The Reinvention of CC Sabathia [2016 Season Review]


The end of CC Sabathia‘s contract has not been pretty and I’m not sure any of us are surprised. The Yankees went into the contract — and the contract extension following 2011, at that — knowing they were paying for the great years up front and would have to live with the ugly years at the back-end. Sabathia pitched very well from 2009-12 before all the wear and tear began to take their toll.

We’ve spent the last few years hoping. Hoping Sabathia would figure out how to pitch with diminished stuff and hoping he’d regain some effectiveness. He didn’t have to be an ace anymore. But league average would have been nice. Heck, it would have been an upgrade. Sabathia had a 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 424.1 innings from 2013-15, after all. We came into this season hoping again. This time, those hopes and prayers didn’t go for naught.

The Spring Competition

The Yankees hold competitions in Spring Training every year and most of them are rigged. Some are legitimate, but they’re usually for bench or bullpen spots. Rarely do the Yankees leave a rotation spot or a regular lineup spot up for grabs in camp. That’s why it was a little tough to believe them when they said Sabathia would have to compete for a rotation spot in camp. It was Sabathia vs. Ivan Nova.

Early during Grapefruit League play, Nova thoroughly out-pitched Sabathia. He allowed two runs in his first three spring starts and nine innings. Sabathia allowed ten runs in 7.1 innings in his first three starts. The Yankees insisted it was a true competition, and Nova was in the lead. Then he allowed ten runs in his next two starts and nine innings while Sabathia finished well, and that was that.

Even if this was a true competition, I’m sure the Yankees wanted Sabathia to win. They wanted nothing more than to see Sabathia grab a rotation spot and run with it. They were paying him a ton of money for things he’s done in the past, and they badly hoped he would contribute something this year. Sabathia finished the spring strong while Nova hit a bump in the road, so the veteran southpaw got the job.

“There was a lot of discussion,” said Joe Girardi at the end of camp. “A lot of it came down to CC’s September last year. He’s been there so many times. As I said, the decision that sometimes you make in April is not necessarily what happens in May. And I gotta tell you: it was really hard and it was not a decision that we were trying to prolong or not try to inform the players.”

Re-Emergence of the Ace

The Yankees did indeed slot Sabathia in as their fifth starter to open the regular season, and his first start was … okay. Not great, not terrible. Just okay. He allowed three runs on four hits and four walks in six innings against the Tigers. By fifth starter standards, that was okay. The rest of April was not. Sabathia allowed 12 runs on 25 hits and eleven walks in his first four starts and 21.1 innings. He struck out 15. That’s a 5.06 ERA (4.04 FIP).

The calls to remove Sabathia from the rotation — if not outright release him in the final guaranteed year of his contract — grew louder with each passing start. The problem was Michael Pineda and Luis Severino. They were much worse than Sabathia — Pineda had a 6.33 ERA (5.29 FIP) in April, Severino a 6.86 ERA (3.71 FIP) — so he was, at best (worst?), third in line to be removed from the rotation.

It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t remove Sabathia from the rotation following his dreadful April, because over the next month and a half, he was an absolute monster. I’m talking six runs allowed (four earned) total in his next seven starts and 44 innings. He allowed zero earned runs in four of those seven starts. Sabathia’s best start came June 10th, when he chucked seven scoreless against the Tigers.

Following the dreadful April, Sabathia was sitting on a 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) through eleven starts and 65.1 innings on June 21st. There was All-Star Game talk, Comeback Player of the Year talk, Cy Young talk, all of that stuff. Sabathia emerged as the Yankees’ second best starter in the season’s first three months or so. He wasn’t the CC of old, but he chewed up innings and was very effective. It was awesome. Just awesome.

The Step Back to Reality

The regression monster came for Sabathia in late-June. All that success in May and early June was built around an unsustainably low home run rate. Sabathia had a 0.28 HR/9 (3.1 HR/FB%) in those first eleven starts and 65.1 innings and there was no chance that would last. Not in Yankee Stadium and not with the ball suddenly flying out of the park this year.

