The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new preview format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.
Coming into the season, there were many reasons to think the Yankees would have a better offense in 2014 than 2013. For starters, they committed more than $280M to the free agent trio of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury, each of whom brought a different dynamic to the lineup. The Yankees were also getting Mark Teixeira back from wrist surgery, and although Lyle Overbay filled in admirably last year, Teixeira at this phase of his career was still an upgrade.
On top of all of that, the Yankees would also have a full season of Alfonso Soriano. The club re-acquired Soriano at least year’s trade deadline and he was a force in the second half, hitting .256/.325/.525 (130 wRC+) with 17 homeruns in 58 games after the trade. He hit exactly as many homers and drove in nearly the same number of runs (51 to 50) in 58 games with the Yankees as he did in 93 games with the Cubs. Returning to New York seemed to reinvigorate the 38-year-old Soriano.
Because of the Ellsbury and Beltran additions, the Yankees forced Soriano into an unfamiliar role. He was either going to have to play right field or serve as the DH to stay in the lineup — and, coming into the year, there was every reason to want him in the lineup everyday — but he didn’t have much experience at either spot. In fact, Soriano had never played right field in his career until this year, and he had only 38 games of DH experience spread across the first 15 years of his career. He played DH only 14 times with the Cubs from 2007-13.
But, the Yankees painted themselves into a roster corner, so Soriano worked out in right field during Spring Training and also took some reps at DH to get familiar with sitting on the bench between at-bats. He opened the regular season as the regular DH while occasionally seeing time in left (whenever Ellsbury or Brett Gardner sat) and right (whenever Beltran sat). It wasn’t until Beltran’s elbow began to act up that Soriano moved into the field full-time — he took over as the regular right fielder in mid-May and was routinely taken out for defense in the late innings.
We can’t trust such a small sample of defensive stats but I thought Soriano actually looked decent in right field, especially considering he had never played the position before. I mean, he wasn’t great, but he made all the routine plays and occasionally surprised with a no-so-routine play. Opponents did run on his weak arm at will — runners attempted to take the extra base 12 times in 15 opportunities, a 20.0% hold rate that was well below the 46.4% league average — but that wasn’t surprising. You knew other teams were going to test him at a new position.
Adjusting to life as a part-time outfielder and part-time DH was not going to be easy, but the Yankees were expecting Soriano to be their top right-handed power source and a consistent threat near the middle of the lineup. Instead, they got one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Soriano hit .242/.275/.414 (88 wRC+) with five homers in 138 plate appearances as he regular DH before hitting .194/.200/.306 (29 wRC+) with one homerun in exactly 100 plate appearances after taking over in right field following Beltran’s injury. From May 5th through June 12th he went 16-for-83 (.193) with 37 strikeouts (43.5%).
The end result was a .221/.244/.367 (64 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 238 plate appearances. Among the 349 players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2014, Soriano ranked 298th in AVG, 343rd in OBP, 228th in SLG, 316th in OPS+, 332nd in wRC+, 327th in strikeout rate, and 346th in walk rate. He struck out 71 times (29.5%) and walked six times (2.5%), including once intentionally. The Yankees were counting on Soriano to be a major weapon against lefties and he hit .249/.269/.416 (84 wRC+) against southpaws, which is both terrible and way better than the .204/.228/.336 (51 wRC+) line he put up against righties.
The Yankees finally pulled the plug on July 6th, designating Soriano for assignment to clear both a 25-man and 40-man roster spot for career minor league journeyman Bruce Billings. Joe Girardi had relegated Soriano to the bench for spot start study a few weeks before that, opting to use Ichiro Suzuki in right field full-time once Beltran returning and took over the DH spot. Soriano told reporters he would spend some time with his family before deciding whether to retire or continue playing, but we haven’t heard anything since. No team showed interest in him even at the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.
