RAB on CBS: More aggressive approach helps Gardner become an All-Star

With an assist from Alex Gordon’s groin injury, Brett Gardner was selected to his first All-Star Game last month. He was the only player in the AL with at least ten home runs and 15 stolen bases at the break.

Gardner has been one of the most productive Yankees since he became a full-time player in 2010, back when he was a speedy leadoff type. He still is that speedy leadoff type, but over the last few years Gardner has added more power to his game. He set a career high with eight home runs in 2013, more than doubled it with 17 last year, and he’s hit eleven so far this year.

Despite being a hitter who always sees a ton of pitches and works deep counts, 14 of Gardner’s 36 home runs since 2013 have come on the first or second pitch of the at-bat, and all 14 of those have come on fastballs. He hit just one homer within the first two pitches of the at-bat prior to 2013. Simply put, Gardner started ambushing more fastballs early in the count, leading to the increased power production.

Thanks to the wonders of BBWAA membership, I spoke to Gardner about his newfound aggressiveness and power spike, and while he downplayed the new approach, he did acknowledge making an effort to be more aggressive early in the count. He changed the scouting report, basically. Gardner no longer wanted to be known as a guy who will sit back and take hittable fastballs early in the count.

You can read about Gardner’s newfound aggressiveness at CBS’s Eye on Baseball. You are forewarned: there is an autoplay video in the post. Not my call. Sorry.

Other RAB on CBS posts: Eovaldi shuts down the running game

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Best Tools, 810 River Ave., CLEAR

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays resume their three-game series early this afternoon. Until then, check out these stray links and news items to help you pass the time.

Pre-game ceremony for A-Rod‘s 3,000th hit

This is rich. The Yankees will hold a special on-field pre-game ceremony for Alex Rodriguez‘s 3,000th career hit later this season, the team announced. It’ll be held Sunday, September 13th, before the team’s 1pm ET game against the Blue Jays. They ask you to be in your seats by 12:30pm ET. So just a few weeks after refusing to pay A-Rod his $6M home run milestone bonus because they claimed it was unmarketable, the Yankees are honoring Alex for his 3,000th hit. Guess they’re hoping for a late-season attendance bump.

MLB.com’s farm system rankings

Jim Callis posted his updated ranking of the top ten farm systems this week, and the Yankees placed tenth. I’m not sure where Callis had the Yankees coming into the season, but most other publications had them in the 18-25 range. “New York has position prospects at every spot on the diamond, including speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo (No. 99), sweet-swinging second baseman Robert Refsnyder and slugging catcher Gary Sanchez,” wrote Callis. I don’t know if the Yankees truly have a top ten system yet — this is just one person’s rankings, of course — but the system is clearly on the rise, even if Severino graduates to the big leagues before the end of the season.

Baseball America’s Best Tools

Baseball America published their annual Best Tools survey this week, in which they poll managers, coaches, scouts … basically everyone about the best players and best tools in their individual leagues. Several Yankees players and prospects appeared throughout the survey, so here’s a quick rundown:

All of the surveys are free, you don’t need a subscription, so click the links and you can read through each category and each league. Obviously this is all very subjective — I can’t imagine there are many Yankee fans who consider Gardner the best bunter in the AL — but I’ve always found it interesting and fun to see who coaches and scouts feel have the best skills.

(6sqft)
(6sqft)

New apartment tower being built next old Yankee Stadium site

According to Ondel Hylton, a new 17-story apartment building is being built on River Ave. between 157th and 158th Streets, on the old Ball Park Lanes site. (The bowling alley closed years ago.) The 134-unit building at 810 River Ave. is right across the street from the old Yankee Stadium site and is a few blocks away from the new Stadium. The neighborhood was re-zoned for buildings up to 30 stories back in 2009, and this is the first new high-rise going up in the area. Construction started in May.

