Archive for Rants
If you waded into the RAB comments a month ago, you’d have thought the Yankees were on their way from first to last. It wasn’t just limited to this site, of course; Yankees fans everywhere complained that this team was done, that they had no chance, that it was obvious to anyone who knew anything about baseball that they were going to miss the playoffs.
Yet here we sit, the Yankees taking a much-needed three-day vacation after having secured the best record in the American League. Funny how that works out: the team that was the best for more than two-thirds of the season ended the season on top, despite hitting a rough patch.
Apologies to those of you who didn’t lose your cool. There were undoubtedly a number of fans who remained levelheaded, and many of them frequent RAB. I’m sure your lives were much more pleasant from August 16 through September 11, when the Yankees went 9-15 and saw a six-game lead turn into a tie for first.
Don’t get me wrong: that time was no fun. But it involved a series of events over which we had no control. While we do get invested in the sport — some of us more than is healthy — it’s sheer insanity to let it affect other facets of your life. The fact that the Yankees had played so well up to that point — they had the best record in the AL by 2.5 games — should have bought them a little slack as they hit a rough patch. That they were missing some key players, including their ace and two middle of the order hitters, should have bought them even more.
Honestly, it was relatively easy to weather this storm. All you need to do is fine something else remotely interesting to take your mind off matters. I suggest some of the more blatant trolls on RAB try this. Not only will you feel better in the head, but you’ll be much more pleasant in the comments sections. We’d all appreciate that.
Read a book. It’s the great cure for nearly any stressful situation. Just find a book, any book, and start reading. I guarantee it’ll help you get over your favorite baseball team losing a few games. You might even learn something in the process. Plus, you could uncover some lines that prove prophetic.
“The Yankees cannot lose.”
“But I fear the Indians of Cleveland.”
“Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.”
“In the American League it is the Yankees as I said,” the old man said happily.
“They lost today,” the boy told him.
“That means nothing. The great DiMaggio is himself again.”
- Ernest Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea
I imagine the last part of that conversation coming on Saturday, after the loss to Toronto, only replacing DiMaggio with Cano.
Immerse yourself in another hobby or — gasp — work. When the Yankees were losing games it actually became easier to focus on work. Yeah, weird, right? But without the pressing need to finish by 7 so I could flip on the game, it became easier to sit down and really dig deep into something. I got to test out an all-in-one PC from Lenovo, which was fun as anything. I also got to some serious writing, which is typically quite difficult during baseball season. But it could have been building model solar systems, cracking passwords, or any number of hobbies.
Remember the past. You don’t even have to look to previous seasons to see how a team can wax and wane during a season. The Yankees went 11-15 from April 24 through May 21 before going 25-7 from the 22nd through June 27th.
Do — anything, really. Sorry for coming off as condescending, but it’s really straight forward stuff. If the Yankees bother you that much, turn your attention elsewhere. They’ll be there when you get back. It doesn’t make you a bad fan to turn it off when it makes you upset. What makes you a bad fan is watching, getting mad, and making a fool of yourself in front of others. Sure, it might just be an internet message board or social media service, but you’re still acting the fool. To me that’s far more egregious than turning away and avoiding those ill feelings.
As we’d say back in the olden days:
Honestly, the past few days have been quite wonderful. They’ve been somewhat stressful, because there remained the chance the Yankees would play the play-in-game, or even a playoff for the AL East crown. But that’s just part of baseball’s normal excitement. Plus, when Raul Ibanez hit that homer in the bottom of the ninth, was there any doubt left in your mind that they’d take the AL East?
It was a rough month in the middle there, for sure. There’s nothing not frustrating about a 9-15 stretch that eliminates a six-game lead. But that doesn’t invalidate the previous 114 games, nor does it mean the slide will continue for the final 21 games of the season. And, of course, the Yankees went 16-5 in those final 21, which brought their final record closely in line with the .592 winning percentage they had before the collapse began.
Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. It’s baseball. It happens.
One-hundred and thirty-five games into the season, the Yankees are right back where they started on Opening Day following last night’s loss to the Rays. They’re tied atop the AL East with the Orioles while Tampa looms just two back in the loss column, meaning the only thing left this season is a four-week mad dash to the finish line. A new 27-game season.
