Brett Gardner among Gold Glove finalists, again

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

For the second straight year, Brett Gardner is among the three finalists for the AL Gold Glove award in left field, MLB announced. He was a finalist back in 2011 as well. Gardner is up against Alex Gordon and Colby Rasmus. No other Yankees are among the Gold Glove finalists, which isn’t surprising. You can see all of this year’s finalists right here.

Gardner had a typical Brett Gardner season in left field this year, I thought. Both DRS (+12) and UZR (+3.5) liked his work out there, for what it’s worth. Gardner did make his fair share of highlight reel catches throughout the summer as well. These are the two most notable, I’d say:

Gardner has yet to win a Gold Glove, mostly because Gordon has been hogging it the last few years. Gordon has won four of the last five AL Gold Gloves in left field, with the only exception being last year, when Yoenis Cespedes won it despite splitting the season between the Tigers and Mets.

Gold Gloves are voted on by managers and coaches around the league — they’re not able to vote for their own players — plus there’s now a statistical component as well. Gordon missed some time with an injury, so if he gets dinged for that, Gardner just might sneak in and win himself a Gold Glove.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday, November 8th. I’m pretty sure they’re announced during a live television broadcast these days. The other major awards (MVP, Cy Young, etc.) will be announced the following week.

The Same Old Brett Gardner, Just With Less Power [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.


This past summer the Yankees did something they hadn’t done in nearly three decades: they sold at the trade deadline. Truth be told, their efforts to sell veterans and restock the farm system began last offseason, when Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner were reportedly put on the trade block. The Yankees wanted young pitching in return and found no takers, so both players started the season with New York.

Unlike Miller, Gardner was not traded away at the deadline, though I’m sure the Yankees gauged his value. They did that with everyone. Gardner remained with the Yankees all season, first as their No. 2 hitter before moving to the leadoff spot. Not surprisingly, he led the team with 634 plate appearances. It’s been three years since someone not named Brett Gardner led the Yankees in plate appearances. He’s been a mainstay atop the lineup for quite a while now.

Same Ol’ Brett …

For all the talk about his streakiness and his second half slumps — he didn’t have one this year, by the way, his numbers before and after the All-Star break were nearly identical in 2016 — Gardner has been remarkably consistent the last four years. His numbers at the end of the year always finish in the same range. Check it out:

2013 609 .273 .344 8.5% 20.9%
2014 636 .256 .327 8.8% 21.1%
2015 656 .259 .343 10.4% 20.6%
2016 634 .261 .351 11.0% 16.7%

Gardner’s walk and strikeout rates this year were the best they’ve been since 2011, and that’s pretty cool. Otherwise that’s Brett Gardner. He’s going to give you an average around .260 and an on-base percentage around .340 year after year, like clockwork. Check out his monthly splits:

April: .254 AVG and .369 OBP
May: .184 AVG and .324 OBP
June: .323 AVG and .390 OBP
July: .269 AVG and .328 OBP
August: .262 AVG and .344 OBP
September: .269 AVG and .355 OBP

May and June kinda cancel each other out. The other four months are pretty much the same. Gardner is as predictable as they come. Predictable is boring. Predictable is comforting. The average leadoff man hit .273 with a .339 OBP this season. Gardner was right there, trading a few points of batting average for a few points of on-base percentage.

In addition to plate appearances, Gardner also led the Yankees in walks (70) and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.09) this season. Does he have a tendency to look at strike three? Sure. That tends to happen when you work deep counts like Gardner. When it comes to true leadoff man skills, meaning working the count and getting on base, no one on the Yankees is better than Gardner. He’s done a fine job setting the table for this team for several years now.

… Minus The Power

The single biggest difference between 2016 Gardner and the Gardner of previous years, particularly the 2014-15 versions, was his power production. No one thinks of him as a power hitter, but Brett did smack 17 home runs in 2014 and another 16 in 2015. This year he hit seven. And that’s with power up around the league and the baseballs possibly being juiced. On the bright side, one of those seven homers was a walk-off:

Gardner’s power outage was most evident during the summer months and later in the season. He hit two home runs after May 18th, in the team’s final 123 games of the season. Two! Gardner hit five homers in the first 39 games of the season and only two thereafter. Geez. It’s not too difficult to see why Gardner’s power disappeared this season:

Brett Gardner GB Pull rates

Gardner put the ball on the ground far more often this year (52.3%) than the last two years (43.2%), and he also didn’t pull the ball as often either (33.6% vs. 37.5%). If you’re a left-handed hitter playing in Yankee Stadium and you don’t pull the ball in the air, you’re not going to get any help from the right field short porch.

