Some calm and collected thoughts about the struggling Yankees’ offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games last night, and in all six losses, the team scored no more than two runs. They again blew scoring opportunities and went 1-for-whatever with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. The Yankees are struggling in a bad way right now. It would be easy to go on a bumbling tirade against the offense — I’ve done my fair share of that over the years — but let’s not do that. Let’s talk about this offensive malaise in a calm and rational way, because we’re adults. (Well, most of you are.)

1. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who stands up for his players through thick and thin, but even he had to call out Didi Gregorius for his base-running blunder in the seventh inning last night. It was that egregious. “It’s bad base-running. You’ve got to understand what your run means … That’s a blunder we have to take care of,” said Girardi after the game. Gregorius had the entire play in front of him and he still didn’t stop to make sure he wasn’t tagged out. That’s Baseball 101. Every team is going to go into an offensive funk at some point(s) throughout the season, that’s just the way the games goes. But when you start adding bad mental mistakes on top of it, things get ugly. That was a bad, bad play by Gregorius. It’s the kind of play that earns someone a spot on the bench for a day or two.

2. Given the way the Yankees are built — and the way every team is built, really — their offense starts at the top of the lineup, and right now Jacoby Ellsbury is hurting the club. He did have the double and yet another catcher’s interference last night, but through 51 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury is hitting .220/.264/.320 (63 wRC+) with three walks. He’s currently in a 1-for-15 slump. The Yankees are going to give Ellsbury an awfully long leash thanks to his contract, so I don’t expect him to be moved down in the lineup anytime soon. Maybe Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will flip flop and in the one-two spots or something, but hitting Ellsbury seventh or eighth? Not happening. Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt in a way that impacts his performance for weeks or months — that’s exactly what happened with last year’s knee injury — so I can’t help but think back to that pitch he took to the wrist in Spring Training. Either way, Ellsbury is part of the problem right now. A big part of it.

3. This to me is the is the single biggest reason the offense has sputtered so much recently. Here are numbers since the start of the homestand:

Mark Teixeira: 1-for-15 (.067)
Brian McCann: 1-for-16 (.063)

Teixeira’s slump actually dates back to the Detroit series (3-for-30), though, to be fair, he is still drawing a ton of walks and providing value that way. Teixeira and McCann are not high average hitters, but they do hit the ball out of the park, and right now they’re not doing that. They’re not hitting much of anything. Gardner and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ two hottest hitters — they have a combined .463 OBP on the homestand — so they’re putting the team in position to score. The two guys hitting behind them are slumping bad and those opportunities created by Gardner and Beltran are being wasted. That’s why those two have scored six total runs on the homestand despite that .463 OBP, and three of those six runs have come on their own home runs. Getting Teixeira and McCann going is Priority No. 1 in my opinion. They are the keys to turning this mess around.

4. The Aaron Hicks Hate Train seems to be up and running already. The guy has 21 plate appearances in 13 games and eight of them have come the last two nights. The Yankees took a player who is used to playing every day and made him into a bench player, and that can be a tough adjustment. It looks to me like Hicks is pressing and trying to do anything he can to impress during his limited playing time. He saw four pitches in three at-bats last night. This is a guy with a 10.0% walk rate in the big leagues and a 14.4% career walk rate in the minors. Hicks is making more of an effort to be aggressive and swing at pitches in the strike zone, but I doubt he wants to be this aggressive. He’s jumping at everything. That’s not his game. The Yankees are going to see a lot of left-handed starters over the next week — my guess is either Gardner sits against Rich Hill tonight if his neck is still stiff, or Alex Rodriguez sits and Beltran slots in at DH — and hopefully that allows Hicks to settle in and feel more comfortable. He has a new role with a new team in a new city. No wonder why he’s started slow.

