2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

2014 Season Review: The Front Office

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As we inch closer to wrapping up our 2014 Season Review series, it’s time to look at the decision-making and the guys calling the shots. GM Brian Cashman is the most public figure, though he has two assistant GMs (Jean Afterman and Billy Eppler) plus an army of advisors and scouts and numbers crunchers doing grunt work. Both Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as well as team president Randy Levine have gotten involved in roster decisions over the years too. That happens with every team. No GM truly has autonomy in any sport or industry. Let’s review the team’s notable roster building decisions over the last year.

The 2013-14 Offseason

Last offseason focused on the free agency of Robinson Cano. It was by far the largest item on the team’s plate, perhaps the largest since Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract following the 2007 season. The Yankees signed Cano to one team-friendly contract way back in 2008 and reportedly his former agent Scott Boras and current representatives at Roc Nation were unwilling to discuss another below-market deal before free agency. (Remember when they asked for $305M last May?) I can’t say I blame them. Cano turned into a star and this was his chance for a massive payday.

But, even before the situation with Cano was settled, the Yankees agreed to sign Brian McCann to a five-year contract. The deal was agreed to on November 23rd and became official on December 3rd. During that time the team held firm with their seven-year, $175M offer to Cano. As far as we knew, no other team was coming close to that number. Little did we know the desperate Mariners would swoop in, offer a ten-year deal worth $240M, and lure Cano away from New York. Joel Sherman explained how things played out last December:

The Yankees and the Cano camp had initial contact last offseason and got a bit more serious in spring training. The Yankees made an opening bid in the seven-year, $160 million range. In May, the Cano camp said it wanted 10 years at $310 million and that shut down talks until the offseason.

The Yankees climbed to $165 million after the season. Cano came back saying he wanted $28 million for nine years — $252 million – with a vesting option for a 10th year. When there was little further movement, the Yankees grew pessimistic the gulf could ever be closed. They were planning to be aggressive in the offseason anyway, but they decided they needed to sign players or else the prices would inflate further if Cano left and agents sensed the Yankees were desperate. Which is why they were so bold with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury – and several others they have yet to sign.

Reportedly the Yankees knew they were going to lose Cano on Friday, November 29th, so they jumped into action and had a deal in place with Ellsbury by Tuesday, December 3rd. Cano’s deal with Seattle was not reportedly agreed to until that Friday, December 6th. Later that night the Yankees agreed to sign Carlos Beltran. As Sherman explained, the team wanted to take care of business before word of Cano’s defection got out and prices soured, so it’s clear Ellsbury and Beltran were their Plan B. According to Jon Heyman, “they were all on board” with the McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran contracts, meaning Cashman and ownership.

That plan sounds great, but did it actually work? Top Boras clients never sign in early-December, so you know they met his high asking price for Ellsbury. Boras always takes his top clients deep into the offseason before striking a deal, so he must have been thrilled with the team’s offer for Ellsbury to sign so soon. Beltran, meanwhile, reportedly had three-year offers in hand from the Diamondbacks and Royals worth pretty much exactly what he took from the Yankees. If the team did save money by acting fast and agreeing to deals with Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, it seems like it was a very small amount.

Of course, every last dollar mattered to the Yankees last offseason because they were still trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold, so even saving a small amount was important. It wasn’t until MLB and NPB changed their posting agreement in December that the team decided to go over the threshold. The new system allowed Masahiro Tanaka to receive an enormous contract, all of which counted against the payroll for luxury tax purposes. His contract would have been much smaller — perhaps one-third of what he actually received — under the old system and not put the team on the hook for a big luxury tax hit.

Alex Rodriguez lost his appeal and was suspended for the entire 2014 season on January 13th, which wiped his salary off the books for the year. The Yankees agreed to sign Tanaka about ten days later, and once that happened, getting under the luxury tax threshold was impossible, even with A-Rod off the books for 2014. “The decision to go over 189 was for one player and that was Tanaka, and I have no regrets about that because he’s going to be everything that we saw in the first three months of the season. He’s going to be great,” said Hal Steinbrenner a few weeks ago.

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

The Mariners made it very easy to say goodbye to Cano given the magnitude of their offer but the bottom line was that the Yankees lost an elite player, something they couldn’t afford to lose after 2013. They tried to replace him with McCann, Ellsbury, and Beltran, though only McCann actually filled a glaring roster need. Ellsbury was redundant with Brett Gardner and Beltran’s days of playing the field everyday were pretty much over, meaning he would have to share time at DH on a team that already had Alfonso Soriano — who had to play right field because of the signings, a position he had never played before — and Derek Jeter.

After missing the postseason and losing their best player, the Yankees tried to squeeze a few round player pegs into square roster holes. The McCann and Tanaka signings made perfect sense given the club’s needs, but the same wasn’t true of Ellsbury and Beltran in my opinion. Tanaka’s injury is unfortunate but pitchers get hurt. It happens. McCann had a disappointing 2014, yet out of everyone in the regular lineup, he’s the only guy you could say underperformed reasonable expectations coming into the year. Beltran having the year he had wasn’t something that was completely unforeseen. (Same goes for Soriano, Jeter, and Mark Teixeira.) Ellsbury had a fine year but not a seven-year, $153M contract player kind of year.