Contact quality was not the problem. Gardner’s hard (25.8%) and soft (16.9%) contact rates were right in line with what he did from 2014-15 (27.5% and 16.1%). The problem was launch angle, the new sabermetric hotness. Gardner didn’t get the ball airborne often enough in general, but especially to the pull side. That’s why his power dropped so much.

Here, let’s look at Gardner’s launch angle the last two years using one of the many cool features at Baseball Savant. We have two years worth of Statcast data now, so here are Gardner’s launch angles for 2015 and 2016. You can click the image for a larger view, and I recommend doing that.

Brett Gardner launch angle

That’s a pretty cool looking graphic, but what the hell does it mean? In the simplest terms, launch angle is the angle at which the ball leaves the bat. The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Exit velocity plays a role in this, but generally speaking, 10-25 degrees gives you a line drive to the outfield and 25-30 degrees is a possible dinger.

Last season Gardner spent much more time in that 10-30 degree range. In fact, we have exact numbers: Gardner hit 117 balls in the 10-30 degree range last year and 23 in the 25-30 range. This season it was 103 and 18, respectively. Gardner put 192 balls in play below the 10-degree launch angle last year compared to 220 this year, hence the increase is grounders.

I know this doesn’t seem like a huge difference. I mean, Gardner hit only 14 fewer balls in the 10-30 degree range this year than last year. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember, we’re talking about batted balls hit at the ideal angle here. A few of these can absolutely be the difference between, say, seven homers and 15 homers.

The question now is why? Why did Gardner hit so many more ground balls last season? We can’t answer that with any certainty. It could be the randomness of baseball. His bat could be slowing as he approaches his mid-30s. Maybe his swing was a mechanical mess. Maybe he was playing hurt. Who knows? There are countless possible reasons.

Whatever it is, Gardner’s inability to get the ball in the air this season, especially to his pull side, really dragged down his power numbers. He slugged .362 with a .101 ISO in 2016. It was .410 and .152, respectively, from 2014-15. That’s a huge drop. At this point expecting 15+ homers again is probably pushing it, but with balls flying out of the park nowadays, double-digit dingers doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

What About The Steals?


Gardner is, at the most basic level, a speed player. His legs got him to the big leagues, and while his power surge from 2014-15 made his valuable in a different way, Brett is still known for his speed. Not surprisingly though, his raw stolen base totals have fallen the last few years. That tends to happen once a guy gets over 30. Stolen base ability does not age gracefully. Here are some baserunning stats with some thoughts.

2013 24-8 14.3% 45% +3.8 +3.4
2014 21-5 10.4% 40% +5.6 +4.5
2015 20-5 8.7% 58% +5.5 +4.7
2016 16-4 6.6% 56% +7.3 +5.2

1. Gardner isn’t attempting to steal much these days. Obvious statement is obvious. Not only has Gardner’s stolen base total declined the last few years, his stolen base attempt rate (SBA%) has declined too. That’s the number of attempted steals divided by stolen base opportunities, meaning the times Gardner was on first or second base with no runner ahead of him. The league average is 5.5%, though for fast guys like Brett, you’d like to see it up around 10%.

“I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is, but obviously I was a little less aggressive. You can’t steal 40-something bases if you don’t try to steal 40-something bases,” said Gardner in Spring Training about his decline in stolen bases. “It’s not like I’ve tried to go 50 times and only been successful half of them. My percentage has still been pretty high … I think for the most part I’ve done a good job of trying to do that and being smart about when we run but we’re always looking for ways to improve.”

My guess is Gardner’s decline in steal attempts is the result of a number of factors. Age, for one. I also think there’s a self-preservation angle to this too. Stealing bases are rough on the body and Gardner has been banged up the last few years. Is it a coincidence he had his best second half in years this season after stealing fewer bags in the first half? Maybe not! No one expects a 33-year-old player to steal 40+ bases. But Gardner dipped below 20 steals sooner than I think anyone expected.

