Yankeemetrics: The terrible Twinkies [June 16-19]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sabathia heating up
There haven’t been many enjoyable things to watch with this year’s Yankees team, but one of them undoubtedly is the masterful, turn-back-the-clock season of CC Sabathia.

He continued his brilliance on Thursday, working out of several jams to pitch six innings of one-run ball in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Twins. He put 10 guys on base but stranded nine of them, consistently generating weak ground ball outs to end rallies and finish off innings. His ground ball rate of 70.6 percent was his highest in a start this season.

Sabathia also dialed up the heat on his pitches and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. His cutter (91.5 mph), sinker (93.3 mph) and slider (82.4 mph) each had their highest average velocities in a game this season, and he maintained that velocity as he approached 100-plus pitches late into his outing.

The large lefty now has a 0.82 ERA in his last seven starts, the lowest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings since the start of May through Thursday. Sure, that’s an arbitrary endpoint, but consider this: Clayton Kershaw’s best ERA over a seven-start span this year is 0.81 and his best seven-game mark last year was 0.82.

Didi Gregorius provided the margin of victory with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the seventh inning off lefty specialist Fernando Abad. The Twins reliever entered the game having allowed only three hits in 30 at-bats against lefty hitters this season, and had yet to surrender a longball to anyone. Didi, of course, entered the game with the best batting average among left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers in MLB this season — and won the strength-versus-strength battle.

The blast was also his second three-run homer in three games, which gives us this #funfact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit multiple three-run home runs in a three-game span since Roy Smalley, who hit two of them in a game against the Royals on Sept. 5, 1982.

Tanaka time
There’s nothing like a trip to the Twin Cities to cure those losing-streak blues. The Yankees continued to pound a bad Twins team on Friday night, winning 8-2 thanks a balanced offense that scored early and often to support a stellar performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka bounced back from a rough start last week against the Tigers, throwing eight innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. It was his 11th game allowing two earned runs or fewer, the most such starts among all American League pitchers through Friday’s slate.

The outing also marked his fifth straight start on the road with at least six innings pitched and no more than one earned run allowed. Only one other pitcher in franchise history has fashioned a streak like that in a single season: Whitey Ford, who did it in 1950, 1963 and 1964.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kids
Down 4-0 heading into the eighth inning, Saturday’s game seemed destined to end in another frustrating loss. But then the Twins remembered who they were (a very bad baseball team), the Yankees remembered where they were playing (Target Field; aka Yankee Stadium Midwest), and their bats came alive to spark another late-inning rally. In the end, the Bronx Bombers had their first win this season when trailing after seven innings.

Alex Rodriguez — who was riding a season-high 11-game homerless streak entering this game — cut the deficit in half with a two-run blast in the seventh inning. That hit gave him 5,795 career total bases, passing Babe Ruth (5,793) for sixth place on the all-time MLB list.

Carlos Beltran then tied the game with an opposite-field homer in the eighth inning off Kevin Jepsen. His 18 homers are the most by any Yankee age 38 or older this early into the season, one more than Babe Ruth had through 68 team games in 1933.

Jacoby Ellsbury capped the comeback win with a bases-loaded RBI single in the next frame. It was the first time since joining the Yankees three seasons ago that he delivered a go-ahead hit in the ninth inning.

Aroldis Chapman made things interesting in the ninth inning as he tried to close out the game. He surrendered back-to-back two-out homers to Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki, which sliced the lead to 7-6, before he eventually got the save. Suzuki’s shot came off a 102 mph fastball, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run by any player in the Pitch F/X era (since 2008).

(AP)
(AP)

Sweep-less in Minneapolis
As much as the Yankees have dominated the Twins in Minneapolis recently, they couldn’t complete the four-game sweep this weekend, blowing an early lead and losing 7-4 on Sunday afternoon.

The Yankees entered the final game of this series with a 19-5 record in the regular season at Target Field (and 2-0 in the postseason), a mark that was notable in several ways. It was the:

  • highest win percentage at Target Field by any AL team
  • highest win percentage at any stadium by any team since 2010 (when Target Field opened)
  • highest win percentage for the Yankees at any park over the last 100 seasons (min. 20 games)

The loss was even more improbable given the opposing starter, Ervin Santana, who had a 7.71 ERA in his previous five outings this season and who hadn’t beaten the Yankees since August 1, 2008. His streak of 11 straight starts without a win against New York was the longest active winless streak versus the team by any starting pitcher.

