2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

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

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

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

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.

2015 Midseason Review: The New-Look Bullpen With An Even Newer-Look

The Yankees put a lot of time and effort (and resources) into improving their bullpen this past offseason, and, of course, halfway through the season three-sevenths of the relief crew has changed. The bullpen to start the season is never ever the one that finishes the season. Changes are inevitable and the Yankees went through several in the first half of the 2015 campaign.

Miller. (Presswire)
Miller. (Presswire)

The Not Co-Closers

Even before Spring Training started, Joe Girardi floated the idea of using Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances as co-closers. Miller would face the tough lefties regardless of whether they batted in the eighth or ninth while Betances got the tough righties in those innings. It was a wonderful plan that made perfect sense … until Dellin showed up to Tampa unable to throw strikes. That threw a big wrench into the works.

Betances walked six batters in 9.1 innings during Grapefruit League play and looked worse than that. He couldn’t locate his fastball to save his life and his breaking ball was flat. Given his history of being, well, let’s say enigmatic in the minors, there was definitely a reason to be concerned. The Yankees were built to win close games on the back of a dominant bullpen, with Betances being the centerpiece. Suddenly that centerpiece didn’t look so reliable.

Thankfully, Dellin was able to right the ship a few appearances into the regular season, and while he hasn’t been as overwhelming as last year, he has still been one of the three or four best relievers in the game. Heck, if you’re a disciple of fWAR, he has been the best reliever in baseball by almost half-a-win. Betances earned himself another trip to the All-Star Game and even picked up a few saves when Miller hit the DL with a forearm problem.

Miller, meanwhile, has stepped into the closer’s role smoothly and been overpowering, racking up strikeouts and getting grounders. He’s a lefty, yeah, but that doesn’t matter. Righties are hitting .082/.212/.165 (.189 wOBA) against him. The four-week DL stint stunk, but Miller returned last week and looks fine aside from some obvious rust. Maybe more than one minor league rehab outing would have been a good idea.

Betances and Miller have anchored the bullpen — they are turning those late-inning leads into wins as planned, the Yankees have a .949 winning percentage when leading after seven innings compared to the .883 league average — and their numbers are straight out of a video game. I know strikeouts are up and pitching dominates today’s MLB, but geez, look at this:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
Betances 47.0 1.53 1.69 42.5% 10.5% 48.2% 0.38
Miller 29.1 1.53 2.29 39.5% 9.2% 54.4% 0.61
Combined 76.1 1.53 1.69 41.3% 10.0% 50.7% 0.47

They’ve allowed 30 hits combined in 76.1 innings. They have a combined .194 BABIP, which is extraordinarily low, though Betances and Miller have two of the 20 best soft contact rates in baseball, and soft contact leads to lower than usual BABIPs. Maybe it won’t be that low all season, but their true talent BABIP is likely sub-.250.

Even with their higher than you’d like walk rates, Betances and Miller are putting just 0.79 runners on base per inning combined. When hitters have been lucky enough to put the ball in play against these guys, it has usually been on the ground, and the odds of it falling in for a hit are low. Aside from Dellin’s little hiccup at the start of the season, these two have been exactly what the Yankees hoped they would be this year. They’re dominating in the late innings and are critical pieces of the team’s success.

The Flop

As the Yankees overhauled their bullpen this offseason, the only notable right-hander they brought in was David Carpenter. He was supposed to be the third wheel behind Betances and Miller, handling seventh inning duties and filling in in the eighth or ninth when necessary. Carpenter had a lot of success with the Braves from 2013-14 (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and he fit the Yankees’ mold as a hard-throwing strikeout guy. It just didn’t work is planned.

More like Crapenter amirite? (Presswire)
More like Crapenter amirite? (Presswire)

The first real sign that hey, Carpenter might not work out came in Baltimore in the ninth game of the season. He started the sixth inning with a one-run lead, immediately gave up the game-tying home run, then put two more runners on base before being yanked in the eventual loss. A few weeks later Joe Girardi asked Carpenter to protect a six-run lead with three outs to go against the Blue Jays, and the inning went homer, ground ball, fly ball, walk, ground-rule double, single before Miller had to come in.

Carpenter allowed eight runs on ten hits and three walks in a span of 6.2 innings in mid-May, which pushed him into “last guy out of the bullpen” territory. Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of opportunities to right the ship — he appeared in eleven of 22 games (4.32 ERA and a .353/.410/.618 batting line against) before being designated for assignment on June 3rd. He was later traded to the Nationals for an iffy Double-A prospect.

