Archive for Players
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the up and down final season of an all-time Yankees great.
When the Yankees coaxed Andy Pettitte out of retirement last season, it was supposed to be one last ride off into the sunset. Pettitte was going to come back, give whatever he had left, then walk away after the season. Again. Instead, a fluke injury robbed him of three months at midseason. The competitive juices were still flowing, so Andy decided to give it another go in 2013.
Unlike last summer, Pettitte was more than just a fun, feel-good story this year. He was an integral part of the team and he was paid as such — the Yankees re-signed him to a one-year pact worth a hefty $12M and penciled him in as their number three starter behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. This wasn’t “okay Andy, come back whenever you’re ready and do what you can.” This was “let’s go Andy, if we’re going to go anywhere you have to help carry us.”
Pettitte was baseball’s oldest starting pitcher come Opening Day and sometimes it was painfully obvious. Let’s break his season down into four separate acts.
Act I: Early Awesomeness
When he wasn’t hurt in 2012, Pettitte was pretty freakin’ awesome. He pitched to a 2.87 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 75.1 innings, posting his best strikeout (8.24 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.51 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), and ground ball (56.3%) rates in years. It was amazing and much-needed considering how close the AL East race was down the stretch.
Early on this past season, that same Andy was on the mound. He pitched the team to their first win of the year with eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox in the third game of the season, and he followed up by allowing six runs total in his next three starts while throwing at least six innings each time. The Astros (of all teams) pounded him to close out the month (seven runs in 4.1 innings), but Pettitte got right back on the horse and pitched well in early-May. Following seven innings of two-run ball against the Royals on May 11th, he was sitting on a 3.83 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 44.1 innings through seven starts. Dandy.
Act II: Injuries & Ineffectiveness
On May 16th, Pettitte was forced from a start against the Mariners due to a sore trap muscle after only 4.2 innings. He had missed one start in April due to a stiff back, but the trap injury landed him on the DL for a touch more than two weeks. That was the risk of relying on a 40-year-old starter — a 40-year-old starter who had not thrown more than 130 innings since 2009 at that — injuries and physical setbacks figured to pop-up at some point.
Andy returned to the mound on June 3rd and clearly was not himself. He allowed at least four runs in eight of his next nine starts (including seven straight at one point), a nine-start stretch that featured a 5.04 ERA despite a 3.62 FIP. Opponents hit .295/.329/.436 against him in those nine games and the Pettitte trademark, the ability to wiggle out of jams, had deserted him. Pettitte looked old and washed up. I’m not sure there is another way to put it. He looked like a guy who should have stayed retired, frankly. The team didn’t have much of a chance to win on the days he pitched and through 17 starts, he had a 4.47 ERA and 3.78 FIP.
Act III: Empty The Tank
Something changed on June 24th. That ability to escape jams and keep the team in games had returned. Pettitte held the Rangers to two runs in six innings on that date, and five days later he held the Dodgers to two runs in seven innings. From June 24th through September 17th, a span of eleven starts, Andy allowed two earned runs or less eight times and only twice did he fail to complete six full innings of work. That works out to a 3.06 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 64.2 innings. He was back to being himself and not a moment too soon. The Yankees were fighting to stay in the playoff hunt and Pettitte had emerged as their best starter just as Kuroda began to fade.
Act IV: Blaze Of Glory
Following 6.1 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays on September 17th, Pettitte owned a 3.93 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 169.1 innings across 28 starts. Three days later, he announced his intention to retire (for the second time) after the season. “I’ve reached the point where I know that I’ve left everything I have out there on that field,” he said. “The time is right. I’ve exhausted myself, mentally and physically, and that’s exactly how I want to leave this game.”
Andy’s final start at Yankee Stadium came two days later, on Mariano Rivera Day. The Yankees honored Mo will a long and incredible pre-game ceremony before Pettitte took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Giants. In that final home start, he surrendered two runs on two hits in seven innings against the defending World Champions. Andy walked off to the mound to a long and thunderous ovation after being removed from the game.
Four days later, Pettitte and long-time teammate Derek Jeter were sent out to the mound to remove Rivera from the final appearance of his career. Those few days were just unreal. Incredibly exciting and emotional and heartbreaking all at once. What a way to go out.
Andy made the final start of his season and career on September 28th, appropriately enough against the Astros in Houston, his hometown and the only other Major League team for which he played. Pettitte went out in style, allowing one run in the complete-game win. It was his first nine-inning complete-game since August 2006 and his first nine-inning complete-game for the Yankees since August 2003. It was the kind of start that seemed unthinkable as recently as mid-June, and yet, Andy did it. Remarkable.
* * *
All told, Pettitte pitched to a 3.74 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 185.1 innings this season, right in line with his career 3.85 ERA and 3.74 FIP. Same ol’ Andy, basically. Steady and reliable. Yeah, the 2013 campaign was shaky at times but that was to be expected at his age and with the long recent layoffs. When it was all said and done, Pettitte was an obvious positive for the 2013 squad. He retires as the greatest Yankees pitcher in history — an argument can certainly be made for Whitey Ford, but I think Andy just edges him out — and one of the most beloved players in team history. Few rank above him.
It is sad to see Andy go again, but I think it’s clear the time has come to call it a career. When he retired following the 2010 season, I thought it was obvious he still had something left in the tank and could continue pitching for another year or two. This time, I’m not so sure. He really labored for long stretches of time this summer and his usual start-to-start consistency just wasn’t there. The nagging injuries, stiff backs and strained lats and the like, became more frequent as well. Pettitte is one of my all-time favorites and the Yankees wouldn’t have hung around the postseason race as long as they did without him, but the tank looks to tapped out. Saying goodbye will be much easier for fans and Pettitte alike this time around.
CC Sabathia was in the best shape of his life. Following a season in which he was twice placed on the disabled list, and after which he underwent offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia decided the time had come to shed some of his excess weight. It wasn’t the first time; he had come to camp a bit slimmer in 2011 as well, but gained back much of that weight during the season. This time, the weight loss was here to stay.
