End of offensive slump has to start at the top of the lineup


By know you know the numbers. The Yankees were held to one run during their three-game series against the Blue Jays — that run was scored on a cheap Yankee Stadium homer too — leading to back-to-back shutouts on Saturday and Sunday. They were held to three singles in each of those two games. It was ugly. The offense scored 90 runs in ten games and then four runs in their next five games. Baseball, man.

The slump won’t last forever, we all know that, but the Yankees need it to end sooner rather than later to hold off the Blue Jays. The entire team stunk at the plate over the weekend, you can’t really point your finger at one or two culprits, but it’s clear who the Yankees need to get going the most: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. We saw it earlier this year. Those two are game-changers atop the lineup.

The numbers are not pretty. Ellsbury went 0-for-12 with a walk in the series against the Blue Jays while Gardner went 2-for-8 (.250) with a walk. (Gardner sat in favor of Chris Young against David Price.) You’re usually not going to score many runs when the top two hitters in your lineup combine to reach base four times in a three-game series. The numbers since the All-Star break aren’t much better.

Ellsbury: .170/.216/.330 (43 wRC+) with 22.2 K% and 5.1 BB% in 99 plate appearances
Gardner: .206/.329/.265 (74 wRC+) with 20.2 K% and 13.1 BB% in 84 plate appearances

That’s a combined 183 plate appearances of gross from the two table-setters in the second half. Ellsbury and Gardner haven’t even attempted a stolen base since the break — that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is notable — and even with Gardner’s nice walk rate, No. 3 hitter Alex Rodriguez has batted with a runner on base in just 34 of his 92 plate appearances in the second half, or 37%. It was 167 of 348 in the first half (48%). The AL average this year is 42%.

Gardner has a history of performing better in the first half — he’s a career .283/.360/.421 (116 wRC+) hitter before the All-Star break and .242/.332/.359 (91 wRC+) after — though his second half performance this year is more of slump than a “this guy really sucks in the second half” thing. The chances of him hitting .206 with a .265 SLG the rest of the way are pretty damn small. Yes, he is a better hitter in the first half, and no, his performance these last few weeks is not his true talent level.

Ellsbury’s second half performance is a little more concerning just because he’s hasn’t really hit since coming back from his knee injury. It’s more of a “he hasn’t hit since coming off the DL” thing as opposed to a “he hasn’t hit in the second half” thing. The All-Star break is a convenient reference point but it is pretty arbitrary. Coming back from an injury isn’t really arbitrary. We’re talk about a player being physically compromised. Gardner’s been bad since the All-Star break. Ellsbury’s been bad since coming off the DL. There’s a difference.

It’s impossible to know whether the knee injury is having an impact on Ellsbury right now. It could just be a slump! Who knows? Ellsbury is not necessarily injury prone, but he does have a history of getting hurt and staying hurt longer than expected. Perhaps the knee injury is lingering and hurting him at the plate. It might even be a mental thing. The knee is healthy but he’s changed his hitting mechanics to protect it. Something like that. It happens all the time, often subconsciously.

If the knee is behind Ellsbury’s slump, well that could be either good or bad depending on how you want to look at it. It would be good in the sense that he has not lost any skills and will eventually get over the injury. We know what to point to. It would be bad in the sense that, uh, when will get over it? Injuries have a way of explaining things and making them more scary at the same time, especially a leg injury for a speed guy.

Regardless of whether Ellsbury’s knee is causing his current slump, he and Gardner have not produced in the second half, and that’s something that needs to change for the offense to get back on track. The Yankees dominated offensively for a few weeks earlier this season because those two guys were on base every other inning, it seemed. The sooner they get back on track — even just one of them getting on track would help — the sooner the offense gets back to normal.

8/11 to 8/13 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

Official photo of Yankees-Indians series previews. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Official photo of Yankees-Indians series previews. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Indians are the only AL team the Yankees have yet to play this season, and that’ll change today, with the first of three games in Cleveland. This is the start of a six-game road trip for the Yankees and the first of 16 games in 16 days.

What Have The Indians Done Lately?

