Front Office & Coaching Staff Notes: Hendry, Chavez, Mattingly, Magadan, Baylor, Tuck

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

Both the Yankees’ front office and the coaching staff have been shaken up a bit in recent weeks. Assistant GM Billy Eppler left to take over as Angels GM, and trusted scout Tim Naehring was promoted to take his place. Hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck were let go as well. Here are some front office and coaching staff notes via Nick Cafardo, Joel Sherman, Jerry Crasnick, George King, Ryan Hatch, and Jon Heyman.

  • Special advisor Jim Hendry interviewed with the Phillies for their since filled GM position. They named Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak their new GM over the weekend. Although he didn’t get the GM job, it’s still possible Hendry will join the Phillies as an advisor.
  • Special assignment scout Eric Chavez has left the Yankees to join Eppler with the Angels. His contract was up, so he was free to leave on his own. The Yankees hired Chavez last offseason and he had input into the Didi Gregorius trade since he played with Gregorius with the D’Backs.
  • Don Mattingly is not currently interested in the Yankees hitting coach position. He’s been there, done that. Mattingly wants to continue managing and right now there are four open managerial jobs: Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, and Marlins. Obviously he’s not going back to the Dodgers after leaving last week. The Marlins’ job is reportedly Mattingly’s to lose.
  • Dave Magadan will not be a candidate for the hitting coach job, apparently. He was let go as Rangers hitting coach about a week ago. The Yankees interviewed Magadan for their hitting coach position last offseason before hiring Pentland.
  • Don Baylor could be a hitting coach candidate. He held the position with the Angels the last two seasons before Eppler let him go a few days ago. Baylor, a former Yankees player, managed Joe Girardi with both the Rockies and Cubs, so there’s a connection.
  • Gary Tuck was apparently let go as bullpen coach last week because he and the analytic heavy front office didn’t mesh too well. I’m not sure what a bullpen coach does that involves analytics, but whatever.
  • In case you missed it yesterday, the Yankees reached out to former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington about joining the front office, but he declined.

A Bad Beginning, a Bad Ending, but Three Good Months in the Middle [2015 Season Review]


Thanks to free agency and Derek Jeter‘s retirement, the Yankees were faced with replacing three-fourths of their starting infield last offseason. Mark Teixeira was the only holdover. The Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius to replace Jeter, and they wound up re-signing Stephen Drew and Chase Headley to play second and third bases, respectively.

Headley has a history of being an above-average player, so he received a multi-year contract. Drew? He was coming off a miserable 2014 season in which he hit .162/.237/.299 (45 wRC+) in exactly 300 plate appearances after sitting out the first few weeks because no team wanted to forfeit a first round pick to sign him. The Yankees felt Drew was a better player than what he showed and gambled he wouldn’t be that bad again in 2015. Technically, they were right.

The Return

Around this time last year, we were all looking forward to a free agent class loaded with shortstops. It never materialized. J.J. Hardy re-signed with the Orioles before free agency opened and no one loved the idea of giving Hanley Ramirez or Jed Lowrie multiple years to play shortstop because they’re no good defensively. Asdrubal Cabrera’s offense and defense had both been declining as well.

A very good case can be made Drew was the best shortstop on the market last year. I mean actual shortstop. Capable of playing the position defensively. And yet, he was unable to find work until the Yankees re-signed him in mid-January, after they traded for Gregorius to play shortstop. Drew had to settle for a second base job. The cost: one year and $5M. That’s nothing in baseball dollars these days. It was a low cost flier.

The Importance of Spring

One of the reasons the Yankees hoped Drew would bounce back in 2015 was Spring Training. He would have a normal Spring Training for the first time in three years — he missed Spring Training in 2012 with a fractured ankle, missed a big chunk of Spring Training in 2013 with a concussion, and missed all of Spring Training in 2014 because no one signed him. Drew would finally get a proper spring to prepare himself.

Drew, who turned 32 in mid-March, played in 22 Grapefruit League games, the most of any regular. He played well too, hitting .256/.310/.481 with three home runs in those 22 games. Also, the Yankees kept Drew at second base so he could continue to learn the position after making the switch at midseason last year. He played only one game (six innings) at short. That’s all. Everything else was at second base. All things considered, Drew had a solid spring, which he needed.