Soriano was one of the most exciting players in recent Yankees history when he first came up all those years ago because of his speed and big power despite a rail thin frame. He returned to New York a decade later and had an excellent half-season in pinstripes in 2013 before things came crashing down in 2014. Maybe changing positions hurt his offense — to his credit, Soriano never complained about being asked to change positions — or maybe it was just old age. He is 38 after all, and he had already switched to a lighter bat with the Cubs to compensate for lost bat speed. Add in his plate indiscipline and it’s not really a surprise he fell off the cliff so quickly.
The Yankees did improve their offense from 2013 to 2014 but not as much as expected for many reasons, including Soriano’s sudden fall from grace. He wasn’t even able to be a bench bat who played against lefties by the end. The fall of was that drastic. Maybe Soriano will decide to play again, but players his age usually don’t get job offers after seasons like this, which included spending the last three months at home. In all likelihood, his excellent but not quite Hall of Fame worthy career is over, and that makes me sad.
Via Dan Martin: Chase Headley indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Yankees following the team’s season finale last weekend, but made it clear he wants to be an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”
Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers while playing top notch defense in 58 games for the Yankees this year. Joe Girardi said the Yankees are counting on A-Rod to be their third baseman next season but that’s just a ruse — saying otherwise would give guys like Headley and Pablo Sandoval more leverage. In fact, Nick Cafardo says the team views Alex as a DH until he proves otherwise. There’s an obvious place for Headley on the roster and in the lineup, but I think he’s going to wind up getting three or maybe even four years from someone. Free agent contracts always end up bigger than expected and I think clubs will look at him as buy low candidate with standout defense and switch-hitter who showed more life with the bat outside Petco Park. · (307) ·
In what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to look back at the longest Yankees’ homeruns of this past season. Admittedly, this post has gotten a little less exciting in recent years as power around the league had dropped, especially in the Bronx. The number of 450+ blasts has gone down considerably. I guess that makes them more special.
The longest homer of the 2014 season in general belongs not to Giancarlo Stanton, but Mike Trout. He hit a ball 489 feet off Jason Vargas back in June. Here’s the video. That’s just ridiculous. By the way, that was the longest homer in baseball since this 494-foot Stanton blast in 2012. The last player to hit a 500+ foot homer was Adam Dunn back in 2008. Here’s video of his titanic blast of Glendon Rusch.
As always, this post is made possible by the indispensable Hit Tracker, which tracks every homerun hit every season. It’s truly awesome. No Yankee came particularly close to hitting the longest homerun of the season but that’s not really surprising. Here are the longest homer posts for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 — there isn’t much analytical value here, it’s just appreciation of some monster dingers — and now, 2014:
We’ve got a five-way tie for fifth place. Johnson’s homer landed in Monument Park and gave the Yankees an eighth inning insurance run, stretching their lead to 7-4 over the Red Sox. Gardner’s blast on July 29th was his third homer in two games and the first in back-to-back games with a leadoff homer. I’m sure you remember when he went on that little homerun binge, right? A few days later he broke a 7-7 sixth inning tie with a solo shot off Breslow. It ended up winning the game. That was an ESPN Sunday Night Game at Fenway Park and one of the most exciting games of the year. Here’s the box score. All three homers traveled 420 feet, though Johnson’s measured 106 mph off the bat while Gardner’s July homer measured 107.5 and the August homer measured 107.9.
4. April 12th: Brian McCann vs. John Lackey
This was part of what looked like McCann’s big breakout after a rough start to the season. He opened his first year in pinstripes with a 6-for-37 (.162) skid before swatting two homers off Lackey in the team’s 12th game of the year. His second homer of the game was the team’s fourth longest of the season. It came on a hanging 2-1 curveball and landed in the Yankees’ bullpen, extending their lead to 6-2 in the sixth inning. It had the good sound, the sound a homer is supposed to make. The two-homer game didn’t exactly start a hot streak, but two-homer games are always great. McCann’s blast traveled 421 feet and left the bat at 108.2 mph. His first homer of the game traveled 366 feet with an exit velocity of 97.1 mph, by the way. It was one among the bottom-third of the team’s homers in distance this season.