The Tribe took two of three from the fading Twins at home over the weekend and they’ve won three of their last five games overall. I picked the Indians to go to the World Series! So, naturally, they are in the AL Central cellar and way out of the wildcard race at 51-59 with a -21 run differential. Not this year, Cleveland.

Offense & Defense

The Indians have failed to meet expectations in many ways this season, including offensively. They’re a slightly below-average club that is scoring 4.02 runs per game with a team 99 wRC+. Cleveland is missing 2B Jason Kipnis (146 wRC+), who is having an incredible season, but had to be placed on the DL last week with a shoulder issue. He’s out this series. The Yankees catch a bit of a break there.

Brantley. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Brantley. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Manager Terry Francona’s lineup is led by OF Michael Brantley (137 wRC+), who was a legitimate MVP candidate last year and has been merely excellent this season. 1B Carlos Santana (109 wRC+) is the team’s only other reliably above-average everyday hitter. UTIL Ryan Raburn (137 wRC+) has performed well in a platoon role and C Roberto Perez (111 wRC+) is a productive backup catcher, but that’s really it. No one else still on the team has been above-average at the plate in 2015.

Top prospect SS Francisco Lindor (88 wRC+ in limited time) and 3B Giovanny Urshela (79 wRC+) were called up a few weeks ago and form the new-look left side of the infield. IF Jose Ramirez (61 wRC+) is filling for Kipnis at second and Brantley is currently joined by former Yankees farmhand OF Abe Almonte (106 wRC+ in very limited time) and UTIL Jerry Sands (102 wRC+) in the outfield. They traded Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Brandon Moss within the last two weeks or so. C Yan Gomes (72 wRC+), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (70 wRC+) and IF Chris Johnson (75 wRC+) are also on the roster.

Aside from Lindor and Urshela, who are top notch glove men, the Indians have a brutal team defense. Well, it has gotten better with Almonte playing center and Ramirez filling in at second, but otherwise this one of the worst defensive clubs in baseball. Santana, Sands, Brantley … all below-average in the field. Hit it anywhere but the left side of the infield.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. CLE) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (vs. NYY)
The 28-year-old Carrasco was reportedly on the market before the trade deadline and there was a ton of interest, but the Tribe decided to keep him. Carrasco has a 3.76 ERA (2.82 FIP) in 22 starts and 136.1 innings this season with excellent strikeout (27.1%), walk (5.2%), grounder (51.7%), and homer (0.79 HR/9) rates. He’s also owed just $19M from 2016-18 with affordable club options for 2019 and 2020. So yeah, easy to see why teams wanted him and why the Indians kept him. Carrasco has a weird reverse split (.302 vs. .271 wOBA in favor righties) and did last year as well. He’s a five-pitch pitcher though it’s really more like a four and a half pitch pitcher. He sits in the mid-90s with both his two and four-seam fastball and in the upper-80s with both his changeup and slider. Carrasco also throws a low-80s curveball on occasion, which is his fifth pitch. If it wasn’t clear, this dude is a power pitcher. Don’t be fooled by the ERA. Blame the defense for that. Carrasco is very good.

Wednesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (vs. NYY)
The Indians have nothing but power pitchers in their rotation and Salazar might throw the hardest out of all of ’em. The 25-year-old has a 3.38 ERA (3.46 FIP) in 20 starts and 125.1 innings this season, and both his strikeout (28.1%) and walk (6.9%) rates are dynamite. His grounder (45.0%) and homer (1.15 HR/9) numbers aren’t too eye-popping though. Salazar has a tiny platoon split (.286 vs. 281 wOBA in favor of lefties) which isn’t too surprising because he’s a fastball/changeup pitcher. His four-seamer sits mid-90s and will touch 98-99, and his changeup is a mid-80s offering. Huge difference in velocity. Salazar also throws a mid-80s slider but not often, less than 10% of the time this season.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (vs. NYY)
Bauer, 24, is a classic enigma pitcher with tremendous stuff but infuriating inconsistency. He has a 4.06 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 22 starts and 137.1 innings on the year, but aside from his strikeout rate, his peripherals aren’t all that good: 23.8 K%, 9.6 BB%, 39.0 GB%, and 1.38 HR/9. Righties (.308 wOBA) have been insignificantly more successful against him than lefties (.306 wOBA). Bauer is a power kitchen sink guy, if that makes sense. He throws hard and will throw just about anything. Low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, low-80s sliders, and upper-70s curveballs. He favors the four-seamer over the two-seamer but has thrown all six pitches at least 9% of the time in 2015.

