2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

2015 Midseason Review: The Frustrating and Evolving Nathan Eovaldi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Despite all the injury concerns in the rotation, the Yankees made just one significant pitching addition this past offseason. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins in a trade that saw a starting pitcher (David Phelps) go the other way. Heck, they traded away two young-ish starters (Phelps and Shane Greene) and acquired just one (Eovaldi) over the winter. That was unexpected.

Eovaldi, who turned 25 two months after the trade, came to New York with the classic “the results don’t match the stuff” reputation. He throws extremely hard but doesn’t miss bats and is too hittable. That was the scouting report. Eovaldi had a 3.77 FIP in 199.2 innings for Miami last year. That’s good! He also had a 4.37 ERA (86 ERA+) with only 142 strikeouts and an NL-leading 223 hits allowed. That’s bad.

The Yankees weren’t buying Eovaldi hoping he would be the pitcher he was with the Marlins last year. They acquired him because they believe he can be better in the future through natural development with an assist from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who has a history of helping pitchers improve strikeout and walk rates. Eovaldi was 24 at the time of the trade. He wasn’t a finished product.

So far Eovaldi has continued to be the pitcher he was with the Marlins. He’s been freakishly consistent year-to-year, actually. His strikeout (16.5%) and walk (6.0%) rates are nearly identical to last year (16.6% and 5.0%, respectively), and his home run rate (0.63 HR/9 vs. 0.73 HR/9) hasn’t jumped a whole lot considering the shift from spacious Marlins Park to homer happy Yankee Stadium. That’s encouraging.

Eovaldi remains extremely hit prone, however. His hit rate this year (11.3 H/9 and 3.55 BABIP) is actually higher than last year (10.1 H/9 and .323 BABIP), and I swear, I’ve never a pitcher allow more dinky little hits than Eovaldi this year. The Red Sox’s three-run rally in the third inning this past Sunday is a perfect example:

Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox rally2

That’s one legitimate line drive single and four seeing-eye ground ball singles. The worst! Whenever that sort of rally happens to any other pitcher, you just kinda chalk it up to baseball being baseball. Sometimes the ground balls find holes and it stinks. But it happens with Eovaldi all the time! Like once or twice a start. The batted balls keep finding grass. It’s so unbelievably frustrating.

Eovaldi’s overall numbers with the Yankees aren’t anything special — 4.50 ERA (88 ERA+) and 3.55 FIP in 98 innings — though things are skewed a bit by that one disaster start in Miami. He’s been much better over the last six or seven weeks than his overall numbers would lead you to believe. But still, Eovaldi has been frustrating and he struggles to pitch deep into games (six full innings just seven times in 18 starts). It’s not a good combination.

And yet, Eovaldi continues to evolve with the Yankees. He’s actually throwing harder this season (96.1 mph) than last (95.5 mph) — Eovaldi’s the hardest throwing starter in baseball this year by half-a-mile an hour — and he continues to work on a splitter he started to pick up late last year. Well, maybe it’s a splitter. It might be a forkball. It depends who you ask. Either way, it’s a pitch he’s working on and has incorporated more often as the season has progressed:

Nathan Eovaldi pitch selection

Eovaldi was using that splitter or forkball — how about we call it a sporkball? — 10% of the time or less until early-June, when he suddenly started using it more than 20% of the time. Only once in his last eight starts did he throw it less than 19% of the time. The extra sporkballs have come at the expense of his fastball mostly, though he’s also thrown fewer sliders as well.

The increased sporkball usage isn’t even the most interesting part. Look at how hard Eovaldi is now throwing that pitch:

Nathan Eovaldi splitter velocity

For some reason the sporkball added about five miles an hour four starts ago. It just jumped dramatically from one start to the next. The pitch averaged 91.1 mph in Boston on Sunday according to PitchFX. Averaged. I have no idea what to make of that. It seems impossible to throw a splitter that hard, and yet Eovaldi has done it four starts in a row now, and very effectively I might add. He has a 2.91 ERA in those four starts and opponents have swung and missed at the sporkball 25.4% of the time (14.9% league average for splitters).

Of course, Eovaldi has also allowed 23 hits in 21.2 innings in those last four starts, which brings us back to his hittability problem. As he has continued to use the sporkball more and more, Eovaldi’s ground ball rate has climbed steadily …

Nathan Eovaldi ground ball rate… and those dinky little seeing eye hits are happening just as often. His ground ball improvement is tremendous — Eovaldi’s gone from a 43.8% grounder rate in 2013 to 44.8% in 2014 all the way up to 50.3% in 2015 — and ground balls are good, as long as they aren’t getting through for base hits as often as they have for Eovaldi. His BABIP on grounders is .311. The AL average is .243. (Blame some of that on the team’s remarkably consistent ability to get burned by the shift.)

