2015 Midseason Review: The Summer of Al (and Mark)

The Yankees came into the season with a ton — and I mean a ton — of questions on the roster. Every team has questions each year, but the Yankees had more than usual. The rotation was littered with injury concerns, the new-look middle infield was somewhat dubious, the bullpen had been overhauled, and the middle of the order was suspect for many reasons. Among those reasons: the uncertainty surrounding Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.


Al From Miami

Last season Rodriguez served the longest performance-enhancing drug suspension in baseball history, a 162-game ban that was reduced from 211 games after an arduous appeals process that included all sorts of lawsuits. He was 39 years old, he had two surgically repaired hips — Alex only played 44 games in 2013 following hip surgery — and the Yankees wanted pretty much nothing to do with him. The only reason A-Rod remained with the team is the three years and $60M+ left on his contract.

So, when Spring Training opened, there was Alex, in pinstripes and with the Yankees. He offered a handwritten apology to fans, held a press conference to smooth things over with the media, then went about his business to prepare for the season, a season in which no one had any idea what to expect from him. Again, 39 years old! Two bad hips! Almost two full years away from the game! Attempting to predict Rodriguez’s season was futile.

Spring Training was almost too good to be true. A-Rod hit three long home runs in camp, showed a discerning eye at the plate, and even worked out at first base when the team asked. “It doesn’t matter, I am here to play baseball. Whatever (Joe Girardi) wants to do I will do,” said Alex to George King in camp, which wasn’t the first indication he was going to take a team first approach and say all the right things in his return from the suspension.

As good as A-Rod looked in camp, the regular season was going to be a different story. Pitchers weren’t going to be working on things anymore. There weren’t going to be a bunch of minor leaguers pitching in each game. It was time to face big league arms consistently for the first time in close to 20 months. Girardi wasn’t expecting much, so Alex batted seventh on Opening Day. He went 1-for-2 with a single and a walk. Rodriguez batted seventh the next game as well and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Some good, some bad.

The Yankees faced the left-handed Daniel Norris in the third game of the season, so Girardi decided to bump A-Rod up to second in the order, and he responded with a solo homer, his first of the season. Rodriguez batted third against a lefty the next day, went 2-for-5 with a double, and before you knew it, he was the regular No. 3 hitter. Ten games. That’s how long it took Alex to show Girardi he was one of the best hitters on the team and deserved to bat in the middle of the order. Of course, it helps when you do this in the tenth game:

That monster game against the Rays was the “okay, A-Rod’s back” moment. That was the game that, in hindsight, confirmed to everyone Rodriguez still had plenty to offer at the plate and wasn’t going to be a liability, someone the Yankees would have to grit their teeth and live with because the contract left them no choice. A-Rod showed he is an asset.

The A-Bombs have kept coming, 18 of them so far this year, and Rodriguez also climbed into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time home run list. He tied Willie Mays with a game-winning pinch-hit solo home run at Fenway Park on May 1st and passed Mays with a go-ahead solo home run at home against the Orioles six days later. The Yankees declined to pay Rodriguez the $6M milestone bonus they owed him for tying Mays, claiming his PED ties rendered it unmarketable, but eventually the two sides worked out an agreement with a bunch of money going to charity. It was a messy situation that was settled peacefully, thankfully.

At the plate, Rodriguez put up a .278/.382/.515 (148 wRC+) batting line in the first half and has probably been the team’s most consistent hitter. He’s been hovering around the .280/.380/.510 mark since mid-May, and every time it looked like he was about to fall into a slump, Alex climbed out of it relatively quickly. Regular off-days have helped. Opponents have tried throwing fastballs by Rodriguez, which is understandable, but that didn’t work. They tried to get him with breaking balls next, and that didn’t work either.

vs. All Fastballs .307 (.271 MLB avg) .273 (.152 MLB avg) 17.8% (15.9% MLB avg)
vs. 94+ mph Fastballs .267 (.249) .289 (.129) 20.7% (22.1%)
vs. Breaking Balls .217 (.218) .145 (.127) 23.1% (30.5%)