Home Runs … And Nothing Else

When the season started, it quickly became apparent a full Spring Training hadn’t helped Drew a whole lot. He went 2-for-17 (.118) in his first four games, then hit a solo home run off Clay Buchholz to cap off a seven-run first inning in his fifth game of the season. The next night, Drew had what was legitimately one of the biggest hits of the season, a go-ahead pinch-hit grand slam against the Orioles:

That was incredible. Even that early in the season, it felt like a huge hit because the Yankees — and Drew, for that matter — stumbled out of the gate. That was as big a win as you’ll see in April.

In the following days Drew continued to hit the ball out of the park and do little else. He went 8-for-42 (.190) with four home runs in his first 13 games and 31-for-177 (.175) with nine home runs in his first 53 games (58 team games). That’s 25-homer pace across 162 games, but he was also hitting .175 with a .237 OBP, so yeah. The homers were nice, but Drew was a black hole through the first third of the season.

Sneaky Good Production

From June 2nd through September 2nd, a totally arbitration three-month stretch of season, Drew quietly hit .250/.320/.485 (117 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 68 games and 225 plate appearances. That’s really good! Especially for a second baseman. I mean geez. Middle infielders who can put up league average offense are hard to find these days. Drew was quite a bit better than average during those 68 games.

And yet, because he started the season so terribly, his average remained under the Mendoza Line and everyone wanted Drew out of the lineup. It wasn’t entirely undeserved either. Drew was awful last year and awful for the first two months this season. We’re talking close to 500 plate appearances. And with Rob Refsnyder sitting in Triple-A, it was not at all unreasonable to want the Yankees to make a change. Aside from Refsnyder’s four-game cameo around the All-Star break, they never did.

It was not until August 30th in Atlanta that Drew finally (finally!) saw his average creep over .200. All it took was a 4-for-4 day. He homered and also drew two walks that day. Drew went into the game hitting .192/.262/.369 (69 wRC+) on the season and left hitting .201/.274/.385 (77 wRC+). I can’t imagine many everyday players raise their wRC+ eight points in a single game in late-August.

The grand slam against the Orioles was certainly important, though Drew’s biggest hit as a Yankee came on September 1st against the Red Sox, his former team. The Yankees had slipped behind the Blue Jays in the AL East but were still within striking distance (only 1.5 games back), so they needed every win possible. Drew went 1-for-3 on the night, and the one was a go-ahead two-run double in the fifth inning.

The Yankees held on for the 3-1 win and kept pace with the Blue Jays. That was part of a ridiculous four-game surge for Drew, during which he went 9-for-12 (.750!) with two doubles and two home runs. That raised his season batting line to .211/.281/.404 (84 wRC+) in 399 plate appearances, which is still comfortably below-average, but it was much better than what the Yankees got out of Drew in April and May.

The Premature End

Drew limped to the finish line the last few weeks of the season. He went 2-for-27 (.074) to close out the season and seemingly lost his starting second base job to Dustin Ackley. It wasn’t entirely performance related, however. Drew took a bad hop ground ball to the face on September 12th and suffered what was eventually diagnosed as a vestibular concussion. It was the same thing that cause him to miss most of Spring Training in 2013.

Drew played again on September 13th and that was essentially his final game of the season. He never played a full nine innings after that, instead coming off the bench for defense and occasionally to pinch-hit. Drew didn’t play at all after September 22nd, the 150th game of the season. He missed the team’s postseason berth clinching celebration because he was seeing a specialist in Pittsburgh, which sucks. Drew was there all season and deserved to celebrate with his teammates.

When it was all said and done, Drew hit .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) with 17 home runs in 131 games and 428 plate appearances this season. (His average was over .200 for only 20 of those 131 games.) He actually finished with the fifth most homers on the team, behind Alex Rodriguez (33), Teixeira (31), Brian McCann (26), and Carlos Beltran (19).

Normally when a player has better than average strikeout (16.6%), walk (8.6%), and ISO (.80) rates, he has a good offensive season. Not Drew. The first few weeks and the last few weeks were a mess, among the worst hitting performances I’ve ever seen, but those three months in the middle were really good too. The overall numbers were very bad, but, for those three months there, Drew was an asset at the plate.

The Other Side of the Bag

The Yankees moved Drew to second base in the middle of the season in 2014. He had never played a position other than shortstop (and DH) in his entire career, Majors or minors, but they felt Drew had the athleticism and instincts to handle the move, so they took a shot. Drew went through some growing pains last year before settling in.