Brian McCann broke out of his hitting slump in style, crushing two homers deep into the right-field seats and beyond; according to Statcast, they traveled 421 and 450 feet. Since 2008 (as far back as Statcast has batted ball distance), the only other Yankee with two homers of at least 420 feet in the same game was A-Rod on July 25 last season, also at Target Field against the Twins.

Yankeemetrics: Buried in Baltimore [June 2-5]

#TrueYankee (AP Photo)
#TrueYankee (AP Photo)

Refsnyder to the Rescue
The Yankees halted their mini-three-game skid with a 5-4 win against the Tigers on Thursday night. If not for Rob Refsnyder, the mood on the Yankees flight from Detroit to Baltimore would have been remarkably different.

Refsnyder played a starring role in the biggest moments of the game, starting with his leadoff double in the sixth inning which broke up Matt Boyd’s unlikely no-hit bid. The 25-year-old went on to score the tying run two batters later on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s sacrifice fly, and then two frames later, he delivered a tie-breaking RBI single to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

It was Refsnyder’s first career go-ahead RBI, and the first go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later by a Yankee second baseman against the Tigers since Alfonso Soriano on June 1, 2003.

Refsnyder’s heroics might have stolen the headlines, but it was Michael Pineda‘s strong bounceback performance on the mound that made sure the Yankees had a chance to win this game. Pineda entered Thursday with the league’s highest ERA among qualified pitchers (6.92), and in his previous four starts had surrendered a whopping 20 earned runs and 30 hits in 20 1/3 innings.

So, of course, Pineda pitched his best game of the season, allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. He dominated the Tigers lineup with his wipeout slider, which generated 14 whiffs on 22 swings, a season-best 64 percent whiff rate for the pitch. Per Statcast data, Pineda now has 97 total swings-and-misses on his slider this season, second only to Clayton Kershaw among all major-league pitchers.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

A trip to the (Not) Charm City
Baltimore has mostly been a miserable place for the Yankees in recent years — they entered this series with a 9-22 record at Camden Yards since 2013, their worst mark at any AL ballpark — and did little to reverse that trend in the series opener.

On a day when the Yankee bats surprisingly came alive, it was their recently-excellent starting pitching and normally-lockdown bullpen that struggled in Friday night’s frustrating 6-5 loss.

Nathan Eovaldi, 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his previous five starts, was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings; the mortal version of Dellin Betances coughed up the game-winning run in the seventh.

A-Rod and Carlos Beltran did their part in sparking the offense with homers in consecutive at-bats in the fourth inning. They are just the third pair of teammates aged 39 or older to hit back-to-back home runs in major-league history. The others were Ted Williams and Mickey Vernon for the Red Sox on Sept. 21, 1957 and Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez for the Dodgers on April 29, 2007.

A-Rod breaks out
The Yankees used another unlikely offensive outburst — yes, it was unlikely for a team that began the weekend with the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the AL — to beat the Orioles, 8-6, on Saturday night. They piled up 16 hits, their most hits in a game at Camden Yards since Sept. 2, 2009.

A-Rod had his second three-hit game of the season and it was his RBI single in the ninth inning that might have been his most notable swing of the night. Vance Worley threw a two-strike slider that A-Rod sliced up the middle to score Aaron Hicks from second base. That was his first hit off a breaking pitch this season; he was 0-for-17 with nine strikeouts in at-bats ending in a curve or slider before that hit.

Jacoby Ellsbury scored the seventh run of the game on a well-executed double steal with Brett Gardner. It was the second time in 2016 that Ellsbury has stolen home, joining Chris Chambliss in 1977 as the only Yankees in the last 60 years with two steals of home in a single season.

The worst rain delay ever
For the second time in three games, the Yankees snatched defeat from the arms of victory. They had a 1-0 advantage in the eighth inning, and after sitting through a one-hour-and-37-minute rain delay, they blew the lead and suffered yet another brutal loss.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)
This one was different from the others, though equally gut-wrenching. For the first time this season, the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the eighth inning; they’re now 25-1 in that situation.

It also clinched their eighth straight series loss in Baltimore, a wholly depressing and unprecedented streak. This is the first time that the Yankees have dropped eight series on the road in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903, including when the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.

Moving on to more positive notes … CC Sabathia turned in another stellar, though inefficient, effort with just two hits allowed in five scoreless innings. He needed 111 pitches to get those 15 outs, because of several long at-bats and a career-high-tying six walks.

