Yankeemetrics: Baltimore Chopped (April 7-9)

Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)
Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)

Leads are for wimps
The season-opening road trip headed north to Camden Yards, a house of horrors recently for this Yankees team. They entered the weekend with a 7-20 record at the ballpark since 2014, the second-worst mark by any AL team in that span, and were 1-8 in nine series openers there over the previous three seasons.

Make that 7-21 and 1-9 in road series openers against the Orioles after Friday night’s 6-5 loss.

Luis Severino got a no-decision, extending his winless streak to 13 starts dating back to his final start of 2015. Over the last 15 seasons, that’s tied with Phil Hughes (2013) for the most consecutive starts without a win by any Yankee pitcher.

The big blow came off the bat of Manny Machado, who drilled a 96-mph fastball for a three-run homer into the left field bleachers to cut the Yankees lead to 5-4 in the fifth inning.

Of the 21 homers Severino has allowed in the majors, more than half (14) have come on pitches 95 mph or faster. Since the start of last season, opponents have slugged .522 on his 95-plus mph four-seam fastballs, the fourth-highest mark among major-league pitchers in that span (min. 75 at-bats).

Gary Sanchez broke out of his early slump with a 2-for-3 effort that included a monster 426-foot home run in the top of the fifth. Since August 1 of last season, Sanchez has four homers of at least 425 feet, and the rest of the Yankees have combined for three such bombs.

It was his 21st career homer in his 59th career game – the second-most homers for any player in major-league history before their 60th game. Boston Braves outfielder Wally Berger had 22 homers in his first 59 games in 1930.

Brett Gardner sparked the offense with three hits, three runs scored and two stolen bases. He’s the first Yankee to reach those totals since … Gardner did it six years ago (July 17, 2011) vs Toronto. The only other Yankees to have multiple games with at least three hits, three runs and two stolen bases in their career are Rickey Henderson (3), Snuffy Stirnweiss (2) and Chuck Knoblauch (2).

Mr. 2,000. (Getty Images)
Mr. 2,000. (Getty Images)

Another painful loss
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Saturday afternoon, as they once again built an early multi-run lead, coughed it up in the middle innings, resulting in yet another frustrating one-run loss. It also clinched yet another losing road series to the Orioles, the 10th consecutive set they’ve lost at Camden Yards.

How long has it been since they actually won a series in Baltimore? When they clinched their last series win there on Sept. 11, 2013, Mariano Rivera posted the 651st save of his career and Andy Pettitte tossed a quality start; Curtis Granderson, A-Rod and Robinson Cano each homered in the 5-4 victory.

For the third time in the last five seasons, the Yankees are 1-4 through five games. They are the only MLB team to start 1-4 or worse three times since 2013.

Masahiro Tanaka looked solid through the first four innings before unraveling in the fifth. He really struggled with his command, hitting a guy and walking two others while giving up two runs. Adam Warren relieved him in the sixth inning, making it the fifth time in five games that the team’s starter didn’t go more than five innings.

This is just the second time in the last 100 years that no Yankee starting pitcher recorded an out in the sixth inning in the first five games of the season. It also happened in 2007, with a rotation of Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Darrell Rasner.

Milestone Alert! Matt Holliday provided one of the few highlights, notching his 2,000th hit with a single in the first inning. He joined Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera as the only active players with at least 2,000 hits and a .500-or-better career slugging percentage.

Rally Time
The Yankees flipped the script in the final game of the series as they avoided the sweep with a much-needed comeback win. On Sunday they fell behind early, rallied late and left Baltimore with a 7-3 victory.

And the Yankees take the lead! (AP)
And the Yankees take the lead! (AP)

Starlin Castro delivered the game-winning hit with a tie-breaking RBI single in the ninth inning. Since the start of last year, Castro has seven go-ahead RBIs in the seventh inning or later — that’s two more than any other Yankee over the last two seasons.

Before Castro’s heroics, Aaron Judge tied it up with a solo blast leading off the eighth inning. He’s the third Yankee with a game-tying home run in the eighth inning or later at Camden Yards, joining the legendary duo of Travis Hafner (2013) and Roberto Kelly (1992).

The Orioles pitchers couldn’t find the strike zone all afternoon — issuing 11 walks, including seven by starter Wade Miley — and Holliday took advantage. He walked five times, tying a franchise single-game record. It had been done nine times prior to Sunday, with the two most recent being Mark Teixeira in 2009 and Roger Maris in 1962.