Quality of contact could certainly be an issue, but both Eovaldi’s soft contact (19.0%) and hard contact (30.4%) rates rank middle of the pack and are in line with the league averages (18.6% and 28.5%, respectively). And yet, the balls keep falling in for base hits.

Nathan Eovaldi soft contact vs BABIP

There’s obviously something going on beyond the numbers here. Eovaldi’s fastball isn’t straight — according to PitchFX he gets more way more horizontal movement (-6.7 inches) than the league average fastball (-1.8 inches) — so hitters either pick the ball up well out of Eovaldi’s hand or they can easily read the spin or he gets too predictable in certain counts. Maybe it’s all of the above. I can’t explain it and that’s part of the reason why he’s so frustrating.

Overall, Eovaldi has been somewhere in the range of serviceable and okay this season. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. His biggest issue more than anything is being unable to pitch deep into games, though part of that is a function of Joe Girardi‘s perpetual quick hook. Eovaldi is evolving as the season continues though. He has increasingly relied on the splitter and his ground ball rate is jumping. His numbers are similar to last year but his pitching style has changed.

Girardi likes to say Eovaldi is a “work in progress” and he’s right, but Eovaldi is also a pretty important part of the pitching staff by virtue of being in the five-man rotation. The Yankees want results and they want to see development. The sporkball isn’t a put-away pitch now and it may never be, but it won’t become one without using it in games, and Eovaldi is certainly doing that now. Trying to develop and win at the same time is not an easy task, though that’s what the Yankees and Eovaldi have tried to do in the first half and will continue to do after the All-Star break.

2015 Midseason Review: First-half Yankeemetrics

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As part of Mike’s great Midseason Review series, I’m here to give you some of the amazing (both good and bad) statistical notes from the unofficial first half of the season, plus a quick look ahead to a few of the records that these six Yankees below will be chasing during the remainder of 2015.

Without further adieu, your first-half Yankeemetrics:

Brett Gardner
Gardner is certainly deserving of the being the Yankees’ first-half MVP, and if Mike’s write-up on Tuesday didn’t convince you, then how about this note: Gardner is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 homers, 20 doubles, 15 steals and a .300 batting average at the break. The other? Alfonso Soriano in 2002 — which just happened to be the year he came thisclose to a historic 40-40 season (39 homers, 41 steals).

Something to watch for in the second half: Gardner needs three steals to reach the magic number of 200. He would be the second Yankee, along with Hal Chase, to have 200 stolen bases in their first eight major league seasons — and the only player in franchise history with at least 200 steals and 50 homers through their first eight career seasons.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is having a tremendous bounceback season, leading the AL with 62 RBI and also hitting 22 homers. He is just the second Yankee in the last 40 years to be the outright league leader in RBI at the break, along with A-Rod (2007) and Don Mattingly (1985).

This is the third time as a Yankee he’s had at least 20 homers and 60 RBI before the All-Star break (also in 2009, 2011). Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, here’s the list of other Yankees to reach those benchmarks three-or-more times before the break: Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.

Something to watch for in the second half: Teixeira is on pace for his first 40-homer season as a Yankee. The only other player in franchise history to hit at least 40 homers in his age 35-season or older is Babe Ruth, who did it three times (1930-32).

Alex Rodriguez
If you told me that A-Rod would have the third-most at-bats on the team (he’s healthy!) and have 18 homers and 51 RBIs (he’s productive!) in the first half of the season, I might have suggested psychological treatment for you. How rare is it for a guy as old as A-Rod to be hitting that well?

The only other players in their age-39 season or older to have at least 18 homers, 50 RBI and 80 hits before the All-Star break (since 1933) are Edgar Martinez (2003), Andres Galarraga (2000) and Dave Winfield (1991). Yup, the Summer of Al continues.

Something to watch for in the second half: If A-Rod can stay healthy and get at least 500 plate appearances this season, while maintaining his current slash line of .278/.382/.515 or better, he’d join Barry Bonds (2004) and Ted Williams (1958) as the only players to finish a season with those marks in their age-39 season or older.

Stephen Drew
Of course we had to put Drew’s bizarre statistical first half into context, even if he might just be a bench guy in the second half (yes, please). With 12 homers and an unfathomable .182 batting average in the first half, Drew is the first player in franchise history to hit double-digit home runs and have a batting average under .200 at the break.

