Something to Celebrate

I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

In a matter of hours, the 162 game marathon that is the Major League Baseball season will be officially over for everyone (unless we get some tiebreaker action!). The Yankees are one of ten teams both skilled enough and lucky enough to keep marching towards the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. As a team they already got to celebrate–and why shouldn’t they? This is a team that very few people thought could make the playoffs. In most best-case scenarios in February and March, this was an 85-win team that might scratch at contending for the second wildcard spot. Now, they sit assured of a spot in that wildcard game that will probably (hopefully?!) be in the Bronx. The notion that the Yankees–or any team–shouldn’t celebrate making the Wildcard Game is just silly to me. What that team is celebrating is not just the accomplishment of making it one more day, but acknowledging the impressive feat of being one of ten teams standing after 162 games. These celebrations are as much about–if not more–what has happened rather than what will happen. Anyway, now that the team has celebrated and been celebrated, let’s take a look at some individual Yankee players and what they have to celebrate about 2015.

Starting with number one, there are some pitchers we should discuss; chief among them is Masahiro Tanaka. TANAK may not have been quite-as-brilliant in 2015 as he was in 2014, but this was still a successful year for him. By the way, let’s talk for a moment about how crazy it is that I’m saying a year for a pitcher was “successful” and “not-quite-as-good” despite a K/BB of 5.71 and a WHIP of 0.994. The former is good for fifth in the AL among pitchers with at least 150 IP and the latter is good for first. Performance, though, is only part of why Tanaka’s been successful this year. While he missed some time recently, his elbow has more or less held up despite a whole lot of armchair-doctoring by media and fans alike at the beginning of the season. There’s a reason that doctors, the Yankees, and Tanaka didn’t opt for surgery and this year has proved it a wise decision. His elbow ligaments could snap tomorrow, but that goes for any pitcher at any time and one should never have surgery when it isn’t necessary. Try to imagine the Yankees’ season without Tanaka in the rotation. He’s the only one among the Yankees’ starters with at least 100 IP who has an ERA+ of over 100 (114); without him, there’s no way this team is in the postseason.

Sticking with the starters, there’s Luis Severino. Few, expected him to be on the team this year; even fewer expected him to have this much of an impact as a starter. Despite some hiccups and some general first-time-in-the-Majors-rough-around-the-edgesness, Severnio has been spectacular. He’s held his own against big lineups at times. He’s flashed plus stuff. He’s helped Tanaka carry the rotation in the second half and has definitely pitched his way into not only the playoffs, but also the 2016 rotation.

Lastly in the pitching category, appropriately enough, there’s the dynamite combo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 bullpen combination than this one anywhere in the Majors. While Betances has looked more human lately, he managed to mostly repeat an incredible 2014 and he and Miller solidified a very-shaky-at-times relief corps to give the Yankees a much-needed late-game edge. Miller, meanwhile, stepped right into the line of Yankee closers and wowed us all year with a dominant fastball/slider combination that left many batters baffled. The back end of a bullpen is important in a regular season, but is paramount the in the playoffs; the more we see these two in the coming weeks, the more likely it is that they and the team have done something special.

Moving to the lineup, we’ll start with number two–don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a position-by-position breakdown–and discuss Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy. Like most of the Yankee offense, McCann hasn’t looked great of late, but that doesn’t mean this season isn’t something to celebrate. He raised all four portions of his slash line from last year and managed to belt a career high 26 homers. He’s also already tied his career high in RBI with 94, so anything he drives in today will represent a new career high. His backup also had a great season as JRM hit more-than-admirably and seemed like a veteran behind the plate in very limited duty. As a bonus, he also provided the hands-down best quote of 2015 by anyone in the Yankee organization.

I’ve already touched on Mark Teixeira‘s great season, so I’ll be brief here. Tex had a fantastic season and his absence has definitely been felt in the last few weeks, even if Greg Bird has done incredibly well both for the team and himself, something completely unexpected in and of itself, and also worthy of celebration. The Yankees now have a very good problem regarding Bird, Tex, and the next two guys we’ll touch on–Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran–and how to get them all at bats.

