Teixeira’s Last Chance for Redemption [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By the end of 2012, it was hard not to be sick of Mark Teixeira. Everything seemed rosy in 2009, the first season of his eight-year deal, but the good vibes didn’t last long. He still added pop to the lineup, but he lost a little something each season after that glorious Yankees debut.

At the end of 2012 everything fell apart. He’d produced the worst overall season since his rookie campaign, and had ended the year with a series of injuries. Then came the wrist injury that cost him 2013 — and, for all practical purposes, 2014.

The end result: a 106 OPS+ in just 1095 PA and 261 game in the last three years, compared to a 129 OPS+ in 2103 PA and 470 games in the first three years of his contract. At age 35, how can we expect anything changes in 2015?

There is perhaps one glimmer of hope. In 2014, while he was fresh, Teixeira produced a .930 OPS through his first 123 PA. There might be something left in his bat, although you wouldn’t know it by the rest of his season: a .642 OPS in 385 PA, including a .199 BA and .291 OBP.

The good news is that Teixeira focused on strength this off-season, knowing he had to provide some pop in the lineup. Which is ideal, because that’s exactly what the team needs.

Yankees Need: Power

Anyone who watched the 2014 Yankees for any decent stretch knows that they needed more power. True, they hit an above-average number of home runs, but they sorely lacked in the doubles department. The result was a .135 team ISO, 10th in the AL (though pretty close to average).

That might work for a team with decent on-base skills, but the Yankees ranked second-worst in the AL in OBP. It’s not as though the Yankees added a ton of offensive players who can get on base, so if they’re going to score more runs it’ll need to be through gappers and long balls.

Teixeira Can Provide: Power?

In theory a healthy Teixeira should be able to hit some baseballs over the fence. Even in 2012 he produced a .224 ISO, which was in line with his 2010 power. It’s tough to judge 2014, and impossible to judge 2013, because of his wrist injury. Add that to an admitted lack of strength training, and it might seem as though Teixeira can provide some pop this year.

Remember, Jose Bautista suffered a similar injury in 2012, which was a down year relative to Jose Bautista, as was his 2013. In 2014 he came roaring back to hit 35 homers and generally achieve Bautista levels of awesome. David Ortiz also suffered a similar injury in 2008 and it took him a few years to get back on track.

Both Bautista and Ortiz were close in age to Teixeira when they suffered the injuries, and they came back after some relative down time. So it is conceivable that Teixeira could start producing the power the Yankees need.

It’s just not something you go bet your life savings on.

Yankees Need: Infield Defense

One thing the Yankees did this off-season was dramatically improve the infield defense. It’s hard to imagine a worse infield D than Yangervis Solarte, Derek Jeter, and Brian Roberts, though the Yankees did put out some other putrid combinations throughout the year. That shouldn’t be the case in 2014.

While first base isn’t the most important of defensive positions, we’ve seen what a difference a quality first baseman can make. It was evident in 2009, when the Yanks went from Jason Giambi to Teixeira, from statue to vacuum cleaner. Teixeira might not be the most agile guy, but he makes all the plays he’s supposed to and then some.

In order to make the most of their defensive upgrades around the infield, the Yanks will need a solid first base anchor.

Teixeira Can Provide: Infield Defense

Again, he might not be the guy from 2009 who leaps to pick a surefire base hit out of the air. He might not be laying out to save every double down the first base line. But even in his seemingly hobbled state, Teixeira fielded a clean first base last year.

I’m not comfortable citing basically any defensive metric for first base, because a good first baseman has more than range. But the eye test says that he still has some chops around the first base bag. He doesn’t need to be spectacular. He just needs to field what’s hit his way and save a few infield errors.

Yankees Need: Base Runners

As mentioned earlier, the Yankees had the second-lowest OBP in the AL. Having few runners on base makes it difficult to score runs. If the 2015 Yankees are going to score more runs than the 2014 Yankees, they’ll need more runners on the base paths.

