Thoughts following the series with the Rays


The Yankees dropped the series finale to the Rays yesterday afternoon but what can you do. They still won the series and have won ten of their last 13 games overall. Can’t complain about that. I’ve already said what I had to say about Masahiro Tanaka’s injury, so let’s move on to some other stuff.

1. A few days ago we learned ex-Yankee Brandon McCarthy needs Tommy John surgery after tearing his UCL in his last start over the weekend, and the first thought that crossed my mind was “phew, the Yankees dodged a bullet.” I sort of hate myself for thinking that way. I was hoping the Yankees would re-sign McCarthy this offseason — I mean, did anyone not want the Yankees to re-sign McCarthy after the way he pitched in pinstripes last year? — but three years was my absolute limit, and even that made me uncomfortable given his injury history. The four-year deal the Dodgers gave him was totally bonkers in my opinion. That was asking for trouble. Maybe not Tommy John surgery in year one trouble, but trouble. McCarthy reportedly wanted to re-sign with the Yankees, so much so that he was willing to talk during the exclusive negotiating period, but the Yankees never seriously engaged him in contract talks. Given their decision to steer clear of McCarthy despite their obvious need for pitching, I can’t help but wonder if the team knew of some red flags with his elbow and stayed away for that reason. McCarthy did tell reporters he dealt with on-and-off elbow tightness last year, after all.

2. Given the way things played out this year, maybe the Yankees need to give Dellin Betances some more innings in Spring Training next year. Betances threw 12.1 Grapefruit League innings last spring and only 8.1 innings this spring, and it took him about four regular season innings to get back to being 2014 Dellin. Maybe 12 innings is that major number for him, maybe it’s just a coincidence. Obviously the circumstances these last two years were very different — Betances was trying to impress and make the team last spring, this spring he was just going through the motions because he had a roster spot locked up — and who knows what sort of impact that had. For whatever reason it took Betances a little longer to get to locked in for the season this year, and since he threw fewer innings in Spring Training, it’s a logical connection to make. Maybe the answer isn’t more Grapefruit League innings, but more throwing in general. More bullpen sessions, stuff like that. Betances has said several times he feels the regular work he gets as a reliever helps him keep his mechanics in check. More innings could be a good thing for him, at least when preparing in Spring Training.

3. Speaking of Betances, it’s clear at this point he is the setup man and Andrew Miller is the closer. I don’t think the Yankees would suffer any if the roles were reversed — my only question: can Miller get four or five outs as often as Dellin? — but this arrangement could save them a lot of money when Betances becomes arbitration-eligible after next season. Saves pay and they pay big in arbitration. My go-to comparison is David Robertson vs. Addison Reed. Robertson got $1.6M his first trip through arbitration as an elite setup man (145 ERA+) while Reed got $4.875M as a mediocre closer (98 ERA+). Miller’s salaries are set thanks to his contract, so picking up saves won’t change anything there. Betances will go through the arbitration process and his earning potential as a setup man won’t be as great as it would be as a closer. That’s just the system. It sucks for Dellin — to be fair, he’s still going to get paid very well — but with Hal Steinbrenner continuing to talk about getting under the luxury tax threshold, the savings could be significant. Once a player takes over as closer, he tends to stay the closer until he completely falls apart, and there’s no reason to think Miller is at risk of losing it anytime soon. The job is his for the foreseeable future.

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

4. Adam Wainwright’s injury has sparked a new round of discussion about implementing the DH in the NL — Max Scherzer likes the idea, Madison Bumgarner hates it, so on and so on — and I’m all for it. I get zero enjoyment from watching pitchers hit and the argument that it adds more strategy is pretty hollow. More moves do not equal more strategy. In every single AL game the manager has to decide when to remove his starter. Every single game. In the NL, lots of times the decision is made for the manager because the game says he has to pinch-hit. The game situation calls for it. I don’t think the NL should specifically add the DH because of Wainwright’s injury — it was a total fluke and he didn’t even hurt himself in the act of hitting, he just took a step out of the box — but hopefully it sparks some serious talks about changing the rules the same way Buster Posey’s injury a few years ago helped spur along the new blocking the plate rules. (The union should be in favor of adding the DH in the NL since it’ll create a bunch of higher paying DH jobs.) Pitchers are hitting worse than ever and it’s time to bring the NL up to speed. It’s hard enough to do one thing well at the MLB level, whether it be pitching or hitting. Asking pitchers to do both is not feasible in the 21st century.