Raise your hand if you thought Carlos Beltran wasn’t toast after April. Put your damn hand down, you liar. At the end of April, Carlos had an OPS of .481 (!) and had exactly zero home runs. From May on, he’s hit .292/.352/.506 with 19 homers. His bat was steady and stable throughout the summer and we’ll finally get to see his playoff prowess put to the test.

Then, finally, there’s Alex Rodriguez. Al. Al from Miami. Summer of Al. How many times did we tweet these things over the last few months? The finish hasn’t been pretty, but how delusional would you have seemed in March if you said A-Rod was going to hit 33 homers this year? I thought he MIGHT, MAYBE hit 15-20 and be average overall at the plate. He completely shattered those expectations and now a finalist for Comeback Player of the year. Considering there were a lot of people who said he might never play a game for the Yankees again, this is nothing short of an amazing year for Alex and I couldn’t be happier for him. Even though a lot of the crap he’s dealt with is of his own doing, he still deserves to celebrate this year just as much as anyone, if not more. Here’s hoping for a repeat of 2009 from Alex and his teammates.


Game 159: The Home Finale


So here we are. The final home game of the regular season. What better way to celebrate the occasion than by clinching a postseason berth? The Yankees can clinch a wildcard spot tonight with a win. That’s all it takes. One stupid little win to secure a spot in the postseason. Glorious, October baseball with a chance to win the World Series. It’s wonderful. I miss it so much.

The clincher scenarios are getting a little less complicated, thankfully. The Yankees will clinch a playoff spot with a win at any point (preferably tonight). They can not clinch tonight with a loss, however. No other combination of losses around the league can clinch a spot for New York tonight. To clinch the first wildcard spot, the Yankees need either two wins or one win plus one Astros loss at some point before the end of the season. Nice and easy, right? Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ home finale lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. LF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cloudy and there has been a raining on and off for a few hours now, but the forecast says it’ll clear up later tonight. The internet makes it appear a delay is a possibility. Hope we avoid it. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley are out of the lineup with back soreness. Ellsbury hurt himself crashing into the wall last night. Joe Girardi made it sound like both are available in an emergency … Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring) came through last night’s start just fine. No problems at all … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is still playing catch but there is no firm timetable for his return.

Award Update: A-Rod was named one of three finalists for the MLBPA’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, the union announced. Prince Fielder and Kendrys Morales are the other finalists. This is not MLB’s official Comeback Player of the Year award. The union has their own set of awards. Still cool though. The players nominated A-Rod.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Position Players


The Yankees are in position to clinch a wildcard spot very soon, possibly tonight, so it’s time to start thinking about the wildcard game roster. Earlier today we sorted through the pitching staff, trying to figure out which ten or eleven pitchers the Yankees will carry in the wildcard game. It was easier said than done.

Ten or eleven pitchers — my guess is ten, but you never know — leaves 14-15 position player spots to fill. Joe Girardi will have a decent-sized bench at his disposal, but ideally it won’t come into play too much. The starting lineup will decide the game. As we did with the pitchers, let’s go through the position player group and try to figure out who will be on the wildcard game roster next Tuesday.

The Locks

This is the easy part …

Catcher: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy
First Base: Greg Bird
Second Base: ???
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Third Base: Chase Headley
Outfield: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter: Alex Rodriguez

That’s nine of the 14-15 position player spots right there and they’re all self-explanatory right? Right. That is eighth-ninths of the starting lineup and the backup catcher. All easy calls. Next.

Second Base

For most of the summer, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan platooned at second base. That is no longer the case. Drew has been dealing with some dizziness/concussion issues that may end his season, but even before that Dustin Ackley wrestled the starting job away from him. Ackley got some playing time, hit right away, and he’s continued to play against right-handers.

Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder has started each of the Yankees’ last four games against left-handed starters, not Ryan. Chances are Refsnyder will start against lefties Wade Miley, Rich Hill, and Wei-Yin Chen the next three days too. Like Ackley, he got a few at-bats, got some hits, and has received more playing time. That Drew/Ryan platoon was together for 140 games or so. The last 16 have gone to Ackley/Refsnyder.