I don’t think this needs much more elaboration. Second-lowest OBP in the AL is pretty damning.

Teixeira Can Provide: No, Probably Not

It’s not that Teixeira doesn’t take walks any more. He doesn’t walk as much as he did from 2006 through 2008, but hey, he didn’t do that when he finished second in the MVP voting in 2009. Yet he still finished with a .383 OBP.

The difference, of course, is his ability to hit singles. He hasn’t done that since 2009, and it doesn’t appear that the skill will return to him. Which is fine, I guess, if he hits for power.

The problem is that Teixeira is almost certainly going to hit in the middle of the order. He needs to get on base when he’s not knocking balls over the fence, so that Chase Headley and guys hitting behind him have a chance. It’s hard to envision that happening for Teixeira, whose highest OBP in the last three seasons is .332.

Yankees Need: Health

The team isn’t that deep. Teixeira’s most promising replacement almost certainly won’t be ready until at least 2016. If they’re going to make a playoff run, they simply cannot afford the injury issues that buried the 2013 and 2014 teams.

Teixeira Can…Sorry

Counting on Teixeira to stay healthy is like counting on Joe Mauer to stay healthy. If you want a good laugh, ask a Twins fan about that.

Thoughts prior to the start of Grapefruit League play

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I know it’s only Spring Training, but the Yankees are playing a real live baseball game today, and dammit that makes me happy. It’s been a long offseason, what can I say. So, before the Yankees embark on a month’s worth of meaningless yet still fun baseball, I have some thoughts to share.

1. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine are making the trip to Clearwater today and I don’t think that’s insignificant. Those two are competing for the backup catcher’s job — a competition that starts today — even if all signs point to Murphy being the favorite. Romine reportedly came to camp in excellent shape and is hellbent on making the decision tough for the team. This is one of those situations where Spring Training stats will matter. If Romine comes out and knocks the crap out of the ball for a few weeks, the Yankees will be hesitant to trade him or try to pass him through waivers at the end of camp. I don’t think it will happen, but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the team decides to send Murphy to Triple-A Scranton come Opening Day and give Romine what amounts to a few extra weeks to audition himself as Brian McCann‘s backup in the regular season.

2. Prospects I am most excited to see in camp: Jacob Lindgren, Aaron Judge, and Rob Refsnyder. I mean, yeah, I want to see all the prospects, and those three are among the most obvious “must see” prospects in camp, but I have my reasons. Lindgren because I want to see just how MLB ready his slider looks. Judge because he’s a monster — “We have a defensive end in camp,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty about the club’s top prospect — and it’s not often you get to see someone that big and that athletic on baseball field. And Refsnyder because I want to see just how bad his defense really is at second base. That stuff can be easy to overstate. Everyone gets graded on a curve in Spring Training, especially early in Spring Training, but get enough looks at a guy in camp and you can learn something. With so many games set to be broadcast this month, we should get a chance to see all of the team’s top prospects multiple times.

3. Spring Training is a time for optimism, but inevitably someone is going to get hurt to knock us all down a peg. This year that player is catching prospect Luis Torrens, who is facing a potentially serious shoulder injury. (We should know more soon but early reports indicate he may need season-ending surgery.) Torrens is one of my favorite prospects in the system and I thought he had a chance this year to really zoom up some prospect rankings and possibly into next year’s top 100 lists. He’s a very good defender despite a general lack of experience behind the plate, and basically all he needs to do offensively is get stronger. The approach and hitting smarts are already there. Hopefully whatever the injury is, Torrens can rebound and continue his development. He’s still really young (18), after all. But make no mistake, nothing good comes from this injury.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

4. Consider this my annual “please oh please let Jose Ramirez stay healthy this year” blurb. Please let him stay healthy. Please. He missed most of last year with a lat strain but is supposedly healthy now, and yesterday he impressed Mariano Rivera with his live batting practice session. “I like him, he looks stronger. He can be a guy that can help the team. He has tremendous stuff, electric stuff. He has it all. He is a good kid and put on weight in the lower half and his legs are a lot stronger,” said Rivera to George King. Ramirez won’t do what Dellin Betances did last year — you can’t put those kind of expectations on anyone — but I do think he has impact reliever potential if he ever stays healthy. He topped out at 98.3 mph during his brief MLB cameo last year according to PitchFX, and when opponents swung at his changeup or slider, they missed more than 30% of the time. I want to see more of that guy going forward. The tools for dominance are there.