In fact, his .182 batting average is the third-lowest in major-league history for any player with at least 10 homers in the unofficial first half of the season. The only guys with a lower average are the Cubs’ Mike Olt (.144 in 2014) and the Twins’ Tim Laudner (.181 in 1987).

Something to watch for in the second half: I don’t think Drew is going to get enough at-bats to reach 20 or 25 homers, but what if he gets to 15? The lowest batting average for a guy that hit at least 15 homer runs in a season is .179, done by Dan Uggla (2013) and Rob Deer (1991). That’s doable!

CC Sabathia
At least he is healthy, right? Well, that might actually be the problem, because Joe Girardi has little choice but to keep sending Sabathia out there every fifth day (sort of) despite his ugly numbers (4-8, 5.47 ERA).

Sabathia is the third Yankee starter to lose at least eight games before the break with an ERA of 5.40 or higher. The other pitchers on this inglorious list are Tim Leary (1991) and Ralph Terry (1964). In the words of the aforementioned manager, “it’s not what you want.”

Something to watch for in the second half: How bad can it get for CC the rest of the season? The highest ERA for any Yankee pitcher that qualified for the ERA title in a non-strike season is 5.30 by Bump Hadley in 1937. (Unfortunately, Hadley is better known for something else that season, as the pitcher that beaned Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane and ended his career.)

Dellin Betances
Betances couldn’t quite match his numbers from the first half of the season last year (84 strikeouts, 1.46 ERA), but still has had a terrific couple of months so far with 77 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA.

Those back-to-back first-half performances are unprecedented for any pitcher since the first All-Star Game in 1933. That’s right, no pitcher (starter or reliever) in that span has entered the break with at least 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.60 or lower in back-to-back seasons. Bravo, Betances.

Something to watch for in the second half: Last year Betances set the single-season franchise record for the most strikeouts (135) by a pitcher with zero starts. He’s probably not going to break that record again, but even if he regresses a bit and finishes the year with more modest numbers, he’d do something that no reliever in major-league history has ever done: consecutive seasons with at least 115 strikeouts and a sub-2.00 ERA.

Betances throws scoreless inning, AL wins 2015 All-Star Game 6-3

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The American League continues to dominate the All-Star Game. The AL beat the NL 6-3 on Tuesday night at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for their third straight All-Star Game win and 15th in the last 19 years (!). Mike Trout was named MVP after going 1-for-3 with a leadoff homer and a walk. He’s the first player to be named All-Star Game MVP in back-to-back years. Here are the box score, video highlights, and WPA graph.

All three Yankees elected to the Midsummer Classic did play in the game. Brett Gardner pinch-hit for Adam Jones in the fifth inning and struck out looking against Clayton Kershaw. He struck out looking against former teammate Mark Melancon later in the game. Gardner played two innings in left field before sliding over to center, and I don’t even remember him having to make a catch. It was his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Mark Teixeira replaced Albert Pujols at first base in the sixth inning, grounding out (against Francisco Rodriguez) and striking out (swinging against Aroldis Chapman) in his two at-bats. Teixeira also made several nice plays in the field — he stretched and kept his foot on the bag to catch an errant throw from Manny Machado, then came off the bag to catch a throw from Zach Britton that was heading for right field. Teixeira was playing in his third All-Star Game.

And finally, Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless seventh inning with the AL leading 5-2. Dellin got Brandon Crawford to ground out to second, walked Kris Bryant, struck out Joe Panik, then got A.J. Pollock to ground out to third. He threw eleven of his 20 pitches for strikes and was effectively wild in his first All-Star Game appearance (second selection).

The AL will now have home field advantage in the World Series, which is not insignificant for the Yankees. They currently have the best World Series odds in the AL and third best World Series odds overall according to FanGraphs, and they’re a substantially better team at home this season: 25-16 with a +38 run differential at Yankee Stadium compared 23-24 and -12 run differential on the road. So hooray home field advantage.

Minor League Update: There won’t be a minor league update tonight because there were no games. Every affiliate either had an off-day, was rained out, or had their game suspended due to rain. Here are the box scores. Third rounder Jeff Degano allowed a run in one inning of work in his pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks before the game was suspended.

2015 All-Star Game Open Thread

We need to talk more about Dellin's hair. (@Yankees)
We need to talk more about Dellin’s hair. (@Yankees)

Hard to believe we’re at the All-Star Game already, isn’t it? Home field advantage in the World Series is on the line tonight, and you know what? That is actually relevant to the Yankees this year. The Yankees have the highest World Series odds in the AL and the third highest World Series odds in baseball according to FanGraphs. Considering how much better the Yankees are at home, yeah, I want Games One and Two of the Fall Classic in the Bronx.