A-Rod is still an all-around hitter who hits for average, draws walks, hits for power, and can handle both the hard and soft stuff. What he is not, however, is a fielder. Those days are over. Rodriguez started two games at third base and one at first base back in April — the start at first base was really awkward, which is understandable for someone who never played the right side of the infield before — and that was it. The Yankees pulled the plug and decided it was best to use Alex as the full-time DH going forward. He’s played 1.2 innings in the field in the last 66 games. That’s all.

Limiting A-Rod to DH has hurt the team’s flexibility, no doubt about it — it would be nice to start him at third base once in a while so Carlos Beltran could serve as the DH — though it has helped keep him fresh and in the lineup, and that’s most important. Is it fair to question his production given his past PED ties? Oh yeah. Alex forfeited the benefit of the doubt a while ago. Either way, he’s gone from question mark to indispensable in the first half. Rodriguez’s surprisingly great first half is a huge reason why the Yankees are in first place.


Gluten-Free For Punishment

It’s easy to forget Teixeira was pretty excellent in the first half last season, hitting .241/.341/.464 (125 wRC+) with 17 home runs before the All-Star break before collapsing to .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) with five home runs in the second half. Teixeira was a year removed from wrist surgery and considering how long it took other sluggers like David Ortiz and Jose Bautista to get back to normal following similar injuries in recent years, it sure seemed like Teixeira was still dealing with the lingering effects of surgery.

Of course, no one wanted to hear that excuse, especially since Teixeira’s production and durability had been trending downward since his monster inaugural season in pinstripes back in 2009. Teixeira vowed to get stronger in the offseason — he often said he simply didn’t feel strong at times last year — and adopted a gluten-free diet to make it happen. It sounded like lip service. Players say they’re going to try new things, adopt a new training regime, all that stuff at the end of every season and it rarely amounts to something.

The early returns in Spring Training were unimpressive — Teixeira hit one homer during Grapefruit League play — but it was only Spring Training, so who knows. As soon as the season started though, Teixeira turned into a power-hitting machine, going deep in the team’s third game of the season, then again in their fourth, seventh, 13th, 15th, twice in the 17th, and again in the 18th game. The homers kept coming, and so did the walks — Teixeira hit 14 home runs with 28 walks and 22 strikeouts in his first 44 games of 2015.

The home run pace has slowed — that was inevitable, Teixeira was on pace for 59 homers at the end of April — but Teixeira’s general awesomeness has not. He came into the All-Star break hitting .240/.350/.526 (137 wRC+) with 22 homers, 46 walks, and 56 strikeouts in 82 games, equaling his dinger output for the entire 2014 season. That 137 wRC+ is his best at the break since putting up a 145 wRC+ in the first half of 2007. This is only the second time he’s hit 22+ homers in the first half too, joining 2005 and 2011 (he hit 25 first half homers those years).


On top of the offense, Teixeira is also back to playing all-world defense at first base. His defense was good last year but I didn’t think it was as good as it had been in the past, maybe because he was rusty after missing most of 2013. Teixeira appeared tentative at times making throws and it seemed like he bobbled more ground balls than ever before. The numbers kinda back it up too: Teixeira made only 15 out-of-zone plays last year, a career-low in a full season by a mile. (His previous career low was 32 in 2007 and 2012.) This year? He’s at 18 out-of-zone plays already. It’s not just the bat, Teixeira’s glove has rebounded too.

Teixeira was named to the AL All-Star team for his efforts, something that seemed damn near unthinkable the last few years. His production was slipping each year and the injuries continued to mount, so the thought of getting All-Star production from Teixeira was fading by the season. Maybe the gluten-free diet did the trick. I happen to think getting further away from wrist surgery is the biggest factor for Teixeira. He’s just healthier now than he has been in years.

