Prince Fielder, not A-Rod, named AL Comeback Player of the Year

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

Earlier today MLB announced Prince Fielder, not Alex Rodriguez, has been named the 2015 AL Comeback Player of the Year. Matt Harvey was named NL Comeback Player of the Year. Pretty easy call there.

Fielder hit .305/.378/.463 (124 wRC+) with 23 home runs this season after missing most of last year following neck surgery. A-Rod hit .250/.356/.486 (129 wRC+) with 33 homers. They’re both full-time DHs too — Fielder played only 18 games at first base in 2015.

There is precedent for a player with performance-enhancing drug ties winning the Comeback Player of the Year. Jason Giambi won it in 2005 after being caught up in the BALCO scandal. He was not suspended like A-Rod, however.

Kendrys Morales and Ryan Madson were the other notable Comeback Player of the Year candidates. Rodriguez was the Yankees’ best chance at a major award winner. The other four major awards will be announced in two weeks.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

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

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Six years ago tonight, the Yankees clinched their 27th World Series title with a win over the Phillies. Hideki Matsui was named World Series MVP. The Yankees actually started the season 15-17 but were pretty much unstoppable after mid-May or so. Once Alex Rodriguez returned and Phil Hughes settled into the eighth inning, the 2009 Yankees had no weaknesses. They’re still the last AL team to win 100+ games, you know.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. Not a whole lot going on in the sports world tonight. The Knicks and Nets are playing, and that’s pretty much it. Talk about either of those games or reminisce about the 2009 Yankees here. Go nuts.

Update: CC Sabathia returns home after completing stay at rehab center

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

November 4th: Sabathia completed his stay at the rehab center last Friday, reports George King. He’s back home with his family in New Jersey. Hooray for that.

October 28th: Got some good news to pass along. According to Jon Heyman, CC Sabathia is expected to check out of his alcohol rehab center either later this week or early next week. Neither the Yankees nor Sabathia have confirmed anything. Sabathia checked into the rehab center on October 4th, so his stay will last roughly four weeks.

Now just because Sabathia is close to completing his stay at the rehab center, it doesn’t mean his alcohol problem is behind him. Not at all. He’ll have to work on his recovery literally the rest of his life, and especially in the next few weeks and months and years. Rehab was just the start and so far everything is going well. That’s good to hear.

The baseball aspect of Sabathia’s rehab is kinda uncomfortable to talk about, but it is something we should discuss. Since he’s leaving rehab relatively soon, it should have no impact on his offseason routine. Most pitchers don’t begin throwing until mid-to-late November or even December anyway. Sabathia has confirmed that is his usual offseason schedule when discussing injuries in recent years.

The first few weeks of the offseason are downtime. This year Sabathia spent them in rehab rather than on vacation. Unless he has to return to rehab at some point — that would be next level bad and not for baseball reasons — there’s no reason to think Sabathia’s offseason routine will be out of whack this winter. He’s still a few weeks from throwing anyway.

The good news is Sabathia is getting healthy and apparently making progress. He’ll have to keeping working at it going forward of course, but it looks like he has a strong support group in place, including the Yankees. As far as baseball is concerned, there’s no reason right now to think Sabathia won’t be ready come Spring Training.

Bailey elects free agency; Yankees add Campos to 40-man roster, activate four off 60-day DL

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Busy transaction day for the Yankees. After releasing Chris Martin so he could sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the Yankees announced a series of roster moves this afternoon. Here’s the recap:

Campos, 23, returned from Tommy John surgery this year and had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings, mostly with High-A Tampa. Campos came over in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade and was once one of the top prospects in the organization, but injuries derailed him the last few seasons.

Brian Cashman said over the summer the team would consider adding Campos to the 40-man roster if his stuff returned following elbow reconstruction, and apparently it did. Campos would have become a minor league free agent this weekend had the Yankees not stuck him on the 40-man. He was on the 40-man in 2014 before getting hurt. The Yankees non-tendered Campos last offseason and re-signed him to a minor league deal.

Lindgren had surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. German and Whitley both blew out their elbows and needed Tommy John surgery. German had his in Spring Training while Whitley had his in May. Williams hurt his shoulder running into the outfield wall in mid-June and eventually needed surgery. There is no DL in the offseason. These four had to be activated no later than Friday.