The end result was a 4.82 ERA (5.27 FIP) in 18.2 innings with strikeout (13.4%) and walk (8.5%) rates that were way too close together. Carpenter has a lower ERA with the Nationals (1.50) but he still isn’t missing bats (16.0%), which is the real problem. This is a guy who struck out 27.4% of batters faced during his two years in Atlanta. Relievers, man. They go poof without warning all the time.

The Guy Who Doesn’t Belong Here

Carpenter’s ineffectiveness created a need for a second right-handed reliever behind Betances. Eventually, after a parade of call-ups, the Yankees settled on the guy who held that job so effectively last season: Adam Warren. Warren had been very good as a starter during the first few weeks of the season (3.59 ERA and 4.12 FIP), but Ivan Nova had come back from Tommy John surgery and CC Sabathia wasn’t going to lose his rotation spot, so back to the bullpen he went. Life ain’t fair.

Warren has thrown six innings in six relief appearances since moving to the bullpen, including 2.2 innings in his very first appearance. Girardi has used Warren like he used him last year, as a handyman capable of pitching in tight games and entering mid-inning. Warren had a little bump in the road last weekend in Boston (0.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K) but it happens. Even good relievers have bad days. Now that his time as a starter has come to an end (at least this year, most likely), Warren has joined non-LOOGYs Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson to form the bridge to Dellin and Miller.

The Long Mans

Every bullpen needs a long man, and for most of this season that long man was Esmil Rogers. And gosh, was he not good (6.27 ERA and 4.62 FIP). Rogers deserves major props for gutting through 4.2 innings in the 19-inning game against the Red Sox — he threw 81 pitches that night after throwing 35 the night before, dude bit the bullet — but he allowed 24 runs (!) and 41 base-runners (!!!) in his last 16.2 innings with the team. Egads. Rogers was dropped from both the 25-man and 40-man rosters in mid-June and is currently in Triple-A.

Chris Capuano has since taken over as the long man after coming to camp as the fifth starter. He hurt his quad, missed two months, allowed eleven runs and 22 base-runners in 12.2 innings in his first three starts back, then was moved to the bullpen. Warren basically Wally Pipp’d him. Capuano hasn’t pitched a whole lot since taking over as the long man — that’s a good thing, really — throwing just 15.2 innings across ten appearances in the team’s last 38 games. He has a 3.45 ERA (3.59 FIP) since moving to the bullpen. If you’re expected the long man to be better than that, I suggest recalibrating expectations.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Revolving Door

A total of 27 different pitchers have appeared in at least one game for the Yankees already this season. 27! It was 33 all of last year and 24 all of 2013. The Yankees used 27+ pitchers once from 2009-13 (28 in 2011) and they’ve already used 27 at the All-Star break this season. And the craziest thing is that most of the team’s core pitchers have stayed healthy, with Miller’s forearm and Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm the only exceptions.

There is no way I’m going to recap 20-something pitchers here, especially since several only threw a handful of innings (if that). So instead let’s hit on the most notable arms to come through that revolving door, listed alphabetically:

  • Jacob Lindgren: Lindgren, the team’s top draft pick last summer, was called up in late-May and posted a 5.14 ERA (8.08 FIP) in seven innings. It turned out Lindgren had been pitching with a bone spur in his elbow, so he had surgery in late-June and will miss most of the rest of the season. Disappointing!
  • Chris Martin: Martin was not only on the Opening Day roster, but Girardi showed a lot of faith in his early on as well. He even picked up a save when Betances and Miller were unavailable one night. Martin’s elbow started barking in early-May, which landed him on the DL. He hasn’t been the same since. Martin has a 5.63 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 16 innings and is currently in Triple-A.
  • Bryan Mitchell: Mitchell has been up and down a few times but has finally seemed to stick in a short relief role. He has a 2.89 ERA (2.11 FIP) with nine strikeouts in 9.1 innings. PitchFX says he’s averaging 96.6 mph with his fastball and 92.6 mph with his cutter. That’ll do. Mitchell seems to be carving out a role as a middle innings flamethrower but could wind up in Triple-A if the club acquires an arm.
  • Chase Whitley: Poor Ace Whitley. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A this year so he could be available as their spot sixth starter, then he got the call when Tanaka landed on the DL. In his fourth start with the team, Whitely blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. For shame. He had a 4.19 ERA (4.53 FIP) in 19.1 innings before getting hurt.