The result: the worst year of his 13-year career, by no small measure.
We can start with the obvious, that Sabathia’s 4.78 ERA (85 ERA+) ranked 35th out of 37 qualified AL pitchers. All of his peripherals declined from his 2011 to 2012 levels. Watching his starts you could see the points at which he’d start to unravel. In 28 of his starts he made it to the sixth inning, and during those sixth frames opponents hit .339/.419/.550 against him. The list goes on.
Did Sabathia’s troubles stem from the weight loss? After all, he did turn in a very good 2012 season despite the injuries. While causation is always difficult to prove, there are some indicators that Sabathia did not adjust to his new body type. If that is the reason for Sabathia’s poor 2013, there is certainly hope for 2014 and beyond; mechanics are correctable.
Sabathia has started his off-season a bit early, going on the DL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain just a few days after turning in one of his best performances of the season (albeit against the hapless Giants). He should be fine for Spring Training, and thanks to the necessary rehab from the injury he might come into camp a bit stronger. Perhaps with some more repetitions, he’ll iron out his mechanics. But this represents the optimistic scenario for last year. We’re still here to discuss what went wrong in 2013.
While his weight loss might have played a role in his poor 2013, it’s hard to ignore another possible factor: past workload. Sabathia pitched a full season, 33 starts, at age 20, and has made at least 28 starts in each following season. Before he signed his first contract with the Yankees he had thrown 1659.1 innings. Heading into the 2013 season he had thrown 2564.1. He has now thrown the 139th most innings in MLB history, at age 33. That can be a good thing as well as a bad thing, of course. Tim Hudson has lasted through more innings than Sabathia, and is about five years older. There are cases where players can throw lots of innings and hold up.
In reading the last three paragraphs, you might have noticed the same thing I did while writing it: that each paragraph ends on an optimistic note. It is difficult to write about such an obviously disappointing season from a guy expected to anchor the rotation, hence the “things could be better” follow-up to every negative point. Instead of continuing in this fashion, perhaps it’s best to list the final few factors in his poor 2013 and let that be that.
- Sabathia’s tERA, which accounts for batted ball types, stood at 4.87, the worst of his career and a full run worse than 2012.*
- His average velocity was down a mile per hour from 2012, and nearly 3mph from 2009 — though his velocity did rise as the season progressed.
- Then again, there was a drop-off after a steady rise sometime in August. Perhaps that was a turning point?
- He used his changeup more often than any year since 2010, but according to weighted values it was worth negative runs. Chances are that has to do both with the drop in fastball velocity and with his command issues; hanging changeups go a long way.
*Not that I buy totally into the value of tERA, but it is one tool with which we have to measure pitchers. Just like all other stats mentioned.
Honestly, after 2013 there’s nothing to do but hope that Sabathia gets stronger while rehabbing his hamstring, gets in as many reps as he needs in Spring Training, and starts 2014 fresh. Otherwise the last three to four year of his contract are going to hurt.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with yet another player who was exposed by far too much playing time.
Before every season, usually sometime in Spring Training, MLB’s people get together and start piecing together the All-Star ballot. The ballots are released in late-April for fan voting and it takes a few weeks to actually print these things and get them in every ballpark, so they have to prep before the season. As part of that preparation, they confer with every team about their positions and All-Star candidates. Some are obvious, like Robinson Cano at second base for the Yankees. Others aren’t so clear.
The Yankees listed Chris Stewart as their catcher on this year’s All-Star ballot.
Not Frankie Cervelli, who eventually took over as the starting catcher late in camp and early in the season, but Stewart. The guy who we heard was in line to be the starter all winter after Russell Martin bolted for the Pirates because dammit, his defense was that good. He couldn’t hit, but he’ll help the team by throwing out runners and framing the hell out of some borderline pitches. The Yankees were planning to play him so much that they dubbed him worthy of the All-Star ballot.
On April 26th, after a foul tip broke Cervelli’s hand, Stewart became the starter. It was clear Joe Girardi had little faith in Austin Romine, and, frankly, Romine didn’t exactly force the issue either. Stewart was the starter almost by default. He actually wrapped up April with a perfectly fine .294/.333/.382 (97 wRC+) batting line, production any of us would have happily taken over the full season. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.
Instead, Stewart predictably crashed. He fell into a 3-for-22 (.192) slump in early-May and hit .240/.286/.360 (73 wRC+) for the month overall. June was more of the same, with an ugly 7-for-37 (.189) stretch and an overall .255/.354/.291 (84 wRC+) line. Romine stole a few starts in early-July and Stewart went into the All-Star break hitting .241/.316/.306 (73 wRC+) with three homers in 170 plate appearances. He had started 54 of the team’s 95 games up to that point, more starts than he had in any other full season of his career.
As expected, Stewart completely collapsed in the second half. You can’t expect a career backup, even a reasonably young one like Stewart (he turns 32 in February), to suddenly play every single day without wearing down. He went 7-for-49 (.143) in his first 18 games after the All-Star break, dragging his overall season batting line down to .219/.296/.279. This is where I remind you he came into this past season a career .217/.281/.302 hitter. Stewart was played exactly as any reasonable person would have expected.
The second half slide continued all the way through the end of the season, and things got so bad at one point that on September 13th against the Orioles, Stewart struck out on two strikes:
If that’s not rock bottom, I don’t want to know what is. On the other hand, Stewart did make what might have been the Yankees’ best defensive play of the year. I don’t remember any better off the top of my head.
Stewart hit an unfathomably bad .169/.262/.226 (37 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances in the second half as Romine and J.R. Murphy saw more playing time behind the plate not necessarily because they earned it, but because Stewart played himself out of the lineup. That dragged his overall season batting line down to .211/.293/.272 (58 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances. Two-hundreds across the slash line board. Among the 32 catchers to bat at least 300 times this year, Stewart ranked 31st in wRC+. J.P. Arencibia (57 wRC+) should be ashamed of himself.
