Thoughts following yet another off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees had an off-day yesterday. It was their sixth in the first four weeks of the season. I’m not complaining though. I can’t say I’m looking forward to watching this team these days. The Yankees begin a 20 games in 20 days stretch tonight, so prepare for a lot of baseball these next few weeks. Here are some stray thoughts.

1. A small little change I’d like to see: flip Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in the lineup. Gardner is the better hitter and he’s been getting on base way more often so far this season, so that right there is worth giving him more at-bats. It also frees Joe Girardi up to try some things with Ellsbury like a hit-and-run — or even the underrated run-and-hit — because he is the better contact hitter. And I suppose he would maybe see more fastballs as well. That couldn’t hurt. I subscribe to the “your best hitter should bat second” theory but pretty much nothing the Yankees have been doing is working offensively, Sunday night notwithstanding. Giving Gardner more at-bats and trying to play a little small ball with Ellsbury could help them get out of their funk. It’s not like it’s going to hurt. The offense has been dreadful.

2. I’m not worried about Dellin Betances at all even with the three home runs allowed in his last three games. The homer Christian Vazquez hit was a terrible pitch. It was a fastball right down the middle, and based on how quickly he jumped on it, it seems clear Vazquez was sitting dead red. He got on it so quick I wonder if Dellin was tipping his pitches. As for the David Ortiz homer, I’m not even sure it came on a strike:

Dellin Betances David Ortiz

That’s just straight up good hitting. Ortiz told reporters he was expecting a first pitch curveball, got the first pitch curveball, then reached out and drove it the other way. What can you do? Ortiz is going to the Hall of Fame — it’s going to happen, don’t act surprised — because of pieces of hitting like that. Mere mortals either take that pitch or swing through it. I have no reason to think Betances is hurt. (His velocity is fine.) I would run him right back out there in high-leverage spots like these last three outings didn’t happen. This is just baseball being random as hell.

3. Aroldis Chapman will join the team in six days and I hope the Yankees are on the phone shopping him right now. His trade value can only go down as the season progresses. For starters, the sooner they trade him, the longer his new team will have him, and that’s not insignificant. The Yankees could ask for more in return. Secondly, Chapman is already the best reliever in the world, so it’s not like he can realistically improve his performance. And third, pitchers get hurt, yo. Making the qualifying offer and getting the draft pick after the season is a last resort in my opinion. Chapman is a Grade-A trade chip the Yankees have to cash in — the market for an elite reliever is huge, pretty much every team can use him — and the sooner they do it, the better. Even if they go out and win their next 20 games, trade him. Trade him trade him trade him. Trade. Him. Trade him.

4. We’re still a long way away from serious talk about the Yankees being sellers, but if they do decide to take the plunge, one team to watch is the White Sox. They’re playing well right now (18-8), they have an extra $13M burning a hole in their pocket thanks to Adam LaRoche, and they also have a clear need at DH. (They’re playing Avisail Garcia and Jerry Sands at DH right now, so yeah.) The ChiSox also figure to have a sense of urgency too. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2008 — only the Padres, Marlins, and Mariners have longer postseason droughts — and their best chance to win is right now, during Todd Frazier’s last two years of team control and while Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, and Jose Quintana are cheap and in their primes. Chicago sure looks like a potential landing spot for Carlos Beltran or Mark Teixeira at midseason. Who knows, maybe the Yankees could pry righty Erik Johnson loose. That’d be nifty.

5. Yes, the Yankees do still have 139 games to play, but they are absolutely digging themselves a hole right now. Given their current 8-15 record, they will need to play .568 ball the rest of the way just to match last season’s 87-75 record. That’s a 92-win pace. They’ll have to play at a 96-win pace to reach 90 wins. Here is how their postseason odds have changed over these first 23 games, via FanGraphs:

Playoff Odds 050316Only the Astros, whose postseason odds have nosedived from 68.0% on Opening Day to 26.5% today, have seen their playoff chances take a bigger hit than the Yankees so far this season. These losses are in the bank. The Yankees were going to need some things to break their way just to contend this season. Now they have a big uphill battle ahead of them. Not ideal!

