Brett Gardner is day-to-day with some kind of stomach irritation, Joe Girardi told reporters. It sounds more like a muscle strain than an illness. He was not available for today’s game and might not be available tomorrow either. Apparently Gardner had the same problem earlier in the season, right before the All-Star break, so they’re confident he won’t be out very long.
Got a nice and big nine-question, seven-answer mailbag for you this week after skipping it last week. Blame the trade deadline. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours is not picked.
nycsportzfan asks: Do you think Joe Girardi could win Manager of the Year even if they don’t make the postseason?
Joe asks: Where is Brett Gardner in the AL MVP voting? No way he wins the award itself but he has to get some votes, no?
Might as well lump these two together. I think Girardi would have a serious chance to win Manager of the Year if they make it to the postseason, but he’ll probably be an afterthought if they miss again. Bob Melvin and Mike Scioscia seem to be the front-runners at the moment, and I’m sure Buck Showalter will get a ton of love if the Orioles win the AL East. John Gibbons would also get plenty of votes if the Blue Jays sneak into the postseason. If Girardi carries this team into the postseason after all the injuries, I have to think he’ll get a ton of consideration for the award.
As for Gardner, I doubt he’ll finish top ten in the MVP voting, maybe not even top 20, but there are always weird down ballot votes every year and he seems like a prime candidate to receive a few. Gardner has not only been the team’s best player this year, he’s also been one of the most productive outfielders in the league. Unless the Yankees completely flop and fall way out of the race these next few weeks, I definitely expect Gardner to get a handful of MVP votes. He’ll never win, but hey, just getting votes is cool.
Joel asks: Can you tell us what percentage of his at-bats Gardner gets to two strikes? I think it’s very high, and I think his batting average with two strikes is close to his batting average.
Prior to yesterday’s game — I’m not waiting around for Baseball Reference to update overnight, sorry — Gardner had gone to a two-strike count in 288 of his 475 plate appearances, or 60.6%. The AL average is 50.4%. In fact, Gardner leads baseball in two-strike plate appearances. Matt Carpenter is second at 287 and Mike Trout is third at 285. No one else is over 280. Gardner has hit .188/.278/.290 in two strike counts this year, and while that sounds terrible, it works out to a 124 OPS+ because the league as a whole has hit .180/.249/.267 with two strikes. Hitting in those situations is mighty tough.
Mark asks: In the simplest terms possible, could you explain the difference between the July and August trade deadlines? I think I have a grasp, but I would like clarification. Thanks in advance
John asks: I’ve been thinking – with the trade waivers period starting up – what would happen if a guy with a no-trade clause was claimed on waivers? Would he have to go to that team? E.g. what if Matt Thornton had a no-trade? Could the Yankees have just let the Nats take him?
Combining two more questions again. After July 31st, any player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers in order to be traded. Trade waivers are completely revocable — if a player is claimed, he can be pulled him back and nothing happens. The player can be traded anywhere if he clears waivers, but if he is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claimed him (within 48 hours). If a team tries to slip a player through trade waivers a second time, they are irrevocable. A team can also dump the player on the other team if he is claimed, like the Yankees did with Thornton. Players have to be in an organization on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster. No exceptions. That makes August 31st almost like a second trade deadline.
The no-trade clause stuff is interesting because there really isn’t an answer. MLB and the union have been arguing about this for years. A no-trade clause is technically a no-assignment clause, and both trades and waiver claims are assignments (as are demotions to Triple-A, etc.). The union says a no-trade clause should allow a player to block going to another team on waivers while MLB argues otherwise. The only time I can remember this even remotely being an issue was when the White Sox claimed Alex Rios from the Blue Jays a few years ago, but Rios agreed to go to Chicago and it was a non-issue. Most guys who have no-trade clauses have contracts other teams don’t want, so they are rarely claimed off waivers anyway.
Ryan asks: If you take a few of those early blowout losses out, what is their run differential? Probably closer to a slightly above .500 team?
The Yankees are currently 60-54 despite a -23 run differential, which says they should be something closer to 54-60. It seems like they win nothing but close games these days. In a one week stretch from April 18th through April 25th, the Yankees lost games by the score of 11-5, 16-1, and 13-1. That’s a -33 run differential right there, so in the other 111 games of the season, the Yankees are at +10. It doesn’t really work like that though, we can’t just ignore select games because they don’t fit a narrative. For example, if we remove their biggest blowout wins (7-0, 14-5, 10-2), they have a -47 run differential on the season. I believe the Yankees’ win-loss record better reflects their talent level than their run differential, but the numbers don’t lie. They are the record of what actually happened on the field.