CLEAR comes to Yankee Stadium

As you know, MLB mandated all 30 ballparks must have metal detectors at the entrances this season, which is a total pain. Couldn’t be any less convenient and, frankly, it doesn’t make me feel any safer. (Not that I’ve ever felt unsafe at a game, but that’s besides the point.) The Yankees recently partnered up with CLEAR to expedite the process, the team announced. It’s the same biometrics technology they use at airports for TSA pre-check. You can sign up at Gate 4, and, if approved, you’ll be able to simply scan your finger at a designated fast access lane and skip the whole metal detector process. Yankee Stadium is the third stadium with CLEAR technology, joining AT&T Park and Coors Field. So if you’ve ever wanted that airport experience at a ball park, this is your lucky day!

End of offensive slump has to start at the top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By know you know the numbers. The Yankees were held to one run during their three-game series against the Blue Jays — that run was scored on a cheap Yankee Stadium homer too — leading to back-to-back shutouts on Saturday and Sunday. They were held to three singles in each of those two games. It was ugly. The offense scored 90 runs in ten games and then four runs in their next five games. Baseball, man.

The slump won’t last forever, we all know that, but the Yankees need it to end sooner rather than later to hold off the Blue Jays. The entire team stunk at the plate over the weekend, you can’t really point your finger at one or two culprits, but it’s clear who the Yankees need to get going the most: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. We saw it earlier this year. Those two are game-changers atop the lineup.

The numbers are not pretty. Ellsbury went 0-for-12 with a walk in the series against the Blue Jays while Gardner went 2-for-8 (.250) with a walk. (Gardner sat in favor of Chris Young against David Price.) You’re usually not going to score many runs when the top two hitters in your lineup combine to reach base four times in a three-game series. The numbers since the All-Star break aren’t much better.

Ellsbury: .170/.216/.330 (43 wRC+) with 22.2 K% and 5.1 BB% in 99 plate appearances
Gardner: .206/.329/.265 (74 wRC+) with 20.2 K% and 13.1 BB% in 84 plate appearances

That’s a combined 183 plate appearances of gross from the two table-setters in the second half. Ellsbury and Gardner haven’t even attempted a stolen base since the break — that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is notable — and even with Gardner’s nice walk rate, No. 3 hitter Alex Rodriguez has batted with a runner on base in just 34 of his 92 plate appearances in the second half, or 37%. It was 167 of 348 in the first half (48%). The AL average this year is 42%.

Gardner has a history of performing better in the first half — he’s a career .283/.360/.421 (116 wRC+) hitter before the All-Star break and .242/.332/.359 (91 wRC+) after — though his second half performance this year is more of slump than a “this guy really sucks in the second half” thing. The chances of him hitting .206 with a .265 SLG the rest of the way are pretty damn small. Yes, he is a better hitter in the first half, and no, his performance these last few weeks is not his true talent level.

Ellsbury’s second half performance is a little more concerning just because he’s hasn’t really hit since coming back from his knee injury. It’s more of a “he hasn’t hit since coming off the DL” thing as opposed to a “he hasn’t hit in the second half” thing. The All-Star break is a convenient reference point but it is pretty arbitrary. Coming back from an injury isn’t really arbitrary. We’re talk about a player being physically compromised. Gardner’s been bad since the All-Star break. Ellsbury’s been bad since coming off the DL. There’s a difference.

It’s impossible to know whether the knee injury is having an impact on Ellsbury right now. It could just be a slump! Who knows? Ellsbury is not necessarily injury prone, but he does have a history of getting hurt and staying hurt longer than expected. Perhaps the knee injury is lingering and hurting him at the plate. It might even be a mental thing. The knee is healthy but he’s changed his hitting mechanics to protect it. Something like that. It happens all the time, often subconsciously.

If the knee is behind Ellsbury’s slump, well that could be either good or bad depending on how you want to look at it. It would be good in the sense that he has not lost any skills and will eventually get over the injury. We know what to point to. It would be bad in the sense that, uh, when will get over it? Injuries have a way of explaining things and making them more scary at the same time, especially a leg injury for a speed guy.

