The Erstwhile Catcher [2016 Season Review]


The Yankees are built around left-handed power and strong defense. That’s the plan, anyway. They want guys who can yank a ball into the short porch while adding value in the field. For the most part, no one fits that mold better than Brian McCann, the club’s starting catcher coming into 2016. He has that lefty pop and has long been a good defender.

After starting the season as the undisputed No. 1 catcher, McCann finished the 2016 season as the Yankees’ primary DH. And it wasn’t because he didn’t perform. The Yankees fell out of the race and focused on youth in the second half, which meant Gary Sanchez got priority at-bats behind the plate. McCann had his role reduced because, well, how else is Sanchez supposed to play?

The First Few Months as a Catcher

Prior to the trade deadline Carlos Beltran was the Yankees’ best hitter and Didi Gregorius was their best all-around player. McCann was probably their third best hitter and second best all around player. That’s as much an indictment of the rest of the lineup as it is praise for McCann.

In 324 plate appearances prior to the deadline, McCann hit .236/.336/.429 (107 wRC+) with 15 home runs. I know that doesn’t seem great, but keep in mind the league average catcher hit .242/.310/.391 (87 wRC+) in 2016. Catchers stink. They can’t hit, generally speaking. By catcher standards, McCann is still comfortably above-average at the plate.

McCann’s biggest hit of the season was also arguably the biggest hit of the season for the Yankees. On June 29th, he clubbed a game-tying three-run home run off Rangers closer Sam Dyson with one out in the ninth inning. The Yankees were down 7-3 to start the inning. They then went on to win 9-7 on Gregorius’ walk-off homer.

The Yankees had a really hard time scoring runs for the first four or so months of the season. The offense is the single biggest reason they missed the postseason. No doubt about it. McCann was not part of the problem. He performed as expected prior to the trade deadline. McCann had that 107 wRC+ in his first 324 plate appearances after having a 106 wRC+ last year. He held up his end of the bargain.

The Position Change

After trading Beltran and other veterans at the deadline, the Yankees turned things over to their young players, and that meant lots of playing time for Sanchez. The team wasn’t subtle about it either. Sanchez was called up on August 3rd, played two games at DH, then took over behind the plate. Starting August 5th, McCann started one of the next 16 games at catcher. He caught only eleven times in the final 54 games of 2016. That’s it.

Many veteran players would be upset about a young player taking their job at midseason, especially when playing well. Sanchez didn’t even take the job, really. The Yankees just gave it to him. It wasn’t until about a week after being installed as the starter that Sanchez’s home run barrage started. McCann had every reason and every right to be unhappy. If he was though, he never let it be known. He did nothing but praise Sanchez.

“He’s a stud. Know what I’m saying? This is the time where he’s going to play and he’s going to play a lot,” said McCann in early-August after it become clear Sanchez was the new No. 1 guy behind the plate. “I consider (Sanchez) one of the better — if not one of the best — young catchers I’ve seen since I’ve been in the big leagues.”

McCann’s numbers as a DH were actually better than his numbers as a catcher, though the shape of his production was different. He was a low batting average guy who hit for power as a catcher. As a DH, he hit for more average and less power, hence a .284/.373/.402 (114 wRC+) batting line. Only three of his 20 home runs came as the DH, but look at that batting average and on-base percentage!

In theory, McCann’s numbers should tick up as the DH because he’s free from the rigors of catching. At the same time, he had to make the adjustment to not playing as much. Sitting for 45 minutes or so between at-bats can be difficult when you’re used to playing defense. Especially for an ex-catcher who is used to being in on every pitch. McCann hit .174/.309/.261 (63 wRC+) in his first three weeks as the DH. It was .297/.356/.462 (121 wRC+) thereafter.

As well as McCann finished the season as the DH, we have to remember the bar has been raised. Catchers usually don’t hit. DHs only hit. As a catcher, McCann had a 103 wRC+ compared to the 87 wRC+ average. As a DH, McCann had a 114 wRC+ compared to the 115 wRC+ league average. He went from an above-average hitting catcher to an average hitting DH. That’s the downside of the move.

The Struggles Against Lefties

For the first time as a Yankee, McCann had a big platoon split this past season. He struggled against lefties while with the Braves, especially his final few years in Atlanta, but he figured them out a bit the last two years. This year … no luck. Here’s a quick graph of his left-right production:

Brian McCann splitsThe blue line, McCann’s wOBA against southpaws, made a nice jump from 2014-15. The 2016 season was much more in line with 2012-13, however. It’s entirely possible this is all sample size noise. McCann never batted more than 145 times against lefties in a single season from 2013-16, and that’s spread across 162 games. His batted ball profile didn’t change much either. The only big difference against lefties was a 19.2 HR/FB% from 2014-15 and a 12.0 HR/FB% in 2016.