So yeah, Stewart was an unmitigated disaster on offense. I don’t think anyone seriously expected otherwise. But what about defensively? Well, Stewart was second in baseball with 12 passed balls — Arencibia had 13 and he had to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — despite ranking 17th in innings caught. He did throw out 17 of 54 attempted base-stealers, a 31% success rate that was quite a bit better than the 26% league average. Pitch framing data is hard to come by, but a late-September update at Baseball Prospectus said Stewart was one of the ten best pitch-framers in the game (but not one of the top five) without giving us a runs saved value. An early-September update at ESPN had him at 17 runs saved. Overall catcher defense is damn near impossible to quantify even these days, but Stewart was obviously very good at framing pitches and a bit above-average at throwing out base-runners, but he didn’t do a good job blocking balls in the dirt.
If it wasn’t for the pitch-framing, Stewart would have been below replacement level this season, even for a catcher. An above-average but not truly excellent throw-out rate isn’t enough to make up for the passed ball issues and overall awful offense, both at the plate and on the bases. Framing pitches is his only redeeming quality and he’s lucky he’s so good at it, otherwise he probably would have been out of league by now. Similar to Jayson Nix, Stewart is a backup player who is best used once or twice a week but was forced in regular duty this past season. It’s not his fault he can’t hit or got worn down in the second half, it’s the team’s fault for putting him in that position in the first place.
Early in the 2013 season, it appeared that Ivan Nova would fall into the What Went Wrong category. Through his first three starts he allowed 10 runs in 14.2 IP and hadn’t recorded as much as a single out in the sixth inning. In the third inning of his fourth start, he exited with what appeared to be an elbow injury about fifteen seconds after trainer Steve Donohue came to check on him. His season had disaster written all over it.
Given how many young pitchers undergo the procedure every year, it would have surprised few if Nova required Tommy John surgery. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case. The Yankees quickly assured us it was a triceps injury, abating some of the fear. About a month later he was back on the roster, pitching out of the bullpen. Apparently, something clicked for him between the injury and the return.
Able to air it out in shorter appearances, Nova let loose with fastballs that, for the only time in his career, consistently exceeded 95 mph. Even more impressive was how he kept the velocity up for a five-inning relief appearance against the Mets, allowing just one run while striking out six. Unfortunately, due to the returns of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees had to option Nova. It seemed like poor timing for the move, given his resurgence.
Nova didn’t let the demotion get him down, and his persistence paid off. After about two weeks in the minors he got the call again to make a spot start against the Rays. It went well enough, as did his follow-up appearance, a 5.2-inning mop-up job against the Orioles. That earned him a spot in the rotation, wherein he produced one of the best second halves in the majors.
In 87.1 post-ASB innings Nova produced a 2.78 ERA, seventh best in the American League and good enough to bring his season-long ERA down to 3.10. His velocity had dipped back to normal levels, and actually took a further hit in his final four starts. And his peripherals looked a lot like his career numbers. So we must ask the question, was Nova actually good or did he merely get lucky?
Part of the answer is that Nova’s second half peripherals are a bit deceiving, in that they’re arbitrary end points. If you look at his peripherals from the time of his return from the DL, a bit less arbitrary in nature, his peripherals look a bit better. Then there’s the issue of peripherals not being a true measure of a pitcher’s ability. Some pitchers are better at inducing poor contact, meaning they’ll out-perform their peripherals. Other issues play roles, including focus and recovery.
All of that is a long way of saying that it’s incredibly difficult to judge whether a pitcher is lucky or good based on a single season, never mind a portion of a season. Add in Nova’s inconsistent performances for the last few years, and he becomes even more of a mystery. We’ve seen him pitch like one of the best in the league, and we’ve seen him pitch like a guy who will scramble for minor league deals in his late 20s. How could we possibly know which Nova pitches for the Yankees in 2014?
We can leave that speculation for another time, when we’re bored in January and February. For now we can reflect on Nova’s 2013 and how his resurgence helped make the season enjoyable for that much longer. The pitching staff, considered a strength before the season, broke down as CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes got knocked around start after start. Nova stepped up mid-season and gave the Yankees quality innings every fifth day. Without him, they wouldn’t have remained in contention for as long as they had, and they could have been staring down their first losing season since 1992.
Instead Nova did answer the challenge, not only salvaging some respectability in 2013, but giving the team hope for 2014 and beyond. In a season when so many things went wrong, Nova was one of the bright spots.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the captain who wasn’t around to go down with the ship.
This was the season Derek Jeter was never supposed to have. He’s Derek Jeter. Things are always supposed to go his way, and if they don’t, he proves people wrong and makes them go his way. Last season was a perfect example. The Cap’n was supposed to be finished, a washed up former star who was losing a fight with Father Time. Instead, he led the big leagues in hits (216), at-bats (683), and plate appearances (740). Thirty-eight-year-old shortstops aren’t supposed to do that.
Jeter finished that remarkable season on a down note, playing through a bone bruise in his left ankle during the month of September before it finally gave out and fractured in Game One of the ALCS. He had surgery in late-October and although the rehab timetable meant things would be tight, it appeared he would be ready in time for the start of Spring Training. Unfortunately, Father Time started started to win the war after losing the battle in 2012.
The offseason was full of gossip stories about Fat Derek Jeter and reports that his rehab was right on schedule. The Cap’n emphatically said he was working hard and would be ready in time for camp. Ultimately, that was not the case. Jeter’s rehab had slowed down at some point and he was far behind the other position players in Spring Training. He didn’t play in his first Grapefruit League game until mid-March and only appeared in five total, as many as Cito Culver. It was clear he would not start the season on time.
Jeter opened the 2013 campaign on the DL as he continued his rehab from the ankle surgery. In early-May, right when everyone was expecting him to return to the lineup, the Yankees announced their captain had suffered a major setback — there was a new fracture in the ankle, a smaller hairline crack that would nevertheless keep him out until the All-Star break. New York was getting nothing offensively from Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix at the shortstop position, so the setback was a big blow.