6. The Yankees are struggling big time and when that happens, people talk about firing the manager. That’s just the way it is around here. I get it. Firing Girardi solves zero problems in my opinion though. It would be a total scapegoat move. This isn’t a Matt Williams with the Nationals situation, where the team is disappointing because the manager is borderline incompetent with his on-field decision making and the players are damn near mutiny in the clubhouse. If there’s an issue with the players in the clubhouse, that’s one thing. But firing Girardi because Betances gave up some ill-timed home runs and a bunch of aging sluggers aren’t hitting only compounds the problem. The Yankees have been largely distraction free since Girardi was hired — it’s still amazing to me all the A-Rod stuff blew over like it has — and canning him opens the door for chaos.

7. I have not stopped laughing at this since Sunday night (make sure you have the sound on):

That is damn good internet right there. Baseball is going to be so boring once A-Rod retires.

DotF: Coleman homers twice in Charleston’s win

Some quick notes:

  • LHP Dietrich Enns was including this week’s Monday Morning Ten Pack. It’s behind the paywall, so I can’t give away too much, but the scouting report is glowing: “Enns profiles as a major-league lefty specialist already, with upside beyond that. With further refinement of his secondary pitches and gains in stamina and command, I won’t be surprised at all if he’s holding down a spot in the middle of the Yankees rotation in a year or two.”
  • Thanks to last week’s combined no-hitter, RHP Ronald Herrera has been named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Herrera is only 20 years old, you know. He’s nearly four years younger than the average EL player.
  • According to Matt Kardos, LHP Evan Rutckyj will have surgery tomorrow. He was placed on the Double-A DL ten days ago with a sore elbow. I don’t know if he’s having Tommy John surgery or something else entirely. Rutckyj was in camp with the Braves as a Rule 5 Draft this year.
  • The Yankees have released LHP Preston Jamison, reports Matt Eddy. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent back in March and he never did throw a pitch this season.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Buffalo)

  • 3B Donovan Solano: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (throwing) — not saying he’s a call-up candidate, but hitting .306/.333/.353 won’t hurt his case
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-5, 1 K
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 1-4, 2 K — stupid Yankees didn’t call him up and now he’s in a 5-for-24 (.208) slump! … someone, somewhere is saying that right now
  • DH Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — E-Rod with a game that would make A-Rod proud
  • 2B Pete Kozma: 0-4, 1 E (fielding) — he’s hitting .138/.240/.200 … remember when it seemed like he would make the team over Ronald Torreyes? yikes
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 9/2 GB/FB — 49 of 81 pitches were strikes (60%) … fourth outing with the RailRiders is his worst
  • LHP Daniel Camarena: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 26 of 44 pitches were strikes (59%) … so I guess he’s back up here now

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

Once again, the Yankees had an off-day today. Between rainouts and scheduled off-days, the Yankees have played only 23 times in the first 29 days of the season. That’s going to change soon. The Yankees begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days tomorrow and it includes a West Coast trip. It’s a little too early to call it a make or break stretch, but I feel like 13 wins in those 20 games is the bare minimum necessary to get back in the hunt. We’ll see.

Here is the open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing and ESPN is showing the Cubs at the Pirates. That should be a good one. You’ve also got NBA and NHL playoff action as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to avoid baseball for a night. You folks know what to do here, so have it.

(Yes, I know the “This Date In History” video is not actually this date, but I’ve been looking for video of that game for years. Enjoy.)

