Subtle change helped Ackley unlock power potential in September

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

When the Yankees acquired Dustin Ackley at the trade deadline, they continued their recent trend of bringing in talented players who had fallen out of favor with their former teams. Ackley was a former tippy top prospect — Baseball America ranked him the No. 12 prospect in baseball in 2011 — who flopped, so the Yankees were able to get him for two players the Mariners have already traded elsewhere.

At worst, Ackley was going to be a more versatile Garrett Jones. Jones was the lefty hitting part-time outfielder/part-time first baseman who never played. Ackley would do the same, except add in the ability to play center field and second base, if necessary. Plus he’s seven years younger and had two additional years of team control remaining. Considering what the Yankees gave up, the move made total sense.

Ackley ended up having a nice impact down the stretch in September, going 13-for-40 (.325) with two doubles, two triples, and four homers in the final three weeks of the season. The Yankees needed all the offense they could get at the time, so Ackley played, mostly at second base but also some first base. Small sample size? Oh yes. Those three weeks could have been a total mirage. At least one person thinks Ackley’s big finish was for real though.

“(Former hitting coach Jeff Pentland) and I saw this pretty much the first BP session,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell to Chad Jennings earlier this offseason. “He was coming off his back side going out to get the baseball, and it’s tough to hit when you’ve got something coming at you 95 and you’re going towards it. So, Pent and I were in agreement; we were going to get him to stay on his back side a little bit longer. Stay behind the ball a little bit more.”

Cockrell does have some history with Ackley. He was the Mariners hitting coach from December 2008 until May 2010, and Ackley was drafted in 2009, so the two worked together in some post-draft workouts and also during Spring Training in 2010. It’s not much, but there was some familiarity there, and that’s better than going in blind. Ackley was the No. 2 pick in the country, remember. Cockrell saw him at the peak of his prospect status.

“I saw Dustin when he was drafted out of the University of North Carolina … He could impact the baseball, and he was in a good position behind the ball. Had good hands and uses the whole field and the ball comes off his bat with a little different sound for a guy his size,” added Cockrell. “(We needed to) stabilize his movement going forward and keeping him behind the ball a little bit and give him some room to let the hands get the barrel to the ball. And he literally got it in one or two cage sessions. When that started to happen it was a big bat for us down the end.”

I don’t speak hitting coach, though it sounds like Cockrell is saying the Yankees wanted Ackley to stay back a little longer. Let the pitch travel a little deeper before attacking. That sound right? I could be totally wrong here. Anyway, here’s a look at Ackley’s swing with the Mariners from earlier this season and his swing with the Yankees. Brad Boxberger is on the mound in both GIFs, so they’re synced up based on when he starts his delivery.

Dustin Ackley swings then and now

I see … nothing. The two swings look exactly the same to me. It’s always amazed me players and hitting coaches can look at a swing and see something that isn’t right. Same deal with pitching coaches. They can pick up the littlest things in real time. I guess that’s why they make the big bucks.

I looked at the two GIFs frame by frame to see if I could pick anything up, and this is what I found:

Dustin Ackley foot landing

In the frame on the left, Ackley’s front foot is down completely. At the same moment based on Boxberger’s delivery, Ackley’s foot is just beginning to touch down in the frame on the right. That at least suggests Ackley waited just a tiny bit longer before starting his swing in the frame on the right. That’s what Cockrell was talking about. (I think.)

* * *

Update: A commenter noted Ackley’s front foot landed closer to the pitcher while with the Mariners. I’m not sure if he’s taking a smaller stride or simply moved back in the batter’s box. Moving back could also be designed to allow him to wait a little longer before swinging.

* * *

While with the Mariners this year, Ackley had a 16.9% soft contact rate and a 30.5% hard contact rate. The league averages were 18.6% and 28.6% this season, respectively. With the Yankees he had a 13.0% soft contact rate and a 43.5% hard contact rate, so the difference was substantial. Ackley’s time in pinstripes was absolutely a small sample. This also happened though. There’s no taking it back. Ackley hit the ball way harder with the Yankees.

