Open Thread: March 7th Camp Notes

Landis Sims. (Photo via @YankeesPR)
Landis Sims. (Photo via @YankeesPR)

The Yankees lost again this afternoon to fall to 2-4 in Grapefruit League play. The Astros shut them out 1-0. Doomed. Doomed I say. Anyway, Michael Pineda allowed two hits in two scoreless innings in his spring debut, striking out three. Luis Severino bounced back nicely from his ugly outing last week, allowing two hits and striking out three in three scoreless innings. Jacob Lindgren also bounced back from his walk-filled spring debut by retiring all three men he faced.

Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances both made their spring debuts this afternoon. Miller allowed a hit and a walk in a scoreless inning, and Betances allowed the game’s only run on two hits in his inning of work. Brian McCann had two hits while Carlos Beltran had one, a double. Chris Denorfia went 0-for-1 with a strikeout in his spring debut after signing a minor league deal last week. Here’s the box score, here are the day’s photos, and there are the day’s notes from camp:

  • As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Goody were among those to throw bullpen sessions and all the position players who didn’t play in the game instead took batting practice. Not much to see today.
  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) felt fine following yesterday’s start and will start Friday’s game. Brett Gardner (wrist) and Pete Kozma (back) both took batting practice on the field for the first time today. Starlin Castro will not play the next two days because he’s having some dental work done. [Jennings, Brendan Kuty, Ryan Hatch]
  • The Yankees play their next two games on other side of Florida, so a bunch of players will make the trip and stay overnight instead of making the four-hour bus ride back and forth each day. Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, CC Sabathia, and James Kaprielian are among those making the trip. Tomorrow’s game will not be televised. [Jennings]
  • The Yankees had a ten-year-old boy named Landis Sims in camp today. Landis was born without legs and hands, but thanks to prosthetic devices, he was able to take batting practice with the team today. Good stuff, Yankees. Here’s the story.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Sabathia’s post on the Players’ Tribune. He opened up about his battle with alcoholism and his road to recovery. Powerful stuff.

This is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is playing the Phillies and Pirates on tape delay later tonight, which is good because none of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing tonight. No college basketball either. What gives? Anyway, talk about whatever here.

Carlos Beltran wants to play “two more years if possible”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Carlos Beltran has reached the point of his career where the retirement question is inevitable. He’s going to turn 39 in April, and while he’s still quite productive, his game has clearly slipped in recent years. Beltran will be a free agent after the season, and given how teams are avoiding players approaching 40, the potential for a forced retirement exists. Teams simply may not want to sign him even if he has a strong 2016 season.

Last week, Beltran told Wally Matthews his goal is to play 20 years in the big leagues, which means 2016 plus two more seasons after that. Beltran appeared in 14 games with the 1998 Royals before jumping into their lineup full-time in 1999. He hit .293/.337/.454 (95 wRC+) with 22 homers, 27 steals, 4.7 bWAR, and 4.3 fWAR that season to earn AL Rookie of the Year honors.

“My goal is to play 20 years. I would love to play 20 years in the big leagues. So that means two more years if possible,” said Beltran to Matthews. “I have a responsibility for this year. For me, all my thoughts are trying to put myself into condition to try to help this team win. At the end of the year, based on how things happen, then, you know, I will make a decision. But right now, physically I feel fine. If I can stay healthy and still contribute at this level, why should I go home?”

Beltran has wanted to be a Yankee his entire career. He was famously willing to take a discount to sign with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, but that didn’t happen. Beltran also said he was open to taking a discount to come to the Bronx a few years back, before he signed with the Cardinals. Again, it didn’t happen. Two years ago Beltran finally got his wish and signed with the Yankees. I’m sure he’d love to stay with them beyond 2016 if possible.

Given their current M.O., the Yankees don’t figure to have a place for Beltran on the 2017 roster. They are skewing young whenever possible and Alex Rodriguez still has another year on his contract, so the DH spot won’t be available. The team also has Aaron Hicks plus a small army of young outfielders in Triple-A (Aaron Judge, Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel, Mason Williams) who are all options to step into right field full-time next year.

It seems Beltran’s best bet to extend his career beyond 2016 is joining an AL team that can DH him full-time. David Ortiz is retiring, so maybe it’s the Red Sox. Edwin Encarnacion is a free agent, so maybe it’s the Blue Jays. Or the White Sox with Adam LaRoche coming off the books. DH jobs should be open. The question is can Beltran still produce? And would teams be willing to give him full-time at-bats? The Yankees seem unlikely to do that.