2016 Draft: Matt Manning

Matt Manning | RHP

Background
Manning, 18, is the son of former NBA player Rich Manning. He attends Sheldon High School in Sacramento and has a 2.51 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 14 walks in 22.1 innings this spring. His baseball season started a little late because he was focused on basketball full-time. Manning is committed to Loyola Marymount, where he could play both sports.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-6 and 185 lbs., Manning is the classic “dream big” high school pitcher. He’s an excellent athlete with a loose arm who did not start pitching full-time until his junior year. During that time he’s upped his fastball from 87-89 mph into the 92-94 mph range, and the heater plays faster because he gets so much extension. He’s run his fastball as high as 96-97 mph in short outings during showcase events. Manning can spin a hard curveball in the upper-70s but the pitch lacks consistency. He doesn’t have a changeup or a third pitch in general, so that will be a project going forward.

Miscellany
Manning was ranked as the 12th, 21st, and 25th best prospect in the 2016 draft class by Keith Law (subs. req’d). MLB.com, and Baseball America in their latest rankings, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. The athleticism, fastball, and promising curveball are enough to get Manning picked in the first round. He is raw and not someone who figures to shoot up the minor league ladder in a hurry. The Yankees have not had much success developing lottery ticket prep arms like Manning in recent years — Dellin Betances is by far their biggest success story — and as a result they’ve leaned towards college players. For what it’s worth, Manning is physically huge with a big fastball, and those are two Yankees trademarks.

Berardino: Twins made an “aggressive” offer for Justin Wilson in the offseason

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Mike Berardino, the Twins made what they consider an “aggressive” trade offer for left-hander Justin Wilson over the winter. The Yankees shipped Wilson to the Tigers for Triple-A righties Luis Cessa and Chad Green during the Winter Meetings. Brian Cashman cited the team’s need for rotation depth as the reason for making the trade.

Details about Minnesota’s offer are pretty scarce. Here’s more from Berardino:

“We were aware of (Wilson’s availability),” (GM Terry) Ryan said flatly, choosing not to elaborate.

Not only were the Twins aware, a person with direct knowledge subsequently confirmed they were deeply disappointed their own offer for Wilson was not accepted.

Dealing from a much deeper pool of prospects than the division-rival Tigers could, Twins officials never could quite figure out how their offer, which they deemed to be fairly aggressive, was rejected in favor of 24-year-old right-handers Chad Green and Luis Cessa.

Making an aggressive offer and making the best offer are necessarily the same thing. Prospects are like children, everyone loves their own more than they love everyone else’s, so it’s no surprised the Twins felt they made a better offer than the Tigers. Of course they’re disappointed. They have a very good strong farm system and I’m sure they like they player(s) they offered a whole bunch.

It’s impossible to know what Minnesota offered the Yankees for Wilson. Here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list, if you wish to peruse. Triple-A rotation depth was an area of need and the Yankees clearly prioritized that in the Wilson trade. Maybe the Twins offered righty Tyler Duffey? Because beyond Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer, neither of whom was coming over for Wilson, there are no upper level rotation prospects in the Twins’ system.

I’m certain the Yankees shopped Wilson around and took what they felt was the best offer. They’re not idiots. They know they had a valuable commodity in Wilson — left-handed relievers are always in demand — and used him to acquire some much-needed rotation depth. In a world where Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake are getting $70M+ contracts, turning a reliever into two Triple-A starters makes an awful lot of sense to me.

Cessa pitched well in Spring Training and actually made the Opening Day roster before the Yankees decided to send him down to Triple-A so he could get stretched out and work as a starter. At this point I think he and Green are seventh and eighth on the rotation depth chart behind the five starters and Ivan Nova. Green’s not on the 40-man roster yet, however.

Wilson, by the way, is having a very nice season for the Tigers, pitching to a 0.00 ERA (0.87 FIP) with 15 strikeouts and two walks in eleven innings. The Yankees aren’t a seventh inning reliever away from contention, but there’s no doubt they could use someone like Wilson right now. Every team could.

The Yankees could use a 2005-esque shake-up, but they don’t have a lot of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Eleven years ago the Yankees had a truly miserable start to their season. They opened the 2005 season by losing 19 of their first 30 games and falling nine games back in the AL East. Nine back after 30 games! Needless to say, fans were pretty uneasy because that slow start followed the 2004 ALCS collapse. It was not a good time around these parts. No siree.