Is the increased hard hit rate the result of staying back on the ball better, and is it something that carry over to next season? That’s what we’re all wondering. I’ve done enough of these mechanical change posts to know most of them amount to nothing. This is more of a timing change than a mechanical change, but whatever. Same difference.

The Starlin Castro pickup means Ackley will open next season as a bench player, which is for the best. Let him show September was real before entrusting him with more playing time. The Yankees took a shot on Ackley’s talent at the trade deadline and he rewarded them in September. Now the Yankees will see if he can be a long-term asset.

Mailbag: Phillies, Betances, Hill, Granderson, Severino

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Our email address is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send us questions, comments, links, or anything else there. We get a lot of questions each week, so don’t get discouraged if yours isn’t picked. I only know the answer to so many.

Nola. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Nola. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Jesse asks: Any potential for a trade with the Phillies? They could really use another outfielder and definitely have room for extra bullpen help as well, and they’ve got Nola, Morgan, and Eickhoff for young starters.

I do think it’s possible even though the Phillies are a rebuilding team and are going to want young players in return, not Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller. (They traded Ben Revere at the deadline and Ken Giles earlier this offseason, remember.) The Phillies need a little of everything, and right now the Yankees have all kinds of extra relievers and outfielders to offer.

Aaron Nola is the real prize to me, though I have a hard time believing the Phillies would trade their best young starter — and their 2014 first round pick (seventh overall) — for anything less than a significant return. This isn’t a Slade Heathcott and Ivan Nova kinda trade. Start with Aaron Judge and someone like Bryan Mitchell, then tack on more from there. Judge plus Mitchell is probably light as a starting point too. Nola is their Luis Severino.

Jared Eickhoff, who came over from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, had a strong MLB debut last season (2.65 ERA and 3.25 FIP) that is way out of line with his projections as a prospect. Lots of people are high on him but I’m not sold. I’d take him on the Yankees, sure, though I feel like the asking price would exceed the expected production. Adam Morgan doesn’t interest me at all. His stuff hasn’t come close to bouncing all the way back from shoulder surgery a few years ago.

Eickhoff and especially Nola are the two young Phillies starters to target. Philadelphia looks at them as building blocks for the rotation going forward and will surely want a hefty return. They’re not going to acquire these guys as part of their rebuild only to trade them as part of the same rebuild, you know? Pick up the phone and make the call, but unless the Yankees are open to moving one of their so-called untouchables (Severino, Judge, Greg Bird, etc.), I’m not sure it’s doable.

Steve asks: Now that the Yankees have 3 closer type relievers, do you think the Yankees will try Dellin Betances as a starter again or is that permanently out of the question now that he is an elite reliever? Dellin’s improved control may allow him to succeed as a starter.

This ship has sailed for me. Betances credits his improved control on moving to the bullpen and pitching more often, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk to move him back to the rotation. That has Daniel Bard 2.0 written all over it. Remember, Dellin had a 15.5% walk rate in 158 minor league innings as a starter from 2012-13. We’re not talking about a guy who struggled to paint the corners here. He lacked basic strike throwing ability. I can understand the temptation to move Betances back to the rotation, but I think it’s way too risky at this point. Being one of the best relievers on the planet is a nice consolation prize.

Hill. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Hill. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Mike asks: I saw you mention Taylor Hill as a possible target on Twitter. What’s his deal?

The Nationals designated Hill for assignment earlier this week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Stephen Drew. As I said on Twitter, I think he’s worth a waiver claim to serve as some team’s seventh or eighth starter. I only see Hill as a depth guy, really. He has at least one minor league option left and he can definitely start because of his control and four-pitch mix.

Hill, 26, spent most of this past season in Triple-A with Washington, where he had a 5.23 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 118.2 innings. His walk rate (5.4%) was very good but he didn’t miss many bats (12.9%). Hill’s got a low-90s heater and the three standard issue secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup), the best of which is the slider. He’s also said to be an aggressive guy who pitches inside because he knows he has to keep hitters honest to succeed.

