(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we discussed in our Midseason Grades post earlier today, Brian McCann has been a huge disappointment in his first half-season as a Yankee. He is hitting only .239/.294/.377 (83 wRC+) overall despite a strong road trip (13-for-39) heading into the All-Star break. The Yankees didn’t guarantee this guy $85M over five years to hit like that. They expected him to do damage and he has not done that.

In the middle of the road trip we learned McCann had made some changes to his stance and swing mechanics with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long. Minor changes, of course, no one is going to overhaul a seven-time All-Star after a bad half-season, but changes nonetheless. When you struggle for 80-something games, it’s time to start tinkering.

“I’m no longer toe-tapping,” explained McCann to Erik Boland last week. “I’ve gotten wider, I’ve gotten more into my base and basically I’ve been doing four or five unnecessary movements to get to the baseball.”

So, first things first, here is the side-by-side comparison of McCann with the toe-tap (left) and McCann without the toe-tap. I’m not the most tech savvy person, but I did my best to sync the GIFs at the moment his front foot hits the ground:


The toe-tap is pretty noticeable. It also looks like his stance is a little more closed and he isn’t jerking his hands towards his body before his swing, but I’m not sure if that’s something he’s worked to change or if it’s just something that happened on this one swing. The toe-tap is there on the left (game on June 20th) and gone on the right (July 2nd) though, that’s clear and McCann confirmed it was intentional.

Thanks to the magic of MLB.tv, I went back through the archives and found that McCann’s first game without the toe-tap was June 27th, the first game of the home series against the Red Sox, when Vidal Nuno unexpectedly pulled 5.2 scoreless innings out of his behind. McCann did not play on the 26th (team off-day) and he did not play on the 25th either (personal off-day), so he had two consecutive days off and was probably working with Long on these mechanical changes.

“I made some big changes in my swing,” added McCann while talking to Jorge Castillo yesterday. “I just broke down film. I finally got to the point where things that I’ve been doing in the past weren’t working. Long kind of hit the reset button and basically broke down my swing and showed me what I was doing wrong, and I’ve been simplifying my swing.”

McCann actually went 2-for-4 with a double on June 24th, but he went into that game in an 0-for-9 and 4-for-27 (.148) slump. His batting line sat at .223/.284/.360 (76 wRC+) through 268 plate appearances following that game, he took the next two days off, and has hit .310/.339/.448 (115 wRC+) in 68 plate appearances without the toe-tap since. That’s the guy the Yankees thought they were signing, more or less.

Now, courtesy of the amazing Baseball Savant, here are McCann’s spray chart heat maps with (left) and without (right) the toe-tap:

McCann Spray Charts

He’s pulling the ball more! Well, kinda. I know everyone wants McCann to hit the ball the other way because it’s aesthetically pleasing and it beats the shift — McCann already has 20 opposite field hits this year, more than he did in each of the last three seasons — but he’s much more effective when he pulls the ball. He was losing hits to the shift even when he was focused on going the opposite field anyway. Might as well just stick to his strengths and try to yank the ball down the line to right. That’s who he is. Embrace it.

I don’t really know how the toe-tap helps McCann but I assume it’s a timing thing. Get your front foot down earlier and you’ll be better able to see the ball and have a better base underneath you for you swing. That sounds like something that might be right, right? Who knows. All I know is that McCann and Long worked to eliminate that toe-tap and he’s been much more productive since. It might be anything more than a coincidence. I hope it’s not. McCann was very good on the road trip and getting him back to being the guy he was all those years in Atlanta would be the best possible offensive upgrade the Yankees could make in the second half.

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Even though it is not technically the halfway point of the season — the Yankees are 58% of the way through the 2014 season, in case you’re wondering — there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. Over the next few days we’re going to hand out some real simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. Let’s start with the backstops.

(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

Brian McCann — Grade D

If the Yankees wanted a defensively sound catcher with a .294 OBP and an 83 wRC+, they could have simply played on of their young upper-level guys everyday instead of signing McCann to a five-year, $85M contract. His first half was a colossal disappointment overall, especially offensively. McCann’s glovework and apparent leadership guiding the pitching staff are the reasons I’m giving him a D rather than a straight F.