Joe Girardi has said Gardner always has the green light and it’s up to him when to run. Given his decline in stolen base rate and the fact there were several instances throughout the season when it make sense to run — late in a close game, etc. — and Gardner didn’t, perhaps Girardi should be a little more proactive and tell Brett to go. He doesn’t have to steal every time he reaches first. That’s unrealistic. But a little more encouragement wouldn’t hurt.

2. Gardner is elite at the other aspects of baserunning. Stolen bases are just one piece of the baserunning pie. They’re the most obvious piece of the pie, really. There are other aspects of baserunning though, like going first-to-third on a single and advancing on balls in the dirt. That sort of stuff. The numbers show Gardner is among the best in baseball at the non-stolen base aspects of baserunning.

For example, Gardner took the extra base (XBT%) a whopping 56% of the time this year. That was top ten in MLB. The all-encompassing baserunning stats at FanGraphs (BSR) and Baseball Prospectus (BRR) rate Gardner as the seventh and 12th best baserunner in baseball in 2016, respectively. That’s out of the 971 position players to appear in a game this year. The stolen base numbers are slipping. No doubt about it. When it comes to total baserunning value, Gardner is one of the best in the game. Has been for a few years now.

The Still Great Defense

There’s not much to say about Gardner’s defense. He once again had a very good defensive season, according to both the eye test and the various metrics (+12 DRS and +3.6 UZR). Gardner made his fair share of eye-popping catches as well this year. Remember this one in Anaheim?

I wouldn’t blame you if you slept through that one. It was a late night game on the West Coast. What about this catch against the Blue Jays? I know you remember this one:

Brett Gardner: still very good at catching baseballs. Do we need to dig any deeper than that? Nah.

Outlook for 2017

This offseason, perhaps moreso than ever before, it feels like the chances of Gardner being traded are relatively high. The Yankees committed to the rebuild by trading veterans for prospects at the deadline, and they figure to continue that this winter. Also, they need to start making room for their young outfielders. Aaron Judge arrived in August, Aaron Hicks and Mason Williams need more at-bats, and Clint Frazier is in Triple-A with Dustin Fowler not too far behind.

There are two years and $24M left on Gardner’s contract, plus a $12.5M club option for 2019, which is a very affordable rate, even with this year’s power outage. Denard Span got $10M a year last offseason. Two years ago Melky Cabrera got $14M annually and Nick Markakis got $11M annually. Gardner at $12M a year for two years is a fair price, if not below market value given recent inflation. It’s certainly not an albatross preventing the Yankees from making other moves.

Ideally the Yankees would trade Jacoby Ellsbury and keep Gardner, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Ellsbury’s contract is a major deal-breaker for most teams. If Gardner goes this offseason, he’ll leave as a very productive homegrown Yankee who never quite seemed to get the respect he deserved. The guy went from walk-on in college to World Series winner and All-Star with the Yankees. That’s pretty darn cool.

Game 160: Spoilers


Well folks, the Yankees have nothing left but three meaningless games this season. Meaningless to them, that is. The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention last night, but their opponent this weekend, the Orioles, is still very much alive in the wildcard race. These three games mean everything to them.

Buck Showalter has been taking shots at the Yankees since they parted ways following the 1995 ALDS. He goes out of the way to needle the Yankees every chance he gets. Now the Bombers have a chance to keep Showalter’s team out of the postseason, and gosh, that would be sweet as hell. The Yankees already created some headaches for the Blue Jays and Red Sox this week. Time to do the same for the O’s. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. LF Mason Williams
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

It is cold and windy and rainy in New York. Not exactly baseball weather. There’s rain in the forecast pretty much all night too. Seems like it’s going to be more mist than outright downpour. We’ll see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. is free this weekend, by the way. Blackouts still apply, however. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: It’s still undecided whether Masahiro Tanaka (forearm) will make his scheduled start tomorrow. He feels fine, but the Yankees may decide not to risk anything since they’re out of the race … Brett Gardner is a bit banged up but is expected to play again before the end of the season … Starlin Castro is out of the lineup essentially as a precaution. The don’t want him on the wet field so soon after his hamstring injury.