It wasn’t until July 11th, four days prior to the All-Star break, that Jeter joined the team. He played in only four rehab games and was rushed back to serve as the DH when Travis Hafner‘s shoulder started barking (again). Jeter was in the lineup for the series finale against the Royals and his return lasted all of eight innings. He legged out an infield single in his first at-bat of the year but felt tightness in his right quad when he tried to do the same a few innings later. The Yankees kept Jeter active over the weekend and through the All-Star break to see if he’d feel better, but that didn’t happen and back to the DL he went.
The second DL stint was shorter, only 17 days total. Jeter rejoined the team one day prior to a West Coast trip through two NL cities that would force him to play the field. That (second) first game back from injury resulted in one of the most memorable moments of the season, a first pitch solo homer off Rays left-hander Matt Moore:
Jeter played a total of four games at shortstop (the game against the Rays and three on the West Coast) before his right calf started acting up. Tests revealed a Grade I strain and just like that, the Cap’n was right back on the DL. This stint lasted 24 days. When he returned on August 26th, the team’s 131st game of the season, the Yankees were seven games back in the division and six games back of the second wildcard spot.
Following the third DL trip, Jeter stayed healthy for approximately two weeks. He wasn’t all that effective, going 9-for-48 (.188) with one extra-base hit (a double) and ten strikeouts while playing ten of 13 games at shortstop. After missing so much time due to injury and only playing in seven rehab games — that’s seven rehab games total: four coming back from the first injury, zero coming back from the second, three coming back from the third — it was no surprise he showed considerable rust at the plate. The problem was the Bombers were slipping in the standings and couldn’t afford the lack of production.
Jeter’s season came to an end on September 7th, when he exited a game against the Red Sox in the sixth inning with soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle. Tests came back clean but he was going to sit a few games before returning to the lineup. The team didn’t want to risk yet another setback. Four days later, with the Yankees sitting ten games back in the division and three games back of the second wildcard spot, Brian Cashman announced Jeter was being placed on the DL to prevent him from pushing too hard to come back after the doctor said he needed to strengthen the area around his ankle before returning. Jeter’s fourth DL stint of 2013 ended his season.
All told, the Cap’n hit just .190/.288/.254 (48 wRC+) in only 17 games around the various leg injuries this past season. He made four separate trips to the DL this summer after making four total from 1999-2012. The Yankees never really came out and said so, but the team and their doctors gave indications the leg injuries were all related — Jeter was compensating for one injury but putting extra stress elsewhere on his body. Certainly sounds reasonable, especially with leg injuries, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Jeter missed all that time and it hurt the team dearly in 2013.
Rather than wait for him to exercise (or decline) his $9.5M player option for next season, the Yankees re-signed Jeter to a one-year contract worth $12M about two weeks ago. They reportedly agreed to the increased salary (and luxury tax hit) in exchange for avoiding a repeat of their contentious negotiations from three years ago, which only makes sense if Jeter’s camp indicated he was prepared to decline the player option and ask for more money. The Cap’n had no leverage following his self-proclaimed “nightmare” season but the Yankees gave into his demands anyway. Jeter is a total unknown heading into next season but the team paid him as if he’ll be a big time contributor because hey, he’s Derek Jeter and things are always supposed to go his way.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the utility infielder who was forced into regular duty.
Before the season even started, the Yankees had two injured regular infielders. Alex Rodriguez was going to be out until the All-Star break following hip surgery and while Derek Jeter was initially expected to be ready for Opening Day, his slow progress in Spring Training was sign of things to come. Injury-prone Kevin Youkilis was brought in to replace A-Rod and the unreliable Eduardo Nunez was the backup plan for Jeter, so incumbent utility man Jayson Nix was an important cog in the Yankees machine.
It’s easy to forgot that when camp opened, Nix wasn’t even on the 40-man roster. The team re-signed him to a one-year, $900k contract over the winter and immediately designated him for assignment — Nix agreed ahead of time to accept the minor league assignment to Triple-A Scranton if he cleared waivers. He was re-added to the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training (along with Ben Francisco!) to round out the bench. Nix was likely to make the team the whole time, but the team took advantage of his situation — unlikely to find a guaranteed $900k elsewhere — to create a 40-man roster spot over the winter.
At the start of the year, New York’s plan was to play Youkilis at first base and Nix at third against left-handed batters. Nix appeared in three of the team’s first five games (two starts) and went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, but he broke out in the sixth game by going 3-for-4 with a two-run homer against Justin Verlander. He continued to play sparingly for another two weeks until Youkilis’ back gave out, at which point Nix became the everyday third baseman. When Nunez hurt his ribcage in early-May, Nix took over at shortstop with David Adams stepping in at third.
From April 20th through July 1st, a span of 66 team games, Nix hit .244/.312/.305 with one homer and 61 strikeouts (!) in 241 plate appearances. That’s a 25.3% strikeout rate for a player who was hitting with no power. Nix started 58 of those 66 games and appeared in four others off the bench. He was a regular, playing every single day at either shortstop of third base. It’s worth noting he had a real nice 20-game stretch from late-May through mid-June, going 23-for-72 (.319) with ten runs driven in (.730 OPS).
Nix’s time as a regular came to an end in early-July when he was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade II hamstring strain. He hurt himself running the bases at some point. On the DL he remained for four weeks, until being activated on July 28th. By then Nunez had returned from his ribcage injury (and was kinda sorta hitting) and both Jeter and A-Rod were days away from returning. The team always wanted to give Adams another shot and soon acquired Mark Reynolds for third base support. The playing time well had dried up.