From 2010-13, McCann posted either a 122 or a 123 wRC+. The one exception was the 2012 season, when he managed an 87 wRC+ while battling a right shoulder labrum injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, he (very) consistently produced at the plate in recent years. This year though, McCann comes into the break with a .239/.294/.377 (83 wRC+) batting line, which ranks him ninth out of the ten catchers qualified for the batting title (only Dioner Navarro has been worse). Even with his strong first half-ending road trip, he’s been that bad overall.

Unlike offense, catcher defense is a very thing to quantify even with all these fancy stats we have today. StatCorner says McCann has one again been an excellent pitch-framer, and he rates right in the middle of the pack when it comes to allowing wild pitches and passed balls. I don’t think that’s been a problem. I mean, we watched Jorge Posada for a very long time, we know what it looks like when a catcher struggles to keep the ball in front of him. Considering all the nasty breaking and offspeed pitches on the staff — Masahiro Tanaka‘s and Hiroki Kuroda‘s splitters, David Robertson‘s and Dellin Betances‘ curveballs, Shawn Kelley‘s slider, etc. — I have no complaints about McCann’s receiving work at all. He’s been solid, as expected.

One thing we can measure is the rate at which a catcher throws out attempted base-stealers, and McCann has gunned down 21 of 48 runners, or 43.8%. That’s outstanding. It’s fifth among catchers with at least 300 innings behind the plate and second only to (who else?) Yadier Molina among the 16 guys who have caught at least 500 innings. McCann came into the season with a below-average career 23.8% throw-out rate. Is this a fluke? I don’t think so. I think this is Joe Girardi‘s and Tony Pena’s work. They have helped some others improve their throwing in the past (Frankie Cervelli, most notably) and it appears they helped McCann this year. He might not sustain a 43.8% throw-out rate, that’s pretty high, but I don’t think the improvement is dumb luck.

Overall, McCann has undeniably been a disappointment this season. He was expected to provide not just more offense than he’s given, but a lot more. He has not been able to fully take advantage of the short porch in right, perhaps because he’s been focused on hitting to the opposite field to beat the shift — his 20 opposite field hits are already more than his total from 2011 (14), 2012 (15), and 2013 (19). Given his overall lack of production, maybe it’s best for McCann to be himself and focus on ripping the ball to right. Trying to beat the shift seems to be dragging down his offense overall. The Yankees need more from McCann in the second half. There’s zero doubt about it.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Francisco Cervelli — Grade C

The first half was a typical first half for Cervelli. He showed enough to keep you interested with the bat, hitting .273/.333/.364 (95 wRC+) in 48 plate appearances. He also threw out some attempted base-stealers, four of twelve (33.3%) to be exact. And he got hurt, missing two months with a Grade II hamstring strain. Cervelli actually played more games before getting hurt last April (17) than he did in the first half this year (16). I can’t possibly go any higher than a C because of the injury and missing so much time. Cervelli is a perfectly cromulent backup catcher for a team with a clear number one (in theory) like McCann. I feel he has performed exactly as expected when healthy.

John Ryan Murphy — Grade C

When Cervelli got hurt, Murphy got the call and showed flashes of why he’s expected to one day be an everyday catcher. He started off very well with that bat before slowing down and finishing his cameo with a .286/.308/.365 (85 wRC+) batting line in 63 plate appearances. Murphy threw out two of ten attempted base-stealers and did allow eight passed pitches in 159.2 defensive innings, so the superficial defensive stats aren’t all that impressive. He looked very much like a young catcher getting his first extended taste of the show. There’s a decent chance Murphy will be traded in the coming weeks, but right now he is a capable backup catcher stashed in Triple-A.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Austin Romine — incomplete

Yes, Romine did actually spend some time with the big league team this season. The Yankees called him up and briefly carried three catchers when Mark Teixeira landed on the 15-day disabled list with his hamstring injury in April. Romine spent four days with the team, played two innings behind the plate in a blowout and struck out on seven pitches in his lone plate appearance. That’s it. Romine’s prospect shine has dimmed considerably over the last year or two, and he is currently a part-time first baseman/Murphy’s backup in Triple-A.