News: Luis Severino has been fined for his role in Monday’s benches clearing brawl(s) with the Blue Jays, but he wasn’t suspended. Weird. A.J. Cole just got five games for throwing behind Jung-Ho Kang. Didn’t even hit him. Severino threw behind Justin Smoak then hit him with the next pitch, after benches were warned, yet no suspension. I do not understand. Whatever.

The Yankees are getting power from premium positions to make up for their outfield

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Three years ago the Yankees made a decision to prioritize defense over offense in the outfield. They spent big to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, then a few months later they committed a market value extension to Brett Gardner. Yeah, they also brought in Carlos Beltran to play right field, but the other two outfield spots were occupied to players known more for their gloves and legs than their bats.

Fast forward to today, and things have played out pretty much exactly as expected. Ellsbury and Gardner have declined offensively as they get further into their 30s, meaning their defense is that much more important. Neither is the defender they were three or four years ago either, though I do think both are still comfortably above-average. As planned, it’s defense over offense.

The Ellsbury and Gardner contracts made it clear the Yankees were going to have to get power from their infield, because two of the three starting outfielders weren’t going to hit many balls over the fence. (Ironically enough, Gardner’s power spiked and his 33 homers from 2014-15 were 29th among all outfielders.) That is even more true today, as Ellsbury and Gardner have declined.

Infielders with power — especially middle infielders — can be hard to find, but the Yankees have managed to do it. Didi Gregorius joined the 20-home run club Tuesday night, about three weeks after Starlin Castro did the same thing. The Astros (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa), Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker), Nationals (Danny Espinosa, Daniel Murphy), and Rays (Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller) are the only other teams to get 20+ homers from both middle infielders in 2016.

A year ago Didi and Castro combined for 20 homers total — Gregorius hit nine and Castro hit eleven with the Cubs — and now they are able to put up those numbers individually. Sure, Yankee Stadium definitely helps, but these guys are both 26 as well, and entering what should be the best years of their careers. A power spike at this age isn’t uncommon. Also, I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced, so let’s check this out quick:

Castro: 57 ISO+ in 2015, 81 ISO+ in 2016
Gregorius: 50 ISO+ in 2015, 76 ISO+ in 2016

ISO+ is the same basic idea as OPS+. It’s the player’s ISO relative to the league ISO with a park factor applied — I used the handedness park factors at StatCorner — where 100 is league average. Anything lower is below-average and anything higher is below-average.

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

Adjusting for ballpark and the the increase in power around the league, Castro and Gregorius are still below-average power hitters this season. But! Compared to last season, they’ve both made improvements. Castro essentially went from 57% of the league average power output to 81%. Gregorius jumped from 50% to 76%. There’s real development behind their power. It’s not all Yankee Stadium and juiced baseballs.

In addition to the middle infield, the Yankees are also getting a ton of power from their catchers. In fact, they have two catchers with 19+ homers. Again: two catchers with 19+ homers! That’s pretty awesome. The team’s biggest power sources — catcher and middle infield — are positions not normally associated with power, which is a big positive. Going forward, having Gregorius and Castro up the middle with Gary Sanchez behind the plate will be very nice in terms of dinger expectancy.

The problem this season has been the lack of power from other positions. We knew Gardner and Ellsbury weren’t going to hit many home runs, but the Yankees have gotten very little from first base and DH, the two most premium power positions. When it’s all said and done, the Yankees will (probably) miss the postseason this year not because Dellin Betances blew some saves or Chase Headley had a bad April. It’s because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were complete non-factors.

Hopefully young players like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge can help provide some more pop going forward. Right now the Yankees are getting their power from the middle infield and behind the plate, which is a good building block. It’s also necessary because Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t the hitters they once were, and when you have two defense-first players in the outfield, the offense has to come from somewhere else. The Yankees are starting to get that production from elsewhere.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare at Fenway Park [Sept. 15-18]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Just when you started to believe in this plucky, underdog team with a nothing-to-lose mentality and pinstripes on its uniforms … Thursday night happened.

The Yankees suffered their most devastating loss of the season, blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning — they were two strikes away from a win — and losing in truly heartbreaking fashion when Dellin Betances served up a walk-off home run to Hanley Ramirez.

In the long history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, this was just the third time that a Yankee pitcher coughed up a game-ending home run with the lead and one out to go.

