Rainout Notes: Gardner, Headley, Lineup, Tanaka, Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks to the yucky weather in New York, Opening Day was postponed earlier today. The game will be made up tomorrow at 1pm ET. Everything gets pushed back a day. That’s why they have the off-day after Opening Day each year. Here are some notes from the rained out game, via Erik Boland, Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty, and Chad Jennings.

  • Brett Gardner will sit in deference to Aaron Hicks against Dallas Keuchel. Joe Girardi told everyone involved that would be the case over the weekend. Gardner said he’s disappointed but understands why he’s sitting (so benching Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be another big thing, basically).
  • Chase Headley, who has been dealing with food poisoning the last few days, was good to go today. He was scheduled to play. Headley did not play in the final few exhibition games late last week because he was sick.
  • This was the scheduled lineup for today: Ellsbury, Hicks, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Headley, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius. I assume it’ll be the same lineup tomorrow. At least Hicks is batting second and not Castro.
  • Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the season on normal rest this Sunday. The postponement means he won’t get the extra day of rest as originally scheduled. “He’s going to have to do it. It’s part of our schedule and part of what we’re going to have to deal with. He’s going to have to do it,” said Girardi.
  • Andrew Miller (wrist) will not wear any sort of brace during games. It digs into his skin and doesn’t allow him to move his hand comfortably during his delivery. He would need MLB approval for any brace anyway.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

The Three Questions Facing Brett Gardner [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The last 12 months have been pretty eventful for Brett Gardner. He had a phenomenal first half last season, good enough to get him to his first All-Star Game. He then struggled big time in the second half, so much so that he (and the rest of the Yankees) were booed in the wildcard game. Then, after the season, Gardner’s name was floated in constant trade rumors over the winter.

The Yankees never did trade Gardner though, so he again reported to Spring Training as the starting left fielder and a key offensive table-setter. Even with that disastrous second half, Gardner hit .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015, plus he played strong defense. He’s no longer a Gold Glove caliber defender, but he is an asset in the field. Gardner’s two-way play is pretty darn valuable. There are still some questions heading into 2016. Big questions.

Is His Wrist Okay?

Little did we know, Gardner suffered a bone bruise in his left wrist making a catch during the wildcard game last fall. Here’s the video if you can’t remember the play:

The bone bruise lingered all through the offseason — perhaps that’s why the Yankees were unable to make a trade? — and was still an issue when Gardner reported to Spring Training. “We’ll start him out of the gate slow. Just more of a safe route,” said Brian Cashman earlier this spring. He added recent tests had shown “significant” improvement.

So the Yankees took it slow with Gardner, and it wasn’t until this Wednesday that he played in a Grapefruit League game. Gardner went 0-for-2 and, most importantly, he felt fine afterwards. He did have his wrist wrapped in ice after the game according to Brendan Kuty, but that’s not really surprising. Gardner’s still receiving treatment. They call it “prehab.” Many players literally sit in a tub of ice water after games to help their bodies recover.

Last season Gardner battled wrist trouble after being hit with two pitches in a short period of time, thought that was the other wrist. He took the two pitches to the right wrist. Now the left is acting up. So far he seems to be doing well in camp — Gardner progressed from hitting off a tee to hitting in a cage to batting practice to live batting practice to a game — and that’s good news. Wrist injuries are always scary though, and if this thing lingers into the season, it could really impact Brett’s production.

Is He Going To Steal More Bases?

Back in 2010, his first full season as a big league player, Gardner stole 47 bases and finished third in the AL behind Juan Pierre (68) and Rajai Davis (50). The next year he stole 49 bases and tied with Coco Crisp for the league lead. Gardner lost almost the entire 2012 season to injury, but from 2013-15, he stole only 24, 21, and 20 bases. That’s still a healthy amount. It’s just not an eye-popping number.

Gardner attempted a stolen base in 24.6% of his opportunities — a stolen base opportunity is define as being on first or second base with the next base unoccupied — from 2010-11, well above the 5.6% league average. From 2013-15, his attempt rate dropped to 10.9%, which is still above the 6.7% league average, but not by much. (Teams are attempting more steals as offense declines.) Gardner’s success rate is still fantastic (78% from 2013-15), he just doesn’t run as often.