I think — and this is just my opinion, you’re welcome to disagree — letting Cano go was the right move, especially given the Mariners’ offer. The Yankees have too many bad contracts on the books and I felt at some point they have to break the cycle and stop adding more to the pile. The 31-year-old second baseman asked for ten years seemed like a good starting point. That said, if I had known Plan B was sinking seven years into Ellsbury — especially with the Gardner extension on the horizon — and three years into Beltran, I would have rather just seen them keep Cano. He’s a substantially better player than those two (combined!) and fills a position of real need. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

In-Season Moves

Midway through the season — less than that, really — the Yankees had some very obvious needs due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The rotation was hit hard by injury, as CC Sabathia (knee) and Ivan Nova (elbow) didn’t throw a pitch after early-May and Michael Pineda (back) missed three months after making just four starts. The infield was a mess, though because Teixeira and Jeter were locked in at first and shortstop, respectively, second and third bases were the only places to upgrade. Even the outfield needed help because Soriano played himself into retirement and Beltran was hurt.

The Yankees addressed most of their needs before the trade deadline through a series of shrewd moves that cost them very little organizationally. First they improved the third base situation by trading for impending free agent Chase Headley. The cost: Yangervis Solarte and High-A righty Rafael DePaula. Solarte was found money — the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent, got about two good months out of him, then turned him into an established player via trade. DePaula was a classic lottery ticket arm, the kind every team should be willing to trade at the deadline. (The Padres did not protect DePaula from the Rule 5 Draft, by the way.)

Next the Yankees turned Vidal Nuno, a soft-tossing lefty they plucked out of independent ball who is wholly unequipped for life as a starter in an AL division full of small ballparks, into Brandon McCarthy, who pitched like an ace for two months. The pitching like an ace part was pretty unexpected, and that’s why he only cost Nuno. Had the Diamondbacks known McCarthy was capable of pitching that well, they would have asked for a lot more. And I’m guessing the Yankees and several other teams would have paid it too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Then, on trade deadline day, the Yankees sold high on slugging prospect Peter O’Brien and used him to get Martin Prado, who wasn’t a rental. He is signed for $22M through 2016, which is a pretty sweet deal in today’s market, even if he doesn’t continue to produce at the 145 OPS+ clip he put up after the trade. O’Brien has huge power and that’s hard to find, but there are serious questions about whether he has the plate discipline to tap into that power at the next level. He also doesn’t have a position. His best position is the batter’s box. The Yankees used O’Brien when his prospect stock was at its highest and turned him into 2+ years of a bonafide big leaguer who filled a need. That’s the kind of trade the team needs to make more of.

The club’s last trade was basically a change of scenery swap, a my spare part for your spare part deal. What made it so interesting was that it was a rare Yankees-Red Sox trade, the first since the Mike Stanley deal back in 1997. The Yankees sent Kelly Johnson to the Red Sox for Stephen Drew, who was going to play second base for New York. The trade didn’t work out as hoped but it didn’t cost the Yankees a potential long-term piece and Drew didn’t have an onerous long-term contract, so who really cares. Took a shot in the dark and missed. Such is life.

It’s been a long time since the Yankees made a really bad trade, a Mike Lowell for three guys you don’t remember deal. I mean really, really bad. I guess the last one was Tyler Clippard for Jon Albaladejo back during the 2007-08 offseason. That was ugly. Am I missing any other obvious recent bad deals? I don’t think so. Anyway, point is Cashman seems to have a knack for making good trades and getting tangible help for the MLB team would sacrificing much in return. I’m sure someone will sit around and keep tabs on Solarte’s and Nuno’s WAR and eventually declare those trades a loss, but the point is guys like Solarte and Nuno are very expendable, and the Yankees used them to get a really good players even for only a short period of time.

The trade deadline went much better for the Yankees than last offseason, though ultimately it wasn’t enough to get them back into the postseason. Their thought process seemed to be very different in each instance too — over the winter they wanted to act aggressively to get Ellsbury and Beltran before word got out Cano was leaving, but during the season they showed more patience and waited for prices to drop into their comfort zone. One strategy worked out really well. The other … not so much. Perhaps that’s why he Yankees seem to be taking a slow and deliberate approach this offseason, because being aggressive didn’t work as hoped last year.

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

2014 Season Review: The Captain

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

As the Yankees fell further out of the postseason race this summer, the more the 2014 season became about Derek Jeter. The Yankees long-time captain announced in Spring Training that he had decided to retire after the season, not because the ankle and leg injuries that hampered him throughout 2013 made him realize his body wasn’t capable of doing what it once did, but because he “just felt like this was the right time.”

I don’t think it was surprising Jeter decided to retire this year. That isn’t the unexpected part. The unexpected part was that he announced it on Facebook. Who knew Derek Jeter used Facebook? The man managed to go his entire 20-year career in New York with zero controversy because he avoided things like Facebook. Anyway, the Facebook announcement came a few days before the start of Spring Training, and his big press conference followed a week later.