5. Last, but certainly not least, I just want to say I’m so happy baseball is back. I’m one of those weird people who enjoys Spring Training games — meaningless exhibition games are fun in their own way — so I’m very much looking forward to Grapefruit League play beginning today. This was a long offseason because the Yankees missed the postseason — it felt longer than last offseason for whatever reason — and I’m glad it’s all behind us now. No more rumors, thankfully. That stuff ran its course and I’m ready to move on. Eight months of baseball — some of it waaay more stressful than the rest — begins today and I don’t think I could have waited another day. Hooray for the end of the offseason.

Open Thread: March 2nd Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yankees baseball returns to tomorrow. Granted, it is only Grapefruit League play, but baseball is baseball. Tomorrow’s game will be available on MLB.tv but not YES, if you’re wondering. (Here’s the full Spring Training broadcast schedule.) Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

Here is your open thread for the evening. The new look (hockey) Rangers are playing, and so are the Nets. There’s also some college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, Spring Training, tomorrow’s upcoming exhibition opener, or anything else right here.

The pressure’s on Didi Gregorius, but not because he’s replacing Derek Jeter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The first few days of Spring Training have been predictably dominated by Alex Rodriguez. The focus on A-Rod has gone well beyond overboard. But, if there’s anything good to come out of the A-Rod attention, it’s that other players in camp have been able to get their work in and fly under the radar. That includes the team’s first new starting shortstop in two decades.

“People didn’t pay a lot of attention to (Didi Gregorius) the first few days of camp,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “It could change as time goes on, but I’m sure it helped him to get comfortable a little bit earlier and get to know his teammates without having to answer a lot of questions.”

Gregorius is replacing Derek Jeter as the team’s starting shortstop but he’s not really replacing Jeter. It’s not like the Yankees picked between the two. Jeter retired and the Yankees needed to find a new shortstop no matter what. They could have taken the easy way out and signed a proven veteran like Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera, but instead they went young and traded for Gregorius. That’s all.

The “Didi replacing Derek” storyline is unavoidable the same way the same storyline was unavoidable when Tino Martinez replaced Don Mattingly, but so far Gregorius has said all the right things whenever the media has been able to tear themselves away from A-Rod. “I am going to play the game, that’s all. What Jeter did nobody else can do. If they compare me to Jeter, there is nothing I can do. It’s my choice if I want to get it in my head,” said Gregorius to Ken Davidoff.

Any pressure Gregorius feels this year should not come from being the guy who plays shortstop for the Yankees after Jeter. It should come from Gregorius himself because this season is a tremendous opportunity for him. He just turned 25 and he’s the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees (!) with no one coming from the farm system to breathe down his neck anytime soon. The job is his for the taking. He should be putting pressure on himself to capitalize.

Gregorius had a similar opportunity with the Diamondbacks two years ago — the opportunity to cement himself as an MLB regular — and he responded by hitting .252/.332/.373 (92 wRC+) in 404 plate appearances. That isn’t great by any stretch and I remain skeptical of Didi’s bat going forward, but I get the feeling the Yankees would be pretty happy with that kind of production from Gregorius this year. At least as long as he catches the ball and shows improvement against lefties at the same time. Besides, that would be a big upgrade over what Jeter gave them last season.

Being the shortstop that follows Jeter will not be easy. The microscope will be on Gregorius all year the same way it was on David Robertson when he replaced Mariano Rivera last year. There’s nothing Didi can do about that. That’s baseball. All he can go is play his game, the game the Yankees acquired, and work to develop into the best player he can be. Given the opportunity in front of him, Gregorius has a chance to cement his spot in the team’s long-term future, and that should be his goal. Not to make people forget the Cap’n.