Sabathia allowed one home run on June 22nd, one on June 28th, two on July 4th, then nine total from July 9th through August 17th. A picture graph is worth a thousand words:

CC Sabathia home run rateYup. The home runs came and they came in bunches. From June 22nd through August 17th, a two-month stretch of games, Sabathia pitched to a 6.78 ERA (5.33 FIP) in eleven starts and 65 innings. He also allowed 13 home runs, which works out to a 1.80 HR/9 (18.8 HR/FB%). Remember that 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) on June 21st? It ballooned to 4.49 ERA (4.31 FIP) by August 17th. That was not fun.

The Strong Finish

Given the last few years, it was easy to think Sabathia’s strong start to the season was basically a low home run rate fluke. He didn’t pitch well at all from 2013-15, and what we saw from late-June through mid-August was more of the same. Those eleven good starts to open 2016 were the outlier. Sabathia had come back to Earth and would limp to the finish line as he had the previous three years.

That didn’t happen though. Sabathia finished the season quite strong. He allowed no more than one earned run in five of his final eight starts and pitched to a 2.37 ERA (4.20 FIP) overall. The ball was still leaving the yard (1.28 HR/9 and 17.1 HR/FB%) but that was going to happen given his home ballpark. The Yankees were fighting for their postseason lives and Sabathia gave them some huge outings, like when he threw seven shutout innings in Toronto on September 25th.

Of course, the Yankees lost that game because the offense never scored, but you can’t blame that on Sabathia. His season can be divided into three parts: eleven good starts, eleven bad starts, then eight good starts. That’s … pretty good? I’ll take what I am arbitrarily classifying as 22 good starts out of 30 total starts from late-career Sabathia any day of the week.

All told, Sabathia finished the 2016 season with a 3.91 ERA (4.28 FIP) in those 30 starts and 179.2 innings. That’s his lowest ERA since 2012 and his lowest FIP since 2013. He did it with an average strikeout rate (19.8%) and a good ground ball rate (50.1%), which is a pretty good recipe for success. Sabathia did walk a few too many (8.5%) and his home run rate finished at 1.10 HR/9 (12.6 HR/FB%), which is pretty normal.

I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say Sabathia’s rebound and spurts of excellence were one of the best parts of the 2016 season. This dude pitched his heart out for the Yankees for a lot of years, even when he wasn’t doing so well. There was never any question about his desire to win and commitment to the team. It was tough to watch him struggle these last few years, and it was awesome to see him have success again. How could you not love this guy?

The New CC Sabathia


This past season, we did not see the same Sabathia we saw from 2009-15. He made some changes over the last year, some of them rather significant, and they could explain his newfound success. Three stand out.

1. The new knee brace. Sabathia’s right knee is a wreck. He’s said it’s bone-on-bone at this point because all those years of his massive 6-foot-6, 300 lb. frame coming down on the knee, his landing knee, have taken their toll. Sabathia has had multiple surgeries, and for most of last season he pitched with a sleeve on his knee. It wasn’t much at all. He used it because it was comfortable.

Late last season Sabathia switched to a clunkier knee brace that provided more stability. His performance improved immediately and he continued to wear it this season. Everything in baseball starts from the ground up, even pitching. Pitching with a compromised lower half ain’t easy. Sabathia can now land more comfortably with the knee brace, and of course that’s going to help his performance. Imagine pitching through pain in your landing knee all the time.

2. The new cutter. This is a pretty big deal. Right-handed hitters absolutely annihilated Sabathia last season. They had a .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) batting line against him. That’s close to MVP caliber. Sabathia needed something to neutralize righties, and his solution was a cutter. A cutter he actually threw. He’s messed around with the pitch in the past, but this year he stuck to it.

