One very valid criticism of the Yankees is that they simply don’t produce enough quality players from the farm system. It has now been seven years since Brett Gardner made his debut, and the second best homegrown position player during that time is Frankie Cervelli at 2.2 fWAR. An injury prone backup catcher. The Yankees do a good job filling out their bullpen and the back-end of the rotation from within, but they haven’t produced even an average position player in a long time. It really hurt last year during all the injuries.
Now, obviously the Yankees are the Yankees, and as long as they are the Yankees they will target big names over younger players, even their own young players. They have shown a tendency to favor certain players over others (the teacher’s pet, basically) and give them extended opportunities — Gardner, Phil Hughes, and Eduardo Nunez jump to mind — but otherwise a young player needs to do what Robinson Cano did and force the team’s hand if he wants to play regularly. That’s what Yangervis Solarte did earlier this year, for example.
So far this year, with an assist to Cervelli’s latest injury, John Ryan Murphy has emerged as a weapon off the bench. He plays sparingly because Brian McCann‘s contract guarantees he will play no matter how big his slump, but in limited time the 23-year-old Murphy has gone 14-for-37 (.378) and recorded at least one hit in eight of his ten starts. Despite walking only once, he is seeing 3.7 pitcher per plate appearances and has swung at pitches out of the zone at a league average-ish rate (31.0%). Murphy has shown some semblance of plate discipline, which is not all that common for young players in part-time roles. They tend to come out hacking when they get a chance to play because they want to prove to everyone they belong.
“In my role right now I just have to understand that I have to be ready to play at any time. So even though I’m not playing for the first eight, nine innings or whatever the game was at that time, I still have to be mentally locked in and ready to go,” said Murphy to Jorge Castillo recently. “I’m just learning everyday from these guys. It’s hard not to. The years on this team and the amount of experience that they have, it’d be dumb for me not to take advantage of this time I have here and learn from these guys.”
Usually we say that if a young player isn’t going to play everyday at the big league level, he should just go to Triple-A and get regular at-bats. That is true in almost all cases, but I think Murphy and young catchers in general are different. The catcher position is so unique because it’s not just hitting and catching the ball, like say an outfielder would. Catchers have to develop a relationship with the pitching staff and pour over scouting reports each series. Every position requires behind the scenes preparation, but catchers have by far the most. It’s a tough gig and I don’t just mean physically.
Young catchers have the most difficult transition from the minors to the show for that reason. Look at guys like Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters, for example. They were as highly touted as anyone coming up as prospects, but it took them quite a while to adjust to MLB and fully realize their potential. Wieters still hasn’t done it, really. Sure, everyone once in a while a Buster Posey breaks the mold, but they are the exceptions. The Yankees brought Jorge Posada along slowly for this reason, to ease the transition with the help of a veteran catcher. Murphy and McCann are the modern day Posada and Joe Girardi, in a sense.
Now, the elephant in the room is Cervelli, who is eligible to come off the 60-day DL on June 12th, two weeks from Thursday. Joe Girardi recently told George King that Cervelli’s rehab from a hamstring strain is going well and the expectation is that he will be ready to be activated when eligible. Two weeks and two days is a long time, plus Frankie has a way of getting hurt and staying hurt, so it’s tough to count on him. Whenever he is activated though, will the Yankees keep him and send Murphy back to Triple-A? Probably. Is that in the best interests of the team, both right now and into the future? I find it hard to believe.
Like I said, because the Yankees are the Yankees and are always looking to add that next veteran who may or may not put them over the top, Murphy and the team’s other young catchers are prime trade bait. The Bombers have been smart to hoard young backstops all these years because they are very hard to find and valuable in trades, at least somewhat. Backup catchers are a dime a dozen — Nick Hundley was just traded for a bad lefty specialist and George Kottaras is on waivers every other week, so I don’t think Cervelli would fetch much in a trade at all — but young guys with promise have very real value. A rebuilding club could stick Murphy in their lineup on just about an everyday basis — right now too, not two years down the line — and that is very appealing.
