Room for Improvement: Alex Rodriguez

This post is the first of something I hope becomes a series over the next few weeks/months, detailing things certain players could work on heading into the new season.

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

By almost any account, the 2015 season was great for Alex Rodriguez. Not only did he come back from suspension and injuries to lead the team in home runs, but the Summer of Al greatly defied even the wildest expectations the most optimistic of fans, analysts, and observers could’ve imagined for Rodriguez. And, it’s probably fair to say that he won over a good deal of hearts and minds that he may not have previously won over. Despite those rousing successes, there is at least one area Rodriguez needs to work on as he prepares for 2016.

Using the good old eye-test, it was clear A-Rod had a bit of a hole in his swing during the 2016 season. His 23.4% strikeout rate was the highest he’s ever had in a full season, “bested” only by partial seasons in 2013 (23.8%), 1995 (28.2%), and 1994 (33.9% in just 59 PA). Of course, Rodriguez was able to counter that with robust power and a great walk rate; his .235 ISO was his highest mark since 2010 (.236) and his walk rate of 13.5% was his best since 2009 (15%). You can deal with a high volume of strikeouts so long as you’re getting at least one of those things–walks or power–back in exchange. This is why Jayson Nix infuriated me so much, but I digress.

The noticeable hole in A-Rod’s swing appeared to come on certain pitch types in a certain location. Every time he had two strikes on him, it seemed that pitchers were going with soft and/or breaking stuff low and away, and Alex was chasing each time, leading to that relatively high strikeout rate. If he take a look here, we can see this supposition backed up by the numbers. Al had a high whiff/swing percentage on changeups, sliders, and curveballs, each clocking in at at least 42%. This gives us pitch type, but it doesn’t quite give us the location. Let’s take a look at A-Rod’s zone profile by whiff/swing and see what we can find.

(Courtesy: BrooksBaseball.Net)
(Courtesy: BrooksBaseball.Net)

We see some pops of red (high whiff/swing%) in the top left of the chart–so up and in, out of the zone–but my eye is drawn to the lower right of the chart, those two boxes lowest and right-most where we see sky-high whiff/swing percentages of 59.32 and 65.91. Recall the pitch types Rodriguez struggled to make contact against: changeups, sliders, and curveballs. Those are pitches that fit into these high-volume whiff zones when we consider that Rodriguez is a right-handed batter. Whether it’s a right-handed pitcher trying to get him to swing over sliders and curves low in the zone or a left-handed pitcher trying to go backdoor with all three of those pitch types, those locations are prime for attacking righties.

Alex has always had a good eye and still managed a good walk rate and good power, even while chasing the low and breaking stuff. If he can iron that out and get a handle on it–and, let’s be honest, with his work ethic and dedication to the game, he’s capable of doing that–he’ll have a great shot at replicated 2015 during the 2016 season.

Josh Donaldson named 2015 AL MVP; McCann, Teixeira, A-Rod all receive votes

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

As expected, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was named the 2015 AL Most Valuable Player earlier tonight. He received 23 of 30 first place votes. Angels outfielder Mike Trout finished a distant second in the voting. I’d have voted for Trout, personally. Hard to believe he only has one MVP to show for this four-year stretch. It was his worst season too.

Anyway, three Yankees players received down-ballot votes: Brian McCann received one ninth place vote while Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira each received a tenth place vote. They’re the first Yankees to receive MVP votes since Robinson Cano in 2014. The Yankees were shut out of the MVP voting last year for the first time since 1992. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Bryce Harper was named NL MVP unanimously. The Yankees did not have any awards finalists this year. Their last major award winner remains A-Rod, who was named 2007 AL MVP. Well, Andrew Miller won the Mariano Rivera Award this year, but that’s not really a major award.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

Finding a way to create flexibility will be key to offseason for the Yankees


The 2015-16 offseason is now underway, but things really won’t get going until Saturday, when free agents can start signing with new teams. Even then the first few days and weeks of free agency can be slow. Like the regular season, the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once the offseason really gets moving, the Yankees will look for ways to improve despite limited maneuverability, both in terms of the roster and payroll. The payroll could always increase — these are the Yankees after all, they might has well have a money printing room in the basement of Yankee Stadium — but Hal Steinbrenner has been hesitant to give the thumbs up. That’s another topic for another time, I guess.