This season Drew looked much more comfortable on the other side of the second base bag. It’s a bigger adjustment than you may realize! Turning a double play is completely different for a second baseman, mostly because you have to make the blind pivot with the runner bearing down on you. It’s not as easy as Robinson Cano made it look. There are also cutoff assignments and whatnot.

The one-year sample of defensive stats — not even a full season at that — say Drew was right in the vicinity of average in the field. Total Zone liked him the most (+3 runs) and DRS liked him the least (-3). UZR was in the middle (-0.2). I thought Drew was solid, not way better than average and not below-average either. He made all the routine plays and occasionally spectacular ones, especially going to his right.

When the ball was hit to Drew, I didn’t freak out. I guess that’s the best way to evaluate defense across one season. I felt comfortable with Drew handling the baseball even in big situations — if the Yankees needed a double play to escape a jam, cool, hit it to Drew. I was confident he’d make the play. He is as sure-handed as you could want.

Between solid defense and his three strong months at the plate, Drew had a nice stretch of production this year. The middle of the season was good! The beginning and end? Eh. Drew finished with +0.2 fWAR and +0.4 bWAR, though the defensive stats might be underselling his glove a bit. Normally when a player sits below the Mendoza Line most of the season, he’s sub-replacement level. Drew’s power and glove helped him contribute in a positive way, albeit slightly.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Drew is once again a free agent this coming offseason. Gregorius is entrenched at short and the Yankees are “leaning towards” using Ackley and Refsnyder at second base next year, meaning there’s no room for Drew unless he’s willing to be a backup infielder. I’d rather have Drew on the bench than Brendan Ryan, but, given the dearth of middle infielders, my guess is Drew will find a greater opportunity for playing time elsewhere. (Plus it would be nice to have a righty bat on the bench.) Bringing Drew back at a low cost this year was a fine move. It was a risk worth taking. It just didn’t work out too well.

The Five Shortest Home Runs of the 2015 Season

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

Yesterday morning we looked at the five longest home runs of the 2015 Yankees season. Now it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum, the laughably short home runs. Yankee Stadium‘s right field porch helps create plenty of these. But hey, both teams are playing in the same ballpark with the same dimensions, so what’s fair is fair.

Once again, we’re going to rely on the wonderful Hit Tracker for our home run distance data because Statcast data isn’t full available just yet. Maybe next year. All home runs count the same, of course. The short ones in this post count just as much as the long distance homers we looked at yesterday. I guess that’s part of what makes baseball fun. Anyway, here are the top five. Or bottom five?

5. September 12th: A-Rod sneaks a home run into the short porch. (box score)
I’ve said this more times than I care to count: Alex Rodriguez is the smartest, most instinctual player I’ve ever seen. Plus he’s insanely talented. When the Yankees moved into the new Yankee Stadium and it became apparent the short porch in right field was a very short porch, Alex made adjustments to better drive the ball the other way, resulting in home runs like this:

Aside from Derek Jeter, who was never much of a power hitter, A-Rod is the only true everyday right-handed hitter the Yankees have had in the lineup for multiple seasons since 2009. I still have a hard time believing someone else could make an adjustment like that look so effortless. No righty is able to poke the ball to the opposite field for a home run quite like Alex. That home run traveled 341 feet, by the way.

4. June 20th: Beltran goes the other way for his second of the game. (box score)
Boy the Yankees crushed the Tigers this summer. They played them seven times, won five times, and outscored Detroit 46-26 (!) in the process. The Yankees won this particular game against the Tigers by the score of 14-3 thanks in part to two Carlos Beltran home runs. The second one was the team’s third shortest dinger of the season.

Believe it or not, that was Beltran’s first and still only two-homer game with the Yankees. He went deep from both sides of the plate too — he hit a a solo home run off the right-hander Alfredo Simon earlier in the game. That was a more traditional big fly. This opposite field solo shot measured in at 339 feet.

3. August 7th: Teixeira homers without leaving the yard. (box score)
This is definitely my favorite home run in this post. It didn’t even leave the ballpark. Teixeira hit a high fly ball out to left field — not the short porch! — that some poor fan in the first row failed to catch, and the ball landed back on the field. Check it out:

The play was originally ruled a double on the field. Joe Girardi asked for a review and the call was later changed to a home run. The fan didn’t get the ball either way. Sucks for him. Bring your glove next time. No shame in it. The distance on this one? A mere 336 feet.