Besides Holliday, two other Yankees drew five free passes in five plate appearances and didn’t score a run: Hersh Martin in 1944 and Lou Gehrig in 1935. #FunFact: Martin and Holliday both went to high school in Oklahoma, and Martin attended Oklahoma State University in Holliday’s hometown of Stillwater.

Miley was effectively wild, giving up seven walks, one hit and zero runs in five innings. It had been more than 80 years since a pitcher had that many walks, allowed no more than one hit and held the Yankees scoreless — Washington Senators lefty Earl Whitehall achieved the feat on May 30, 1934. The No. 3 and 4 hitters in that lineup were Gehrig and Babe Ruth, who both went 0-for-2 and drew two walks each.

The Gary-less Lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you haven’t heard by now–though the collective worried gasp of Yankee fans everywhere yesterday afternoon probably gave it away–Gary Sanchez is injured, and will be going on the 10-day disabled list with a right biceps issue.

This leaves the Yankees with a gaping hole at what is the most important defensive position on the field–where Sanchez has shown great skill–and arguably the most important position in the lineup; slotting Sanchez in second made sense and was a big show of confidence in him by Joe Girardi and the coaching staff. Now, that’s for naught–at least for the next ten days. So, what can the Yankees do in Sanchez’s lineup absence?

My first thought was one I suggested previously, using DH Matt Holliday as the second hitter thanks to his combination of skills. However, without Sanchez to be in the clean up spot–and no one yet reliable enough to take his place–I don’t think that idea works. Holliday should stick at fourth, which is just as important as the second spot. But, since the route they’ll likely take is sticking Jacoby Ellsbury–who’s off to a good start–back into the second slot, giving the Yankees a more traditional look at the top of the lineup, that would mean three lefties–Gardner, Ellsbury, and Greg Bird stacked together, and that could lead to matchup problems late in games. So, I assume Girardi will split the lefties and have Holliday bat third with Bird cleaning up.

The team can go one of two ways with the fifth spot. The first way is to bump Chase Headley up a spot, rewarding him for a hot start. I’d be totally fine with that. The other would be to give the spot to Aaron Judge. This could show faith in him, challenge him, and give him an opportunity to hit behind better players, increasing the likelihood of him batting with men on base. That second option probably isn’t going to happen, but I think that’s the one I’d like, if only to keep up the ‘give the kids a shot’ theme that this season is likely to have.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

So, the combination of the most likely scenario/what I’d want to see would look like this:

  1. Gardner, LF
  2. Ellsbury, CF
  3. Holliday, DH
  4. Bird, 1B
  5. Judge, RF
  6. Castro, 2B
  7. Headley, 3B
  8. Romine, C
  9. Torreyes, SS

You could flip Castro and Headley if you like, and I might do the same. But the main takeaway here is that without Sanchez, this lineup seems a whole lot shorter and a whole lot thinner than it did just 24 hours ago. Losing a big bat at a premium position always hurts, and that goes double when a backup quality player–Torreyes–is already in the every day lineup. Get well soon, Gary; the lineup needs you.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.

Ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season

lol (Presswire)
lol (Presswire)

This coming Sunday the Yankees will open the 2017 regular season with the first of three games against the Rays in Tampa. I can’t wait. They’re going to play literally the first game of the entire season, you know. The season opener is a 1:10pm ET start on Sunday. There are two other games later that day before the traditional Opening Day around the league Monday.

So, with Spring Training nearing an end and the regular season only four days away, I figured I’d come up with some bold and completely unnecessary predictions for the 2017 season, because why not? I came up with ten because ten is a nice round number, and if three are correct, I’ll be pretty pleased. Four would be cool. Anyway, here are my ten stupidly bold predictions for the 2017 season, in no particular order.

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster combine for 30+ starts.

