Ryan & Jones: The Necessary Bench Players [2015 Season Review]

Acquiring decent bench players has always been difficult for the Yankees. First and foremost, bench players are like relievers. They tend to be good one year and terrible the next. Secondly, the good ones who hit free agency never want to sign with New York because they know they’ll be stuck behind someone with a big name or a big contract or both. Players want to play. The Yankees over the years haven’t been able to promise much playing time to bench guys.

So the Yankees have instead had to grow their own bench players. Either that or acquire them in trades, which is how they ended up with Brendan Ryan and Garrett Jones. Ryan came over in a trade with the Mariners in September 2013 before taking a two-year contract to be Derek Jeter‘s caddy. Jones was part of last offseason’s Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi swap. Both were part of the 2015 bench. For at least part of the season, anyway.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

The Utility Infielder, Because You Need One

For the second straight year, Ryan was not healthy enough to be on the Opening Day roster. He had an ongoing back problem in Spring Training, then, once his back was healthy, he strained his calf making a play in the field during a Grapefruit League game. That landed him on the 15-day DL and eventually the 60-day DL. (Ryan was transferred to the 60-day DL to make 40-man roster room for Jacob Lindgren in late-May.)

Eventually Ryan got healthy. He played in some minor league rehab games — that was his Spring Training, basically — before being activated off the DL on June 10th. Ryan made his season debut that day and, naturally, went 2-for-3 with a triple. He reached base three times in the game overall.

Ryan’s return lasted less than two weeks. He appeared in six games over the next eleven days — he started three of them and went 4-for-13 (.308) overall — before returning to the 15-day DL with another back injury on June 22nd.

It wasn’t until after the All-Star break that Ryan returned to the Yankees. He played sparingly the rest of July though did finish the month very well. Ryan went 6-for-16 (.375) with three doubles and a triple in the span of three games at the end of the month. That includes a 2-for-6 with two doubles night in that 21-5 blowout win over the Rangers.

Of course the offense wasn’t going to last though. Ryan has never been much of a hitter and one of those doubles that night looked like this:

That, ladies and gents, is some good ol’ fashioned BABIP luck. It happens.

Ryan stayed healthy the rest of the season but was just awful at the plate. He had four hits in August. Four. Four hits in 35 at-bats (.114) spread across 17 games, including ten starts. A seven-hit September followed. For a while Joe Girardi used Ryan in a straight platoon with Stephen Drew, and, to Ryan’s credit, he did hit .283/.321/.453 (109 wRC+) against southpaws this summer.

All told, Ryan hit .229/.275/.333 (64 wRC+) with a 28.2% strikeout rate and a 4.9% walk rate in 103 plate appearances this past season. He did not hit a home run or steal a base, and 53 of those plate appearances came against lefties. Believe it or not, the 64 wRC+ represents Ryan’s best offensive season since 2011 with the Mariners (84 wRC+).

Ryan makes his living in the field, not at the plate. The defensive stats say he was a below-average defender this summer but it’s hard to take them seriously. He played 261.67 innings in the field. That’s slightly more than 29 full games. The eye test told me Ryan is still really good in the field. He can still do stuff like this:

For the most part Ryan played the middle infield and third base. He also dabbled at first and even spent a few innings in right field. Heck, Ryan threw not one, but two (!) scoreless innings in a blowout loss to the Astros on August 25th. He threw 20 of 28 pitches for strikes and even got a swing-and-miss. What a time to be alive.

As expected, Ryan exercised his $1M player option shortly after the end of the World Series. I suppose the Yankees could look around for an upgrade — Cliff Pennington just signed a two-year contract worth $3.75M, if you’re wondering what backup infielders are going for on the open market — but I consider it a low priority. Utility infielders typically aren’t very good. Ryan still plays strong defense, he’s cheap, and he’s an A+ clubhouse dude. I’m not sure what more you could want from a position that is lucky to crack 150 plate appearances in a season.

G.I. Jones. (Presswire)

The Perfect Fit That Wasn’t

Coming into this season there were a lot of questions about Carlos Beltran (offseason elbow surgery), Mark Teixeira (terrible second half), and Alex Rodriguez (suspended all of 2014). The Yankees didn’t really know what to expect from any of them. All three could have been at the end of the line.

So, to get themselves some protection, the Yankees acquired Jones in that five-player trade with the Marlins. Jones had experience playing right (Beltran) and first (Teixeira), and could also step in at DH (A-Rod). He provided depth at all three spots. The Yankees had been after Jones for years — they first tried to get him from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade — and they finally got him last winter.