McCann’s above-average production against southpaws during his first two years in pinstripes was a nice little surprise. He hadn’t hit lefties much in the years prior, then bam, he was suddenly doing real damage against them. That didn’t happen this year. Based on the rest of his career, 2014-15 are the outlier, not 2016. McCann figures to need a platoon partner going forward, and it just so happens the Yankees have a pretty good righty hitting catcher on their roster.

The Rebound on Defense

The Yankees moved McCann from catcher to DH to give Sanchez playing time. McCann didn’t force the move by playing poor defense. I actually thought his defense was better this year than last year, based on the eye test. Last season McCann let what seemed like a lot of blockable balls scoot by. That didn’t happen as much this past season. Here are some catcher defense numbers:

SB% Baseball Prospectus Framing StatCorner Framing FRAA
2013 24.2% +10.2 +9.9 +10.0
2014 37.2% +9.7 +11.4 +12.1
2015 35.9% -3.9 -2.5 -2.1
2016 23.0% +9.6 +5.7 +10.2

One of those years is not like the others. FRAA, which is Baseball Prospectus’ attempt at an all-encompassing catcher defense stat, has rated McCann’s glovework as excellent in three of the last four years. Last year was the outlier, which jibes with what I saw while watching the games. Players have down years in the field the same way they have down years at the plate. It’s entirely possible 2015 was a down defensive year for McCann and nothing more.

The caught stealing numbers are interesting and we might have an actual explanation for them: Gary Tuck. Tuck, a longtime catching guru, was New York’s bullpen coach from 2014-15 and McCann credited him with improving his throwing. “Gary Tuck. He’s changed the way I catch and throw,” said McCann two years ago. “We work on it every day together. I’m getting the ball out quick. No wasted movement … I’ve gotten better as the season’s gone on.”

The Yankees let Tuck go last offseason, reportedly because he was at odds with the front office over the way they use analytics, and replaced him with Mike Harkey. McCann worked with Tuck in 2014-15 and was awesome at throwing out runners. He did not have Tuck around prior to 2014 or in 2016 and his throwing suffered. Correlation does not equal causation, but when the player says “this coach fixed this,” you kinda have to believe him.

Overall, McCann had a fine season defensively. A bounceback season, really. His throwing wasn’t very good — the MLB average was a 28.3% caught stealing rate — but he was above-average at the other aspects of catching. The Yankees didn’t move McCann to DH because his defense was inadequate. They moved him because it’s time to build a new young core and Sanchez is the future behind the plate. It really is that simple.

Outlook for 2017


According to multiple reports, the Yankees listened to trade offers for McCann at the deadline, with the most serious interest coming from the Braves. Atlanta understandably did not want to take on much money or give up top prospects. The Yankees reportedly asked for Mike Foltynewicz and Ender Inciarte in return. No deal got done at the deadline but this definitely seems like something that will be revisited in the offseason.

McCann said he hopes to remain with the Yankees, for what it’s worth. And he does have complete control here. He has a full no-trade clause and if he wants to stay in New York, he will. Would he prefer to be a full-time catcher elsewhere or a part-time catcher and most-of-the-time DH with the Yankees? That’s a question we can’t answer and a question McCann probably can’t answer until he finds out where he might be going.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think holding onto McCann next season would be a really good idea. Having two quality catchers* is a big plus, especially when they hit from opposite sides of the plate. At the same time, of course the Yankees should see what offers are out there. They’d be foolish not too. I just wouldn’t give McCann away though.

* Fun Fact: The 2016 Yankees were the third team in history with two catchers who each hit 20+ home runs. The 1961 Yankees (Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard) and 1965 Milwaukee Braves (Joe Torre and Gene Oliver) also did it. Nice work, Gary and Brian.

Brian Cashman made it clear he values McCann highly at his end-of-season press conference, so if the Yankees do trade their erstwhile catcher this offseason, they’ll probably going to get a nice return. Quality catchers are so hard to find these days, and while Sanchez is clearly the catcher of the future, keeping McCann as a mentor and backup plan makes a world of sense to me.

McCann hopes to remain with Yankees despite Sanchez’s emergence as the No. 1 catcher


I can’t imagine the 2016 season was easy for Brian McCann. He had a good year statistically, hitting .242/.335/.413 (103 wRC+) with 20 home runs, but he also lost his starting catching job to Gary Sanchez. McCann had been a full-time big league catcher since he was 21, then bam, he was the full-time DH. That couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow.

