Poll: The Designated Pinch-Runner in September

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Five days from now teams will be able to expand their rosters and carry up to 40 active players. I can’t remember a team ever carrying the maximum 40 players, but they can do so if they choose. The Yankees are planning to be aggressive with their September call-ups and get them on the roster right away. No waiting around for the Triple-A postseason to end or anything like that.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will use one September call-up spot for a designated pinch-runner. Most teams do these days. Last year the pinch-runner was Antoan Richardson — Richardson is the answer to the “who scored the winning run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game?” trivia question — and a few years ago it was Greg Golson. Freddy Guzman was the pinch-runner late in 2009. He was on the postseason roster, you know. He pinch-ran twice in October, both times in the ALCS. So that’s World Series Champion Freddy Guzman to you.

The Yankees have gone the designated pinch-runner route so many times in recent years that it’s safe to assume they’ll do so again this year. Who will that player be next month? That’s a tough question to answer. There is no super obvious candidate. (No, they’re not going to stick Jorge Mateo on the 40-man roster and start his options clock several years early just to pinch-run a few times in September.) Let’s run down the possibilities.

Internal Options

The most obvious — and, frankly, only — pinch-runner candidate on the 40-man roster is Slade Heathcott. Heathcott still runs very well even after multiple knee surgeries, we saw it earlier this year, plus he’s ultra-aggressive. If the Yankees use Slade to pinch-run and want him to steal a base, he’ll go first or second pitch. That’s just his style. Heathcott left Friday’s Triple-A game, didn’t play for a few days, but has since returned to the lineup, so I assume he’s healthy now.

Other 40-man pinch-runner options include … uh … well … Jose Pirela? Maybe Cole Figueroa? The Yankees don’t have any other good candidates on the 40-man roster, not with Mason Williams out for the season following shoulder surgery. I suppose Ben Gamel or Taylor Dugas could be pinch-runner options, though neither has the blazing speed you expect from a pinch-running specialist. This guy needs to fly. Instincts are not enough. Heathcott’s certainly the best option among 40-man roster players, assuming he’s healthy.

Minor Trade

The Yankees acquired Guzman in an ultra-minor trade in August 2009 to be their pinch-runner specialist late in the season and in the postseason. The Red Sox acquired Quintin Berry in August 2013 to be their pinch-runner down the stretch. A few days ago the Mets traded for Eric Young Jr. to be their September pinch-runner. Teams trade for pinch-runners late in the season all the time.

Picking out a pinch-runner trade target is tough because it’s not about stats — who cares if the guy isn’t hitting or is riding the bench in Triple-A? Can you run? If you can, you’re a candidate for the job. Looking around Triple-A, someone like Chase d’Arnaud (26 steals in 106 Triple-A games with the Phillies) or Shawn O’Malley (37 steals in 88 games at multiple levels for the Mariners) could work. They have speed. A small trade is always possible. Good luck finding a target though. Only the scouting report matters for these players, and every team has different reports. Stats are irrelevant.

Noel's back. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Dark Horse

The Yankees may have already acquired their September pinch-runner: Rico Noel. They brought him in back in July and he’s been bouncing back and forth between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton these last few weeks, stealing ten bases in 29 games. Here’s a mini-scouting report from J.J. Cooper, who wrote up the 26-year-old Noel as a possible Rule 5 Draft pick this past offseason:

Rico Noel, of, Padres: Noel has plenty of Triple-A time, can play center field, gets on base and has outstanding speed. But he has bottom-of-the-scale power and a fringe-average hit tool at best.

That scouting report is fairly recent. The fact Noel has 20 total steals in 25 attempts this season — he was with the Padres before hooking on with the Yankees — suggests the “outstanding speed” part is still at least somewhat true these days, nine months since Cooper’s report. The “bottom-of-the-scale power and fringe-average hit tool at best?” Who cares. No one’s asking him to hit.

Noel is currently riding the bench in Triple-A and, aside from two spot starts, he has been used exclusively as a pinch-runner this month. Not just for slow guys either, he pinch-ran for Heathcott on two occasions. Noel had been an everyday player prior to this season. Are the Yankees using August to get him accustomed to sitting around on the bench then pinch-running at a moment’s notice? Maybe! We shouldn’t rule Noel out as a candidate.