Once it became clear A-Rod and Teixeira still had something left in the tank, it was very hard for Jones to get playing time. He appeared in only 18 of the team’s first 41 games, starting just eight of them. Jones went 6-for-40 (.150) with one walks and eleven strikeouts in those 41 team games. It wasn’t until May 22nd that he hit his first home run. The next day he pitched in a blowout loss.

Jones actually got into a bit of a groove in late-May, going 11-for-25 (.440) with three home runs in the span of 13 team games. The biggest of those three home runs — and Jones’ most notable moment as a Yankee — was a game-winning three run homer in extra innings against the Mariners on June 2nd.

That was a huge hit at the time. The Yankees had lost 13 of their last 19 games and needed someone, anyone, to come through with a huge hit. And that was it. Jones came through. The homer earned him another start the next day and Jones went deep again. It looked like he was finally going to contribute.

It didn’t last though. Jones went back to playing sporadically and eventually the Yankees cut him loose at the end of July. They acquired Dustin Ackley to effectively replace Jones. Ackley could play right field and first base like Jones, as well as fill-in at second base. Plus he’s seven years younger. It made sense. It seemed like a small upgrade at the time but it was an upgrade nonetheless.

The Yankees cut Jones loose, then, after Ackley hurt his back a few days after the trade, the Yankees ended up re-signing Jones to fill his old roster spot. The timing was a bit awkward, I’d say. Ackley missed the entire month of August but Jones never did get appear in another game with the Yankees. He remained with the team for another two and a half weeks or so, then was designated for assignment when Greg Bird got called up.

Jones was unable to hook on with another team after that. I thought maybe someone would pick him up as a lefty power bench bat once rosters expanded in September, but it didn’t happen. All told, Jones hit .215/.257/.361 (65 wRC+) with five home runs in 152 plate appearances spread across 57 games with New York. He played 24 games in right field, 21 at first base, four at DH, four in left field, plus one on the mound. And he pinch-hit a few times.

On paper, Jones was a great fit for the 2015 Yankees. He gave them some protection at first base, right field, and DH, three positions with questions, and his left-handed power looked like a perfect match for Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch. It didn’t work out. That’s baseball. The Yankees paid Jones $5M this season and he’s a free agent. No reason to think he’ll be back next year.

Yankees decline Bailey’s club option; Ryan picks up player option

Ryan. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Ryan. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees declined Andrew Bailey‘s club option for 2016 earlier today, the team announced. Also, Brendan Ryan exercised his 2016 player option worth $1M. The Yankees actually hold a $2M club option for Ryan, but there’s no reason to pick that up now. Not unless the Yankees feel like being generous and giving Ryan an extra million bucks.

Bailey, 31, originally signed a minor league contract with the Yankees prior to last season that included a club option for 2015. The team declined the club option and re-signed him to a new minor league contract last winter because he was still rehabbing from shoulder surgery. The club option for 2016 was worth $2M and I didn’t see anything from Bailey during his limited time in September that made me think he’s worth $2M.

Even though the Yankees declined their club option, Bailey remains with the organization as an arbitration-eligible player. MLBTR’s model projects a mere $900,000 salary for Bailey next season if the Yankees decide to keep him around. That’s probably worth it, though Bailey can refuse an assignment to the minors at his service time level, so stashing him in Triple-A probably isn’t an option.

Ryan, 33, was likely looking at a minor league contract if he went out into free agency this offseason, so it’s no surprise he picked up his $1M option. He hit .229/.275/.333 (64 wRC+) in 47 games and 107 plate appearances this summer while playing strong defense. Joe Girardi regularly used him against left-handed pitchers and Ryan responded by hitting .283/.321/.453 (109 wRC+) against southpaws.

The Yankees could eat the $1M and cut ties with Ryan this offseason, but they’ll need to replace him with another shortstop capable backup infielder. They don’t have anyone like that in the minors. The list of free agent backup middle infield types includes Mike Aviles, Clint Barmes, and Cliff Pennington. Spoiler: They’ll annoy you just as much as Ryan. He’s an acceptable backup infielder as long as his playing time is limited.

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.

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.

Yanks have found a productive new second base platoon late in the season

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

For much of the summer, we couldn’t help but focus on second base. The Yankees are locked into their starters at every other position and Stephen Drew was unproductive for long stretches at a time, so finding an upgrade was a reasonable idea. Whether that upgrade was Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela or a trade target, it made sense to look for a new second baseman.

Instead, the Yankees stuck with Drew all summer and he’s put up a .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) batting line in 428 plate appearances. That’s a long leash. Drew platooned with Brendan Ryan for much of the second half, and while Drew’s production ticked up later in the summer, the No. 9 spot in the lineup was still an eyesore. For the most part the rest of the offense picked up the slack, allowing the Yankees to carry the Drew/Ryan platoon and their defense.