“This is not a retirement press conference. I still have a season to play. I feel good. This has nothing to do with how I feel. Physically I feel great and I’m looking forward to the season,” said Jeter that afternoon in mid-February. “Parts of 20 seasons I’ve played in New York and 23 counting the Minor Leagues. So I think I’ve done it long enough. I’m looking forward to doing other things in my life. This is a difficult job. I put everything into it each and every year. It’s not a six-month season. It’s 12 months. Again, I’m looking forward to other things. Not yet. But the idea of doing other things is what I’m looking forward to.”

Jeter’s final season was both memorable and forgettable, if that makes sense. Let’s review, starting with the forgettable stuff to get it out of the way.

The On-Field Performance

The 2014 season was, by far, the worst full season of Jeter’s career. He did stay healthy and appear in 145 games, but those 145 games featured a .256/.304/.313 (73 wRC+) batting line and only 24 extra-base hits. Among the 146 qualified hitters in baseball, Jeter had the fourth highest ground ball rate (61.6%) while ranking 140th in wRC+ and 145th in ISO. Only Ben Revere managed to hit for less power (.057 vs. .055 ISO).

Unlike the last few seasons, Jeter had no impact against left-handed pitchers, putting up a .244/.289/.304 (66 wRC+) batting line against southpaws and a .262/.309/.317 (76 wRC+) line against righties. He also hit .212/.293/.250 (56 wRC+) in high-leverage situations. Against pitches measured at 95 mph and above, Jeter hit .167 with a 0.021 ISO, both the sixth lowest marks in baseball. Teams routinely brought in hard-throwing relievers to face Derek in key situations and they buried him, hence his performance in high-leverage spots.

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

And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he routinely hit second in the lineup. In fact, only seven hitters had more plate appearances in the top two spots of the lineup this year. When asked about dropping Jeter to a lower spot in the batting order during a mid-summer slump, Joe Girardi replied “it’s not like we have a bunch of guys hitting .300, so that’s why we’ve kept it,” even though he had no trouble dropping others like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and even Brett Gardner lower in the lineup. Jeter batted second for sentimental reasons and it cost the Yankees. How much? I don’t know. But it’s clear the team was not putting itself in the best position to win each day.

On the field, Jeter was a detriment to the Yankees. He didn’t hit a lick and his defense was worse than ever before. His mobility was sapped, likely due to a combination of age and his recent leg injuries, resulting in a +0.2 bWAR and -0.3 fWAR season for the Cap’n. You don’t even need to believe in WAR to see he was a net negative for New York. After nearly two decades of brilliance on the field, Jeter was a big problem in 2014 when it came to tangible on-field contributions.

The Farewell Tour

For some reason the Jeter farewell tour seemed to last a lot longer than the Mariano Rivera farewell tour. Maybe because Jeter was an everyday player while Rivera was reliever who pitched in only 64 games. Each team had a little ceremony to honor Jeter as he traveled through their city one last time, and some of the gifts were actually cool. You can scroll through and see each and every one right here. The Stan Musial cufflinks and No. 2 subway tile mosaic were really great in my opinion. The bucket of crabs … not so much.

The Yankees held Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium on September 7th, and they brought out all the big guns for the ceremony. Cal Ripken Jr. was there, Michael Jordan was there, Jeter’s family, Joe Torre, a ton of former teammates, the works. The team wore a special Jeter patch on their hats and sleeve from that day through the end of the season, which was sorta weird because Jeter was never the type to draw attention to himself that way, but also kinda cool. His speech that afternoon was short and sweet:

The Yankees were 4.5 games out of a postseason spot that day and only sunk further out of the race in the coming days, so the rest of the season turned into a huge Jeter love fest. I understand why, but it did get a little tiresome. Announcers spent innings on end discussing Jeter regardless of what was happening on the field and the national broadcasts were about a thousand times worse. By the end of September the YES Network was promoting non-stop, wall-to-wall Jeter coverage, and I’m not sure if that was a promotion or a threat.

After two farewell tours in two years, I’m pretty much tuckered out. That’s not a slight on Jeter (or Rivera), he’s an all-time great player and Yankee and deserved all the praise he received. But I will not be sad there won’t be a farewell tour in 2015. I have farewell tour fatigue. Jeter’s was fun at the start, but by the end of the year, I was ready for it to be over.

The Last Goodbye

On Thursday, September 25th, the day after the Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention, Derek Jeter played his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Fans chanted his name pretty much from first pitch through the last. The new Yankee Stadium hasn’t been that loud since the 2009 World Series, maybe ever. In the very first inning, Jeter did this:

I thought it was gone off the bat. It had to be, right? Of course Jeter was going to hit a homer in his final home game. It had to be this way. But no, it only clanked off the wall for a run-scoring double. So close.

Jeter grounded out to end the second inning, struck out for the second out of the fifth inning, then reached on an error and a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning. The bases were loaded with one out, Jeter hit a weak grounder to short, perhaps too weak to turn two, and J.J. Hardy threw wide of the bag at second. Two runs scored and the Yankees took a 4-2 lead.

The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning and while it would have been memorable no matter how it ended, David Robertson blew the save and the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. It totally sucked at the time, but in hindsight, I don’t think I’ll ever be happier that a Yankee blew a save. Without it, this wouldn’t have happened:

That was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Jeter’s final game in the Bronx ended with one of his patented inside-out swings, muscling a walk-off single to right field. The same hit to right field we’ve seen a couple thousand times over the last 20 years.