As it stands right now, the Yankees have Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green as their depth starters behind the top six guys, and Mitchell could easily wind up in the bullpen. If Hill hits waivers and they Yankees can bring him in as an extra layer of depth, great. It costs nothing and they have the 40-man space the moment. If the Nationals trade Hill or another team claims him first, so be it. Hill’s a super low cost pickup for Triple-A, that’s all.

Cory asks: Any plans for the Yankees to convert Cito Culver to pitcher to *maybe* get some value out of him?

Not that I’m aware of. Culver, who is still somehow only 23, has hit .223/.302/.310 (77 wRC+) in his last 2,080 minor league plate appearances now, with no real sign of progress. He’s still a really good defender at short, but what good is that if he can’t even be a replacement level hitter? Culver has a strong arm and he did pitch some in high school, reportedly touching the mid-90s. It’s clear at this point his chances of being anything more than an organizational player as an infielder are tiny. I think it’s time to try Cito on the mound, but what do I know. We don’t have all the information.

P.J. asks: I think I already know the answer to this but I would like your perspective. Lets suppose CC Sabathia muddles along in 2016 he stays relatively healthy but not very productive. His 2017 option would still vest BUT what would you put at the chances of him voluntarily retiring at the end of the 2016 season and forgoing his 2017 season?

Not zero, but very close to it. I know a few players have retired in the middle of their contracts recently — Michael Cuddyer did it this offseason, Gil Meche a few years ago — but they are the exception, not the rule. There’s a reason it’s such a big deal when something like that happens. It’s because it never happens. Sabathia would be walking away from $25M ($25M!) by retiring next winter. I know he’s made an obscene amount of money in his career, but man, $25M? That’s money for his kids and his kids’ kids and his kids’ kids’ kids. People say it’s honorable when players retire in the middle of their contract and walk away from millions of dollars. I think it’s kinda dumb.

John asks: I know you always say one should never grade (or assess) a trade until several years after the trade has been completed. With that being said, what “grade” would you give the Yankees on the Granderson trade? I generally like this trade for the Yankees and give them a B, possibly a B+.

This is the short version of John’s question. In his email, he noted the three players the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson (Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke) combined for 30.2 WAR with their teams following the trade — most of that comes from Jackson’s defense — while Granderson gave the Yankees 14.3 WAR. WAR says the Yankees lost the trade, but getting 30.2 WAR from three rosters spots is much different than getting 14.3 WAR from one roster spot.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Miss you, Curtis. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

At the time of the trade the Yankees needed a lefty bat to replace Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who were allowed to leave as free agents. The goal was to add that bat and also get more athletic and better defensively, which they did. Jackson was expendable because the Yankees had Gardner. Holding onto Gardner and trading Jackson proved to be the right move. Kennedy is the cost of doing business because Jackson had not yet played in MLB at the time of the trade. Coke? Who cares. Middle relievers are always expendable.

I think giving the trade a B is fair. You can stretch and call it a B+ because I think even the Yankees would tell you Granderson was better than expected. I doubt they were projecting two 40+ dinger seasons. The goal was to add an impact bat without dealing anything significant off the MLB roster, and the Yankees did that. The Diamondbacks got the short end of the stick because they gave up Max Scherzer in that trade, but, overall, I think it was a win-win for the Yankees and Tigers.

Travis asks: Since the next wave of free agent shortstops are terrible (the list according to MLBTR is, Aybar/Descalso/Drew with Alcides and Yunel Escobar having club options), could the Yankees switch Starlin Castro to SS and use Didi Gregorius to nab a young SP? Could a package similar or better than what ATL got from LAA work?

Interesting idea. I hadn’t though of that. I don’t think the Yankees would do it — I think they see Castro as a second baseman going forward, not a shortstop — but it wouldn’t hurt to explore the market, right? Off the top of my head, teams in need of a young shortstop include the Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Pirates, and Padres. Maybe even the Dodgers if they think Corey Seager’s better suited for third base long-term.

I have a hard time thinking a trade with the Rays will happen, so cross them off the list. The Pirates don’t really have a young starter to offer (Gerrit Cole ain’t happening) and neither do the A’s (ditto Sonny Gray). That leaves the White Sox (Jose Quintana? Carlos Rodon?) and Padres (Tyson Ross?). I’d love love love the Yankees to get their hands on Quintana or Rodon, and if a package featuring Didi and some pieces (Judge? Gary Sanchez? Rob Refsnyder?) can get it done, wouldn’t the Yankees have to at least consider that? Interesting idea.