The second base picture has changed over the last two weeks or so. Trade deadline pickup Dustin Ackley, who got hurt almost immediately after being acquired, returned from the DL and hit his way into a regular lineup spot. Ackley has been really awesome in an extremely limited number of at-bats. He’s holding his own in the field — to be fair, he is being lifted for a defensive replacement on the regular — and taking aim for the short porch. It’s working.

Ackley has wrestled the starting job away from Drew, and lately Joe Girardi has been using Refsnyder against lefties. Refsnyder started against the three White Sox lefties over the weekend, started against Eduardo Rodriguez last night, and will probably start against Wade Miley and Rich Hill in the coming days as well. Refsnyder has hit in his recent limited action — 5-for-12 (.417) with a double — even though the Yankees aren’t scoring a ton of runs.

“It’s a kid that in the past has swung pretty good against left-handers and since we’re seeing so many of them, I put him in there. He’s done a decent job,” said Girardi to Ryan Hatch. Outside of a four-game cameo back in July, the Yankees didn’t Refsnyder much of a chance this season, not even earlier this month, but they’re doing it now and it’s better late than never. Ackley? He took the job from Drew almost immediately after getting healthy. That happened even before Drew’s bout with dizziness and a possible concussion.

The Yankees have gone from six games up in the AL East on August 1st to five games down today, and a tumble down the standings like that wouldn’t have been prevented by changing second baseman earlier this season. Too much other stuff has gone wrong. The new second base platoon can help the Yankees going forward though, and at this point of the season that means October. The Yankees will clinch a wildcard spot in the coming days in all likelihood.

“I think it’s too early (to talk about the postseason second base situation). We’ve liked the way (Refsnyder)’s swung the bat and defensively he’s done a good job, so I’ll continue to give him more opportunities,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings over the weekend. My guess is lefty or righty, Ackley will start the wildcard game at second base because Girardi will simply go with his best players. It would be a real shock to me if the kid with 30-something big league at-bats started a winner-take-all game.

The offense has been stumbling of late and, for once, it’s not because of second base. The unproductive Drew/Ryan platoon has been replaced by Ackley/Refsnyder, who’ve both hit. Will it last? Who knows. It’s working right now and that’s all that matters. The season ends Sunday and the postseason is right around the corner. It only has to work for a few more weeks. The Yankees finally have a new second base platoon, and it’s better late than never.

Adjustments! Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter and the new-look Brendan Ryan

Eovaldi. (Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and those who don’t adjust will find themselves out of the league before long. Hitters adjust to pitchers and vice versa. The cat and mouse game never ends. Here are two adjustment related tidbits I felt were worth passing along.

Forkball to Sporkball to Splitter

Since the disaster start in Miami, Nathan Eovaldi has been the most reliable pitcher in New York’s rotation, pitching to a 3.07 ERA (2.84 FIP) in seven starts and 41 innings. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games at all, but on a rate basis Eovaldi has been pretty good. He has a 4.02 ERA (2.96 FIP) in his last 13 starts including the Miami disaster.

The Yankees have been working to help Eovaldi add the splitter since Spring Training, and he’s certainly been using it more and more as the season has progressed. Some call it a splitter, some call it a forkball, so I dubbed it a sporkball in our Midseason Review. As noted in that post, the sporkball randomly jumped like four miles an hour in velocity a few starts back:

Nathan Eovaldi sporkball velocityThat’s not normal! Pitchers usually do not just add that much velocity to one specific pitch from one start to the next. Something changed at some point along the line, and, according to Billy Witz, that something was the sporkball grip. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Witz they started Eovaldi off with a forkball grip, with his fingers spread far apart so he could get comfortable with it. Once that happened, they narrowed the grip. Eovaldi’s now throwing a traditional splitter, hence the velocity spike. Forkballs tumble, splitters dive.

Game action grip photos are tough to come by, but here’s what I was able to dig up. The grip on the left is from April 15th in Baltimore and the grip on the right is from June 26th in Houston, the first game with the velocity spike.

Nathan Eovaldi grips

I dunno, see anything different? I appears Eovaldi’s fingertips are more on the seams in the June 26th photo. His fingertips are clearly on the white of the ball in the April 15th photo. Of course, that could just be the angle of the photo. Who knows.