* * *

The bar behind the plate is rather low these days, so even with McCann being such a big disappointment, Yankees’ catchers still rank only 19th out of the 30 teams with an 85 wRC+ this year. I thought it would be worse. They have collectively been very good defensively, throwing out 38.6% of attempted base-stealers (third best) while allowed one passed pitch every 22.2 innings (15th). StatCorner says McCann, Cervelli, and Murphy have all been better than average pitch-framers as well and I buy it based on the eye test.

The Yankees just need McCann to hit more, that’s it. Cervelli staying healthy would be nice too, if for no other reason than possibly upping his trade value. On paper, this should be one of the best and most productive two-way catching units in baseball. They’ve gotten the defensive value in the first half. Now they need to offense to catch up in the second half.

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Record Last Week: 3-4 (22 RS, 27 RA)
Season Record: 47-47 (375 RS, 412 RA, 43-51 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: All-Star break (Mon. to Thurs.), vs.Reds (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

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Source: FanGraphs

What a fitting end to a frustrating first half of the season. The Yankees lost 3-1 to the Orioles after only four and a half innings on Sunday night thanks to Mother Nature — the game was called after 2+ hour rain delay. New York heads into the All-Star break at a thoroughly mediocre 47-47. Let’s recap the rubber game loss.

  • One Man Army: Right from Opening Day, the team’s best player this year has been Brett Gardner. He gave the Yankees their only run on Sunday with a leadoff homer against Kevin Gausman, his ninth long ball of the year. That’s a new career-high. Gausman allowed just three singles after that and the Yankees never had another runner reach second base. Well, not unless you count Mark Teixeira getting thrown out trying to stretch his first inning single into a double. He did physically get to second base, after all. Twelve of the final 13 men they sent to the plate made outs and I’m not sure they would have scored three more runs even if the game had continued.
  • Back In The Rotation: Chase Whitley escaped a bases loaded situation in the second inning, but he wasn’t going to hold off this high-powered Orioles offense forever. Things fell apart for him in the fourth inning, the second time through the order. Nelson Cruz walked, Chris Davis mashed a go-ahead two-run homer, and J.J. Hardy doubled. All that happened within the first eleven pitches of the inning. Jonathan Schoop singled with two outs to plate the third run, ending Whitley’s night. He allowed the three runs on five hits and two walks in 3.2 innings. Over his last four starts, Whitley has put 40 men on base (five homers!) and surrendered 20 runs in 14 innings. He absolutely can not be in the rotation after the All-Star break. They gotta find someone else.
  • Leftovers: The rain likely spared David Huff an ugly inning. He walked Steve Pearce to leadoff the fifth and was slated to face Adam Jones and Cruz before the tarp was brought out. Almost no chance that would have ended well … Gardner, Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Brian McCann had the four hits … obviously this game gets an asterisk, but the Yankees closed out the first half by scoring no more than three runs in their final four games.

The box score and video highlights are at MLB.com, the nerdy stats are at FanGraphs, and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees head into the break five games back of the top spot in the AL East and 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot. They now get a much-needed four-game break before opening the second half against the Reds in Yankee Stadium. David Phelps and Mike Leake will be the pitching matchup on Friday night.

Categories : Game Stories
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2014 Futures Game (Team USA won 3-2)

  • 1B Peter O’Brien: 0-2, 2 K — struck out against Astros RHP Michael Feliz and Padres RHP Tayron Guerrero
  • RHP Luis Severino: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB – nine of 12 pitches were strikes (75%), and Keith Law says he was 93-95 mph … the strike out came against eventual Futures Game MVP Rangers 3B Joey Gallo … watch his outing in the poor quality, no audio video above

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

One more game. One more game until the Yankees can rest and regroup over the All-Star break after being in what felt like survival mode for the last few weeks. Players are getting hurt, the bullpen has been taxed, the offense is moseying along … this has not been the easiest first half for the Yankees. Not at all.