5. Didi Gregorius has quietly gone 8-for-30 (.267) in his last nine games — it’s an empty .267, but it’s better than what we saw earlier this year — and seems to be getting more comfortable with each passing game. The defensive brain farts are no longer an everyday thing and he hasn’t made a bad base-running play since the first homestand. Some progress is being made, a little at a time. No one promised it would come quick. Now, imagine if the Yankees had traded for Elvis Andrus instead. They reportedly had interest in him this offseason, remember. Andrus is hitting .230/.253/.299 (43 wRC+) this season after hitting .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in nearly 1,400 plate appearances from 2013-14. His defense has slipped in recent years and his eight-year, $120M contract just started this season. It’s one thing for Gregorius to not hit or field as expected. The Yankees would be in much worse shape had they traded for Andrus because he’s not hitting, not fielding, and is owed nine-figures through 2023. Didi might not work out, but at least the Yankees can walk away if necessary. He’s the lesser of two evils, I guess.

DotF: Flores and Refsnyder both double in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 win over Gwinnett)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI — hitting .386 as a part-timer this year
  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-5, 2 K
  • C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 10/3 GB/FB — 62 of 91 pitches were strikes (68%) … not a good time to have a bad outing with a rotation spot now up for grabs at the MLB level
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — eight pitches, six strikes
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 15 of 20 pitches were strikes … first time in his career he’s pitched back-to-back days

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today MLB released the 2015 All-Star Game ballot. Here’s the ballot. It’s all online this year. No more paper ballots at the ballpark. The Yankees are represented at every position by exactly who you’d expect. MLB just picks each team’s starter at each position and puts them on the ballot. This is where I remind you it is your duty as an RAB reader … nay, your duty as an American to vote Alex Rodriguez into the All-Star Game this year. The voting is open until July 3rd.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s loss to the Rays will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. The Mets are playing, ESPN is showing Phillies-Cardinals, and there’s both NBA and NHL playoff action as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

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Rays outlast Yankees in 13 innings, take series finale 3-2

Extra innings have not been kind to the 2015 Yankees so far. The bullpen held on as long as possible Wednesday afternoon, but ultimately the offense never did come through, leading to 3-2 loss to the Rays in 13 innings. The Yankees won the series but couldn’t finish off the sweep. Whaddayagonnado.

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

Worn Down
It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that Michael Pineda knew he was going to pitch this game. He was originally scheduled to start Friday, but the Yankees had to change plans and start him Wednesday (on regular rest) because of Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm injury. In fact, Joe Girardi had to find Pineda on Tuesday to make sure he didn’t throw his between starts bullpen so he could be ready for this game.

Big Mike started in typical Big Mike fashion, retiring the first six batters of the game before running into a little trouble in the third inning. A leadoff single, a bunt, and a strikeout/wild pitch combo gave Tampa Bay runners on the corners with one out, but Pineda responded by striking out David DeJesus and getting a ground out from Steven Souza to escape the jam.

Things unraveled a bit in the fourth and it happened after the first two batters made outs on four total pitches. James Loney grounded a single through the shift and Logan Forsythe grounded a single the other way to beat the shift — oh look, the Yankees were burned by the shift again! — to put two on for Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier worked Pineda real hard. It was a nine-pitch at-bat and he fouled off a pair of well-placed full count fastballs to stay alive.

The third full count fastball was a meatball. Center cut, middle of the plate, and Kiermaier banged it off the very top of the wall in right-center field for a two-run triple. I thought it was gone off the bat. Pineda hit the next batter with a pitch before stranding Kiermaier at third. The damage had been done though. The Rays were up 2-0 after having two outs and the bases empty in the inning. Those rallies are always annoying. Kiermaier just wore Pineda down with his at-bat.

Pineda’s afternoon came to end after Forsythe doubled with two outs in the sixth inning. It was another one high off the wall — this one in left field — that I thought was gone off the bat. Big Mike allowed those two runs on six hits and no walks in 5.2 innings. He fanned five and also got nine ground ball outs compared to ten in the air. Pineda now has a 32/2 K/BB in 31.1 innings this year with a 54.9% grounder rate, which is really awesome.