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Sabathia effectively replaced his straight four-seam fastball with a cutter. That little cutting action is often the difference between getting squared up and missing the barrel. Sabathia busted righties inside with the cutter all season, and the result was a .258/.325/.400 (.316 wOBA) batting line against. That’s not great, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than what he did against righties last season.

“I’m obviously throwing different pitches,” said Sabathia in August. “I throw the cutter, I throw the two-seamer. So, yeah, I’m a different pitcher than I was three, four years ago. It’s obviously helped that I’m healthy. I have more choices. I can use my changeup, I can throw the backdoor slider, my cutter, obviously. I’m more well-equipped with what I have now.”

3. His sobriety. At the very end of last season Sabathia left the Yankees and checked himself into rehab. Little did we know he had been battling alcoholism for years. Sabathia finally decided to do something about it and that’s great. Far too many people are afraid to ask for help. Sabathia did it despite the inevitable scrutiny that comes with being a Yankee, and yes, he was absolutely scrutinized.

It’s impossible to know how much Sabathia’s sobriety affected his on-field performance, but I have a hard time believing the impact is negligible. He’s in a better place mentally and emotionally, and physically too. How is that not going to translate on the field in some way? I don’t think Sabathia’s sobriety explains his newfound effectiveness entirely — the cutter and knee brace are important too — but I definitely believe it’s a factor.

Outlook for 2017

Sabathia stayed healthy this season — well, aside from a little groin issue in May — so his $25M option for next season vested. He’ll be back next year, and you know what? That’s not a bad thing. Expensive, sure, but this version of Sabathia provides some nice rotation stability. The Yankees need some of that. Given the weak free agent class, having the big lefty back in 2017 will be nice. So Hal Steinbrenner’s wallet will be a little lighter. Boohoo.

Right after the season Sabathia had a “routine” cleanup procedure on his troublesome right knee that was planned weeks in advance. Everything went well and he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. The new cutter and knee brace (and sobriety) give me reason believe Sabathia can again be effective next season. There are tangible explanations why he pitched well this summer. That’s better than the wishcasting we did last the few years, that’s for sure.

The Yankees’ Five Longest Home Runs of 2016

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

For whatever reason, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at a near record pace this past season. An average of 1.155 homers per game were hit in 2016, up from 1.010 last year and 0.861 just two years ago. In fact, 2016 was the second most homer happy season on record. Only in 2000 were more homers hit per game (1.171). My guess is the ball is juiced, but who knows.

Anyway, the Yankees certainly benefited from the home run spike as a team. They hit 183 home runs in 2016, which is down from last year (212), but way up from both 2014 (147) and 2013 (144). Also, the Yankees hit the ball farther on average this season too. Every team did, which lends some credence to the juiced ball theory. Giancarlo Stanton hit a 504-foot home run this summer, for example. It was the longest in baseball since 2009.

As we do every year, it’s time to look back at the five longest home runs hit by the Yankees this season. There are some meaningful and milestone blasts in here too. These aren’t five garbage time shots against random Triple-A arms. Pretty nice mix this season. Shout out to Baseball Savant for making this post possible. Let’s get to it.

5. Castro vs. Jason Motte

New York’s fifth longest home run of the season was a walk-off. How about that? I told you there were some meaningful dingers in this post. The Yankees and Rockies played a wild back-and-forth game at Yankee Stadium on June 22nd. Look at the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees scored four runs in the second inning on a Chase Headley grand slam of all things. The Rockies then rallied to score two in the third, three in the fourth, and three more in the fifth. CC Sabathia and Anthony Swarzak were responsible for that. So, after falling behind 8-4, the Yankees then put up another four-spot in the seventh inning to tie the game. Carlos Beltran‘s three-run dinger was the big blow, but a run-scoring single by Didi Gregorius is what tied the game.