Jeter finished out his career in Fenway Park that weekend but no one will remember that — he beat out in infield single in the final at-bat of his career for his 3,465th hit, the sixth most in baseball history — that walk-off hit was essentially the end of his playing days. At least it will be for Yankees fans. The Captain stepped to the plate, drove in the game-winning run, then rode off into the sunset.

I was a teenager when Derek Jeter started his career and now I’m an adult stuck with responsibilities and other awful things. I’ve grown up watching Jeter play and it’s getting harder and harder to remember the pre-Jeter teams, not that many from my lifetime are worth remembering. It’s sad to see him go. It’s sad because he was such a great player tied to so many great memories. And, despite his production this year, it’s sad to think Jeter won’t be in the lineup and at shortstop next year.

Jeter is going to go down as one of the greatest Yankees to ever live and will possibly be the best player to wear the uniform in my lifetime. He was a great player who was everything a team could have wanted in a franchise player. Great production, no controversy, durable, marketable, the works. I always laugh when fans of other teams call him overrated because the guys running their favorite clubs go to bed each night dreaming about having a Derek Jeter to build around.

The Yankees are moving into a new phase of their history now. And that phase might be ugly, at least in the immediate future. Jeter has retired and every tie to the dynasty years — the teams I spent my formative years watching — is gone. In this age of MLB-created parity and competitive balance, we might never see another run like that again. We definitely one see another Jeter. I know that for sure.

2014 Season Review: Splits, Velocity and More

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Every year, when I jot down a list of topics for the season review series, I always end up with extra stuff that doesn’t get written. I’m nice and ambitious at the start but by the end I’m just ready for it to be over, so some stuff doesn’t get written up. This year I had a few talking points I wanted to write up mostly because I was interested to see the information myself, though the topics weren’t necessarily worth a full post of their own. So I’m going to lump them all together here. Here are some random statistical tidbits about the 2014 Yankees.

Home/Road Splits

The Yankees went only 43-38 at home this year and were actually outscored by 22 runs. That includes a ghastly 18-23 at home in the first half, so at least they improved at home after the All-Star break. The Yankees outscored their opponents by 1.002 runs per game at home during the first five years of the new Yankee Stadium, yet they were outscored in the Bronx in 2014.

The Bombers both hit and pitched marginally better at home than on the road this past season, at least on a rate basis. They scored fewer runs at home even though they hit slightly better in terms of OPS+. Here are the offense’s home/road numbers:

Split PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
Home 2965 304 662 117 9 88 286 64 11 218 558 .247 .309 .396 .706 .280 97
Away 3117 329 687 130 17 59 305 48 15 234 575 .244 .305 .365 .669 .284 95
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/25/2014.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, allowed 12 more runs on the road in 33 fewer innings pitched. Here’s the home/road splits for the pitching staff:

Split ERA IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
Home 3.66 743.0 712 326 302 97 199 15 734 28 17 3115 1.226 8.9 3.69
Away 3.84 710.0 680 338 303 67 199 8 636 37 32 2999 1.238 8.1 3.20
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/25/2014.

Opponents had a 104 OPS+ against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium but a 94 OPS+ against them on the road, so they did hit them harder in the Bronx. Yet it resulted in fewer runs allowed. The Yankees hit better at home than they did on the road, but scored fewer runs. They pitched better on the road than at home, but allowed more runs. Weird.

Platoon Splits

Once Alfonso Soriano showed he was cooked, the Yankees had very little right-handed power on the roster. Derek Jeter had zero pop and both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran failed to make an impact from the right side of the plate. It wasn’t until the Martin Prado trade that the team had a bonafide above-average right-handed hitting everyday player on the roster.

And yet, the Yankees hit quite a bit better against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers in 2014, mostly because their lefties mashed same-side pitchers. Here’s the team platoon splits:

Split PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
vs RHP 4359 428 942 173 18 108 403 328 800 .240 .302 .375 .677 .272 94
vs LHP 1723 205 407 74 8 39 188 124 333 .260 .320 .393 .712 .306 102
vs RHP as RHB 1132 95 255 53 2 13 84 54 228 .245 .289 .337 .626 .299 84
vs RHP as LHB 3227 333 687 120 16 95 319 274 572 .238 .306 .389 .695 .263 94
vs LHP as RHB 1043 116 238 46 3 21 109 74 199 .250 .310 .371 .681 .295 87
vs LHP as LHB 680 89 169 28 5 18 79 50 134 .276 .334 .426 .760 .325 134
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/25/2014.

Overall, the Yankees had a 94 OPS+ against righties, including an ugly 84 OPS+ against righties by their right-handed hitters. Their lefties, meanwhile, had a 134 OPS+ against left-handed pitchers. Left-on-left was the team’s single best platoon split this year. Thank Jacoby Ellsbury (121 OPS+ vs. LHP) and Brian McCann (143 OPS+) for that in particular.

That is sorta scary because McCann’s reverse split this year is a total outlier compared to the rest of his career. He had a 92 OPS+ against lefties from 2011-13 while with the Braves. Considering he batted only 145 times against southpaws this past season, I’m guessing this is just small sample size noise and not some newfound skill. I hope that’s not the case but it likely is. The offense would have been worse if McCann hadn’t performed unusually well against lefties. Yikes.