The Yankees cycled through almost their entire Triple-A bullpen at one point as they looked for someone to emerge as a reliable righty reliever. Well, not really. A lot of those guys were called up simply because the team needed a fresh arm at some point. The Yankees opted to keep Lindgren over Carpenter, and now it looks like Mitchell will be given an opportunity to stick around in the second half. Rogers, Carpenter, and Martin were all on the Opening Day roster and have since been replaced by Capuano, Mitchell, and Warren. So it goes.

2015 Midseason Review: The Non-LOOGYs

The Yankees overhauled their bullpen this offseason, so much so that just one reliever was on both the 2014 and 2015 Opening Day rosters. That, of course, was Dellin Betances. The Yankees had a new closer, a new long reliever, and a new middle innings crew to start this season, and they were heavy on left-handers for the first time in years. Two of those southpaws haven proven to be way more than the average Lefty One Out GuY.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Lefty They’ve Been Waiting For

By my count the Yankees made five trades involving bonafide MLB caliber players this past offseason, and the very first one sent Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson. To date it has been a perfect win-win trade — the Pirates got a starting catcher to replace Russell Martin while the Yankees beefed up their bullpen and cleared the backup job for John Ryan Murphy. Both teams have to be pleased with the return halfway through the 2015 season.

Wilson came to New York with a reputation for throwing hard and not always throwing strikes, which is pretty much exactly what he’s done during his first three and a half months in pinstripes. His fastball has averaged 95.0 mph this season — only the inhuman Aroldis Chapman (99.6 mph!) has a higher average fastball velocity among lefty relievers — and he’s walked 10.9% of batters faced. Last year those numbers were 95.0 mph and 11.7%, respectively.

The walks are annoying, but Wilson excels at missing bats (24.8 K% in 2014 after 23.8 K% last year) and keeping the ball on the ground (50.0 GB% after 51.3 GB% last year). That’s a good combination. I’ll take my chances with a guy who misses bats and gets grounders, even if he walks a few too many. Wilson is also effective against righties, which is huge. Righties are hitting .159/.266/.246 (.240 wOBA) against him with a 26.6 K% and a 53.2 GB%. That’s after Wilson held righties to a .279 wOBA last year and a .258 wOBA the year before.

The success against righties is not new and Joe Girardi is aware of that — he’s used Wilson as a full-inning reliever for weeks now. That wasn’t the case in April because Wilson walked way too many righty batters out of the gate, but Andrew Miller‘s injury forced Girardi to use Wilson for full innings and he’s responded in a big way. He has a 1.23 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.2 K% and a manageable 8.6 BB% in 22 innings over the last two months. That works!

With all due respect to Boone Logan, who had some solid years for the Yankees, Wilson is the kind of left-handed reliever the club has been trying to acquire since Mike Stanton left as a free agent. Hard-throwing, strikeout and ground ball heavy, able to get righties out. No one’s perfect, he does walk too many, but otherwise Wilson has every quality you want in a late-inning reliever. He’s a legitimate setup man. He just happens to throw lefty.

Chasin’ Shreve

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The last of those five offseason trades brought the relatively unknown Chasen Shreve to the Yankees in January. I’m a total baseball nerd and even I hadn’t heard of Shreve at the time of the trade. The Yankees decided it was time to stop waiting for Manny Banuelos, so they turned him into Shreve and David Carpenter, the latter of whom flopped spectacularly in pinstripes.

Shreve was on the verge of getting pushed out of baseball last year when he reinvented himself as a hard(er) thrower, and while the extra velocity is nice, he’s emerged as a trusted reliever in New York because of his split-finger fastball. That’s the pitch that has allowed him to post a 2.02 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 26.8 K% in 35.2 innings this year, his first extended taste of big league action. Shreve doesn’t have great walk (9.4%) or ground ball (39.5%) numbers, but they haven’t hurt him yet.

Like Wilson, Shreve has been ultra-effective against right-handed hitters this season. Wilson does it with velocity, Shreve with the splitter. Righties have put up a .141/.224/.260 (.215 wOBA) batting line with a 23.3 K% against Shreve so far this year, and Girardi has regularly brought him into games to put out fires. Ten of his last 21 appearances have come mid-inning with men on base. Eight of those appearances have come with the score separated by no more than two runs. Shreve in inherited 15 runners in those eight games and one scored. One!

