, I don’t think it’s the right move. The Gregorius injury shouldn’t change a prospect’s development plan, whether it’s Wade or Gleyber Torres or whoever. Wade is not magically more MLB ready today than he was three days ago because Didi got hurt. The Yankees and every other team sign dudes like Ruben Tejada and Pete Kozma each offseason specifically so they won’t have to rush prospects whenever someone gets hurt. The Yankees know Wade better than I ever will and if they deem him ready to be the starting big league shortstop, even for only a month while Gregorius is out, then they’ll go with him. And hopefully it’ll work. From where I sit, jumping him over Triple-A completely seems like maybe not the best idea, even if it would be the most fun idea (aside from Torres).

Torreyes. (Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

4. The Yankees now have ten days or so to figure out the shortstop situation before Opening Day. The easiest solution is sticking Ronald Torreyes at shortstop, relying on Castro as the backup, and carrying Rob Refsnyder on the bench as the backup second baseman. That wouldn’t require any kind of 40-man roster move and I’d argue those are three most prepared, ready to help players. The Yankees could do that for a bit, see how it works, then change plans if necessary. My gut feeling is it will not be one guy who fills in at short while Gregorius is sidelined. They’ll probably cycle through a few players, a la Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa at third base while Alex Rodriguez was injured early in 2009. And Rakin’ Ramiro Pena too. Forgot about him. When the Yankees have gone young the last few years, such as calling up Bird and Luis Severino in 2015, and Sanchez and Judge in 2016, it was done as part of a plan. They weren’t called up in response to someone getting hurt. That’s why I think it’ll be some combination of Torreyes, Tejada, Kozma, and Donovan Solano that handles short. That why you sign those guys in the first place.

5. I have a hard time blaming Didi’s injury on the WBC. Players make thousands and thousands of throws from the start of Spring Training through the end of the season, and this injury could have happened on any one of them. What was so different about this one? The injury happened during an exhibition game. How is the intensity any different than a Grapefruit League game? Joe Girardi said Gregorius hurt himself making a throw from second base on a double play, a throw he’s made countless times before and will make countless times again. Same deal with Mark Teixeira‘s wrist in 2013. What was so different about the swings he took in batting practice with Team USA and the thousands he would have taken with the Yankees? I am in no way convinced Didi’s injury is a result of the WBC. It just so happened Gregorius was away when it happened. Heck, the Yankees are probably a little happy about that since the WBC will pay his salary while he’s on the disabled list (I think). I know it’s cool to hate the WBC and we need to be outraged and assign blame all the time, but sometimes injuries just happen. That’s baseball. An infielder hurting his shoulder making a throw is not something caused by the WBC.

March 21st Camp Notes: Torres, Gregorius, Castro, Betances

The Yankees dropped their Spring Training game to the Red Sox tonight. It was a pretty quiet night for the offense, though Matt Holliday socked a dinger against Chris Sale, and Starlin Castro had two hits as well. One of the two was a double. Dustin “better than Dexter” Fowler forced an error with his speed and stole a base. Not too much else happened for the guys at the plate.

Bryan Mitchell started and got dinked and dunked most of the game. He allowed two runs in 4.1 innings, but did strike out seven and walk none. Mitchell has a 19/3 K/BB in 18.2 total innings this spring. Aroldis Chapman struck out two in his scoreless inning, and Luis Cessa allowed a run in his two innings of work. Probably doesn’t bode well for Cessa that he’s working two innings at a time while guys like Mitchell and Luis Severino are going much longer. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here is the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Update: Following tonight’s game, the Yankees announced they have reassigned Gleyber Torres to minor league camp. Lame. There are 45 players still in big league camp, by my unofficial count.
  • In case you missed it earlier, Didi Gregorius will be shut down for two weeks with a shoulder strain. The Yankees are expecting Gregorius to miss April by time it’s all said and done. They’re going to be cautious with him, of course.
  • Not surprisingly, the Yankees will have Castro play some shortstop in Spring Training. I expected that to happen even with a healthy Didi. No reason not to give him a few games there just to keep him sharp at the position. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Dellin Betances is back in camp. The Dominican Republic was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday night. He struck out five in five scoreless innings during the WBC, and looked to be in midseason form in Saturday’s game. [Brendan Kuty]
  • Hoch has the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for the guys who didn’t play in tonight’s game, if you’re interested. CC Sabathia and Adam Warren threw their usual between starts bullpen sessions. That’s about it.
  • Sad news: Jerry Krause passed away today. He was 77. Krause is known mostly for being general manager of Michael Jordan era Bulls, but he also worked as a baseball scout both before and after his time in basketball. George Steinbrenner hired him in 2004.