Unlike Austin Romine last year — man did Romine blow a golden opportunity last season, huh? — Murphy has shown the Yankees everything they wanted to see when they called him up following Cervelli’s injury. He’s hit well and I think he’s done well defensively, including his work with the pitchers. I don’t have anything to back that up, the pitching staff might hate him for all I know, but Murphy seems to be doing a good job in the non-hitting parts of the game. He broke out in the minors last year and has continued to progress this year. The Yankees haven’t had much luck developing homegrown position players lately, but Murphy is helping them win games right now and he looks very much like someone who can help the team long-term.
For the first time in his three big league starts, Chase Whitley completed five full innings of work yesterday afternoon. Usually five innings isn’t anything to celebrate, but for a recently converted reliever who had thrown 4.2 and 4.1 innings in his first two starts, five full innings was definitely nice to see. Whitley started the sixth inning as well, though he failed to record an out and the bullpen was pressed into action.
The bullpen has been pressed into action quite a bit of late, especially on the road trip. The Yankees have played three extra innings games on this trip through Chicago and St. Louis, totaling nine additional innings. They’ve played an extra game on the trip, basically. The Yankees did win all three of those extra innings games thanks to some strong relief work, so there’s no complaints there, but all that extra work is starting to tax the bullpen.
Through the first 50 games of the season, the late-inning duo of Adam Warren and Dellin Betances are on pace to throw 94 and 98 innings this year, respectively. Nine of Warren’s last 13 appearances have been for multiple innings while Betances has been asked to get more than three outs six times in his last seven appearances. In fact, of his 21 appearances this year, Betances has thrown one inning or less only seven times.
Of course, both Warren and Betances were starters their entire careers up until last season, but throwing 150+ innings in a season while on a five-day routine is much different than throwing 90+ innings when you’re pitching every other day in relief or something like that. It’s fewer total innings, yes, but they’re pitching more frequently as relievers. Warren and Betances have shouldered most of the workload, but the bullpen as a whole has been worked hard this year. Check out the first 50 games of the last few years:
|Starter IP||Reliever IP||Starter IP / Reliever IP|
The bullpen has already thrown 15 more innings this year than last through 50 games, and roughly 20 innings more than 2011 and 2012. Fifteen innings doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about one extra inning every three games or so. That adds up in a hurry, especially since these Yankees tend to play close games (only 14 games decided by 5+ runs), which means more work for Joe Girardi‘s primary late-inning guys.
Obviously injuries have a lot to do with this. Shawn Kelley has been out for a while and he would have definitely taken some of those innings away from Betances and Warren. The same applies to David Robertson when he was on the disabled list last month. Losing CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova — two starters the Yankees were able to count on for 6+ innings every fifth day in the not too distant past — to significant injuries has trickled down and added pressure on the bullpen since guys like Whitley and Vidal Nuno aren’t innings eaters.
The Yankees will hopefully get Kelley back soon. He played catch yesterday and will do so again in the coming days, reportedly, plus Michael Pineda is on the mend and a few weeks away. (The Yankees were very careful with Pineda early on, but he is still a better bet to get you through five innings than some guys in the rotation right now.) Those two will help lighten the load on the current relievers, at least somewhat. Every little bit will help. It wouldn’t kill the offense to break a game open every now and then either.
Girardi’s strength has long been his bullpen management, and I can’t remember another time when he worked two relievers as hard as he has Warren and Betances these last few weeks. You know he doesn’t want to do it — ““We’re trying not to kill Betances,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday, after Betances threw two more innings — but Kelley’s injury and the thinned-out rotation have forced his hand. The Yankees are really pushing the limits of their pitching depth right now.
Until some guys start getting healthy, Girardi will have to rely on Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley and yes, even Alfredo Aceves in higher leverage spots — at least higher leverage than they deserve — to avoid overworking his normal late-inning relievers. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Betances, Warren, Kelley, and Robertson dominating at the end of games, but at their current pace, Warren and Betances will burn out by August. The rest of the roster has to pick up some slack and give these guys more rest in the coming weeks.
Guest: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth, New York Magazine, and formerly of Deadspin. He’s a noted Cardinals fan who talks avidly of the organization.
(Unfortunately, the first 10 or so minutes of the conversation ended up being garbled or nonexistent. So the conversation starts at an, um, awkward position. But it’s still a damn good talk.)
Mike and Jay had long weekends, so I’m solo. Thankfully, we got a bunch of questions. That kept me busy for a few minutes. Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.
You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.