Roster flexibility is a different matter. Roster spots are finite. You’ve got your 25-man active roster and 15 reserve players on the 40-man roster. That’s it. For the Yankees, eleven of those 25-man roster spots are already accounted for thanks to guaranteed contracts. Add in arbitration-eligible players and it’s 18 spots. Then add in the no-brainer pre-arbitration guys and it’s 21 spots. Here’s the roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann Mark Teixeira Brett Gardner CC Sabathia Andrew Miller
Dustin Ackley Jacoby Ellsbury Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
DH Didi Gregorius Carlos Beltran Michael Pineda Justin Wilson
Alex Rodriguez Chase Headley Nathan Eovaldi Adam Warren
Luis Severino Ivan Nova
John Ryan Murphy ? ?
Brendan Ryan ?

Four open spots: two pitchers and two position players. With Warren and Nova in the bullpen — at least for this exercise — the Yankees have rotation depth in case someone gets hurt or unexpectedly falls apart. So those last two pitching spots don’t really come with defined roles. The closer is set, the setup guys are in place, the long men are there. They need two middle relievers, basically. The more dominant the better.

The position player spots are where it gets interesting because the Yankees need a backup outfielder and they need to find a way to better rest their veteran players. That will be easier said than done given the lack of versatility. Here are some possible ways to improve things.

Give Alex A Glove

The Yankees were very hesitant to play A-Rod in the field this year — he didn’t play the field at all after May 23rd and didn’t play a full inning in the field after May 5th — and I get it. He’s over 40, he’s got two surgically repaired hips, he’s not very mobile anymore. All good and valid reasons to keep him at DH.

That said, I think the Yankees should have him work out at first base a little more often next year. (Forget third base, that’s not happening at this point.) Not regularly, but maybe once every ten games? That frees up the DH spot for someone else and adds more flexibility. It’s not much, but it’s something. Alex is crazy good at this baseball thing. Give him time at first in Spring Training and he’ll pick it up.

Joe Girardi has already talked about finding a way to keep his veteran players fresh next year, and that includes A-Rod, who faded in the second half. He played 151 games this season and started 138. Maybe the magic number next year is 120 starts. Is there any chance it could be 105 at DH and 15 at first? That’s not too much to ask.

Put JRM Back On The Infield, Sometimes


The infield is not unfamiliar territory for Murphy. He played third base in high school before converting to catcher full-time after being drafted, and he played 14 games at third in the minors as well. The Yankees had him work out at first base late this year and Murphy routinely takes ground balls at third base before games, though most players work out at other positions in batting practice.

Murphy’s long-term value is greatest at catcher. Put him at another position full-time and he’s just another guy. The Yankees don’t need him to play another position full-time, however. They could just use him for spot start duty at either first or third base. Position changes are usually far-fetched, especially when they involve catchers, but the Yankees did have Murphy spend time getting familiar with first base this season, so it’s at least crossed their mind. He’s athletic enough and it’s a way to get him some more at-bats.

Put Refsnyder Back In The Outfield, Sometimes

To me, this is less realistic than putting Murphy at first or third base. Murphy’s a good defensive catcher. Refsnyder is a bad defensive second baseman who needs more reps there. Any time he spends in the outfield — as you know, Refsnyder was an outfielder in college before the Yankees moved him to second base — is time he could be spending at second base, where he needs work and is ultimately most valuable. Is putting Refsnyder in the outfield an option? Yeah. Of course. It’s an idea to kick around. I’m not sure having Refsnyder spend time in the outfield is best for his development at second base though.

Get A True Utility Man

The “go outside the organization” option. The Yankees could bring a true utility player type. They could go high-end (Ben Zobrist), mid-range (Martin Prado), or low-end (Mike Aviles). All three of those guys can play both the infield and outfield. And unlike Ackley, they can play the left side of the infield. (Ackley’s arm has been terrible since he had Tommy John surgery in college. Shortstop or third base ain’t happenin’.)

Zobrist or Prado would not necessarily be a bench player, they’d almost be like the tenth position player, capable of playing in a different spot depending on who needs rest. Aviles is not someone you want to give much playing time, so he’d be a Ryan replacement more than anything. Neither can hit and Ryan is the better defender, but he can’t play all three outfield spots like Aviles. You’d being trading some defensive competence for versatility, a trade that may or may not be worth making.