Do Nothing

The do nothing option always exists. The Yankees don’t need a pinch-runner next month. It’s just a thing they’d like to have available late in close games. If the Yankees don’t have anyone in the minors they trust to run in key spots, or if they can’t swing a trade in the next few days, they could just move forward with no designated pinch-runner and keep using Chris Young in the role like they have been all season. I don’t think that will happen, but it is always possible. We shouldn’t rule it out.

* * *

For what it’s worth, I expect the Yankees to add a pinch-runner next month, and Heathcott is probably the favorite simply because he is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot after designating Chris Capuano for assignment yesterday, so adding Noel wouldn’t be a headache, but I think that spot is earmarked for someone else. Andrew Bailey, most likely. Heathcott is perfectly qualified as long as he’s healthy. Should he get hurt at some point, the Yankees might be stuck scrambling for a pinch-runner down the stretch. Anyway, time for the poll.

Who should be the designated pinch-runner in September?

Yankeemetrics: 4 runs, 3 games, 2 losses (Aug. 24-26)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Naaaaaasty Nate
The Yankees got their 69th victory of the season in bizarre fashion on Monday night against the Astros — their only run came on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning, which gave them the rare 1-0 walk-off victory.

Since sacrifice flies became an official statistic in 1954, this the first time the Yankees have won a 1-0 game on a walk-off sac fly. The last time they celebrated a 1-0 walk-off win of any kind was Sept. 20, 2008, when Robinson Cano’s RBI single scored Brett Gardner from third base to beat the Orioles.

Coincidentally (or not), Gardner also scored the winning run against the Astros, but that wasn’t the only thing he celebrated on Monday — it was his 32nd birthday, too. So, that got us thinking here at Yankeemetrics …

Gardner is just the third Yankee in the last 100 years to score the game-winning run in a walk-off victory on his birthday! Pretty sweet, eh? He joins Jerry Mumphrey (Sept. 9, 1982) and Tom Tresh (Sept. 20, 1963) as the only other Yankees in this very exclusive and obscure club.

Nathan Eovaldi’s ace-like run continued with another brilliant outing from the 25-year-old flamethrower. After firing eight scoreless innings against the Astros, Eovaldi now has a 2.93 ERA in his last 12 starts and has allowed more than three runs just once in that span.

Pitch F/X had him with seven pitches of at least 100 mph, giving him 23 pitches of 100-plus mph this season, according to baseballsavant.com. As of Monday night, the rest of the starting pitchers in the majors had thrown four 100-mph pitches … Total.

Brendan Ryan, True Yankee
When the highlight of a game is your utility infielder throwing two scoreless innings, you know you’ve been on the wrong side of a blowout. That was pretty much how it played out for the Yankees on Tuesday night in their 15-1 loss to the Astros.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that the Yankees have suffered a lopsided loss this season — the Rangers also tagged them for 15 runs in the Bronx in late May. The only other season in the last 25 years that the Yankees allowed at least 15 runs in multiple home games was 2000.

Brendan Ryan lived out his dream of pitching in a major-league game when he entered in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s debacle, joining Garrett Jones (in that Rangers game) as the lucky Yankee position players to take the mound this season. The last time the team had two different position players pitch in a single season was 1968, when Gene Michael and Rocky Colavito did it on back-to-back days in late August. Colavito is also the last Yankee position player to throw multiple scoreless innings in a game.

Astros starter Dallas Keuchel completely shut down the Yankees offense, striking out nine batters in seven scoreless innings. Combined with his 12-strikeout shutout earlier this season vs. the Yankees, Keuchel joined Red Sox right-hander Ray Culp in 1968 as the only pitchers in last 100 years with back-to-back games of at least seven scoreless innings and nine-or-more strikeouts against the Yankees.

Not panicking … yet
So, about that homefield advantage the Yankees were supposed to enjoy… not so much recently. They went 5-5 on their recently completed 10-game homestand, punctuated by a 6-2 loss to the Astros on Wednesday afternoon, and scored just four runs in the three-game series. Welp.

It is the first time they’ve been held to no more than two runs and six hits in three straight home games since May 12-14, 1999 against the White Sox and Angels. The last time a single team did that to them in Bronx in a three-game span was the A’s in 1990. Yes, the same A’s team that ended up in the World Series that year. (You’re welcome, Houston.)

Michael Pineda really struggled in his return to the rotation after an extended stint on the DL with a strained forearm. He allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings and was pulled after throwing 71 pitches against the Astros. Pineda is now 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts when pitching on six-plus days of rest this season (and 9-4 with a 3.48 ERA in all other starts).