The last Yankee pitcher to walk at least six guys and not give up a run was A.J. Burnett on Aug. 7, 2009 against the Red Sox. (That was the 15th inning A-Rod walk-off homer game.) Ya know, sometimes you can predict baseball.

Sabathia has now pitched at least five innings and given up no more than three runs in each of his last nine road starts, the longest such streak by a Yankee pitcher since Ron Guidry had nine starts in a row like that spanning the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

Yankeemetrics: D’Oh, Canada [May 30-June 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Lost in translation
The Yankees crossed the border for another series in Toronto, but the script for Monday’s game was a familiar one: the starting pitching was mediocre while the offense continued to flounder and reach historic lows, producing a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Through 50 games, the Yankees are putting up offensive numbers that resemble some of the weakest squads in franchise history. Their batting average (.233) and on-base percentage (.302) are both their worst at this point in the season since 1969, while they’ve scored their fewest runs (192) at the 50-game marker since 1990.

One glimmer of hope is that twice before in the Wild Card Era they’ve been under .500 through their first 50 games – 1995 and 2007 – and both times they rebounded to make the playoffs that season.

Ivan Nova entered the game with a terrible track record against the Blue Jays and did little to improve it. He now has a 5.66 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) vs. Toronto, the second-worst among active pitchers with more than 10 starts against them.

Nova was pounded by the Blue Jays’ lineup, giving up four extra-base hits and a bunch of loud outs in six innings pitched. The results were hardly surprising, though, despite Nova’s recent solid work in the rotation: he entered the game allowing an average exit velocity of 97.0 mph on line drives and fly balls, the worst mark among MLB pitchers this season (min. 100 balls in play).

cc
Deja Blue
Once again the Yankees squandered another strong outing from their starting pitcher as the offensive struggles deepened in a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

After the losing the first two games, the Yankees clinched their fifth consecutive series loss against the Blue Jays dating back to last year. The last time the Jays won five straight series against the Yankees was a six-series streak spanning the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

CC Sabathia wrote another chapter in his incredible renaissance season, holding the Blue Jays scoreless through six innings before being charged with a couple runs in the seventh. Still, he finished up the month with a sparkling 1.04 ERA, the best by a Yankee pitcher with at least three starts in May since Allie Reynolds (1.00) in 1952.

He hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start this year, the first time in his career he’s begun a season with eight straight starts of three-or-fewer runs allowed.

Deja Blue Part II
Re-read the first sentence of the section above and replace it with a 7-0 score — their worst shutout loss to the Blue Jays since Oct. 1, 2004 — and you’ve got the quick recap of Wednesday’s game.

With the loss, the Yankees were swept in series of three-or-more games at Toronto for the first time since Sept. 19-21, 2000. Their struggles in this city go behind the current season, though. They are now just 24-36 at the Rogers Centre since 2010, easily their worst record at any AL stadium in that span.

It’s not just the string of losses in Toronto; they’ve also been held to two runs or fewer in five straight games here for the first time in the history of this rivalry. The last time the Yankees scored two or fewer runs in five straight games at any road ballpark was in 1996 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance wasn’t perfect (and that’s basically what he needed to be with this version of the Bronx Bummers supporting him), but he worked out of jams and was good enough to hold the Blue Jays to just two runs — one earned — in six innings.

He owns an AL-best road ERA of 1.36, and has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his six road starts this year. The only pitchers in franchise history with longer such streaks to begin a season are Hideki Irabu (1998) and Whitey Ford (1958).

Batting average isn’t everything, but the lack of it is really hurting the Yankees

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Last night, in the series opening loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer for the 21st time in 50 games this season. No AL team has more games with no more than two runs in 2016. The Yankees were also held to five hits or fewer for the 11th time in 50 games. That’s the third most in the league.

It’s no surprise then that the Yankees came into Tuesday with the second fewest runs scored (192) and the second lowest runs per game average (3.84) in the AL. Only the lowly Twins (187 and 3.74) are worse. The offense has been a big problem overall this season, and, not coincidentally, their team batting average (.233) is the lowest it’s been through 50 games since 1969, as noted by our Katie Sharp. Check out last night’s lineup:

Yankees batting averages

Three players in the starting lineup were hitting over .250 and five of the nine were hitting below .230. That’s almost the regular lineup too. Aaron Hicks was starting in place of Alex Rodriguez, and, sadly, Hicks’ .198 average is an upgrade over A-Rod‘s .170 average. Otherwise that’s the starting lineup. That’s pretty close to what Joe Girardi would send out there in a winner take all wildcard game tomorrow.