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Indians had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get. Closer RHP Cody Allen (4.06 ERA/2.04 FIP) recovered from a brutal start to the season, and these days his primary setup man is former Yankees farmhand RHP Zach McAllister (2.89/2.50), who has found a home in the bullpen. I thought that might happen.

LHP Kyle Crockett (2.57/4.53) is Francona’s lone lefty reliever. RHP Bryan Shaw (1.99/3.91), RHP Austin Adams (3.22/3.50), RHP Shawn Armstrong (one inning this year), RHP Jeff Manship (1.56/3.16), and RHP Ryan Webb (2.70/4.03) are the other righty relievers. They’re carrying eight relievers right now because they only have a four-man rotation — Cody Anderson landed on the DL not too long ago and they’ve been able to skip that rotation spot thanks to off-days. Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the Yanks’ bullpen. Check out Let’s Go Tribe and The DiaTribe for the latest on the Indians.

Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

"Remember to download Portalball, everyone!" That's P-O-R..." (Presswire)
“Remember to download Portalball, everyone!” That’s P-O-R…” (Presswire)

The Yankees spent yesterday’s off-day in Cleveland, which seems like an appropriate punishment after getting swept at home by the Blue Jays. The AL East lead has been trimmed from six games to 1.5 games in 12 days, though the Yankees are still three games up on Toronto in the loss column. That sounds a little better. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. As ugly as that series was against the Blue Jays, it is worth remembering the pitching staff held Toronto’s high-powered offense to ten runs in three games. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat heading into the series. One game was decided by one run, another by two runs. That’s nothing. The offense just went into a miserable slump at a bad time and the pitching staff received no support. The offensive slump won’t last forever, in fact I bet it’ll end very soon, and when it does we’ll all feel better about things. The Blue Jays deserve all the credit in the world for the sweep. But let’s not act like the three games were an accurate representation of the 2015 Yankees either. The pitching staff did a fine job against that offense and when the Yankees start hitting again, things won’t look so lopsided.

2. The lack of trade deadline activity is already starting to come back to bite the Yankees. They were looking to add a right-handed reliever, didn’t, and there was Branden Pinder in the tenth inning Friday night. They kept an eye out for a second baseman, didn’t get one, and Stephen Drew has predictably been invisible since the deadline. Starting pitcher? They wanted one of those too but didn’t land one. Now they’re breaking in Luis Severino in the middle of a postseason race, which might turn out fine, except calling up Severino was something they could have done anyway, even if they had made a trade. (Unless they traded him for David Price, of course.) The Dustin Ackley trade is insignificant, it’s unlikely he would have had any impact had he not gotten hurt, so the roster right now is basically the same roster that got them through the first half of the season.

3. The current second base situation — again, literally Drew and Brendan Ryan — says a lot about what the Yankees think of Rob Refsnyder, doesn’t it? They can say whatever they want about liking him long-term, but actions speak louder than words. The second base situation has become so untenable that if they believed Refsnyder could help, he’d be up here. (Longer than four games, I mean.) They’ve been very aggressive with their prospects this year, whether it was the outfielders or the relievers or Severino, yet there is Refsnyder stuck in Triple-A. They must really not believe his defense is ready or simply do not expect him to hit much. The Yankees are pretty good at evaluating their own prospects — yes, they do miss on some, that’s inevitable, but when’s the last time they traded away a young player they truly regret? — so calling them stupid would be sorta silly. Refsnyder’s prospect stock was always more stats than scouting report, and the stats this year haven’t been knocked your socks off (131 wRC+). That’s not enough for a bat first guy in Triple-A. I wish they’d call Refsnyder up just because I’m sick of watching Drew pop up three times a game, but I’m guessing there’s also a pretty good reason Refsnyder has not gotten an extended trial.