The score remained 8-8 until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Starlin Castro waited all of two pitches to win the game. He clobbered a walk-off home run into the second deck in left field against Jason Motte. To the action footage:

The Yankees had lost two straight and six of their previous nine games, so they were reeling. Taking a 4-0 lead early in the game and then blowing it really stunk. Castro sent everyone home happy and helped spark a three-game winning streak. Distance: 443 feet.

4. Teixeira vs. Kevin Quackenbush

I thought this was Mark Teixeira‘s 400th career home run. Alas, it was No. 401. Teixeira hit his 400th home run earlier in the game, against Padres righty Carlos Villanueva. Unfortunately, No. 401 wasn’t all that dramatic. It was a tack-on blast in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees were already leading 4-1. Here is Teixeira’s long two-run blast (0:54 mark):

On the bright side, I did get to say Quackenbush, so it’s not a total loss. Teixeira’s home run was the Yankees’ fourth longest of the 2016 season. Distance: 444 feet.

3. Judge vs. Matt Andriese

Now this is what I’m talking about. August 13th was one of the most important days of the season. The Yankees officially released Alex Rodriguez that day, after his farewell ceremony the night before, and the move helped clear a spot for Aaron Judge. The club’s top prospect drove all night from Rochester to the Bronx and was in the starting lineup for the 1pm ET game.

Judge wasted little time showing fans why he is so highly regarded. Two pitches after Tyler Austin, who was also called up that day, poked a line drive home run into the short porch in his first career at-bat, Judge launched a missile to dead center field for a solo home run in his first big league at-bat. Here’s the video:

Good gravy that was hammered. Austin and Judge became the first teammates in history to hit home runs in their MLB debuts in the same game, and they did it back-to-back. Incredible. What a fun afternoon. Judge’s home run cleared the windows of the restaurant in center field entirely. He hit it over the damn windows. I mean, look:

Aaron Judge home run

That was so fun, wasn’t it? The A-Rod farewell game the night before was pretty awesome, then the Yankees quickly turned the page and we all got a glimpse of the future. Alex was gone but Judge (and Austin) had arrived. Definitely a fun afternoon. One of the best of the season. Distance: 446 feet.

2. Hicks vs. Rick Porcello

Judge’s home run is actually tied for the second longest hit by a Yankee this season. Don’t ask my why I listed it first. I guess because it’s chronological. Or reverse chronological. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees were absolutely reeling on May 6th. They went into that night’s game against the Red Sox having lost 15 of their previous 20 games (!), and the day before they were walked off by the Orioles. Morale was low. The Yankees looked like one of the worst teams in baseball.

Naturally, the Yankees fell behind quickly in this May 6th game. Michael Pineda allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first inning. Of course he did. The Yankees rallied though, scoring one run in the bottom of the first on Brian McCann‘s double, and another in the bottom of the second on Dustin Ackley‘s single. Dustin Ackley! Good for him.

The game did not devolve into a slugfest, oddly. Both Pineda and Porcello settled down and the score remained 2-2 into the seventh inning. Heading into that seventh inning Porcello had retired seven straight and 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, so he was cruising. Then he left a changeup up to Aaron Hicks, and this happened:

Hicks had done absolutely nothing as a Yankee up to that point. He’d gone 0-for-1 in the game prior to the home run and was hitting .091/.143/.091 on the season. It was bad. Bad bad bad. Hicks came through big in that spot with his long home run over the bullpen and into the right field bleachers. The Yankees won the game and seven of their next ten. Distance: 446 feet.

1. McCann vs. Brandon Kintzler

How about this for a buzzkill: the Yankees’ longest home run of the season came in a loss! To a Twins team that lost 103 total games in 2016! No other team lost more than 94 games this year, you know. Bummer. The Yankees won the other four games featured in this post. Just not this one.

The Yankees did lead this June 19th game early. A McCann home run — not the one we’re going to focus on — and an A-Rod single built a 2-0 lead through four innings. Then Nathan Eovaldi and the bullpen puked all over it. The Twins scored one run in the fifth, four in the sixth, one in the seventh, and then one in the eighth for good measure. Blargh.