After coming off the DL, Nix appeared in 14 of the Yankees’ next 21 games but had only started nine of them. He went 7-for-30 (.233) with ten strikeouts during those 21 games and was mostly pinch-running and replacing A-Rod late in games for defense. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 20th, Nix hit a game-tying solo homer off Mark Buehrle in the seventh inning before lacing the walk-off single against Darren Oliver in the ninth. It was his best game of the season.
In his first at-bat the very next day, Nix’s season came to an end when an errant R.A. Dickey knuckleball broke his left hand. It hit him flush. Talk about a serious roller coaster of emotion. He went from the highlight of his year to a season-ending injury in the span of 24 hours. Brutal.
All told, Nix hit .236/.308/.311 (70 wRC+) with 80 strikeouts (26.4%) and 13 extra-base hits (three doubles) in 303 plate appearances this season. He did go 13-for-14 in stolen base chances and hit a tolerable .266/.357/.330 (93 wRC+) in 114 plate appearances against left-handers. Nix led the team in starts at third base (33) and was second in starts at shortstop (41). I thought he was rock solid defensively at both positions. Steady and reliable. Regardless of your WAR preference, Nix was a smidge above replacement level (0.7 fWAR and 0.8 bWAR).
The problem this season wasn’t so much Nix himself, but the fact that he had to play so damn much. That’s all due to the injuries. It certainly wasn’t by design. I think Nix is a solid utility infielder who is best used once or twice a week like a normal utility infielder, not as a platoon third baseman or whatever. Certainly not as a starter. He chipped in some big hits this summer and played admirably even though he was exposed with all that playing time. It’s not Nix’s fault he played so much this year, but all that playing time is the reason he was a
baseball player net negative in 2013.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the baseball world’s most expensive sideshow.
I don’t even know where to start this post. Alex Rodriguez brought an unprecedented amount of negative to the Yankees this past season, both in terms of off-the-field distractions and in a pure on-field baseball sense. It was remarkable. A chore to sit through on a day-to-day basis but utterly fascinating at the same time. I guess the best way to do this is chronologically. Links take you to the pertinent RAB post.
December 3rd: Oh hey, Alex needs major hip surgery
During the very first day of the Winter Meetings, Brian Cashman took to the podium not to announce a trade or a free agent signing, but to announce that Rodriguez needed surgery to repair a torn labrum and a bone impingement as well as correct a cyst in his left hip. The injury apparently occurred sometime late in the regular season and was to blame for his dreadful postseason showing. (Unfortunately the rest of the team had no such excuse.) The surgery required 4-6 weeks of “pre-hab” and a 4-6 month recovery time, meaning A-Rod would be out until the All-Star break or so. The Yankees scrambled to sign Kevin Youkilis as a replacement third baseman and he managed to play fewer games than Alex in 2013, but I digress.
January 26th: Enter Anthony Bosch
This is the first time most of us heard about Bosch, a seedy quasi-doctor in South Florida who was being investigated by MLB and the DEA for allegedly providing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, including A-Rod. This would not be the last time we heard about him. Not by a long shot.
January 29th: A-Rod is officially connected to Bosch and PEDs
A few days later, The Miami New-Times published a lengthy exposé that included detailed records showing A-Rod had indeed received HGH and other banned substances from Bosch during a period of time from 2009-2012. The records included payment schedules and all sorts of other stuff. A number of other players were connected to Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic in the report as well. Over the next few days, we heard there was basically no chance the Yankees would be able to void the remaining five years and $114M left on Rodriguez’s contract.
February 12th: No camp for A-Rod
As MLB conducted their investigation into Bosch and Biogenesis behind the scenes, the Yankees started Spring Training without Alex. He was directed to stay home and continue his rehab following the hip surgery in New York. The injury provided a convenient excuse but it obvious the team wanted their third baseman nowhere near the club. They didn’t want the distraction. One day after the announcement, A-Rod was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for the newly-acquired Shawn Kelley.
April 12th: A-Rod may or may not have purchased Biogenesis documents
The Biogenesis story started to get cooky in mid-April, when it was reported A-Rod tried to purchase documents from people connected to the clinic in an effort to keep them away from MLB. Later that afternoon, a different report shot that down. Meanwhile, MLB was in the process of filing lawsuits against Bosch and several other important parties, but not Alex or any other players.
May 2nd: Cleared for baseball activities
A little less than five months following the surgery, Rodriguez and his surgically repaired hip was cleared to resume baseball activities. This was the first step of a long, long road. It wasn’t a typical rehab. A-Rod had to slowly build himself up before returning to the team.
June 6th: Attempted extortion
By now we all knew MLB was out for blood. They wanted to bury A-Rod and Ryan Braun specifically, the biggest names in the Biogenesis scandal. The league was looking to suspend upwards of 20 players, but especially those two because they were considered serial users and multiple time offenders. On this date, we learned Bosch tried to extort a six-figure sum from Rodriguez before agreeing to cooperate with MLB’s investigation. In exchange for Bosch’s cooperation, MLB dropped their lawsuit, covered his legal bills and civil liability, and provided him with bodyguards. Jumping into bed with the league after trying to extort A-Rod is shady, shady stuff.
June 10th: A-Rod to Japan?
Oh, by the way, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan called the Yankees to inquire about Rodriguez’s availability over the winter, but New York never bothered to call them back. This is a real thing that really happened.
June 25th: STFU
In a passive aggressive attempt to annoy the Yankees and MLB and whoever else, A-Rod was tweeting out details about his rehab. The team didn’t take too kindly to that, to the point that Brian Cashman suggested his third baseman should “shut the f**k up” while talking with a reporter. The GM eventually apologized and all that, but frustration had started to boil over.
July 2nd: Rehab games
Seven months after surgery and two months after being cleared to resume baseball activities, Rodriguez began an official minor league rehab assignment with Low-A Charleston. He went 0-for-2 and played three innings at third base. His 20-day rehab window had begun.
July 20th: When quads attack
Bad weather forced Alex to jump between minor league levels during his rehab, but he was with Triple-A Scranton in the middle of July and was only a few days away from rejoining the team when he felt some tightness in his left quad. Supposedly it wasn’t bad, so he was not scratched from that night’s game. They shifted him to DH instead.