The most recent game came on June 30, 1953 when Sammie White hit a two-run shot off Allie Reynolds in the bottom of the ninth to give Boston a 5-4 win; the first instance was August 7, 1935 when Joe Cronin took Johnny Broaca deep to turn a 5-3 Yankee advantage into a 6-5 loss.

The deflating defeat becomes even more depressing and soul-wrenching given that the Yankees also wasted an absolute gem by Masahiro Tanaka.

The right-hander added another chapter to his Cy Young resume with a stellar one-run, seven-inning performance against the league’s most potent lineup. It was his ninth start of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run allowed, a number that led all American League pitchers through Thursday’s slate.

The brilliant outing lowered his ERA to 2.97, pushing Tanaka past Chris Sale to the top of the AL leaderboard. If he can keep up this pace, he’d be the first Yankee to lead the league in ERA since Rudy May in 1980. And no Yankee has qualified for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) in 1997.

He dominated the Red Sox batters not with his typical nasty, swing-and-miss stuff, but rather with an aggressive, pitch-to-contact approach. He located his off-speed pitches at the knees and pounded the edges of the strike zone with his fastball, generating a personal-best 15 ground ball outs while failing to record a strikeout for the first time in his MLB career.

Tanaka’s streak of 73 straight games with at least one punchout to begin his major-league career was the second-longest by any Yankee, behind only Dave Righetti (88 games). He’s also the first Yankee to go at least seven innings without striking out a batter in a game since Andy Pettitte on April 21, 2009 vs. the A’s and the first to do it against the Red Sox since Tommy John on June 25, 1980.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Different story, same result
The Yankees took another beating from the Red Sox on Friday night, losing again but this time with much less drama and in more conventional fashion: The Yankees fell behind early, their inexperienced middle relief arms put them in a deeper hole, and the bats wasted numerous scoring opportunities in an attempt to come back from a too-big deficit.

Following their pathetic 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position on Friday night, their season batting average in that situation fell to .231, which is by far the lowest among all AL teams this season and would be the worst by any Yankee team since 1969 (.224).

The offense was shut down by Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a pitcher that the Yankees had routinely pounded in the past. He entered Friday’s start with a 6.19 ERA in 18 career games (17 starts) versus the Yankees, the third-highest among all active pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched against them.

Snatching defeat from the arms of victory, again
The Yankees sudden and swift free fall in the playoff race continued on Saturday afternoon, enduring yet another excruciating loss while sinking further and further in the standings.

(AP Sports)
(AP Sports)

Gary Sanchez gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead when he clobbered a 95-mph fastball over the Green Monster. It went an estimated 407 feet, the 12th time he’s hit a ball at least 400 feet. From his call-up on August 3 and through Saturday, only one player (Brian Dozier) hit more 400-foot batted balls than Sanchez.

Milestone alert: Brett Gardner’s RBI triple in the third inning was his 50th career three-bagger. He is the only Yankee to pile up at least 50 triples, 50 homers and 200 stolen bases within his first nine major-league seasons.

Just seven other AL outfielders in baseball history have achieved the feat: Carl Crawford, Ichiro, Johnny Damon, Kenny Lofton, Brady Anderson, Lloyd Moseby and Ben Chapman.

That was fun while it lasted …
Hello coffin, meet nail.

Yes, the Yankees are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, but their improbable quest for a postseason berth is now on life support and it will take a near-miracle to earn a ticket to the October party. Nearly all the momentum and ground they’d gained during their magical seven-game win streak has been nullified in the blink of an eye, as they’ve gone from postseason contenders to pretenders in less than a week.

The latest horrible loss capped off an absolutely crushing sweep in Boston, the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series by the Red Sox since June 4-7, 1990. [The Stump Merrill era began during that series when he replaced Bucky Dent as manager after the second of the four losses.]

It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to suggest that Fenway Park has become the latest “house of horrors” for the Yankees, who finished with a record of 2-8 at the ballpark, the most losses by a Yankee team there since they went 1-8 in 1973.

