Here is your open thread for this lovely Monday night. Lovely in New York, anyway. The Giants and Nationals are playing Game Three of their NLDS right now (on MLB Network) and later tonight the Dodgers and Cardinals will play Game Three of their NLDS (9pm ET on FOX Sports 1). The Giants are looking to sweep while the other series is tied at one. Seahawks-Redskins is the Monday Night Football Game. You know how these open threads work by now, so talk about whatever you like right here. Have at it.
Via George King: CC Sabathia is close to throwing off a mound as he rehabs from surgery and stem cell treatment on his right knee. “I will play catch at 90 feet for three or four days and then go to 120 feet and after that probably get off a mound,” he said following the end of the season last weekend. “It feels good after the stem cell. It’s been feeling great. I am definitely coming back.”
Sabathia, 34, was limited to eight starts and 46 innings (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) because of knee problems this year. He says he’s anxious to pitch after missing almost the entire season — “Having almost a year off has gotten the fire back in me. Having baseball taken away from me stunk. I am excited to get going,” he said — but the Yankees have to assume Sabathia can give them nothing in 2015. If he comes back and pitches well, great. But they have to prepare for the worst case scenario, which means adding pitching depth and maybe penciling Shane Greene into the sixth starter’s spot rather than the number five.
The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.
The Bronx Bombers are gone. Long live the Bronx Bombers. After hitting at least 200 homeruns every year but one from 2000-12 — the postseason-less 2008 season was the only exception (180 homers) — the Yankees dropped down to 144 homers in 2013 and 147 homers in 2014. Some of that is due to the declining offense around the league, some of it is due to injuries, and some of it is due to having too many players without much power on the roster.
The Yankees looked to compensate for their lack of pop this past season by adding speed, specifically by adding guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson to Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki. Ellsbury was the big name, but Johnson also stole 13+ bases every year from 2010-12. The return of Derek Jeter and addition of Brian Roberts might have added some speed to the roster despite their recent injuries as well. They’re both veteran guys who knew out to pick their spots and run the bases despite a lack of pure speed.
Sure enough, the Yankees ranked fifth in baseball with 112 stolen bases and second with an 81.1% success rate. Only the Nationals (81.5%) had a better success rate. These days the stolen base break-even rate is something like 66-68% due to the drop in offense, not the 72% we so often cited five or ten years ago. The Yankees stole a ton of bases this season and they were very good at it, stealing them with a high rate of efficiency. So why then did Joe Girardi say the team needed to improve its base-running next year during his end-of-season press conference?
“At times our runners couldn’t score from second on a hit just because they weren’t physically able, and that’s something I think we as a club need to get better at — base running,” said Girardi last week while discussing the team’s offensive woes. “Some of it’s limited because of the speed of some of the guys that we have, but I that’s something tangible we need to get better at.”
Despite those strong stolen base numbers, the Yankees took the extra base on a hit just 33% of the time last year, dead last in baseball. The Angels led MLB at 46% and the Orioles were second worst at 34%. The Yankees went first-to-third on a single only 21.5% of the time, again dead last in baseball. They scored from second on a single 49.7% of the time, once again dead last in baseball. They scored from first on a double 34.6% of the time and the good news is that wasn’t dead last in baseball. It was only third worst behind the Phillies (30.6%) and Astros (34.5%). All base-running stats come from Baseball Reference.
Furthermore, the Yankees compounded their base-running problems by getting thrown a bunch of times, particularly at home. It’s one thing to only go from second to third on a single, it’s another to get thrown out at home. They actually had the eighth fewest outs on the bases in 2014 with 45, but they had the fourth most outs at the plate in 21. Part of that is a lack of team speed and part of it falls on the shoulders of third base coach Rob Thomson, who anecdotally made some really awful sends this summer. Pushing the envelope with no outs in the inning, sending a runner on a ball hit to shallow left, that sort of stuff. It happened a lot. I saw it and you saw it.