July 21st: Grade I
The Yankees sent A-Rod for tests on his quad, tests that revealed a Grade I strain. Rather than meet the team in Texas to be activated off the DL as scheduled, he would be shut down for roughly two weeks. I am convinced the team delayed his return as long as possible because they hoped he would be suspended so they could be rid of him and the distraction. Completely convinced.
July 24th: Quad injury? What quad injury?
Three days after the Grade I strain diagnosis, Dr. Michael Gross called into Mike Francesa’s show to say he saw no quad strain when he gave Rodriguez an unofficial second opinion. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t see any injury there,” said Gross. A-Rod reported no pain and said he felt ready to be activated off the DL and play that night. The Yankees later fined Rodriguez because he sought a second opinion without first notifying the team in writing per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He was sent for a third opinion the next day that confirmed the Grade I strain diagnosis. Things were starting to get weird, needless to say.
August 2nd: Rehab, part deux
Rodriguez returned to Double-A Trenton to start his rehab (again) and homered in his first game. He drew four walks the next day, in what was ultimately his final minor league game of 2013.
August 5th: A-Rmageddon
This is when things got completely nuts. On the afternoon of August 5th, A-Rod and a dozen other players were officially suspended for their ties to Biogenesis. Those 12 other players all received 50-game bans and started serving their suspensions immediately. Rodriguez received a record 211 games that covered the rest of 2013 and all of 2014. MLB essentially gave him 50 games for being a first-time offender and 161 games for trying to interfere with their investigation. Despite rumors that Bud Selig would invoke a commissioner’s power that would ban Alex from baseball in the “best interests of the game,” he did no such thing.
Unlike the other 12 players, Rodriguez appealed his suspension and rejoined the team that night. On the same day he was given a historic suspension, he played his first game of the season. Crazy. A-Rod met the club in Chicago for a three-game series with the White Sox and went 1-for-4 with a walk in his first big league game of 2013. Not coincidentally, the YES Network recorded their highest ratings of the season that night. Alex went 15-for-47 (.319) with two doubles and two homers (.897 OPS) in his first 12 games back and gave the offense a major shot in the arm.
August 17th: Enter Joseph Tacopina
Tacopina, A-Rod’s lawyer for his appeal, blasted the Yankees during an interview and said the team deliberately endangered his client’s health by playing him with the hip injury during the postseason last year in an effort to get him out of baseball. He claimed the team hid MRI results that showed the labrum tear. “They rolled him out there like an invalid and made him look like he was finished as a ballplayer … They did things and acted in a way that is downright terrifying,” said Tacopina. The next day we learned Alex’s camp had started the process of filing a medical grievance. Cashman told reporters he felt uncomfortable around A-Rod but rooted for him because he wore pinstripes. So very weird.
August 18th: Officer Ryan Dempster, Baseball Police
In the finale of a three-game set with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Dempster took it upon himself to punish Rodriguez for his alleged PED crimes. He threw the first pitch of their first encounter behind A-Rod’s legs, the next two inside at his waist, and the fourth at his ribs. Joe Girardi got tossed after storming out of the dugout because both benches were warned but Dempster was not ejected despite obviously throwing at a player. The righty would be suspended five games a few days later. A few innings later, Alex hit a monster solo homer to dead center against Dempster, the team’s longest homer of the season. New York came from behind in the late innings to win what was then a huge game. Probably the highlight of the season, no?
September 10th: Hamstrung
With his batting line sitting at .301/.388/.496 after 31 games and 129 plate appearances, Rodriguez was forced out of a game against the Orioles with tightness in his left hamstring. No tests were performed and A-Rod returned to the lineup the very next night as the DH. The Yankees were fighting for a wildcard spot, after all. He would not play the field again the rest of the season.
September 15th: Now, the calf
Five days later, Alex had to leave a game against the Red Sox with tightness in his right calf. The team was off the next day and A-Rod returned to the lineup the day after that, again as the DH. At this point he was playing on a bad calf, a bad hamstring, and two surgically repaired hips. It was obvious the mounting leg injuries were affecting him at the plate as his swing was basically all arms late in the season. He looked like he did during the postseason last year. In his final 13 games of the season, basically from the hamstring injury through the end of the year, A-Rod went 4-for-43 (.093) with two homers (.483 OPS), including his record 24th career grand slam. He finished the season with seven homers and a .244/.348/.423 (113 wRC+) batting line in 44 games and 181 plate appearances.
September 30th: Now the show really starts
The appeal hearing of Rodriguez’s suspension started the first day after the end of the regular season. MLB kicked things off with about a week’s worth of testimony — the two sides traded public barbs the whole time — but scheduling conflicts put the hearing into a recess until mid-November. The hearing will resume on November 18th and a ruling is not expected until sometime in mid-December.
October 4th: Lawsuits for everyone
If A-Rod goes down, he’s going down with guns blazing. Early last month, his legal team filed two separate lawsuits: one against Selig and MLB for their “witch hunt” and trying to push him out of the game, and another against team doctor Christopher Ahmad for misdiagnosing his hip injury last fall. Refer back to the August 17th entry. He reportedly asked the union to step down as his lead counsel during the appeal because he felt they had not take advantage of opportunities to challenge the league’s shady investigation. Rodriguez is burning every bridge in an attempt to clear his name. Proceedings for the lawsuit against MLB started just yesterday. Nothing had started in the case against Ahmad as far as we know.
* * *
So that is all of it. Eleven months of scandal and injuries and baseball and more scandal. It’s something only A-Rod could pull off, really. The Yankees can now do nothing but sit and wait as the appeal process plays out, hoping their highest paid player gets suspended for a most if not all of next season so they have some extra money to work with this offseason. What a crazy world we live in.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s nominal ace for two years running.