The pitching platoon splits are interesting only because the Yankees’ right-handed pitchers dominated opposing left-handed hitters. I’m not going to embed the table but you can see the stats right here. Masahiro Tanaka‘s splitter acts like a changeup and allows him to be very effective against lefty hitters. The same goes for Hiroki Kuroda, just to a lesser degree. Michael Pineda‘s slider is so good it doesn’t matter what side of the plate the hitter is on. David Robertson has dominated lefties for years and Dellin Betances dominates everyone. Those five are a big reason why the team’s righty pitchers performed so well against opposing lefty hitters.

Velocity

There is more velocity in the game right now than ever before. Pitchers simply throw harder these days thanks to many reasons. Improved training, better understanding of mechanics, advanced throwing programs, more short relievers, better genetics, all of that and more is a factor. Throwing 96+ just isn’t as rare as it once was (unless you’re the Twins).

I wanted to see how the Yankees handled big fastballs this year, so, with the help of Baseball Savant, I looked at 2 mph chunks of fastballs from 88 to 100+. Here are the results (New York’s rank among the 30 clubs in parenthesis):

NYY AVG NYY ISO NYY K% MLB AVG MLB ISO MLB K%
100+ .500 (1st) .000 (t-30th) 50.0% (14th) 0.152 0.014 54.4%
98-99 .278 (8th) .000 (t-30th) 26.3% (11th) 0.206 0.084 28.0%
96-97 .197 (26th) .095 (12th) 18.0% (8th) 0.238 0.091 21.2%
94-95 .233 (24th) .123 (14th) 21.6% (23rd) 0.250 0.122 20.4%
92-93 .262 (23rd) .176 (5th) 15.5% (15th) 0.272 0.144 15.9%
90-91 .276 (19th) .146 (23rd) 10.6% (5th) 0.281 0.165 13.6%
88-89 .277 (20th) .160 (17th) 10.7% (8th) 0.286 0.170 12.5%
<87 .272 (18th) .187 (7th) 14.5% (18th) 0.276 0.159 13.7%

The sample sizes here are a couple hundred pitches except at the very top of the velocity chart — the Yankees had only 18 at-bats end with a pitch at 98-99 mph this year and only four end with a pitch at 100+. They saw more total pitches at that velocity, they just took a bunch for balls and fouled off some others. Those aren’t included in the table because nothing happened.

In those four at-bats that ended with a 100+ pitch, they went 2-for-4 with two singles and two strikeouts. So, naturally, I had to dig up the two hits. And guess what? They came in the same inning of the same game against the same pitcher. Those two hits came on July 20th against (who else?) Aroldis Chapman. I totally forgot the Yankees played an interleague series against the Reds this year. First, Ellsbury put together a great at-bat to single the other way:

Then, two batters, McCann hit this frozen rope to right field for the walk-off single:

Remember when I said McCann’s success against lefties this year was probably small sample size noise? Hits like that one are why.

Anyway, going back to the table for a second, the Yankees had their most trouble with pitches in the 92-97 mph range, in terms of batting average. (I’m ignoring the 98+ pitches because the sample’s so small.) They still hit for power against pitches at that velocity relative to the league average, but getting a simple base hit was a chore. It could be that the pitches they were hitting were mistakes pitches they were able to drive. That would explain the low AVG but higher ISO.

The Yankees did have a lot of older players who looked overmatched by quality fastballs this summer — Jeter, Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brian Roberts stand out — which helps explain why the team as a whole struggled against higher end velocity. That leads us into the next section…

Bottom of the Roster

Here is a very quick and dirty breakdown of New York’s plate appearances this season. I split them into three ranges: players with a 95-105 OPS+, and then anything above or below that. I figure 95-105 captures everyone who can be considered league average with some wiggle room in each direction. Here’s the breakdown (this doesn’t include pitchers who hit during interleague play):

  • 106+ OPS+: 1,914 plate appearances (31.6% of the team’s total)
  • 95-105 OPS+: 1,331 plate appearances (22.0%)
  • <94 OPS+: 2,812 plate appearances (46.4%)

That’s a lot of plate appearances going to players who are comfortably below-average hitters and not nearly enough going to players who are easily above-average. Ellsbury and Brett Gardner combined for 1,271 of those 1,914 plate appearances by 106+ OPS+ players, by the way. Most of the rest belong to Prado and Chase Headley.

The Yankees had a stars and scrubs offense with no real stars and way too many scrubs. They have to figure out a way to raise the floor of the roster, if that makes sense. That’s much easier said than done because bench players are unpredictable, but with openings all around the infield, it’s an opportunity to really improve the team. The question is whether the Yankees can find pieces that fit, even if they have to overpay a bit. I’m totally cool with overpaying for a big bat right now. Offense is at such a premium.

For the sake of completeness, here’s the pitching staff using a similar breakdown:

  • 106+ ERA+: 637 innings (43.8%)
  • 95-105 ERA+: 277.2 innings (29.1%) (all Hiroki Kuroda and Shane Greene)
  • <94 ERA+: 538.1 innings (37.1%)

That’s a much better breakdown. Nearly two-thirds of the innings went to pitchers who were no worse than average and most of those innings went to guys who were way better than average. More of that in 2015, please. And hopefully with an offense to match.