Monday afternoon’s series opener against the Cardinals was not looking so good for a little while. Tie game in the late innings with a shaky and worn out bullpen? That’s usually a recipe for a disaster. Instead, the Yankees outlasted their bullpen and rallied for a 6-4 win in 12 innings. Let’s recap the Memorial Day victory, for America:
- Five Innings: For the first time in his three starts, Chase Whitley completed five full innings of work. He started the sixth inning as well, but a double, a single, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with no outs to end his afternoon. Preston Claiborne (more on this in a bit) allowed two of the three inherited runners to score, so Whitley’s final line was three runs on eight hits in five innings. Not great, but it was so much better before that sixth inning. The Yankees need Whitley to start giving them some more length and this was progress.
- Strong Bullpen: Aside from Claiborne, who was brought into a real tough situation, the Yankees got some excellent work from their bullpen. Five relievers held the Cardinals to two hits and one unearned run in seven innings, striking out four. Dellin Betances chucked two innings — Joe Girardi said he didn’t bring him into the game in sixth because he was his eighth inning guy for the day, more or less — as did Alfredo Aceves, who wiggled out of some trouble with the help of his defense. David Robertson nailed down the save after Derek Jeter‘s throwing error led to the unearned run. Seven innings of one-run ball from the bullpen? Didn’t see that coming.
- Strategy!: The Yankees manufactured their first three runs (Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson singled in runs, Brett Gardner plated another with a sacrifice fly), but the 12th inning rally was an NL-fueled nightmare. Ellsbury led off with a walk, then moved to second with a steal against Yadier Molina. Lefty specialist Randy Choate plunked Brian McCann, then Yangervis Solarte bunted (!) the runners up despite Choate’s massive platoon split. Then, amazingly, Choate intentionally walked the lefty hitting Ichiro Suzuki. I don’t get it. At all. Anyway, Brian Roberts singled in the go-ahead run, then Alfonso Soriano (sac fly) and Brendan Ryan (single) brought home insurance runs. What a ridiculous inning.
- Leftovers: Roberts was the only Yankee with multiple hits, and the top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 3-for-21 (.143) with two walks … the Yankees went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position (yay!) but did not have an extra-base hit for the third time on the road trip (boo) … Jeter made the throwing error in the 12th and he almost made another one earlier in the game. Johnson bailed him out with a nice stretch at first.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees and Cardinals will continue this series on Tuesday night, when hometown guy David Phelps gets the ball against Lance Lynn. Another four-game winning streak would be swell.
Triple-A Scranton (15-8 win over Louisville)
- 2B Jose Pirela: 3-7, 2 R, 1 SB
- LF Ramon Flores: 3-6, 4 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — three homers in his last four games … the knock on him has always been a lack of power potential, but maybe it’s starting to come around
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 2-6 — got picked off first
- 1B Russ Canzler: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB
- DH Kyle Roller: 4-4, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB
- C Austin Romine: 1-5, 2 RBI, 1 BB
- RHP Shane Greene: 5 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 50 of 82 pitches were strikes (61%) … considering the state of the MLB staff, it would behoove him to starting pitching well and soon
- RHP Danny Burawa: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 20 of 28 pitches were strikes (71%)
Happy Memorial Day to everyone, especially those who are serving or have served in the armed forces. It’s because of you folks that idiots like me get to watch baseball all day and complain about it on a blog. Hope you all enjoyed the day.
Here is your open thread for the rest of the night. MLB Network is airing a game (who you see depends on where you live) plus there will be NBA and NHL playoff games as well. Talk about any of that stuff right here.
For the first time since 2005, the Yankees are in St. Louis to play the Cardinals. Tanyon Sturtze took the loss the last time they played there (box score). The Yankees are visiting the new Busch Stadium for the first time, and, believe it or not, this is only the 35th time in history these two teams are playing. That includes interleague play and the postseason. Weird but also pretty cool.
The Yankees are coming off back-to-back wins over the White Sox, though they say momentum is only good as tomorrow’s starting pitcher. Chase Whitley is on the bump for the Bombers, and while he has been effective in his first two MLB starts, he has thrown only nine total innings. He has yet to complete five innings of work and it seems like Joe Girardi does not want him facing the lineup a third time. That makes sense considering Whitley is a recently converted reliever, but it’s also a drain on the bullpen. Six strong innings today would be awesome.