When McCann came to the plate against Kintzler to lead off the ninth inning, the Yankees trailed 7-3 and their chances of winning were down to 1.4%. His job was to get on base and maybe start a rally. He did one better. McCann laid into a 2-1 fastball and hit the team’s longest home run of the season. Look at this damn thing. It almost left Target Field (0:23 mark):

The Yankees did nothing after that home run, so the distance didn’t exactly inspire them to make a ninth inning comeback. That’s a shame. It was still an impressively long home run. No one in pinstripes hit a ball farther in 2016. Distance: 450 feet.

* * *

So, among those five home runs, we had one walk-off, one game-winner, and one career first. Pretty, pretty good. Only two other Yankees hit a baseball 440+ feet this season, by the way. Austin Romine launched a 442-foot dinger against someone named Chad Girodo on May 25th (video), and A-Rod clocked a 440-foot bomb off Chris Archer two days later (video). Austin Romine, eh? Didn’t see that coming.

DotF: Kaprielian goes three innings in second AzFL start

It’s time for another special edition of DotF. The various winter ball leagues are beginning their seasons, so soon the weekly minor league update will be much less boring. Here’s what happened in the AzFL today.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-3 loss to Mesa)

  • 2B Gleyber Torres: 2-2, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SB, 1 E (throwing) — got picked off first, so he really knows how to fill all the columns … if you’re into this sort of thing, Jonathan Mayo says the home run was measured at 105 mph off the bat …. that is: good
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 32 of 61 pitches were strikes (52%) in his second start of the AzFL season … Andujar’s error led to the unearned runs … no word on his velocity or anything like that, but I assume all was normal … he threw what is a full outing for him at this point following the injury
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 24 of 38 pitches were strikes (63%) … he allowed two runs in 18 innings with Double-A Trenton after the trade

Tuesday Open Thread

Got some former Yankee news to pass along: Hiroki Kuroda is retiring! He made the announcement today. “The Japan Series will be the end. I’ve decided to hang it up,” he told Kyodo News. “I’ve been shown an excellent dream with an excellent team. And now I want to go out with a smile on my face, all of us celebrating a championship pouring beer on each other.”

Kuroda, now 41, had a 3.09 ERA in 24 starts and 151.2 innings for the Hiroshima Carp earlier this season. He won his 200th professional game a few weeks ago. The Carp, who hadn’t made the postseason since 1991, are playing Shohei Otani’s Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Series, which begins this weekend. Give ’em hell, Hiroki. He was a damn good Yankee.

Anyway, here is today’s open thread. I’m posting it a little earlier than usual because there are two postseason games today. Last day this season we’re guaranteed two games, you know. Here’s the schedule:

  • ALCS Game Four: Indians at Blue Jays (Kluber vs. Sanchez), 4pm ET on TBS (Indians up 3-0)
  • NLCS Game Three: Cubs at Dodgers (Arrieta vs. Hill), 8pm ET on FOX Sports (Series tied 1-1)

The Islanders and Devils are also playing tonight, if you’re looking for some non-baseball entertainment. Talk about those games, Kuroda’s retirement, or anything else right here.

The Yankees’ Only Impact Middle of the Order Veteran [2016 Season Review]


Last season was an interesting one for Carlos Beltran. Early in year two of his three-year contract, Beltran looked completely done. Like done done. He hit .162/.216/.265 (22 wRC+) last April and everyone wanted him to go away. Then Beltran rebounded to hit .295/.357/.505 (135 wRC+) the rest of the season. We all wanted him gone in April, then we couldn’t get enough of him from May through October.

The Yankees hoped Beltran could put together a complete season in 2016, with offensive excellence from start to finish. It would benefit everyone. Beltran would help the Yankees win and he’d also put himself in great position heading into free agency. You never really know with 39-year-old players though. We saw Alfonso Soriano lose it in the blink of the eye a few years ago. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez did the same this year. Beltran was the exception.