The Yankees declined their $2M club option for Bailey earlier this week, but he remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player. Apparently the team slipped him through waivers and dropped him from the 40-man roster. Rather than accept the minor league assignment, Bailey will try his hand at free agency. Makes sense. He seemed like a potential 40-man roster casualty this winter.

So, after all of that, the Yankees have just one open 40-man roster spot at the moment. The deadline to add players to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft is November 20th. Two weeks from Friday. They’ll have to clear some more spots. Austin Romine, Caleb Cotham, and Jose Pirela stand out as candidates to be removed from the roster.

Chris Martin heading to Japan after being released by Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have released right-hander Chris Martin so he can sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, the team announced. Martin has released a statement through the Ham Fighters saying he’s happy to join the team. (It’s really just the Fighters, but c’mon.)

Here is Martin’s statement, via Yakyu Baka:

I am very pleased to officially become a part of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters organization. I want to thank the Fighters organization for the wonderful opportunity. I will do my best to meet the expectations of the Fighters and the fans next season by working hard during the off-season. I am ready to give what I have to help the team win a pennant and the Nippon Series.

Martin, 29, came over from the Rockies in a cash trade last offseason. He had a strong Spring Training, made the Opening Day roster, and was literally the first reliever Joe Girardi used in 2015 — Martin replaced Masahiro Tanaka on Opening Day and struck out all three batters he faced. Martin fanned 13 and walked two in his first eleven innings of the season. He even picked up a save in late-April when the usual late-inning guys needed a day to rest.

The 6-foot-8 Martin struggled in early-May, landed on the DL with elbow tendinitis, then spent the rest of the season on the bullpen shuttle. He finished the season with a 5.66 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 20.2 big league innings and a 3.18 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 28.1 Triple-A innings.

Forty-man roster space is limited this offseason and Martin figured to be a casualty whenever a spot was needed, especially since the Yankees are deep in right-handed relievers with minor league options. Since Martin was still under Yankees control, chances are they’re getting a little cash from the Ham Fighters for granting his release. That’s usually how it works. Martin will undoubtedly make quite a bit more money in Japan than he would as an up-and-down arm here. That’s why he’s making the move.

Between Martin’s release and the other transactions earlier this week, the Yankees now have five open spots on the 40-man roster. It’s really only one spot though — Domingo German (elbow), Jacob Lindgren (elbow), Chase Whitley (elbow), and Mason Williams (shoulder) have to be activated off the DL by Friday. The deadline to set the 40-man for the Rule 5 Draft is November 20th.

Update: The Yankees received $750,000 from the Ham Fighters for Martin, the team announced. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Update II: Martin received a two-year contract worth $1.7M, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith. He also gets $300,000 in incentives. Good for him!

The Best and Very Worst of Jacoby Ellsbury [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two offseasons ago the Yankees decided to let Robinson Cano walk as a free agent, opting to let some other team pay for his decline years after getting what were likely the best seasons of his career. The Yankees had been on the other side of that move far too often the last few decades. They were usually playing for decline years after the player peaked elsewhere.

It was a wonderful change in philosophy that lasted no more than a few days. Soon after they learned Cano would not be accepting their final offer, the Yankees acted quickly to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year contract worth $153M. Fair or not, the Yankees are considered to have replaced Cano with Ellsbury. He was the next huge money free agent they signed. Ellsbury’s first year in pinstripes went well. The second? It was a disaster, and I don’t think that’s overstating it.

Back to Leadoff

Due to injuries and whatnot, Joe Girardi was forced to use Ellsbury as his No. 3 hitter for much of last season even though he’s totally miscast for the role. This year, with Derek Jeter retired and the No. 2 lineup spot freed up, Girardi was able to move Ellsbury back atop the lineup without batting Brett Gardner seventh or eighth or something ridiculous like that. He could bat his two best table-setters atop the lineup.

Spring Training was actually a bit of a mess for Ellsbury. He went 7-for-35 (.200) with one extra-base hit and only appeared in 12 Grapefruit League games due an oblique strain. He missed the final two weeks of camp but did heal up in time for the start of the season. Ellsbury was on the Opening Day roster and in his usual leadoff spot come the start of the regular season.