“It doesn’t (feel any different having a lead in the division or being tied),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game, which is typical manager-speak. Of course it feels different having a lead than not, these guys aren’t robots. “When you look at it, you have to play good baseball. If you want to get in the playoffs, you have to play good baseball. And we’ve got [27 games left], and we have to play good.”
As ridiculous as this sounds, the best possible way the Yankees can view their current situation is as a fresh start. The once ten-game division lead is already blown and there’s no going back in time to get it back. They’re actually lucky they blew this thing with 27 games left, because at least now they have time to reclaim the division lead. The Red Sox and Braves had no such luck last year. The Yankees have to look at this as “alright, we’re all 0-0 and the best team over the next 27 games will win it.” What more could they possibly do? I don’t see any other way to look at it.
Oh, and you know what the most messed up part of this is? Driving back to my hotel from Tropicana Field last night, I felt relieved. Relieved they blew this lead. How ridiculous is that? Relieved. The Yankees have been playing so poorly for such a long time that blowing the division lead felt inevitable. Maybe it would happen today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Who knows. It felt like it was only a matter of time before it happened and I guess I was relieved that the wait was finally over. Remember back when you were a kid and you had to get up in front of the class to make a presentation, and how you were all nervous beforehand but felt great afterwards because it was over with? Kinda like that. The collapse part is done, now they can try to rebuild.
Anyway, the Yankees made their bed by playing sub-.500 ball since the All-Star break, so now instead of coasting to the finish line and making sure everyone is well prepared for the postseason, the playoffs basically start today. Tonight is Game One of a best-of-27 series … well, it doesn’t really work like that. But you get the point. The Yankees blew their nice cushy lead and they should be embarrassed by their play. I can’t imagine an athlete feeling any other way after a stretch like this. The season isn’t over though, there is still 16.7% of the schedule remaining and that has be the team’s focus. Looking back at what’s already happened will only doom them further.
The Yankees slogged through yet another one-run loss last night, their eighth such defeat during this 6-12 stretch that dates back to the start of the West Coast trip in Oakland. They went from having a 13-9 record in one-run games to a 13-17 record in the span of two weeks. It’s unbelievable how they continue to fall short in tight games like this, it really is. I suppose the good news is that they haven’t been getting blown out of the water during this ugly 18-game stretch, but that really doesn’t make me feel any better.
Rather than put together an organized, reasonable, and well-thought-out post on the Yankees’ struggles, I’m just going to riff a bit. This seems more therapeutic.
* While the Yankees are busy embarrassing themselves in one-run games, the friggin’ Orioles are now 23-6 (!) in those affairs following last night’s extra-innings win. They’ve won a dozen straight extra-inning games, dating back to their first home series of the season when the Yankees beat them in extras twice. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s just good timing, maybe they’re just oh so clutch, but whatever it is it sure is annoying. At some point the other shoe will drop, and hopefully it will happen before next season.
* You know what else is annoying? The Yankees’ pitchers seem to give back every run the offense gives them in the span of an inning these days. Phil Hughes did it last night, Ivan Nova did it the night before, Nova did it again in spectacular fashion in his last start before that … the whole “shutdown innings” thing seems to have gone out the window. This has become one unwelcome habit. Maintaining a lead for more than one inning should not feel like a miracle.
* Last night’s start notwithstanding, Hughes has pitched pretty well for the last three months or so. I’m going to have a little more on him later today at some point, but for now I’m just going to post a slightly scary graph…
That is Phil’s strikeout rate as the season has progressed, and as you can see it’s been trending downward. I didn’t expect him to flirt with a whiff-per-inning all season, but after last night’s showing he’s down to 7.66 K/9 (20.0 K%). It wasn’t that long ago that he was among the AL’s top five with a 4.00 K/BB ratio, but it’s now down to a still strong 3.61. It keeps going down though.
* The Yankees have absolutely missed Alex Rodriguez, who even in his declining state serves as a steady contributor in the middle of the lineup. But did you know that during his absence, a span of 12 games, the replacement third basemen have hit a combined .359/.409/.744 with four homers? Obviously it’s a small sample, but damn. That’s pretty awesome. Only problem is that most of the other positions are hitting like they’re blindfolded.