Regardless of whether Ellsbury’s knee is causing his current slump, he and Gardner have not produced in the second half, and that’s something that needs to change for the offense to get back on track. The Yankees dominated offensively for a few weeks earlier this season because those two guys were on base every other inning, it seemed. The sooner they get back on track — even just one of them getting on track would help — the sooner the offense gets back to normal.

Saturday Links: Gardner, Deadline, Ardizoia, Portalball

The bros in the front row dig Gardner's cleats. (Presswire)
The bros in the front row dig Gardner’s cleats. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Twins do not continue their three-game series until later tonight, so here are some links to help you pass the time.

Gardner Warned, Not Fined For White Cleats

Last weekend, Brett Gardner wore a set of white cleats during a game against the Mariners, which is against the league’s uniform rules. Apparently the Yankees have to wear cleats that are at least 51% black. Gardner had the cleats left over from the All-Star Game and CC Sabathia urged him to wear them in the game. Bryan Hoch says Gardner was warned by both MLB and the Yankees, but he wasn’t fined for the uniform infraction.

“I don’t think anyone came to my locker and took them, but I won’t be wearing them again. That was a one-time thing. I definitely got several warnings on that already — unofficial and official from the bottom all the way to the top,” said Gardner. Sabathia said he would have paid the fine since he talked Gardner into it. It’s silly, but the rules are the rules. Kinda funny to see Brett rebel like that.

Gardner Wins Heart & Hustle Award, Again

For the fourth time in the last six years, Brett Gardner has won the Yankees’ Heart & Hustle Award. Each team gives out the award annually to a “current player who not only excels on the field, but also best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball.” All 30 winners can be seen right here. Gardner also won the award in 2010, 2013, and 2014. He is now eligible for the league-wide Heart & Hustle Award. The winner will be announced after the season.

MLB Will Consider Pushing Back Trade Deadline

Earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters MLB will consider pushing the trade deadline back from July 31st. The second wildcard has created a ton of parity and not every team is ready to sell at the end of July. Pushing the deadline back to, say, August 15th or 30th could beef up the market. Here’s what Manfred said, via Brendan Kuty:

“I think the July 31 deadline is something that we may want to revisit in the context of the revised playoff format,” Manfred said during an appearance at the Beyond Sports United symposium at Prudential Center. “Obviously when you have two additional opportunities to be in the playoffs, you have more teams in the hunt and they may want to wait a little longer before they make decisions.

“On the other hand, we want teams, the core of which have been together for the year, playing in the postseason so you have to just balance those two issues, I think.”

While I understand pushing the trade deadline back may be beneficial, I don’t love the idea. For starters, you’d be acquiring even less of a player if you make a deadline deal. Acquire a starter on July 31st and you get about 12 starts out of him. Push the deadline back a few weeks and you get what, eight starts? Maybe ten? Also, this could potentially hurt the bad teams legitimately looking to sell because clubs could wait longer to see who becomes available. I dunno, July 31st seems to work well. It’s basically the two-thirds point of the season. Heaven forbid teams have to decide whether to go for it by then.

Rugger Ardizoia, Oldest Living Yankee, Passes Away

Rinaldo “Rugger” Ardizoia, the oldest living Yankee, recently passed away at age 95 following a stroke, reports John Shea. Ardizoia was born in Italy, immigrated to San Francisco with his family when he was an infant, and played for the Yankees in 1947 after spending three years in the army. He appeared in just one MLB game, throwing two mop-up innings in a 15-5 loss to the St. Louis Browns. Here’s the box score. Ardizoia spoke to Louie Lazar about his playing career earlier this year. Condolences to his family and friends.

Eddie Robinson, 94, is now the oldest living Yankee according to the best available research. Robinson played most of his 13-year career with the Indians but did wear pinstripes from 1954-56. He was the team’s primary first baseman during that time.