To McCann’s credit, he never complained about his playing time, and in fact he went out of his way to praise Sanchez. That’s not surprising. By all accounts McCann is a good dude and a leader in the clubhouse. He knows what’s up. He saw Carlos Beltran get traded away and Alex Rodriguez get cut loose. McCann knows the Yankees are going young and Sanchez is the future behind the plate.

“Listen. Gary is the starting catcher here. He’s going to be that for a long, long time,” said McCann to Chad Jennings at the end of the season. “Just have to kind of see where my role fits in; see where everything fits … I hope I’m back. I’m not sure how it’s all going to play out, but the future is extremely bright here. … I love it here. I love everything about it. Bright future. And I hope I’m a part of it.”

The Yankees listed to trade offers for McCann at the deadline and Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the expectation is the team is “far more likely” to move their erstwhile catcher than keep him for next season. The free agent catching market is thin, especially following Wilson Ramos’ knee injury, and the Yankees have a chance to take advantage, the same way they took advantage of the bullpen market at the trade deadline.

Brian Cashman made it clear during his end-of-season press conference that he values McCann highly. I believe a) that is completely true, and b) Cashman was making sure not to tip his hand going into the offseason. Having two starting caliber catchers sure is a nice luxury, especially when they hit from opposite sides of the plate. At the same time, the Yankees are going young, and McCann doesn’t fit.

One other thing to keep in mind: the option year in McCann’s contract. Right now it’s a $15M club option for 2019 with no buyout. McCann can turn it into a player option by meeting the following criteria:

  • Rack up 1,000 plate appearances from 2017-18;
  • Play 90 games at catcher in 2018;
  • Do not end 2018 on the DL.

McCann has to meet all of that criteria to turn the club option into a vesting option. It’s not one of the three like CC Sabathia‘s vesting option. It’s all three. With Sanchez entrenched as the new No. 1 catcher, McCann’s going to have a hard time meeting that playing time criteria with the Yankees. The option could make him more receptive to waiving his no-trade clause.

Then again, maybe McCann doesn’t care about the option. He’s signed over $110M worth of contracts in his career. His priority may be winning a World Series, and with young talent the Yankees have coming up, McCann may see New York as his best chance to win a ring. At least compared to other possible landing spots, like the Braves or Astros. He genuinely seems to like New York too.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think keeping McCann makes a lot of sense. He can mentor Sanchez, provide left-handed pop, and serve as one heck of a Plan B behind the plate. I like Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka. They’re no McCann though. That said, if a trade comes up that makes sense, preferably something involving a young pitcher, then go for it. There’s always a point where the price is right.

For now, the Yankees are in the driver’s seat. They don’t have to trade McCann. The free agent catching market stinks and the Yankees are in position to let the trade market come to them. The same was true at the deadline with Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees controlled the market and got themselves big returns. With any luck, the McCann trade market will play out the same way.

Brian Cashman’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Offense, Pitching, Youth Movement, More


With the 2016 season now over, Brian Cashman held his annual State of the Yankees press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Some actual news came out of it, though nothing major. You can watch the entire press conference in bits and pieces right here, if you’re interested. As we did with Joe Girardi’s end-of-season press conference the other day, here are the important points from Cashman’s presser as well as some thoughts.

The Offense

  • On the 2016 offense: “We weren’t very consistent with runs scored and (the offense was not) as dynamic as it was the previous year … I think a lot of the opportunities for better run production is going to come from improved results with runners in scoring position.”
  • On improvement going forward: “It’s going to be coming from improved play from the younger guys coming up through the system … Hopefully they solidify things moving forward and provide more consistent production than what we got in 2016. So lots of competitions taking place. Right field and first base.”
  • On considering right field and first base settled for 2017: “I think there will be some hesitancy (to bring in outside help) … I would say that that would be the way that we would like to approach Spring Training next year. The kids get a shot at it. That doesn’t (stop me from) being open-minded to the opportunities that present themselves.”
  • On signing a big bat: “I can’t really speak to the free agent market because some of these guys are still playing … My initial thought would be to allow us to go into the spring with competitions coming from the youth movement, which I admit is risky … I’m willing to be flexible, and those dialogues will be very important.”

Cashman is very candid and at one point he said flatly “our offense was bad.” No sugarcoating it. Now, that said, it doesn’t sound as though the Yankees are planning to jump into anything big in an effort to score more runs going forward. Plan A is to stick with the kids and hope guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and others contribute more next season than they did this season. That seems to be their perfect world scenario.

Will the Yankees close the door on signing a big name free agent? Never. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything that makes sense right now. They could spend a ton of money on a DH like Edwin Encarnacion, and where does that get them? Back to where they were with Alex Rodriguez four years ago, basically. Something might fall into their lap that makes sense, but based on everything Cashman said, if the offense improves next year, it’ll be because the young players come into their own.