3. August 29th: Chase Headley vs. Dustin McGowan
I remember all of the other homers in this post, but this one escaped me. I watched the video and still didn’t remember it. But, it happened. Headley ambushed a first pitch fastball leading off the ninth inning, extending New York’s lead to 6-3. It cleared the bullpen at Rogers Centre and landed several rows back in the first deck. It was Headley’s tenth homer of the season and third with the Yankees. Also his second against the Blue Jays. The ball traveled 425 feet according to Hit Tracker and left the bat at 106.3 mph.
2. August 2nd: Mark Teixeira vs. Breslow
Teixeira came out of the gate with a barrage of homeruns this season, hitting nine in the team’s first 41 games and 17 in their first 90 games. He went deep only five times after the All-Star break though, and one of those five was this towering blast off Breslow. I guess we have to give Breslow some props for serving up two of the Yankees’ five longest homers of the year, don’t we? Three of the eight homers he allowed this season were hit by Yankees. Anyway, Teixeira’s solo blast traveled 427 feet with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, which was enough to carry it over the Green Monster and onto the roof of a parking lot across Lansdowne Street. It stretched the team’s lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning. Lot of long homers for insurance runs this year, apparently.
1. April 22nd: Carlos Beltran vs. Edward Mujica
Once again, Fenway Park. The Yankees did a lot of damage there this season, including scoring 24 runs in one three-game series in late-April. Beltran capped off the scoring in the first game of that series with the team’s longest homer of 2014, a 434-foot shot that left his bat at 111.6 mph. It stretched the team’s lead to 9-2 in the eighth inning — another long homer for an insurance run! — and landed about ten rows back in right field. This was Beltran at his best, getting into a hitter’s count (3-1) and putting a sweet swing on a hitter’s pitch. We didn’t see enough of that Beltran this year, unfortunately. I think Teixeira’s blast was more aesthetically pleasing because it literally left the ballpark and landed across the street, but Beltran’s dinger cut through the cold April night early in the season to travel seven feet further.
Here is your open thread for this lovely Monday night. Lovely in New York, anyway. The Giants and Nationals are playing Game Three of their NLDS right now (on MLB Network) and later tonight the Dodgers and Cardinals will play Game Three of their NLDS (9pm ET on FOX Sports 1). The Giants are looking to sweep while the other series is tied at one. Seahawks-Redskins is the Monday Night Football Game. You know how these open threads work by now, so talk about whatever you like right here. Have at it.
Via George King: CC Sabathia is close to throwing off a mound as he rehabs from surgery and stem cell treatment on his right knee. “I will play catch at 90 feet for three or four days and then go to 120 feet and after that probably get off a mound,” he said following the end of the season last weekend. “It feels good after the stem cell. It’s been feeling great. I am definitely coming back.”
Sabathia, 34, was limited to eight starts and 46 innings (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) because of knee problems this year. He says he’s anxious to pitch after missing almost the entire season — “Having almost a year off has gotten the fire back in me. Having baseball taken away from me stunk. I am excited to get going,” he said — but the Yankees have to assume Sabathia can give them nothing in 2015. If he comes back and pitches well, great. But they have to prepare for the worst case scenario, which means adding pitching depth and maybe penciling Shane Greene into the sixth starter’s spot rather than the number five. · (62) ·
The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.
The Bronx Bombers are gone. Long live the Bronx Bombers. After hitting at least 200 homeruns every year but one from 2000-12 — the postseason-less 2008 season was the only exception (180 homers) — the Yankees dropped down to 144 homers in 2013 and 147 homers in 2014. Some of that is due to the declining offense around the league, some of it is due to injuries, and some of it is due to having too many players without much power on the roster.
The Yankees looked to compensate for their lack of pop this past season by adding speed, specifically by adding guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson to Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki. Ellsbury was the big name, but Johnson also stole 13+ bases every year from 2010-12. The return of Derek Jeter and addition of Brian Roberts might have added some speed to the roster despite their recent injuries as well. They’re both veteran guys who knew out to pick their spots and run the bases despite a lack of pure speed.