“I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is, but obviously I was a little less aggressive,” said Gardner to Mark Feinsand. “You can’t steal 40-something bases if you don’t try to steal 40-something bases. I think all that starts with getting on base more often, trying to get my OBP north of .350 and doing a good job of being consistent and setting the table for these guys at the heart of the order … 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.”

The general lack of steals and Gardner’s hesitation when stealing bases has earned him the “bad base-runner” label, which is a load of crap. Brett takes the extra base (first-to-third on a single, move up on a wild pitch, etc.) at a rate far better than the league average (48% from 2013-15; average is 39%), and his +14.9 base-running runs are the 13th most in baseball since 2013. Gardner’s a very good base-runner. The lack of steals doesn’t make him bad.

Stealing bases is a young man’s game. The 2016 season will be Gardner’s age 33 season, and only seven players have stolen 30+ bases in their age 33 season since 2000. (Only one has stolen 40+ bases.) Expecting Brett to get back to stealing 40+ bases like he did from 2010-11 is unrealistic. Players his age rarely do it. The stolen base aging curve (via Mike Podhorzer) doesn’t lie:

Stolen Base Aging Curve

The blue line represents all players. The red line represents players who had at least one season with 20+ steals in their career, like Gardner. Historically the peak ages for steals are 23-27. After that, it’s a steady decline. Or in the case of former speedsters, a rather steep decline. The speed just isn’t there any more and all those years of stealing bases and diving back into first base on pickoff throws take a toll.

Remember, Gardner has had injuries to both wrists in the last 12 months, and stealing bases is dangerous. It’s a good way to get stepped on or jam your fingers or whatever. I can’t imagine the Yankees are eager to have Gardner attempt a bunch of stolen bases after nursing a bone bruise in his wrist for the last five months. Gardner says he wants to be a little more aggressive this year and that’s fine. At this point of his career he’s a 20-25 stolen base guy though. Nothing more.

How Does He Avoid Another Bad Second Half?

There’s no sugarcoating it: Gardner’s second half slump last season was brutal. He hit .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+) after the All-Star break, which ranked 146th out of 156 qualified hitters in terms of wRC+. Wrist problems or not, Gardner was awful in the second half, and it has become a bit of a pattern.

First Half Second Half
2013 .272/.338/.422 (109 wRC+) .274/.354/.403 (110 wRC+)
2014 .279/.353/.424 (122 wRC+) .218./286/.417 (95 wRC+)
2015 .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+)
Career .283/.360/.421 (115 wRC+) .236/.326/.351 (88 wRC+)

Gardner had no dip in performance in the second half of 2013. In 2014 he had a pretty substantial dip, and in 2015 it was even bigger. He lost 71 points of wRC+ between the first and second halves this year. Sheesh. Gardner has been hurt the last two second halves — he had the wrist problem after the hit-by-pitches in 2015, and in 2014 he played through an abdominal injury so severe it required offseason surgery — but no one wants to hear that because it sounds like an excuse.

Regardless of what happened from 2014-15, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have said they want to find a way to keep Gardner (and everyone else) productive all season, and they hope to do that with extra rest. Aaron Hicks was brought in to be the fourth outfielder, and since he’s a switch-hitter, Girardi can play him against both righties and lefties. Chris Young was awesome last season, but you did not want him at the plate against a right-handed pitcher.

Gardner has played at least 1,150 innings in the outfield in five of the last six seasons, and the only time he didn’t was 2012, the year he barely played due to an elbow injury. That’s a lot of running around and fatigue is a very real factor, especially now that he’s approaching his mid-30s. I don’t know if there’s a magic number. Gardner has played 145+ games in five of the last six seasons, so maybe now he’s more of a 130 games a year player. That sound okay?

The key to avoiding another second half slump is health, first and foremost. Bad wrists or bad abdomens or whatever are no good for baseball playing. Managing fatigue is also important, and it’s up to Girardi to do that, because Gardner’s is not the kind of guy who will ask for a day off or give something less than his all on the field.

“I’m going to continue to play hard, but I am going to try to play smart. If it’s 13-2, don’t dive into first or run into a wall,” said Gardner to Kevin Kernan. “(Playing hard) got me to where I am today. I’m not going to turn the volume down.”