Refsnyder passes first test at the hot corner as Girardi clarifies plans for final bench spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time in his professional career, Rob Refsnyder played third base yesterday, and the limited look was positive. Refsnyder had to make two plays and neither was routine; both were hot shot grounders hit almost right at him. He scooped the first grounder and threw to second to start a 5-4-3 double play. He scooped the second grounder and threw to first for the out. It went as well as the Yankees could have hoped.

“How you drew it up,” said Refsnyder to Chad Jennings after the game when asked about his first real game speed experience at third base. “I was talking about it yesterday. I just want a hard one … I felt good, comfortable. My goal was to kind of be aggressive, try to make a lot of plays, do a lot of different things on both sides of the ball. I just wanted to be aggressive.”

Two plays do not a make a third baseman. Yesterday was nothing more than a good first step for Refsnyder, who is trying to increase his versatility and improve his chances of making the Opening Day roster. “I kind of understand my role going forward with this team,” he added. “I’m just trying to do my job and help the team out as much as possible. I’m kind of all over it. I split my time, try to get reps in everywhere, wherever Joe needs me.”

The Yankees intend to try other players at third base this spring as they look for a suitable backup for Chase Headley. At some point Starlin Castro will play third. Others will get a chance too. Did you notice who replaced Refsnyder yesterday? It was Ronald Torreyes, another bench candidate. He took over at the hot corner and made a tough play himself, on a similar well-struck grounder hit into his general vicinity.

Brian Cashman said over the winter the Yankees plan to use their final bench spot as something of a revolving door to give Joe Girardi whatever he needs at any given time. An extra infielder, an extra arm, whatever. It’s a good idea in theory. I’m curious to see how it works in practice. Girardi, however, said yesterday the team has to take someone who can play third base, so right now it seems the Yankees are leaning in that direction.

“You have to take someone who can play third. You really have to see how this plays out. You have guys like a (Donovan) Solano, and a Castro, and a Torreyes and a (Jonathan) Diaz, who have played all over,” said the skipper to George King. Refsnyder is in that mix as well, otherwise he wouldn’t have started at third base yesterday. Same with Torreyes. He’s a natural middle infielder who’s played only 36 career games at the hot corner, yet there he was yesterday.

I know their statements sound contradictory but Cashman and Girardi are not at odds here. They’re on the same page. The Yankees can use the final bench spot on a backup third baseman come Opening Day and still use it as a revolving door throughout the season. Whoever breaks camp with the team in that roster spot won’t necessarily stay there. As with the bullpen shuttle, playing well doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll keep your big league job.

The Yankees figure to see several lefty starters in the first two weeks of 2016 — they open the season with series against the Astros (Dallas Keuchel), Tigers (Daniel Norris), Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), and Mariners (Wade Miley, James Paxton) — so perhaps Refsnyder’s righty bat will be worth carrying in April. And then in a few weeks it might make sense to carry another outfielder. Or an eighth reliever. Who knows how things will shake out.

For now, Refsnyder is very early in the process of increasing his versatility. Yesterday’s five innings at third base were encouraging and certainly didn’t hurt his chances of making the team. I assume the Yankees will run him out there again in a few days along with Torreyes and Castro and whoever else. Refsnyder at third base is an experiment worth trying, and if nothing else, yesterday showed this might not be as far-fetched as it once seemed.

Michael Pineda and Getting the Results to Match the Stuff [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has now been four years since the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners, and during those four years he’s thrown only 237 innings due to a variety of injuries. His 2012 labrum surgery is by far the most serious physical issue — it wasn’t until 2014 that Big Mike actually threw a regular season pitch in pinstripes — but he’s also had lat and forearm problems. Health is a skill and Pineda doesn’t have it.

“My biggest goal this season is, No. 1, try to be healthy for pitching the whole year,” said Pineda to reporters when he reported to Spring Training. “I’m a young guy, but every year you have to learn how to get better and better … For me, this year, I’m coming here early to be strong and working hard to pitch 200 innings this year. I want to throw 200 innings this year. This is my goal, and help my team.”

Throwing 200 innings seems optimistic but it is not far-fetched. Pineda threw 160.2 innings last season around the forearm issue, which sidelined him for a month in the second half. He was on pace for 200+ innings prior to that. It’s important to remember starters are throwing fewer innings than ever before nowadays, so 200 innings is becoming increasingly rare. Only 28 pitchers threw 200+ innings in 2015. Five years ago 45 pitchers did it. There’s no shame in falling short.