2014 Season Review: The Farm System

The 2013 season was a total mess for the Yankees, both at the MLB level and down in the minors. Hal Steinbrenner and his staff reviewed the team’s player development system late last year, opting for minor personnel changes and some procedural adjustments instead of a major overhaul. The result in 2014 was a slightly improved system and, well, that major overhaul. Let’s review the year that was down on the farm.

Gary Denbo, the new head of the farm system. (NY Post)
Gary Denbo, the new head of the farm system. (NY Post)

New Leadership

More than anything else, the biggest story to come out of the farm system this year was the personnel changes after the season. Significant ones. Long-time VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, who had run the system for more than a decade, retired when his contract expired in October, though there was speculation the team wasn’t going to retain him anyway. His assistant Billy Hart was cut loose as well. So was Pat Roessler, the club’s director of player development since 1995. Several minor league coaches and coordinators were also let go.

After a series of interviews, the Yankees replaced Newman with Gary Denbo, whose hiring still has not been officially announced. That’s just a formality at this point. Denbo has had three different stints with the organization over the years, most recently serving as a scouting and player development consultant since 2009. We still don’t know who the Yankees will bring in replace Roessler or Hart — rumor has it Roessler’s assistant Eric Schmitt will take over as the director of player development, but that is unconfirmed — or how the rest of the farm system staff will shake out.

Regardless, these are significant changes. The leadership core in charge of developing players has been completely changed these last few weeks. And that’s a good thing. The Yankees have done a pretty terrible job of producing anything more than relievers and back-end starters in recent years. The talent acquisition has been mostly fine in my opinion. The Yankees do bring in a lot of high-upside players, but turning them from prospects into big leaguers just hasn’t happened. It’s been a long time since the team had a raw prospect take a big step forward in his development and help at the MLB level.

Whether the new leadership will result in improved player development going forward is a total unknown. Your guess is as good as mine. Evaluating front office hires like this is a fool’s errand if you’re on the outside looking in, which we are as fans. We’re just going to have to wait and see, which is boring but it is what it is. I think these changes should have been made last year, when it was clear player development was a problem. I guess waiting one year isn’t the end of the world. At least the changes happened. Whatever they were doing flat out wasn’t working. Now, maybe, it might.

Clarkin. (The Post and Courier)
Clarkin. (The Post and Courier)

Promising Returns From 2013 Draft

On the field, the Yankees watched as their three first round picks (well, technically one first rounder and two supplemental first rounders) from the 2013 draft had strong full season debuts. OF Aaron Judge emerged as the organization’s top prospect and not only because he hit .308/.419/.486 (~158 wRC+) with 17 homers in 131 games split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Reports indicate he showed a much more advanced hitting approach than initially expected, focusing on driving the ball to the middle of the field rather than selling out for power. Judge is also a legitimate right fielder with a strong arm. He’s pretty much the total package. A true two-way threat.

3B Eric Jagielo, who was the first of those three first round picks, hit .259/.354/.460 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers in 85 games for Tampa around an oblique injury. He was scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League with Judge until an errant pitch in Instructional League hit him in the face and broke some bones. Jagielo is expected to make a full recovery and be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. When healthy, he showed off his impressive left-handed power, though there are lingering concerns about his defense at the hot corner. It seems like everyone just decided to saw he couldn’t play third all of a sudden. The Yankees will still keep Jagielo at the position for the time being.

The third and final of those three first rounders was LHP Ian Clarkin, who opened the year in Extended Spring Training before joining the Low-A Charleston rotation in early-May. He pitched to a 3.21 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 70 innings for the River Dogs and had very promising strikeout (9.13 K/9 and 25.0 K%) and walk (2.83 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) rates for a 19-year-old in a full season league. Clarkin reported added a cutter — cutters are the new curveballs; the Yankees used to teach all of their prospects curveballs and now they teach everyone cutters — during the summer as well, giving him four distinct pitches before his 20th birthday. He might not have true ace upside, but Clarkin is mighty impressive for a teenager.

Judge, Jagielo, and Clarkin all had strong first full seasons in pro ball — Jagielo was the worst of the bunch and he was one of the five best hitters in the system this summer — and the Yankees desperately needed that kind of talent infusion. Having three first rounders was a very rare opportunity for this club and so far it appears they nailed their selections. It’s early, of course, and not all three of these guys will work out, that’s just how these things go, but one year in and everything is so far, so good. The organization really needed that.

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Actual Position Player Prospects

In case you haven’t noticed, no one can hit these days. Offense is at a premium throughout baseball. That’s why a) the Yankees’ inability to produce even an average position player the last six years has hurt, and b) Judge and Jagielo are so important. They also have several other position player prospects at Double-A and above, most notably 2B Rob Refsnyder. The 23-year-old hit .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 38 doubles and 14 homers in 137 games split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

One level down is 1B Greg Bird, who missed the start of the year with a back issue but returned to hit .271/.376/.472 (~140 wRC+) with 30 doubles and 14 homers in only 102 games, mostly with High-A Tampa. He then won the AzFL MVP earlier this month. Both Refsnyder and Bird carry serious concerns about their defense, but again, offense is at a premium. The bat is the most important thing. At this point I think the expectations for both guys far exceeds the scouting reports and what they’re likely to do in MLB, but that’s inevitable. There’s a clear path for both to get MLB playing time in near future, Refsnyder in 2015 and Bird as soon as 2016.