R.J. asks: I’m wondering where we currently stand with the 40-man roster as of the Chapman trade? Who do you think will get the last few spots? Can you see Cashman saving a spot for a midseason call up for Judge?

Right now the Yankees have three open spots on the 40-man roster, which is kinda crazy because they came into the offseason with a logjam. The various trades have cleared up the 40-man clutter. I’m sure the Yankees will end up using one or two of those spots this offseason through a trade or waiver claim or something. I don’t think they’re specifically saving a spot for Judge though. They’ll make room for him whenever he’s ready to come up. They’re not going to not make a move just because they want a 40-man spot for Judge at an undetermined point in the future.

Daniel asks: Assuming the they don’t sign any QO free agents, where do you think the Yankees eventually pick in the first round? Angels and Orioles seem like good bets to sign a QO free agent, with the Astros and the Red Sox if they make a corresponding trade are other possibilities. Thanks RAB!

As our Draft Order page shows, the Yankees currently hold the 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft. They came into the offseason with the 22nd pick, then moved up three spots thanks to the Jeff Samardzija, Daniel Murphy, and Zack Greinke signings. The Yankees will move up more if the Mariners, Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Indians, Twins, Angels, or Astros sign a qualified free agent.

I agree the Orioles and Angels are the most likely of those clubs to sign a qualified free agent. The O’s have been connected to Yovani Gallardo this offseason, and they could also turn to Justin Upton if they lose Chris Davis. The Angels seem like a potential landing spot for Upton or Howie Kendrick. Maybe Dexter Fowler too. It seems like the 17th pick is the best case scenario for the Yankees. I don’t think they can realistically move higher than that. Going from 22nd to 19th in an offseason is pretty good as it is. Hard not to be happy with that.

And he never played the field again. (Rob Carr/Getty)
And he never played the field again. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Alex asks: What about A-Rod as the backup 3B?

Not happening at this point. The Yankees insist Alex Rodriguez is a DH and a DH only at this point because they don’t want to risk him breaking down physically by playing the field. I’m not even sure A-Rod could play a passable third base at this point of his career anyway. He’s 40 years old and has two surgically repaired hips. He’s barely able to run the bases. Playing the field seems impossible. I wish they’d try A-Rod at first base now and then, but it’s not happening. He’s a DH.

Anthony asks: I am worried that expectations are too high for Luis Severino in 2016. Most young pitchers struggle after a successful debut. The sophomore slump is a real thing. What do you think he does this year? Will fans be patient when he struggles?

Let’s use ZiPS as a conversation starter. The system pegs Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher at the moment. I, personally, would consider that pretty successful for a 22-year-old in his first full season as a big league starter, especially since he’ll be pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium and most of his road games in other hitter friendly AL East ballparks.

I suspect many people would be disappointed by that kind of performance though. Most fans are more apt to say they’re willing to be patient than, you know, actually be patient. The big leagues are really hard and the Yankees moved Severino up the ladder very quickly — he’s already thrown more MLB innings (62.1) than Triple-A innings (61.1), and nearly as many MLB innings as Double-A innings (63) — so some growing pains would not be unexpected. As long as the Yankees are patient, it doesn’t matter whether the fans are.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, the Royals signed former Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang to a minor league contract, according to Jeff Passan. He gets a $1M base salary in the big leagues plus a bunch of incentives. Wang, now 35, has not pitched in MLB since 2013 — he’s spent the last two years in Triple-A with the Reds, White Sox, Braves, and Mariners — and he owns a 6.60 ERA (5.17 FIP) in 163.2 big league innings since hurting his foot running the bases in Houston in 2008. Sucks. Little did we know that was final day as an effective pitcher. Hope CMW gets back to the show in 2016.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team in action, though there’s some college hoops on as well. You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.

(The video is every pitch from Wang’s big league debut in 2005. How cool is that? Here’s the box score.)