The 2005 Yankees rebounded of course, winning 84 of 132 games following the 11-19 start. Two reasons they turned it around were a pair of early-May call-ups: Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees shook things up and were rewarded when Cano and Wang had an immediate impact. Robbie hit .297/.320/.458 (105 wRC+) in 132 games and Wang had a 4.02 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 116.1 innings. They gave the team a real shot in the arm.

Getting Wang into the rotation was pretty easy because Jaret Wright got hurt. (Remember when Wright failed his physical and George Steinbrenner signed him anyway because he thought it would lure Leo Mazzone to New York? Good times.) Getting Cano into the lineup took more creativity. The Yankees moved Tony Womack to left field, Hideki Matsui to center field, and basically benched Bernie Williams, who was nearing the end of the line.

The 2016 Yankees, like the 2005 team, have gotten off to a terrible start. They’re 8-15 overall and have lost 13 of their last 17 games. The AL East is much more competitive these days too. Back in 2005 it was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a bunch of pushovers. Erasing that nine-game deficit was much easier. The current Yankees are six games back in the division with four good teams ahead of them. It’ll be an uphill climb, that’s for sure.

Given their sluggish start and the fact the Yankees have underachieved on both sides of the ball in the early going — the offense has been far worse than the pitching, but the rotation hasn’t been all that good either — the team could use an early-May shake-up like the one the 2005 team received. The problem? The Yankees don’t have a Cano and/or Wang waiting in Triple-A. There’s not much depth at the positions of obvious need. Here are some shake-up ideas.

Give A Young Outfielder Regular Playing Time

If there’s one thing the Yankees have in Triple-A, it’s outfield depth. Both Ben Gamel (136 wRC+) and Aaron Judge (125 wRC+) are off to nice starts, though Slade Heathcott (41 wRC+) has mostly struggled. The Yankees also have Aaron Hicks at the big league level, though he hasn’t played much for a variety of reasons. (Hicks may not seem young, but he’s only a year older than Heathcott.)

Brett Gardner (110 wRC+) has been one of New York’s most productive hitters in the early going. Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) and Carlos Beltran (91 wRC+) have not. Beltran has really struggled of late. He has a 16 wRC+ over the last two weeks. Yikes. Sitting Ellsbury and/or Beltran more often in favor of Hicks or Gamel or Judge or whoever is one way to change the lineup and get some young legs on the field.

I think the best way to go about this is to use a regular rotation that also includes Alex Rodriguez and the DH spot. Something like this, perhaps:

LF CF RF DH
Game One Gardner Ellsbury Beltran A-Rod
Game Two Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod
Game Three Gardner Young OF Beltran A-Rod
Game Four Gardner Ellsbury Young OF Beltran
Game Five Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod

Ellsbury, A-Rod, and the young outfielder would be playing four out of every five games while Beltran is reduced to playing three times out of every five games, with only two of three starts coming in the outfield. Gardner stays in there full-time because, you know, he’s actually been good this year. The Yankees reduced Bernie’s playing time in 2005 and it’s time to start thinking about doing the same with Beltran.

Calling up Gamel or Judge or Heathcott requires a roster move and cutting someone else loose, and it’s a little too early for that, I think. I’d start by playing Hicks more often. No, he hasn’t hit in the early going (-47 wRC+!), but it’s 28 plate appearances in 23 games. This is a guy who hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals last year, and we’ve already seen the kind of impact he can have at defense.

Hicks is not going to get his bat going while sitting on the bench. He’s been an everyday player his entire career. This bench thing is new to him. With two of three starting outfielders not really hitting and the team reeling, it’s time to see what Hicks can do with regular at-bats. The Yankees need to figure out what they have in him.