“I’ve had knee surgery, I’ve had ankle surgery, you have little things here and there, shoulders and low back. You can play through all that. The wrist is the hardest thing, by far, I’ve ever had to go through,” said Teixeira to Tyler Kepner recently. Ortiz and Bautista showed how long it can take to return to normal after a tendon sheath injury — it took more than a full year for both of those guys as well. Teixeira is on a similar timetable. The wrist is healthy, his power is back, and Teixeira is once again a middle of the order force for New York.

* * *

A-Rod and Teixeira both far exceeded expectations in the first half, so much so that it’s fair to say both are performing at or close to the best case scenario. Good health, lots of homers, 135+ wRC+s for both guys? Even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have predicted this. The Summer of Al (and Mark) has given the Yankees the dominant middle of the order they’ve lacked in recent years. Their performances are a major reason why New York has scored the second more runs in baseball in 2015.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome to the show (July 10-12)

See ya (AP/Steven Senne)
See ya (AP/Steven Senne)

Home sweet home, Fenway-style
The Yankees guaranteed they’d be alone atop the AL East at the All-Star break with their 5-1 win on Friday night, the first time that’s happened since 2012 — which also happens to be the last time the Yankees made the playoffs. Coincidence? Let’s hope not.

For the 117th time (well, almost), the Yankees got out to a quick lead thanks to a first-inning solo home run by A-Rod. It was his 26th career homer at Fenway Park, passing Reggie Jackson for the most at the ballpark by any visiting player in the Divisional Era (since 1969).

A-Rod also added another single against Clay Buchholz in the third inning, making him 13-for-29 (.448) with three homers against the Red Sox righty. That is his highest batting average versus any pitcher he’s had at least 25 at-bats against.

Michael Pineda pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just one run on seven hits to earn his first win since mid-June. He’s now gone at least 6 2/3 innings and given up one run or fewer in seven of his 17 starts this season. That’s tied with Chris Archer for the fourth-most such starts in the AL, behind only Felix Hernandez, Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Oh, by the way, all those guys except Pineda happen to be going to Cincinnati for the All-Star Game.

Saturday night stinker
For the second night in a row, the Yankees were feeling good after the top of the first inning thanks to another early homer by A-Rod … but this game didn’t have the same happy ending, as the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees, 5-3.

A-Rod now has 17 homers at Fenway with the Yankees, passing Jorge Posada for the most by any Yankee in the Divisional Era. It was also his eighth go-ahead homer this season, the most of any player on the team. #ClutchRod?

The only other thing that made this loss watchable was the first career major-league game for Rob Refsnyder. Before he took the field, the last Yankee to make his MLB debut against the Red Sox as a starting second baseman was Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon in 1938. No pressure, kid!

The Yankees were shut down by 22-year-old Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who held them to just two runs in six-plus innings. He is the youngest Red Sox starter to allow two runs or fewer against Yankees since Roger Moret in 1971, and also became the first Boston pitcher age 22 or younger to get a win against the Yankees since a guy named Roger Clemens on April 11, 1985.

”Refsnyder has Seoul!” — you know who
Rob Refsnyder’s first major-league homer in the ninth inning ended up being the game-winner in Sunday afternoon’s rubber game, capping off a more-stressful-than-it-had-to-be 8-6 win over the Red Sox. He is the only Yankee second baseman in the last 100 years to homer in either of his first two career games.

With the win, the Yankees have now won five straight series at Fenway Park dating back to last year. The last time they had a run like that in Boston against the Sawx was when they took five series in a row there spanning the 1978-80 seasons.

Brian McCann gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead with what might be the most improbable homer as a major-leaguer: opposite field, against a lefty, on the road. Yeesh.

It was his first career homer at Fenway Park; his 74 at-bats there were his most any ballpark he hadn’t gone deep yet. The home run was also his first one to left or left-center since joining the Yankees last season, and and the only other time in his career he went oppo against a left-handed pitcher was Aug. 25, 2011 off John Grabow.

Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner both got hits, making them the only Yankees to have hit safely in all nine games against the Red Sox this season. A-Rod and Gardy are the first Yankee teammates to have hits in each of their first nine games played against the Red Sox in the same season since Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig in 1937. #MicDrop

Fan Confidence Poll: July 13th, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-2 (30 RS, 22 RA)
Season Record: 48-40 (409 RS, 383 RA, 47-41 pythag. record) 3.5 games up in ALE
Opponents This Week: All-Star break (Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Mariners (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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?

Refsnyder hits first HR as the Yankees down Sox 8-6 to take the series

The Yankees took the series against Red Sox in Boston and they will head into the All-Star break on a positive note. Fantastic! Not only that, Rob Refsnyder recorded his first hit and home run of his career — the latter turned out to be the difference of the game. Personally, I felt that it was a better Nathan Eovaldi outing away from it being an A-grade game, but an 8-6 win is a win. I’ll take it.

(Source: Getty)

Five innings, 102 pitches

In the first two innings, Eovaldi didn’t really allow any damage — only two hits allowed but no runs. The bottom third though: Eovaldi could have gotten out of it scoreless. With runners on first and second and one out, Xander Bogaerts hit a bouncer right up to middle that just barely missed Eovaldi’s glove. Had he caught that, the Yankees would have (maybe) turned a double play to get out of it. Instead, the ball eluded Eovaldi’s glove and trickled into center field for an RBI single. He’s having that kind of year.

The next batter, Pablo Sandoval, hit a 1-2 count 86 mph slider, driving it to the right field for another RBI single. 2-2. Hanley Ramirez followed it up with another grounder to center that went past the infielders for the 3-2 lead. Eovaldi really wasn’t getting many breaks in this innings. After that series of events, he induced two non-threatening grounders to get out of the inning. Eovaldi induced six grounders in that inning and only two of them ended up being outs. BABIP!

Six grounders, four singles, two outs
Six grounders, four singles, two outs

After a three-up, three-down fourth, Eovaldi was up to 87 pitches, which is more than 20 per inning. No bueno. His velocity was there, he was throwing splitters and mixing pitches – he just had trouble putting hitters away. He did throw another clean shutdown inning in the fifth, needing 15 pitches to do so.

So yeah, overall a mixed start for Eovaldi. Well, to be fair, Red Sox offense had been on a rise, and there was some subpar luck in the third. To his credit, he threw strikes (72 strikes in 102 pitches) and struck out four in five innings. Not too shabby. Eovaldi’s first half ends at 9-2, 4.50 ERA/3.54 FIP in 93.0 IP. There’s no major statistical improvement shown in his peripherals besides the ground ball rate (44.8% last year, 50.0% so far in 2015). He throws hard, throws strikes, but gives up a lot of hits and can be frustrating – but remember, he’s still pretty young and he’s on pace for a fWAR around 3.0 for the year, which is not bad at all.

(Source: Getty)

The rallies

New York had three multi-run innings today. In the second, with no score yet, Brian McCann drove a two-run homer … over the Green Monster. How about that, an oppo-bomb for a dead pull guy! According to our Katie Sharp, this is the first time he’s gone oppo since June 2013 so yeah, that’s that. 2-0 Yankees.

Fast forward to top fifth – with Red Sox then leading 3-2 – McCann went oppo again. Instead of a homer, it was a double. Chase Headley followed it up with an infield single to get the runners in corners with no outs. With Didi Gregorius at-bat, Miley made a pick-off attempt to first and … got called a balk! A balk! As the YES broadcast noted, lefty pick-off moves are very, very subjective and Angel Hernandez didn’t like what he saw in Miley’s motion. Headley advanced to second and McCann touched home for a 3-3 game.