Building the Most Sensible Lineup for the 2016 Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, the Yankees used something that looked awfully close to their projected Opening Day starting lineup. The only regular not in the lineup was Brian McCann, who is still nursing a sore knee after being hit by a foul tip over the weekend. It’s nothing serious. He’ll be back in a day or two. No reason to push it in mid-March.

As a quick reminder, here is the starting lineup the Yankees ran out there against the Blue Jays last night:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Gary Sanchez

I’m guessing a healthy McCann slots in at No. 6 behind A-Rod, bumping the other guys down a spot. That’s pretty close to the lineup the Yankees used for most of last season — the most common Yankees’ lineup last year was used only nine times, so yeah — which makes sense because almost none of the personnel has changed. Castro replaced Stephen Drew. That’s the only difference.

Obsessing over the lineup on a day-to-day basis is not really my thing anymore, though I do think it would be instructive to look over the projected batting order and try to figure out who fits best in each spot. The Yankees have a pretty straightforward lineup. We don’t have to rack our brains too much.

The Leadoff Man

This is the easiest, most predictable spot in the lineup. Ellsbury is going to hit leadoff. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. The Yankees are paying Ellsbury an awful lot of money to set the table and he was one of the most productive leadoff men in the game as recently as last May. The only time Ellsbury won’t hit leadoff this coming season is when he gets a day off. Right? Right. Next.

The Two-Hole

An lot of studies over the years have shown the No. 2 spot is the most important spot in the lineup. The No. 2 hitter gets the second most at-bats on the team and is responsible for both driving in runs (when the leadoff man reaches base) and setting the table (for the middle of the order). Ideally your best all-around hitter hits second. Who is the Yankees’ best all-around hitter? Beltran? I dunno.

An argument can be made Gardner is the team’s best hitter, at least when he’s healthy. He did hit .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) in the first half last season, after all. Gardner batted second most of last year and he fits that spot well because he can mash the occasional dinger and he’s one of the club’s best on-base guys. Prior to Ellsbury’s injury last year, he and Gardner were dominant from the 1-2 spots. They were on base a combined seven times a game it seemed.

Joe Girardi has discussed using Castro as his No. 2 hitter against lefties, which makes sense from a “he hits right-handed and Girardi likes to sit Gardner against lefties for some reason” point of the view. The problem? Castro hit .281/.304/.339 (76 wRC+) against lefties last year and .265/.309/.366 (86 wRC+) against lefties the last three years. Against lefties Gardner hit .276/.361/.400 (112 wRC+) in 2015 and .262/.337/.395 (104 wRC+) from 2013-15.

There also this: Castro is a big time double play candidate. He’s downright Jeterian with the double plays. Starlin had a 54.1% ground ball rate last year, 12th highest among the 141 qualified hitters, and throughout his career he’s banged into a twin killing in 16% of his opportunities. The league average hovers around 11% each year. Yes, Ellsbury steals bases, but he’s not going to steal every time he reaches base. Castro’s double play ability will short circuit a lot of rallies.

The way I see it, Starlin should show he’s an asset against lefties before giving him a primo lineup spot. Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt just because he’s a righty. When Gardner does inevitably sit against southpaw, Aaron Hicks would be a better No. 2 hitter option than Castro. Hicks hit .307/.375/.495 (139 wRC+) against lefties in 2015 and .272/.360/.447 (125 wRC+) against them the last three years. The Gardner/Hicks platoon is the best No. 2 option.

The 3-4-5(-6) Hitters

We know who is going to hit in the 3-4-5-6 spots: Beltran, Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann. The only real question is how those four players should be ordered. I have two opinions:

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. Teixeira should hit cleanup. He is is not only the Yankees’ best power hitter, he’s also one of their best on-base guys, which serves the team well whenever he leads off the second inning after the top of the lineup goes down in order in the first. Fourth is a good spot for him. You don’t want Teixeira batting any lower because it means fewer at-bats, and you also don’t want to hit him much higher because you want as many men on base as possible when he hits. Plus he’s a switch-hitter. He’s the perfect cleanup hitter.

2. McCann should hit sixth. At this point of his career, McCann is basically a grip it and rip it hitter. That’s not a bad thing, but all the fly balls — his 36.1% ground ball rate was 18th lowest among the 141 qualified hitters in 2015 — are not conducive to a high batting average. McCann has hit .236 with a .309 OBP and a .241 BABIP in over 2,000 plate appearances the last four years. Yes, he has a lot of power, but out of the four guys projected to hit in the middle of the lineup, McCann is the worst at not making outs. He’s great at capping off rallies with a dinger. He’s not so great at extending rallies.