5. The bottom of the lineup has been pretty abysmal of late. Chase Headley has had a rotten start to the season with the bat — he’s one of only five players with at least 40 plate appearances and zero extra base hits — and his only saving grace right now is his batting eye. He’s drawn eight walks and has a .333 OBP — he didn’t draw his eighth walk until Game 32 last year — which is fourth highest on the team, believe it or not. But still, walking only gets you so far. Eventually Headley is going to have to do something more than push a ground ball single through the infield. Gregorius had two hits including a homer last night to snap a 3-for-25 (.150) slide and Starlin Castro has quietly gone 7-for-38 (.184) since the end of the Astros series. That’s not a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup. No one expects those guys to carry the team offensively, but they do have to provide support, and it’s hasn’t happened of late. When your fourth and fifth hitters slump like Teixeira and McCann have, you look for others to pick up the slack, and the bottom third of the lineup ain’t doing it.

6. I don’t see any potential quick fix for the offense. I suppose Girardi could shake up the lineup, but even if he does that, what lineup should he use? Bat Gardner and Beltran first and second, then make them go up to the plate in the three through nine spots wearing everyone else’s jersey? The Yankees are not a true talent .189 hitting team with runners in scoring position because I don’t think any lineup in baseball history is a true talent .189 hitting team in any situation. At some point Ellsbury will go on one of his insane hot streaks, and at some point Teixeira and McCann will hit a baseball out of the park. It’s going to happen. How soon? Soon, hopefully. Right now the best (only?) thing the Yankees can do is stay the course, clean up the sloppy mistakes like Didi’s base-running blunder last night, and wait for their good at baseball players to start being good at baseball again.

Eovaldi’s quality start not enough to save Yankees in 5-2 loss to Oakland

Woops (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Geez, another one that was hard to watch. You would think Yanks’ RISP drought would end probably today, but… not today. The Yankees have dropped six of their last seven games. Nathan Eovaldi had a decent outing clouded by one bad inning and that definitely wasn’t enough for the Yanks to win with their struggling offense.

Getting the Lead, Temporarily

The Yanks’ tortures with RISP continued in the first inning. With Carlos Beltran‘s ground out, Mark Teixeira‘s and A-Rod‘s strikeout with runners in scoring position, the offense was 2-for-45 in RISP situations, which is .044. After tonight’s game, that worsened to 2-for-49 (.041), which is like, well, even worse. What are some terms to describe “worse than atrocious?”

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Turns out that the Yankees did score with no one on base though. In the second, Did Gregorius drilled a 1-1 fastball into the right field seats for a 1-0 lead. A lead! Unfortunately, that would be all the run that they’d score off Kendall Graveman.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

One Bad Inning

All in all, this was the best start of Nate’s 2016 season so far. Quality start is a dumb term but Eovaldi threw well enough to warrant a win, pitching six innings of three-run ball while striking out seven.

Eovaldi got into a trouble in top of fourth. He allowed back-to-back doubles to Billy Burn and Chris Coghlan to allow a run. The next batter, Josh Reddick, hit a squib single to left that drove in Coghlan. It looked like Aaron Hicks‘ strong arm was going to get him out easily at home but Brian McCann couldn’t handle the tough bounce in front of him. 2-1 A’s. Things got worse when Danny Valencia singled to center to make it runners on corners with no out. Stephen Vogt’s sac fly made it 3-1.

It seemed like the Yankees could have gotten out of the inning when Jed Lowrie hit a grounder right at Chase Headley for a potential DP. Headley bobbled the ball for a second, which erased the DP chances but it seemed like he would at least get the force out to 2nd by flipping the ball to Didi. Gregorius, however, dropped the ball to have both runners safe.

Khris Davis followed it up with a sharp single that ricocheted off of the 3rd base bag to load the bases. Lucky that ball didn’t roll past the base – could have been an easy double. The Yankee defense finally stepped up when Hicks caught Alonso’s fly ball and threw Valencia out on the plate for an inning-ending double play. It was a heck of a throw, registering at 105.5 mph per StatCast (fastest ever recorded), according to Bryan Hoch. Hicks was also a hard-throwing pitcher as a high school prospect so he has a gun. This was a wacky inning that could have gone either better or worse.