"No, really, it's called Portalball." (Presswire)
“No, really, it’s called Portalball.” (Presswire)

Portalball!

Believe it or not, Joe Girardi has an app coming out next month, reports Dan Barbarisi. Girardi had a hand in designing the game and wanted something family friendly he could share with his kids. “It was just an idea that we could do with families. Kids connect on phones, and they connect with parents on phones. I know I text my kids a lot, and they respond quickly. It’s just another way to have connection with family,” he said. Here are the details from Barbarisi:

In Portalball, which appears to be set against the backdrop of an alien invasion of Earth, players compete in one of three phases of the game—hitting, pitching, and fielding—to deal with the portal invaders. As in the promotional video featuring Girardi and his fiery bat, players will bat, pitch, and field their way to success against their friends using balls flying in from portals all around them.

The game uses augmented reality technology, meaning that it takes over the phone or tablet’s camera and projects the image that the phone sees onto the phone’s screen. Users then play Portalball against that constantly shifting background, with portals opening seemingly out of the walls, ceilings, and floors of the room around them.

Alrighty then. Barbarisi says the original plan was to create a more traditional baseball game, but the app developer and Girardi tossed around a bunch of ideas and eventually decided on the sci-fi theme. Sounds neat, though I never play games on my phone, so I doubt I’ll be downloading Portalball. Just not my thing. The app will be available next month.

2015 Midseason Review: First-half Yankeemetrics

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

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

Without further adieu, your first-half Yankeemetrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betances throws scoreless inning, AL wins 2015 All-Star Game 6-3

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The American League continues to dominate the All-Star Game. The AL beat the NL 6-3 on Tuesday night at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for their third straight All-Star Game win and 15th in the last 19 years (!). Mike Trout was named MVP after going 1-for-3 with a leadoff homer and a walk. He’s the first player to be named All-Star Game MVP in back-to-back years. Here are the box score, video highlights, and WPA graph.

All three Yankees elected to the Midsummer Classic did play in the game. Brett Gardner pinch-hit for Adam Jones in the fifth inning and struck out looking against Clayton Kershaw. He struck out looking against former teammate Mark Melancon later in the game. Gardner played two innings in left field before sliding over to center, and I don’t even remember him having to make a catch. It was his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Mark Teixeira replaced Albert Pujols at first base in the sixth inning, grounding out (against Francisco Rodriguez) and striking out (swinging against Aroldis Chapman) in his two at-bats. Teixeira also made several nice plays in the field — he stretched and kept his foot on the bag to catch an errant throw from Manny Machado, then came off the bag to catch a throw from Zach Britton that was heading for right field. Teixeira was playing in his third All-Star Game.

And finally, Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless seventh inning with the AL leading 5-2. Dellin got Brandon Crawford to ground out to second, walked Kris Bryant, struck out Joe Panik, then got A.J. Pollock to ground out to third. He threw eleven of his 20 pitches for strikes and was effectively wild in his first All-Star Game appearance (second selection).

The AL will now have home field advantage in the World Series, which is not insignificant for the Yankees. They currently have the best World Series odds in the AL and third best World Series odds overall according to FanGraphs, and they’re a substantially better team at home this season: 25-16 with a +38 run differential at Yankee Stadium compared 23-24 and -12 run differential on the road. So hooray home field advantage.

Minor League Update: There won’t be a minor league update tonight because there were no games. Every affiliate either had an off-day, was rained out, or had their game suspended due to rain. Here are the box scores. Third rounder Jeff Degano allowed a run in one inning of work in his pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks before the game was suspended.

2015 Midseason Review: The Best of Brett

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two years ago Brett Gardner was the Yankees’ second best player almost by default. They still had in-his-prime superstar Robinson Cano, but for the most part the rest of the roster was filled out by retreads and guys on their very last legs — Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells all had regular lineup spots on Opening Day and not one of them played another MLB game after leaving the 2013 Yankees.