Strikeouts & Dingers
Rays lefty Drew Smyly was making his second start of the year after missing time with a shoulder problem, yet he showed no rust Wednesday afternoon. He gave up two Jacoby Ellsbury singles and a Chris Young walk through the first four innings — Ellsbury made it to third on a steal and a bunt in the first inning but was stranded — while striking out six. Smyly was looking pretty sharp.

The first of his two mistakes came in the fifth inning, when he hung a 1-1 changeup to Chase Headley, who smacked a no-doubt solo homer to left field. All three of Headley’s dingers this year have been bombs. No doubters off the bat. Smyly settled down and retired the next four batters (three on strikeouts) before making his second mistake: a hanging breaking ball to Young. It wasn’t an awful pitch, it was down around the knees, but it was over the plate and Young golfed it out for a game-tying solo homer in the sixth.

In his second start off the DL, Smyly held New York to four hits and one walk in six innings, striking out ten. It was only the third double-digit strikeout game of his career. He did a really nice job keeping the Yankees off balance with his breaking ball I thought, especially back-footing it to righties. The Yankees’ right-handed hitters went 2-for-16 (.125) with nine (!) strikeouts against Smyly. Unfortunately for him, the two hits left the park.

Bullpen Battle
It’s hard not to feel confident whenever this Yankees team gets locked in a battle of the bullpens. After Pineda exited with two outs in the sixth, five relievers combined to retire the next 14 batters before Chris Martin walked Asdrubal Cabrera with one out in the top of the 11th. Justin Wilson (one out), David Carpenter (three outs), Dellin Betances (three outs), Andrew Miller (six outs), and Martin (one out) got those 14 straight outs.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s bullpen was excellent as well. Three Rays’ relievers retired eleven in a row at one point from the seventh through the tenth, and they pitched around leadoff singles in both the 11th and 12th innings as well. Ellsbury singled to leadoff the 11th yet never attempted to steal. Carlos Beltran singled to leadoff the 12th and pinch-runner Brett Gardner also never attempted to steal. I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all!

Chasen Shreve, in his second inning of work, opened the door for the Rays in the 13th with a one-out walk to Souza. Souza moved to second on a ground out and Evan Longoria was intentionally walked to set up the left-on-left matchup with Loney. The six-pitch battle ended with a weak ground ball through the right side that Stephen Drew snared in shallow right field but was unable to turn into an out. He had no play on Loney at first or Souza at home. The play developed too slowly.

The Rays scored all three of their runs thanks to perpetually awful Yankees’ shifts. They get burned by them game after game after game it seems. I’m not making this up either — the MLB average on ground balls is a .242 BABIP. The Yankees came into Wednesday with a .286 BABIP on ground balls. That shouldn’t happen with this infield defense. The bullpen held on as long as possible. One hit in 7.1 innings for the relievers!

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

The Yankees struck out 16 times on Wednesday, a new season high. (They struck out only 13 times in the 19-inning game.) It was their highest strikeout total since the final game of the 2013 season, when they struck out 16 times in 14 innings. The franchise record is 17 strikeouts, which has been done a few times. The 7-8-9 hitters went combined 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts and at one point nine of 12 Yankees’ batters struck out from the fifth through eighth innings. Not good!

Alex Rodriguez had his worst offensive day of the season so far, going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts and the game-ending double play. It was his first four-strikeout game since April 2008 and only the fifth of his career. Those other four four-strikeout games were nine-inning games though. Ellsbury had three hits, Young had two hits, and the rest of the team had two hits.

Loney banged into a 6-4-3 double play in the sixth inning. It was the first ground ball double play Pineda has induced in 26 starts, dating back back to July 2011, when he was with the Mariners. Also, Miller faced Loney to start the ninth inning. It was the first lefty batter Miller faced in 2015. The first 37 batters he faced were all righties.

And finally, Betances limped off the field in the eighth inning, but Girardi told reporters after the game he just has a blister on his big toe. It’s a non-issue. A band-aid will take care of that.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Lots going on there. Here is the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees have an off-day Thursday and will open a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday night. CC Sabathia and Justin Masterson are the probable starters for the opener at Fenway Park.