Thoughts following the ten-game homestand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost five of the final seven games on their just completed ten-game homestand, and tomorrow they’ll open a three-game series against the lowly Braves. Atlanta is the worst offensive team in baseball (3.65 runs per game) and the Yankees haven’t hit for close to a month now, so maybe this will be the first three-game series in history in which the two teams combined for three runs total. (I assume that’s never happened before.) Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. Explaining a team-wide offensive slump like the one the Yankees are in right now is damn near impossible. There are a million different factors in play and every player is an individual with their own unique problems, but I can tell you what looks like has happened: this looks like an older team hitting a wall in the second half. Carlos Beltran is the only real exception. Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Chase Headley … pretty much everyone looks out of gas. Who knows if fatigue is the problem. I’m sure it’s at least part of the problem. Right now the Yankees are giving off the appearance of a team running on fumes. Add in some injuries (Mark Teixeira‘s shin, McCann’s knee, now Jacoby Ellsbury‘s hip) and some typically below average hitters (Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius), and you have a recipe for a stumbling offense. The Yankees look old right now, but, then again, so does every team when they’re struggling.

2. Thanks to that bone bruise in his right shin, Teixeira has played a total of six innings over the last ten days. He played the first few innings of the blowout loss Tuesday night, and was standing on deck when Beltran hit the walk-off sac fly Monday, but that’s it. Teixeira and the Yankees say he’s getting better, and I’m sure he is, but this was him running out a ground ball Tuesday night:

Mark Teixeira

Yeah, he’s not moving so well. Teixeira’s not speedy anyway, but geez, that is extra slow. So he’s barely played over the last ten days and the Yankees have been playing shorthanded the entire time because they didn’t want to place him on the DL. This isn’t the first time the Yankees (or any team, for that matter) have done this — we’ve seen more than a few day-to-day injuries turn into nine or ten days on the shelf — but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. The Yankees have played four one-run games since Teixeira has been banged up and have been short a pinch-hitter option for the late-innings because he’s not on the DL. Maybe it would have made no difference, pinch-hitting is hard after all, but man, playing with a 24-man roster for more than a week in the middle of an ultra-tight division race sure isn’t ideal. (The Yankees can’t even backdate the DL stint because he played Tuesday. Blah.)

3. Thanks to Luis Severino and various relievers, the Yankees went into yesterday’s game with an average pitcher age of 27.7 years this season, their lowest since 1971 (27.3 years). That average age is weighted by playing time, by the way. So the 24-year-old who throws one inning doesn’t count as much as the 35-year-old who throws 120 innings. The Yankees have the seventh youngest pitching staff in baseball this year — the Rays are the youngest (26.8 years) and the Giants are by far the oldest (31.7 years, next highest is the Royals at 30.3 years) — after being the fifth oldest last year (29.3 years) and the oldest the year before (31.8 years). The position players are still a little long in the tooth — oldest in MLB at 31.5 years, which ties back into the whole “looking old” thing in Point 1 — but the pitching staff is much younger, with guys like Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda all no older than 26. That’s exciting. Who knows if they’ll stay healthy or remain effective long-term, but man, it’s nice to see some youth on the staff. They’ve gotten significantly younger on the mound in a very short period of time.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. We’ve reached the time of year when I can’t help myself but to start thinking ahead to the offseason. It’s only natural, even with more than a month left in the regular season. The Yankees have zero expensive players coming off the books this year — Chris Capuano and Drew at $5M a pop, that’s about it — and they’re locked into every one of their position players aside from Drew. Yeah, they could move Gregorius and get a new shortstop, but that seems both unlikely and unnecessary. Their only tradeable position players are Gregorius, Gardner, and Headley — the rest are owed big bucks and probably have more value to the Yankees on the field than anything they could get in a trade — and the only one of those three the team could even attempt to replace from within is Gardner. Aaron Judge and Slade Heathcott are awesome, but it’s hard to see how the Yankees could go from Gardner to Judge or Slade (or both in a platoon?) and not take a huge production hit. Point is, barring a surprise, the offense is what it is. There’s no flexibility to improve without a shocker of a trade. The Yankees have to find a new second baseman and that’s about it this winter. The rest of the position player crop is set.