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, there was legitimate concern about how Hiroki Kuroda would handle a small Yankee Stadium and the AL East after opening his big league career in spacious Dodger Stadium and the generally pitcher-friendly NL West. Those are two extremely different run environments, nevermind the general concern associated with a pitcher on the wrong side of 35.
Kuroda showed last season that those concerns were unwarranted by pitching to a 3.32 ERA and 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings. He fit in so well that the Yankees gave him a nice big raise and brought him back for 2013, and pretty much no one had a problem with it. Why would they? Kuroda’s awesome. He was getting up there in age but it was a one-year contract. The risk was small, the reward potentially high.
It’s easy to forget that the start of Kuroda’s season was only a fraction of an inch away from being disastrous. In the second inning of his first start, he reached for a Shane Victorino line drive with his barehand and took the ball right off his fingertips. Joe Girardi and the trainer came out to look at him, but Kuroda ultimately stayed in the game after a few test pitches. It was obvious he wasn’t right though, he plunked two of the next four batters and walked another on four pitches. He was removed from the game after that.
Tests showed no break thankfully, just a contusion that needed a few days to heal. Kuroda made his next start five days later and still seemed to be showing some lingering effects from the liner as he walked four in 5.1 innings against the Indians. The Yankees took advantage of an off-day to give the right-hander and his bruised finger some extra rest, and the results were immediate. In his third start of the year, Kuroda held the Orioles to five singles and zero walks while striking out five in a complete-game shutout.
That game was the beginning of a nine-start stretch in which Kuroda allowed only 13 runs (1.92 ERA and 3.28 FIP) in 61 innings, holding batters to a .204/.234/.321 batting line. He completed seven full innings of work in seven of those nine starts. Believe it or not, his worst outing of the season — five runs on eight hits in only two innings against the Orioles — is included in this nine-start stretch.
Kuroda had an effective but ultimately average month of June (3.92 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 39 innings across six starts) before putting together an utterly dominant month of July. He made five starts — one apiece against the Orioles, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers, so not exactly the easiest competition — and allowed two runs total, pitching to a 0.55 ERA and 2.33 FIP in 33 innings. Kuroda went at least seven full innings in four of the five starts and the only reason he didn’t work deep into the other game was a lengthy rain delay that cut his outing short.
In 19 first half starts, Kuroda pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 118.2 innings. Only Felix Hernandez (2.53 ERA) had been better at preventing runs among AL hurlers, and obviously he enjoys a much more pitcher-friendly atmosphere in Seattle. Kuroda did not make the All-Star team mostly because his teammates never scored runs and his win-loss record sat at a forgettable 8-6. Chris Tillman, he of the 11-3 record (3.95 ERA and 4.94 FIP) got the final pitching spot on the AL squad.
As neat as an All-Star Game berth would have been, Kuroda probably needed the rest more than anything. He was able to take a full week off between starts thanks to the break and he continued to dominate early in the second half — 1.25 ERA and 2.02 FIP in 36 innings across his first five starts. Following eight shutout innings against the Angels on August 12th, Kuroda owned a league-leading 2.33 ERA (3.20 FIP) and was a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Not an “he’s good and a Yankee so he should be a Cy Young candidate,” a real live Cy Young candidate.
Unfortunately, Kuroda hit a wall in mid-August, the same wall he hit in mid-August last year. I assume it is due to his age and his workload — he stopped throwing his regular between-starts bullpen session in an effort to stay fresh late in the season — and a million other things. Regardless, his Cy Young hopes crashed and burned with eight dreadful starts to close out the year. Here is the carnage in table form:
|4/1 to 8/12||24||6.4||2.33||3.20||1.02||3.79||0.70||.226/.265/.338|
|8/13 to 9/29||8||5.8||6.56||4.46||1.62||2.86||1.54||.316/.364/.551|
I wasn’t exaggerating, that’s really awful! Kuroda was an absolute disaster in his final eight starts. That batting line against is in the neighborhood of what Robinson Cano hit this summer (.314/.383/.516). Kuroda turned every batter he faced in his final eight starts into Cano with more power. Seriously. As soon as the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention, they effectively shut him down for the season. They never called it that, but they did skip his final start.
The Yankees faded out of the race partly because of Kuroda’s poor finish, but then again they wouldn’t even have been in the race in the first place had he not pitched so well during the first four-and-a-half months of the season. Those disastrous last eight starts, exactly one-quarter of his season, doesn’t erase all of the good he did before then. That he pitched to a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings overall despite that ugly finish is a testament to how outstanding he was for much of the summer. The guy was truly dominant and the anchor of the staff.
It will take quite a bit of research to answer definitively, but my hunch is that Kuroda was one of the best one-year pitching contracts in baseball history. Not just Yankees history (that’s a given), but all baseball history. Heck, he might be on that list twice for these last two seasons. He’s been that good. New York made Kuroda a qualifying offer before the deadline earlier this week, so if he leaves for another MLB team, they’ll receive a draft pick in return. There is reason to be concerned about him going forward given his age and how he finished, but there’s not doubt #HIROK was one of the few things to go right for the Yankees in 2013.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a big name outfielder who provided small name production.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a move will work out exactly the way I expected it to work out. The Ichiro Suzuki re-signing was one of those moves. It was a terrible signing at the time (two years!!!) and it looks just as terrible today. Those three great weeks at the end of last season were a total mirage — the Magic of the Pinstripes™ failed Ichiro miserably in 2013. He looked old and washed up because, well, he’s old and washed up. Here is his 2013 season in three acts:
Act One: The Terrible Start
It’s hard to believe Ichiro was asked to be the everyday right fielder at the outset of the season. Yet there he was, starting ten of the team’s first 13 games and playing against both righties and lefties. He singled to center field in his second at-bat of the season and then went hitless in his next 14 at-bats. Ichiro went 8-for-42 with one extra-base hit (a homer) in the team’s first 14 games, good for a .190/.255/.262 batting line. The Yankees were winning and an early season slump is usually nothing to worry about, so Suzuki got a free pass because hey, he’s Ichiro Suzuki and he’ll figure it out.