The Yankees will be on the road to play the Phillies tomorrow afternoon. That’s a regular ol’ 1pm ET start. The game will be on MLB Network and MLB.tv. Masahiro Tanaka is lined up to start.

Spring Training Game Thread: Rotation Competition Continues

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees will again play a Spring Training game under the lights tonight, and this time the Red Sox will be in town. Get ready to renew the Grapefruit League rivalry, y’all. The Red Sox brought Chris Sale to Tampa too. Spoiler alert: he’s good. The Yankees have been a wrecking crew all spring though. It would be kinda cool if they lit up Boston’s shiny new rotation toy.

Anyway, on to more important matters. Rotation candidates Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa will pitch tonight, and gosh, it sure would be cool if someone stepped up and grabbed one of those spots. Joe Girardi insists there are no favorites in that race right now, and while I buy that in general, I do think Luis Severino is one of their preferred options. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here are the players the Yankees will use:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Chris Carter
  6. LF Aaron Hicks
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. SS Ronald Torreyes
  9. 3B Ruben Tejada
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Pitchers: LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Luis Cessa, LHP Jon Niese, and LHP Tommy Layne are all scheduled to pitch tonight. RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Dillon McNamara, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP Eric Ruth, RHP Mark Montgomery, and RHP Anyelo Gomez are the extra arms. Frieri is in big league camp. The rest of the extra guys are up from minor league camp for the night.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Wilkin Castillo, 2B Pete Kozma, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Thairo Estrada, LF Ji-Man Choi, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Clint Frazier, and DH Donovan Solano will come off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Radley Haddad, OF Billy McKinney, and UTIL Tyler Wade are the extra players. Thairo and Haddad came over from minor league camp.

It is cool and clear in Tampa tonight. Nice night for a ballgame. There is no YES Network broadcast tonight. If you’re in the Red Sox’s home market, you can watch on NESN+. If not, MLB.tv is your only option. There is no MLB Network simulcast. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET. Enjoy the game.

Didi Gregorius will miss Opening Day with shoulder strain

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees received good news and bad news about Didi Gregorius and his injured shoulder today. The good news: Gregorius does not have a serious injury. It’s a shoulder strain and he will be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks. The bad news: Didi will miss Opening Day. Bummer. Bryan Hoch has the news.

Joe Girardi acknowledged Gregorius may miss all of April because they’re going to be cautious with him, obviously. They won’t try to rush him back or anything like that. It’s better to miss a few games now than many games later. Gregorius will be shut down for two weeks, then he’ll have to get back into game shape before playing.

Gregorius hurt himself making a throw while playing second base in a World Baseball Classic tune-up game in Arizona over the weekend, Girardi told Michael Silverman. The Netherlands clinched a spot in the semifinals last week, and they had a long layoff before last night’s game because they had to travel from Tokyo, so they played an exhibition game to stay sharp.

The Yankees have a not terrible collection of replacement shortstop options. My guess is they’ll ride out Didi’s injury with Ronald Torreyes and either Ruben Tejada or Donovan Solano. I suppose they could continue the youth movement and go with Tyler Wade though. We’ll see. Either way, Gregorius will be out a while, but at least it’s not something more serious.

Chapman Returns [2017 Season Preview]

(Reinhold Matay | USA TODAY Sports)
(Reinhold Matay | USA TODAY Sports)

On the off-chance that you missed it, the Yankees gave Aroldis Chapman the largest contract ever handed out to a reliever back in December, re-solidifying the back of the bullpen that they had gutted (for the best of reasons) a handful of months prior. There’s something poetic about the fact that the team dealt its closer for a player that would become its best prospect, only to have those two on the same roster less than a year later. It makes a great trade look even better, regardless of the fact that re-signing Chapman shouldn’t influence one’s thoughts on the deal. But I digress.

