Headley must start hitting the ball in the air more often to get out of his slump

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Last night the Yankees played their 19th game of the season, moving their record to 8-11. They’re now 11.7% of the way through their schedule, so while it’s still early, it’s not that early anymore. Outlier performances are being corrected and stats are starting to look a little more normal. No one is hitting .400+ with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title anymore. That sort of thing.

Through those 19 team games, Chase Headley has been one of the worst hitters in baseball and the worst hitter in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. He is hitting .157/.290/.157 (36 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances, which places him 191st out of the 196 qualified hitters in wRC+. Those 62 plate appearances are the most by any player with zero extra-base hits. (Kolton Wong is the only other player over 50 plate appearances with zero extra-base hits.)

“I haven’t had a problem with his at-bats … He’s taking his walks. He’s been patient. I don’t think he’s really left the zone a whole lot. He’s just not getting a lot of hits, and that will change. If you’re putting up good at-bats, things are going to change. So for him, they’ll start to turnaround,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty last week, and he’s right in the sense that Headley has been patient. His 16.1% walk rate is 16th highest among those 196 qualified hitters.

The walks are the only thing saving Headley at the plate right now. When he has actually swung the bat, very little has happened. His 25.6% hard contact rate is well below the 30.1% league average, and five of his eight hits have been ground balls through the infield. That’s bad. Headley’s plate discipline has been fine. He’s swinging at the right pitches and all that. But when he makes contact, nothing is happening.

“For me, just trying to find something that allows me to get into the air a little bit,” said Headley to Kuty. “I’ve hit a lot of balls hard this year that, if you hit balls on the ground, there’s a lot more of a chance they’re going to catch them. So for me to be who I think I can be, I need to get the ball in the air. (I’m) just working on some things to try to do that mechanically, put myself in a good position to stay behind the ball a little bit and hopefully that will happen.”

Headley is right in that he needs to get the ball in the air to be productive, that is true of everyone, but his overall 43.6% ground ball rate is right in line with his career average (44.6%). That said, Headley is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. He has two different swings and that means twice as much stuff can go wrong. Here are some real quick ball-in-play splits:

GB% as RHB Hard% as RHB GB% as LHB Hard% as LHB
2013 41.0% 41.0% 48.1% 32.1%
2014 37.1% 41.6% 42.2% 33.0%
2015 47.3% 26.7% 40.7% 28.4%
2016 21.1% 26.3% 65.0% (!) 25.0%

It goes without saying the sample size for 2016 is still very small. Headley has had 32 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and 30 against lefties, so yeah. In that very limited sample Headley has hit a ton of fly balls against lefties and a ton of ground balls against righties. That’s … interesting. His hard contact rate is similar, but the ball has come off his bat in different directions from each side of the plate.

Headley’s numbers are better as a lefty (84 wRC+) than as a righty (-15 wRC+) so far, but I’m not going to put too much stock into that at this point. More importantly, if Headley keeps hitting 65.0% grounders as a left-handed batter, he’s not going to do much better than an 84 wRC+. He’s got to get the ball in the air at some point, especially in Yankee Stadium. And at the same time, if he keeps lifting the ball as a righty, that -15 wRC+ will come up eventually.

Through 19 games it appears Headley has corrected whatever issues he had defensively last season. His throws has been fine — he made one error but that’s no big deal, most players have made an error at this point — and he’s shown off good range too. Defense was always a huge part of Headley’s value and now he has that back. Even though he’s not hitting, he can contribute in the field and save runs.

Now Headley has to figure out how to get his bat back on track, and he has to do it soon, because the Yankees have zero alternatives at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the type of player who will get exposed quickly with regular playing time, Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting in Triple-A (46 wRC+), and none of the other minor league infielders (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano, etc.) are appealing. It’s too early to start thinking trade too.

Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Headley for the time being. I’ve been saying I think his offense will be fine, mostly because I can’t imagine his .205 BABIP will last all year, but at some point Headley has to, you know, hit. April is coming to an end soon. It’s time to get it going. Headley has to start getting the ball in the air more often as a left-handed hitter. That’s priority No. 1 right now. Do that and things will start to fall into place.

Despite rough start, it’s still too early to send Severino to Triple-A

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

With a Game Score of 20, Luis Severino had the worst start of his relatively brief big league career last night. The Rangers tagged him for six runs on seven hits and two walks (one intentional) in only three innings of work. He struck out one and got only four swings and misses out of 74 pitches. It was not good. Texas really did a number on him.