More than anything, the Yankees need to figure out a way to get their players more rest, whether that’s full days off or half-days as the DH. This past season they had no real backup third baseman and the DH spot was unavailable because of A-Rod. With limited roster flexibility, both in terms of players under contract and available roster spots, the Yankees will have to get creative.

The Summer of Al [2015 Season Review]


For the first time in ten seasons, the Yankees played without Alex Rodriguez last year. A-Rod was suspended the entire 2014 season due to his ties to Biogenesis, and for the most part he stayed out of the spotlight. Every few weeks some photos of him attending a college football game or something like that popped up, but that’s all. Last year was a quiet year for A-Rod.

The 2015 season was much different. Rodriguez returned to the Yankees and no one knew what to expect out of him, both on and off the field. Not only did he miss the entire 2014 season, he also played only 44 games in 2013 due to injury, plus Alex was closing in on his 40th birthday. Throw in his two surgically repaired hips — as well as one surgically repaired knee — and it was impossible to know what A-Rod could provide in 2015. As it turned out, Alex had a lot to offer.

Where Does He Fit?

Rodriguez’s suspension ended after the World Series last year. He was reinstated from the restricted list and reclaimed a spot on the 40-man roster. The usual chatter about releasing him or trying to void his contract came and went and of course nothing happened. Alex remained in the organization. The question was where did he fit?

The Yankees made it clear last offseason they were not counting on Rodriguez. They re-signed Chase Headley and declared him their starting third baseman. They acquired Garrett Jones and talked about using him as the DH against right-handed pitchers. The Yankees were proceeding as if Alex was an unproven commodity, which he was, for all intents and purposes. It was impossible to know whether he could still contribute. Where did he fit? No one knew. So the Yankees prepared almost as if A-Rod wasn’t around.

The Spring

As he has most years, Rodriguez reported to Spring Training early to get a head start on his preparation for the season. He worked out some during the suspension last year — more than some, really, A-Rod’s preparation and work ethic has never been an issue — but getting back up to speed for the MLB game was going to be a long process. Reporters were literally counting his batting practice home runs on the back fields in Tampa, as if the number was relevant.

Once Spring Training started, Alex worked out at third base, worked out a tiny bit at first base, and hit. He hit and hit and hit. Rodriguez played in 19 of 33 Grapefruit League games and rode the bus for road trips unlike other veterans of his stature. He played in minor league games, he took extra batting practice … he hit. Every day A-Rod was hitting to get his timing back. Alex singled in his first Spring Training at-bat and the tabloids went to town:

Alex Rodriguez NY Post

More than anything this spring, I remember A-Rod looking comfortable at the plate. He was swinging at strikes and laying off balls. The plate discipline was still there, and that was a good start. You can’t hit if you can’t tell a ball from a strike, and even after the long layoff, A-Rod’s batting eye was there. He also showed that if the pitcher made a mistake, he was still able to punish it:

Rodriguez finished the spring with a .267/.377/.489 batting line and three homers in 53 plate appearances. He drew eight walks and struck out 13 times. All things considered, A-Rod looked as good as anyone could have reasonably hoped. The batting eye was there, he showed some semblance of power, and his days in the field weren’t a total disaster either. Alex had to answer a lot of questions this spring, and he answered almost all of them in a positive way. The only thing he couldn’t do was run, understandably.

Earning More Playing Time

The strong spring was not enough to convince Joe Girardi that A-Rod was ready to be a big part of the offense, however. Rodriguez batted seventh on Opening Day and seventh the next day as well. Girardi moved him up to second against a lefty in the third game, but it was back down to sixth soon thereafter. The Yankees felt they had better options for the middle of the order. A-Rod’s track record didn’t earn him a premium lineup spot come the start of the season.

Rodriguez was quite productive early on, going 8-for-28 (.286) with two doubles and two home runs in his first nine games of the season. His big coming out party was April 17th in Tampa, in the Yankees’ tenth game of the season. A-Rod went 3-for-4 with two home runs — the first a moonshoot to dead center — and also drove in the game-winning run with an eighth inning single.

That was the game that convinced Girardi — that convinced everyone, really — Alex was back and ready to contribute in a big way. He was not a platoon DH, he was not a No. 7 hitter, he was a middle of the order thumper. Girardi batting A-Rod third the next game and he remained in the middle of the order the rest of the season. The Yankees were counting on nothing from A-Rod, everything they did last offseason showed it, but early on he proved he could help the team.