As Katie explained recently, Shreve’s splitter has been a difference-maker for him and the Yankees. There was a question of whether he would even make the team out of Spring Training — Shreve had a 4.76 ERA in camp and was especially yucky in late-March — and then once the season started, he really didn’t have a role. Well he did have a role, he was the last guy out of the bullpen, but Shreve continued to get outs and has become a critical part of the relief crew.

* * *

Both Wilson and Shreve pitched their way into the Circle of Trust™ in the first half thanks in large part to their work when Miller was sidelined. They both stepped up and assumed high-leverage innings, and the Yankees didn’t miss a beat. With Miller back, Wilson and Shreve will now be Girardi’s go-to middle innings weapons. That they both throw left-handed but can get right-handed hitters out is a bonus.

2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

2015 Midseason Review: The Frustrating and Evolving Nathan Eovaldi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Despite all the injury concerns in the rotation, the Yankees made just one significant pitching addition this past offseason. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins in a trade that saw a starting pitcher (David Phelps) go the other way. Heck, they traded away two young-ish starters (Phelps and Shane Greene) and acquired just one (Eovaldi) over the winter. That was unexpected.

Eovaldi, who turned 25 two months after the trade, came to New York with the classic “the results don’t match the stuff” reputation. He throws extremely hard but doesn’t miss bats and is too hittable. That was the scouting report. Eovaldi had a 3.77 FIP in 199.2 innings for Miami last year. That’s good! He also had a 4.37 ERA (86 ERA+) with only 142 strikeouts and an NL-leading 223 hits allowed. That’s bad.

The Yankees weren’t buying Eovaldi hoping he would be the pitcher he was with the Marlins last year. They acquired him because they believe he can be better in the future through natural development with an assist from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who has a history of helping pitchers improve strikeout and walk rates. Eovaldi was 24 at the time of the trade. He wasn’t a finished product.

So far Eovaldi has continued to be the pitcher he was with the Marlins. He’s been freakishly consistent year-to-year, actually. His strikeout (16.5%) and walk (6.0%) rates are nearly identical to last year (16.6% and 5.0%, respectively), and his home run rate (0.63 HR/9 vs. 0.73 HR/9) hasn’t jumped a whole lot considering the shift from spacious Marlins Park to homer happy Yankee Stadium. That’s encouraging.

Eovaldi remains extremely hit prone, however. His hit rate this year (11.3 H/9 and 3.55 BABIP) is actually higher than last year (10.1 H/9 and .323 BABIP), and I swear, I’ve never a pitcher allow more dinky little hits than Eovaldi this year. The Red Sox’s three-run rally in the third inning this past Sunday is a perfect example:

Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox rally2

That’s one legitimate line drive single and four seeing-eye ground ball singles. The worst! Whenever that sort of rally happens to any other pitcher, you just kinda chalk it up to baseball being baseball. Sometimes the ground balls find holes and it stinks. But it happens with Eovaldi all the time! Like once or twice a start. The batted balls keep finding grass. It’s so unbelievably frustrating.

Eovaldi’s overall numbers with the Yankees aren’t anything special — 4.50 ERA (88 ERA+) and 3.55 FIP in 98 innings — though things are skewed a bit by that one disaster start in Miami. He’s been much better over the last six or seven weeks than his overall numbers would lead you to believe. But still, Eovaldi has been frustrating and he struggles to pitch deep into games (six full innings just seven times in 18 starts). It’s not a good combination.

And yet, Eovaldi continues to evolve with the Yankees. He’s actually throwing harder this season (96.1 mph) than last (95.5 mph) — Eovaldi’s the hardest throwing starter in baseball this year by half-a-mile an hour — and he continues to work on a splitter he started to pick up late last year. Well, maybe it’s a splitter. It might be a forkball. It depends who you ask. Either way, it’s a pitch he’s working on and has incorporated more often as the season has progressed:

Nathan Eovaldi pitch selection

Eovaldi was using that splitter or forkball — how about we call it a sporkball? — 10% of the time or less until early-June, when he suddenly started using it more than 20% of the time. Only once in his last eight starts did he throw it less than 19% of the time. The extra sporkballs have come at the expense of his fastball mostly, though he’s also thrown fewer sliders as well.