Smackley. (Presswire)
Smackley. (Presswire)

At this point there is no doubt Ackley will be on the wildcard roster. The rest of the guys is where it gets tricky. Refsnyder is starting against lefties, but would the Yankees actually start him in the wildcard game if they face, say, Dallas Keuchel or Scott Kazmir or Cole Hamels? I get the sense Girardi would stick with Ackley in that situation and just roll with his best player.

If Refsnyder’s not going to start the game, then what’s his role? Pinch-hitter against a lefty reliever. That’s all. I guess he could pinch-run too, but there figure to be other guys on the roster to do that. Refsnyder’s not going to come in for defense. Pinch-hitter against a lefty is a big deal though! It could be the difference in the late-innings of a close game. Given the extra bench spots, I think Refsnyder’s in.

With Ackley and Refsnyder on the roster, the Yankees will need to carry a shortstop-capable backup infielder. Neither of those guys can play short. Not even in an emergency. That leaves a spot for Drew or Ryan. In a vacuum, I’d take Drew over Ryan eight days a week and twice on Sundays. But Drew isn’t healthy and we shouldn’t count on him getting healthy before the wildcard game. He’s still dealing with this dizziness/concussion stuff and has been for almost two weeks now. That puts Ryan on the wildcard game roster along with Ackley and Refsnyder.

The Pinch-Runner

Rico Noel will be on the wildcard game roster. I’m sure of it. One of the benefits of shrinking the pitching staff in the postseason is creating an open roster spot for someone just like Noel. A burner who can come off the bench to pinch-run in the late innings of a close game. Look at Rico run:

The kid can fly and his speed can potentially have a huge impact in the wildcard game. The Yankees brought Noel up this month strictly to pinch-run and I fully expect him to be on the postseason roster. Remember, they carried Freddy Guzman on the postseason roster in 2009 for this exact reason. Noel’s on the wildcard roster. I have no doubt about it.

(Since he wasn’t called up until September 1st, Noel will technically have to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have two position player injury spots available thanks to Mark Teixeira and Mason Williams.)

The Backup Outfielder

Noel will be on the wildcard game roster but he’s not really a backup outfielder. He’s a pinch-runner and that’s all. (The scouting reports indicate Noel is a pretty good defender, but the Yankees haven’t used him defensively all that much.) The Yankees will still need to carry a legitimate backup outfielder if for no other reason than to replace Beltran for defense in the late innings. Chris Young, who is the only righty hitting outfielder on the roster, held that job all season and I expect him to be on the wildcard roster. I know he’s stumped lately, but there’s no reason to think the Yankees won’t carry Young in October. In fact, I’m not sure how you can look at the 39-man active roster and saying Young doesn’t belong on the wildcard game roster. He’s in.

The Final Roster Spot

We still have one last roster spot to fill. The nine locks above plus Ackley, Refsnyder, Ryan, Noel, and Young gets us to 14 position players. I suppose the Yankees could carry eleven pitchers, but I doubt it. It was hard enough coming up with ten pitchers worth a spot on the wildcard roster. One last position player makes sense.

There’s no point in carrying three catchers, so Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are out. The remaining candidates are Jose Pirela and Slade Heathcott, assuming Drew is indeed done for the year. With Refsnyder on the roster, there’s no need for Pirela, another righty hitter. Yeah, Pirela can play the outfield if necessary, but he’s an emergency option out there only. Noel and Ackley are available as emergency outfielders. I also think Pirela would have played more this month if he was a serious wildcard game roster candidate.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

That leaves it between Heathcott and a possibly but not likely healthy Drew. If Drew is not over high dizziness/concussion symptoms by next week, this questioned gets answered for us. In the unlikely event Drew is healthy though, would it make sense to carry another infielder or another outfielder? I think an extra outfielder makes more sense. Between Ackley, Refsnyder, and Ryan, you’ve got the second base starter and two backups. The only backup outfielder is Young considering Noel’s job is pinch-running.