Leadoff Dominance

Ellsbury managed to play in a few tune-up games at the end of Spring Training, but he hadn’t played regularly since mid-March, so it would have been understandable if he came out of the gate a little slow. He did take an 0-for-4 on Opening Day, but, after that, Ellsbury was a leadoff dynamo. He reached base four times in the second game of the season (two hits, two walks) and 39 times in his next 19 games (!).

Despite hitting for very little power — he had three extra-base hits (two doubles and a homer) in April — Ellsbury was a dominant, game-changing force atop the lineup. He hit .321 with a .406 OBP in April, stealing eight bases and striking out only 14.6% of the time. Ellsbury’s best game of 2015 came at his old stomping grounds, when he went 4-for-4 and reached base six times at Fenway Park on May 3rd.

It happened so damn long ago that it’s easy to forget the Yankees had some trouble scoring runs early in the season. Ellsbury and Gardner got on and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drove them in. That was it. That was the offense. No one else was hitting, so if that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score. Ellsbury scored 24 runs in the team’s first 30 games. He didn’t even play in two of them. That’s how good he was early in the season.

Through the first 40 games of the season, Ellsbury hit .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) with 14 stolen bases, a lot of walks (11.2%), and not a lot of strikeouts (13.5%). That was on top of his typically stellar defense. Ellsbury wasn’t hitting for power — he had four doubles, a homer, and no triples in those 40 games, so yeah — but he was doing everything else. Hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases, catching the ball … everything. Ellsbury is a heck of a player when he’s at his best.

The Knee Injury That Changed Everything

On May 19th, against the Nationals in Washington, Ellsbury swung at a pitch and apparently caught his spike in the dirt. He tweaked his right knee, and while he stayed in the game to run the bases, he eventually had to be taken out. Here’s the play:

It looked innocent enough. Just a little tweak, nothing he couldn’t walk off, right? We see hitters take swings like that and shake their leg afterwards almost every day during the season.

The injury was bad enough that the Yankees placed Ellsbury on the 15-day DL immediately after the game. Didn’t even wait until the next morning. An MRI showed a knee sprain. The cool thing is Slade Heathcott was called up to replace Ellsbury, so prospect junkies like myself loved that, but damn yo, the Yankees couldn’t afford to lose Ellsbury. He was killing the ball.

The Yankees never did give a firm timetable for Ellsbury’s return other than to acknowledge he would miss more than the minimum 15 days. Come the end of May he was still limited to low-impact work in a pool. It wasn’t until June 5th that Ellsbury did any sort of baseball activity, and even that was only dry swings. He ran the bases for the first time on the 10th and took full batting practice for the first time on the 15th.

It wasn’t until June 29th that Ellsbury started a minor league rehab assignment. He got three at-bats as the DH with High-A Tampa that day, took the next day off, then played six innings in center field the next day. Ellsbury needed two days off after that because of what was being called general fatigue. He played two more minor league games on June 4th and 5th, then rejoined the Yankees on the 8th.

All told, the knee injury sidelined Ellsbury for 49 days and 43 team games. By time he returned, the Yankees had played more games without him (43) than with him (41). Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt. He’s a slow healer and we saw it this summer. It’s not that he suffered setbacks or anything like that, it just took him a while to get healthy enough to pass his rehab milestones.

Never The Same

Believe it or not, Ellsbury went 6-for-17 (.353) with a home run in his first four games back after the knee injury. It looked like he was going to pick up where he left off before getting hurt. That wasn’t the case though. Ellsbury fell into a deep slump and it lasted pretty much the rest of the regular season. He went 11-for-57 (.193) in 14 July games after the All-Star break.

Aside from the occasional mini-hot streak — Ellsbury went 12-for-28 (.429) in six games from August 13th to 18th, for example — Ellsbury was a major drain on the offense down the stretch. He returned from the injury and hit .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) in his final 74 games and 331 plate appearances of the season. Just take a second to wrap your head around that. I’ll wait.