2. May 25th: McCann hits one just over Orlando. (box score)
Orlando in this case means Paulo Orlando, the Royals outfielder. Unlike the other home runs in this post, this one at least looks like it was going to be a base hit not matter what. This was not a towering fly ball that landed one or two rows deep. No, this was a rocket line drive over Orlando’s head:

Maybe Orlando catches that in a normal sized ballpark. He is quite the defender. I’m thinking that’s a double to the wall in most ballparks with an average-ish right fielder. That’s certainly not a routine fly ball. McCann hit it hard and was rewarded with four bases instead of two. This blast traveled 336 feet. Also, Jeremy Guthrie was charged with eleven runs in one inning that afternoon.

1. June 5th: Teixeira hits one high but not far off Weaver. (box score)
Unfortunately, the Yankees didn’t hit any ultra-cheap home runs either off or wrapped out the right field foul pole this season. Here is last year’s shortest homers post. No. 1 was a doozy. That home run was so cheap you can’t help but laugh.

The Yankees didn’t hit any home runs like that this past season. Instead, the shortest home run was a very high fly ball that landed a row or two back in right field. In most ballparks, it’s a lazy fly ball to the warning track with plenty of hang time. In Yankee Stadium, it’s a dinger. Check it out:

That home run checked in at 334 feet. I could only dream of hitting a baseball that far. Oh, and fun fact: three of the team’s nine shortest homers of the season came off Jered Weaver in that June 5th game. In addition to that Teixeira homer, Stephen Drew hit a pair of cheapies that measured 347 feet each. Here’s the video of Drew’s homers. Poor Jered.

* * *

In case you’re wondering, the Yankees’ shortest home run of the season away from Yankee Stadium was a McCann solo home run at the O.Co Coliseum on May 28th. Here’s the video. That was the team’s tenth shortest home run of the season at 348 feet. Sixteen of the Yankees’ 18 shortest home runs this season came in the Bronx, because duh.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

After three days with no baseball, the 2015 World Series finally begins tonight in Kansas City. It’s the Mets against the Royals. Edinson Volquez vs. Matt Harvey is the Game One pitching matchup. I’m not rooting for either team, I just want the series to go the full seven games. I am looking forward to seeing how the Mets’ pitching handles the Royals’ contact happy lineup and vice versa. Should be fun.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The World Series begins at 8pm ET and you can watch on FOX. The Devils are playing and the NBA season begins tonight as well, though neither the Knicks nor Nets are in action. Talk about the World Series, any of those other games, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Sherman: Yankees reached out to Ben Cherington about joining front office

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees reached out to former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to see whether he had interest in joining the team’s front office a few weeks ago, but Cherington declined. “I reached out to him. I have a lot of respect for him, his integrity and how he did his job,” said Brian Cashman to Sherman.

Cherington, 41, stepped down as Red Sox GM in mid-August after the team named Dave Dombrowski their president of baseball operations. The BoSox gave Cherington an opportunity to remain with the team, but he decided to leave, feeling his authority within in the organization had been diminished.

A few weeks ago Cherington told reporters he planned to get away from the GM life for a while. He reportedly turned down opportunities to interview with Mariners and Angels about their since filled GM positions. Cherington signed on to teach a “leadership in sports” course at Columbia recently.

I’m not at all surprised Cashman reached out to Cherington. The Red Sox have kinda sucked the last few years, but Cherington’s been there a very long time and had a hand in building their 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series title teams. As far as I’m concerned, the more smart people in the front office, the better.

The Yankees lost assistant GM Billy Eppler a few weeks ago when he left to take over as Angels GM. Trusted scout Tim Naehring was recently promoted to vice president of baseball operations to replace Eppler. Cherington would have helped fill the void created by Eppler’s departure, for sure.

Report: Korean third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang asks to be posted this offseason

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

Third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang has asked his club, the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization, to make him available to MLB teams via the posting process this offseason, reports Yonhap. The two sides were set to continue talking in recent days and weeks.

“Any baseball player would dream of playing in the majors,” said Hwang to Yonhap. “And I have been working hard to realize that dream myself. I’ve already signed on with an American management company … I wanted to keep a low profile, but when articles on (teammate Ah-Seop Son) mentioned my name, I decided to go public, too.”