Vintage Al

The first half of the season was vintage Alex Rodriguez. Well, it was a close approximation of vintage A-Rod. In 82 first half games, Rodriguez hit .278/.382/.515 (144 wRC+) with 13 doubles and 18 home runs in 348 plate appearances. I spent the first half waiting for the other shoe to the drop, it was all too good to be true, but every time A-Rod slumped, he shook it off and started hitting again.

Among the 162 qualified hitters in the first half, Rodriguez ranked 12th in OBP, 19th in SLG, 14th in wRC+, and 18th in home runs. He was, legitimately, a top 20 hitter in baseball prior to the All-Star break. Alex was not selected to the All-Star Game — manager Ned Yost said he wanted versatility on his bench and there was no place for another DH — but the fact he was even in the discussion was a major win for the Yankees. A-Rod was a force at the plate.

History, With An Exclamation Point

A-Rod came into the season with several major milestones — historic milestones, stuff we won’t see happen again for a long time — within reach, and he got them all. The first came early in the season, when he tied Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list with his 660th dinger. It was a meaningful home run too, a pinch-hit go-ahead blast in the eighth inning at Fenway Park.

A few days later A-Rod passed Mays with his 661st career blast to take sole possession of fourth place on the all-time list. The 660th home run triggered the first of five $6M home run milestone bonuses in his contract — the bonuses are actually not in A-Rod’s player contract, they’re part of a separate marketing agreement with the team — but the Yankees opted not to pay. They deemed the milestone “unmarketable” due to Rodriguez’s performance-enhancing drug ties, which was their right as part of the agreement.

The situation could have gotten messy. A-Rod could have filed a grievance immediately, but he opted to let the MLBPA handle it behind closed doors. (Even though Alex sued the union as part of his scorched Earth tour last year, they’re not going to let a team not pay a bonus without a fight. That’s not a precedent they want to set.) The two sides eventually reached a settlement in which a whole boatload of money was donated to charity. Not the full $6M, but several million. The process was relatively painless.

While all that was going on, A-Rod continued to climb the all-time hit leaderboard, and on June 19th, he became the 29th player in baseball history to record 3,000 hits. He did it in style too, joining former Yankees Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs as the only players in history to go deep for hit No. 3,000. Alex did it against Justin Verlander too, a brand name.

After the fight over the home run milestone bonus money, the Yankees actually held a small on-field ceremony for Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit prior to a game later in the season. The team didn’t acknowledge A-Rod’s pursuit of his 660th home run because it could have been used against them in a legal battle over the $6M bonus, but I guess there were no such issues for the 3,000th hit.

Later in the season, A-Rod also joined the 2,000 RBI and 2,000 runs scored clubs. He is now third all-time in RBI behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, and eighth all-time in runs. These are major historic milestones. This isn’t the watered down 500 home run club. A-Rod ranks among the all-time greats in hits, homers, runs, and RBI. We saw him join some very exclusive clubs this summer.

The Second Half

Perhaps it was all too good to be true. Or perhaps a 40-year-old player was bound to wear down in the second half. Girardi and the Yankees went to great lengths to give A-Rod regular rest throughout the season, yet he still seemed to hit a wall down the stretch. After August 1st, Alex hit only .191/.300/.377 (83 wRC+) with nine home runs in 213 plate appearances. The walks (13.6%) were still there, but the power slipped (.186 ISO) and his strikeout rate jumped to 27.7%. It was 21.1% in the first half.

The drop-off in production in the second half was not a fluke. Rodriguez’s batted ball tendencies all moved in the wrong direction in the second half:

Alex Rodriguez batted ball

A-Rod hit more BABIP-killing infield pop-ups in the second half, he hit the ball on the ground more often, and he also made more weak contact and less hard contact. The pop-ups are indicative of a guy who is juuust missing pitches for whatever reason. With an older player like A-Rod, it’s easy to think his bat was slowed by fatigue, so he was getting beat by pitches he squared up earlier in the season.

When it was all said and done, Alex hit .250/.356/.486 (129 wRC+) with a team-leading 33 homers this season, which is really awesome. By all accounts he was a model teammate in the clubhouse too. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat before the season. The production was uneven — A-Rod was great in the first half and a drag in the second half — but overall A-Rod was a big asset at the plate in 2015. The second half was not nearly as good as the first. But the Yankees don’t win a wildcard spot without Rodriguez this year. There is zero question about that.