Following that disaster Severino is sitting on a 6.86 ERA (3.66 FIP) with 32 hits allowed in 19.2 innings on the season. The good news is he’s only walked three batters, and one of those was intentional, but he’s also struck out only 12. A 13.5% strikeout rate is really bad. Only seven pitchers have a lower strikeout rate, and they’re guys like Mike Pelfrey (9.1%) and broken Doug Fister (11.2%).

The story last night was the same as Severino’s first three starts: his location was terrible. David Cone had a really great breakdown of Severino’s mistakes on the YES broadcast, showing how he missed the target on some of the hits he allowed. He didn’t miss by a few inches. Severino was missing by the width of the plate and up in the zone. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw with location that poor.

“I thought he was up with his fastball. It seemed like the fastballs that they hit were between the thigh and the waist, and he had a hard time throwing his offspeed for strikes,” said Joe Girardi after the game (video link). “It kind of put him in a tough situation, and they definitely took advantage of it.”

Severino barely resembles the pitcher he was late last season even though the PitchFX data says his fastball is still sitting 97 mph with sliders and changeups around 90 mph. The hitters are telling you all you need to know. They’re squaring him up consistently and the strikeouts are much harder to come by. That’s concerning. This is a 22-year-old kid who increased his workload by 48.2 innings last year, remember. There could be a hangover effect.

It would be very easy and, frankly, justifiable for the Yankees to send Severino to Triple-A for some tune-up work after these four starts. They have a ready made rotation replacement in Ivan Nova and Severino has some very clear flaws to correct. He seems incapable of getting his slider down in the zone, and his fastball location has generally been crap. A trip to Triple-A lets him work on that stuff in a place where results don’t matter.

I think it’s a little too early to take that step though. For starters, Severino hasn’t gotten rocked every time out. One start ago he tossed six innings of two run ball, remember. Secondly, I’m a big believer in failure as a learning tool. Severino never struggled in the minors. The guy zoomed up the ladder because he dominated minor league hitters. Severino can lean on his fastball and have a lot of success with ol’ No. 1 and nothing else down there.

The minors were not much of a challenge for Severino. He is being challenged at the MLB level now and the hitters are telling him he has to adjust. That’s the name of the game. Make the adjustments and correct your flaws or you won’t be around long. By all accounts Severino is a hard worker and a kid with tremendous poise, so that’s not an issue. He just needs to fine-tune his game like so many other 22-year-olds.

“I’m sure it’s tough right now cause he’s probably never struggled until (he got to) this level,” added Girardi. “But that’s part of it, too. You have to fight in this game. This game is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Everyone gets knocked down in this game, and you have to get back up and you have to go to work.”

Yes, there is absolutely a point when Severino’s struggles will become too much and a trip to the minors is necessary. That’s true for every young player. I don’t think Severino is at that point yet. His stuff is firm and not he’s walking anyone, so this isn’t a kid who has been scared out of the strike zone and is getting himself into trouble by nibbling. Once that starts happening, you have to begin to worry about his confidence.

Severino’s start to the new season has been very disappointing. I can’t imagine anyone feels otherwise. Four starts is only four starts though. Severino didn’t go from MLB ready to Triple-A caliber in three weeks. His location must improve. It’s imperative. For now, the Yankees should let him work through his issues at the big league level. If the same problems persist in a few weeks, the team can reassess and see if a change needs to be made then.

Texas heat too much for the Yankees in a 10-1 loss

Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Well, not much to see here folks. As Mike said, it was an “impressively bad night for the offense.” I don’t want to use too many metaphors to describe how I felt about the Yankee bats because 1) that’s not why I earned my creative writing minor, and 2) it would be just plain mean. As for the pitchers, the least painful guy to watch was Chasen Shreve and he still allowed a home run and a HBP in a frame. This was one to forget. Let’s just recap this thing right here.

Leaving It Up

The Rangers drew first blood in the first. Nomar Mazara reached first with a single and Prince Fielder later drove him in with an RBI single. 1-0 in the first. At this point, it was still very much a game. Eight more innings to go, still a good chance for Sevvy and the bats to win the game, right?