Yankees turn to A-Rod for help with Didi’s defense


Things have gone a little more smoothly lately, but the start of the Didi Gregorius era has been quite the roller coaster these first few weeks. He had some adventures on the basepaths, isn’t doing much at the plate, and his defense has been shockingly erratic. Simply put, he looks like a young player trying to do too much to impress his new team.

I’m not sure anyone realistically expected Didi to be a force at the plate this year, and the base-running mistakes are kinda whatever. He hasn’t had any problems on the bases since that first homestand. The name of his game was defense. Gregorius was brought in to solidify the infield defense and while he has made a few highlight reel plays early on, he has made several physical and mental mistakes in the field. It’s been painful to watch at times.

The Yankees have and will continue to be patient with Gregorius, which is absolutely the right move in my opinion. He has a chance to be the long-term solution at shortstop and the club simply doesn’t have another player like that in the organization. At least not anywhere close to the big league level. The success or failure of Didi’s time in pinstripes shouldn’t be determined by the first month of his first year with the team.

That said, the Yankees want to see some improvement from Gregorius. So, in an effort to get him right into the field, the team brought in a former two-time Gold Glove winning shortstop for help: Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees — specifically third base/infield coach Joe Espada — asked A-Rod to give Didi some pointers at short before last night’s game. “Just the basics,” said Alex to Brendan Kuty.

“It was more just game situations,” added Espada. “I think just kind of working on his game clock. Knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball, when to stay back on a ball. Situations that we have been working on throughout spring training and throughout the season. But I wanted Alex to be out there to give him that kind of insight that I probably, as a coach, can’t give him.”

Despite all his off-field issues, A-Rod has always been considered a really good teammate who is willing to help others, especially young players. He’s a baseball machine, hands down the smartest and most instinctual player I’ve ever seen, so asking him to help Gregorius makes total sense. A-Rod knows the shortstop position and he also has experience having all eyes on him as a newcomer to New York. He’s a resource the Yankees are tapping into.

But, at the end of the day, this will come down to Gregorius’s ability to make or not make the necessary adjustments. No one can take ground balls or play the field for him. The Yankees are smart to remain patient and I’m sure Didi knows what a tremendous opportunity he has in front of him. He’s the starting shortstop for the New York frickin’ Yankees, after all. Getting comfortable here takes time. Hopefully Alex’s help can speed up the process for Gregorius.

“It takes time to come here and play in this arena,” said Espada. “I coached third in Miami for four years but it’s not the same as coaching third in New York. I don’t call it stage fright. I think it just takes time.”

Game 22: Big Mike for the Sweep


Usually Michael Pineda starts are a reason to celebrate. Big Mike is awesome. Today is a little different though. Pineda is starting this afternoon because Masahiro Tanaka is out with a wrist/forearm issue that will “conservatively” keep him out about a month. Like I said, Big Mike is awesome. But Big Mike and a healthy Tanaka would be even more awesome.

Anyway, the Yankees are on a roll right now, winning three straight and ten of their last 12 games overall. I wouldn’t say they’re firing on all cylinders, but I do think it’s fair to say the Yankees appear to be playing as well as they did at any point from 2013-14. Maybe better. Things are going pretty well despite Tanaka’s injury. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup as the Yankees go for the sweep:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. 2B Gregorio Petit
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a glorious day in New York. Bright blue sky, temperatures in the low-70s, just a perfect afternoon for baseball. This afternoon’s game is set to begin at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and, depending where you live, MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Tanaka was placed on the 15-day DL with “right wrist tendinitis and a right forearm strain,” the Yankees announced. Petit was recalled from Triple-A Scranton in a corresponding move. The Yankees didn’t have to wait the ten days to bring him back because of Tanaka’s injury.

Thoughts following Masahiro Tanaka’s injury

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees won for the tenth time in 12 games last night, clinching their fourth straight series win, yet it was a bad day for the team overall. Masahiro Tanaka unexpectedly went down with wrist tendinitis and a “small” forearm strain, injuries that will “conservatively” keep him out for a month according to Brian Cashman. This is bad. This is a very bad thing. So I have thoughts to share.