Report: Yankees sign infielder Donovan Solano to minor league contract

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The Yankees have signed infielder Donovan Solano to a minor league contract, according to a report from El Heraldo in Colombia (translated article). A hat tip goes out to longtime reader Ramon De Valencia for passing this along. Solano received an invitation to big league Spring Training.

Solano, 28, originally signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent out of Colombia back in 2005. He hooked on with the Marlins during the 2011-12 offseason and has been with Miami since. The Yankees have never had a Colombian born player in their history. Solano would be the first.

In 361 big league games, all with the Marlins, Solano is a career .257/.307/.328 (75 wRC+) hitter with eight home runs, eleven steals, a 16.9% strikeout rate, and a 5.6% walk rate in 1,145 plate appearances. He’s a right-handed hitter with a career .236/.274/.302 (57 wRC+) line against left-handers.

Solano came up as a middle infielder and has played the three non-first base infield positions extensively. He’s also spent time in left field. Solano could be in the mix for the last bench spot, though I think he’s likely destined for Triple-A Scranton, where they really need infielders after Tony Renda, Eric Jagielo, and Jose Pirela were traded away.

Hicks, Ackley, and Sanchez poised to give the Yankees a strong bench in 2016

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Over the last few seasons benches have become a critical piece of a baseball team. Platoons are widespread, and with amphetamines (“greenies”) now on the banned substances list, players need a little more rest throughout the season. The bench used to be full of guys who only played when the starters got hurt. Now they’re full of players with strategic roles.

Quality benches can be hard to build, especially for a big market team like the Yankees, who have a roster loaded with big name (and big contract) players. No free agent bench player wants to sign with New York because they’re worried they won’t get much playing time. I don’t blame them. Look at Garrett Jones last season. He never played because Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were healthy and productive.

The Yankees have had to grow their own reserve players or acquire them in trades over the last two decades or so. Either that or pick up reclamation project veterans and hope for the best. Think Darryl Strawberry and Eric Chavez. Same idea, just 16 years apart. Bench players are like relievers though. They do their work in inherently small samples, and their performance is very volatile from one year to the next.

Next season, the Yankees figure to carry three players capable of providing some thump off the bench in Gary Sanchez, Dustin Ackley, and Aaron Hicks. Sanchez is homegrown and the other two guys came over in the trades. The Yankees still have an open bench spot too, and depending how they feel about Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third, they could go in one of several different directions with that spot.

All three players will serve specific roles next season. Sanchez, who I must point out is not a lock for the backup catcher’s job, will likely give Brian McCann a rest against tough lefties thanks to his right-handed power. John Ryan Murphy was really awesome last season, but he doesn’t have Sanchez’s power. Sanchez is a threat to hit the ball out of the park every time he steps to the plate against a southpaw.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Ackley showed the kind of left-handed pull power that plays well in Yankee Stadium following the trade last year — he pulled six of his ten homers last summer, including all four with the Yankees (three at Yankee Stadium) — and his versatility means he’s an option in the outfield as well as at first and second bases. As we saw with Jones though, Ackley could wind up getting less playing time than expected if the veteran starters produce.

Hicks is the new addition to the bench after coming over from the Twins in the Murphy trade. He’s a switch-hitter and a high-end athlete with excellent defensive chops. Chris Young was an awesome fourth outfielder last season, though I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect him to repeat that performance. Hicks is a better defender and he hit southpaws hard himself last year (139 wRC+), and there are signs he may be on the verge of a breakout.

“I think Hicks has a chance to help (the veterans) in spelling them and keeping them healthy and strong,” said Joe Girardi in the Winter Meetings last month. Girardi and Brian Cashman have both indicated they see Hicks as an everyday type player who will play a lot going forward. (Young batted 356 times last year, remember. The fourth outfielder gets a lot of work.) He’s going to start against lefties and play defense in the late innings at a minimum.

Last year the Yankees appeared to have a very strong and powerful bench thanks to Young and Jones, two veterans with pop. Young worked out, Jones didn’t. So it goes. Hicks and Ackley add much more athleticism to the roster and more versatility as well, without sacrificing much offensive production, if any. I think there’s a chance going from Murphy to Sanchez will be a step down next year, but Sanchez at least offers big upside. Growing pains are part of development.