The increased sporkball usage isn’t even the most interesting part. Look at how hard Eovaldi is now throwing that pitch:

Nathan Eovaldi splitter velocity

For some reason the sporkball added about five miles an hour four starts ago. It just jumped dramatically from one start to the next. The pitch averaged 91.1 mph in Boston on Sunday according to PitchFX. Averaged. I have no idea what to make of that. It seems impossible to throw a splitter that hard, and yet Eovaldi has done it four starts in a row now, and very effectively I might add. He has a 2.91 ERA in those four starts and opponents have swung and missed at the sporkball 25.4% of the time (14.9% league average for splitters).

Of course, Eovaldi has also allowed 23 hits in 21.2 innings in those last four starts, which brings us back to his hittability problem. As he has continued to use the sporkball more and more, Eovaldi’s ground ball rate has climbed steadily …

Nathan Eovaldi ground ball rate… and those dinky little seeing eye hits are happening just as often. His ground ball improvement is tremendous — Eovaldi’s gone from a 43.8% grounder rate in 2013 to 44.8% in 2014 all the way up to 50.3% in 2015 — and ground balls are good, as long as they aren’t getting through for base hits as often as they have for Eovaldi. His BABIP on grounders is .311. The AL average is .243. (Blame some of that on the team’s remarkably consistent ability to get burned by the shift.)

Quality of contact could certainly be an issue, but both Eovaldi’s soft contact (19.0%) and hard contact (30.4%) rates rank middle of the pack and are in line with the league averages (18.6% and 28.5%, respectively). And yet, the balls keep falling in for base hits.

Nathan Eovaldi soft contact vs BABIP

There’s obviously something going on beyond the numbers here. Eovaldi’s fastball isn’t straight — according to PitchFX he gets more way more horizontal movement (-6.7 inches) than the league average fastball (-1.8 inches) — so hitters either pick the ball up well out of Eovaldi’s hand or they can easily read the spin or he gets too predictable in certain counts. Maybe it’s all of the above. I can’t explain it and that’s part of the reason why he’s so frustrating.

Overall, Eovaldi has been somewhere in the range of serviceable and okay this season. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. His biggest issue more than anything is being unable to pitch deep into games, though part of that is a function of Joe Girardi‘s perpetual quick hook. Eovaldi is evolving as the season continues though. He has increasingly relied on the splitter and his ground ball rate is jumping. His numbers are similar to last year but his pitching style has changed.

Girardi likes to say Eovaldi is a “work in progress” and he’s right, but Eovaldi is also a pretty important part of the pitching staff by virtue of being in the five-man rotation. The Yankees want results and they want to see development. The sporkball isn’t a put-away pitch now and it may never be, but it won’t become one without using it in games, and Eovaldi is certainly doing that now. Trying to develop and win at the same time is not an easy task, though that’s what the Yankees and Eovaldi have tried to do in the first half and will continue to do after the All-Star break.

2015 Midseason Review: First-half Yankeemetrics

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

As part of Mike’s great Midseason Review series, I’m here to give you some of the amazing (both good and bad) statistical notes from the unofficial first half of the season, plus a quick look ahead to a few of the records that these six Yankees below will be chasing during the remainder of 2015.

Without further adieu, your first-half Yankeemetrics:

Brett Gardner
Gardner is certainly deserving of the being the Yankees’ first-half MVP, and if Mike’s write-up on Tuesday didn’t convince you, then how about this note: Gardner is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 homers, 20 doubles, 15 steals and a .300 batting average at the break. The other? Alfonso Soriano in 2002 — which just happened to be the year he came thisclose to a historic 40-40 season (39 homers, 41 steals).

Something to watch for in the second half: Gardner needs three steals to reach the magic number of 200. He would be the second Yankee, along with Hal Chase, to have 200 stolen bases in their first eight major league seasons — and the only player in franchise history with at least 200 steals and 50 homers through their first eight career seasons.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is having a tremendous bounceback season, leading the AL with 62 RBI and also hitting 22 homers. He is just the second Yankee in the last 40 years to be the outright league leader in RBI at the break, along with A-Rod (2007) and Don Mattingly (1985).

This is the third time as a Yankee he’s had at least 20 homers and 60 RBI before the All-Star break (also in 2009, 2011). Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, here’s the list of other Yankees to reach those benchmarks three-or-more times before the break: Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.