Anyway, the Yankees have three All-Stars this year, the three handsome guys in the photo above. Neither Mark Teixeira nor Brett Gardner is in the starting lineup, though Gardner told Bryan Hoch he was told to be ready for the fifth inning. Dellin Betances said AL manager Ned Yost told him to be ready to pitch “somewhere in the middle” of the game according to Erik Boland, so after not pitching in the All-Star Game last year, it sounds like Dellin and his Kid ‘n Play haircut will get in the game tonight. Here are the starting lineups:

American League

  1. CF Mike Trout, Angels
  2. 3B Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays
  3. 1B Albert Pujols, Angels
  4. DH Nelson Cruz, Mariners
  5. RF Lorenzo Cain, Royals
  6. LF Adam Jones, Orioles
  7. C Salvador Perez, Royals
  8. 2B Jose Altuve, Astros
  9. SS Alcides Escobar, Royals
    LHP Dallas Keuchel, Astros

National League

  1. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  2. 3B Todd Frazier, Reds
  3. RF Bryce Harper, Nationals
  4. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  5. C Buster Posey, Giants
  6. DH Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  7. SS Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
  8. LF Joc Pederson, Dodgers
  9. 2B D.J. LeMahieu, Rockies (lolwut)
    RHP Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Felix Hernandez told Ryan Divish he is scheduled to pitch after Keuchel and Yost said Chris Sale will also pitch at some point, and that’s pretty much all we know about the pitching plans beyond Betances being prepared for the middle innings. The full All-Star rosters are right here.

Now, the bad news: it’s raining in Cincinnati. Or at least it was earlier this afternoon. The sky has cleared for the time being and it looks like they’ll be able to start the game on time. There is more rain in the forecast later tonight, however. The broadcast starts at 7pm ET but first pitch isn’t scheduled until 8:15pm ET — there are the baseline introductions and all that beforehand — and you can watch on FOX. Enjoy the game.

Update: Yankees sign 11th rounder LHP Josh Rogers to above slot bonus

(Louisville)
(Louisville)

Tuesday: Rogers received a $485,000 bonus, according to Callis. Our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows the Yankees have $2,738,565 left over to give to Kaprielian while Callis says it’s $2,676,450. Someone’s math is screwed up somewhere. Either way, Kaprielian is slotted for $2,546,300 and Jon Heyman says the two sides are expected to have a deal done by Friday’s deadline.

Sunday: According to Jim Callis, the Yankees have signed 11th round pick Louisville LHP Josh Rogers to an overslot bonus worth early fourth round money. That puts his bonus in the $500,000 range. Any money over $100,000 given to a player taken after the tenth round counts against the draft pool.

Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore with more leverage than the average 11th round pick, had Tommy John surgery as a high school senior and returned to the mound just eleven months later. He had a 3.36 ERA with an 82/25 K/BB in 93.2 innings for Louisville this spring and a 3.09 ERA with a 16/7 K/BB in 20.1 innings for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League this summer.

The Yankees likely selected Rogers as a “summer follow,” meaning they took him with the intention of getting a longer look on the Cape before deciding whether to make an offer. That’s how they landed David Robertson back in the day. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d):

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Rogers has a near ideal pitcher’s build. He locates his 87-91 mph fastball, mixes in a slider that flashes average at his best and below-average at other times and a usable changeup. Rogers’ mix of three pitches and an ability to locate them makes him a potential back-end starter.

As our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows, a bonus in the $500,000 range leaves the team about $2.6M to sign first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian. Slot money for the 16th overall pick is $2.54M or so, and in recent weeks we heard Kaprielian is expected to receive a bonus in the $3M range. Guess that’s not happening. I highly doubt the Yankees would exceed their pool and forfeit a future first rounder to sign him. The signing deadline is this Friday and I have no reason to believe Kaprielian won’t sign.

2015 Midseason Review: Bad Knees and Platoon Splits in the Outfield

The Yankees had to rebuild their infield this past offseason, but the outfield remained the same. They had three outfielders under contract — and will again this winter, the same three starters will be back in 2016! — so all they needed was a fourth outfielder for the bench. Given the sketchiness of the new-look infield, the outfield had to be the strength of the club. Brett Gardner has held up his end of the bargain. Everyone else? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Great … When Healthy

Gardner as been the Yankees’ best all-around player so far this season, though Ellsbury is right there with him on a rate basis in the non-power departments. He’s been better, in fact. Gardner is hitting .302 with a .377 OBP while Ellsbury has hit .318 with a .399 OBP. Brett has more power, but that’s fine, they’re both pretty awesome and they’ve done a dynamite job of setting the table in 2015. The Yankees have scored the second most runs in baseball this year thanks in large part to these two guys batting one-two in the lineup.