4. Based on this weekend, Pinder seems to be getting an opportunity to work his way into the Circle of Trustâ„¢. He’s been up and down a whole bunch of times this year — I count five different call-ups — and Joe Girardi used him against the top of that Blue Jays lineup not once, but twice. Either the scouting reports have been wrong (possible!) or Pinder has been throwing harder than ever before, averaging 97.2 mph and topping out at 98.4 mph with his fastball in his last three outings. That’s some serious gas. His slider is pretty sharp too:

Branden Pinder slider4

That’s a nice looking slidepiece, though of course they don’t all look like that, just some. Adam Warren is stuck in low-leverage mop-up man purgatory, partly because he can throw three innings at time, and it seems like Pinder is at the front of the line among the relievers going up and down all season. Giving a young reliever high-leverage work for the first time can be a little scary — it did come back to bite the Yankees on Friday, after all — but everyone has to start somewhere, and I get the sense Pinder is being given an chance to show he deserves to stick and not ride the Triple-A shuttle.

5. All things considered, this has been a pretty great development year for the Yankees, don’t you think? Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius in particular have made tremendous strides since the start of the season, especially Eovaldi with his sporkball. I mentioned last week that pitching coach Larry Rothschild had Eovaldi start with a forkball grip to get used to it before shortening up to a splitter grip, and I was able to dig up some better photos of the grips. The photo on the left is from April and the photo on the right is from Eovaldi’s start Friday against the Blue Jays:

Nathan Eovaldi grips

Eovaldi’s fingers were split far apart with his fingertips on the white of the baseball back in April. Now his fingers are on the seams. Also note the location of the “horseshoe” of the seams. In April it was between his fingers, right at the knuckles. Now it’s outside his fingers and closer to his thumb. Maybe I’m the only one who finds this interesting. As for Gregorius, his defense is much improved — does he not play a beautiful shortstop when he’s not making boneheaded decisions? his defensive tools are ridiculous — and so is his offense because he stopping pulling almost everything in mid-May (via Texas Leaguers):

Didi Gregorius spray chart

Eovaldi and Gregorius are the most notable examples of development at the MLB level this year, but in the minors we’ve also seen Ben Gamel turn into a legitimate prospect, and Gary Sanchez take his game to the next level offensively, and Jorge Mateo handle an aggressive promotion to Low-A Charleston, so on and so forth. It’s not all good — Tyler Austin went backwards, for example — but most of it has been positive. I’ve always felt the Yankees were really good at identifying and acquiring talent. Their knack for finding useful pitchers in the double digit rounds of the draft year after year is not dumb luck at this point, for example. The problem has been developing that talent, and so far this year a lot of development has been positive, including Eovaldi and Didi at the big league level.

DotF: Scranton wins on Gamel’s walk-off inside-the-parker

1B Greg Bird and 1B Mike Ford were named Offensive Players of the Week in the Triple-A International League and High-A Florida State League, so congrats to them.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — walk-off inside-the-park homer? walk-off inside-the-park homer!
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 K — 16-for-42 (.381) in his last nine games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing) — 21-for-58 (.362) in his last 15 games
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-3, 1 BB, 3 K — 3-for-35 (.086) with 12 strikeouts since coming back here following his injury
  • 3B Jose Pirela: 2-3, 1 BB, 1 SB
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 5/5 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) — 61 of 95 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Mailbag Update: New Email To Submit Questions

Just a heads up, we’ve ditched the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. It was kind of a pain, mostly because it didn’t give any sort of confirmation message, so people were submitting their questions like ten times. Also, apparently the anti-spam question was harder than we realized. More than a few people emailed us asking for help with the answer.

Anyway, we’re going to go back to the ol’ “email us your questions” system. Here’s the email to use: RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Easy enough, right? There’s a little widget in the sidebar — below the YES videos and above the Aaron Judge Watch — with the mailbag email address in case you forget it and need it in the future.