No Defense, Literally

A-Rod’s bat was very valuable to the Yankees this year. His glove? He barely needed it. The Yankees did work Alex out at both third base and first base during the Spring Training, and he did actually play two of the first six games of the season in the field, including his first career appearance at first base. It was … awkward.

Rodriguez looked very much like a guy playing first base for the first time in the big leagues. Overall, A-Rod played only six games in the field this season. He started two at third base and one at first base. Everything else was off the bench. In fact, aside from that one start at first, the only other time he played the position came in a blowout, when A-Rod replaced Jones at first base so Jones could pitch.

Alex played only 27.1 innings in the field this year and none after May 23rd. The Yankees decided they were best leaving him at DH exclusively to avoid — or at least limit — wear and tear over the course of the season. As good as Rodriguez had been at the plate, the lack of flexibility really hurt, as others like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were unable to get half-days off at DH.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Whether they like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Rodriguez next year. He is owed $21M both next year and the year after, and there’s no reason to think he’ll be traded or released or retire. The productive first half bought A-Rod some rope heading into next season, though I get the sense the Yankees will again make Rodriguez prove he deserves regular playing time, especially with Greg Bird available to steal at-bats. Even with the ugly second half, the Summer of Al sure was fun, wasn’t it?

Joe Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference: Ellsbury, Gardner, Rotation, Refsnyder, More

Earlier this morning at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season State of the Yankees press conference. There was no major news announced — no coaches were fired, no players are having offseason surgery, nothing like that — which is a good thing, I suppose. Girardi instead reflected back on this season and looked ahead to next season.

The press conference was shown live on YES and you can watch the entire thing in the two videos above. Here are the highlights with some of my thoughts as well.

The Second Half Slump

  • On players getting worn down this year: “When I look at our club, we struggled down the stretch, to me more offensively than anything that we did. You can look at things a couple different ways. You could say ‘were they tired?’ I don’t know. Everyone during the season is going to get physically worn down … We do have a lot of players that are considered to be the prime age, we have some older players in Alex and Carlos.”
  • On possibly playing the veterans too much: “With the info in front of me and being prepared and having discussions with my coaches, we’re not so sure that it would have worked any better (had we done it differently). I did the best I could, is the bottom line.”
  • On having a different plan next year: “You always try to put a reason on certain things. Try to understand it, how you can learn from that, do you try to do something different next year? In these situations, it’s something I’ll think long and hard about this winter … For whatever reason some guys struggled in the second half, the last month, whatever it is.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s second half slump: “I’ll evaluate what I did with Brian McCann this year and see could you do it a little different next year to keep him physically strong.”

More than anything, Girardi seemed to indicate he believes his plan to rest players this season was correct given the information, but it didn’t work as hoped. He really seemed to emphasize reviewing what happened this year and coming up with a way to avoid the second half slump again, either through more rest or something else.

Girardi didn’t simply brush off the second half offensive slump as just “one of those things.” He acknowledged it as a real problem and made it clear he believes it can be corrected. He also said he needs to make sure the players buy into whatever plan they come up with going forward. How do they fix it next year? I have no idea. I came away with the impression that Girardi and Yankees will spent a lot of time this winter trying to come up with a way to keep their veterans productive all season in 2016.

Bullpen Struggles

  • On Dellin Betances in September: “I think he became a little human, that’s all. It’s not like he had a 4.00 ERA in those months. He still pitched pretty well … He had a human month. We’ve seen other great relievers have a human month.”
  • On overworking his key relievers: “As far as using them more than I would have liked, no. I paid attention to Dellin’s (workload) numbers in Triple-A, last year, and this year … Miller had a couple weeks off during the season. Wilson’s workload was not as much as Dellin’s.”
  • On Chasen Shreve‘s rough finish: “I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself. For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”
  • On Adam Warren‘s value: “When Adam went back into our rotation it changed our bullpen dramatically. He made our bullpen deeper … He was as valuable as any pitcher we have because of the opportunities he gave us to win games.”
  • On the young relievers: “I think there’s a number of relievers who came up and got good experience … When you move (Warren) into the rotation, now you’re asking kids to do that. At times we were asking a lot of them. I think the experience they got was extremely valuable. It will help them in the future and give us more options. Did they struggle? Yes they did.”