Hwang, 28, is a right-handed hitting third baseman who is known for his power and bat flips. Here is one of his better bat flips (skip to the 0:46 mark if you’re impatient):

Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Hwang spent time with three teams earlier in his career — there are ten teams in KBO now but there were only seven when Hwang first broke in — before finally finding a home with the Giants in 2010. Here are his career stats, via Baseball Reference:

2007 19 -9.5 Hyundai 63 171 19 48 6 0 2 12 2 2 5 33 .300 .323 .375 .698
2008 20 -8.2 Woori 117 333 27 73 10 1 1 18 10 7 16 56 .239 .279 .288 .567
2009 21 -7.3 Woori 133 608 86 152 27 5 18 63 30 15 55 100 .284 .349 .453 .802
2010 22 -6.0 2 Teams 94 352 41 69 14 3 6 40 18 7 32 73 .225 .303 .350 .653
2011 23 -5.4 Lotte 117 458 62 115 18 4 12 68 12 6 40 78 .289 .360 .445 .805
2012 24 -4.3 Lotte 133 504 42 122 19 1 4 51 26 8 38 81 .272 .335 .346 .681
2013 25 -3.5 Lotte 128 559 70 134 29 3 7 56 22 11 49 78 .274 .350 .389 .738
2014 26 -2.9 Lotte 128 550 66 156 33 3 12 76 17 10 53 86 .321 .388 .475 .864
2015 27 Lotte 144 596 95 155 41 2 26 97 11 10 48 122 .290 .350 .521 .870
All Levels (9 Seasons) 1057 4131 508 1024 197 22 88 481 148 76 336 707 .280 .343 .417 .761

So far Hwang has only had one big power season, and he attributes his 2015 power spike to a new offseason training regime designed to add muscle. It’s worth noting his strikeout rate jumped from 15.0% from 2012-14 to 20.5% in 2015. That suggests some approach changes as well. It seems Hwang is swinging for the fences more often.

Inevitably, Hwang will be compared to Jung-Ho Kang, who was a smashing success for the Pirates this year. Kang was a consistent 20+ homer guy in Korea and he swatted 40 dingers in 2014. He struck out in 21.2% of his plate appearances in his final season in KBO, so his strikeout rate was in line with Hwang’s. Of course, he also hit way more homers too.

Our Sung-Min Kim tells me Hwang is considered a natural third baseman with a strong arm. He has played some shortstop in the past but works exclusively at the hot corner these days. Plenty of teams have scouted Hwang this year and the consensus is his plate discipline and approach are a bit worrisome, though that seems to be the case for all foreign position players.

The Giants do not have to post Hwang this offseason — MLB’s posting agreement with KBO is like the old posting system with NPB, meaning a blind bid and then a 30-day negotiating window — but they have incentive to do so because he will qualify for international free agency next offseason. They could either post him now and get gobs of money or lose him for nothing next year.

Kang is the first Korean position player to successfully transition to MLB through the posting system, and because of his success, I’m sure teams will spend some extra time evaluating Korean position players. There are 29 clubs right now who wish they had pursued Kang more aggressively. Hwang could benefit from Kang’s success simply because there figures to be more attention paid to position players in KBO now.

The best third baseman on the free agent market this offseason is David Freese, so yeah. Hwang figures to generate some interest. The Yankees have Chase Headley at third base, though they are said to be seeking a right-handed bat, so I suppose it’s not impossible they could trade Headley and bring in Hwang to play third. Unlikely? Oh sure. But not impossible. The Yankees will surely explore every option.

Given the lack of alternatives, I doubt the Yankees would have much trouble finding a taker for Headley, especially with only three years and $39M left on his contract. That’s nothing these days. I doubt the Yankees pursue Hwang this offseason, but he is an option that exists.

CC Sabathia and the Importance of Life Outside Baseball [2015 Season Review]


Once upon a time, CC Sabathia was a rock in the Yankees rotation. He was the guy who allowed Joe Girardi to sit back and relax every fifth day, because Girardi knew Sabathia would give the team a quality outing. The Sabathia of old was an ace in every way — he soaked up innings and they were all high quality innings. It was great.