The Yankees also had a knack for silly base-running mistakes. Carlos Beltran (video), Chase Headley (video), and I believe Stephen Drew were all thrown out wandering off a base because they forgot how many outs there were. And then stuff like this happened a whole bunch of times:
Every club makes dumb base-running mistakes and has runners thrown out at the plate during the season, it’s part of baseball, but it happened to the Yankees more this past season than at any point in the last, I dunno, 10-15 years it seemed. There were lots more base-running blunders in 2014 than we’ve seen in recent years. Lots more.
In terms of stolen bases and advancing on hits, the Yankees were worth +0.4 runs on the bases in 2014 according to FanGraphs, 16th best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus‘ base-running stats are more all-encompassing because they account for stuff like advancing on wild pitches and fly balls, and they say the Yankees were worth -5.9 runs on the bases this year, sixth worst in baseball. That’s not quite a full win — 9.117 runs equaled a win in 2014 — but it’s not nothing either.
The elite stolen base total and success rate saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases, which basically means Gardner and Ellsbury saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases. Those two plus Ichiro were the only players who seemed to consistently take the extra base and force the issue — Gardner stopped stealing halfway through the season because of his lingering abdominal strain, Girardi said — because almost everyone else on the team is really slow. Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann … those guys simply can’t run.
We’ve seen this postseason (the Royals) how much of a weapon elite base-running can be but it is not a requirement to win the same way a good pitching staff and a deep lineup is. You do still need to be competent on the bases though, especially when your offensive production is less than stellar overall. I’m sure part of the reason Thomson sent so many runners in seemingly inopportune times was the team’s lack of offense in general — he simply pushed the envelope to try to get runs when he could. When you’re only getting one or two hits with runners in scoring position per game, sometimes you have no choice but to be aggressive on the bases.
For the most part, the Yankees did not have the right personnel to be overly aggressive on the bases this year. Ellsbury, Gardner, and Ichiro could do it but not everyone else, and it cost the team quite a bit. Girardi spoke about improving the base-running next year but there is no way to make guys like Beltran and Teixeira faster through Spring Training drills. It’s just not happening. They can make changes in their few open lineup spots to get speedier players even though options are limited. Instead, the team will have to focus on making smarter base-running decisions in 2015, which in most cases will mean being more conservative.
Baseball America published their list of the top 20 prospects in the Florida State League today as they continue looking at the best players in each minor league in 2014. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Pirates RHP Tyler Glasnow, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Blue Jays LHP Daniel Norris make up the top three. OF Aaron Judge ranked 15th and is the only Yankees’ farmhand on the list. RHP Luis Severino didn’t throw enough innings with High-A Tampa to qualify.
Judge, 22, hit .283/.411/.442 (149 wRC+) with eight homers in 66 games for Tampa this summer after a midseason promotion from Low-A Charleston. “He has prodigious tools to go with his jumbo frame, yet the separating factor in his success may be his short swing for a man his size … Judge works with a swing geared for the gaps, so his huge raw power may not necessarily translate into future 30-homer seasons … He fits the right-field profile, running well enough for the spot and flashing double-plus arm strength, with improved arm accuracy,” said the scouting report.
The write-up also notes 3B Eric Jagielo had support from league personnel but fell short off the top 20. Others like OF Jake Cave and 1B Greg Bird are good prospects but not top 20 in the entire league material. The Double-A Eastern League is next up, and C Gary Sanchez should make the list while 2B Rob Refsnyder is a good bet as well. Other possibilities include OF Tyler Austin, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Manny Banuelos. Severino didn’t throw enough innings with Double-A Trenton to qualify.
2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for postseason
Top stories from last week:
- With the 2014 season complete, Joe Girardi gave his annual end of season press conference. Hal Steinbrenner also spoke about the club during a radio interview. Both discussed all sorts of topics in what were essentially state of the Yankees addresses.
- Injury Updates: As expected, Carlos Beltran (elbow) had surgery to remove “loose pieces” and a bone spur. He can begin baseball activity in six weeks and resume playing in 12 weeks. Eric Jagielo (face) had surgery and will miss 4-6 weeks after suffering a fractured zygomatic arch. Jose Campos (elbow) is throwing from 90 feet as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
- The Yankees are working on a new contract with GM Brian Cashman, Steinbrenner confirmed. Long-time scout and front office staffer Gordon Blakeley left the organization for a position with the Braves.
- Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas was officially declared a free agent by MLB. Ichiro Suzuki said he wants to continue playing and hinted at some unhappiness in the clubhouse. Josh Outman was outrighted to Triple-A.
- The Yankees hold the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft. C Luis Torrens, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, and LHP Ian Clarkin all ranked among the top prospects in their respective minor leagues this summer. 3B Dante Bichette Jr. will replace Jagielo in the Arizona Fall League.
- Derek Jeter declined to play in MLB’s exhibition series against the Japanese national team in November. Brett Gardner is the team’s finalist for the AL Hank Aaron Award.
- For the 12th consecutive season, the Yankees led the AL in attendance in 2014.
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?
Since it’s the offseason, it’s time to start sharing my collection of stray links every Friday again. I try to stick to baseball but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I stumble across some really awesome non-baseball stuff that’s worth passing along. Anyway, here are this weekend’s links:
- In a really fascinating piece, Brian Costa wrote about baseball’s covert experiment to re-wire hitters’ brains and help them recognizable the spin of the ball and judge the strike zone better, stuff like that. The Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs are a few of the teams doing it. Players are evaluated and given training assignments (video game-esque work) to help develop different parts of their brains. It’s pretty amazing.
- Cuban players are taking over MLB these days, but for every Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu, there are a bunch of players who defected but do not make it. Jorge Arangure wrote about a few of those players. They get stuck away from their families in a foreign country, and usually wind with low-paying jobs that don’t leave then enough free time to play baseball. We only see the success stories in the show, but those guys are only a small percentage of the players who come over.
- Ken Davidoff as a story up looking at how the Royals missed out on signing Mariano Rivera as an amateur out of Panama all those years ago. Long story short: the scout who found Rivera left the Royals for the Yankees after Kansas City declined to give him a raise. Mo (and Ramiro Mendoza) were part of a group players the scout had “in the bushes,” and they essentially went with him to New York.
- And finally, for all my fellow hockey fans out there, I highly recommend The Score’s 2014-15 season preview, specifically the Unique Team Traits series. It’s exactly what it sounds like, an analysis of each team’s unique style, which can be either good or bad. Here’s their piece on the Rangers and how they use their team speed. Really, really great stuff.
Friday: This is your open thread for Friday night and eventually the rest of the weekend as well. If you flip over to FOX Sports 1, you can catch the end of NLDS Game One between the Giants and Nationals. The Dodgers and Cardinals play their NLDS Game One in a little bit (6:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1, Kershaw vs. Wainwright), then the Royals and Angels play their ALDS Game Two later on (9:30pm ET on TBS, Ventura vs. Shoemaker). Talk about those games or anything else right here.
Saturday: Once again, this is your open thread for the night. The Giants and Nationals are playing Game Two of their NLDS (on FOX Sports1) and later tonight the Dodgers and Cardinals will play Game Two of their NLDS (9:30pm ET on MLB Network). It’s a travel day for both ALDSes. There’s also a bunch of college football on. Have at it.
Sunday: Here is your open thread for the rest of the week. Game Three of both ALDSes will be played — Orioles-Tigers at 3:30pm ET, Angels-Royals at 7:30pm ET, both on TBS — plus there’s football on all day. Talk about any of that stuff or whatever else is on your mind right here.
Via Steven Marcus: Derek Jeter has declined an invitation to play for a team of MLB All-Stars heading to Japan to play a five-game exhibition series against the Japanese national team in November. Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Albert Pujols, Yasiel Puig, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and Justin Morneau are the only players committed to play so far. Red Sox skipper John Farrell will manage the team.
Since this is an international promotional event, I’m guessing MLB will want to include someone from the Yankees. I’m just not sure who it will be. I don’t think it’ll be a pitcher since they will have had several weeks off by time the series takes place, which leaves position players like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann as the likely candidates. Ellsbury (hamstring) and Teixeira (wrist) ended the year hurt. So I guess that leaves Gardner and McCann? I’d be very surprised if MLB sent a team to Japan without a Yankees representative. The pinstripes are way too marketable.