The Pitching Staff

  • On trading for an ace (coughChrisSalecough): “I think that type of deal is a deal where you’re that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that’s coming … But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete for a postseason berth. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in October. But the type of concept that you’re speaking of — I’m sure that everybody knows who you’re talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is a trade you make if) you’re an organization that’s one piece away, you back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous.”
  • On adding an elite reliever: “My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season last year 7-8-9 was special … So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs and we had trouble getting outs in the middle (innings) there and that’s unacceptable. Continue to try to fortify. The more the merrier.”
  • On non-tendering Nathan Eovaldi: “We’ll just wait for that process play out. Clearly this is a Tommy John situation, and I know it’s obvious (he’s going to be non-tendered), but I’d rather not speak to any of it until the process plays out.”
  • On pitching help from within: “We’re still young but we have other guys pushing their way into the mix, and we’ll see what they look like in Spring Training.”

As with the offense, Cashman doesn’t sound eager to spend huge dollars — there’s no one to spend it on anyway this offseason — or gut his prized farm system to add an impact pitcher. I’d argue Sale is a piece you go get no matter what because he’s so good, so young, and so cheap that he makes any team better. He could help get the Yankees over the hump and into the postseason next year, and still be ace caliber when the kids hit their primes.

Cashman mentioned the Justin Wilson trade as “Exhibit A” of how they’ll likely attack the rotation this offseason, meaning trade for youth and depth so they have as many options as possible. Given how hard it is to acquire even decent pitching this year — a team traded two real live prospects for two months of Ivan Nova, remember — acquiring as much cheap depth as possible seems like a smart move. I liked what I saw out of Chad Green and especially Luis Cessa this year. Another one of those deals would be sweet.

The Catching Situation

  • On Gary Sanchez‘s role in 2017: “Gary Sanchez is our starting catcher next year. That’s his position to lose. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. We saw Severino last year helping us get to the postseason. This year, he struggled. We’re very excited about Gary, who always projected to be (a middle of the order bat).”
  • On expectations for Sanchez after his huge season: “It’s hard to expect that and I wouldn’t expect that over the course of a six-month period next year. But I think we have an exciting everyday talent that is going to be one of the best catchers in our game as we move forward, if he stays healthy and stays committed as he’s done the last two seasons now.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s role going forward: “That’s a valuable combination — both (Sanchez and McCann) on the same roster — for us, both being excellent defenders and certainly strong leaders of staff … I didn’t waste my time to see if he would waive his no-trade (at the deadline) because I’ve got to be satisfied first.”
  • On Kyle Higashioka: “We have some young guys that kind of did a nice job for us this year. (Higashioka) has always been a tremendous defender and he’ll be added to our 40-man roster this winter … We’ve been very good here in the last five or so years at developing (young catchers).”

Cashman did not sound eager to move McCann, though I guess he would try to give off that impression even if he were ready to move him. There’s no sense in tipping your hand. He did talk about the value of McCann’s veteran leadership, how nice it is to have a power-hitting lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, and how there are DH at-bats available. Cashman said he’ll listen on McCann, but he values him highly, and he wants something significant in return.

As for Higashioka, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. You don’t cut loose a good defensive catcher who hit 20 homers at the upper levels of the minors. At worst, you add him to the 40-man and trade him. Letting him go for nothing is a non-option. I don’t think Higashioka joining the 40-man means McCann or Austin Romine will be traded though. The Yankees could easily send Higashioka to Triple-A and stash him there next season. They don’t have to make a move.

The Coaching Staff & Front Office

  • On the job Joe Girardi did in 2017: “We the front office did what we felt was necessary (at the trade deadline), and his job description is do everything in his power to win with whenever you get … I appreciate his efforts and everything he did from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi favoring veterans over young players: “I don’t think that’s the case at all … I think it has more to do with just assessing the talent. Sometimes it plays into the decision and sometimes it doesn’t. I was really satisfied with the team’s competitive spirit from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi as a lame duck manager next year: “We will go through next year and ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward. There is that built in assumption in the process, where we play our contracts out. My contract expires the next year too … We’re going to focus on the present, which is the cast of characters currently, and how we can maximize value out of all of this right now.”
  • On bringing the coaching staff back: “Everybody is signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes.”

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are not making any coaching changes. I didn’t think they’ve overhaul the staff, but when you miss the postseason three times in four years, someone usually takes the fall. That’s why hitting coach Kevin Long was let go two years ago. Cashman wants to bring everyone back though — I’m not thrilled with keeping Joe Espada as third base coach, but it is what it is — and I’m sure they’ll get a deal worked out with Rothschild soon.