Obviously batting average is not the only — or best — way to evaluate offense. Walks and hitting for power matter too. Batting average is not nothing though. We’ve reached the point where batting average has become underrated. The best thing a hitter can do at the plate is not make an out, and hits are always better than walks. Always always always. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Walks should supplement hits, not replace them.

The Yankees as a team really stink at hitting for average. Look at that lineup and tell me how many players have a lower batting average than what you’d reasonably expect coming into the season. Brett Gardner? Sure. He’s not a true talent .217 hitter. He hit .259 last year and .265 in over 3,000 plate appearances since becoming a regular in 2010. Mark Teixeira doesn’t really hit for average anymore but .195 is low even for him.

That’s probably it, right? You could argue Starlin Castro is better than a .250 hitter, though he did hit .265 in over over 1,800 plate appearances from 2013-15, and a 15-point swing in either direction is still within the range of “that’s baseball.” I guess you could argue Chase Headley is better than a .229 hitter too, but eh. That might be pushing it even as good as he’s been in May (.284/.348/.425) and after hitting .259 last year.

Point is, that is close to the normal for the offense in terms of batting average. Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) are underperforming expectations that’s really it. Everyone else is pretty much where you’d expect them to be. Combine the lack of batting average with the lack of power — nine homers combined for Teixeira and Rodriguez through 50 games, woof — and you get, well, one of the worst offenses in the league.

It is harder right now to get a base hit than it has been at any point since the mound was lowered in 1969. I’m talking around the league, not just the Yankees. The MLB batting average is .252 right now. It was .262 when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. A ten-point drop league-wide in seven years is huge! Go back ten years to 2006 and the league batting average was .269. There’s roughly 165,000 at-bats in MLB each season. The difference between a .269 average and a .252 average is over 2,800 hits. That’s crazy.

All sorts of things are contributing to the decline in offense and batting average. The infield shift is an obvious reason, but it’s not the only reason. More specialized relievers, the expanding strike zone, super detailed scouting reports, the increase in velocity — the MLB average fastball velocity is 92.3 mph this year, up from 90.9 mph in 2008, the first full year of PitchFX — all of that stuff has led to the decline in batting average.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Since the start of last season the Yankees have been, by far, the most shifted team in baseball. They’ve had 1,792 at-bats with the shift on since the start of last year. The Mariners are a distant second at 1,402 such at-bats. The shift has definitely played a role in the team’s inability to hit for average. Teixeira and Brian McCann are the most obvious victims, but shift-able switch-hitters like Headley and Carlos Beltran have been hurt too.

I’ve come to realize shifts are like strikeouts. You can have one guy in your lineup who will strike out 180+ times a year, maybe two if you really want to push it, but any more than that is a major problem. Same with the shift. One or maybe two shift-able hitters is fine. But five or six like the Yankees have at times? Nope. It doesn’t work. It’s too difficult to sustain rallies that way. We’ve seen too many rallies die on grounders hit to shallow right field the last few seasons.

The Yankees are — and have been for a few years now — one of the better contact teams in baseball, believe it or not. Their team 19.4% strikeout rate is sixth lowest in baseball. It was 19.1% from 2014-15, fifth lowest in baseball. There’s good contact and bad contact though, and the fact that they have the eight highest ground ball rate (47.7%) and 11th highest soft contact rate (19.8%) this year is bad news. Their MLB low .265 BABIP isn’t an accident. Weak grounders tend to go for outs, especially when you lack team speed like the Yankees.

There’s also this: the Yankees are old. Old hitters lose bat speed, which is why Beltran and Teixeira and A-Rod are no longer the hitters they once were. Even players in their early 30s like Gardner and Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury begin to slip. The team’s two under-30 regulars are Castro and Didi Gregorius, and let’s face it, they’re flawed hitters. They both tend to swing at everything. Aside from Gardner and Teixeira (and A-Rod) getting out of their slumps, there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to post a higher batting average going forward.

The Yankees have focused on acquiring left-handed hitters who can take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and that intuitively makes sense. It doesn’t seem to have worked all that well, however. Going forward, in terms of overall team building, the best approach may be to focus on hitters with the skills to hit for average, then let any power boost from the ballpark come naturally.