Act Two: The Inevitable Hot Streak
Naturally, Ichiro figured it out and went on a two-and-a-half month hot streak. From April 19th through July 4th, a span of 70 team games, he hit .296/.339/.408 with four homers and 12 stolen bases in 255 plate appearances. It wasn’t exactly Ichiro circa 2004 or even Ichiro circa September 2012, but it was good enough. The highlight of the hot streak was a walk-off solo homer against Tanner Scheppers and the Rangers, one of four games in which New York swatted four of more homers in 2013.
That 70-game hot streak featured 18 multi-hit games and only 26 strikeouts, raising his season batting line to .280/.318/.387. Ichiro was piling up base hits and making noise on the bases, plus he was still playing solid defense. He was contributing both at the plate and in the field, exactly what the injury-riddled Yankees needed. The early slump was forgotten and any concern that he was, uh, old and washed up disappeared for a little while. A streak like this was inevitable at some point, I felt.
Act Three: The Awful Finish
Things very quickly went south for Ichiro. Following the (arbitrarily cut-off) hot streak, he went into a 6-for-27 (.222) and 17-for-73 (.233) slide. Ichiro hit .239/.272/.290 with two homers and eight steals in his final 253 plate appearances and the team’s final 76 games of the season. Ichiro started only 57 of those 76 games because he hit his way out of the lineup, first losing time to Zoilo Almonte and then to Curtis Granderson before Brett Gardner got hurt late in the year. He did record his 4,000th professional hit on August 21st, which was pretty cool:
Ichiro finished the season at .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) with seven homers and 20 steals (in 24 attempts) in 555 plate appearances. He set new career worsts in AVG, OBP, wRC+, stolen bases, and plate appearances. It was, by a not small margin, the worst offensive season of his career. Ichiro did play strong right field defense despite developing what appeared to be a Bobby Abreu-esque fear of the wall late in the season. Maybe he was hiding an injury and didn’t want to aggravate it by running into the wall, who knows. Maybe that explains the noodle bat as well, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
* * *
Depending on your preference, Ichiro was either a 1.1-win player (fWAR) or a 1.4-win player (bWAR) in 2013, obviously on the strength of his defense. That’s … okay, I guess. It’s basically the bare minimum for a starting player. Suzuki’s season, these three acts, is best shown in graph form:
Down, then up (teetering on good!), then really down.
Unfortunately, we’re all going to get a look at Act Four in 2014. Ownership signed Ichiro to a two-year contract (!!!) and pending the team’s offseason moves, he is currently slated to open next season as the regular-ish right fielder. His skillset at this point is that of a fourth or fifth outfielder: some average, no on-base skills, no power, good base-running, good defense. The kind of guy you can find for maybe a million bucks in the offseason. Instead, Ichiro and his unparallelled marketability will earn $6.25M in 2014 and again provide below-average production. Old, overpaid, and on the decline. The Yankees way.
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young player who failed to take advantage of a good opportunity.
After Russell Martin signed with the Pirates and the Yankees declined to bring in another catcher, it was obvious Austin Romine would get a chance to play at some point this past season. He was slated to open the year with Triple-A Scranton while Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart held down the fort at the big league level, but the opportunity was inevitable. Either someone would get hurt or play their way off the roster.
Sure enough, the opportunity came towards the end of April. Cervelli took a foul tip off his right hand and was expected to miss several weeks with a fracture, but a setback and a 50-game suspension eventually ended his season. For all intents and purposes, Romine was the backup catcher to Stewart this season. The opportunity came and it came early.
The first ten weeks in the show were a total disaster for Romine. He hit .132/.145/.176 with 17 strikeouts and zero walks (!) in 71 plate appearances from late-April through mid-July, a span of 23 starts and 32 games played. I get that playing sporadically — it was obvious Joe Girardi had an affinity for Stewart and would play him whenever possible — is tough to do, especially as a kid when you’re used to playing everyday, but man were the first weeks ugly for Romine. He looked completely overwhelmed.
Romine spent several weeks working with hitting coaching Kevin Long while also getting input from his father Kevin, a former big league outfielder with the Red Sox. His performance started to turn around in mid-July, right before the All-Star break. Romine played in three of four games before the break and went 3-for-8 with a double and his first walk of the season, which was something to feel good about. I think that “something to feel good about” part was rather important. There’s no doubt the kid needed a confidence-booster.
The playing time remained sporadic immediately after the break but Romine kept hitting, enough that Girardi started playing him a little bit more. He started ten of the first 25 games after the break and went 13-for-32 (.406) with five walks, four doubles, and his first big league homer, a monster solo shot to dead center field at spacious Petco Park. Three weeks later, he had his best at-bat of the season, working a nine-pitch bases-loaded walk against David Price.
The mini-hot steak came to an abrupt end in mid-August and Romine went only 3-for-27 (.111) with seven strikeouts the rest of the way. His season ended on September 10th against the Orioles, when he took a foul tip to the face mask and suffered a concussion. Romine was actually cleared to play late in the season but Girardi didn’t take a chance. They basically shut him down for the year, which was a wise move.
All told, Romine hit an awful .207/.255/.296 (48 wRC+) with just the one homer in 148 plate appearances this season. He only threw out eight of 38 attempted base-stealers as well, a well-below-average 21%. I thought he was okay on balls in the dirt and stuff like that, but who really knows. There isn’t an easy or reliable way to quantify that stuff.
What we do know is that Romine was terrible at the plate and at throwing runners out. Really terrible. The little hot streak was encouraging but who knows if it was a glimpse of what he can really do or just that, a hot streak. Either way, Romine was given a great opportunity this summer and he couldn’t capitalize. The starting catching job is wide open both right now and for the foreseeable future, yet he was unable to take advantage. Romine could have cemented himself in the team’s long-term plans with a strong showing this summer, but it just didn’t happen.