As for Girardi, Cashman made it clear that he was speaking about both Girardi and himself when he said “ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward.” In the past, both have played out their contracts and gone a year as a lame duck. Once their deals expired, they went to the negotiating table. There were no extensions and there was no reason to think this year would be any different. Business as usual.

Things could get interesting if the Yankees miss the postseason against next year. That’ll be four October-less years in five seasons. Girardi and/or Cashman might not survive that. Then again, I guess it depends how they miss the postseason. Did they crash and burn because all the kids flopped? Or did the fall a handful of games short while the young players established themselves as bonafide big leaguers? That’ll play a factor in Girardi’s and Cashman’s next contracts.

The Rebuild & Youth Movement

  • On the fan response to selling: “We have a worldwide network (of fans) that we’re proud to have … They’re very sophisticated. This was something that we think is something that they wanted to transpire, and they wanted us to press the reset button. And you know, in many cases I was tired of seeing what was transpiring in the first few months this year. Been there, done that, it’s time to do something that wasn’t part of the DNA … I think our fanbase recognizes what we did in July, and responded in kind with a lot of excitement.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s future: “(His performance in) the bullpen is not changing anything for me. That’s where guys go when they can’t be quality starters. I certainly hope that he can be a starter as we move forward. Certainly you’ve got to factor in and keep in mind his age. I think he’s 22, 23. But at the end of the day I have to have patience. I have to be objective that way. There’s a starter profile on him … He will get that opportunity (to start), whether it’s New York or it’s in Scranton next year remains to be seen.”
  • Can Clint Frazier make the Opening Day roster? “I don’t think so … But I remember when Robbie (Cano) — I know he was coming out of our system, the number one pitching prospect at that time was (Chien-Ming) Wang — we anticipated that at Double-A he would be being ready in two years, (but he arrived a) full year in advance after a good winter ball. (Alfonso) Soriano was the same way. It was just like, ‘how we get this guy on the roster?’ When you take the full package, once it all comes together — Gary Sanchez, I guess, is a more recent example too — it’s just like a flood.”
  • On Jorge Mateo playing center field: “We’re trying to diversify. We’ve got a lot of shortstops … It’s just to give us more flexibility. He’s played shortstop, second base, DH, and center in Instructs. We just gave him a crash course. It’s something that’s been part of the evaluation process from the beginning.”

No surprise Cashman isn’t giving up on Severino as a starter. That would be silly. He has the stuff to start, at least when he has a feel for and confidence in his changeup, and he’s so young that you give him a chance to figure things out in that role. I think at worst, Severino showed he can be a really great reliever. He still offers upside as a starter and the Yankees should without question allow him to continue developing in that role.

I thought the Cano and Soriano comparions for Frazier were interesting. They were all highly regarded prospects with high-end skills, and Cano and Soriano forced the issue. They were too good to keep down in the minors any longer. Frazier has the potential to do the same this year. The big difference here is position. The Yankees needed a new second baseman when Soriano and later Cano came up. They’re not desperate for outfielders right now. Still, once Frazier is ready, you make room for him. He’s a special talent.

Injured Players

  • On James Kaprielian and the Arizona Fall League: “(Instructional League is the) process to finish him off so he goes to the Fall League. That’s the plan. So the public has been alerted … He’s not on the official roster. The roster on the website is not the official roster. I know Twitter will look at it like ‘OMG what’s going on here?’ … He’s healthy and he’s throwing max potential.”
  • On CC Sabathia‘s knee: “I think CC is going to have a knee (procedure). He’s going next week … It’s just going to be a routine cleanup. It’s not something that is a concern or considered serious. It’s something that is expected and was expected the last two months.”

My audio was all garbled and I couldn’t get a clean transcription, but Cashman said that while Kaprielian is not on the AzFL roster, the league is aware the Yankees plan to send him as long as he comes through Instructs in one piece. He pitched in a game the other day and by all accounts everything went well. And yes, Cashman actually said OMG. Oh em gee.


  • On the disappointment of 2016: “It was a series of twists and turns of this year. We obviously had high hopes … It was a mixed bag. It was a very frustrating and difficult process in the first three months of the season, and I think it was a very exciting dynamic that transpired in the final three months this season. Ultimately, we know when the dust settled, when it’s all said and done, the 2016 season did not achieve the stated goal, which was the first get to the playoffs and try to compete for a championship in October. “
  • On the luxury tax: “Haven’t had any open discussions since no one has any idea what the CBA is going to be like … We’ll certainly be very interested in ‘resetting the clock’ and not being in position to lose more money than any other clubs because we’re penalized more than ever.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka and the World Baseball Classic: “I don’t think we have say in that … Even though he felt healthy and looked fine and all that stuff, we made the right choice in saying you know what, see you in the spring, whether it’s going to be in Tampa or in the WBC.”
  • On trying to win in 2017: “Every decision we have to make — whether it’s deciding support staff, coaches, the manager, anybody in the front office, and most importantly the players — every decision is designed to get us closer to being the last team standing, and that’s the approach that’s got to take place. And that can happen in 2017. That’s the goal, but every decision (has be made with a) World Championship in mind.”