Leigh asks: I know he has only thrown a handful of innings (and he isn’t on the 40-man roster), but do you think there is a chance we see Jacob Lindgren contribute as a LOOGY in September?
Yes, definitely. I was on the fence up until the Thornton deal (this question was sent in before that), but now I think it’s pretty much a lock as long as Lindgren doesn’t get hurt or completely blow up the rest of the month. I don’t think you draft a pure reliever in the second round and pay him a seven-figure bonus to not get him to the big leagues as quickly as possible. You take him because you think he can help very soon, and Lindgren has done everything he’s needed to do in the minors. I’ll be very surprised if he isn’t up in September at this point.
Greg asks: What can we expect from this year’s class of September call-ups?
In addition to Lindgren, pretty much everyone who is on the 40-man roster and has already been up at some point this year will be back in September. A third catcher is standard and the Yankees will probably call up both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine, so make it four catchers. Extra arms like Bryan Mitchell and Matt Daley are a given, ditto Preston Claiborne if he returns from his shoulder injury in time. Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler are other obvious call-up candidates. My hunch is Manny Banuelos will be called up but Gary Sanchez will not.
Tyler Austin, Danny Burawa, Mason Williams, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, and Nick Goody are among the prospects who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, though I would be surprised if the Yankees got a head start on things and called any of them up in September. The only time they’ve done that in recent years was with Murphy and Romine, and only because they needed to get a third catcher on the roster. Lindgren, Murphy, Romine, Mitchell, Daley, Almonte, Wheeler, Banuelos, and Claiborne (if healthy) seem likely to join the club when rosters expand in September. There always seems to be a surprise call-up or two every year, both those are the guys I expect to see brought back.
Mike asks: Who do you see the Yankees sending to the Arizona Fall League?
Teams send either six or seven players to the AzFL each year, usually three position players and either three or four pitchers. All Double-A and Triple-A players are eligible and each team can only send one Single-A player. No players with a full year of service time are allowed, though the league has granted exemptions for young players coming off injury. The AzFL rosters are officially announced at the end of August, so not too far off now.
Players who missed time with injury during the regular season are the standard AzFL fodder, so I think Ramon Flores (ankle) and Goody (coming back from Tommy John surgery) are prime candidates to go to the desert. Banuelos is another as long as he feels well and his innings total is not an issue. Aaron Judge would make sense as the Single-A player if he’s physically up to it. It’s a long season and he might be worn down come October. If not, Eric Jagielo could go after missing more than a month with an oblique injury. The last two or three spots are usually fringe prospects for the taxi squad — they are only eligible to play Wednesday and Saturday, so they are never top prospects — the team wants to see a bit more. Taylor Dugas, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow, and Jaron Long could fit that bill.
I have a whole bunch of stray links lying around in the wake of the trade deadline and I’m not quite sure what do with them, so I might as well dump them all in one post. Here are some miscellaneous links and notes as the Yankees and Tigers wrap up their series in the Bronx (game thread).
Yankees add most projected production at trade deadline
Although they didn’t land a big fish like Jon Lester or David Price, the Yankees were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline, making four deals that qualified as what Brian Cashman called “incremental upgrades.” Friend of RAB Eno Sarris put together a real quick and dirty analysis looking at which teams added the most production at the trade using projected WAR. It’s a simple WAR coming in minus WAR going out calculation. The Yankees added 2.0 WAR (projected!) at the deadline, by far the most in baseball. The Mariners were second at 1.3 WAR. Those incremental upgrades, man. They add up in a hurry.
Headley loves New York, surprising
Chase Headley has only been a Yankee for a bit more than two weeks now, but that has been long enough for New York to grow on him. He told Ken Davidoff he never expected to enjoy playing in Bronx as much as he has. “If you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I would enjoy playing in New York, I would’ve told you you’re crazy … You don’t know what to expect when you come to a clubhouse with this many All-Stars and established guys and great players. You don’t know how you’re going to be accepted in a clubhouse and be treated. And it’s been phenomenal. Top-notch organization, and then I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and I anticipate that I will as long as I’m here,” said Headley. He has also told people with the team how much he’s enjoyed it as well, says Jon Heyman. Headley will be a free agent after the season and re-signing him is something to consider once the final 50 games play out, but for now he’s fit in wonderfully and given the Yankees a big lift.