Heathcott gives the Yankees another potential pinch-runner — he’s no Rico, but he’s faster than Young or Refsnyder — and another quality defender, as well as a left-handed bat on the bench. In fact, Drew and Slade are the only possible lefty bats off the bench, and one’s hurt. Besides, if Drew is healthy, it’s Ryan or Heathcott, not Drew or Heathcott. I’d take Heathcott over Ryan.

With Slade on the roster, the Yankees would have two backup infielders even without Drew (or Ryan), and Heathcott at least has a chance to contribute offensively and defensively. I mean, if Drew’s healthy and on the roster, what’s the point of Ryan? What does he offer in a winner-take-all game? I’d expect neither guy to actually play in the game, but, if pressed into action, it’s easy to see Slade having more potential impact than Ryan.

So after all of that, here’s the 25-man wildcard game roster we’ve kinda sorta pieced together today:

Catchers (2) Infielders (7) Outfielders (6) RHP (5) LHP (5)
McCann Bird Gardner Masahiro Tanaka (SP) Andrew Miller
Murphy Ackley Ellsbury Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
Gregorius Beltran Adam Warren Chasen Shreve
Headley Young Andrew Bailey Chris Capuano
A-Rod (DH) Heathcott Nova/Severino/Pineda CC Sabathia
Refsnyder Noel (PR)

Remember, the Yankees can change their 25-man roster prior to the ALDS should they advance, and they’ll have to change it too. They’d need to get more starting pitchers on the roster. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. One thing at a time.

That appears to be the best 25-man roster the Yankees can carry in the wildcard game. Maybe not the most talented, but the most useful given the circumstances. We’re not planning for a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. It’s one game. One stupid little game where anything can happen. Hopefully Girardi won’t have to use anyone beyond the nine starting position players, Beltran’s defensive replacement, Tanaka, and the big three relievers. That’s the best case scenario. If the Yankees need to dip any deeper into their wildcard game roster than that, then, well, just hang on tight.

The Yankees and 2015’s major awards


We’re now into the final week of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL MVP, which should go to Bryce Harper unanimously, the other major awards in both leagues feature some very tight races. It’ll be fun to see them shake out.

The last Yankees player to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who took home 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year honors after tearing his ACL on the Kauffman Stadium warning track in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting — a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Right now the MVP race is between Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout, with Donaldson seemingly in the lead. Trout, however, has equal or better offensive numbers (other than RBI, basically) and doesn’t play in a hitter-friendly home park. Also, the Angels are right in the thick of the AL wildcard race. If they sneak in, will that push some voters towards Trout? The ballot literally says standings do not matter, but we all know they do. Voters consider that stuff all the time. Donaldson is the favorite but Trout could make it very interesting with a big final week to push the Halos into the postseason.


For much of the season Mark Teixeira was a legitimate MVP candidate based on old school stats. He was mashing taters and driving in runs (and playing great defense) for a first place team, which usually equals MVP candidate. Teixeira’s injury — he only played 111 games this year — and the Yankees’ tumble into a wildcard spot ended his long shot chances for the MVP award. Teixeira was awesome, but I thought it was a stretch to lump him into a group with Donaldson, Trout, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado … guys like that.

The Yankees only have three other players remotely close to being considered MVP candidates, in my opinion: A-Rod, Brian McCann, and Dellin Betances. A-Rod has had a big year offensively but is still a DH, and DHs need huge years to win MVP. Not even peak Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz won an MVP, remember. McCann has been arguably the best offensive catcher in the league and a reliable defender. Betances? Even with his recent walk problems, he’s been the most dominant reliever in the game this summer.

The MVP ballot includes ten spots and those last two or three spots always seem to get weird. Teixeira, A-Rod, McCann, and Betances could all get down-ballot votes. Heck, maybe Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller will as well. Even Raul Ibanez got a tenth place vote on the 2012 MVP ballot after all those clutch late-season homers. (No, really.) I think a Yankee or three will get MVP votes in 2015. But they don’t have a serious candidate to win the thing.