I thought Betances in particular had a really heavy workload between the sheer volume of innings (84, most among all relievers) and high-leverage work (1.64 Leverage Index when entering games, tenth highest among relievers). He has a long history of struggling to throw strikes, and his late season control issues could easily have been him fighting his mechanics, but I can’t imagine the workload helped. Dellin is crazy valuable and it’s tempting to use him four or five outs at a time, but boy, relievers just don’t work like that anymore.

As for the rest of the bullpen, yes, figuring out what the hell happened with Shreve will be a major item this winter. Shreve was awesome for much of the season, he really stepped up when Andrew Miller got hurt, but his finish was abysmal. They need to get first half Shreve back. I also agree that the young relievers got good experience this season, but I don’t think they can continue shuttling them back and forth again next year. It’s time to give one or two an extended opportunity. You’re not going to learn anything about them when they’re throwing two or three innings between being called up and sent back down every other week.

Ellsbury & Gardner

  • On Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury: “Ellsbury felt good. He physically felt pretty good the second half. He did run into the wall (during the final homestand) and I think it affected his shoulder a bit … Speed guys are going to get beat up as much as anyone.”
  • On Brett Gardner being banged up and slumping in the second half: “I’ll look at how I used him. Some of the months he was so good it was unbelievable (and it was hard to take him out of the lineup) … We tried to get him rest. We try to give these guys rest.”
  • On Gardner’s lack of stolen bases after the first few weeks: “Part of it is he wasn’t on nearly as much, and teams pay attention to him obviously a lot. That’s probably something that needs to be addressed because we need that out of him … He never complained about his legs, but when a guy doesn’t steal as much, maybe he doesn’t feel physically 100%.”
  • On sitting Ellsbury in the wildcard game: “You know what, there’s a lot of hard decisions I have to make during the course of the season. At times I sat Gardner for Chris Young and at times I sat Ellsbury …  I went all through kind of scenarios … It came down to a body of work over the season against left-handers. I did what I thought was the best at the time. Did it work out? No.”
  • On having to possibly mend the fence with Ellsbury: “As far as fence mending, I guess that’s to be determined … Only time will tell. I thought we had a great conversation that day. I thought he had a great attitude that day.”

I was actually kinda surprised Girardi acknowledged Gardner’s lack of stolen bases — he did go 20-for-25 in steal attempts this year, for what it’s worth — as a problem. I figured he’d just brush it off. I’m not a huge stolen base guy, especially early in the game (I’d rather not risk losing the base-runner with the middle of the order due up), but if they can Gardner to be more aggressive next year, great!

The “mending the fence” question with Ellsbury was interesting. That’s an Ellsbury problem as far as I’m concerned, not a Girardi problem. Sitting Ellsbury was the right move in my opinion. Is he really going to hold a grudge after the season he had? If Ellsbury is upset with anyone, he should be upset with himself for putting Girardi in a position where he had to pick between him and Gardner in a winner-take-all game.


  • On CC Sabathia‘s rotation status: “I thought when you look at his last seven or eight starts, once you look at his starts with his knee brace, things got better. He pitched much better. I think right now, you view him as a starter, you see how he physically bounces back again.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and giving him extra rest between starts: “I think that’s another discussion we have to have. We had some physical concerns going into the season and I think we were trying to be proactive in that situation, but I think he answered the bell pretty well … I think he answered (questions about his elbow). I think he showed that was not an issue during the course of the season.”
  • On any offseason surgeries: “As of right now, I don’t think so … As we look at guys, Jake’s knee healed up fine, we didn’t have any issues … there’s nothing scheduled right now.”

Girardi did not address Sabathia’s stint in rehab at all. The answer about whether he is considered part of the rotation next year was purely performance and health (knee) based, and he gave the answer I expected. There’s no reason to think they’ll remove Sabathia from the rotation at this point as long as he’s physically able to take the mound.

The Young Players

  • On who we could see next year: “We feel Aaron Judge is going to make a big impact. We feel Gary Sanchez is going to make a big impact. We feel good about the improvements he made (in 2015) … You’ve got a Brady Lail … To me, when there’s talent, there’s an opportunity they’re going to have an impact for you. When you have players who are extremely talented, they get there before you anticipate, and that’s what happened this year.”
  • On Rob Refsnyder not getting a bigger opportunity: “The one thing as a club you always want to have is depth … If we would have kept Refsnyder — there were still some question marks that had to be answered about him, about playing the position, there were shifts taking place, we wanted to make sure (he was) complete aware of — we probably would have had to release someone and we weren’t ready to do that.”
  • On giving young kids playing time: “You don’t want a young player playing once or twice a week when there’s still development that has to happen. You don’t want to slow that down … John Ryan Murphy did very well. I thought he thrived in that situation.”
  • On trying Refsnyder and Murphy at other positions: “I don’t really see a Refsnyder going back to the outfield. I think we will continue to try to develop him as a second baseman. We believe his bat is going to play … Could you toy around with a Murphy playing a different position? I think you could. I think he’s athletic enough. I’m not opposed to that. I’m not opposed to doing anything if it has value and I think it’ll help us.”