If I recall correctly, teams can hold players out of the WBC if he finished the previous season injured. Did Tanaka finish the season hurt? Technically, yeah. He missed his last two starts with a forearm injury. But he was never placed on the DL though, and both the GM and manager admitted he would have made his final start had the team not already been eliminated. We’ll see. If Tanaka wants to go and the Yankees can’t stop him, what can you do other than help he doesn’t get hurt?

The luxury tax stuff is just the worst. Hate hearing about it. Every time we do it’s a remainder the Yankees are willfully throwing away their market advantage and scaling back payroll at a time every other team is raising payroll. The Yankees seem to have convinced a lot of fans that resetting the tax rate is good and necessary. Is the luxury tax saved enough to make up for the lost postseason and ticket revenue? I hope so. Otherwise this will all have been a giant waste of time.

Yankeemetrics: The final series [Sept. 30-Oct. 2]

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

The Pineda Puzzle
One day after they were officially eliminated from the playoff race, the Yankees flopped in an ugly 8-1 loss on Friday night.

The offense was M.I.A. with just three singles, while going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. It was their 16th game without an extra-base hit, the most in the majors through Friday, and their AL-high 35th game scoring one run or fewer.

It was also their 11th game with three hits or fewer — no team in MLB had done that more this season through Friday — and the first time the Orioles held the Yankees to no more than three hits at Yankee Stadium since August 14, 2007.

Michael Pineda made his final start of 2016, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance (5 runs, 4⅓ innings, 5 strikeouts) against the Orioles was a fitting end to Pineda’s perplexing and season.

He finished with a career-best 207 strikeouts (that’s good!) and a career-worst 4.82 ERA (that’s bad!) while going 6-12 in 32 starts. His 4.82 ERA is the fifth-highest by any MLB pitcher ever with at least 200 strikeouts in a season, and his .333 win percentage is the second-lowest among that group.

And that’s not the worst of his puzzling, boom-or-bust campaign: Pineda allowed a whopping .784 OPS this year, the highest in major-league history for a guy that also struck out 200-or-more batters in a season.

austin low five

Party at Austin’s
The Yankees bounced back from their lackluster series-opening loss with a resounding 7-3 victory on Saturday, preventing the Orioles from clinching a playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season.

Typical of this up-and-down Yankee season, the game featured a number of encouraging signs for the future while also re-affirming some potential concerns heading into 2017.

The bad news? Luis Severino continued his baffling string of disappointing pitching performances as a starter, giving up three runs on five hits before being pulled in the fourth inning. He ended up with a 8.50 ERA in 11 starts, the highest ERA as a starter by any pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 starts in a season.

If there’s a silver lining in Severino’s poor showing as a member of the rotation it’s this: the highest single-season starters’ ERA in MLB history (min. 10 starts) belongs to Roy Halladay, who posted a 11.13 ERA in 13 starts in 2000; three years later, he won the first of his two Cy Young Awards.

The good news? Two of the more unheralded Baby Bombers continued their unexpected trend of clutch hitting performances, with Tyler Austin and Austin Romine fueling the Yankees’ late-game offensive explosion and comeback bid.

Austin knotted the score at 3-3 in the seventh inning with his fifth homer of the season, and the 406-foot blast was eerily similar to each of the others he’s hit in the majors. All five of them have: been at Yankee Stadium, gone out to right-center or right field, and either tied the game or gave the Yankees a lead.

Four of his five longballs have also come in the seventh frame or later, giving him the most go-ahead and/or game-tying homers on the team this season through Saturday. Even more impressive is this feat: Austin is the only Yankee rookie in at least the last 75 years to hit four go-ahead and/or game-tying homers in the seventh inning or later.

Romine then capped off the Yankees rally with a tie-breaking, two-run single in the eighth inning, his 16th hit in 44 at-bats with runners in scoring position this year. His .364 batting average in that situation not only leads the team, but would be the best by any Yankee with that many at-bats in a decade, since Derek Jeter hit .381 with RISP in 2006.

Game 162
And so the 2016 season comes to an end, fittingly the same way it began, with a loss at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankee bats were shut down by the newest Yankee killer, Kevin Gausman, who dominated the Yankees this season with just five earned runs surrendered across 41 innings. Among pitchers to make at least five starts against the Yankees in a season, Gausman’s 1.09 ERA is the lowest since Brewers lefty Mike Caldwell’s 0.99 mark in 1978, when he three shutouts in five starts versus them.