As always, the mailbag is posted each Friday morning. I usually write it up Thursday afternoon/evening, so it’s best to get your question in before then if you want it answered that week. We do get a ton of questions each week, so don’t be discouraged if yours doesn’t get answered. There just isn’t enough time to answer ’em all.

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and that means we get an off-day from their offensive offense. After this weekend, I’m cool with getting a night off from the Yankees. I’m not ready for more right now. The day to decompress is welcome.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing tonight (I’ll be there!) and ESPN will show the Tigers and Royals. That seems like a game ESPN decided to pick up in, like, April. Anyway, talk about whatever you like here. Go nuts.

Trade Deadline Notes: Price, Reyes, Prado, Gyorko, Shields

I hate this. (Elsa/Getty)
I hate this. (Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees swung just one minor deal before the trade deadline ten days ago, landing Dustin Ackley in a three-player swap with the Mariners. The lack of activity was not due to a lack of effort, however. The Yankees were reportedly in on all the available pitchers, starters and relievers, plus some second base candidates. Nothing made sense, I guess. Here are some postmortem trade deadline notes, most via Jon Heyman.

Yanks “shut out” of Price race when Norris was offered

The Yankees tried to acquire David Price before the trade deadline but they and several other teams were “shut out” of the race once the Blue Jays offered lefty Daniel Norris. For what it’s worth Luis Severino and Norris were ranked 17th and 18th, respectively, in Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean much. Prospect rankings are subjective as hell and the Tigers could have liked Norris much more than Severino. Could the Yankees have made up the difference by improving the quality of the secondary pieces? Maybe. Doesn’t really matter now. The Tigers seemed to prioritize Norris.

Reyes came up in talks

Most people, myself included, figured the Rockies would flip Jose Reyes after landing him in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, either at the deadline or this coming offseason. Heyman says Colorado did not shop Reyes at the deadline but his name did come up in trade talks, and if the Yankees made a call to get involved in talks for Reyes, “they were very brief.” Reyes hasn’t played second base in more than a decade now and that’s the only place he’d fit with the Yankees. Didi Gregorius has made way too much progress this summer to move him off short. I could definitely see “Reyes to the Yankees?” being a thing all winter.

Yankees checked in on Prado

The Yankees were one of several teams to check in on Martin Prado prior to the trade deadline. They were presumably looking to bring him back to play second base, or at least spend some time there while bouncing around other positions. Prado is under contract at a pricey $11M next season — the Yankees are paying $3M of that — and he’s not having a good season, hitting .268/.310/.351 (82 wRC+) overall, but he still hits lefties (111 wRC+) and is versatile, which is not nothing. You can do worst for your tenth position player. The Marlins seem to have allusions of contending next year and Prado is penciled in as their starting third baseman.

The guy they got and the guy they tried to get. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
The guy they got and the guy they tried to get. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Yankees planned to platoon Gyorko with Drew

As part of their talks with the Padres about Craig Kimbrel, the Yankees offered to take on at least part of Jedd Gyorko’s albatross contract to facilitate a trade. Had it gone down, their plan was to platoon Gyorko with Stephen Drew at second base. Gyorko, who is owed $33M through 2019, is hitting a miserable .218/.284/.336 (78 wRC+) since signing his extension prior to last season, though he has a 118 wRC+ against lefties during that time, including a 148 wRC+ against southpaws this year. Gyorko is only 26, so I guess there is a chance of a rebound, but gosh, betting that much money on it?

Shields clears trade waivers

As expected, James Shields has passed through trade waivers unclaimed, reports Buster Olney. That’s not surprising. Big salary guys almost always clear trade waivers. His contract is backloaded — Shields made $10M this year and has $21M annually coming to him from 2016-18 — and I think there’s at least a small chance the Padres would have dumped him on the claiming team just to rid themselves of the contract, but no one bit. Shields is having his worst season in a long time (3.75 ERA and 4.22 FIP), and at age 33 with all those innings on his arm, you have to wonder if this is the start of his Sabathia-esque decline. Either way, the Yankees can talk to San Diego about Shields if they want, he’s already cleared waivers. Jack Curry says they’re not interested, for what it’s worth.