As the rain started to really come down entering the bottom of third, Luis Severino got into more Mazara-induced trouble (and then much more). With two outs, Mazara lined a single to center and Adrian Beltre followed it up with a double to put two runners on. At that point, it was kind of obvious that Severino’s command was off tonight. It was in a way that reminded me of Michael Pineda from Sunday. He was leaving pitches up in the zone, making it easier for hitters to drive. For instance…

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.13.18 PM

The Yankees decided to intentionally walk Prince Fielder to face Ian Desmond, which in many ways, is an easier matchup, especially considering Fielder has scorched Sevvy with an RBI single earlier. Unfortunately, Severino walked Desmond to bring a run home and Mitch Moreland followed it with a 2 RBI single to make it 4-0 Rangers.

The inning was far from over. On the second pitch versus Elvis Andrus, Severino threw a slider on the ground that bounced too much for Brian McCann to block, scoring another one. Andrus followed it up with another RBI single to increase the lead to 6-0. Tough inning for a young guy but that kind of stuff will happen. He threw a whopping 43 pitches in that inning to make it 74 total in 3.0 IP.

Joe Girardi put Ivan Nova in the fourth to relieve Severino, hoping to not let the game even more out of hand. Nova has had a pretty meh season as a long relief guy. Prior to tonight, he had 8.1 IP logged in with a 4.32 ERA. With the Yankee starting rotation being as inconsistent they have been, Nova has had some chances to audition his way into the rotation possibility.

Unfortunately, he was pretty mediocre tonight. In 4.0 IP, he allowed five hits, three runs, one home run (a laser by Ian Desmond) while striking out no one. One good thing about his outing was that he was generating grounders at a 81.3% clip, which is quite high. And, uh, well, that’s pretty much it.

As I mentioned earlier, Chasen Shreve was the least painful Yankee pitcher to watch and he still got torched by the Rangers offense a bit. He got the first two quick outs and surrendered a solo homer to Rougned Odor to make it 10-1 Texas. He followed it up by hitting Mazara with a pitch but struck out Hanser Alberto to get out of the inning.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

One Run Is Better Than Nothing? 

I don’t know what was the worst Yankee offense performance of the year, but this has to be in the conversation. A.J. Griffin is not a bad pitcher, but he had not pitched in majors since 2013 (his first ML full season). Against the Yankees tonight, he seemed like a seasoned veteran that knew how to confuse hitters and get weak contact. To his credit, while his stuff doesn’t wow anyone, he was throwing strikes while changing speeds – sometimes that’s all it takes to tame a big league lineup. Through the first six innings, he had allowed only two baserunners – both of them being Ronald Torreyes base hits.

The Yankee bats had something going on in the seventh. Brett Gardner led off with a walk and a Carlos Beltran single made it no outs with runners on corners. Mark Teixeira hit a hot shot that Andrus couldn’t handle, driving Gardner in. 8-1 Rangers. McCann hit another hard grounder towards Andrus but the shortstop scooped it flawlessly to turn a double play. Of course. Griffin struck out Starlin Castro with a slow-you-to-death 67 mph curveball to get out of the inning.

Down 10-1, New York attempted to squeeze in another run against RHP Tony Barnette (who recently returned to the Stateside after spending years in Japan as a closer for the Yakult Swallows). Gardner and Teixeira both singled to put two baserunners on but, as the theme of the night went, Yankee offense went away quietly to end the game.

Box Score, WPA, Highlights and Updated Standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, standings, WPA and video highlights.

Source: FanGraphs

A three-game series tied 1-1, so you know what that means. The rubber match is tomorrow. The big man CC Sabathia will face Martin Perez in the battle of the lefties.

DotF: Herrera, Holder toss combined no-hitter for Trenton

Got a whole bunch of notes to pass along:

  • Slade Heathcott (hand) has been shagging fly balls, says Shane Hennigan. He’s inching closer to a return. OF Cesar Puello (concussion) went through a full workout yesterday and again today. He could return tomorrow. IF Deibinson Romero (unknown) will go through a few more workouts before returning.
  • RHP James Kaprielian (elbow) was officially placed on the High-A Tampa DL, according to Nicholas Flammia. RHP Jose Mesa Jr. was send down to Low-A Charleston while both LHP James Reeves and RHP Brody Koerner were brought up.
  • Remember when I mentioned the Yankees signed RHP Luis Rodriguez yesterday, but I didn’t know which Luis Rodriguez? Matt Eddy says he’s a 19-year-old international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic, so that answers that.
  • And finally, OF Mark Payton was named the High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week, so congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Lehigh Valley in ten innings, walk-off style)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB — he was at the plate when the winning run scored on a passed ball
  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-4, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5 — got picked off first … he’s hitting .190/.257/.238 on the season
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 3-4, 2 R, 1 BB
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2/4 GB/FB — 46 of 72 pitches were strikes (64%) … I thought maybe he would get called back up to replace RHP Nick Goody in the bullpen, but I guess not
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 16 of 23 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Game 19: Trying To Get Severino On Track


Want to hear something wild? The Yankees have won three of their last four games. Doesn’t feel like it, right? The offense still hasn’t snapped out of its funk, but the pitching has been much better of late, and the bullpen is making every lead stand up. Sometimes the pitching has the pick up the hitting and vice versa.