After tonight’s start, Eovaldi has 22 K’s and only 3 walks in 17.2 IP, which are just about the prettiest numbers in his season stats. Some of the others are – 6.11 ERA, 2.04 HR/9, 21 hits and 4 HR’s in 17.2  – are not as pretty. His .362 BABIP allowed indicates that he’s been unlucky with some batted balls in play. Then again, it also could mean he’s been allowing meatballs in occasion that hitters devour instantly. BABIP will normalize and Eovaldi’s ERA will fall below 6 soon (I think). I think the fact that he’s struck hitters out to a 11.57 K/9 rate is pretty nice (6.57 K/9 in career).

Late Innings

With one out in the seventh, the A’s took out Graveman for lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Didi lined a single to center and CF Billy Burns mishandled it to advance Gregorius to second and Headley to third. The Yankees had two runners in scoring position with one out. What could possibly go wrong?

Hicks hit a grounder to SS Marcus Semien. Gregorius made an ill-advised decision to advance to third from second and Semien (at least initially seemed to) tagged him. He also finished a throw to first to get Hicks out, completing a double play. However, the Yankees challenged the call, stating that Gregorius was not tagged. YES Network’s replay seemed to show that Gregorius eluded Semien’s tag but did he get out of the baseline? Possible. Either way, the umpires stood by the initial calls to end the inning. It was that kind of night.

Branden Pinder took the mound in the eighth to keep it a two-run game, which he exactly failed to do. He allowed back-to-back singles to Billy Butler and Vogt, and walked Lowrie to load the bases pretty quick. Khris Davis hit a 0-1 fastball up the middle to drive two in, 5-1 A’s. Pinder did induce a GIDP and strikeout to limit the damage to two runs, but a four-run deficit seemed quite insurmountable with the reeling Yankee bats.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In the bottom of eighth, the Yankees scored another non-RISP run. Beltran hit a big solo homer to the second deck to make it 5-2, continuing his hot April. Geez, remember when he was godawful in last year’s April? (.162/.216/.265 in 68 April AB’s) Completely different this time. After tonight, his line is at .327/.333/.633, good for a 174 wRC+.

The A’s sent their closer Sean Doolittle for the bottom of ninth. McCann beat the shift to maybe start something, but A-Rod and Headley both flew out in two pitches, which was, well, anticlimactic. Gregorius struck out in three pitches to give a fitting end to recent offense tone. 5-2 A’s win.

Leftovers

So this is not really a Yankees thing but in the top fifth, Kendall Graveman became the first pitcher to bat in the current Yankee Stadium, thanks to the A’s having to sub Valencia out and move Lowrie off DH to the second base. It was also his first ever ML plate appearance. He’s never had a minor league at-bat either. He struck out in three pitches (predictably so) but it was a moment, to say the least.

Ivan Nova came into the game in the ninth and… actually pitched well. He threw a 1-2-3 inning – two ground outs and a fly out. Tonight’s outing improved his season ERA to, well, 6.00. Kirby Yates also came into the game today, throwing a scoreless inning in the seventh. For a guy who made one of the last roster spots out of ST, he’s been decent: 4.15 ERA in 4.1 IP with 2 walks and 6 K’s.

Box Score, WPA, Highlights and Updated Standings

If you dare to look back to this game, here’s the box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will attempt to not get swept by the A’s in the home tomorrow. Luis Severino will take the mound against Rich Hill on another 7 pm game. Sleep well, folks .

DotF: Wade and Amburgey stay hot in losses

IF Thairo Estrada earned a write-up in Baseball America’s daily prospect report today following last night’s two-homer game. It’s not behind the paywall, so check it out. Estrada now has six dingers in 146 career games.

Triple-A Scranton (8-1 loss to Buffalo)

  • LF-CF Ben Gamel & 2B Rob Refsnyder: both 0-4 — Gamel struck out once and threw a runner (Jesus Montero!) out at the plate
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 2 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-1, 1 R, 1 HBP — left the game two innings after taking a pitch to the hand … manager Al Pedrique told Shane Hennigan that Heathcott’s hand stiffened up, and he will be re-evaluated tomorrow
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 2-3, 1 BB
  • RHP Anthony Swarzak: 5 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 64 of 91 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • LHP Tyler Olson: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 2/2 GB/FB — 22 of 35 pitches were strikes (63%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 12 pitches were strikes … allowed another homer, so that’s eight in 16.1 innings between the regular season and Spring Training

[Read more…]

Game 13: Score Some Runs This Isn’t Funny Anymore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have lost five of their last six games and they’ve scored 13 runs total in those six games. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in the five losses. The Yankees have a .317 OBP as a team in their last four games — the MLB average is a .314 OBP in 2016 — so they’re getting guys on base, but man, they can’t drive them in to save their lives.