* Eric wrote about this last week, but I can’t help but look around the league at the trade deadline. Every other AL contender — the Angels, Rangers, Tigers, and White Sox — all improved themselves in significant ways via trade. The Yankees got Casey McGehee and the reanimated corpse of Ichiro Suzuki. I despise the whole “the best trade they could make is getting their own players back and healthy” idea, it seems to lazy. I want to think that 40-year-old Andy Pettitte will come back to reinforce the pitching staff and that 37-year-old A-Rod to will return to anchor the lineup, but I just don’t buy it. Settling for Ichiro may hurt more than it helps.
* I think my ideal lineup right now would have a top five of Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson. The more I think about Granderson leading off the less I like it only because his power is wasted with Ichiro and the catcher batting ahead of him. Plus it’s not like Curtis has been doing a great job of getting on-base himself these last few weeks. The lineup doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I am a fan of tinkering. It could mean a lot in an individual game.
* Of course, my proposed top of the lineup means a whole bunch of lefties will be stacked in the lower third, and the baseball universe might collapse upon itself if that happens. Seriously though, who cares? With McGehee, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix, the Yankees have right-handed pinch-hitters aplenty on the bench. Having a strong group of reserves is only an advantage if you’re willing to use them liberally.
* The lead in the division is down to five games in the loss column over Baltimore, the smallest it’s been since the end of June. Five games is a scary number because it seems so small compared to the nine and ten-game leads New York held a few weeks ago, but five games is pretty significant. Do you know when the Yankees held their first five-game lead last year? September 19th, after their 152nd game of the season. The magic number to clinch the division is just 49. Losing 12 of 18 and still being able to have a lead that size is pretty awesome … if that’s the right word.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are overly reliant on the homerun. They’ve hit a MLB-best 115 dingers through their first 72 games, the most homers through that many games in franchise history. Something like 52% of their runs this season has scored via the long ball, by far the most in the majors. They hit three more last night in their third straight win. New York lives and dies by the homer right now and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
I’m pretty sure the Yankees are the only club capable of making people try to spin hitting so many homers into a bad thing. There’s a lot of anti-Yankee stuff out there — I’d venture to say more than every other team combined — because hey, lots of people hate the Yankees and that stuff sells. I know all about the utter lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .220/.326/.394 after a 1-for-3 effort last night — but we’re talking about 26% of their total plate appearances this season. That other 74% counts as well, and the Yankees do more damage in those situations than any other team in baseball.
Remember, “scoring position” is a cookie cutter definition applied to all players and teams. It refers to plate appearances when there is a runner on second and/or third and while that’s useful to a certain extent, the Yankees also have runners in scoring position when there’s a guy on first or even when the bases are empty. They have a roster full of power hitters and on most nights, have about eight guys in the lineup capable of putting the run on the board by themselves with one swing. Power is becoming harder to find these days and the Yankees have enough to spare.
At some point, the team’s .229 (!) BABIP with men in scoring position (the cookie cutter kind) will correct and that .220 batting average will climb. Most of the time saying BABIP will regress to some mean is lazy, because there can be some very real explanations for why someone’s rate will fluctuate from year-to-year or even month-to-month. The Yankees are nearly 30 points (!) below the second lowest team and about 70 (!!!) points away from the AL average though. Some of those guys are definitely pressing in those spots and it’s hurting the quality of their contact, but they’ve also been quite unlikely in those spots as a team. I mean really unlikely. Even getting up to a .250 BABIP with men in scoring position is going to turn a powerhouse offense into a juggernaut.
People like to say that you can’t really on the homer against quality pitching in the postseason but the Yankees have already hung 5+ runs on the likes of Johan Santana, Justin Verlander (twice), Jamie Shields (twice), David Price, and R.A. Dickey this year. Heck, last year in the ALDS they scored 12 runs in 18.2 innings off Verlander and Doug Fister. When a good pitcher makes a mistake, you have to make them pay. A walk and three singles to score two runs against a top guy just doesn’t happen. They’re great pitchers because they don’t allow extended rallies.