Brian McCann‘s solo homer in the fourth inning was the Yankees lone source of offense for much of the afternoon, and it was a significant one for the catcher, his 20th of the year. He is the fourth catcher (who played at least 50 percent of their games at the position) in major-league history with double-digit 20-homer seasons, joining Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra. It was also his ninth straight season with at least 20 homers; among catchers, only Yogi and Piazza ever had a streak like that.


tex goodbye

McCann joined his backstop teammate, Gary Sanchez, in the 20-homer club, making the Yankees just the third team in major-league history to have two guys, who played catcher in at least half their games, hit 20-plus homers in the same season. The other clubs to do this were the 1961 Yankees (Johnny Blanchard and Elston Howard) and 1965 Milwaukee Braves (Gene Oliver and Joe Torre).

Combined with Starlin Castro‘s 21 homers and Didi Gregorius‘ 20 homers, the Yankees are the first team in baseball history to get at least 20 homers from four different players, who each played more than half their games at either catcher or the middle infield (shortstop and second base) positions.

And finally, Mark Teixeira closed the book on his 14-season big-league career, walking off the field in the seventh inning to a standing ovation while tipping his cap to the hometown fans.

There are many stats and superlatives that define his legacy as a major-leaguer, but perhaps this one best captures his unprecedented combination of power and defense, which makes him such a unique and special player among his peers: Teixeira is the only first baseman to finish his career with at least five Gold Gloves (awarded since 1957) and at least 400 homers.

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

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

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

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

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

Front of the Rotation

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

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

Back of the Bullpen

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

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

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

Top of the Lineup

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

In the Clubhouse

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

* * *

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

Brian McCann can help the Yankees overcome their recent power outage

Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Brian McCann (34) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Yankees smacked three home runs en route to their thrilling 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. A team hitting three homers in a game isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially in Yankee Stadium, but this is a team that hit three home runs total in their previous eight games. Not coincidentally, the Yankees were only 4-4 in those eight games.

The three homers in those eight games belonged to Jacoby Ellsbury, who dropped one into the short porch Monday, and Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro. Judge and Castro went deep in Kansas City. Somehow the Yankees failed to hit a home run in three games against the Orioles pitching staff in Camden Yards over the weekend. They’ve actually gone five straight games without a homer at that ballpark dating back to June, so yeah.

Some of the reasons for the recent power outage are obvious. For starters, Gary Sanchez stopped being Babe Ruth and came back to Earth. That was bound to happen at some point. Also, the Yankees traded home run leader Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline — Beltran still leads the Yankees in dingers — and replaced him with Judge, who has popped three homers but mostly battled contact problems since being called up.

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have combined for 20 home runs this season after combining for 64 last season. Brian McCann, the team’s other veteran power source, has 17 dingers of his own, though last night’s blast was only his third of the second half. Three in 38 games and 153 plate appearances. McCann has only two doubles in the second half as well, which is why he’s slugging .294 since the All-Star break. Ouch.

McCann is not old like A-Rod and as far as we know he’s not beat up physically like Teixeira, who has been nursing neck and knee issues pretty much all season. He has changed roles though, shifting from catcher to DH when Sanchez arrived last month. Moving to DH full-time is a big adjustment for a veteran. A lot of them struggle with all the downtime, especially initially. It’s an entirely difference experience for a veteran player used to being in the field.

Remember, McCann has been a starting big league catcher since he was 21, so he’s used to being in on every single pitch. Now he goes 45 minutes between at-bats. There’s only so much video and batting cage work that can be done between at-bats to stay sharp too. “I’m getting used to it. When all you know is catching, it’s just a new routine. I’ve got to find a routine to work for me,” said McCann last month.

A quick glance at McCann’s first and second half splits don’t reveal too much. He’s not striking out more or hitting the ball in the air less. Nothing like that. Here are the numbers if you don’t believe me:

Brian McCann splits

Going from a 32.6% ground ball rate in the first half to a 36.3% ground ball rate in the second half is not meaningful. That’s just the normal ebb and flow of the season. McCann has a career 36.7% ground ball rate and so far this season he’s right in line with that number. A drastic increase in ground ball rate, say to 48% or so, would be a big red flag. That hasn’t happened.