Some of these predictions are more bold than others, and this one is lacking in the boldness, I’d say. Even if the Yankees don’t carry Jordan Montgomery on the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position for an early call-up. It’s not at all difficult to imagine him making, say, 20 starts for the Yankees this season. Chance Adams and the lesser hyped Daniel Camarena will be looming in Triple-A Scranton too, and I get the feeling the Yankees will wind up bringing in a little outside help at some point as well.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Many folks have jumped off the bandwagon, scared away by those 42 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances last season. Me? I am still very much on board because Aaron Judge is a better pure hitter than he gets credit for, because he’s shown the willingness and ability to make adjustments throughout his career, and because few make as much loud contact. My prediction is the very idea Judge had to compete with Aaron Hicks for the right field job this spring is going to look silly in a few weeks, and big power numbers will have Judge firmly in the Rookie of the Year conversation come September.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

Along with Gary Sanchez, the pitching trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman are the super early candidates to represent the Yankees at the All-Star Game. I think they’ll send a pitcher other than those three to the Midsummer Classic as well. Who? Well that’s the mystery. My guess right now would be Michael Pineda. He certainly has the stuff and swing-and-miss ability. It’s just a matter of better location and perhaps a little more luck on balls in play. Pineda was an All-Star with the Mariners back in 2011, remember. I think this guy was lost forever following the shoulder surgery:

(Fun Fact: Betances is one of only five pitchers to go to the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons along with Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner. The four best starters and the best reliever on the planet, basically.)

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I like Chad Green. The Yankees did a nice job identifying an unheralded pitching prospect in another organization who had room for growth, and they helped him take that next step last season. Green improved the quality of his slider in Spring Training thanks to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then, while in Triple-A, he learned a cutter as well. His MLB debut last season wasn’t great (4.73 ERA and 5.34 FIP in 45.2 innings) though he has some tools on the mound.

One of those tools is not a changeup. Green has been working to add either a changeup or splitter to his arsenal over the years and it just isn’t working. At some point this year he will inevitably find himself working out of the bullpen, and I think once that happens, Green will be so dominant the Yankees will just leave him there. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph as a starter last season with a 26.3% strikeout rate. Let him air it out as a fastball/slider pitcher for one inning at a time in relief, and Green will join Betances and Chapman to form a three-headed bullpen monster.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

These two are the obvious candidates to lead the Yankees in home runs this season, right? Sanchez socked 20 homers in 53 games last year, and while I don’t think anyone expects him to repeat that pace, Sanchez clearly has a ton of power and knows how to hit. Greg Bird has a tremendous approach and the kind of left-handed pop that plays very well in Yankee Stadium. Those two should sock a lot of dingers this summer. Can’t wait.

That said, I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last season and I’m glad they did. It was time. The trades netted them an incredible farm system and have set the team up for success in the coming years. It’s exciting. I don’t expect that to happen again though, and for a few reasons.

  1. Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t want to sell. Remember, Brian Cashman spent weeks trying to convince Hal to sell before he agreed to it last year. The only reason Chapman was traded was because he rejected a contract extension first. I don’t think Steinbrenner wants to go down that road again.
  2. I think the Yankees will be in the race. They’re not front-runners or a no-doubt postseason team by any means, but I think they’ll get much more out of the young players this year than the veterans last year, putting them in the thick of the race come late-July. If they’re in the race, they won’t sell.
  3. The stars won’t line up again. The Chapman and Andrew Miller trades were a perfect storm last year. Everything came together at the right time for the Yankees. They do have some quality trade chips to peddle at the deadline (Tanaka and Betances, most notably), but I don’t think anyone will blow them away with an offer.

Rather than sell, I expect the Yankees to buy. Not necessarily in a huge way though. I don’t think they’re going to make a deal for Jose Quintana, for example. I do think they’re going to end up acquiring a starting pitcher though — keep in mind I said the same thing at the outset of the offseason and was dead wrong — and also package some prospects together for other pieces, similar to last year’s Tyler Clippard trade. The 40-man roster and upcoming Rule 5 Draft situation tell us something is very likely to happen here.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

I am going to predict one big trade and it will be Jacoby Ellsbury who gets dealt away, not Brett Gardner. Ellsbury’s contract is a sunk cost. The Yankees owe him that money no matter what. With outfield prospects like Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler knocking on the door, I think Cashman will be able to convince Steinbrenner salary dumping Ellsbury and saving, say, $7M a year over the four years left on his contract to open a spot for a prospect is the better big picture move than keeping Ellsbury at full price and trading the $25M owed to Gardner the next two years. Now, will Cashman be able to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause? I think so. I just don’t expect them to get much in return.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)
Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)

I love Gleyber Torres. He’s awesome. He hits, he defends, he runs the bases well, and he manages to play the game with both a lot of energy and a quiet confidence. You couldn’t create a better shortstop prospect in a video game. I also love Blake Rutherford. He doesn’t have Gleyber’s defensive chops at a premium position, but he’s an excellent offensive prospect thanks to his potential to hit for average and power, as well as his ability to draw walks, and I think that’ll vault him over Torres in the prospect rankings this summer. I’m not saying Torres will be bad! I expect them to both be top 15-ish prospects come the midseason rankings, with Rutherford a few spots higher than Gleyber.