Pineda wants to stay healthy this season and throw 200 innings and that’s great. That’s the sort of goal he should be setting, especially given his injury problems the last few years. The Yankees, however, should be focused on the quality of Pineda’s innings, not the bulk total. Last season he had a 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+) in his 160.2 innings, and he was both hit (9.9 H/9) and homer (1.2 HR/9) prone. It’s fair to say Big Mike was disappointing in 2015.

That has to improve in 2016. Pineda’s way too talented to be an average-ish starter. His strikeout (23.4%) and walk (3.1%) rates were excellent — only Bartolo Colon (2.9%) had a lower walk rate among the 79 pitchers to throw 160 innings in 2015, and only Max Scherzer (8.12) had a better K/BB ratio (7.43) — and thanks to his improving changeup, Pineda also posted an above-average ground ball rate (48.2%) for the first time. That’s all good. A 3.34 FIP? That’s awesome. That’s what you want to see.

And yet, opponents hit .278/.301/.451 against Pineda with a .332 BABIP that is a bit high but not outrageous. That includes a .250/.255/.423 batting line when he was ahead in the count. That looks good on the surface, but the league average batting line was .206/.214/.307 when the pitcher was ahead. Pineda performed way, way worse than the league average in those situations. Roughly 57% worse, to be exact.

It sounds weird, but Big Mike might actually be a guy who throws too many strikes. Throwing strikes is good! But you don’t want to be over the plate all the time either. There’s a time to strategically expand the zone and “waste” pitches for the sake of unpredictability. Pineda very rarely does that. Here, check out some PitchFX data:

Zone % Overall Zone % Ahead in Count Zone % with Two Strikes
Pineda 51.4% 57.9% 34.9%
AL Average 47.8% 45.8% 33.0%

Pineda throws pitches in the strike zone at a rate higher than league average in general, when ahead in the count, and with two strikes. The rate when ahead in the count is staggering. Pineda throws nearly 60% of his pitches in the zone when ahead in the count — when the hitter is on the defensive — even though the league average is around 45%. I mean, geez, waste a pitch once in a while dude.

Last season Pineda threw a first pitch strike 63.8% of the time, comfortably above the 60.9% league average. He went to an 0-2 count in 23.1% of all plate appearances last year, the 14th highest rate in baseball. That’s really good. Big Mike did an exceptional job not just getting ahead in the count last season, but getting into extremely pitcher friendly 0-2 counts. The MLB average was .171/.200/.259 following an 0-2 count in 2015. It was .203/.208/.333 against Pineda.

Hitters swung at 35.7% of Pineda’s pitches out of the strike zone last year, the fifth highest rate in baseball. They made contact with only 57.2% of his pitches out of the zone, the 15th lowest rate in baseball. Do you understand what that means? Whenever Pineda threw a pitch out of the zone last season, hitters swung at an extremely high rate and made contact at an extremely low rate. He got lots of whiffs on pitches out of the zone. This is good! Big Mike needs to do more of this. It’s not like he walks a lot of hitters and is prone to creating jams himself.

There is a balance to be struck here. You want Pineda to retain his aggressiveness and continue to get ahead in the count because when the pitcher is ahead in the count, batters perform worse overall. There is decades of data showing this is the case. At the same time, the Yankees want Pineda to do a better job putting hitters away when ahead in the count, and part of the solution can be throwing fewer pitches in the zone. That ostensibly would reduce the number of hits allowed since there won’t be as many square-up-able pitches around the plate.

The Yankees got pretty lucky. Pineda’s stuff has bounced back very well following shoulder surgery and he’s even managed to add a changeup, which was a goal following the trade. The quality of his stuff is obvious when you watch him pitch. That’s why Pineda was so frustrating last year. The stuff is there, the results are not. Pineda has the raw tools to dominate and we’ve seen flashes of that dominance. Now it’s a matter of tweaking the game plan to optimize the stuff.

I’m of the belief Pineda’s ERA will never match his FIP as things stand right now. Not as long as he calls homer happy Yankee Stadium home, and not as long as he lives around the plate so much. There’s nothing Big Mike and the Yankees can do about Yankee Stadium. They can control the game plan though, and using the hitter’s aggressiveness against him by throwing more pitches out of the zone — especially when ahead in the count — looks like a possible way to get Pineda to be something more than league average in 2016.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 7th, 2016

Spring Record: 2-3 (25 RS, 35 RA)
Spring Opponents This Week: vs. Astros (Mon.), @ Marlins (Tues.), @ Mets (Weds. on SNY, MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Blue Jays (Thurs., split squad on YES, MLB.tv), @ Orioles (Thurs., split squad on MLB.tv), vs. Orioles (Fri.), @ Rays (Sat. on MLB.tv), vs. Phillies (Sun. on YES, MLB.tv)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Open Thread: March 6th Camp Notes

The Yankees lost 6-5 to the Phillies this afternoon. Masahiro Tanaka looked good in his two scoreless innings. He struck out two. A scout told Erik Boland Tanaka was 87-88 mph in the first inning and 90-91 in the second. Rob Refsnyder was tested twice at third base, first on the double play in the video above and the second time on a hot shot grounder, which he threw over to first for the out. The ball was hit right at him both times and he made the play, and that’s exactly what the Yankees need from Refsnyder at third. Make the plays you should make. Anything else is gravy.