Something to watch for in the second half: Teixeira is on pace for his first 40-homer season as a Yankee. The only other player in franchise history to hit at least 40 homers in his age 35-season or older is Babe Ruth, who did it three times (1930-32).

Alex Rodriguez
If you told me that A-Rod would have the third-most at-bats on the team (he’s healthy!) and have 18 homers and 51 RBIs (he’s productive!) in the first half of the season, I might have suggested psychological treatment for you. How rare is it for a guy as old as A-Rod to be hitting that well?

The only other players in their age-39 season or older to have at least 18 homers, 50 RBI and 80 hits before the All-Star break (since 1933) are Edgar Martinez (2003), Andres Galarraga (2000) and Dave Winfield (1991). Yup, the Summer of Al continues.

Something to watch for in the second half: If A-Rod can stay healthy and get at least 500 plate appearances this season, while maintaining his current slash line of .278/.382/.515 or better, he’d join Barry Bonds (2004) and Ted Williams (1958) as the only players to finish a season with those marks in their age-39 season or older.

Stephen Drew
Of course we had to put Drew’s bizarre statistical first half into context, even if he might just be a bench guy in the second half (yes, please). With 12 homers and an unfathomable .182 batting average in the first half, Drew is the first player in franchise history to hit double-digit home runs and have a batting average under .200 at the break.

In fact, his .182 batting average is the third-lowest in major-league history for any player with at least 10 homers in the unofficial first half of the season. The only guys with a lower average are the Cubs’ Mike Olt (.144 in 2014) and the Twins’ Tim Laudner (.181 in 1987).

Something to watch for in the second half: I don’t think Drew is going to get enough at-bats to reach 20 or 25 homers, but what if he gets to 15? The lowest batting average for a guy that hit at least 15 homer runs in a season is .179, done by Dan Uggla (2013) and Rob Deer (1991). That’s doable!

CC Sabathia
At least he is healthy, right? Well, that might actually be the problem, because Joe Girardi has little choice but to keep sending Sabathia out there every fifth day (sort of) despite his ugly numbers (4-8, 5.47 ERA).

Sabathia is the third Yankee starter to lose at least eight games before the break with an ERA of 5.40 or higher. The other pitchers on this inglorious list are Tim Leary (1991) and Ralph Terry (1964). In the words of the aforementioned manager, “it’s not what you want.”

Something to watch for in the second half: How bad can it get for CC the rest of the season? The highest ERA for any Yankee pitcher that qualified for the ERA title in a non-strike season is 5.30 by Bump Hadley in 1937. (Unfortunately, Hadley is better known for something else that season, as the pitcher that beaned Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane and ended his career.)

Dellin Betances
Betances couldn’t quite match his numbers from the first half of the season last year (84 strikeouts, 1.46 ERA), but still has had a terrific couple of months so far with 77 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA.

Those back-to-back first-half performances are unprecedented for any pitcher since the first All-Star Game in 1933. That’s right, no pitcher (starter or reliever) in that span has entered the break with at least 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.60 or lower in back-to-back seasons. Bravo, Betances.

Something to watch for in the second half: Last year Betances set the single-season franchise record for the most strikeouts (135) by a pitcher with zero starts. He’s probably not going to break that record again, but even if he regresses a bit and finishes the year with more modest numbers, he’d do something that no reliever in major-league history has ever done: consecutive seasons with at least 115 strikeouts and a sub-2.00 ERA.

2015 Midseason Review: Bad Knees and Platoon Splits in the Outfield

The Yankees had to rebuild their infield this past offseason, but the outfield remained the same. They had three outfielders under contract — and will again this winter, the same three starters will be back in 2016! — so all they needed was a fourth outfielder for the bench. Given the sketchiness of the new-look infield, the outfield had to be the strength of the club. Brett Gardner has held up his end of the bargain. Everyone else? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Great … When Healthy

Gardner as been the Yankees’ best all-around player so far this season, though Ellsbury is right there with him on a rate basis in the non-power departments. He’s been better, in fact. Gardner is hitting .302 with a .377 OBP while Ellsbury has hit .318 with a .399 OBP. Brett has more power, but that’s fine, they’re both pretty awesome and they’ve done a dynamite job of setting the table in 2015. The Yankees have scored the second most runs in baseball this year thanks in large part to these two guys batting one-two in the lineup.