It’s June, and literally nothing that happens in June will tell you anything about what will happen in October. There’s still more than half a season to play and something like 20% of the roster will turn over between now and October, if not more. Hopefully the Yankees will start hitting with men in scoring position soon, but the reason they have the best record in baseball right now is because they hit the ball out of park and get quality pitching just about every night. That’s the formula every team tries to follow and the Yankees have done it better than anyone this year. Embrace the homers and don’t sweat the RISPFAIL just yet. This is a legitimately great team that still has room to improve.
While many Yanks fans are headed down to Washington, D.C. for the series this weekend, I’m headed in the opposite direction. So while they get to watch the game live from Nationals park, I’m stuck with the two voices that any road tripping Yankees fan has to endure. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman will be my guides for the weekend’s slate of games.
It’s become popular of late to pile onto this broadcasting team. Some of it is warranted, of course. While Sterling might have a voice made for radio, he fails in so many other aspects of game-calling. It seems as though at least once a game he completely misses a call. As in, he says one thing, when nothing of the sort has taken place on the field. And that’s my biggest complaint.
Sure, there are other annoying aspects of the broadcast. Ralph Nader recently railed against the in-game advertisements Sterling reads. These ads, he says, “disrupt the flow and excitement of the game broadcast and undermine your responsibilities as a guardian of the national pastime.” It makes for nice rhetoric, but radio is still a business that needs to turn a profit. With traditional ad dollars down, they have to recoup somewhere. Sure, I sometimes imagine Sterling doing spots for companies I’m researching. “That’s an energetic blast, and your company can take care of all its energy needs with ABB energy.” But realizing its’ a business, it’s not that bothersome.
And yes, there are the inane conversations between he and Suzyn about seemingly irrelevant topics. But that’s pretty inevitable in any three-hour broadcast. They have so much time to fill, and even more when a pitcher is working slowly. (And they make sure to lament that when it happens.) It’s tough to begrudge them these conversations, though, because they’re impromptu. They’re naturally going to get a detail wrong here, or go off on an unrelated tangent there. Nature of the beast and all.
Of Sterling’s bombastic calls I couldn’t care less. He created his schtick, and he’s going to run with it until the day he retires. Yes, his home run calls have become increasingly pathetic with age. Oh well. He still gets riled up, and it’s not really bothersome. It is, after all, his broadcast, and if he wants to spice it up in some manner that’s his prerogative. But if that’s all they did — have boring conversations, make ostentatious calls, and read advertisements — I wouldn’t mind. It’d be a trade-off for free descriptions of a baseball game I can’t watch.
No, the real issue is with the descriptions themselves. The broadcast team is the eyes and ears for those who have no other means. And in this regard Waldman and Sterling fail us. Again, it’s the call Sterling makes that in no way reflects what happened on the field. It’s getting tuned up for a home run call only to have the ball go 30 feet foul (which we have to learn later). Or worse, an “it is high, it is far” call for a ball that lands comfortably in front of the warning track.
The bare minimum I ask from a broadcast is an accurate description of the game, and I don’t feel as though I’m getting that with Sterling and Waldman. I understand some people enjoy their cooky style. That’s fine; it’s a matter of taste, and it’s not as though I’m immune to accusations of bad taste. But style or not, no one can forgive their play calling mishaps. It’s the very foundation of the broadcast, and yet it’s lacking wildly with the Yankees.
As we’ve learned, the Yankees could be switching broadcast stations next season. There’s a chance that this is the last hurrah for Sterling and Waldman. If so, I’d welcome the new blood. Not because I can’t stand Sterling’s home run calls, not because I’m turned off by in-game ads (the new team will read them, too, just as the teams before Sterling did), and not because I don’t enjoy Waldman’s insights. It’s because they’re failing at the most basic aspect of their jobs. Describe me the game. Even if you do nothing more, add no more personality, at least I’m informed. As a baseball fan with no way to watch the game, that’s all I ask.
The Yankees have officially hit rock bottom. With a .219 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Yankees rank dead last in the AL.* There’s really not much left to say about this. It seems unfathomable that the Yankees can hit .281 without runners in scoring position and .219 with prime opportunities to score.
*The A’s did manage to raise their BA with RISP by 11 points last night, so there’s hope, I suppose.
The oddities don’t end there, though. For instance, while the scoring position situation is bad enough by itself, the Yankees have a real issue when hitting with a runner on third base. When they don’t have a runner on third they’re hitting .276. Any time a runner is standing on third, though, the bats simply die. They’re hitting just .173, 29 for 168, in those situations.