The Yankees had Murphy work out at first base late in the season and he takes ground balls at third base regularly before games — he also played a little bit of third in the minors — and that might be worth exploring in the future. I like (love!) him behind the plate, but a little versatility wouldn’t hurt.

As for Refsnyder, one thing is becoming clear: the Yankees weren’t happy with his defense when he was called up in July, but they felt he improved after going to Triple-A and was more ready in late-September. The outfield is a waste of time to me. Put Refsnyder in the outfield and he’s just another guy. He has to remain at second to have the most value. Do the Yankees feel Refsnyder’s defense is ready for full-time play? That remains to be seen.

Also, it was interesting Girardi mentioned Lail by name. Lail, Judge, and Sanchez were the only prospects to get mentioned by name. Lail had some success in Triple-A this year and figures to be a call-up option next season. That Girardi is mentioning him by name — he mentioned Refsnyder and Severino by name at last year’s end-of-season press conference, for what it’s worth — indicated Lail is in the plans next year.

Improving Next Year

  • On the rotation: “I think you’re going to see improvement from our starting pitchers. Michael Pineda is not a rookie but it’s almost like he had to start over in a sense because this was the first time in a long time he was expected to take the ball every fifth day. Ivan Nova was coming off a major surgery where command was the last thing to come back … From a health standpoint, I feel a lot better about them.”
  • On the Yankees needing an ace: “Looking at Tanaka, I think he’s a top of line rotation pitcher. Is he a one or a two, I don’t know. I think Sevy has a chance to be a top of the rotation guy … We have five starters that give you a chance to win. That’s the most important thing.”
  • On young players taking a step forward: “I think a lot of those questions we had going into Spring Training have been answered. I think we saw improvement out of players over the course of the season, (like) Didi … We’ll have Severino for a full year, Michael has proved he can stay healthy … We have more pitchers we expect back and no more questions … I think there’s more depth in the organization.”
  • On Refsnyder at second base: “He played well. It’s a small sample. I thought he improved during Triple-A during the course of the season. You at him, you look at what’s available (at second base) and you make a decision … That’s something that will have to address this spring.”
  • On possible trades: “I think anything’s always possible. I do. But I’ve always said about trades, trades only work if both teams can agree. I’m sure that will be looked at.”

Not surprisingly, Girardi mostly deferred questions about offseason moves to the front office. That’s not really his place, though after eight years as manager, I assume he has input. It does seem like the Yankees will bank on their young players taking a step forward next year — not just their young players, but others like Nova bouncing back as he gets further away from surgery — and that’s not surprising. The Yankees stuck with their young players this year and it worked, for the most part. Why would they change it up?


  • On standing pat at the trade deadline: “I think when you look at the contributions (the kids) made, I think we made the right move. I know a David Price did extremely well in his 10-12 starts over there … But when I look at Severino’s body of work, I think we’re all pretty pleased. When I look at Bird’s body of work, I think we’re pretty pleased and glad we kept him.”
  • On A-Rod returning to the infield: “I imagine that he’s probably mostly going to be a DH going forward. That’s something that we’ll probably address over the winter … It’s probable he’s mostly a DH.”
  • On continuing to use a sixth starter next year: “Inserting a sixth starter every once in a while is not a bad, but it becomes something of an up and down shuttle … I think that’s something we really have to address too.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We haven’t even talked about that yet. I haven’t even been in the office until today … I haven’t even thought about that.
  • On his wish list for 2016: “It’s pretty plain and simple: win the World Series. Whatever it takes, that’s what my wish list is.”

Between his comments about Tanaka earlier and saying the spot sixth starter is “something we really have to address,” it seems like Girardi wants to get away from being so protective of the starters and turn them loose, at least more than they did this year. If nothing else, they definitely need more innings from the rotation next year. They can’t go through another season asking the bullpen for 10-12 outs a night.

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.