Things became fun to watch in the sixth. Brett Gardner reached on an infield single and A-Rod followed it with a sharp double to left for an RBI. 4-3 New York. Mark Teixeira lined out softly but Chris Young picked him up by hitting a huge double that hit the Green Monster to drive Rodriguez in. Farrell substituted in Tommy Layne for Miley and a batter later, Headley hit another RBI double to make it 6-3 Yankees. Three RBI doubles in an inning – why couldn’t it be like that more often?

The later innings

As the game entered the bottom sixth, Joe Girardi put Adam Warren in for Eovaldi and I definitely thought it was the right move. An inning each for Warren – Wilson – Betances – Miller sequence, right? However, Warren only faced three batters and allowed an earned run – a Hanley Ramirez double and a Shane Victorino RBI single. Warren’s command had not looked sharp in the past two outings but I’m not too worried – pitchers go through these kinds of funks during the season.

Justin Wilson came in to avoid further damage and that’s exactly what he did. Despite allowing a single to Mike Napoli, Wilson retired Ryan Hanigan and Mookie Betts to escape the sixth with a 6-4 New York lead. In the seventh, he got two outs and made way for Dellin Betances, who struck out Hanley Ramirez on three pitches to end the inning.

Bottom eighth was a bit dicier for Betances. Alejandro De Aza squared up a fastball for a single (which could have been a double if it weren’t for Jacoby Ellsbury‘s efficient route to ball) to lead off. Betances did get the next two batters out but he walked Ryan Hanigan put tying run on base. Mookie Betts came to at-bat. Betts has made himself an indispensable player for Red Sox. After a slow start, he’s now hitting a solid .277/.328/.464 line for a 115 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR this season. Also, he’s only 22! He’s going to be a stud in the majors. Unfortunately for the Sox, Betts struck out on a nasty 2-2 count curveball down on dirt. Dellin doing what Dellin does.


Refsnyder has Seoul!

Let’s take it back to the top seventh. As Robert Refsnyder led off, the YES broadcasters noted that he has yet to have a big league hit … and then almost immediately, the second baseman lined a Tommy Layne fastball to right-center for a single.

Now, onto the top ninth. Alexi Ogando was the pitcher. Headley had reached the base on a walk and Gregorius followed it up with a fly out. In a 2-2 count on Refsnyder, Ogando hung a slider up in the zone and Refsnyder missed absolutely none of it – a towering two-run homer that almost cleared the Monster seats for an 8-4 Yankees lead. How about that for the first career ML homer? For the Yankees, against the Red Sox, at Fenway Park and over the Monster! That’s gotta be a near-perfect dream scenario for a lot of the kids out there.

A slight nail-biter

Because this is a Yankee – Red Sox matchup, of course it’s not going to end easily. Ex-Red Sox Andrew Miller came in the ninth to close it out. He walked Brock Holt but followed it up by striking out Xander Bogaerts. The next batter, Pablo Sandoval, hit a little nubber towards the third base line. McCann attempted to barehand it and throw but he bobbled the ball on the first try. He did make a solid throw to first but the ball hit the heel of Teixeira’s glove and Sandoval reached safely, making it one out with runners on first and second.

Hanley Ramirez, the next batter, hit a comeback bouncer to Andrew Miller, setting up a tailor-made double play situation. Miller then threw perhaps a bit across the body and the ball sailed far too right for Refsnyder to handle. Brock Holt scored on the mishap to make it 8-5. I thought Miller’s was more at fault but the official scoring called it an error on Refsnyder for missed catch.

De Aza hit a sacrifice fly to shave the lead down to two. With two outs and runner on second, Shane Victorino popped out to Didi to end the game. Phew. That 2-run homer by Refsnyder in the ninth turned out to be quite crucial, ain’t it?

Box score, updated standing, video highlights, WPA

Here’s today’s box score, standings, highlights and WPA.