That leaves Beltran and A-Rod for the No. 3 and 5 spots. If Rod hits like he did from April through July, you want him hitting third. If Beltran hits like he did from mid-May through the end of the season, you want him hitting third. Rodriguez did hit more homers than Beltran (33 to 19) and was better overall last season (129 to 119 wRC+), so maybe bat him in the three-hole. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here, though I do think Alex gives you a better chance at quick first inning offense with the long ball. So I guess that means my 3-4-5-6 hitters go Rodriguez-Teixeira-Beltran-McCann.

The Bottom Third

I know Castro is the new hotness and everyone is excited about him, but the reality is he barely out-hit Stephen Drew last season (80 to 76 wRC+). That level of production is not so fluky either; Castro had a 74 wRC+ back in 2013. He did sandwich a 117 wRC+ between those two awful seasons in 2014, and surely the Yankees hope that’s the Starlin they’ll get going forward. Until then, I think he has to hit near the bottom of the lineup.

In fact, the best lineup might have Gregorius batting eighth and Castro batting ninth to break up the string of lefties in the wrap-around 9-1-2 portion of the lineup. We saw more than a few teams bring in a lefty reliever and leave him in for a full inning against that part of the lineup last year. Said reliever was staying in even longer when Drew was in the lineup and McCann was hitting fourth. Teams could get two innings out of their left-on-left reliever no problem.

Headley was the best hitter of the three last season and projects to be the best hitter of the three this season (per ZiPS), so seventh is where he belongs. Personally, I’d like to see Didi hitting eighth and Castro hitting ninth for “break up the lefties” purposes, but I have a hard time thinking the Yankees will bat their big offseason pickup ninth. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. We’re nitpicking.

So after all of that, I think the most sensible Yankees’ lineup looks something like this:

  1. Ellsbury
  2. Gardner vs. RHP and Hicks vs. LHP
  3. Rod
  4. Teixeira
  5. Beltran
  6. McCann
  7. Headley
  8. Gregorius
  9. Castro

Like I said, Castro’s probably going to hit eighth with Gregorius ninth. That’s the only real difference between my preferred lineup and what is likely to happen. Beltran and A-Rod might flip spots depending who is swinging better at the time. Not batting Starlin second against lefties is the only thing I feel strongly about. That’s a mistake in my opinion. Let him force the issue before bumping him up.

Recent research has shown that, generally speaking, the difference between the most optimal batting order and the worst batting order is a win or two across a full season. Wins are important! But we’re not talking about a difference of ten wins here. The Yankees have a pretty easy to put together lineup, and as long as Girardi doesn’t do something silly like bat A-Rod eighth or Castro leadoff (which he won’t), the Yankees will have a solid offense on the field.

The Importance of Being On Base

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you’re visiting this website and reading this article, chances are that I don’t need to tell you about the importance of getting on base. You already know that wasting outs is wasting the game and that, generally, the most valuable players in the league are the ones who are best at not making out. You know that the goal of a trip to the plate isn’t necessarily to get a hit, but rather to avoid making an out so you can extend the inning to your teammates and, ideally, extend the game. Allow me to hammer that point home as we examine the top of the order going into 2016.

Barring disastrous injury or some sort of unforeseen shift in philosophy or favor, the Yankees are likely to trot out Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner–in some order–at the top of their lineup in 2016. Even with the limitations both players have, they are probably the best two options for the one and two spots in the lineup. Gardner and Ellsbury are really carbon copies of each other and their skillsets lend to hitting high in the lineup, though hopefully each player is healthy enough in 2016 to return to his elite bag-swiping level. As important as the middle of the lineup may be and as much as those four players may carry the Yankee offense, the success of that group depends heavily on the success of Gardner and Ellsbury.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

To belabor our point from before, the importance of getting on base in baseball can’t be overstated; not only does it keep the game alive, but the effects thereof trickle down to the players below you in the order. For the Yankees, who lack the circular lineup of the 2009-2012 days, this is of most importance to the players hitting one through six. The better table the one-two hitters set, the better meal the four-six hitters will eat.