Forget about hitting .300 for the second. Among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, the Yankees haven’t had a .285 hitter since Robinson Cano in 2013. The last regular other than Cano and Derek Jeter to hit .285+ for the Yankees was Nick Swisher in 2010 (.288). Batting average isn’t the only thing that matters. We know that. It also can’t be ignored either. The 2016 Yankees couldn’t make it any more obvious.

Looking Ahead

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

There comes a day when you rectify the team you are with the team you want to be; the Yankees can’t seem to make the two things coexist.

On the good side of things, the Yankees lead the American League in both strikeout percentage and walk rate from the mound. They’ve also got a respectable 91 FIP- and a 100 ERA-, suggesting their pitching may still have some room to grow. On the bad side of things, the Yankees have scored the second fewest runs in the AL, just eight more than the lowly Twins. Their 88 wRC+ is also the second worst in the Junior Circuit, just two points ahead of the trailing Twins.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

As Memorial Day is generally the first ‘mile marker’ of the year, today’s as good a time as any to look at the road ahead by reflecting on the road behind. One way of doing that is heading over to FanGraphs and checking out the playoff odds section, which lets you sort by a few things. In the spirit of looking back, here are the Yankees’ playoff odds based on their season to date stats. A 3.9% chance to win the division. An 8.7% chance to win the wild card. Those don’t look good, obviously, thanks to the poor performances the Yankees have turned in at the plate. Bounce backs from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would help those numbers creep up, but they’re still fairly low.

If we decide to be more fair to the team and acknowledge the uncharacteristically bad performance at the plate, we can go peek at the playoff odds using rest of season projections instead. Those numbers look a little better–4.5% for the division and 16.4% for the wild card–but they still aren’t anything spectacular.

Their deficits in both the AL East and wild card standings–5.5 and 4.5 games respectively–are not insurmountable, especially considering it’s not quite yet June. But in the AL East, the Yankees have three teams to brush aside, including the first place Red Sox. In the wild card, it’s six teams, including the leading Orioles and Rangers. Allowing for some dramatics, the day of reckoning is fast approaching for the Yankees.

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

At some point soon–maybe by mid-June–they need to make a decision, and an honest one at that. This is something the Yankees have struggled with in recent years, but hopefully it’s something they put some earnest reflection into over the next few weeks. Their playoff odds are bad. The team is flawed in multiple ways. Fighting or a five hundred record or to be ‘in it’ in the last week of the season with some vague, outside, puncher’s chance at the second wild card is not worth it. There are still enough valid pieces on this team that can contribute to next year which can be properly bolstered by jettisoning the right assets.

A smart man who used to comment ’round these parts used to say that the Yankees are a win now and win later team and the Yankees need to focus on the latter at this point in the season. Trade some of the present for some of the future and be honest about it with the fans. Trusting that the fans can handle an honest to goodness rebuild is something the Yankee brass has been reluctant to do, but there’s no better time to start than now. It’s not likely this team is going anywhere in 2016 and preparing for 2017 is the responsible thing to do.

Game 46: A-Rod Returns

(Brian Bahr/Getty)
(Brian Bahr/Getty)

After three weeks on the shelf with a hamstring injury, Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup this afternoon. I wouldn’t say the Yankees have missed him — they went 13-7 during his absence and both Carlos Beltran and Aaron Hicks hit well — but it’s good to have A-Rod back nonetheless. He hit three homers in the six games before the injury and he went deep in a rehab game last night. Hopefully Alex picks up where he left off.

As for the Yankees, their six-game winning streak came to an end last night, but that was bound to happen at some point. The important thing is that it doesn’t snowball into a losing streak. The Yankees start a ten-game, four-city road trip tomorrow, so a win today to close out the homestand and clinch the series would be pretty great. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very nice day in New York. Warm and sunny with no clouds in the sky. Pretty great weather for a ballgame. This afternoon’s game will start at 4:05pm ET for some reason. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chasen Shreve has been placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem. That’s not good. He’s currently being evaluated He’s been diagnosed with an AC joint sprain. Shreve received a cortisone shot and will not pick up a baseball for seven days … Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot and will miss three more games. Yesterday’s MRI did not show anything different from the MRI he took last month.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up lefty Richard Bleier to replace Shreve in the bullpen. Shreve was placed on the DL and Rob Refsnyder was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear 25-man roster spots for A-Rod and Bleier. The team has not yet announced a 40-man roster move to accommodate Bleier.