“(Replacing Jeter) doesn’t bother me at all,” said Gregorius to Jennings. “I came here a little bit early so I could get to know everybody. I’m not worried about the attention. Of course I’m going to get interviewed no matter what I do, so it’s fine. When you guys come here, like right now, I’m going to answer you guys. Whenever you guys go talk to Alex, I’ll be waiting.”

2015 Season Preview: The Power, Defense, and Leadership of Brian McCann

Opening Day is five weeks from today. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2015 Yankees by looking at what the team needs from individual players and what they can realistically expect.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The first year of Brian McCann‘s five-year contract did not go according to plan last season. The just turned 31-year-old backstop did lead the Yankees with 23 home runs and play solid to excellent defense, but he hit just .232/.286/.406 (92 wRC+) overall and had too many no impact games. Everyone kept waiting for McCann’s bat to come around but it never happened.

Year two will be different, we hope. McCann was coming over from a different league last season and had to learn basically everything. New pitchers on his staff, new opposing pitchers, new ballparks, new coaches, the whole nine. He also had to deal with the pressure of receiving the largest free agent catcher contract in baseball history. I can’t imagine that was not in the back of his mind.

“(Coming to the Yankees) was the best decision I’ve made. Just to be able to lace ’em up for this organization is amazing,” said McCann to Ken Davidoff last month. “I didn’t play as well as I should have (in 2014). I didn’t get off to a good start. I had some mechanical flaws in my swing, and it took me four months to get it ironed out. It really did.”

McCann did indeed finish strong, hitting eight of his 23 homers in September, but he still only had a .222 AVG and a .281 OBP that month. That doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t iron out his swing, of course. Either way, McCann is being paid to be an impact player — on both sides of the ball at that — and the Yankees will need him to be one in 2015 to return to the postseason. Time to break down what the team needs from McCann and what he can actually provide.

Yankees Need: Offensive Impact

This goes without saying. McCann is going to hit in the middle order this coming season because he is the team’s top power threat — if not overall than at least left-handed — and has a history of being an above-average producer at the plate. He was a very consistent hitter from 2008-11 before hurting his shoulder in 2012, though he then rebounded to 2008-11 levels in 2013 following surgery. Then last year happened.


Source: FanGraphsBrian McCann

The Yankees don’t need McCann to put up huge numbers like Buster Posey. (Would be cool if he did though.) They just want the Braves version of McCann, the guy who hit .256/.336/.461 (121 wRC+) as recently as 2013, and with some consistency. Day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth — no .300 hitter gets exactly three hits every ten at-bats for example, or even hits .300 every month — but they want to see McCann not be invisible for weeks at a time again. McCann is healthy and not yet all the way over the hill in catcher years. An offensive rebound is not totally out of the question.

McCann Can Provide: Power

We do know McCann can still hit the ball out of the park. He’s hit at least 20 homers every year since 2008 — only five others can say that — and his pull happy swing is tailored for Yankee Stadium. In fact, 19 of his 23 homers came at home last year. Yeah, road production was a major problem. McCann’s late season homer binge was, if nothing else, encouraging because it did indicate something had clicked. He was hitting the ball with more authority.

The problem is McCann might not be able to provide much offensively aside from power. He’s a left-handed pull hitter and one of the most shifted players in the game. But, as I wrote in our Season Review last year, McCann went the other way more often in 2014 than he had in any season since 2008. He was trying to beat the shift last year and the result was a lot of average-killing weak contact — his 45.1% fly ball rate was the second highest of his career and 11.1% of those fly balls were infield pop-ups, a career high. Lots of lazy fly balls last year.

At this point of his career hitting for a decent average probably is never happening again. Teams aren’t going to stop shifting against McCann just because he bunts or sneaks a few singles through the left side. They’re going to take away his strength and they effectively did that last year because McCann seemed to make such an effort to go the other way. I’d like to see him pull the ball more in 2015. Stick to his strengths and try to rip it through or (preferably) over the shift. A full season of trying to go the other way had disastrous results.