Here is the Cardinals lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 1B Kelly Johnson
- RHP Chase Whitley
It is very cloudy, very hot, and very humid in St. Louis. There are scattered thunderstorms in the forecast as well, so we could be in for a delay(s) or a sloppy game. Maybe even a postponement. We’ll see. First pitch is scheduled for 4pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.
Update (4:01pm): The game is officially in a rain delay. It isn’t actually raining yet, but it will start any minute and the tarp is on the field. No word on when the game may begin, so check back for updates.
Update (4:47pm): First pitch is scheduled for 5:15pm ET, give or take.
Got some injury updates leading up to this afternoon’s series opener against the Cardinals, courtesy of the various reporters with the team:
- Carlos Beltran (elbow) took 15 swings with a fungo bat and everything went well, believe it or not. Didn’t see that coming. He will take swings with a regular bat tomorrow. Good first step, but obviously Beltran is not out of the woods yet.
- Mark Teixeira (wrist) was scratched from this afternoon’s lineup with stiffness. Joe Girardi said it has been bugging him for a few days but it is considered minor and there are no tests scheduled. They are hopeful Teixeira will play tomorrow.
- Shawn Kelley (back) played catch at 75 feet today and felt fine. Of course, he played catch last week and felt fine until he woke up with renewed soreness the next day. Kelley will play catch again in the coming days.
After a one series reprieve, the Yankees are right back in an NL park for another interleague series. Thankfully this is their final visit to the so-called Senior Circuit this year, at least until the World Series, of course. The Yankees are visiting the new Busch Stadium for the first time this week for three games against the defending NL champion Cardinals. It is their first trip to St. Louis in general since 2005.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Cards are coming off two straight wins over the Reds and they’ve won nine of their last eleven games overall. They were scuffling a bit earlier in the season, but they’ve definitely turned it around of late. St. Louis is 28-22 with a +24 run differential overall, which is the second best record in the NL Central and fourth best record in the NL overall.
At 3.84 runs per game with a team 96 wRC+, the Cardinals are a bit below average offensively. Unsurprisingly, their historic success with runners in scoring position last year (.330/.402/.463 (!!!)) has not carried over to this year (.242/.324/.334). That’s just not something a team will do year after year. OF Peter Bourjos (87 wRC+) has been sidelined by a stomach bug the last few days, but otherwise the Cardinals are perfectly healthy on the position player side.
Manager Mike Matheny’s lineup is anchored by C Yadier Molina (133 wRC+), who also happens to be the best defensive catcher in all the land. Life will not be easy for the Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner led running game this week. SS Jhonny Peralta (123 wRC+) and 1B Matt Adams (124 wRC+) are having very strong years while 3B Matt Carpenter (110 wRC+) and OF Matt Holliday (111 wRC+) have been good but not great. Certainly not as good as they were last season. OF Jon Jay (101 wRC+) has been solid.
The lack of production from RF Allen Craig (89 wRC+) has really hurt the Cardinals these first few weeks. He was expected to be one of their top middle of the order guys. 2B Kolten Wong (83 wRC+) and 2B Mark Ellis (32 wRC+) have more or less shared time at second, though Wong is getting more of the at-bats of late. OF Shane Robinson (24 wRC+), IF Daniel Descalso (10 wRC+), and C Tony Cruz (115 wRC+) round out the bench, which is surprisingly weak for an NL team. It was especially noticeable in the World Series last fall.
Pitching Matchups (Pitcher GIFs is still down for whatever reason)
Monday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. STL) vs. RHP Michael Wacha (vs. NYY)
Wacha, 22, shot from college to (near) the front of the Cardinals rotation in less than two full years, which is damn impressive. He has a 2.54 ERA (2.77 FIP) in ten starts and 60.1 innings this season thanks to excellent strikeout (9.58 K/9 and 26.4 K%), walk (2.54 BB/9 and 6.8 BB%), and homer (0.60 HR/9 and 7.5% HR/FB) rates. His ground ball rate (43.0%) isn’t great and he has a tiny platoon split. Wacha’s performance this year is almost exactly the same as last year, and it’s kinda freaky. After relying on his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and knockout mid-to-high-80s changeup almost exclusively last season, Wacha is using his upper-80s cutter and mid-70s curveball much more often this year. It’s very hard to believe he won’t turn 23 until later this summer.