The All-Star First Half

Beltran’s post-May success last year did indeed carry over into 2016. Boy did it ever. His April was a bit slow again — he hit .253/.276/.434 (85 wRC+) in the season’s first month — but not as slow as last April, thankfully. And sadly, even with that slow first few weeks, Beltran was still arguably New York’s best hitter in April. The offense was not so good early on. Yeah.

From the start of May through the end of July, Beltran was a man possessed, hitting .319/.363/.580 (149 wRC+) with 18 home runs in 71 games and exactly 300 plate appearances. That’s after hitting 19 home runs in 133 games last year. Beltran hit his 19th home run in Game 71 this year. Crazy. At one point spanning May 24th to June 22nd, he hit ten homers in 25 games. That is pretty incredible.

The biggest of those home runs was a go-ahead three-run home run in the eighth inning against the Angels on June 6th. The Yankees had lost eight of their previous 12 games and they weren’t scoring many runs. They were waiting for that big blow, and Beltran provided it. The Yankees went on to win that game as well as their next four.

Beltran was so good with the Yankees this season that he was selected to the All-Star Game. That’s what happens when you hit .299/.338/.550 (135 wRC+) with 19 home runs in the first half. Beltran was tenth in the AL in homers and seventh in slugging percentage prior to the All-Star break. He was legitimately one of the best power hitters in the game in the first half. Who saw that coming?

Believe it or not, this was Beltran’s first All-Star Game selection as an AL player. He never once made it with the Royals. That’s pretty wild. Beltran played briefly in the All-Star Game — he played two innings in right field and flew out in his only at-bat — and that was a-okay with me. The Yankees needed Beltran to have any shot of getting back into the postseason. Let him rest during the All-Star break.

The Final Weeks in New York

The Yankees never did get back into the race in July. They went 8-8 in 16 July games after the All-Star break, so they continued to tread water. It wasn’t Beltran’s fault. He hit .328/.373/.525 (134 wRC+) with three home runs in those 16 games. Beltran continued to be the team’s best hitter, and it still wasn’t good enough to get them back into the race. They were 5.5 games back of a postseason spot at the All-Star break and 5.5 games back at the end of July.

Aroldis Chapman was traded away on July 25th, a full week before the deadline. That was a pretty good indication Beltran would be dealt as well. He was in his contract year like Chapman, and with the Yankees unable to gain any ground in the postseason race, trading Beltran for prospects was a better move than keeping him for some half-baked attempt of contention. Yeah, they could have made him the qualifying offer and gotten a draft pick after the season, but I didn’t love that idea.

As expected, pretty much every contender had some interest in Beltran prior to the trade deadline. He was the best middle of the order hitter available, there was no long-term commitment, and he’s a veteran guy who has thrived in big moments. Teams were willing to overlook the defensive issues to get the big switch-hitting bat. The Rangers, Astros, Indians, and even the Red Sox reportedly checked in on Beltran. I’m sure others made the phone call too.

The Yankees ultimately worked out a deal with the Rangers, and a few hours before the August 1st deadline, Beltran was sent to Texas for three pitching prospects, the most notable of which was right-hander Dillon Tate, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. The first place Rangers got their middle of the order bat and the Yankees got some lower level pitching depth, and were able to buy low on a kid with some high upside.

Now, the Yankees wound up making a bit of a run in the second half, at one point creeping to within one game of a postseason spot, and boy, it sure would have been nice having Beltran and Gary Sanchez hitting back-to-back those final few weeks. The Yankees made the right move though. They got more in return for Beltran than a dinky little supplemental first round pick, plus they cleared playing time for Aaron Judge. It was a smart, sensible trade.

Nine Weeks in Texas


After hitting .304/.344/.546 (135 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 99 games with the Yankees, Beltran went on to hit .280/.325/.451 (103 wRC+) with seven home runs in 52 games with the Rangers. He then went 2-for-11 (.182) with two singles and a walk in the team’s three-game loss to the Blue Jays in the ALDS. Beltran wasn’t bad with the Rangers — though average offense with his defense is a net negative — but he didn’t have huge impact either.