Eventually the Yankees are going to bust out of it and score like six runs a game for a week. Remember when they scored 100 runs in a 12-game span last summer? That was cool. Do that again. Winning with run prevention is for suckers. Give me dingers and runs. Lots and lots of runs. Here is the Athletics’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. DH Alex Rodriguez
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. LF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Yet another great weather day in the New York. It’s supposed to rain maybe later in the week, but right now it’s gorgeous outside. Love it. Tonight’s game will begin just after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES, as always. Try to enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner was scratched from tonight’s starting lineup with a stiff neck, the Yankees announced. Apparently this may have been lingering since he fell backwards into the stands making that catch in Toronto.

YES Update: FOX regional sports affiliates, including YES, can now be streamed on Sling TV. It’s $20 a month — there’s a free seven-day trial — so it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either. You will be able to stream Yankees games on YES, even if you’re in-market and a currently dealing with the Comcast nonsense. Here’s the Sling TV link.

2016 Draft: Kevin Gowdy

Kevin Gowdy | RHP

Background
Gowdy, 19 in November, is a Southern California kid from Santa Barbara, and this spring he has a 1.12 ERA with a 63/2 K/BB in 37.1 innings for Santa Barbara High School. He did not have a strong showing with the Team USA 18-and-under team last fall, and despite the impressive numbers, Gowdy has been a bit up and down this spring. He’s committed to UCLA.

Scouting Report
After sitting in the 91-93 mph range last year, Gowdy’s velocity has fluctuated anywhere between 87-93 mph this spring. He has the prototypical high school pitcher body (6-foot-4, 170 lbs.) and the belief is he will add velocity as he fills out, though that’s never a guarantee. Gowdy’s out pitch is a low-80s slider he can locate very well. He also throws a nascent changeup and is generally considered to have good command and a refined approach on the mound. Gowdy has an old school drop and drive delivery, but he sometimes flies open early, which hurts his location.

Miscellany
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Gowdy as the 14th, 22nd, and 25th best prospect in the 2016 draft class in their most recent rankings, respectively. If he can gain some consistency with his velocity and delivery these next few weeks, he’ll land comfortably in the middle of the first round. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick and not only does scouting director Damon Oppenheimer gravitate towards SoCal prospects, the team also likes pitchers with some smarts to go along with their raw stuff. Gowdy is not Drew Finley in that regard, but he’s among the more advanced prep arms in the 2016 draft.

Dustin Ackley is getting the Garrett Jones treatment, and there’s nothing the Yankees can do

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As part of this ongoing on-the-fly rebuild process, the Yankees have been targeting talented young players who have worn out their welcome for whatever reason. That led them to Dustin Ackley last July. The Yankees picked up Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, for two fringe 40-man roster players because he was an upgrade over Garrett Jones with the potential to be much more.

Ackley hit his way into regular at-bats late last season and gave the offense a nice little shot in the arm. So far this year he’s assumed the role Jones filled last summer, meaning the bench player who fits the roster well but rarely plays. Jones gave the Yankees lefty pop and depth at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the team had injury concerns. Ackley does the same, and adds second base to the mix as well.

So far this season Ackley has started two of the team’s first dozen games: one at first base and one at DH. He also came off the bench to play three innings in the field at the end of a blowout. That’s it. Ackley is 0-for-7 with a walk at the plate in the regular season after putting together a strong Spring Training in which he hit .298/.313/.404 in 48 plate appearances, seventh most on the team.

The Yankees haven’t been able to get Ackley much playing time thus far and it does not appear he will get much in the immediately future either. Not with all those lefties coming up. And here’s the thing: this is the right move. Aaron Hicks has the outfield covered, Starlin Castro‘s production has kept him into the lineup, and it’s hard to sit Mark Teixeira given what he does on both sides of the ball. Where does that leave Ackley?