Stick Headley On The Bench

I’ve defended Headley as much as anyone but I can’t do it any longer. He’s been atrocious this year, hitting .156/.267/.156 (24 wRC+) with nary an extra-base hit in 75 plate appearances. As Jared Diamond pointed out yesterday, Headley is only the 13th player in history to start May with a sub-.150 slugging percentage in at least 70 plate appearances. That’s brutal.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

I don’t care how good a player is on defense — Headley has rebounded quite well in the field after last year’s error-fest — there is a minimum acceptable standard on offense and Headley is not meeting it. The Yankees can talk all they want about the quality of his at-bats or how close they think he is to snapping out of it. The bottom line is this is a results oriented business and Headley’s results have been dreadful one month into the season.

The problem at third base is the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement. Womack stunk back in 2005 and Cano was the obvious candidate to take over. Who can replace Headley at third? Ronald Torreyes? Moving players with bench player skill sets into a full-time role usually turns out poorly. Rob Refsnyder? Pete Kozma? Donovan Solano? Solano is hitting .312/.341/.351 (100 wRC+) in Triple-A, you know.

Since no obvious replacement exists, I’d go with the highest upside candidate: Refsnyder. He’s new to third base — he’s played 153.1 career innings at the hot corner between Spring Training and Triple-A — and his defense is rough, but he might actually hit. Stick him at third, get three at-bats out of him, then pull for defense in the sixth-ish inning. When you hit as poorly as Headley has, you losing playing time. That’s the way it should work.

(Yes, I know Refsnyder hasn’t hit much in Triple-A this year. I’m not too concerned about that though. It’s been cold in Scranton and he’s spent a lot of time learning a new position. As long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine.)

Play Ackley or Swisher?

One the biggest reasons the Yankees scored the second most runs in baseball last year were bounceback seasons from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season and no one knew what to expect from him in 2015. Teixeira was terrible in the second half of 2014. He hit .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) with only five homers after the All-Star break that year.

Dustin Ackley hasn’t played a whole lot this year (18 plate appearances!) because it’s tough to get him into the lineup. He’s stuck in the same role as Garrett Jones last year. Teixeira and A-Rod are not doing much damage right now — Rodriguez has looked much better of late, to be fair — and giving Ackley some of their at-bats could spark the offense. This would complicate the outfield plan outlined above. That’s not worth worrying about right now.

The alternative here would be Nick Swisher, who owns a .340/.370/.540 (167 wRC+) batting line with three homers down in Triple-A. I can’t say I put much stock in a 12-year veteran mashing minor league pitching though. Swisher has two bad knees and he’s hit .204/.291/.326 (75 wRC+) in the big leagues the last two years. Call him up and I suspect you’ll get closer to 2014-15 MLB Swisher than 2016 Triple-A Swisher.

This is where Greg Bird‘s injury really hurts. Calling up Bird to take at-bats away from Teixeira and A-Rod would be far more realistic and, likely, far more successful than the Ackley/Swisher plan. With those two you’re just hoping small sample size success translates to long-term success. Ackley was terrible all those years with the Mariners before raking in pinstripes in September. Swisher was bad from 2014-15 and has had a few good weeks in Triple-A. That’s all it is.

The Yankees have had some success turning veterans who looked washed up into useful players (see Chavez, Eric), so we shouldn’t completely write off Swisher as a possibility. Either way, Ackley or Swisher, taking at-bats away from A-Rod or Teixeira is one potential way to inject some life into the offense. For what it’s worth, I think this is the least likely suggestion in this post.

* * *

I’m not sure what the Yankees could do to shake-up the pitching staff other than maybe swap out some relievers. I guess they could replace Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, or Luis Severino with Ivan Nova. My guess is Nova’s going to end up making a bunch of starts at some point anyway. Point is, the Yankees have reached the point where some kind of change needs to be made. The problem is they don’t have a lot of internal options. What you see is what you’re going to get with this team.

Yankeemetrics: Stump Merrill’s Revenge [April 29-May 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Two is not enough
The series opener in Boston played out like a recurring nightmare for the Yankees this season: get an early (albeit small) lead, miss out on countless scoring chances to build that lead, and lose. The 4-2 loss was the ninth time this season that the Yankees lost despite holding a lead at some point in the game. Through Friday, that was the most “blown losses” of any team in the majors. (And of course they added to that total later in the series.)