5. Okay, so that said, here’s a remote scenario I could see playing out: Gardner gets traded (for a pitcher? a second baseman?) and the Yankees sign Jason Heyward. I don’t think Hal Steinbrenner & Co. will offer huge bucks to a free agent approaching or over 30 — yes, that includes the oh so perfect David Price — but I do think they’d bid big on a guy like Heyward, who is still so young. Heyward just turned 26 earlier this month and after a slow start to the season, he went into last night’s game hitting .289/.348/.439 (117 wRC+) with eleven homers and 20 steals. That’s pretty good. He’s also an elite right field defender and nowadays the Yankees are prioritizing defense. I’d say the chances of the trade Gardner/sign Heyward scenario playing out are very small, but the Yankees did try to trade for Heyward this past offseason, and I think he’s the one free agent they’d be willing to pay huge dollars because he’s so young. Young, a lefty hitter, works the count, plays great defense … Heyward’s everything the Yankees want in a player these days.

DotF: Amburgey homers again in Staten Island’s loss

LHP Josh Rogers was named the 25th best prospect in the Cape Cod League today by Baseball America (subs. req’d). “His three-pitch mix and strike-throwing ability give him a chance to become a back-of-the-rotation starter,” said the write-up. The Yankees selected Rogers in the 11th round of this year’s draft and gave him an above slot $485,000 bonus.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Pawtucket in ten innings, walk-off style)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-5, 2 K — why isn’t he playing second base in the Bronx? probably because he’s hitting .269/.357/.396 in 507 plate appearances with the RailRiders
  • 3B-1B Jose Pirela: 3-4, 1 BB
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-3, 1 K — left the game after grounding into a double play in the fifth … it would be pretty crummy if he got hurt just a few days before rosters were set to expand
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K
  • 1B-C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 R — not to get too far ahead of myself, but is Sanchez is hurt, Romine’s the obvious third catcher call-up in September
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 59 of 109 pitches were strikes (54%) … up from Double-A to make the spot start
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 25 of 42 pitches were strikes (60%) … 63/22 K/BB in 59 innings for the guy they got in the Shawn Kelley trade … Barbato figures to ride the bullpen shuttle next year
  • RHP Andrew Bailey: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 17 of 24 pitches were strikes (71%) … guessing he throws a tune-up inning Saturday or Sunday, then is with the big league team when rosters expand Tuesday
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 16 pitches were strikes (75%)

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network will air a few regional games. Also, ESPN will show the Cubs and Giants late tonight, if you’re interested. The Cubbies have won 21 of their last 25 games, you know. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else on your mind here. Except politics, religion, gun control, and pretty much anything else along those lines. Those are a no-go here. Talk about ’em elsewhere. Thanks.

Offense breaks out for two runs, Yanks lose 6-2 to Astros in Pineda’s return anyway

Thank goodness for the Twins, huh? After starting this ten-game homestand with a sweep of Minnesota, the Yankees had to settle for a split. Five wins, five losses. They dropped three of four to the Indians over the weekend and two of three to the Astros this week. Houston won Wednesday afternoon’s series finale by the score of 6-2.

Michael Pineda
(Elsa/Getty)

The Return of Big Mike
Michael Pineda‘s first start back from his forearm injury didn’t go too well. Not a total disaster but not good either. He allowed five runs in 4.1 innings — Pineda threw 71 pitches and was limited to 80-85 pitches in his first start off the DL — and the first run was kinda silly. Evan Gattis tomahawked a high fastball other way for a short porch solo home run. Look at the pitch location:

Evan Gattis home run

As master of this here blog, I hereby absolve Pineda of any and all blame for that dinger. Gattis went up and got it, and, to be fair, he has a knack for doing that. Here are the pitch locations for his 63 career home runs coming into Wednesday. Gattis likes very high pitches, got one, and smacked it out. So it goes. A solo homer isn’t the end of the world. The second run scored on two singles and a squeeze bunt single. The out wasn’t recorded at first because a) the play developed slowly, and b) Stephen Drew didn’t make it over in time to cover. Sums up the state of the team well.

The fifth inning didn’t end after the bunt. Pineda walked No. 9 hitter Jason Castro to load the bases with no outs, and Jose Altuve ended Pineda’s afternoon with a sacrifice fly to center. (Chasen Shreve came in and allowed both inherited runners to score.) Pineda yielded those five runs on six hits (five singles) and one walk. He struck out three and got seven swings and misses. Pineda’s stuff looked fine — his fastball averaged 92.9 mph — but it did seem to hit a wall in that fifth inning. He was missing his spots consistently by the end of the outing.