Last year Gardner was arguably the best player on the team, inarguably one of the two best. He and Jacoby Ellsbury had very similar stastistical seasons, with Gardner showing more power while Ellsbury hit for a higher average and stole more bases. This season, Gardner’s progression has continued, and he has been the team’s best player through the first half of the season.

Oh sure, Alex Rodriguez has better offensive numbers overall, mostly thanks to his power, but A-Rod is a DH and he’s supposed to outhit everyone else because he doesn’t play the field. Mark Teixeira is having a fine season as well, though his only advantage over Gardner is power. Gardner has a 140 wRC+ and Teixeira has a 137 wRC+ — the difference lies in Gardner far superior batting average, on-base percentage, and base-running.

But we’re not here to argue who has better numbers. They’re all on the same team, after all. Gardner has been, indisputably, one of the best outfielders in all of baseball this season. That he had to wait to be named to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement is a knock against the system, not Gardner. He should have been on the original roster, though quiet and unassuming players like Brett are rarely rewarded with All-Star Game nods. It’s a popularly contest.

Anyway, Gardner came into the All-Star break hitting .302/.377/.484 (140 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 steals on the year. Here is the full list of AL players with ten homers and 15 steals at the break: Brett Gardner. That’s it. It’s just him. Gardner is also one of only ten AL players with a .370+ OBP and a .470+ SLG. He’s shown his over-the-fence power spike last season was no fluke, but the difference between this year and last year are the non-homer hits.

As good as he was in 2014, Gardner had only 25 doubles last season. He added eight triples for good measure because, you know, he’s fast. This season Gardner has already swatted 22 doubles and three triples. He’s on pace for 41 doubles, six triples, and 18 homers after going 25/8/17 last year. He’s on pace for 15 more extra-base hits! I’m sure Gardner will slow down a bit in a second half, players do get fatigued, but last year at the break he was on pace for only 49 extra-base hits. His spray charts are pretty revealing:

Brett Gardner 2013-14 Spray Charts

Gardner is using the opposite field more often than he did a year ago. You can see it in the spray chart, last year he had more batted balls to the pull side — if you need hard numbers: 42.0% of his balls in play were pulled last year, this year it’s 35.8% — and the result was a career year in the power department. This season he’s been able to both spray balls the other way for base hits while still yanking pitches to right field when the opportunity presents itself.

Remember, when Gardner first came up, he was a pure slash-and-dash speed guy. He focused on hitting the ball to the left side of the field and running like hell. Over the past few seasons Gardner started pulling the ball with more authority and why not? Yankee Stadium rewards pulling the ball if you’re a left-handed hitter. This year he’s doing both. Pulling the ball for power and serving it the other way for base hits when the pitchers give him nothing to drive. That’s the evolution of a great hitter, and yes, Gardner is absolutely a great hitter.

In addition to his strong performance at the plate, Gardner remains a high-end defender, at least based on the eye test. The various defensive stats have been hating on him for a while now. UZR wants you to believe Brett has cost the Yankees 4.8 runs in the field this year. 4.8! lol UZR, lol. DRS is slightly better — it says Gardner has saved the team one singular run with his glove. I don’t get it. The defensive numbers for Yankees outfielders have been screwy for years. I’m not saying Gardner is the best defensive outfielder in the game, but damn yo, he’s clearly above-average. I’m not being a homer here. I’m very willing to admit when dudes play bad defense. Gardner’s isn’t.

Anyway, at the end of last season I said Gardner just had what was likely his career year. I don’t think it was that unreasonable to say. This year Gardner has been ever better though, especially at the plate because he’s gotten back to slashing the ball to the opposite while still maintaining his newfound ability to unload on a pitch that is begging to be pulled towards the short porch. That’s not an easy thing to do, and for at least the first half of 2015, Gardner has been able to do it. He has been New York’s best all-around player this year.