Chase Whitley is making his return to the rotation tonight thanks to Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury, and hopefully his short stint in the bullpen will help him get over whatever was troubling him his last three starts. He was pretty brutal. Joe Girardi is in position to be aggressive with his key relievers with the four-day rest coming up, so Dellin Betances and Adam Warren could both be asked to throw two innings. Two innings for David Robertson might not be off the table. A four-out save seems very likely, if necessary. Here is the Orioles lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Brian Roberts
  7. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  8. LF Kelly Johnson
  9. 3B Yangervis Solarte
    RHP Chase Whitley

It’s very hot, very humid, and kinda cloudy in Baltimore. There is also rain in the forecast later tonight, which might interfere with the game in some way. We’ll have to see. The game is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have called up right-hander Bryan Mitchell as an extra just in case long man. He was scratched from his scheduled start for Double-A Trenton yesterday and is good for 100 pitches tonight if need be. Zoilo Almonte was sent down in a corresponding move. I assume Mitchell will be sent down and Carlos Beltran will be activated off the 7-day concussion disabled list after the break.

Rotation Update: David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda will start the first three games after the All-Star break, Joe Girardi announced. I would bet on Shane Greene getting the ball in the fourth game.

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2014 Futures GameThe Yankees don’t wrap up the traditional first half with the series finale against the Orioles until later tonight, so this afternoon we can all focus on the 2014 Futures Game in Target Field. Usually the Futures Game conflicts with the Yankees. This is sorta nice.

For the first time since 2010 (Austin Romine and Hector Noesi), the Yankees had two farmhands selected for the Futures Game this year. RHP Luis Severino is on the World Team roster while C/1B Peter O’Brien will suit up for Team USA. Neither is starting, but Severino is scheduled to pitch the fourth inning and O’Brien will definitely get into the game at some point. Everyone plays, even if it’s only one at-bat.

Team USA has won the last four Futures Games and they lead the all-time series 9-6. A total of 115 players have appeared in both a Futures Game and an MLB All-Star Game at some point, plus 22 players from last year’s Futures Game have already gone on to play in the big leagues. I would be surprised if O’Brien and especially Severino make it MLB within the next 12 months, however. The full rosters can be seen right here. Here are the starting lineups.

World Team (Manager: Bert Blyleven)

  1. CF Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays
  2. SS Francisco Lindor, Indians
  3. 2B Jose Peraza, Braves
  4. 1B Kennys Vargas, Twins
  5. LF Steven Moya, Tigers
  6. RF Dariel Alvarez, Orioles
  7. DH Gabby Guerrero, Mariners
  8. 3B Renato Nunez, Athletics
  9. C Jorge Alfaro, Rangers
    RHP Jose Berrios, Twins (pitching order)

Team USA (Manager: Tom Kelly)

  1. CF Michael Taylor, Nationals
  2. 2B Sean Coyle, Red Sox
  3. SS Corey Seager, Dodgers
  4. 3B Kris Bryant, Cubs
  5. DH Joey Gallo, Rangers
  6. 1B D.J. Peterson, Mariners
  7. LF Jesse Winker, Reds
  8. RF Hunter Renfroe, Padres
  9. C Kevin Plawecki, Mets
    LHP Henry Owens, Red Sox (pitching order)

It’s nice and sunny in Minneapolis with no rain in the forecast. Wonderful day for baseball. First pitch is scheduled for 5pm ET and you’ll be able to watch live on MLB Network or via the live stream below. Enjoy the game.

Categories : Game Threads, Minors
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  • Michael Pineda throws 25-pitch bullpen session, remains in one piece
    By

    Right-hander Michael Pineda threw a 25-pitch bullpen in Tampa on Friday and reported no issues with his injured back/shoulder muscle, Joe Girardi told reporters yesterday. He also threw some breaking balls off flat ground. “No news is good news,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings. “I didn’t get any bad news today, so that’s good news.”

    Pineda, 25, started a new throwing program about two weeks ago. He’s been out since late-April and at one point advanced far enough in his rehab that he was pitching in Extended Spring Training games, but he suffered a setback and has been sidelined since. Because he is essentially starting from scratch like the beginning of camp, Pineda is still a few weeks away from minor league rehab games. The best case scenario is a return to the rotation in mid-to-late August. Given his history, I’ll be happy if he comes back at all this year.
    · (58) ·

Both RHP Luis Severino and C/1B/RF Peter O’Brien have been placed on the temporarily inactive list … because they are in Minnesota for the Futures Game. The game is tomorrow afternoon.