One thing that stood out: Pineda threw a lot of changeups. He said he wanted to emphasize the pitch more while on his rehab assignment and he did just that, throwing 14 changeups out of 71 total pitches, or 19.7%. This was only the third time in his career he threw at least 18% changeups. Pineda did it Wednesday, once in April, and once last year. It’s good Pineda’s working his changeup, but winning games is more important right now, and the Yankees haven’t done much of that lately.

Two Token Runs
The Yankees scored just two runs on the afternoon — they doubled their runs total for the series! — and both came on one swing of the bat. Didi Gregorius hammered a hanging Collin McHugh breaking ball into the second deck in right field for a two-run homer in the seventh. I didn’t know Didi had that in him. Greg Bird drew a walk prior to the homer.

Unfortunately, the homer came when the Yankees were already down five runs, so all it did was close the gap for a struggling offense. Aside from the two-run rally, the offense had four singles and three walks. Carlos Beltran had a single and two walks. He’s pretty much the only guy in the lineup who is doing more than nothing these days. It’s kinda the opposite of April, when you think about it.

All told, the Yankees scored four runs in the three-game series and had 15 hits total. In three games! Thirteen of ’em were singles, the other two a double and Didi’s homer. Probably safe to say this is more than a slump now. The Yankees have scored 64 runs in their last 21 games (3.05 per game), so this isn’t a one or two-series thing. Three weeks for an individual player is a slump, but three weeks for an entire offense? There has to be concern right now. How much is up to you.

Cy McHugh. (Al Bello/Getty)
Cy McHugh. (Al Bello/Getty)

Leftovers
The last best chance to get back into the game came in the eighth, when Beltran and Chase Headley drew walks. Bird, who is 3-for-23 (.130) with nine strikeouts since his two-homer game, flew out to the right-center field warning track. He just missed it. Hopefully Mark Teixeira comes back soon. The Yankees really miss him both at the plate and in the field.

Shreve allowed the two runners he inherited from Pineda to score on a hit, a walk, and a wild pitch. Branden Pinder walked the first man he faced then retired the next six to chuck two scoreless frames. Adam Warren allowed a solo homer to Gattis in the eighth inning and the just called up Nick Goody tossed a scoreless ninth.

The Yankees had five hits — single and homer by Gregorius and singles by Beltran, Headley, and Chris Young — and have been held to six hits or fewer in each of their last four games. It’s the first time they’ve had no more than six hits in four straight games since last September.

And finally, the Astros had been 1-11-3 in their last 15 road series coming in this series. The Yankees are now 7-9 with a -12 run differential at home in August, which is no bueno. They should be dominating at this ballpark. Alas.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for Wednesday’s game, and here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the 2015 season. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, which are updated daily. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The ten-game homestand is over and the Yankees have an off-day Thursday, their first in more than two weeks. They’ll head to Atlanta for a three-game weekend interleague series with the Braves after that. I’m guessing Brian McCann will get quite the ovation from the hometown fans. Masahiro Tanaka and Williams Perez will be the pitching matchup in Friday night’s series opener.

Link: Brian Cashman profile in Sports Illustrated

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Last weekend, I passed along a quick story about Brian Cashman telling Derek Jeter he would rather have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop during the Yankees’ contract negotiations with their captain following the 2010 season. The story came from a recent Sports Illustrated profile of Cashman by S.L Price, which recently made its way online.

The profile covers a little of everything — Cashman’s upbringing, his life through college, getting started with the Yankees as an intern during the mid-1980s, and eventually working his way up to GM. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

In 1989, Cashman graduated Catholic with a history degree and was mulling law school or a job with UPS when the Yankees dangled a position as baseball operations assistant. The way Bowden, just two months into his job as an assistant senior VP, recalls it, Steinbrenner walked the kid into the baseball ops office and into a crowd including Gene (Stick) Michael, Lou Piniella, Bob Quinn, Dallas Green and Syd Thrift. “I want to introduce you to Brian Cashman,” Steinbrenner said. “His dad is a good friend … and someday you’ll all be fired and he’ll be the general manager of the Yankees.” Everybody in the room laughed.

Anyway, it goes without saying the profile comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation. That’s why we’re linking to it. There’s some really fun and really interesting stories in there. Make sure you check it out.