David Ortiz continued to torment the Yankees, crushing a mammoth, two-run homer over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie. It was his 14th career go-ahead homer against the Yankees; over the last 50 seasons, the only players with more home runs that gave their team the lead against the Yankees are Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice, both with 15.

Ortiz’s game-winning blast came off an 83-mph hanging curveball from Dellin Betances, the second straight outing he’s given up a homer with the breaking pitch. In his first nine games this season, batters had one single in 24 at-bats (.042) ending in Betances’ curve, and 20 of the 23 outs he recorded with the pitch were strikeouts.

With A-Rod also going deep earlier in the game — he became the oldest Yankee to homer against the Red Sox since Enos Slaughter (age 42) in 1959 — it marked the first major-league contest since at least 1913 in which a 40-year-old homered for each team.

How low can you go?
“April is the cruelest month” – T.S. Eliot
It is getting harder and harder to describe the depths of the Yankees anemic offensive production this season — lifeless, horrific, dreadful, ghastly, grisly — there aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to properly put it into perspective. It is a lineup that struggling so badly it practically defies explanation.

The Yankees are reaching new lows each night, the latest coming on Saturday after they were blown out by the Red Sox, 8-0. It was their worst shutout loss at Fenway Park since losing 10-0 on August 2, 1973, a.k.a. the immortal days of Horace Clarke, Gene Michael and Felipe Alou anchoring the Yankees lineup.

With the loss, the Yankees dropped to 8-14 on the season, finishing up their worst April since going 6-11 in 1991. Their gross offensive numbers are even more mind-numbing:

  • 3.36 runs per game is their fewest in April since 1984
  • .360 slugging percentage is their worst in April since 1989
  • .304 on-base percentage is their worst in April since 1972

Chase Headley has to wear the hat as the team’s worst performer in April, ending up with an unfathomable line of .150 /.268/.150. He tallied just nine singles the entire month and somehow drove in two runs in 19 games played, and one of them was on a sacrifice fly.

Most notably, his 71 plate appearances without an extra-base hit during the month are the second-most by any Yankee in April, behind only Roy White (84 in 1973). And Headley just barely edged out Mike Ferraro – who slugged .148 in April 1968 – for the worst slugging percentage this month over the last 100 seasons by a Yankee (min. 50 PA).

When it rains, it pours
On a night when the Yankee bats finally woke up from their deep slumber, their pitching failed miserably as the Red Sox completed the three-game sweep with a 8-7 win. This is the seventh time in franchise history they’ve lost at least 15 of their first 23 games; only once in those six previous seasons did they finish with a winning record, going 87-75 in 1984 after a 8-15 start.

A-Rod gave the Yankees a brief 3-1 lead in the third inning with his second homer in this series and his 39th homer in pinstripes against the Red Sox. He passed Yogi Berra for the fifth-most by a Yankee in this storied rivalry, trailing only Babe Ruth (90), Lou Gehrig (70), Mickey Mantle (69) and Joe DiMaggio (46). The homer also gave him 5,764 total bases in his career, moving ahead of Ruth for second place in American League history.

Two innings later A-Rod hit a booming double off the wall to put the Yankees ahead again, 5-4. That was his 544th career two-bagger, tying Derek Jeter for 31st on the MLB all-time list. He finished with four RBIs, becoming the oldest visiting player ever with at least two extra-base hits and four RBIs in a game at Fenway Park.

Dellin Betances came in to get the final out of the seventh inning with the score tied 6-6, and promptly served up a monster homer to the first batter, Christian Vazquez, on a 97 mph first-pitch fastball. It was the third straight outing he had allowed a home run, the first time in his career he’s done that. Vazquez had one homer in 214 career at-bats before he hit the go-ahead shot, and entered the game with a slugging percentage of .190 on pitches 95-plus mph.