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

Alex Rodriguez was so bad last season it might come as a surprise Yankees’ designated hitters hit .261/.312/.450 with 28 home runs last year. You can thank Carlos Beltran for that. He spent a lot of time at DH. Of course, that slash line works out to a 96 OPS+, which ranked ninth among the 15 AL teams. Not good. The Yankees didn’t get enough offense from a position that exists solely to provide offense.

This year I expect the Yankees will not only get more production from the DH spot, I think it’ll be the most productive DH position in baseball. David Ortiz is retired and Edwin Encarnacion is moving into a less hitter friendly ballpark in a division without nearly as many hitter’s parks as the AL East. Nelson Cruz will give Holliday a run for his money, but don’t forget, it won’t just be Holliday at DH. Sanchez will surely get a few at-bats there, as will Carter, who led the NL in homers a year ago. Holliday will get most DH at-bats and he’ll pepper the short porch with opposite field homers. The other guys will chip in some as well.

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

Okay, I’m cheating, because the Yankees didn’t spend any time in first place last season. Literally zero days. That’s what happens when you lose Opening Day, drop six of your first ten games, and don’t get over .500 for good until August. In all seriousness though, I think the 2017 Yankees will spend more days in first place than the 2013 Yankees (17 days) and possibly the 2014 Yankees (24 days), though I don’t think they’ll win the AL East. Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closer™ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.

Predictions by Position

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

After today, the next time you read a post from me, the Yankees will be three hours away from their first pitch of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays (while we’re on it, how silly is it that even in a dome, the Yankees have an off day after their Opening Day? Isn’t the point of the dome to avoid that? Ugh.). That’s pretty damn cool, huh? It also means you’re in for a flurry of prediction posts, so allow me to be near the top of the list. When September ends, we can all look back at this and laugh at how absurdly wrong I was.

Catcher

Gary Sanchez will struggle at the plate to start the year and a certain segment of fans–the talk radio set–will become frustrated, though his defense is mostly fine. By early June, though, Sanchez will find his stroke and finish the year with about 20 homers and a caught stealing percentage near the top of the league.

Austin Romine will remain the backup all year, turning in a very typical backup season. But, for him, it’s a coup as it lands him a two-year contract after the season to stay on as Sanchez’s reserve.

Carter. (Presswire)
Carter. (Presswire)

First Base

I don’t know exactly what the combination will be or how it will break down to a man, but Greg Bird and Chris Carter will combine for 40 homers.

Shortstop and Second Base

I’m combing these thanks to the Didi Gregorius injury. Ruben Tejada will start the year at short. By mid-April, though, his bat will not be worth the defensive contribution and he’ll be let go. Starlin Castro will slide over to short and “everyone” will get their wish as Rob Refsnyder will be called up to play second, the team willing to live with his defense since his offense will be needed more. He’ll have a hot first week, then cool down just in time for Didi to return and send Castro back to second.

Didi will take a slight step back offensively this year, as will Castro. However, they’ll be able to buoy it with solid defense, becoming one of the top double play combinations in the league.

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

Third Base

Chase Headley continues his ‘bounce back’ that started after his terrible beginning to 2016. He ends the year around a 100 wRC+, but his defense begins to show a little bit of wear before he heads into the last year of his contract.

Outfield

Brett Gardner bounces back offensively. The power doesn’t come back totally, but he reaches double digits in homers again and regains some of his base-stealing prowess. Jacoby Ellsbury hovers around where he was last year and his steals stay flat as he’s not apt to run in front of Sanchez or Matt Holliday, whoever occupies the three spot.

Aaron Judge struggles through the first month and is sent down to Scranton and Aaron Hicks takes over in right for a bit. Judge is eventually recalled and put in a platoon to start, but earns his way back into the starting role, promising better things for 2018.