Tuesday: RHP David Phelps (vs. STL) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (vs. NYY)
At 27 years and 14 days, Lynn will be the oldest starting pitcher the Yankees see in this series by more than three full years. He comes into the series with a 3.60 ERA (3.10 FIP) in ten starts and 60 innings, and his peripherals — 8.85 K/9 (22.6 K%), 3.00 BB/9 (7.7 BB%), 0.60 HR/9 (7.0% HR/FB), and 44.5% grounders — are career bests as a starter across the board. Lefties (.348 wOBA) are hitting him much harder than righties (.273 wOBA). Lynn is something of a 4.5-pitch pitcher. He uses his low-90s two and four-seam fastballs to set up his mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball, plus he’ll also throw a handful of mid-80s changeups per start. For whatever reason, Lynn has really scaled back his changeup usage the last two seasons. He’ll look like a legitimate ace on his best days.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out this will be a homecoming for Phelps, who was born and raised in the St. Louis suburbs. He told George King he was a die-hard Cardinals fan growing up. I’m sure he’s excited for this game.
Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. STL) vs. RHP Shelby Miller (vs. NYY)
The Cardinals reportedly shopped the 23-year-old Miller heavily over the winter, which made me think his arm was about to explode. Especially after they avoided using him in the postseason (faced only four batters despite being on the roster all three rounds). You don’t try to trade former first round pick after he pitched to a 3.06 ERA (3.67 FIP) as a rookie. Sure enough, Miller has taken a big step back this year, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at his 3.18 ERA. His strikeout rate (7.15 K/9 and 18.7 K%) has dropped quite a bit, his walk rate (4.76 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) has nearly doubled, and he’s been far more homer prone (1.43 HR/9 and 15.0% HR/FB) despite a relatively static ground ball rate (41.8%). Lefties (.381 wOBA) have pounded him as well (.310 wOBA for righties). His 5.22 FIP is no accident. Miller sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and will mix in the occasional upper-80s cutter. A sharp upper-70s curveball is his top secondary pitch, though he also has a mid-80s changeup. Based on how he’s pitching this year compared to last year, I have to think something is very wrong with Miller. Either he’s hurt or his mechanics are a total mess. He went from budding ace to replacement level in an offseason.
The Cardinals recently welcomed RHP Jason Motte (8.19 FIP in limited time) back from Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him all of last year. He is currently being eased back into things while RHP Trevor Rosenthal (2.96 FIP) continues to handle closing duties. He’s had some walk (13.3 BB%) problems this year. RHP Carlos Martinez (3.88) handles setup work.
LHP Kevin Siegrist just landed on the disabled list with a forearm problem, leaving former Yankee LHP Randy Choate (2.90 FIP) as Matheny’s top southpaw. RHP Seth Maness (3.70 FIP), RHP Pat Neshek (1.99 FIP), and LHP Sam Freeman (2.05 FIP in one whole inning) fill out the rest of the bullpen. The Cardinals don’t really have a true long man, though I’m not sure that’s a flaw. It’s just different. Only Choate and Neshek pitched last night, and they threw a combined 17 pitches. Their ‘pen is fresh.
Record Last Week: 3-3 (23 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record: 26-23 (211 RS, 217 RA, 24-25 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Cardinals (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. Twins (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with an off-day, then Masahiro Tanaka lost for the first time in Tuesday’s series opener against the Cubs. A late rally helped the Yankees to an extra innings win on Wednesday.
- The Yankees stayed in Chicago to face the White Sox for four games. They got dominated by Chris Sale in the series opener, then David Robertson served up a walk-off homer on Friday. The Bombers took the third game in extra innings on Saturday and won yesterday’s game with ease.
- Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) will be out until at least July. Michael Pineda (back/shoulder) has been throwing bullpen sessions and will pitch in Extended Spring Training tomorrow. Carlos Beltran (elbow) will try to swing a bat today. Shawn Kelley (back) has been shut down with continued soreness. Manny Banuelos (arm) was shut down with fatigue but could soon return to game action. Brian Roberts (knee) missed a day after a foul pitch but has since returned to the lineup.
- The Yankees are close to a deal worth $1.1M with Korean SS Hyo-Jun Park. They are also interested in Venezuelan OF Antonio Arias but are not seriously pursuing Cuban OF Daniel Carbonell.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?