With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, each of the likely four-six hitters in the 2016 lineup fared better with runners on base in 2015. This is a trend the the league followed. League average OPS with the bases empty was .711 in 2015; with runners on, the league average OPS was .756. Generally, then, hitters OPSed .045 points better with runners on than they did with no runners on. Carlos Beltran (.793 empty to .828 on) was below that league average, but still showed improvement when hitters got on base ahead of him. Mark Teixeira weighed in at an .867 OPS with the bases empty–solid. But when runners were on for him, he jumped up to a .942 OPS, a full 30 OPS points above the league average improvement. The biggest winner of the group, though, was Brian McCann. When McCann came to the plate with nobody on, he hit just .209/.399/.376/.675. During his trips to the plate with men on, however, McCann became a completely different player: .265/.343/.507/.850. His OPS jumped up 175 points. Rodriguez, meanwhile, saw a decline in OPS-based production when runners were on, but that is likely due to the bat being taken out of his hand. In 338 plate appearances with the bases empty, Rodriguez walked 39 times; in 282 PA with men on, he walked 45 times.

The task for Gardner and Ellsbury–at least the task beyond hopefully staying healthy–is simple: do your job and get on base. This same edict will apply to Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro, other players who may get a shot at the top spots when platooning or when Gardner and Ellsbury get days off. Gardner and Ellsbury are good players, but they are not the ones that will carry a lineup, even at full tilt. The players immediately behind them in the order, that all important middle, will carry the Yankees in 2016. The load will be a lot easier to shoulder if and when Gardy and Taco are on the sacks.

Yankees may have to tap into outfield depth earlier than expected due to Gardner’s wrist, Williams’ shoulder

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

More than four months after the wildcard game, Brett Gardner is still dealing with a lingering bone bruise in his left wrist after crashing into the outfield wall making a catch against the Astros. The Yankees are being cautious and will limit Gardner’s work early in Spring Training.

Here’s the catch that caused the injury:

“I know he feels good, we are taking it slow,” said Brian Cashman to George King earlier today. “Spring Training is long enough, we don’t have to be rushing. The CT scan showed a bone bruise. The last (scan) showed significant improvement. It’s going in the right direction. At this point, taking the safe route.”

Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings and Jack Curry there is “very little there, but there’s no reason for him to get started,” and the team is taking it slow with Gardner “because we can.” It’s worth noting this is not the wrist that bothered Gardner for much of last season. Last year it was his right wrist after being hit by a pair of pitches in April. This year it’s the left wrist. Gardner told Bryan Hoch he’s fine and will be ready for Opening Day, because of course. He always says he’s fine.

As we learned last season with Mark Teixeira, bone bruises can be very tricky, and even though it’s been four months, the Yankees don’t want to unnecessarily push Gardner in camp. It’s possible the wrist could have been an issue during offseason trade talks. The team has to disclose injuries — well, they don’t have to, but they kinda do — and the wrist may have pushed clubs to focus on other outfielders. There were lots available this winter.

In other injury news, Mason Williams told Jennings he expects to start the season on the DL because he is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He had his surgery in August and apparently the rehab timetable is something like 8-10 months. That puts Williams on target for a return hopefully sometime in April, but possibly as late as June. He hurt himself diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. Pretty fluky injury.

So with Gardner banged up and Williams likely to start the season on the DL, the Yankees are already faced with the possibility of dipping into their outfield depth. Good thing they have a lot of it. The outfield depth chart looks something like this right now:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Brett Gardner
3. Carlos Beltran
4. Aaron Hicks
5. Dustin Ackley
6. Slade Heathcott
7. Mason Williams
8. Ben Gamel

Those are on the 40-man options. We could even throw former outfielder Rob Refsnyder into the mix, though that’s unnecessary. Lane Adams is a non-40-man roster outfield option. So is top prospect Aaron Judge, but the Yankees want to give him regular at-bats in Triple-A this year, and they have the depth to do that even with Gardner already banged up and Williams hurt. They still might have to tap into their outfield depth earlier than expected.

The good news is the tests show Gardner’s bone bruise is improving — remember Teixeira’s bone bruise? his didn’t improve at all — and he was able to hit today. Sweeny Murti says he took 50 swings earlier today, though those were the first swings he’s taken since the wildcard game. Gardner, who usually starts hitting in December, is going to have to knock quite a bit of rust off this spring if he wants to be ready for Opening Day.