The number that most caught my eye there is the 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. That is tiny! McCann has a 13.4 HR/FB% in his three full seasons with the Yankees. That’s his true talent number. His average launch angle (18º vs. 20º) and average exit velocity (89.8 mph vs. 87.8 mph) have remained in the same ballpark from the first half to the second, so he’s still making similar contact. McCann laid into a pitch in Kansas City that looked gone off the bat …

Brian McCann fly ball

… before it got knocked down by the wind. That ball leaves the yard in Yankee Stadium or on a warm day at Kauffman Stadium. Stuff like that is how you go from a 15.9 HR/FB% in the first half to a 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. I don’t want to call it bad luck, but this sure seems like one of those things that won’t last. Hopefully last night’s dinger is an indication the correction is coming.

For now, the Yankees are a little light on power unless Sanchez gets red hot again or Judge figures out how to stop striking out. Castro will sock a dinger every now and then, otherwise they’re stuck hoping Ellsbury or Brett Gardner or Didi Gregorius hook one into the short porch every once in the while. McCann is the team’s best left-handed power threat, and for the offense to be at its best the rest of the way, they need him to start hitting more balls out of the park more consistently.

Teixeira and McCann have accepted their reduced roles, and that’s important


The Yankees are a team in transition, as they like to say, and that transition involves playing young kids over established veterans with some serious credentials. It’s an obvious move to make but not necessarily an easy one. There are egos to be managed in the clubhouse, and an unhappy veteran can make things uncomfortable for a rookie trying to find his way in the show.

“I think it’s difficult if the players are about them, but if the players are about the team and winning, I think they buy in, they understand and they do their job,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand. “It’s really important, because when they’re willing to mentor, it really helps our young players. It does a lot for the clubhouse, too; the importance of the clubhouse staying together and understanding that we’re still in this and we’re fighting.”

Alex Rodriguez has been pushed out the door, but Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann remain with the Yankees, only with reduced roles. Teixeira has started only one of the last four games and three of the last eight games. McCann hasn’t caught a game in ten days now and he’s been relegated to full-time DH duty. He’s not a part-time player, but he kinda is. Teixeira and McCann are in new and unfamiliar roles.

I can’t imagine these new roles feel like anything but a demotion for those two. How could they not? Teixeira went from batting in the middle of the order and playing every single day to playing two or three times a week. McCann has been a starting catcher in this league since he was 21. Suddenly that has been taken away from him and he’s being asked to DH, something he’s never done regularly before.

“I’m getting used to it. When all you know is catching, it’s just a new routine. I’ve got to find a routine to work for me,” said McCann to Dan Martin. McCann’s situation is very different than Teixeira’s. Teixeira is retiring after the season and he doesn’t have to worry about his future as a player. McCann has two years left on his contract and right now he might not be sure what the future has in store for him. Will he be a full-time DH? Will he be an everyday catcher again?

So far McCann has done nothing but praise Gary Sanchez — “I haven’t seen a young catcher this good since I’ve been in the big leagues. He’s fun to watch play, and his ceiling is extremely high,” he said to Martin — the kid who has taken his job. That’s not really a surprise though. McCann came to the Yankees with a reputation for being a team first player and we’ve seen exactly that in his three years in pinstripes.

Teixeira has been a team first guy as well, and one of the reasons the Yankees aren’t planning to trade him this month is his leadership and willingness to mentor young players. Brian Cashman and the Yankees value that leadership more than anything they could realistically get in return for Teixeira, which at this point might be a player to be named later or cash. Teixeira is like an extra coach now.

“I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with (Tyler Austin). I’ve known him for a few years in Spring Training, but first base is new to him. I was in his shoes my rookie year, learning on the job. I’ve really enjoyed talking to him about the ins and outs of playing first,” said Teixeira to Feinsand and Martin. “I try to do as much as I can with Tyler or any of these young guys that are here … It might be different if I was still gonna be around and not retiring, but I understand these guys need to play.”

This could have become a very uncomfortable situation, especially after A-Rod was shown the door. The Yankees made it abundantly clear they are ready to move on from the veterans and play the kids, even if it means eating a ton of money to cut a guy loose. That couldn’t have made Teixeira and especially McCann feel too secure. It would be completely natural to wonder if you’re next in that situation.

Instead, the Teixeira and McCann demotions have been a non-factor. If anything, they’ve been a positive because Teixeira is working with the young players and McCann has been productive in his new role (.286/.423/.429 as the full-time DH). We’ve seen other instances around the league where veterans were unhappy about losing playing and made a big stink about it. Teixeira and McCann have done the opposite of that. They might not love losing playing time (who does?), but they’ve handled this professionally, and that’s important. They’ve helped foster a positive environment for the kids to develop.

“I told Joe when I decided to retire, ‘Literally whatever you want me to do, if it’s playing every day, once a week or once a month, I’ll do whatever you want to do,” said Teixeira to Feinsand. “I’ve done everything I want to do in this game. Because of that, it makes this process easier. If I play once a week, I’m going to be really excited about that one game I play. Those guys definitely need to play.”