The trio of Sanchez, Ackley, and Hicks are poised the give the Yankees a very strong bench with power, speed, athleticism, and defense. (For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects them for 4.4 WAR combined.) There’s some real upside with this group, which is usually not the case with bench guys. That doesn’t mean they’ll all work out, benches are weird like that, but the Yankees are in the middle of this quasi-rebuild, and part of it is upgrading the reserves. It’s not often the Bombers have carried bench players with this sort of potential.

Yankees need Michael Pineda and his improved changeup to emerge as rotation anchor in 2016

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

When the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners four years ago, he was a 22-year-old kid coming off a very good rookie season who also had room for improvement. Pineda possessed a rare combination of power and precision. He had mid-90s heat and a wipeout slider, both of which he commanded very well. The command is what separated him from other young hurlers.

Shoulder surgery put Pineda’s career and development on hold. He didn’t pitch at all in 2012 and barely pitched in 2013. It wasn’t until 2014 that Big Mike actually appeared in a game for the Yankees. (He pitched in the minors in 2013.) Everything the Yankees wanted to work on with Pineda was put on the back burner, specifically his changeup. He wasn’t healthy and he didn’t pitch for almost two years. How could he work on developing a pitch?

Pineda, who will turn 27 in less than two weeks, was able to stay reasonably healthy this past season, throwing 160.2 innings in 27 starts. The results were disappointing (4.37 ERA and 90 ERA+) but Pineda did show flashes of brilliance, such as the 16-strikeout game and his 3.34 FIP. His strikeout (23.4%) and walk (3.1%) rates were excellent, and, for the first time in his career, his ground ball rate (48.2%) was above-average.

Back in 2011 Pineda generated a ground ball on only 36.3% of balls in play, which is very low. It was 39.1% during his brief big league stint in 2014. Pineda’s improved changeup appears to be the key to all those ground balls in 2015 — he threw the pitch only 6.2% of the time in 2011. Last year it was 11.4%. This is the changeup Pineda takes to the mound with him these days:

Michael Pineda changeup

That one randomly selected changeup was elevated a bit, but the hitter was way out in front, and that’s kinda the point of a changeup. Pineda has definitely gained consistency with the pitch and it appears he has more confidence in it as well. That confidence part is really important. Remember how Nathan Eovaldi took off once he began to feel comfortable with his splitter and use it regularly? It makes a big difference.

Last season the ball ended up on the ground 60.7% of the time when batters put Pineda’s changeup in play. Back in 2011 that number was only 42.9%. The league average for changeups has hovered around 47% the last few years. Pineda rarely threw his changeup four years ago, and when he did throw it, he didn’t get ground balls. Now he throws the pitch fairly regularly and it gets grounders. It’s no wonder why his overall ground ball rate spiked.

Pineda credits Felix Hernandez for helping improve his changeup — “I have learned a lot from (Felix). He has treated me very well, which I appreciate a lot,” he said to Geoff Baker back in 2011 — but it was the Yankees who got him to refine the pitch and have more confidence in it. After all, Pineda and Felix haven’t been teammates for five years now. Hernandez helped him early in the process. The Yankees did the rest of the work.

Adding ground balls to Pineda’s strikeout and walk rates is really exciting, though, as we saw last year, it doesn’t always lead to the best results. Big Mike was pretty hittable and I think at least part of that is due to him being around the plate so much. Pineda might be one of those guys who throws too many strikes. He could benefit from throwing some more two-strike waste pitches. Not everything needs to be over the plate, you know?

Anyway, even with all those hits allowed last season (176 hits in 160.2 innings), I’ll take my chances with Pineda if he continues to limit walks while racking up strikeouts and ground balls like he did last summer. The changeup helps him keep the ball on the ground, which is huge in Yankee Stadium and the AL East in general. And now that he’s developed that third pitch, the Yankees really need Pineda to emerge as a rotation anchor.