Red Sox, Rays blacklisted Yankees at deadline
According to David Lennon, the Red Sox and Rays were both told by ownership they could not deal Lester and Price to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Each team was free to trade their lefty ace anywhere but the Bronx. Nick Cafardo says the Yankees did try to engage the BoSox on both Lester and John Lackey, but no dice. The Bombers also called Tampa about Price, says Bob Nightengale, but again, it wasn’t happening. Oh well, what are you going to do. I’m not sure if the Yankees could have put together competitive offers for the two southpaws anyway.
Gardner’s ever-changing approach
This has been a career year for Brett Gardner, as he continues to hit for a surprising amount of power while maintaining his pesky leadoff hitter on-base ability. It’s been a blast to watch. Jeff Sullivan looked at Gardner’s sudden power production and, long story short, found that he’s adjusted to the way pitchers were pitching him. They were treating him like a slap hitter with fastballs in the zone. Like a hitter who couldn’t hurt them. Gardner has become more aggressive and learned how to better pull the ball in the air, a trademark of hitting coach Kevin Long. The league basically dared him to adjust to the way they pitched him, and he’s done exactly that.
Rusney Castillo’s workout scheduled for tomorrow
Free agent Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is scheduled to have a private workout with the Yankees at their Tampa complex tomorrow, according to George King. He has already had private workouts for the Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mariners. Ben Badler recently dropped a Rajai Davis comp on Castillo, in case you’re wondering what type of player he is. King says the outfielder may fetch upwards of $45M.
Via Jon Heyman: Brett Gardner, Martin Prado, and Stephen Drew all cleared trade waivers this month. That means they can all now be traded to any team. It doesn’t mean the Yankees want to move them, of course, but they can if they want. The Nationals claimed Matt Thornton off trade waivers the other day and the club let him go for nothing.
As a reminder, teams will pass almost all of their players through trade waivers this month. They are completely revocable, so players can be pulled back if claimed. Most of the time they try to hide a player they’re looking to move by putting a whole bunch of players on waivers on the same time. The Yankees figure to claim a player or three this month if for no other reason than to block them from going to one of the teams they’re trying to catch in the standings. I’m surprised no one claimed Gardner.
Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. We’ve already covered the catchers and infielders, so now let’s move on to the outfielders.
Brett Gardner — Grade A
Through the first 94 games of the 2014 season, Gardner has been the Yankees’ best position player. The team got out ahead of his impending free agency by signing him to a four-year extension worth $52M in Spring Training, a deal that looked sensible at the time and looks like a bargain now given his production and the lack of quality outfielders in the upcoming free agent classes.
Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Gardner leads the team in one-base percentage (.353) and total bases (146), ranks second in batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.424), stolen bases (15), OPS+ (116), and wRC+ (116), and first in both bWAR (2.9) and fWAR (2.7). He’s already set a career-high with nine homers. Gardner actually started the season in a funk, going 15-for-62 (.242) in the team’s first 18 games, but he’s hit .286/.366/.447 (126 wRC+) in the 76 games since. That’ll do just fine.
Gardner’s defense continues to be excellent as well. He slid back into left field seamlessly and has performed up to his usually defensive standards, which are rather high. Inside Edge data rates his glovework very well. The Yankees tried shuffling things around and actually started Gardner in right field during a game at Fenway Park in April, but that was a disaster. It looked like he had never played the outfield before. Left field is where he remains and whenever the need has arisen for whatever reason, he’s slid over and filled in at center without missing a beat.
The only negatives in Gardner’s game are his career-high 21.7% strikeout rate and career-low 11.6% stolen base attempt rate. The strikeout issue seems to have to do with him being a little more aggressive in certain counts and swinging for a fences, hence the homers. The stolen base this is weird — he ran in 14.3% of his opportunities last year and in 25.0% of his opportunities from 2010-12. Gardner is still on pace for 26 steals (in 33 attempts), but it appears his days of 45+ stolen bases are over. That’s a shame. Either way, he’s having an unreal season.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Grade B
As the story goes, it became clear to the Yankees they were going to lose Robinson Cano on a Friday, so they acted quickly to sign Ellsbury before a bidding way broke out. The two sides were in agreement the following Tuesday, and the Friday after that, Cano hooked on with the Mariners. The Yankees replaced Cano with the second best free agent in Ellsbury even though he wasn’t a great fit for the roster — they already had a perfectly capable speedy leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in Gardner.