As good as Ellsbury has been this year — he’s hitting .318/.399/.376 (122 wRC+) with two homers, 14 steals, and by far the highest walk rate of his career (10.4%) — he has played in only 42 of the team’s 88 games due to a knee injury that sidelined him for approximately seven weeks. (His rehab was a little slower than expected too. He missed some rehab games with “general fatigue,” which unfortunately is nothing new for Ellsbury.) He just returned last week in fact, in the fifth to last game of the first half.

When he has been on the field, Ellsbury’s been great. He’s been a dynamic leadoff hitter who is getting on base and letting the other guys drive him in. That’s exactly when he’s supposed to do. Ellsbury’s been one of the very best leadoff hitters in baseball in 2015, and he’s done it while playing his typically excellent center field. No problems with his production whatsoever. The knee injury just put a big damper on his first half. It happens.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Veteran Downside

Gosh, how bad did Carlos Beltran look back in April? Really, really bad. He wasn’t hitting at all, pitchers were beating him with both hard stuff and soft stuff, and it looked like the 38-year-old with bad knees coming off offseason elbow surgery was nearing the end of the line. Beltran was a truly great player who deserves Hall of Fame consideration. That doesn’t make him invincible to aging, however.

Then something weird happened. Beltran started hitting. And he kept hitting too. He followed up his miserable .162/.216/.265 (23 wRC+) showing in April with a .298/.316/.500 (123 wRC+) performance in May and a .300/.378/.488 (142 wRC+) performance in June. It all adds up to a .260/.309/.430 (102 wRC+) batting line with seven home runs overall. This graph looks good to me:

Carlos Beltran wOBABeltran’s return to usefulness hit a bump in the road late last month, when he landed on the DL with an oblique strain. He’s expected to play in minor league rehab games this week and rejoin the Yankees either immediately after the All-Star break or soon thereafter. Seems like a minor injury, thankfully.

As the offense has ticked upward, Beltran’s right field defense has remained a huge liability. He has no range — how many catchable pop-ups have we seen drop in foul terrible already this year? argh — and let’s be honest here, Beltran doesn’t always bust it to retrieve whatever balls do fall in. The guy does have bad knees and he is 38, no one is expecting him to move around like Ellsbury or Gardner, but good gravy, the lack of mobility is alarming.

The Yankees are stuck with Beltran in right field because Alex Rodriguez is their full-time DH. A-Rod at DH has worked way too well to mess with it. So it’s not Beltran’s fault he has to play the field every day. Even with his bat coming around, Carlos is a replacement level player with far more downside than upside. His first half as a whole was not good — the offensive rebound saved it from being a total disaster — and the Yankees are just going to have to live with whatever Beltran gives them. Hope he mashes and doesn’t hurt the team in the field before the defensive replacement comes in.

The Fourth Outfielder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees struck fourth outfielder gold this offseason. They brought in Chris Young as a low cost flier last September — the Mets released him and were on the hook for his salary, so the Yankees only had to pay Young the pro-rated portion of the league minimum — and he produced (146 wRC+), so they brought him back on a one-year deal worth $2.5M to complement their lefty heavy outfield this offseason.

The results have been stellar. Young is hitting .248/.301/.452 (106 wRC+) with 10 (!) home runs overall, and he’s done his best work against lefties, hitting .354/.411/.646 (192 wRC+) against southpaws. That is exactly what Young was brought to do. Mash lefties and play strong defense, which he has done in all three outfield spots — yeah he misplayed that ball into a triple this past weekend, but everyone screws up now and then — and often in place of Beltran late inning games.

Young is not hitting right-handed pitchers — .180/.228/.328 (50 wRC+) — and yet Joe Girardi keeps playing him against righties, especially while Beltran has been on the DL. That’s a Girardi problem, not a Young problem. I guess we could blame Young for hitting a little against righties in April and giving Girardi confidence he can hold his own against northpaws. Either way, as a defensive replacement/lefty masher, Young has been phenomenal. Legitimate A+ work. The Yankees won the bench player lottery.

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Aside from Beltran, who is an older player nearing the end of his career, the Yankees have gotten excellent work out of their outfielders this season. Gardner has been incredible, Ellsbury has been very good when healthy, and Young has been as good as any fourth outfielder in the league. Gardner and Ellsbury are critical to the team’s success and Young’s role against lefties shouldn’t be overlooked — he adds much needed balance to the roster. The outfield overall as been very good, even with Beltran dragging things down a bit.