The Yankees are sending young Luis Severino to the mound tonight, and Severino has struggled in three starts so far. He hasn’t been awful, just pretty mediocre, and I don’t think anyone came into the season expecting mediocrity from Luis. Command of his secondary pitches, particularly his slider, remains the main issue. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 1B Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

The weather in Arlington is pretty scary tonight. There are thunderstorm warnings and apparently tornado warnings as well, but the worst of it is not supposed to start until later tonight. Every time I checked the forecast today the worst stuff seemed to get pushed back an hour. It’s supposed to start raining and raining hard about three hours after first pitch, so we’ll see what happens. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 8pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (oblique) is feeling better. He took swings in the batting cage yesterday and again today. It doesn’t sound like he’s a pinch-hitter option yet, however.

2016 Draft: Dakota Hudson

Dakota Hudson | RHP

A few years back Hudson, 21, was considered a fourth or fifth round talent out of Sequatchie County High School in Tennessee, but his strong commitment to Mississippi State caused him to fall to the 36th round (Rangers). This spring Hudson has a 2.82 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 24 walks in 67 innings for the Bulldogs. Last summer he had a 1.43 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 14 walks in 56 2/3 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-5 and 205 lbs., Hudson has the kind of big frame teams look for in a future workhorse starter. His best pitch is a darting cutter in the 88-91 mph range that he’s able to bust in on the hands of left-handed batters. Hudson sits around 92-95 mph with his straight four-seam fastball, and he also has a low-80s slider he’ll back foot to lefties. Neither his curveball nor his changeup are anything to write home about. The cutter is his go-to weapon against lefties. Control problems limited Hudson to only 34 total innings his first two years on college, but nowadays he has good control and improving command.

In their latest rankings Hudson is ranked as the 17th, 20th, and 33rd best prospect in the 2016 draft by Keith Law (subs. req’d), Baseball America, and MLB.com, respectively. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick, and they really seem to value Cape Cod League success. Hudson does not fit the mold of a polished college starter. He has a deep arsenal and a big frame, but he’s still learning to throw strikes consistently. The pitches are there. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning some things.

Beltran wants to continue playing beyond 2016, hopes to manage down the line

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

So far this season Carlos Beltran has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent hitter, authoring a 115 wRC+ with four home runs through 18 games. He’s shown he has something left in the tank even at age 39, so it’s no surprise Ken Rosenthal (video link) reports Beltran hopes to play beyond this season. There had been some retirement chatter the last few months.

Rosenthal suggests there’s a chance Beltran will return to the Royals next season, the team that originally drafted him. Kendrys Morales, their current DH, will be a free agent after the season, so Kansas City has an opening there. Beltran was a star with the Royals from 1998-2004, and they did try to sign him two years ago, but the Yankees upped their offer to three guaranteed years and that was that.

The Yankees have been skewing young over the last 20 months or so, so it’s tough to see Beltran sticking around beyond this season. The team has both Aaron Judge and Ben Gamel waiting in Triple-A, plus others like Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Dustin Fowler available as well. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m certain they’ll tell you they’d love Judge to step right into right field next year.

As far as his post-playing career goes, Beltran told Andrew Marchand he hopes to one day get into managing. “I’m a player, but I consider myself like another coach here,” he said. “That is something I have had that conversation with my wife. I think — if it happens — it would be a great experience for me to do, but, like I said, I’m not concentrating on that, but that is something that could be special if it happens.”

Beltran has long been praised for his work ethic and willingness to help young players — in his first camp with the Yankees, he organized a dinner event for the young Latin American prospects in the organization to build comradery — and those are two traits that figure to serve him well in any coaching or managerial capacity. And given his reputation within the game, Carlos will have no trouble getting his foot in the door.

Jumping from player to big league coach or manager is something a guy like Beltran could pull off, though most have to work their way up through the minors. The Yankees tend to hire guys they already know as minor league coaches (Marcus Thames, for example) and I’m sure they’d have interest in Beltran when the time comes. That’s a long way away though. Let him finish his playing career first.