Source: FanGraphs

Yankees don’t play another meaningful baseball till Friday – they will host the Seattle Mariners for a three-game series on the weekend. But for now, enjoy the 3.5 lead in the AL East through the All-Star break and have a good rest of Sunday!

DotF: Severino dominates in AAA; Judge and Sanchez pick up hits in the Futures Game

2015 Futures Game (Team USA 10, World Team 1)

  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 R, 2 K — he beat out an infield single to the third baseman and looked silly on a few breaking balls
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-2, 1 2B — doubled to center

Triple-A Scranton (8-1 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 3-5, 3 R, 1 2B
  • 2B Jose Pirela: 2-5
  • LF Ramon Flores: 0-4, 1 RBI
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K — now that’s a Greg Bird game … second straight game with a dinger … he homered off Blue Jays top prospect LHP Daniel Norris, who was up in MLB earlier this season
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-5, 1 R, 1 K
  • RHP Luis Severino: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 3/4 GB/FB — 41 of 64 pitches were strikes (64%) … games like this are why I wish the Yankees were a little more flexible with their workload management … no stress, efficient, crushing along, why not let him keep going so he can go through a lineup three times for once?
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 13 of 19 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • LHP James Pazos: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — only nine of 19 pitches were strikes (47%)

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

It’s always good to take a series from a perennial last place team, especially right before the All-Star break. These next four days will be pretty swell. Recharge the batteries a bit and get ready for the second half, a second half in which the Yankees have to be considered the AL East favorites. They’re flawed, no doubt about it, but I think they’re also the most well-rounded team in the division.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Cardinals and Pirates are the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Cooney vs. Liriano) and that series has been really good. Last night’s game was epic. Hopefully we’re in for more of the same tonight. Talk about whatever here.

2015 Futures Game Thread

2015 Futures GameThe Yankees are currently playing the final game of the first half against the Red Sox in Fenway Park (game thread), meanwhile, about 900 miles west, the 2015 Futures Game will be played this afternoon in Cincinnati. I wish they would play the Futures Game at night, in the 8pm ET ESPN slot, so it doesn’t have to compete against real MLB games each year. Tough to draw an audience this way.

Anyway, the Yankees have two prospects in the Futures Game this year and both are in the starting lineup. Outfielder Aaron Judge is at DH and will bat sixth for Team USA — too bad, his right field defense is underrated and we won’t get to see it today — while catcher Gary Sanchez is behind the plate and batting fifth for the World Team. I hope they go a combined 10-for-10 with ten homers. Here are the starting lineups:

Team USA (Manager: Ken Griffey Sr.)

  1. 2B Tony Kemp, Astros
  2. SS J.P. Crawford, Phillies
  3. C Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
  4. 3B Richie Shaffer, Rays
  5. RF Kyle Waldrop, Reds
  6. DH Aaron Judge, Yankees
  7. 1B Josh Bell, Pirates
  8. LF Michael Conforto, Mets
  9. CF Bradley Zimmer, Indians
    RHP Lucas Giolito, Nationals

World Team (Manager: Tony Perez)

  1. 2B Ketel Marte, Mariners
  2. SS Ozzie Albies, Braves
  3. RF Yorman Rodriguez, Reds
  4. 1B Albino Fuenmayor, Royals
  5. C Gary Sanchez, Yankees
  6. 3B Renato Nunez, Athletics
  7. CF Manuel Margot, Red Sox
  8. DH Nomar Mazara, Rangers
  9. LF Raimel Tapia, Rockies
    RHP Jose Berrios, Twins

The pitching orders and reserves can be found right here. There will be a new pitcher each inning and no, the game won’t go to extra innings if it is tied. They won’t extend any pitchers for the sake of an exhibition game.

Now, the bad news: the weather kinda sucks in Cincinnati today. It has been cloudy and overcast all day and there is rain in the forecast this afternoon. Hopefully the Futures Game isn’t delayed or outright canceled because of the weather. The game is scheduled to begin at 3pm ET and you can watch live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Enjoy the game.