1. There is no such thing as a “small” or “minor” or “slight” forearm strain for Tanaka. Forearm strains are very common precursors to Tommy John surgery and he already went through the whole partially torn elbow ligament thing last year. The wrist issue is whatever. The forearm strain is the real concern. I’m one of those people who think the Yankees and Tanaka absolutely did the right thing last year by rehabbing the ligament tear. Do exactly what the doctors recommend. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is hard. We never know the full story with injuries, all we know is what is what the team is willing to tell us, and based on everything we know about Tanaka’s elbow, I think trying to avoid surgery was an easy call. This new forearm strain doesn’t change that. It’s a scary injury given his situation, there’s no arguing that, but it doesn’t make the decision to rehab the injury the wrong one in my opinion. Listen to the doctors! That’s common sense, right?

2. As we’ve seen the last few years, the Yankees are not the type of team that will go out and make a knee-jerk trade following Tanaka’s injury. They’ll cycle through their internal options first before going outside the organization for help. When Ivan Nova got hurt last year, Vidal Nuno stepped in. When CC Sabathia went down, it was Chase Whitley. When Tanaka got hurt, Shane Greene got his chance. I expect the Yankees to do the same now. Joe Girardi already confirmed Whitley will remain in the rotation for the time being, and Bryan Mitchell is another option down in Triple-A. Chris Capuano (quad) is pitching in Extended Spring Training games and is expected to be back in mid-May, so Whitley and Mitchell only have to hold down the fort until then. Nova (elbow) is a little further away and not due back until June. Whitley and Mitchell are Plan A. Capuano is Plan B. Nova is Plan C. Hopefully they don’t need a Plan D. The Yankees might bring in a depth arm — like Capuano last year — but otherwise I wouldn’t get my hopes expecting a trade for a noteworthy starter anytime soon.

3. Now, that said, of course the Yankees will keep an eye on the trade market for a starter. They do that literally 365 days a year. Someone might become available who could help and I’m sure they’d pull the trigger if it makes sense. Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto are the big names, but the Yankees figure to face some stiff competition for those guys (Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals) and I’m not sure they have the prospect power to make it work anyway. They might have to scour the trade market for second tier (Kyle Lohse? Matt Garza?) or even third tier (Aaron Harang? Dan Haren?) rotation options. A repeat of the McCarthy trade would be ideal — buy low on someone, make some tweaks, get a few weeks of high-end performance. I’m not sure doing that again is realistic, at least not to extent McCarthy worked out, and I’m not even sure who would be a candidate for such a move. Yovani Gallardo? Point is, if the Yankees do make a trade for pitching, I don’t think it’ll be a big one.

(Severino on Twitter)
(Severino on Twitter)

4. I do not think the Yankees should turn to Luis Severino to replace Tanaka. Not right now. Tanaka’s injury shouldn’t change Severino’s timetable at all. His development path isn’t any different today than it was 24 hours ago. Severino has made three Double-A starts this year and he’s been excellent (2.40 ERA and 2.01 FIP), but he’s yet to top 88 pitches in an outing and I’m not sure he’s capable of going through a big lineup multiple times at this point. The Yankees have moved Severino up the ladder pretty aggressively the last two years and I’m sure he’ll be up with Triple-A Scranton sooner rather than later. Maybe he’ll be a big league option later in the season, say July or August. Right now is not the time though. Whitley and Mitchell are perfectly fine fill-in starters until Capuano and eventually Nova return. Severino’s development is not something to screw around with in the wake of this unfortunate yet not entirely unpredictable Tanaka injury.

5. With Tanaka out, the Yankees really need Sabathia to step up and be more of a factor every fifth day. Nathan Eovaldi still has some things in his game to develop and I don’t think it’s fair to ask him to take an immediate step forward to pick up the slack. Sabathia has to be the guy. He’s the grizzled vet, the guy making big bucks, the one who knows how to be a horse and lead a staff. It has now been more than two full years since Sabathia was even an average MLB starter, so expecting him to be that sort of pitcher is probably unrealistic. He can still spare the bullpen every fifth day though and that will be a big help. Six innings every time out, occasionally seven, that sort of thing. The Yankees need Sabathia to be an innings eater to ease the load on the rest of the staff, because the bullpen has worked a lot already this year and they only figure to work more now that Tanaka is injured. Sabathia’s gotta step up.