As good as Ellsbury has been this year — he’s hitting .318/.399/.376 (122 wRC+) with two homers, 14 steals, and by far the highest walk rate of his career (10.4%) — he has played in only 42 of the team’s 88 games due to a knee injury that sidelined him for approximately seven weeks. (His rehab was a little slower than expected too. He missed some rehab games with “general fatigue,” which unfortunately is nothing new for Ellsbury.) He just returned last week in fact, in the fifth to last game of the first half.

When he has been on the field, Ellsbury’s been great. He’s been a dynamic leadoff hitter who is getting on base and letting the other guys drive him in. That’s exactly when he’s supposed to do. Ellsbury’s been one of the very best leadoff hitters in baseball in 2015, and he’s done it while playing his typically excellent center field. No problems with his production whatsoever. The knee injury just put a big damper on his first half. It happens.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Veteran Downside

Gosh, how bad did Carlos Beltran look back in April? Really, really bad. He wasn’t hitting at all, pitchers were beating him with both hard stuff and soft stuff, and it looked like the 38-year-old with bad knees coming off offseason elbow surgery was nearing the end of the line. Beltran was a truly great player who deserves Hall of Fame consideration. That doesn’t make him invincible to aging, however.

Then something weird happened. Beltran started hitting. And he kept hitting too. He followed up his miserable .162/.216/.265 (23 wRC+) showing in April with a .298/.316/.500 (123 wRC+) performance in May and a .300/.378/.488 (142 wRC+) performance in June. It all adds up to a .260/.309/.430 (102 wRC+) batting line with seven home runs overall. This graph looks good to me:

Carlos Beltran wOBABeltran’s return to usefulness hit a bump in the road late last month, when he landed on the DL with an oblique strain. He’s expected to play in minor league rehab games this week and rejoin the Yankees either immediately after the All-Star break or soon thereafter. Seems like a minor injury, thankfully.

As the offense has ticked upward, Beltran’s right field defense has remained a huge liability. He has no range — how many catchable pop-ups have we seen drop in foul terrible already this year? argh — and let’s be honest here, Beltran doesn’t always bust it to retrieve whatever balls do fall in. The guy does have bad knees and he is 38, no one is expecting him to move around like Ellsbury or Gardner, but good gravy, the lack of mobility is alarming.

The Yankees are stuck with Beltran in right field because Alex Rodriguez is their full-time DH. A-Rod at DH has worked way too well to mess with it. So it’s not Beltran’s fault he has to play the field every day. Even with his bat coming around, Carlos is a replacement level player with far more downside than upside. His first half as a whole was not good — the offensive rebound saved it from being a total disaster — and the Yankees are just going to have to live with whatever Beltran gives them. Hope he mashes and doesn’t hurt the team in the field before the defensive replacement comes in.

The Fourth Outfielder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees struck fourth outfielder gold this offseason. They brought in Chris Young as a low cost flier last September — the Mets released him and were on the hook for his salary, so the Yankees only had to pay Young the pro-rated portion of the league minimum — and he produced (146 wRC+), so they brought him back on a one-year deal worth $2.5M to complement their lefty heavy outfield this offseason.

The results have been stellar. Young is hitting .248/.301/.452 (106 wRC+) with 10 (!) home runs overall, and he’s done his best work against lefties, hitting .354/.411/.646 (192 wRC+) against southpaws. That is exactly what Young was brought to do. Mash lefties and play strong defense, which he has done in all three outfield spots — yeah he misplayed that ball into a triple this past weekend, but everyone screws up now and then — and often in place of Beltran late inning games.

Young is not hitting right-handed pitchers — .180/.228/.328 (50 wRC+) — and yet Joe Girardi keeps playing him against righties, especially while Beltran has been on the DL. That’s a Girardi problem, not a Young problem. I guess we could blame Young for hitting a little against righties in April and giving Girardi confidence he can hold his own against northpaws. Either way, as a defensive replacement/lefty masher, Young has been phenomenal. Legitimate A+ work. The Yankees won the bench player lottery.

* * *

Aside from Beltran, who is an older player nearing the end of his career, the Yankees have gotten excellent work out of their outfielders this season. Gardner has been incredible, Ellsbury has been very good when healthy, and Young has been as good as any fourth outfielder in the league. Gardner and Ellsbury are critical to the team’s success and Young’s role against lefties shouldn’t be overlooked — he adds much needed balance to the roster. The outfield overall as been very good, even with Beltran dragging things down a bit.