McCann’s walk rate plummeted to a career low 5.9% last season but I’m not too concerned about that, to be honest. His in (28.3%) and out (59.4%) of the zone swing rates were actually below his career averages (29.4% and 62.2%), and his strikeout rate (14.3%) and pitches per plate appearance rate (3.83) were both his lowest since 2008. McCann put a lot of balls in play early in the count last year, hence the low walk rate. It could also be a sign he was pressing last year and not being as patient as usual. I think McCann’s walk rate has a much better chance of returning to his career rate (9.1%) than his batting average (.272) in 2015.

Yankees Need: Quality Defense Behind The Plate

The Yankees very clearly place a high priority on catcher defense. The only below-average defender they’ve had behind the plate over the last seven or eight years was Jorge Posada. Everyone else was regarded as a strong defender and the available stats backed that up. McCann is no different.

Last season, McCann threw out a career best (by friggin’ far) 37.1% of attempted base-stealers and that ranked third among regular catchers behind only Yadier Molina (47.8%) and Russell Martin (38.5%). He also rated well at blocking pitches in the dirt and pitch framing according to the various metrics. McCann has been one of the best defensive catchers in the game in recent years and he took it to another level last season thanks to the improved throw-out rate. The Yankees expect more of the same this summer.

McCann Can Provide: Quality Defense Behind The Plate!

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Given his reputation and skill set, the only reason to think McCann will not again be a top notch defensive catcher in 2015 is sudden age-related decline. He might not throw out 37.1% of attempted base-stealers again, that’s a really big number, but other catchers have improved their throwing under Joe Girardi and Tony Pena (Frankie Cervelli, most notably) and McCann is now two full years removed from shoulder surgery. There’s reason to believe the throwing improvement is real. Otherwise available data has consistently rated him as excellent at framing pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. Defense is the one aspect of McCann’s game we don’t need to worry about.

Yankees Need: Leadership

Let’s face it, with Derek Jeter gone, the Yankees are going to have a leadership void this year. Maybe not all year, maybe someone will emerge as the new leader early in April, but right now there’s no Jeter in the clubhouse and that’s not negligible. Derek always seemed to be a lead by example type, not an in your face type, but leadership is leadership, and Jeter was undoubtedly a leader.

No one player is going to be able to replace Jeter’s intangible qualities. It’s just not going to happen and basically everyone in camp who has been asked about it has acknowledged that this year. Girardi, Brian Cashman, everyone. That includes McCann, who will be asked to fill some of the leadership void. He’s a catcher and catchers are expected to be leaders by default, but he’s also a veteran guy signed to a huge deal. Being asked to be a leader comes with the territory.

McCann Can Provide: Leadership, Probably

As outsiders, we usually know next to nothing about a player’s leadership ability. We all saw McCann stand up to Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez after they pimped some homers two years ago and that’s a leadership-y thing, but did anyone talk about him as a leader before that? We have no idea how popular McCann is with teammates or anything like that. I have no reason to doubt his ability as a leader, I’m sure he’ll step in to help fill some of the void with Jeter gone, though ultimately I have no idea how effective McCann is as a leader. That make sense? Intangibles are difficult to gauge and very easy to overstate. Without being around the team day in, day out, we can’t understand this stuff with any certainty.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 2nd, 2015

Spring Training Opponents This Week: @ Phillies (Tues. on MLB.tv), vs. Phillies (Weds. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Pirates (Thurs.), @ Phillies (Fri. split squad on MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Pirates (Fri. split squad on MLBN), @ Astros (Sat.), vs. Nationals (Sun. on YES, MLB.tv)

Top stories from last week:

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Open Thread: 3/1 Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Only one more day of workouts until actual Spring Training games start. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

Here is your open thread for the evening. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are in action and there’s no college hoops either. Slow night. Talk about whatever you want here.