C Gary Sanchez was New York’s top prospect coming into the year, but, like so many of the team’s other top prospects in recent years, he didn’t take a step forward. He wasn’t bad by any means, hitting .278/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a 21-year-old in Double-A while catching 90+ games for the third straight year, though the improvement offensively and defensively wasn’t there. OF Jake Cave had a big year split between Tampa and Trenton: .294/.315/.414 (~118 wRC+) with 28 doubles, nine triples, and seven homers. The hype may be exceeding reality there but he’s performing and that counts for something.

Pitchers, Because Teams Need Them Too

Severino. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Severino. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The Yankees graduated both Dellin Betances and Shane Greene to the big league staff this summer, continuing the trend of producing relievers and back-end starters but little else. In the minors, RHP Luis Severino emerged as a force, pitching to a 2.46 ERA (~2.41 FIP) with excellent strikeout (10.09 K/9 and 27.8 K%) and walk (2.14 BB and 5.9 BB%) rates in 113.1 innings. The 20-year-old righty made 24 starts and the Yankees promoted him aggressively — Severino made 14 starts with Low-A Charleston, four with High-A Tampa, and six with Double-A Trenton. There’s talk he could open 2015 in Triple-A. No matter where he starts, he is clearly the team’s top pitching prospect and arguably their top prospect overall thanks to his fastball/slider combo.

RHP Bryan Mitchell had a typical Bryan Mitchell year, including flashes of dominance and a bunch of walks (3.93 BB/9 and 10.0 BB%). He did make his MLB debut though, including a spot start in which he held the Orioles to two runs in five innings at Camden Yards. Mitchell will open 2015 back with Triple-A Scranton and is poised to be the next David Phelps/Vidal Nuno/Shane Greene — the guy who comes up from the minors to contribute in a swing man/spot starter role. Relievers RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Branden Pinder, and LHP Jacob Lindgren are in the 2015 bullpen mix as well. Lindgren was the team’s top pick in the 2014 draft.

Healthy Returns

The Yankees had two once top pitching prospects return from injury and actually stay on the field to shake off rust this past season. One was LHP Manny Banuelos, who we discussed earlier today. He missed most of the last two years with elbow problems. The other is RHP Ty Hensley, the team’s first round pick in 2012. The 21-year-old missed all of 2013 with hip and hernia surgery, then returned in 2014 to pitch in Extended Spring Training and briefly for the rookie Gulf Coast League team and Short Season Staten Island. Hensley had a 2.93 ERA and struck out 40 in 30.1 innings. RHP Gabe Encinas returned from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the year as well.

1B/OF Tyler Austin played through a bone bruise in his wrist for much of last season, which hurt his performance, and he again tried to play through it early in 2014. Austin, 23, hit .249/.318/.350 (87 wRC+) with two homers in his first 52 games of the season for Double-A Trenton, then hit .302/.355/.487 (133 wRC+) with seven homers in his final 53 games of the year. He also mashed in the AzFL before suffering a minor knee injury in an outfield collision. It would make for a neat story if Austin simply got over the wrist issue at midseason and that’s why he started to rake, but we don’t really know if that’s what happened. I do think that’s a reasonable assumption though.

Lower Level Risers

A pet peeve of mine is when people tout a club’s farm system because they have a lot of high-upside talent in the lower minors. Every team has high-upside guys in the low minors. Every one of them. It’s not a separator in my opinion so I’m not going to focus too much on it here. C Luis Torrens and 3B Miguel Andujar had nice seasons in 2014 — Andujar had a monster second half and Torrens was especially good after he hurt his shoulder and was moved down from Charleston to Staten Island, a more appropriate level — and everyone is talking about SS Jorge Mateo as the next great Yankees prospect after his 15-game cameo in the Gulf Coast League. Others like SS Tyler Wade and OF Dustin Fowler had promising summers with the River Dogs. The Yankees have some really interesting talent in the lower minors. So do the other 29 teams. Let’s move on.

Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

The Duds

It wasn’t all good in 2014, you know. This is baseball — minor league baseball at that — and things are going to go wrong. Guys are going to get hurt, like OF Slade Heathcott and RHP Jose Campos. Heathcott played in only nine games with Double-A Trenton before needing yet another knee surgery. Campos blew out his elbow in the spring and underwent Tommy John surgery. It’s his second major elbow injury in the last three years. Heathcott and Campos are two former top prospects who haven’t been able to stay on the field. This past season was no different.

OF Mason Williams was arguably the best prospect in the system two years ago, but he struggled in 2013 and hit a woeful .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) in 128 games with Double-A Trenton in 2014. He was also benched on a few occasions for insubordination and for playing with a lack of energy, a concern that has followed him since his days in high school. Just a brutal year for Williams. And yet, the Yankees put him on the 40-man roster last week to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft anyway. Not sure I get that but whatever.