Ellsbury has been very good through his first season in pinstripes, hitting .282/.346/.400 (105 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 29 chances. That’s right in line with the .289/.341/.407 (103 wRC+) batting line he put up from 2012-13 following his outlier 2011 campaign. Ellsbury’s power has not ticked up despite the move into lefty friendly Yankee Stadium and that makes total sense — almost all of his hits are line drives to left and center field. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to taking advantage of the short porch.
As expected, Ellsbury has had an impact both on the bases and in the field. He’s on pace for 41 steals with an 82.8% success rate, which would make him the team’s first 40-steal guy since Gardner in 2011. The defensive stats hate Ellsbury this year and I don’t get it — it’s a Gardner thing, it happened with Curtis Granderson too, he must be stealing outs and hurting the center fielder’s defensive numbers — but based on the eye test he’s been phenomenal in center. Better than Gardner last season and Gardner was awesome.
Because of injuries and underperformance and all that, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have had to improvise with their lineup. That means Ellsbury has been miscast as a three-hole hitter for most of the year while Gardner bats leadoff. They really don’t have an alternative at this point. Ellsbury lacks the traditional three-hole hitter skills in that he can’t create a run with one swing, but that’s not his fault. He’s a leadoff hitter the team is asking to hit third. Either way, Ellsbury was pretty awesome in the first half.
Carlos Beltran — Grade F
Worst case scenario? Possibly. The Yankees signed the 37-year-old Beltran (for three years!) to be the middle of the order hitter they lost in Cano, but so far all they’ve gotten is a broken down former star who has struggled to both be productive and stay on the field. This is the position player version of Randy Johnson — the right player, only nine years too late.
Beltran has hit .216/.271/.401 (78 wRC+) with nine homers in 228 plate appearances this year while missing time with elbow, knee, and concussion problems. He has a bone spur in his elbow that cost him a month and will require offseason surgery. It has relegated him to full-time DH duty because he can’t throw. (He tried a throwing program but had to shut it down due to discomfort.) The concussion was a fluke injury that occurred when he lined a ball off the cage and back into his face during batting practice. It’s that kinda year.
It’s easy to forget Beltran actually mashed at the start of the season. He was hitting .298/.339/.614 (151 wRC+) with four homers through the team’s first 16 games, then he flipped over the short wall in Tropicana Field while trying to catch a foul pop-up, and has hit .189/.249/.331 (56 wRC+) in 193 plate appearances since. I don’t know it it’s just a coincidence or if he hurt himself flipping over the wall, but he hasn’t hit for nearly 200 plate appearances now. Clutch hits? Beltran hit that walk-off homer against Zach Britton but otherwise has a .156/.216/.297 (25 wRC+) batting line with men in scoring position and a .130/.241/.391 (55 wRC+) batting line in high-leverage situations.
Because he’s not hitting and can’t play the field — not that his defense was a positive, he hurts the team less as the DH, to be honest — Beltran has very little value to the Yankees right now. He could start hitting at any moment and it would be a huge help if he did, but the combination of injuries and age are working against him. Beltran’s first three and a half months in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much worse.
Alfonso Soriano — Grade F
Man, this sucks. Soriano was one of the most fun to watch players when he on a roll and having a full season of him was supposed to give the Yankees a big offensive shot in the arm. Instead, he put up a .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) line with six homers and an unsightly 71/6 K/BB in 238 plate appearances before being dropped from the roster roughly two weeks ago. He wasn’t even hitting lefties anymore (80 wRC+). That’s it. Without warning he went from 34 homers and a 121 wRC+ in 2013 to being done in 2014. Like done done.
Soriano started the year as the full-time DH in deference to Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran in the outfield. He eventually moved to right — he had never played the position before (other than Spring Training) and I thought he did about as well as he could have realistically been expected to perform defensively — once Beltran got hurt, but eventually he lost playing time to Ichiro and was pushed into the light half of a platoon. The Yankees released Soriano earlier this week and he told Marly Rivera he might simply retire rather than continue playing. It was not a pretty end.
Ichiro Suzuki — Grade C
The Yankees relegated Ichiro to fifth outfielder status with their offseason spending spree, and even that was only after they were unable to trade him. And yet, through the traditional first half, he has batted 220 times and appeared in 81 games, the sixth most on the team. He took over as the most of the time right fielder a few weeks ago thanks to both his strong performance and the underwhelming performance of others.
Ichiro is hitting .297/.347/.337 (90 wRC+) with six stolen bases on the season, though his bat predictably cooled once pressed into everyday duty. He went 25-for-37 (.373) with a 142 wRC+ as a reserve player during the first 47 team games of the season but has managed only a .259/.308/.289 (63 wRC+) line as a regular in the 47 team games since. Ichiro’s defense has been fine and he’ll still steal the occasional base, but that’s pretty much it. He’s a very good extra outfielder and a pretty terrible regular outfielder at this point of his career.