Cy Young

The Yankees do not have a legitmate Cy Young candidate. They probably won’t even have a starter reach 170 innings — CC Sabathia leads the team with 162.1 innings with one start to go — which has never happened in a non-strike season in franchise history. Ever. Masahiro Tanaka has been the team’s best starter and he’s only thrown 149 innings with one start remaining. Betances and Miller could get votes — Dellin actually went into last night’s game eighth in the AL in bWAR — but they won’t win and shouldn’t win. Too many deserving starting pitcher candidates.

At this point I’d say the AL Cy Young is a toss-up between Dallas Keuchel and David Price. The traditional stats are damn near identical — Keuchel is 19-8 with a 2.47 ERA, Price is 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA — and Keuchel has an edge in bWAR (7.3 vs. 6.0) while Price has an edge in fWAR (6.4 vs. 6.1). So pick one. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer. Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and Chris Sale are among the other candidates. The Cy Young ballot includes five slots, not ten, and I suppose Dellin could steal a fifth place vote or two. He’s pretty much their only hope for 2015 Cy Young votes.


Rookie of the Year

The Yankees have used more rookies this season than at any point in the last 10-15 years or so — at a quick glance, I count 23 Yankees rookies, 16 of whom made their MLB debuts in 2015 — but they don’t have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. None of them have been around long enough. Chasen Shreve is the only rookie who has been on the roster more than even half the season, and he’s a middle reliever. Middle relievers don’t get Rookie of the Year votes.

Luis Severino is New York’s best chance at Rookie of the Year votes and I don’t see it happening at all. That’s not meant as a knock on Severino’s performance. He’s been great, but ten starts and 55.1 innings just isn’t enough to get love on a Rookie of the Year ballot that runs only three slots deep. Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa will occupy the top two spots in whatever order, then the list of candidates for the third spot include Lance McCullers Jr., Roberto Osuna, Miguel Sano, Delino DeShields Jr., Devon Travis, and Billy Burns.

None of the baby Yankees have been around long enough to garner serious Rookie of the Year consideration this year. Maybe Severino steals a third place vote. Maaaybe. That’s about it.

Manager of the Year

At some point in the last decade or so the Manager of the Year morphed into the “manager of the team that most exceeds expectations” award. Are the Yankees exceeding expectations this year? I think so, but more than, say, the Rangers (Jeff Banister) or Astros (A.J. Hinch) or Twins (Paul Molitor) or even the Blue Jays (John Gibbons)? That’s up to the voters to decide.

The Manager of the Year ballot runs three names deep and last year seven of the 15 AL managers received a vote (Girardi got one third place vote). The year before that? Nine of 15 managers got a vote. Girardi has received at least one Manager of the Year vote every year with the Yankees except 2008, his first season. The smart money is on Girardi appearing on at least one voter’s ballot. Winning it over Banister or Hinch or whoever? That’s tough to see.


Comeback Player of the Year

Okay, now we’re talking. A-Rod is a bonafide Comeback Player of the Year candidate along with Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Kendrys Morales. (Jose Iglesias and Chris Davis are probably in the mix as well.) The Comeback Player of the Year used to be decided by fan voting, but it’s now up to a panel of beat reporters. I’m not sure how that whole process works.

Rodriguez didn’t play last season because of his suspension and there is precedent for a player being named Comeback Player of the Year following a performance-enhancing drug issues — Jason Giambi was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, a few months after getting caught up in the BALCO scandal. That doesn’t necessarily mean the voters won’t hold the PED stuff against A-Rod, but if they don’t, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

Anyway, Madson is a non-closer reliever, which works against him. Usually closers are the only relievers to win major awards. That’s not to say Madson isn’t deserving — the guy missed three years after Tommy John surgery, after all — just that the history of the voting body works against him. On the other hand, A-Rod (130 wRC+), Fielder (126 wRC+), and Morales (130 wRC+) all have comparable offensive numbers and they’re all DHs too. (Fielder has played only 18 games at first base this year.) Comparing them is nice and easy. Apples to apples.