Sure enough, the Yankees ranked fifth in baseball with 112 stolen bases and second with an 81.1% success rate. Only the Nationals (81.5%) had a better success rate. These days the stolen base break-even rate is something like 66-68% due to the drop in offense, not the 72% we so often cited five or ten years ago. The Yankees stole a ton of bases this season and they were very good at it, stealing them with a high rate of efficiency. So why then did Joe Girardi say the team needed to improve its base-running next year during his end-of-season press conference?
“At times our runners couldn’t score from second on a hit just because they weren’t physically able, and that’s something I think we as a club need to get better at — base running,” said Girardi last week while discussing the team’s offensive woes. “Some of it’s limited because of the speed of some of the guys that we have, but I that’s something tangible we need to get better at.”
Despite those strong stolen base numbers, the Yankees took the extra base on a hit just 33% of the time last year, dead last in baseball. The Angels led MLB at 46% and the Orioles were second worst at 34%. The Yankees went first-to-third on a single only 21.5% of the time, again dead last in baseball. They scored from second on a single 49.7% of the time, once again dead last in baseball. They scored from first on a double 34.6% of the time and the good news is that wasn’t dead last in baseball. It was only third worst behind the Phillies (30.6%) and Astros (34.5%). All base-running stats come from Baseball Reference.
Furthermore, the Yankees compounded their base-running problems by getting thrown a bunch of times, particularly at home. It’s one thing to only go from second to third on a single, it’s another to get thrown out at home. They actually had the eighth fewest outs on the bases in 2014 with 45, but they had the fourth most outs at the plate in 21. Part of that is a lack of team speed and part of it falls on the shoulders of third base coach Rob Thomson, who anecdotally made some really awful sends this summer. Pushing the envelope with no outs in the inning, sending a runner on a ball hit to shallow left, that sort of stuff. It happened a lot. I saw it and you saw it.
The Yankees also had a knack for silly base-running mistakes. Carlos Beltran (video), Chase Headley (video), and I believe Stephen Drew were all thrown out wandering off a base because they forgot how many outs there were. And then stuff like this happened a whole bunch of times:
Every club makes dumb base-running mistakes and has runners thrown out at the plate during the season, it’s part of baseball, but it happened to the Yankees more this past season than at any point in the last, I dunno, 10-15 years it seemed. There were lots more base-running blunders in 2014 than we’ve seen in recent years. Lots more.
In terms of stolen bases and advancing on hits, the Yankees were worth +0.4 runs on the bases in 2014 according to FanGraphs, 16th best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus‘ base-running stats are more all-encompassing because they account for stuff like advancing on wild pitches and fly balls, and they say the Yankees were worth -5.9 runs on the bases this year, sixth worst in baseball. That’s not quite a full win — 9.117 runs equaled a win in 2014 — but it’s not nothing either.
The elite stolen base total and success rate saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases, which basically means Gardner and Ellsbury saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases. Those two plus Ichiro were the only players who seemed to consistently take the extra base and force the issue — Gardner stopped stealing halfway through the season because of his lingering abdominal strain, Girardi said — because almost everyone else on the team is really slow. Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann … those guys simply can’t run.
We’ve seen this postseason (the Royals) how much of a weapon elite base-running can be but it is not a requirement to win the same way a good pitching staff and a deep lineup is. You do still need to be competent on the bases though, especially when your offensive production is less than stellar overall. I’m sure part of the reason Thomson sent so many runners in seemingly inopportune times was the team’s lack of offense in general — he simply pushed the envelope to try to get runs when he could. When you’re only getting one or two hits with runners in scoring position per game, sometimes you have no choice but to be aggressive on the bases.