Zoilo Almonte — incomplete
I get the feeling the Yankees are not going to give Almonte an opportunity to show whether he can be of some use at the MLB level, even as a nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He’s been up and down a few times this year thanks mostly to Beltran’s injuries, getting into ten games and going 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer. Even with Soriano gone, the Yankees have opted to play Ichiro everyday and sub in Zelous Wheeler on occasion. Meh
* * *
Coming into the season, the outfield was expected to be the strength of the team, and it has been. It just hasn’t been as strong as expected due to Beltran’s struggles and Soriano’s brutal ineffectiveness. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best players all season and have lived up to expectations in my opinion. Everyone else in the outfield has kinda stunk. Getting Beltran back and producing at an above-average rate will be imperative in the second half. The Yankees will only be able to acquire so much offense in trades.
As expected, Derek Jeter has been voted in as the starting shortstop for the AL All-Star team by the fans. His double play partner will be Robinson Cano. Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances will also represent the Yankees at the Midsummer Classic. The full All-Star Game rosters are right here.
Jeter will be playing in his 14th All-Star Game and starting at short for the ninth time. His performance this year doesn’t really warrant the selection, but he’s a star of the first order and fans want to see him in the All-Star Game in his final season. That’s what the All-Star Game is all about in my opinion. Tanaka and Betances are obviously very deserving of their selections. They will be the first Yankees rookie pitchers to make the game since Spec Shea in 1947. Congrats to all three guys.
As a team, the Yankees have one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They came out of last night’s game with a 19.6% strikeout rate, below the 20.5% league average and the tenth lowest rate in the game. Guys like Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, and Yangervis Solarte have had little trouble putting the ball in play, and that’s five-ninths of the starting lineup right there.
And then there’s Brett Gardner. He has a career 18.2% strikeout rate and last season it was 20.9%, both of which are more or less league average when you consider baseball’s perpetually increasing strikeout rate. (MLB has set a new record high for strikeout rate in each of the last seven seasons.) This season as been different though. Gardner has a 24.4% strikeout rate, by far the highest of his career. His 6.1% swing-and-miss rate is also a career-high (but still below the 9.3% league average). He’s been piling up the whiffs in 2014.
Gardner isn’t oblivious to the strikeout issues he’s had these last few weeks and he’s working to correct them. He cites a mechanical flaw and says he isn’t planning any kind of major overhaul to his game. That would be a little silly at this point. From George King:
“I have been striking out too much,’’ said Gardner, who didn’t whiff Wednesday night against the Angels in Anaheim after fanning seven times in the previous four games. “My mechanics have been a little off, rushing the swing and swinging with my head moving. I have been swinging and missing more than I would like.’’
“I have to do a better job, but I don’t want to change my game. I have to be aggressive so when I get a pitch to hit, I put the ball in play and use my speed,’’ said Gardner, whose 31 Ks were tied for 22nd among AL hitters Thursday. “I felt better [Wednesday].’’
Even if you’ve never playing anything higher than Little League, you know that too much head movement during your swing is a recipe for swinging and missing. If you can’t see the ball properly, you’re not going to hit it. Gardner isn’t chasing more bad pitches or anything like that — 23.0% swing rate on pitches out of the zone, down from 23.6% last year — he’s just coming up empty when he does swing. The swing-and-miss punishment fits the head movement crime.
Gardner struck out 12 times in his first 40 plate appearances of the season (30%) and more recently he had a stretch with 11 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances (40.7%), which is just way too high, especially for a non-power hitter. He has gotten better as the season has progressed …
… but it’s clear there is still some work to be done. It’s not like Gardner isn’t hitting at all — both his AVG (.283) and OBP (.352) are better than last season (.273 and .344), he’s just hitting for zero power (.053 ISO) — he’s just struggling to put the ball in play. It’s actually kinda amazing he’s remained as productive as he has despite the high strikeout rate.
The most important thing is that Gardner isn’t chasing more pitches out of the zone. That would be a real big concern. Since his plate discipline seems to be fine and he’s identified a mechanical issue with his head, I think it’s only a matter of time before he snaps out of his swing-and-miss funk. It’s frustrating, I know it is, but as long as Gardner is getting on base, stealing bases (7-for-7 this year), and playing high-end defense, he remains a productive player for the Yankees and worthy of an everyday lineup spot.