Since that start against the Astros, when Eovaldi’s sporkball velocity first spiked, he’s thrown the pitch 27.8% of the time. The pitch’s swing-and-miss (15.5%) and ground ball (73.6%) rates have both been better than the MLB average for splitters as well (14.9% and 47.8%, respectively). It’s a relatively small sample, so don’t get too excited yet, but this split-finger pitch is clearly becoming a big part of Eovaldi’s arsenal. He didn’t even start throwing this thing until very late last year.

The Yankees keep saying Eovaldi is a work in progress and I know no one wants to hear that. It is true though. This splitter business shows it. At the outset of the season, Eovaldi was operating with a forkball grip just to get used to having his fingers so far part on the damn baseball. Once that happened, the team had him start throwing a traditional splitter, and now the pitch is a real weapon. Development takes time, yo.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

Ryan’s Little But Noticeable Tweaks

About two weeks ago, the Yankees pulled the plug on the Rob Refsnyder experiment after only four games. Four games with the All-Star break mixed in. It was dumb and the Yankees hate their prospects and they’re costing themselves wins in a close race and oh by the way their second baseman are hitting a combined .345/.368/.582 (~142 wRC+) since Refsnyder was sent down. How about that.

The Yankees have used a Stephen Drew/Brendan Ryan platoon at second the last few weeks and both have hit well of late. Surprising! But I think Ryan has been more surprising. At least Drew was an above-average hitter back in 2013, which wasn’t that long ago. Ryan hasn’t even come close to approaching league average since 2009 with the Cardinals (98 wRC+). This year though, he is 12-for-39 (.308) with four doubles and two triples. He had four extra-base hits all of last season.

Ryan went 3-for-6 with a double against the White Sox on Friday night — he also struck out against Adam LaRoche, but that’s besides the point — and after the game Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings that Ryan has “made a little bit of an adjustment with the hitting coaches and he’s swinging the bat good.” We hear about guys making tiny adjustments all the time but usually they aren’t noticeable. Ryan’s have been. Check it out:

Brendan Ryan

Ryan has almost an entirely new setup at the plate. His hands are lower and his stance is a bit more closed, specifically. Girardi called them “little” adjustments but they look like big adjustments. Who knows what they really mean though. Does this new setup mean Ryan is suddenly a legitimate lefty masher? Maybe! But I’ll bet against it for the time being. After all, he was awarded a double on this:

I’ve come to hate the word luck — yes, there will always be some element of luck involved in baseball, but not everything that can’t be easily explained is luck — though let’s not kid ourselves here, Ryan’s enjoyed some good fortune of late. That was a tailor made double play ball that went for a double because the infielder was doing … something. Who knows what.

Anyway, Ryan has been providing some nice unexpected impact against southpaws of late, and who knows if his recent mechanical changes at the plate have had anything to do that. It is at least somewhat interesting Ryan has already pulled more balls to left field for base hits this season than he did all of last season:

Brendan Ryan spray charts

Perhaps those mechanical changes are allowing Ryan to get the bat head out a little quicker and yank the ball to left field. Who knows? Ryan’s done way more at the plate than expected in an admittedly tiny amount of playing time. He’s also made some mechanical changes this year, so perhaps the changes and improved production are tied together. We’ve seen guys like Ben Zobrist, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, and J.D. Martinez all make relatively small mechanical adjustments that led to big increases in production in recent years.

Either way, both Eovaldi and Ryan have made adjustments this year that may or may not be having a direct positive impact on their performance. Every player makes adjustments throughout the season, they’re necessary to succeed at this level, but it’s not often we hear about them. Eovaldi’s splitter in particular is interesting because the process of learning a new pitch — using a forkball grip to get comfortable before switching back to a splitter grip, for example — is so foreign to most of us, plus the split is clearly becoming a go-to offering for him.

Game 89: Start of the Second Half

#TrueDetectiveSeason2 (Presswire)
#TrueDetectiveSeason2 (Presswire)

Baseball is back. The All-Star break is over and we’re heading into the dogs days of summer. The Yankees are the team to beat in the AL East right now. They have a nice little 3.5-game lead in the division and have the best combination of offense and pitching among the five clubs, though they’re certainly not without their flaws. The trade deadline is two weeks from today, by the way.

Robinson Cano and the Mariners are in the Bronx to start a three-game series this weekend. I don’t blame Robbie one bit for taking the extra $65M from the Mariners, I would have done the same thing, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying to see Seattle near the bottom of the standings while the Yankees are in first place. Here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The weather has been very nice in New York all day. Sunny, a few clouds, temperatures in the upper-70s without much humidity. Pretty great, actually. There is some rain in the forecast tonight but not until the wee hours of the morning. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Brendan Ryan (back) has been activated off the 15-day DL and Gregorio Petit was sent down to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Carlos Beltran (oblique) is ready to be activated in a day or two.