The Sabathia of old is now just old Sabathia. All those innings and all those years of his massive frame coming down hard on his right (landing) knee have taken a toll on Sabathia physically. At age 35, things don’t work as well as they once did. Sabathia was ineffective in 2013 and both hurt and ineffective in 2014. What would 2015 bring? No one knew heading into Spring Training.

A Spring Away from the Spotlight

Sabathia’s season ended in mid-May last year due to ongoing knee problems, which eventually required a clean out procedure in mid-July. The surgery was season-ending but it was much better than the alternative: career-threatening microfracture surgery. Sabathia had his knee cleaned out and came to camp healthy and ready to pitch.

The Yankees didn’t necessarily hide Sabathia during Spring Training, but he did most of his prep work away from the spotlight in minor league and simulated games. The team wanted him in a more controlled environment following knee surgery. Sabathia made just three Grapefruit League starts and got hammered: nine runs on 14 hits and three walks in ten innings. He did the rest of his work on the side.

“I don’t give a (expletive!) what stock they put in (my performance),” said Sabathia to reporters at the end of March. “It is what it is. I’ve had Spring Trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had Spring Trainings like last year where I didn’t give up (any) runs and I gave up (six) in the first game (Opening Day against the Astros). So you all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”

Sabathia wasn’t worried about his spring performance and that’s good, an athlete needs to be confident, but it didn’t make fans feel any better. He struggled big time from 2013-14 and it would have been nice to see some zeroes in camp. It’s Spring Training, it wouldn’t have meant anything, but geez, seeing him get lit up so soon after knee surgery was not reassuring.

Reliably Unreliable

Once again, the start of the season was a struggle for Sabathia. He allowed five runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays in his first start of the year — that was the third game of the season, the Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka the Opening Day start (and Michael Pineda the second game) after Sabathia started Opening Day every year from 2009-14 — and then allowed four runs in seven innings next time out.

In his third start, Sabathia held the Tigers to two runs in eight innings in a tough complete game loss. It was a game the Yankees should have won, but their offense let them down. That’s baseball sometimes.

Those first three starts were essentially a microcosm of Sabathia’s season. A lot of bad with enough good mixed in to keep you hoping a turn around was coming. Sabathia allowed seven runs in five innings in his next start, and come the end of June, he owned a 5.59 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 16 starts and 95 innings. That’s basically half a season.

The Sabathia we saw from 2013-14 was the Sabathia we were seeing in 2015. His strikeout (20.2%) and walk (4.4%) rates were wonderful, but he was exceptionally homer prone (1.80 HR/9) and not the same caliber of workhorse — Sabathia averaged just under six innings per start in those first 16 starts. From 2009-12, Sabathia failed to complete six innings only 13 times (!) in 129 starts. He did it six times in his first 16 starts of 2015.

Committed, For Better or Worse

The Yankees made is clear they were committed to keeping Sabathia in the rotation in late-June, when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery and Adam Warren was sent back to the bullpen. On merit, Warren had no business being demoted. He was pitching well as a starter — especially at that time too, he was really starting to settle in — and was one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization. He might have been the second or third best at time.

And yet, the Yankees were committed to Sabathia, and obviously his contract has something to do with that. I’m guessing the team wouldn’t have been so hesitant to yank him from the starting rotation if he was owed, say, $10M in 2015 rather than $53M from 2015-16 (and possibly $73M from 2015-17). Sabathia stayed in the rotation, and in his next eight starts, he had a 4.57 ERA (5.30 FIP) in 43.1 innings. That’s … better?

To their credit, the Yankees started to shelter Sabathia in the second half. They rearranged the rotation whenever possible — they did this with off-days and an occasional spot sixth starter — to make sure he avoided the Blue Jays, for example. The Yankees knew Sabathia was a detriment, and while they were not willing to take him out of the rotation, they did the next best thing. They used him sparingly.

The Knee Brace That Fixed Everything, Maybe

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sabathia during his seven years in pinstripes, it’s that he’s willing to pitch through just about anything. He pitched with knee pain most of 2010 and with a bone spur in his elbow in 2012. Sabathia suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in September 2013 and finished the damn start. For better or worse, Sabathia wanted to be out there.

That’s why, on August 23rd, it was disheartening to see Sabathia remove himself from a start against the Indians. He was struggled big time — he allowed two runs on four hits and four walks in only 2.2 innings — and the pain in his right knee simply became too much. He pulled himself from the start without even attempting a test pitch or lobbying to stay in the game.