So far the Yankees have gotten nothing out of this trade other than an open roster spot, and that was to be expected. The three pitchers they acquired are all in Single-A. They’re in the process of trying to rebuild Tate, and the others, Nick Green and Erik Swanson, aren’t top prospects. You won’t see them on any top 30 Yankees prospects lists in the coming weeks because the system is deep, but they’re solid depth arms. The Yankees did what they had to do at the deadline, and that was sell high on a rental veteran with no real future with the team.

Outlook for 2017

While talking to reporters after the trade, Beltran said he wants to continue playing and he’d love to return to the Yankees. He’s wanted to play here for a long time and I’m sure he wishes his two and a half years in pinstripes could have gone better for the team overall. Of course, Beltran also told Rangers reporters after the season that he’d love to continue playing in Texas, so who knows. It might have just been lip service.

The Yankees do have an opening at DH with A-Rod gone, so re-signing Beltran wouldn’t be the worst move in the world. It would certainly be more affordable than spending big on someone like Edwin Encarnacion. At the same time, the Yankees have plenty of young players who can rotate through the DH spot, plus there’s Brian McCann as well. Beltran won’t cost a draft pick — the trade made him ineligible for the qualifying offer — which is a plus.

I’m sure we’ll hear the Yankees connected to Beltran at some point this offseason because we seem to hear about the Yankees being connected to every player throughout the winter. It does make some sense to bring him back. It really depends on what happens with McCann, and what the Yankees want to do with their young players. Are they so committed to playing them that they don’t even want to tie up DH at-bats with a veteran? It’s possible.

One thing the Yankees can learn from each of the four remaining postseason teams

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

At the moment, four teams still have a chance to win the World Series. Someone will end a long title drought this year too. Among the four clubs still alive, the Blue Jays have the shortest title drought, and they last won in 1993. The Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Indians last won in 1948. The Cubs? There were only 46 states in the union the last time they won a championship. Seriously. Look it up.

Obviously the four teams still alive are all very good, and any time a team has success, there’s something that can be learned from them. Front offices around the league wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t look at these four clubs and try to figure out what they’re doing better than everyone. The Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre the last four years, are no different. Here’s one thing they can take from each of the four teams still playing.

Cubs: You can have a great defense without shifting

The Cubs had a historically great defense this season. Truly historic. In terms of simple defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls they turned into outs, the 2016 Cubs were the 75th best defensive team in history (out of over 2,000 team seasons). Baseball Prospectus rates them as the best defensive team ever in park adjusted defensive efficiency. Whether they’re first best or 75th best doesn’t really matter. The Cubs were a phenomenal fielding team in 2016. No doubt about it.

Now here’s the kicker: no team in baseball used fewer infield shifts than the Cubs this season. The shifts didn’t follow Joe Maddon from Tampa, apparently. Huh. Chicago used the shift for only 10.1% of the batters their pitchers faced in 2016. The next lowest rate belongs to the Royals at 10.6%. The Astros used by far the most shifts this summer (33.2%) and the Yankees used the seventh most (26.5%). They’re weren’t all that far away from being second (Rays, 29.3%).

How did the Cubs field such a great team without shifting? Well, it starts with having tremendously athletic players gifted with defensive tools. That’s kind of a prerequisite for a great team defense. The Yankees have a few of those players themselves. The Cubs also seem to emphasize their pitchers’ strengths rather than the hitter’s tendencies. They get the hitter to hit the ball where they want him to hit the ball, not where he wants to hit the ball. Make sense? It’s hard to explain, but they do it.