Having multiple men on base is usually a boon for the offense. Pitchers find themselves in a spot, because they’re running out of places to put hitters. But the Yankees let opponents off the hook in these situations, hitting just .196, 50 for 255. When there is just one man on base the Yankees are hitting .275.
Man on first? No problem. The Yankees frequently move that man over, hitting a whopping .291. Unfortunately, they then have multiple men on base, which we’ve seen causes trouble. Once they get that hit with a man on first, putting runners on first and second or first and third, they’re hitting just .205. Their power is their saving grace here, as seven of their 33 hits in these situations have cleared the fence.
We’ve all seen the Yankees’ disastrous results with the bases loaded. To their advantage, the top four hitters in the order have seen the most PA with the bases loaded. To their detriment, they’re a combined 5 for 35. Three players — Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez — are hitless in a combined 18 PA with the bases loaded, though all three have at least one RBI. Andruw Jones doesn’t have a batting average with the bases loaded, having walked and hit a sac fly in his two PA. Nick Swisher, 2 for 4 with a homer and a double; Chris Stewart, 1 for 2; and Mark Teixeira, 1 for 3 with two walks and a double, have been the most effective Yankees with the bases loaded.
If one thing is made clear, it’s that these numbers are absolutely absurd. They just don’t add up, given how well the Yankees hit overall. That gives me some faith that in time they’ll turn around. Until then, though, we must suffer this seeming parody. Then again, they do continue winning. They took two of three in Detroit while going 5 for 31 with runners in scoring position, and went 6-3 on the road trip despite hitting .202 (17 for 84) with RISP. As Ben said to me yesterday, if the Yankees actually figured out how to hit with runners in scoring position they’d never lose a game.
I don’t know if there’s anything in baseball more frustrating than an underachieving team. If there is, I’m not sure I want to know. The Yankees have underachieved through their first 37 games of the season, but don’t confuse underachieving with being bad. They’ve played okay at best overall, but that’s not what they’re capable of. They haven’t played up to their full potential, specifically the starting pitching last month and the offense this month.
Last night’s 8-1 loss to the Blue Jays marked the eighth time in their last 16 games that the Yankees were held to two runs or less. That’s very hard to swallow. They’ve hit just .258/.323/.425 during those 16 games compared to a .279/.354/.479 performance in their first 21 games of the season. Their strikeout rate has gone up (15.7 K% vs. 18.4 K%) and their walk rate has gone down (10.2 BB% vs. 8.1 BB%) during those two admittedly arbitrary samples. Maybe the only difference between the first 21 games and the last 16 games is Derek Jeter‘s ridiculous hot streak. Who knows?
Is the offense going to come around at some point and start clicking on all (or at least most) cylinders? Yeah probably. It’ll be glorious when it happens but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. The Yankees appear content to just keep running the same ol’ lineup out there every night and hope that these problems will just correct themselves, which is fine I suppose. I wish they were a little more proactive with making slight changes — dropping Mark Teixeira in the lineup, moving Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher up, etc. — but there’s value in patience. It’s just tough to expect improvement when no changes are made.
One thing that I do believe is very important right now is getting Curtis Granderson a day off. I don’t mean sometime this weekend or early next week, I’m talking tonight on the turf in Toronto. Granderson’s started every game of the season in center field and he’s stuck in a 5-for-36 rut at the moment (four of those five hits are homers, ironically enough), so let’s get the man off his feet for once. It may help re-ignite his bat or it may not, but I do know that fatigued players are less effective players. A day of rest for Curtis could end up helping the offense in a big way.
There are still 125 games to go this year and that’s great news because the Yankees are going need all the time they can get to figure this thing out. They’re lucky the AL East is so competitive right now because no team has really run away with the division yet. Sitting 3.5 games back in mid-May is nothing, not when there are so many intra-divison games left to play. The Yankees don’t need a shake-up or anything drastic, but they do need to start showing signs of improvement. Talk is cheap; it’s not all that early in the season anymore and the excuses are starting to run out. This is a results town and the results haven’t been there this month.