Sabathia had his right knee drained multiple times throughout the course of the season, and it seemed like it was working, but the pain was too much to take that Sunday afternoon. The initial reaction was Sabathia’s season was over. That always seems to be the first reaction whenever a pitcher gets hurt. The Yankees sent CC for tests, tests that showed no new damage, just inflammation. He needed rest.

After all of that, Sabathia missed only the minimum 15 days. The Yankees put him on the DL and activated him as soon as possible. He didn’t need any additional surgery or anything like that, just rest. Well, rest and new knee brace. Sabathia had been wearing a sleeve on his knee for much of the season, but, after the injury in August, he switched to a clunkier brace that reduced the bone on bone contact.

For whatever reason, the new knee brace or otherwise, Sabathia was awesome after coming off the DL. Five starts, 29 innings, and only nine runs (seven earned) allowed. He held hitters to a .224/.320/.327 batting line. It wasn’t the old ace version of Sabathia, but it was a heck of a lot better than what the Yankees were getting from him most of the season. He allowed one earned run or less in four of those five starts.

The Yankees were never not going to have Sabathia in their postseason rotation — he probably would have been their fourth starter at best had they qualified for the ALDS, but he was going to be in the rotation, that was clear — but after his September dominance, he belonged in that postseason conversation. Sabathia really stepped up in that final month.

He ended the season with a 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 29 starts and a team leading 167.1 innings, which obviously isn’t very good despite the great finish. Right-handed batters crushed Sabathia — they hit .303/.362/.500 (.370 wOBA) against him while lefties hit a mere .186/.235/.283 (.231 wOBA). Manny Machado hit .286/.359/.502 (.370 wOBA), for comparison. Righties absolutely destroyed Sabathia.


Bigger than Baseball

It can be easy to forget baseball players are regular people too. Regular people with kids who keep them up at night and bills they hate paying and other problems. Sabathia had a drinking problem, little did we know. A problem severe enough that he decided he needed help at the end of the season.

Sabathia approached Girardi on the final day of the regular season and told him he needed treatment. The Yankees, who were set to play in the wildcard game a few days later, gave their erstwhile ace their unwavering support. This was about Sabathia the person, not the baseball player, and Sabathia is beloved and respected within the organization. He’s a team leader, without question.

How severe was Sabathia’s drinking problem? Severe enough that it even spilled into the clubhouse near the end of the season. From Wally Matthews:

After the Yankees’ game with the Baltimore Orioles was rained out on Friday afternoon, Sabathia was seen by reporters walking unsteadily as he left the Yankees’ clubhouse. The normally affable pitcher also failed to respond to the greetings of reporters who have known him for a long time.

A short time later, an onlooker noticed Sabathia offering a paper cup containing a brown liquid to a teammate who was finishing up a workout, urging the teammate to “take a sip.” The teammate refused, saying he still had some running to do. Sabathia was then ushered out of the building and into a waiting cab by a third teammate.

Yikes. We’ll never know what pushed Sabathia to get treatment — did his wife give him an ultimatum? did he come to the decision on his own? did his teammates push him? — but the important thing is he decided to get treatment. Sabathia was criticized by some for leaving the team right before the start of the postseason, that was inevitable, but this isn’t like getting a tooth pulled. He couldn’t put it off. Addiction ruins lives.

So on Monday, October 5th, the day between Game 162 and the wildcard game, Girardi and Brian Cashman took part in a press conference at Yankee Stadium to discuss Sabathia leaving the team. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this,” said Cashman. “What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

From a baseball perspective, Sabathia leaving the team had little impact. James Pazos made the wildcard game roster in his place, but pitching wasn’t the issue in the loss to the Astros, so Sabathia being on the roster wouldn’t have made a difference.

From a human being perspective, Sabathia is doing what is best for himself and his family. He’s a father and a husband first, and a baseball player second. I’m sure leaving the team right before the postseason killed him. But baseball is a secondary concern at a time like this.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Sabathia is expected back for Spring Training and will enter the final guaranteed year of his contract. (His 2017 vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, which has been fine so far.) As long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in the rotation. The Yankees are going to want to see if the new knee brace leads to a sustained improved performance, plus they still owe him a boatload of money, so his leash will be long.