The Comeback Player of the Year will come down to a matter of nitpicking. Fielder’s batting average (.306) or Morales’ RBI total (105) or A-Rod’s homers (32)? You can slice this in any number of ways. I don’t know if A-Rod will win the Comeback Player of the Year this year, but he’s a legitimate candidate and the Yankees’ best shot at winning a major award this season.

Game 144: Warren’s Return to the Rotation


I woke up this morning still pumped up about last night’s win. That was a pretty awesome moment considering everything Slade Heathcott has been through all the years, between his injuries and alcoholism. The Yankees needed a big hit and the homegrown guy came through. So great. So, so great.

Today is another day though. The Yankee and Heathcott have to turn the page and focus on tonight, another important game — they’re all important games now — in both the AL East and wildcard races. Adam Warren is making his first start since late-June. He’s only scheduled to throw 60-65 pitches, which means we’re in for a lot of bullpen work tonight. That is … unsettling. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Adam Warren

Good thing Tropicana Field has a dome, because it’s been raining in St. Petersburg and will rain again later tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: According to George King, A-Rod was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee Tuesday after going for an MRI. He hurt himself on the slide into home plate Sunday afternoon. It can’t be too bad if Alex played yesterday and is in the lineup tonight.

Injuries have caught up to the offense, but there are signs things may soon improve


Even including last night’s win, the Yankees are now 11-11 in August and have seen their six-game AL East lead disappear. They’re now tied with the Blue Jays. The combination of Toronto getting insanely hot and the Yankees playing decidedly mediocre ball have turned a comfortable division lead into a legitimate race. Races are fun! That’s why we watch. It also would have been nice to see that big lead last more than three weeks, but alas.

The Yankees have faded a bit this month — August is not their worst month of the season, they went 13-16 in May but rebounded to go 15-12 in June and 17-7 in July — for many reasons, some of which were not entirely unpredictable. First and foremost, they’ve been bit by the injury bug. They lost Michael Pineda (forearm) and CC Sabathia (knee) to injuries after both guys came into the season as health risks. Seeing them land on the DL wasn’t a total shock.

Other injuries have been somewhat fluky. Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin and has been out a week, hurting the Yankees on both sides of the ball. (I love Greg Bird as much as anyone, but the Yankees miss Teixeira. It’s obvious.) Brian McCann pulled a little something in his left knee chasing after a ball in the dirt a few weeks ago, and while he’s stayed in the lineup, he’s clearly not 100%. He’s wearing a brace and has altered his batting stance to take pressure off the knee:

McCann downplayed the batting stance change but come on. It looks like he’s about to fall over trying to take his weight off that left knee. McCann hurt his knee on August 4th and has gone 12-for-57 (.211) with a 22.6% strikeout rate since. He has hit four home runs during that time, so his power is still there, but he had an 18.8% strikeout rate before the injury. His timing seems to be off slightly following the knee injury, maybe due to that weird stance.

Then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who as far as we know isn’t hurt. Either way, he is not producing like he did earlier in the year. That’s not really a surprise, I suppose. As great as Alex is, it was probably unrealistic to think he’d hit like an MVP candidate all season as a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips who didn’t play at all last year and barely played the year before. A-Rod‘s gone 11-for-84 (.131) with two homers this month, though it worth noting the two homers both came within the last week.

Joe Girardi gave Rodriguez both Saturday and Sunday off, saying he wanted to “refresh” him. The Yankees have an off-day Thursday, so that’s another day to rest, and they’ll be in Atlanta for an interleague series this weekend. The team has committed to A-Rod at DH this year and there’s no reason to think he’ll play third (or first) base against the Braves. Assuming he starts tonight and tomorrow, Alex will still get six days off in a nine-day span. Hopefully that gets him going.