The Yankees have been playing with a 24-man roster the last few days as Nick Swisher nurses his low-grade hamstring strain, an injury that will reportedly keep him on the shelf for another 5-7 days*. To make matters a little worse, they replaced Brett Gardner with another pitcher — first Cody Eppley, then D.J. Mitchell — when the left fielder hit the DL with various right arm problems. Of the 24 usable players, only eleven are non-pitchers. That’s a little nuts.
* I can’t imagine we’ll see him any early than Tuesday, following the scheduled off day.
No one will replace Gardner’s defensive value, but the Yankees have compounded the problem by keeping Swisher active rather than replacing him a healthy player that can play the outfield competently. That’s led to Raul Ibanez and Eduardo Nunez roaming the outfield and costing the team runs on defense, sometimes in painfully obvious ways. I understand not wanting to lose one the team’s most productive players any longer than you have too, but we’re starting to reach the point where keeping him on the roster will the cost the team more than they’ll gain by having him back a few days earlier.
The easiest way for the Yankees to fix their two-man bench problem is to simply send down Mitchell and get back to a normal 12-man pitching staff. They’ll still have Freddy Garcia available for long relief, plus CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have started pitching deeper into games on a more consistent basis. Monday’s an off day as well, a built-in day of rest. The need for eight bullpen arms just isn’t all that great right now. No, the pressing need is another warm body for the bench, someone who can at the very least play passable defense in an outfield corner and maybe even pinch-run. They don’t need miracles, just someone like Melky Mesa for a week. That’s all.
More than anything, my biggest concern in this entire roster mess is that Swisher won’t get the proper time to heal and his low-grade hamstring strain turns into a high-grade hamstring strain. It’s very easy to re-aggravate a muscle problem, especially a lower body strain on an outfielder. A setback would put the timetable for Swisher’s return at weeks, not days. If they’re dead set on keeping him off the DL, fine. They just better not rush him back because well, the bench is short. With Gardner reportedly unlikely to come off the DL when eligible tomorrow, just send down a pitcher and get another capable body where one is really needed, the corner outfield.
I can’t help but wonder if the anterior labral tear in Michael Pineda‘s right shoulder could have been avoided had he spoken up sooner about the soreness in camp, but what can you do. When you tell the kid he needs to compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training one year after he made the All-Star Team, you can’t be surprised when you find out he’s been hiding an injury. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to keep his job.
People like to assign blame in situations like this, but it really doesn’t help matters any. Blame Brian Cashman, blame the medical staff, blame Pineda, blame the Mariners, blame whoever you want. It won’t make Pineda’s shoulder any healthier. If you think this whole episode is a fireable offense, I won’t disagree with you. I don’t think you can have a trade of this magnitude go sour this quickly without someone being held accountable, I just don’t know who and neither do you.
When you boil it all down, the Yankees made the trade for Pineda because they’ve been completely unable to develop their own starting pitchers in recent years. Joba Chamberlain was the team’s best hope for a homegrown ace in quite some time, but he was forced to jump through some mind-numbingly stupid player development hoops. Phil Hughes hasn’t worked out for a number of reasons and Ian Kennedy was traded away before getting an extended audition. The IPK thing doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Joba and Hughes because at least he brought back an MVP-caliber player in the trade. That Ivan Nova has lasted as long as he has is a minor miracle.
As far as 2012 is concerned, the trade is a disaster. A complete and unmitigated disaster. The Yankees basically forfeited whatever Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi could have given them and instead won’t get anything out of Pineda or Jose Campos, who is in Low-A. I suppose they could always trade Campos for a big leaguer and extract 2012 value that way, but that’s another matter entirely. Given their recent track record of developing young arms, maybe they should trade him before they ruin him too. Okay, now I’m just trollin’.
Anyway, the Yankees made the trade for both short and long-term reasons. They thought Pineda would be a rotation upgrade in the immediate future and an ace-caliber hurler down the line. Pineda came with five years of team control before qualifying for free agency, but now the Yankees are going to get four of those five years in the absolute best case scenario. That means no setbacks, no performance decline, no further injuries, no nothing. One-fifth of their expected return has already been wiped away and they can’t get it back. They’ll be lucky if they only lose that much.