For the most part, the Yankees did not have the right personnel to be overly aggressive on the bases this year. Ellsbury, Gardner, and Ichiro could do it but not everyone else, and it cost the team quite a bit. Girardi spoke about improving the base-running next year but there is no way to make guys like Beltran and Teixeira faster through Spring Training drills. It’s just not happening. They can make changes in their few open lineup spots to get speedier players even though options are limited. Instead, the team will have to focus on making smarter base-running decisions in 2015, which in most cases will mean being more conservative.
Baseball America published their list of the top 20 prospects in the Florida State League today as they continue looking at the best players in each minor league in 2014. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Pirates RHP Tyler Glasnow, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Blue Jays LHP Daniel Norris make up the top three. OF Aaron Judge ranked 15th and is the only Yankees’ farmhand on the list. RHP Luis Severino didn’t throw enough innings with High-A Tampa to qualify.
Judge, 22, hit .283/.411/.442 (149 wRC+) with eight homers in 66 games for Tampa this summer after a midseason promotion from Low-A Charleston. “He has prodigious tools to go with his jumbo frame, yet the separating factor in his success may be his short swing for a man his size … Judge works with a swing geared for the gaps, so his huge raw power may not necessarily translate into future 30-homer seasons … He fits the right-field profile, running well enough for the spot and flashing double-plus arm strength, with improved arm accuracy,” said the scouting report.
The write-up also notes 3B Eric Jagielo had support from league personnel but fell short off the top 20. Others like OF Jake Cave and 1B Greg Bird are good prospects but not top 20 in the entire league material. The Double-A Eastern League is next up, and C Gary Sanchez should make the list while 2B Rob Refsnyder is a good bet as well. Other possibilities include OF Tyler Austin, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and LHP Manny Banuelos. Severino didn’t throw enough innings with Double-A Trenton to qualify.
Other League Top 20s: Low-A South Atlantic League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Rookie Gulf Coast League. · (73) ·
2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for postseason
Top stories from last week:
- With the 2014 season complete, Joe Girardi gave his annual end of season press conference. Hal Steinbrenner also spoke about the club during a radio interview. Both discussed all sorts of topics in what were essentially state of the Yankees addresses.
- Injury Updates: As expected, Carlos Beltran (elbow) had surgery to remove “loose pieces” and a bone spur. He can begin baseball activity in six weeks and resume playing in 12 weeks. Eric Jagielo (face) had surgery and will miss 4-6 weeks after suffering a fractured zygomatic arch. Jose Campos (elbow) is throwing from 90 feet as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.
- The Yankees are working on a new contract with GM Brian Cashman, Steinbrenner confirmed. Long-time scout and front office staffer Gordon Blakeley left the organization for a position with the Braves.
- Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas was officially declared a free agent by MLB. Ichiro Suzuki said he wants to continue playing and hinted at some unhappiness in the clubhouse. Josh Outman was outrighted to Triple-A.
- The Yankees hold the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft. C Luis Torrens, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, and LHP Ian Clarkin all ranked among the top prospects in their respective minor leagues this summer. 3B Dante Bichette Jr. will replace Jagielo in the Arizona Fall League.
- Derek Jeter declined to play in MLB’s exhibition series against the Japanese national team in November. Brett Gardner is the team’s finalist for the AL Hank Aaron Award.
- For the 12th consecutive season, the Yankees led the AL in attendance in 2014.
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Via Steven Marcus: Derek Jeter has declined an invitation to play for a team of MLB All-Stars heading to Japan to play a five-game exhibition series against the Japanese national team in November. Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Albert Pujols, Yasiel Puig, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and Justin Morneau are the only players committed to play so far. Red Sox skipper John Farrell will manage the team.
Since this is an international promotional event, I’m guessing MLB will want to include someone from the Yankees. I’m just not sure who it will be. I don’t think it’ll be a pitcher since they will have had several weeks off by time the series takes place, which leaves position players like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann as the likely candidates. Ellsbury (hamstring) and Teixeira (wrist) ended the year hurt. So I guess that leaves Gardner and McCann? I’d be very surprised if MLB sent a team to Japan without a Yankees representative. The pinstripes are way too marketable. · (123) ·