The Yankees built that big lead in the AL East thanks in large part to Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann. Those guys were forces in the middle of the lineup for much of the season and are a huge reason why the team still ranks second in baseball with an average of 4.73 runs per game. That’s even after scoring 61 runs in their last 19 games, or 3.21 per game. They were that good for most of the season. Now? Not so much. McCann and Teixeira are banged up and A-Rod’s in a cold spell, perhaps due to fatigue.

The good news is things may be starting to change for the better. McCann had a great game last night, going 3-for-3 with a walk. Also, Teixeira was on deck ready to pinch-hit last night when Beltran hit his walk-off sac fly, which is an indication he is moving closer to returning to the starting lineup. A-Rod? Eh, aside from his two big homers last week — big as in long distance, they were bombs — I’m not sure if there are any positive signs there. Two outta three ain’t bad, I guess.

Let’s not beat around the bush: without Teixeira, McCann, and A-Rod producing at an above average clip, the Yankees have close to no chance to beat out the Blue Jays for the division title. The Yankees need to fire on all cylinders to keep pace with Toronto, and those three key middle of the order bats are hitting a combined .189/.270/.388 in 218 plate appearances this month. Yikes. Carlos Beltran can’t do it all himself. Those three need to start helping out again.

The pitching has been solid this month but the offense has been a big letdown of late. These nagging injuries Teixeira and McCann are dealing with are part of baseball, and hey, when you have a 40-year-old player playing everyday, you run of risk of him hitting a wall down the stretch. Unfortunately all of this is happening at once. Hopefully McCann’s big night, Teixeira being on deck, and A-Rod hitting two homers last week are signs these guys are close to getting back to where they need to be. The sooner they get going, the better the Yankees’ chances of winning the AL East.

A-Rod’s Slump: Second half fade or a blip on the radar?


Over the last 12 games, the Yankees are averaging just 2.83 runs scored — that includes last night’s eight-run outburst — which is down considerably from the pace they maintained in the first half of the season. The pitching staff has been great of late, they’re allowing just 3.33 runs per game during that 12-game stretch, but the lack of offense has led to a 5-7 record. A big part of the offensive problems is Alex Rodriguez‘s worst slump of the season.

“I felt like (expletive) today. I felt terrible,” said A-Rod to Brendan Kuty after going 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts Sunday. “You know, you grind through it. Everyone is going to go through times like this. So it’s going to be good to have a change of scenery and get back home.”

A-Rod’s slump conveniently started right at the beginning of the month: he’s 7-for-53 (.132) with three doubles in August after ending July with a seven-game hitting streak, during which he went 11-for-27 (.407) with two doubles and four homers. This is also not the first time Alex has slumped his year — he went 5-for-37 (.135) during a ten-game span in April — but this slump is worth examining for more than a few reasons.

For starters, the Yankees have fallen in the standings the last two weeks or so primarily because of their offense. A-Rod, the No. 3 hitter, is a big reason why, and if he doesn’t start hitting soon, chances are the Yankees will continue to slide in the standings. Secondly, we’re deep into the season, and Alex is a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips who did not play last year. It’s not unreasonable to suggest he may be wearing down, though he did tell Kuty “I actually feel fine” when asked about fatigue the other day.

When Rodriguez first returned in Spring Training, what stood out most to me was his plate discipline and still excellent knowledge of the strike zone. There was no rust there. A-Rod swung at strikes and spit on pitches out of the zone. Over the weekend in Toronto and last night against the Twins, he did not do that. He swung at some bad pitches out of the zone and looked lost. Here are Alex’s swing tendencies this year:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact%
April thru July 25.2% 65.9% 53.8% 77.8%
August 22.7% 64.2% 56.7% 81.8%
AL Average 30.4% 63.9% 64.0% 87.3%

Okay, so that was a bit unexpected. I figured A-Rod’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) would be sky high during his August slump, but that’s not the case. He’s swung at fewer pitches out of the zone. We are talking about a small sample, however, so it’s entirely possible Alex was ultra-disciplined earlier in the month and has taken to hacking at everything the last few days, skewing the numbers.