Pitchers are inherently risky, but unfortunately you actually need them to win. Good ones too, and Michael Pineda most certainly was very good last year. You don’t strike out a quarter of the batters you face with a 3.15 K/BB ratio because of good luck or because you play in a big home ballpark. I said that I thought the trade was fair on our podcast right after the deal went down, but I also said I would have rather kept Montero. This whole thing just sucks. I feel bad for Pineda as a person, I really do, but I’m also furious that there’s a really good chance the Yankees will get absolutely nothing out of Montero other than those 69 plate appearances last September. Mistakes are unavoidable in baseball, but not all are forgivable.
Last year, when he was competing for a spot in the Mariners rotation, Michael Pineda did not face intense scrutiny. People watched and dissected his performances, as they do for every pitcher. But given the Seattle media market combined with the Mariners current place in the baseball world, the attention paid him was relatively mild. One year later, you can’t click on three Yankees-related links without seeing a Pineda mention. And most of it isn’t exactly glowing.
The level of scrutiny that Pineda faces is new to him, though it’s not to us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times before. In Pineda’s case it makes all the sense in the world. He’s a young pitcher with high expectations, due to his 2011 performance, his former top prospect status, and the trade that brought him to New York. Yet it seems that attention paid him has gone from intense to overkill. Let’s quickly review the timeline of Pineda’s brief Yankees tenure.
1. When the Yankees acquired Pineda, Brian Cashman himself said that Pineda adding a changeup to his arsenal was the key to his success. Many analysts and scouts agreed.
2. Pineda comes into camp overweight, a cause for instant criticism.
3. Pineda receives early praise for his changeup, and throws it often in his early spring outings.
4. Now lacking a point of criticism, the media turns to his missing velocity as a point of major concern.
5. He builds velocity over a few starts, going from 89-91 in his first start to hitting 94 in his most recent one. But that’s not 96-97, so the criticism continues.
It’s all a bit absurd, and it grows even more so. At least one beat writer has led the charge in calling for Pineda to start the season in AAA, criticizing him at every opportunity (and even when there is no clear opportunity). Thankfully, the Yankees don’t operate to satiate the media and their desire for clicks and page views. They operate in a manner that will benefit them on the field, both now and in the future.
Are there solid, logical arguments for Pineda to start the season in AAA? There is the issue of his service clock, which the Yankees could delay by starting him in the minors. That would afford them another year of control, making Pineda a free agent after the 2017 season rather than 2016. Held back long enough, they could even delay his arbitration clock, setting his first hearing for 2015 rather than 2014. That seems like a decent incentive, especially knowing the front office’s desire — nay, mandate, as Hal Steinbrenner tells it — to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season.
Today at FanGraphs Dave Cameron offered an additional argument. He points to Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who, like Pineda, experienced a drop in velocity when he came into camp before the 2010 season. Cameron admits that the situations don’t line up, but I think he undersells the degree of difference between Pineda and Bumgarner. Bumgarner had experienced his velocity dip during the 2009 season. When it persisted in 2010 spring training, the Giants decided to keep him in the minors. This is quite different from Pineda, who not only spent all of 2011 in the majors, but also retained his velocity throughout (discounting his final start, which came on 11 days’ rest).
What both the service time and the Bumgarner arguments miss is the effect a minor league assignment would have on Pineda. Instead of looking at the situation from your armchair, look at it from Pineda’s point of view. He pitched successfully for a full major league season. He has pitched reasonably well all spring — better, certainly, than at least Ivan Nova, if not others. And now the Yankees are going to send you to the minors to work on your velocity, with the added benefit of them gaining more of your services for a cheaper price. Oh, and by the way, the Triple-A team is on a perpetual road trip because of stadium renovations. How would you feel if you were in his shoes? It’s an important consideration — as Joe Torre liked to say, there’s a heartbeat to the game.
If the Yankees feel that they can get the most out of Pineda by sending him to the minors, and if they think his confidence won’t go into the crapper, then it’s something to consider. But by all indications, this is a guy who has given it his all this spring. He might have shown up a bit overweight, but are we going to blame a 23-year-old for taking it easy the off-season after experiencing his most intense workload ever? Even so, Cashman says he’s already dropped 12 pounds and has worked as hard as anyone this spring. Is that someone you want to send away? Or is it someone you want to put in your rotation? He is, after all, one of the five most talented pitchers in camp. It seems like he should be treated as such.