On the bench, for now. It won’t necessarily stay that way all season. One injury can change everything, and even if everyone stays healthy (fingers crossed), Joe Girardi and the Yankees insist they will rest their regulars more often this season. They had four off-days in the first two weeks of the season. They have two in the next five weeks. Ackley is going to come into more playing time as the regulars rest.

The Yankees have Nick Swisher sitting in Triple-A as a possible alternative should Ackley not get it together at some point — Swisher reportedly has an opt-out in his contract, though I don’t know when it is — and need to be replaced. I’m not sure anyone would be able to produce in the Jones role given the lack of playing time though. Ackley is only 28 and he has talent, and at some point I’d like to see him get a chance to play, but there’s no obvious spot to do it.

The offense has struggled these last six games, and while the natural reaction is to change the lineup, Ackley’s a band-aid more than a solution. Teixeira, Castro, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ four best hitters right now, so Girardi can’t take one of them out of the lineup to play Ackley. I supposed he could sit Alex Rodriguez, but getting A-Rod going is more important than getting Ackley at-bats.

The Yankees could really use some kind of a spark at the plate right now. I just don’t think Ackley can provide it. He’s stuck in a very difficult position. The Yankees need him because he plays positions where they have some age and injury concerns, but they also don’t want to sit the guys they have at those positions if at all possible. Perhaps Ackley can figure out a way to thrive in this role. That will be a big challenge, however.

Changeup was a big help for Pineda against the Athletics

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

Tuesday night Michael Pineda turned in his best start of the young season, holding the admittedly offensively challenged Athletics to two runs in six innings. He had a long second inning thanks to some grounders that beat the shift, but otherwise the A’s didn’t put too much pressure on him. Big Mike had to grind through his previous starts against the Astros and Blue Jays.

“I thought he threw the ball pretty well tonight,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand after the game. “I thought he mixed his pitches. I thought his slider had good depth tonight. Sometimes too much, but that’s okay. I thought he threw the ball pretty well.”

As usual, Pineda attacked hitters with (cut) fastballs and sliders last night. That’s Pineda. He’s a fastball/slider guy. They’re his bread and butter. But, for the first time this season, Big Mike also leaned on his changeup Tuesday night, throwing eleven of them overall. He threw 12 changeups total in his first two starts.

“I’m feeling pretty good today on the mound,” said Pineda to Chad Jennings following his start. “I have better command today with my pitches. I’m doing good. The changeup is working good tonight and my slider too.”

Pineda threw ten of those eleven changeups to left-handed batters and he threw it to both start at-bats (two first pitch changeups) and finish hitters off (six when ahead in the count). The A’s put three of the eleven changeups in play (all outs) and only one went for a ball. That all sounds good, but look at the location (via Brooks Baseball):

Michael Pineda location

That’s a lot of blue dots out over the plate, and while it’s natural to think pitches in the zone are bad, that’s not necessarily the case. The entire point of the changeup is to disrupt timing. As long as the hitter is out in front and unable to square up the pitch, the changeup is effective. Sometimes they make contact and get a ball to dunk in for a hit. That’s just baseball being baseball.

Pineda threw those 12 total changeups in his first two starts and hitters took seven of them for balls. (Carlos Correa smashed another one off the damn restaurant in center field.) That’s not great. The changeup doesn’t help much if it doesn’t entice hitters to swing, not unless the plan is to sneak it by everyone for a called strike. I can’t imagine that would work long-term.

There is a balance to be struck here. Ideally Pineda would continue to use his changeup regularly and be able to get hitters to chase after it without throwing it over the heart of the plate. That’s hard! Command is not easy. If it was, everyone would have it. Pineda’s been working on his changeup since the Yankees acquired him — the shoulder injury threw a wrench into things — and he’s still working on it. It’s hardly a finished product.

After barely throwing his changeup in his first two starts, Pineda leaned on the pitch against the A’s last night, and it helped him have his best outing of the season. The change is never going to become his No. 1 weapon, his fastball and slider are too good, but using it often enough to keep hitters guessing could help Big Mike find some sustained success, something he continues to chase in pinstripes.