A-Rod’s contact rates on pitches both in (Z-Contact%) and out (O-Contact%) of the strike zone have increased this month, so isn’t swinging and missing more often either. Rodriguez has always been a guy who’s swung and missed a bunch (he is fifth all-time in strikeouts, you know), so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if his slump featured more empty swings. That’s not the case, however.

More interesting is what’s happened when A-Rod has made contact during his slump. He’s struck out 15 times in 63 plate appearances this month, a 23.8% rate that is in line with his pre-August rate (21.1%). Alex has put 38 balls in play this month with only seven hits to show for it (.184 BABIP). I absolutely remember a few line drives finding gloves during the series in Cleveland and Toronto, but they were the exception, not the norm during this sump. The line drive outs stood out because they were so infrequent.

A low BABIP is not always bad luck. Rodriguez’s quality of contact has gone down during the slump. He simply hasn’t hit the ball as hard as he had the first four months of the season. Here are the numbers:

GB% FB% IFFB% Soft% Hard% Pull% Oppo%
April thru July 43.1% 36.9% 3.1% 10.4% 38.5% 46.2% 16.9%
August 47.4% 36.8% 28.6% 21.1% 23.7% 52.6% 10.5%
AL Average 44.5% 34.9% 10.0% 18.5% 28.2% 40.5% 24.7%

The infield pop-up rate jumps out at you. A-Rod rarely popped out earlier this season (league average is 11.1 IFFB%) but now nearly three out of every ten fly balls is going straight up in the air. (IFFB% is pop-ups per fly ball, not pop-ups per ball in play.) Pop-ups are BABIP killers. They’re as close to a sure out as you can get on a ball in play.

Rodriguez’s isn’t necessarily hitting more grounders or fly balls — a four percentage point increase in ground ball rate isn’t alarming, that’s the normal ebb and flow of baseball more than anything — but his hard and soft contact rates have gone in the wrong direction this month, further explaining the low BABIP. The harder you hit the ball, the more likely it is to fall in for a hit. The numbers haven shown that.

The decline in hard contact is just a symptom of the problem, however. There is something causing the lack in hard contact and figuring out what it is will take a miracle. Bad mechanics? Fatigue? Guessing wrong? We could come up with a million reasons. I’m no swing expert, so I couldn’t tell you is Rodriguez’s swing is out of whack. I can tell you opponents haven’t been pitching him any differently …

April thru July 61.8% 18.4% 6.5% 9.6%
August 61.0% 12.1% 6.6% 9.8%
AL Average 63.6% 14.6% 7.5% 10.7%

… so it’s not like opponents have suddenly started burying him with breaking balls or throwing fastballs by him. (The lower slider rate coincides with an increase in knuckleball rate. A-Rod has seen 7.8% knuckleballs this month thanks to R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright. Good reminder we’re talking about a small sample here.) Alex has seen the same basic pitch mix during the slump as he did when he was raking earlier this year.

From the looks of things, it appears A-Rod’s slump may be a timing issue. He is not swinging at more pitches, but he is making more contact, and the contact he has made hasn’t been as hard as before. The huge spike in pop-up rate is a classic indicator that timing is an issue — those pop-ups are just a millisecond from being a fly ball or line drive. Rodriguez has always had a low pop-up rate. That it suddenly spiked like this suggests he’s juuust missing. The timing isn’t right.

That could be good news is bad news. Is A-Rod’s timing off simply because hitters tend to lose their timing at various points through a 162-game season? Or is he starting to get worn down and his bat is slowing as a result? I don’t know. Alex might not even know. That’s not a satisfying answer but it’s better than pretending I do know the answer when I really don’t. His approach has been fine, he’s not chasing stuff off the plate, so that’s encouraging. It would be much more worrisome if Rodriguez had started hacking at everything.

We’re in uncharted territory with A-Rod because of his age, his hips, his suspension … everything, really. We came into the season not knowing what to expect, he exceeded even the most optimistic of projections for the first four months of the year, and is now in his worst slump of the season. Regardless of whether this is a late season fade due to fatigue and age, or simply a normal slump, the offense has taken a big hit with Alex’s lack of production.