(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)

Designated Hitter

Holliday shows flashes of his Colorado self, but is generally more like the player he was in St. Louis last year. He surprises, though, with a fair amount of opposite field homers and winds up leading the team in that category.

Starting Rotation

Michael Pineda comes out of the gates like a bat out of hell. He pushes his way into the All Star Game, but falters down the stretch, reminding us more of 2016 than the early part of 2017.

CC Sabathia pitches like a number two for half his starts and a number five for the other half. Masahiro Tanaka again competes for the Cy Young Award, putting up an even better case this year than last year.

Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Bullpen

Adam Warren becomes the new Dellin Betances. No, he won’t be as dominant as Dellin, but he’ll move into the multi-inning, high-leverage spot, allowing Betances to join Tyler Clippard and Aroldis Chapman as a more traditional one-inning reliever when Warren is fresh.

Team

What will all this add up to? Somehow, someway, I’m thinking…84 wins. That sounds right, no? What wild, crazy, or boring predictions do you have? If we’re gonna laugh at me in September, let’s laugh at you, too.

Play ball.

What does Statcast’s catch probability tell us about Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Barring injury or a last minute Spring Training trade, when the 2017 regular season begins, the Yankees will have Brett Gardner in left field and Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. That’s been the regular arrangement for three years now. The Yankees will have some things to figure out once prospects like Clint Frazier or Dustin Fowler are ready, but that’s not a pressing issue.

Both Gardner and Ellsbury are 33 and will turn 34 later this year. Gardner in August, Ellsbury in September. They’re at the age — beyond it, really — when everything usually begins to slip. Offense, defense, speed, everything. Soon-to-be 34-year-old baseball players are rarely as productive as they were in their 20s. Such is life. The Yankees will have to navigate their declines in the coming years.

Interestingly enough, the various stats say Gardner and Ellsbury both had their best defensive seasons in several years in 2016. That surprised me. I though the opposite would be true. The quick numbers:

DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2016 Gardner +12 +3.5 +0 +11.9
2015 Gardner +1 -0.9 -6 -3.5
2013-15 Gardner +5 +1.9 -21 -39.2
2016 Ellsbury +8 +0.7 +1 -15.7
2015 Ellsbury +1 -3.2 +1 -9
2013-15 Ellsbury +11 +7.3 +26 -1.9

You’ll have a hard time convincing me Gardner cost the Yankees nearly 40 (!) runs in the field from 2013-15 as FRAA alleges, but that’s why it’s good to look at several metrics. Generally speaking, the four main defensive stats say Gardner and Ellsbury were better in 2016 than they were in 2015 and on a rate basis from 2013-15. That’s the direction the numbers are pointing.

If you’ve watched the World Baseball Classic at all, you know there’s a new Statcast metric out called Catch Probability, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: how likely is it this ball will be caught? Here are the nuts and bolts of catch probability, via MLB.com:

With Statcast tracking the exact start position on the field for each fielder and also measuring the hang time of each batted ball, the two most important pieces of data to define the difficulty of a catch opportunity are: 1. How far did the fielder have to go? 2. How much time did he have to get there?

Accordingly, each tracked batted ball to the outfield is assigned an expected Catch Probability percentage — relative to comparable catch opportunities in the Statcast era — based on distance needed and opportunity time. The more time a fielder has to react to a ball and the less distance needed to reach it, the higher the Catch Probability.

Seems simple enough, right? This is only the first pass at a catch probability metric, remember. I’m sure there will be ballpark and other adjustments added as time goes on. Catch probability drops batted balls into five buckets:

  • One Star Outs: Catches made at least 91% of the time.
  • Two Star Outs: Catches made 75-90% of the time.
  • Three Star Outs: Catches made 51-74% of the time.
  • Four Star Outs: Catches made 26-50% of the time.
  • Five Star Outs: Catches made 0-25% of the time.

One Star Outs are your routine cans of corn. The plays every outfielder should make even if he’s, say, late career Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday. Five Star Outs are the most difficult plays. The fly balls and line drives that rarely get caught by even the best defenders. The math may be gory behind the scenes, but catch probability is easy to digest on this end.

We have two years of Statcast data available and therefore two years of catch probability. The defensive stats in the table above tell us both Gardner and Ellsbury were better defensively in 2016 than 2015. Does catch probability agree? Let’s look. (Shout out to the indispensable Baseball Savant for the data.)