At the plate, Refsnyder went 1-for-1 with a walk and two stolen bases. He must really not want to go back to Triple-A Scranton. Players very rarely steal bases this early in Spring Training. He wants to make an impression. Backup catcher hopeful Austin Romine came off the bench and went 2-for-2 with two booming doubles. He’s off to a nice start this spring and he’ll have to keep it up to make the Opening Day roster. Also, Lane Adams stood out with two long at-bats, both of which ended with walks. Starlin Castro singled in a run and Aaron Judge drew a walk. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Aroldis Chapman faced hitters in live practice but there’s still no timetable for his first spring game. The Yankees aren’t in any rush with him due to the suspension. Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, James Kaprielian, and Luis Cessa threw bullpen sessions. Not much else happened aside from the game.
  • Luis Severino will come out of the bullpen and pitch after Michael Pineda tomorrow. It’s not unusual for starters to pitch in relief early in camp, especially the young guys. Mitchell will start Thursday’s split squad game on the road. Nathan Eovaldi is making his spring debut in the home game that day. [Jennings]
  • Joe Girardi said the Yankees will use their last bench spot on someone who can play third base. He mentioned Refsnyder, Donovan Solano, Ronald Torreyes, and Jonathan Diaz as candidates. Also, Girardi indicated the backup catcher’s job is between Sanchez and Romine. Carlos Corporan wasn’t mentioned. [Bryan Hoch, Jennings]
  • As I said, Pineda and Severino are both scheduled to pitch in tomorrow’s home game against the Astros. We won’t be able to watch that game anywhere. Not on television, not online. Lame-o.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on MLB Network at 8pm ET, if you’re interested. The three local hockey teams are playing and there’s also a little college basketball too. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Spring Training Game Thread: Tanaka’s Spring Debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today is not just another Grapefruit League game. Staff ace Masahiro Tanaka is making his spring debut this afternoon, and he of course is coming off offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow. The Yankees have been taking it slow with him so far in camp, but now it’s time for game action. Assuming all goes well, today’s start lines Tanaka up perfectly for Opening Day.

Tanaka’s outing — he’s probably scheduled for something like two innings or 30 pitches — is the headliner today but it’s not the only story. Gary Sanchez is in the starting lineup and that’s a big deal. The Yankees have him catching Tanaka. They wouldn’t pair them if they weren’t seriously considering Sanchez for the backup catcher’s job. Also, Rob Refsnyder is starting at third base, a position he’s never played before. His ability to man the hot corner could be the difference between making the Opening Day roster or returning to Triple-A.

The Yankees made the quick bus ride over the causeway to Clearwater and will play the Phillies this afternoon. It’s not a long trip but they didn’t send many regulars anyway. Only the bare minimum. Here is the Phillies’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. DH Chase Headley
  4. 1B Dustin Ackley
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. RF Aaron Hicks
  7. 3B Rob Refsnyder
  8. LF Lane Adams
  9. CF Slade Heathcott
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Anthony Swarzak, RHP Chad Green, RHP Vicente Campos, LHP James Pazos, RHP Branden Pinder, and LHP Tyler Webb are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Kirby Yates is also available if necessary.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Deibinson Romero, 2B Tyler Wade, SS Jorge Mateo, 3B Ronald Torreyes, LF Ben Gamel, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Aaron Judge, and DH Carlos Corporan will come off the bench to replace the starters. C Santiago Nessy, C Sebastian Valle, IF Jonathan Diaz, and OF Cesar Puello drew the short straws and made the trip as well.

Pretty nice afternoon for baseball in Clearwater today. The internet tells me temperatures are in the low-70s, so it’s a little cool, but it’s bright and sunny with no clouds. If you’re in the Phillies home market, you can watch today’s came on Comcast SportNet. If not, you can only watch on MLB.tv. There’s no YES broadcast and MLB Network will show the game on tape delay at 8pm ET, but not live. First pitch is scheduled for a bit after 1pm ET. Enjoy.