A-Rod’s return will help the Yankees even though he limits their flexibility

The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Let me preface this by saying this is not a “the Yankees are better off without Alex Rodriguez” post. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodriguez started slow this season (like many Yankees) but had started to turn things around right before injuring his hamstring. The Yankees can use his right-handed bat. No doubt about it.

That being said, there is no denying A-Rod‘s return robs the Yankees of some roster flexibility. He can’t play the field and he provides negative value on the bases. As long as Rodriguez hits, you’ll live with that other stuff, and I do think he’ll hit. “Alex is a professional hitter, we know he is going to be able to hit,” said fill-in DH Carlos Beltran to Kevin Kernan earlier this week.

Rodriguez’s return means a few different things for the roster and the Yankees in general. Some of it is no big deal, and some of it is pretty damn important. His return changes the entire complexion of the team. Consider this a preview of A-Rod’s return from the DL.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. I fully expect the Yankees to send Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for A-Rod, and yeah, I’m sure there will be outrage. In our poll last week nearly 60% of the over 2,000 votes were in favor of keeping Refsnyder and sending Ronald Torreyes down. I just can’t see it happening.

Torreyes started two games over the weekend, including one at third base, a position the Yankees have been trying to teach Refsnyder. Also, I don’t think the Yankees want to use Starlin Castro as the backup shortstop. I think they consider him a second baseman and a second baseman only for the time being. All signs point to Refsnyder going down for A-Rod.

The DH Spot

It’s really hard to ignore how well Beltran took to the DH spot during Alex’s absence. Beltran has hit .322/.344/.780 (196 wRC+) with six homers as a DH this year compared to only .245/.278/.392 (80 wRC+) with four homers as a right fielder. It’s not a huge amount of data — Beltran has batted 64 times as a DH and 108 times as a right fielder — but it’s what we have.

A-Rod’s return is going to push Beltran back into right field, which, at the very least, is going to hurt the team defense considerably. If you buy into the numbers, Beltran’s offense will take a hit as well. (I don’t think it’s quite that simple, especially not with those sample sizes.) What else can the Yankees do though? They’re at their best when Beltran and A-Rod are in the lineup, and there’s only one way to get both into the lineup at the same time.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

What About Hicks?

Beltran going back to right field means Girardi and the Yankees will again have to find ways to get Aaron Hicks into the lineup. Hicks hit .276/.338/.431 (107 wRC+) in 69 plate appearances during A-Rod’s absence and, just as importantly, I feel he’s looked way more comfortable at the plate. Back in April he seemed to be jumping at everything. It looked like he was trying to hit a five-run home run each time up.

The plan coming into the season was to give the regulars a little more rest and that hasn’t happened yet, partly because A-Rod was hurt and partly because the Yankees really struggled for a while, so Joe Girardi kept running everyone out there in hopes of getting a win. Hopefully now that Hicks has shown he can productive with regular at-bats Girardi will be more willing to use him.

These things have a way of working themselves out. Someone will get hurt or banged up and need a few days, which will clear playing time for Hicks. Until that happens, the only way to get Hicks into the lineup is by sitting Beltran, A-Rod, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner more frequently. That’s easier said than done, especially considering the way Beltran and Ellsbury have been hitting of late.

Can He Really Not Play The Field? Like At All?

This section is probably a waste of words and brainpower because the Yankees have been completely unwilling to play Rodriguez in the field since last May. He didn’t even bring a glove to Spring Training. They continue to say he’s a DH and a DH only. I’m not asking whether he can play third base twice a week or anything like that though. Can A-Rod really not play five or six innings at first base once every ten days or so? With a fly ball pitcher on the mound? And give him the next day off to recover?

It’s not much, but something like that can be a help because it’ll get Beltran (and Mark Teixeira) off his feet and Hicks into the lineup. Teixeira’s neck is acting up again and he hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either. Sitting him for a few innings here and there wouldn’t kill the Yankees at the moment. There’s no reason to think this will happen though. A-Rod’s medicals must be really scary for the Yankees to not even consider playing him in the field once in a blue moon.

* * *

The Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday because A-Rod is back. When he’s healthy, I think he can still be a very productive player. The lack of flexibility totally stinks though. It really does. Beltran has to go back to right field and Hicks has to go back to playing sporadically. That’s not ideal. Girardi and the Yankees have to figure out a way to make this work, because A-Rod can give the team a big lift as they look to continue climbing the standings.