Okay, back. We aren’t talking about a small sample or some arbitrary endpoint here. There’s nothing arbitrary about coming back from an injury. That’s a half season’s worth of playing time as one of the very worse hitters in baseball. In fact, a total of 143 players had at least 250 plate appearances from July 8th — the date Ellsbury returned from the DL — through the end of the season. Among those 143 players, Ellsbury ranked …

134th in AVG
137th in OBP
134th in SLG

… and that’s awful. He was legitimately one of the ten worst hitters in baseball after coming back from the knee injury. Ellsbury was so bad down the stretch that he didn’t even start the wildcard game. Think about that. In year two of a seven-year contract worth $153M, the Yankees determined Ellsbury was not good enough to start a winner-take-all game. Yikes. Worst of all, it was absolutely the right decision. He was that bad.

Between the great start and miserable finish, Ellsbury hit .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) with seven homers, 21 steals in 30 attempts (70%), a 7.0% walk rate, and a 17.2% strikeout rate in 2015. For reference, Ichiro Suzuki hit .281/.314/.364 (86 wRC+) in two and a half years with the Yankees. That’s what the Yankees got from Ellsbury overall this season. Ichiro production.

I thought Ellsbury’s defense took a step back after the knee injury, which is understandable. One of his legs had been compromised. He wasn’t bad defensively by any means, just not as good as he can be when fully healthy. All told, Ellsbury was worth 1.9 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR in 2015. He fell literally one plate appearance shy of qualifying for the batting title, but, if he had, he would have ranked 38th and 46th among 55 qualified outfielders in bWAR and fWAR, respectively.

Before & After

Something changed following the injury. Ellsbury was great, then he got hurt, then he was opposite of great. Here’s a breakdown of his performance before and after the injury. Let’s see if this shows any sort of red flags. (I included his 2014 stats for reference.)

Contact% Chase% GB% FB% Pull% Oppo% Soft% Hard% BABIP
2014 86.5% 27.8% 41.8% 33.5% 38.0% 25.4% 17.0% 28.4% .341
Pre-DL 87.5% 30.7% 47.2% 28.0% 38.4% 27.2% 23.2% 22.4% .379
Post-DL 83.2% 34.2% 44.3% 32.0% 37.6% 26.9% 24.1% 20.4% .261

Ellsbury chased more pitches out of the zone and made less contact after the injury, but the difference isn’t extreme. His batted ball profile didn’t change a ton either, a few percentage points in either direction, which is normal year-to-year — or this case, pre-DL to post-DL — fluctuation. The changes aren’t significant enough to be a real red flag in my opinion.

That’s good! You want Ellsbury’s underlying performance to be the same. He was awesome in the first half. Do it again! The fact he swung at more pitches out of the zone suggests to me Ellsbury wasn’t comfortable at the plate, either physically or with his approach. I’m going to go back to this image I posted a few weeks ago:

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

The screen grab on the left is from May, right before Ellsbury landed on the DL. The screen grab on the right is from September. They both show the instant Ellsbury’s front foot hits the ground as part of his leg kick.

The difference is pretty significant even though all of this is happening in the blink of an eye. In May, Ellsbury’s foot landed when the pitch was almost at the plate, and his body was rotating to uncork his swing. In September, his foot touched down almost as soon as the ball was out of the pitcher’s hand. He hadn’t even begun to load his swing yet. His swing was mostly arms.

Simply put, Ellsbury’s timing was off. Either because he was protecting the knee after the injury — that can happen subconsciously — or because he was a mechanical mess. The screen grabs capture something the stats don’t really show. Ellsbury was not right at the plate. He wasn’t putting himself in the best position to hit — I guess it’s more correct to say he wasn’t putting himself in the same position to hit as he had been earlier in the season — and that may explain his second half swoon.

Looking Ahead to 2016

There’s little chance the Yankees will trade Ellsbury this offseason. He has five years and another $110M or so left on his contract, and the team would have to eat a lot of that to facilitate a deal. His value is as low as it’s going to get. It’s not the worst contract in baseball but it is climbing the list. No doubt about it.

At this point the Yankees can do nothing but hope an offseason of rest will help Ellsbury get over whatever plagued him after returning from the DL. That’s where they’re at: hoping he was hurt and will be healthy come Spring Training. For now, there’s little reason to think the Yankees won’t go into the 2016 with Ellsbury as the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.