The Yankees allowed a .284 BABIP with normal defensive alignments this year and a .304 BABIP when using some kind of shift, which is, uh, backwards. You should be allowing a lower BABIP with the shift. This isn’t to say the Yankees should abandon the shift all together. That’s an overreaction. Perhaps scaling back on the shift would make sense though. I’m not really sure. Point is, the Cubs showed this year you don’t need to shift heavily to be a great defensive club.

Indians: Keep all your pitching depth. All of it.

It’s amazing the Indians are so close to the World Series considering they are without their No. 2 (Carlos Carrasco) and No. 3 (Danny Salazar) starters. Also, No. 4 starter Trevor Bauer cut his finger fixing his drone over the weekend and had to have his ALCS start pushed back from Game Two to Game Three. Injuries like that can cripple a team in the postseason. Could you imagine if the 2009 Yankees had lost A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in September, and then Chad Gaudin cut his finger fixing his stupid drone in October? They’d be done.


And yet, the Indians have won every single game they’ve played this postseason despite those injuries because of their pitching depth. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland’s nominal fifth starter who at one point in September was demoted to the bullpen, has given the team two strong outings in the playoffs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who has eleven big league innings to his credit, will get the ball in Game Five tomorrow, if necessary. Rookie Mike Clevinger is the backup plan.

The Yankees do have some rotation depth at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell next year. Chad Green too. Then there are Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery. Chances are the Yankees will need most of these guys at some point next year, if not all of them. That’s baseball. That isn’t to say the team should make their pitching depth off-limits, because there’s always a point when it makes sense to trade someone, but hanging on to all of these guys sure seems like a smart move.

Dodgers: Postseason narratives are meaningless

The Dodgers have won four games this postseason. Noted playoff choker Clayton Kershaw has pitched in all four of them. Sunday night, when everyone expected him to melt down in the seventh inning because he had a 20-something ERA in the seventh inning of postseason games, he tossed a scoreless frame. It’s almost like there is no such thing as a bad seventh inning pitcher.

Anyway, I have no doubt the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) have bought into some of this stuff over the years. You can’t convince me Carlos Beltran‘s postseason reputation didn’t factor into New York’s decision to sign him three years ago. (Beltran, by the way, has hit a less than stellar .250/.351/.393 in his last 25 postseason games.) These narratives are just that. Narratives. They’re fun stories to tell. They have no predictive value. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just focus on getting the best talent possible and having it on the field more than everyone else.

Blue Jays: Don’t be whiny children

Does anyone actually like the Blue Jays? Outside Toronto, I mean. They’re the Rasheed Wallace of baseball. They complain about every call then bitch about it after the game. The other day Jose Bautista said “circumstances” were working against the Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS, and by “circumstances” he meant the home plate umpires. Late in the season the Blue Jays refused interviews with certain reporters — they literally hung media head shots in the clubhouses with giant red X’s across them — because they didn’t like some of the criticism.

Imagine scoring three runs total in three ALCS games and blaming it on the umpires. Imagine being so upset by something a reporter said or wrote that you boycott them entirely. Could they be any more thin-skinned? The Yankees are pretty good at avoiding this stuff, thankfully. Joe Girardi will occasionally say something about the umpires when there’s an egregious mistake, but I can’t remember the last player to openly complained like Bautista. So, the lesson to be taken from the Blue Jays is this: don’t be jerks. Give people a reason to like you. People around the country have enough reasons to dislike the Yankees as it is.

Monday Night Open Thread

This postseason has been incredible, hasn’t it? Last night’s game, a 1-0 win for the Dodgers, was thrilling. So many great games this year. Hopefully tonight’s game, Game Three of the ALCS between the Indians and Blue Jays (8pm ET on TBS), is another classic. The Indians lead the ALCS two games to none but now the series shifts to Rogers Centre in Toronto. Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman are tonight’s starters.

Here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to the ALCS game, there’s also Monday Night Football (Jets at Cardinals), plus the (hockey) Rangers are playing and there’s some preseason basketball on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

(Today is the anniversary of Game Two of the 2009 ALCS, hence the video choice.)