Brett Gardner

One Star Outs Two Star Outs Three Star Outs Four Star Outs Five Star Outs
2015 100.0% 81.5% 50.0% 46.7% 16.7%
2016 100.0% 75.0% 94.4% 21.4% 12.1%

Those Three Star Outs jump out at you, eh? Gardner went from making those catches, the ones that are made 51-74% of the time, at a 50.0% rate in 2015 to a staggering 94.4% rate in 2016. Only two players had a higher Three Star Out catch probability last year: Mookie Betts and Desmond Jennings, who were both at 100.0%.

Therein lies part of the problem: sample size. Jennings played only 65 games last year due to injury and he had only only six Three Star Out catch opportunities. Gardner, who played full-time both seasons, had only 14 Three Star Out opportunities in 2015 and 18 in 2016. He made seven of those plays in 2015, hence the 50.0% catch probability. Last year he made 17 of 18.

So, with that in mind, here again are Gardner’s catch probabilities, this time with the number of opportunities added to provide more context:

One Star Outs Two Star Outs Three Star Outs Four Star Outs Five Star Outs
2015 100.0% (37) 81.5% (27) 50.0% (14) 46.7% (15) 16.7% (30)
2016 100.0% (36) 75.0% (16) 94.4% (18) 21.4% (14) 12.1% (33)

The number of catch opportunities varies wildly from player to player. Adam Eaton had 65 One Star Out opportunities in 2016. Gardner had 36. They both played everyday, but one guy had nearly twice as many cans of corn hit his way than the other. Obviously the pitching staff plays a part in this. New York’s pitching staff generated way more strikeouts (23.1%) and ground balls (46.9%) than Chicago’s (20.5% and 43.1%), hence fewer opportunities for Gardner than Eaton.

The sample sizes cause us some problems. I’m hesitant to read too much into so few data points. Gardner’s Four Star Out catch probability dropped from 46.7% in 2015 to 21.4% in 2016, but we’re talking about 29 batted balls total across two seasons. We wouldn’t attempt to analyze 29 at-bats spread across two years, would we? Can’t do the same with defense. Anyway, I promised to look at both guys, so let’s get to Ellsbury now.

Jacoby Ellsbury

One Star Outs Two Star Outs Three Star Outs Four Star Outs Five Star Outs
2015 93.9% (33) 91.7% (12) 75.0% (12) 68.8% (16) 26.1% (23)
2016 94.6% (37) 82.4% (17) 80.0% (20) 50.0% (16) 3.6% (28)

Yeesh, look at that Five Star Out catch probability. Ellsbury made one such play in 28 opportunities last year. One! As with Gardner, there aren’t enough data points here to say anything definitive about Ellsbury and which way his defense is trending at this point of his career, but gosh, one catch in 28 opportunities? These numbers are a record of what happened on the field, remember. If a hitter goes 1-for-28 at the plate, it doesn’t mean he’s a true talent .036 hitter, but the 1-for-28 happened and it hurt the team.

Keep in mind Ellsbury hurt his knee in May 2015 and missed close to two months, and it’s possible if not likely the injury hampered him in the field after he returned. It sure seemed like the injury threw him out of whack at the plate. The same is possible in the field. Even then, Ellsbury’s catch probabilities were pretty good in 2015. Like Gardner, Ellsbury performed worse in three of the five catch probability categories from 2015 to 2016. And that means … I’m not sure. It could be normal year-to-year fluctuation.

* * *

As with the other defensive stats like DRS and UZR, it seems you need a sample of several seasons for catch probability to be reliable. I do think it’s a better measure of single-season defense than the other stats because Statcast more accurately measures the batted ball trajectory, the defender’s positioning, stuff like that. DRS and UZR are estimating.

So, while Ellsbury’s 1-for-28 effort on Five Star Outs in 2016 may not accurately reflect his true defensive ability given the limited amount of data, it did happen, and it did cost the Yankees runs. My eyes told me both Gardner and Ellsbury were still above-average defenders last season, Gardner moreso. Neither was as good as we’ve seen them in the past, I don’t think, and that makes sense given their ages. The various defensive stats say the opposite is true, that they were better than they’d been in previous years. I was hoping catching probability would clear that up for us, but alas. It’s just more information to consider, not a definitive answer.