And finally … Let’s end on a positive note: Gary Sanchez’s assault on American League pitching continued with his 16th homer of the year (in 159 at-bats), a blast to left field that put the Yankees up 2-0 in the third inning. Sanchez’s incredible rate of 9.94 at-bats per homer would be the best by any Yankee in a single season since Roger Maris (9.67) and Mickey Mantle (9.52) waged their epic home run battle in 1961.

While Sanchez is best known for his tape-measure bombs, he’s also the rare young slugger who hits for average. After going 3-for-5 on Sunday night, he’s now hitting .327 this year, and is on pace to join Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only Yankees to have a rookie season with at least 15 homers and a .300-plus batting average.

Youth has helped the Yankees get back into the race, but they have veterans in important places too

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

Even after two straight losses, the Yankees are still only two games back of the second wildcard spot with 19 games to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at a slim 9.6% as of this writing, but hey, that’s better than the 2.3% they were at nine days ago. Those odds can change real quick from one day to the next.

At 24-15, the Yankees have the second best record in the AL since selling buying for the future at the trade deadline. (The Royals are 25-14.) Gary Sanchez has had a monumental impact, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments, and young hurlers like Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell contributed too. The Yankees would not be where they are without these kids.

As productive as many of them have been, the young players are not the only reason the Yankees have climbed back into the wildcard race. That was never going to be the case. The Yankees weren’t going to call up a bunch of prospects and let them carry the team into October. Some of the holdover veterans have contributed too, and in fact, the Yankees have veteran players in very important spots.

Front of the Rotation

It’s easy to forget Masahiro Tanaka is still only 27 years old, isn’t it? He’s two months younger than Chris Archer and five months younger than Jacob deGrom. And yet, despite his relative youth, Tanaka is very much a veteran pitcher. He’s thrown 477 innings with the Yankees on top of over 1,300 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, with whom he won a championship and a pair of Sawamura Awards (Cy Young equivalent).

There’s something reassuring about having a veteran ace on the staff. During his heyday from 2009-12, you knew CC Sabathia was going to go out every fifth day and give the Yankees a quality outing. Even his bad starts weren’t that bad. We watched Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina do the same for years and years. That’s Tanaka now. He’s very good, rarely bad, and every fifth day he’s going to give the Yankees a good chance to win. (Remember when he couldn’t pitch on normal rest? He’s allowed six runs in 31.1 innings in his last five starts on normal rest.)

Back of the Bullpen

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

At this point Dellin Betances qualifies as a veteran, right? I think so. This is only his third full season, but he’s already been a three-time All-Star, and Dellin’s been throwing high-leverage innings for well over two years now. Relievers don’t have the longest career life span in this game. Betances is a grizzled veteran compared to most bullpen guys.

Add in Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, and each of the Yankees’ three end-game relievers has been around the block. Veteran relievers melt down just as easily as rookies (see: Nathan, Joe), but there’s always going to be the element of the unknown with kids. How do they handle intense late-season games with postseason implications? There’s less wiggle room in the eighth and ninth innings because there’s not much time to score any necessary runs. The more unpredictability you can take out of the bullpen, the better.

Top of the Lineup

As we’ve seen over the last three weeks or so, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury really ignite the offense when they’re both hot at the same time. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when those two are causing chaos. It’s imperative they stay hot for the Yankees to reach the postseason, and when it comes to setting the table for the offense, the Yankees have two veteran leadoff men. They need them too; none of their young players fits the leadoff hitter mold. I guess maybe Mason Williams, though asking him to do that right away seems like too much, too soon.

In the Clubhouse

Even after their sell-off, the Yankees kept most of their leadership core intact. Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran are gone, ditto Alex Rodriguez, but team leaders like Sabathia, Gardner, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira remain. Both McCann and Teixeira have had their roles reduced and that’s surely tough for a veteran player. They haven’t complained though. They continue to go about their business and help the young players. Young players are great! You need them to win these days. There also needs to be a leadership core in place to help those young players develop into winners, if not immediately than down the road.

* * *

At the end of the day, talent reigns supreme. It doesn’t matter how many veterans you have or where they fit on the roster if the performance is there. Can having experience and good leadership help that talent translate into good performance more frequently? I firmly believe the answer is yes. The Yankees have turned their season around because their young players have (mostly) performed and brought a lot of energy to their team. The veterans still play a big role though, and they still occupy some very important spots on the roster.

The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

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

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

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

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

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

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.