An argument can be made that Chapman is the best reliever in baseball, which may well be stating the obvious. He finished 4th in the Majors in fWAR and 9th in RA9-WAR despite not throwing a pitch until May 9 (due to his suspension for domestic violence), ranking among the top-five in K%, K-BB%, ERA-, and FIP-. And this is nothing new for Chapman, either, as the southpaw leads all relievers in fWAR and RA9-WAR over the last five years. It’s telling that his 13.97 K/9 and 40.5 K% are his lowest marks since he took over for Francisco Cordero as the Reds closer following the 2011 season.

How does he do it?

Consistency Is Key

Chapman has not had anything short of a brilliant season since becoming a closer, with the only real variations being degrees of excellence. In the last five seasons he hasn’t struck out fewer than 40.5% of batters, nor has he allowed an ERA higher than 2.54 – and his averages in that stretch are 44.2% and 1.84, respectively. And this past season, when he posted that measly 40.5% strikeout rate, he offset it by posting a career-low walk rate of 8.1% (the first above-average mark of his career). I’ll take that trade-off.

It isn’t just consistency with his statistics, either. Take a look at his velocity:

chapman-velo

All of his offerings have remained steady since 2010 – his first full-season in the Majors, and they actually ticked up a bit last season. In fact, he showcased the second-best fastball velocity of his career in 2016 per Brooks Baseball, clocking in at 101.08 MPH. His slider and change-up velocity have been similarly metronomic, which is a great sign.

The movement on his pitches is consistent, as well, even if there are a few sections that stand out a bit more:

 

chapman-horizontal-movement chapman-vertical-movement

It is worth noting that he barely utilizes his change-up (less than 3% of his pitches were change-ups last year, per Brooks Baseball), so it makes some sense that it would be something of an outlier. He has tinkered with different grips, too.

Protecting His Elbow

Pitchers that throw hard and pitchers that throw a high percentage of sliders seem to be more prone to elbow injuries, if only anecdotally, and Chapman does both. Or, perhaps more accurately, he used to throw a high percentage of sliders.

chapman-pitch-selection

In 2014, nearly a quarter of Chapman’s pitches were sliders – and that appears to be the outlier in his time as a closer. Around 15% of his offerings were sliders last year, which placed him 72nd among the 130 relievers that threw at least 50 IP. And, to be fair, his slider usage ranked him 50th among 138 in 2014, so our perception of him as a slider-happy pitcher may be a bit of cognitive dissonance due to the wipe-out nature of the pitch.

That premium velocity has almost undoubtedly taken its toll, but focusing on fastballs could play a roll in Chapman remaining healthy. Whether that is a conscious decision or a matter of him sticking with what works is another question entirely.

What About The Playoffs?

Chapman came perilously close to adding his name to the list of curses that had plagued the Cubs franchise for over a century when he blew the save in Game 7 of the World Series, allowing a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was his third blown save of a postseason in which he posted an uncharacteristically high 3.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (and, no, the fact that those numbers would be good for most relievers isn’t lost on me).

The Cubs won the World Series, so all was forgiven. Does that mean that we should forget about Chapman’s intermittent struggles? Yes. Yes it does.

Between the regular season and playoffs, Chapman nearly matched his career-high in IP, doing so despite his shortened season. He pitched 13 times in 27 days in the playoffs, including three times in four days leading into Game 7. Despite this, his velocity was as steady as ever:

chapman-playoff-velo

The Cubs utilized Chapman exactly how they should have, and he may have been worn down somewhat in the process. That may give the Yankees a reason to be gentle with him early in the season, but it does not give much of a reason to be concerned about his abilities going forward.


The projection systems largely forecast the status quo for Chapman, albeit with what would be his highest ERA since 2013 (2.33 for Steamer, 2.34 for ZiPS, and 2.45 for PECOTA). That represents the safe route, factoring in a full season in a hitter’s park in a division full of potent offenses. Nevertheless, I expect Chapman to continue to be an elite closer in 2017.