It’s no secret the Yankees have a bunch of health risks in their rotation — Pineda’s one of them! — and they don’t have much quality depth either, not with Adam Warren now on Chicago’s north side. Pineda is the only guy in the rotation who really stands out as having the potential to be much better in 2016 than he was in 2015. He’s creeping up on free agency too, remember. Big Mike has a chance to make himself some big bucks the next two years.

The Yankees acquired Pineda hoped he’d be at the front of their rotation by now. The shoulder injury threw a big wrench into everything, but right now he’s as healthy as he’s going to get, and he’s developed that changeup into a legitimate third pitch. The Yankees need Pineda to use that changeup to step up and become a rotation leader next season. It’s time.

Gordon’s deal a reminder the Yankees have Gardner on very favorable terms

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Yesterday morning, the first of the still unsigned big name free agent outfielders came off the board. The Royals re-signed Alex Gordon, their longest tenured player, to a four-year contract worth $72M. The deal includes a mutual option for a fifth year and deferrals to help the team add some more pieces this offseason.

I thought Gordon had a chance to get $100M this offseason, though his age (32 in February) and the fact he’s not a big time power producer hurt his case for nine figures. Gordon’s simply a very good all-around player who does a little of everything. He’s something of an icon in Kansas City and going back to the Royals made sense for both sides.

The Yankees have their own version of Gordon in Brett Gardner, at least in terms of on-field ability. Gardner does not have the same kind of marquee value as Gordon, who is more or less the face of the Royals’ recent revival. The two are similar on-field players though. They both do a little of everything and have their greatest impact defensively.

Here’s a real quick side-by-side comparison of Gardner and Gordon from 2013-15. They’re both 32-ish — Gardner turned 32 in August and is six months older than Gordon — and they’re both left fielders, so this is a nice apples to apples comparison.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR-SB BB% K% BsR fWAR bWAR
Gardner 1,901 .262/.338/.412 109 41-65 9.3% 20.8% 14.9 9.4 11.6
Gordon 1,765 .267/.348/.428 115 52-25 9.4% 20.3% 12.2 13.1 13.6

Gordon’s the better player and I’m not sure anyone would argue otherwise. They are pretty darn similar though, right? Gordon has been the slightly better hitter and Gardner the slightly better base-runner. If you’re still hung up on Gardner’s second half, well, Gordon had an 89 wRC+ in the second half last year and missed time with a groin injury. Heck, Gordon’s injury opened the door for Gardner to make the All-Star Team.

If you’re focusing on the WAR totals, the difference between Gordon and Gardner the last three years basically amounts to whatever the defensive stats are spitting out, and we know how sketchy those can be. Gordon is undeniably great in the field. Gardner’s pretty awesome too though. For whatever reason UZR has been hating on Yankees outfielders since the new Yankee Stadium opened. It is what it is.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Anyway, yes, Gordon is the better player but Gardner is pretty good too, and Gordon’s new contract helps give us an idea of what Gardner is worth these days. He has three years and $37.5M left on his contract. It’s four years and $50M if his option is exercised. Gordon just received $72M over four years, so the total guaranteed money left on his contract is nearly double what’s left on Gardner’s deal.

Is Gordon twice as good as Gardner? No, of course not. That’s what happens when one player signs his contract as a free agent and the other signs his contract as an extension a year before he hits the open market. Lots of teams out there need outfield help — the Tigers, Giants, Orioles, and Nationals jump to mind — and if they want a player comparable to Gardner, they’ll have to commit almost twice as much money as the Yankees owe the actual Brett Gardner.

The Yankees have been listening to offers for Gardner all offseason because in this market he is, absolutely, a bargain. He’s budget friendly relatively to what it would cost to get similar production on the open market. The Yankees have a lot of outfield depth and it makes sense to see what Gardner can fetch in a trade. So far they haven’t received any offers to their liking, so Brett remains with the team. That’s fine with me.

It’s become clear the market — what teams are willing (and able) to pay for talent — is ahead of where most of us think it is as fans. Players like Gordon and Gardner, the solid above-average guys who aren’t true stars, are getting close to $17M or $18M a year in free agency. The Yankees have Gardner on really favorable terms, and I see that as reason to both keep him and explore the trade market.