And then there’s 2B Gosuke Katoh, who had a dynamite pro debut after being the team’s second round pick in the 2013. He hit .222/.345/.326 (96 wRC+) with a sky high 30.5% strikeout rate in 121 games with Low-A Charleston this year. I guess a 96 wRC+ isn’t terrible for a 20-year-old in Low-A, but the scouting reports were not exactly glowing either. From Baseball America (subs. req’d):

Frank (Chicago, IL): What went wrong with Gosuke Katoh this year, if you could summarize for us?
Josh Norris: Hooooo boy. It was hard to find a scout with anything positive to say about him at all. Here’s what went right. He took a ton of walks. Scouts knocked his defense, his body, his projection, his hitting ability. A few I spoke to didn’t turn him it all. It was a bad, bad year.

That doesn’t sound very promising. Katoh wasn’t exactly a top top prospect coming into the year, but his strong debut in rookie ball last summer made it appear he could be better than expected. We kinda fell for the same thing with 3B Dante Bichette Jr. a few years ago. Not a good year for Katoh at all.

Elsewhere in the system, many others either got hurt (OF Ramon Flores, RHP Jose Ramirez) or simply disappointed (LHP Nik Turley, SS Abi Avelino). That’s baseball. Not everyone is going to work out. Turley has since been released, but the other three are still so young that bouncing back next season wouldn’t be a surprise at all. If they don’t, then so be it. Win some, lose a lot. That’s the nature of player development.

Wrapping Up

Overall, I think this was a positive year for the Yankees’ farm system but not overwhelmingly so. Judge and Severino are clearly the headliners right now, and others like Jagielo, Clarkin, Refsnyder, and Bird are more than interesting. It would have been nice if just one of Heathcott or Williams started to approach their potential, but it doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon (if ever). The system is tilted heavily towards position players at the moment and that’s totally cool with me given the offense-less nature of baseball these days.

The on-field developments were nice, but the most important stuff to happen in the organization this year were the changes made at the top of the player development system. Newman, Hart, and Roessler are out with Denbo and some other unannounced folks taking over. The Yankees just spent over $28M (and counting) on international players this summer and that has the potential to be a franchise-altering investment. The player development needs to be better though. The Yankees took steps these last few weeks to make that happen and, if things go well, those changes will help the system going forward more than any single prospect.

2014 Season Review: Foul Territory

Teixeira Foul Territory

We spend a lot of time here at RAB — like, a ridiculous amount of time — talking about the Yankees and being super serious about stuff. Moves have to be discussed and performances need to be analyzed. This is serious business.

If you’re looking for more of that this afternoon, this isn’t the post for you. We have something like 20,000 posts of serious stuff dating back to 2007 you can dig through if you want. This post is for everyone who wants to forget about the serious stuff for a few minutes and focus on the parts of the 2014 Yankees that made us laugh. Stuff like this:

That didn’t happen at a Yankees game, but I watched it happen live while the Yankees were on a commercial break in Spring Training. I’m pretty sure former Yankee Curtis Granderson hit that ground rule double too. See? Fun. Baseball can actually be fun sometimes. No need to be serious all the time. It’s baseball, man. A kid’s game.

Anyway, I think one of my favorite moments of the 2014 season came way back in Spring Training, when a Yankees-Red Sox game was randomly halted because there was a swarm of bees on the field. It took them like ten minutes to get things sorted out before the game could resume. I remember that moment because it produced this GIF (via The Big Lead):

Wait, wait. You need to hear why Mark Teixeira was holding two bottles of honey. From Mark Feinsand:

“I’m a big peanut butter-and-honey guy, so I always know where the honey is,” Teixeira said. “What I thought was if you could just do a line of honey out to the parking lot the bees would maybe follow it and leave us alone.”

“Do a line of honey out to the parking lot the bees would maybe follow it.”

That … isn’t the worst idea in the world? It would definitely backfire though. Kinda like when the coyote painted a tunnel on the giant rock and the roadrunner ran through it anyway.

Unbeknownst to us, while Teixeira was working on his beekeeping skills in Tampa, he was also recording a fake talk show called Foul Territory for the YES Network. And it was actually funny! At least at first. Teixeira told Dan Barbarisi he came up with the idea for Foul Territory in Spring Training as a way “for the new guys to get broken in, in kind of a funny way—not necessarily hazing, because I’m hazing myself more than anything.”

Teixeira interviewed just about every new player who joined the team last offseason, including Jacoby Ellsbury (video) and Brian McCann (video). My personal favorite was either Masahiro Tanaka‘s appearance …

… or Jack Curry’s appearance …

… or the overlooked (probably because everyone lost interest by the end of the season) Brendan Ryan appearance …

… but that’s just me. The entire Foul Territory archive is right here, by the way.

It still amazes me a Yankee was able to record a multi-part fake talk show in Spring Training and have it be almost universally well-received. I get the feeling that would have not gone over all that well a few years and decades ago. Is Foul Territory an indication the Yankees are loosening up the rules a bit? Nah, of course not. They’re still the Yankees and will always have that business-like vibe. I guess that’s what made Foul Territory so much fun — it was a break from the norm.

This past season I made a point of making sure I enjoyed baseball more and didn’t take it so seriously. Especially since it was kinda clear the Yankees would stink. If I’m going to commit to watching a mediocre team everyday, then I’m going to laugh at everything I can. And with that, I’ll leave you with this GIF (via Buzzfeed):