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 loss to Rochester)

  • LF Jose Pirela: 0-3, 1 BB
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS, 1 E (missed catch)
  • RF Adonis Garcia & 1B Kyle Roller: both 0-4 — Roller struck out twice
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB — 14-for-38 (.368) in his last ten games
  • DH John Ryan Murphy: 1-4, 2 K
  • CF Taylor Dugas: 2-4, 1 R, 1 K – 11-for-29 (.379) in his last ten games
  • LHP Nik Turley: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 8/2 GB/FB — 50 of 94 pitches were strikes (53%)
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 23 of 47 pitches were strikes (49%) … 18/11 K/BB in his last 11.2 innings

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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Source: FanGraphs

In the Yankees’ most important game of the season (to date!), they received their best starting pitching performance of 2014 by someone not named Masahiro Tanaka. Rookie right-hander Shane Greene used his turbosinker to lead his team to a much-needed 3-0 win over the Orioles on Saturday afternoon. Let’s recap:

  • Chien-Ming Greene: For at least one start, the Yankees found themselves another Chien-Ming Wang. Greene, in his second big league start, held the high-powered Orioles scoreless for 7.1 innings thanks to ten ground ball outs and nine strikeouts. Only three of the 27 batters he faced hit the ball out of the infield in the air. Greene took a no-hitter into the fifth and allowed just four singles plus two walks. When it looked like things might unravel following two singles to leadoff the sixth, he got a quick double play and a strikeout. That sinker (sat 94.1 according to PitchFX) is legit, man. As Joe Girardi said following the game, Greene is “earning starts, that’s what he’s doing.” Bravo, young man.
  • Two Rallies, Three Runs: This game had a very familiar feel to it, especially after the Yankees wasted a leadoff walk and single in the second inning. Mark Teixeira doubled in a run in the third inning but the rally was cut short when Derek Jeter was thrown out at the plate. Nine of the next dozen Yankees made outs before a single (Kelly Johnson), a wild pitch, another single (Jeter), a double (Jacoby Ellsbury), an intentional walk (Teixeira), and a single (Brian McCann) created two more runs in the seventh. Again, the rally was cut short when Ellsbury was thrown out at the plate by a mile. Three runs was enough with the way Greene was pitching, but it maybe coulda been more.
  • Bullpen on Parade: Greene retired the leadoff man in the eight before being lifted with his pitch count at 106. David Huff came in to face Nick Markakis, allowed a leadoff single, and was pulled. Shawn Kelley got a broken bat fly out (Steve Pearce) and a strikeout (Adam Jones) to end the threat before David Robertson threw a flawless ninth for his 23rd save. He struck out two (Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy). Remember when people were worried how Robertson would handle the ninth inning? I could count how many closers I would take over him on one hand.
  • Thrown Out: Like I said, the Yankees had two runners thrown out at the plate in the game. The first one I kinda get — Teixeira doubled into the corner and it took a perfect throw and relay to cut Jeter down. The second one I don’t understand. The single was hit directly to Adam Jones, who has a very strong arm. He was ready to release the ball as Ellsbury was just rounding third. I mean, the two plays didn’t come back to hurt, but geez. The Yankees have had 15 runners thrown out the plate this year, the most in baseball the AL and two more than last year (h/t @ktsharp).
  • Leftovers: McCann had three hits and is 12-for-35 (.343) on the road trip. He fouled a pitch off his foot in the seventh, but x-rays came back negative and he expected to play Sunday … Jeter had two hits, Ellsbury a hit and a walk, Teixeira a hit and two walks … Kelley threw seven pitches and got three swings and misses. He’s looked much better his last three or four outings … by Game Score (77), Greene’s start was the team’s best by a) a non-Tanaka starter this year, and b) a non-Tanaka rookie since Ivan Nova held the Reds to one run in eight innings in June 2011. Pretty, pretty good.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are now four games back of the Orioles for the top spot in the AL East, and depending on the outcome of the late game, they will be either 2.5 (Mariners lose) or 3.5 (Mariners win) games back of the second wildcard spot. Girardi confirmed after the game that Chase Whitley will start the series and first half finale on Sunday night after not being needed in relief these last two days. Kevin Gausman will be on the bump for Baltimore.

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