Cobbling together some random thoughts

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

State of the Union

It’s mid-May and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this Yankees’ season. Logic tells me that I may have overrated this team in the offseason. Emotion tells me that it’s still early enough that they can make a run. But then I think, “What would that run be to?” I’ve harped on this point a lot recently, but I think the roster and the team are at the point where missing the playoffs and getting a higher-end draft pick might make more sense. If that happens, I hope there is a sell-off of assets. Neither one of these things is likely to happen as that’s just now how the Yankees operate. But with some solid core pieces in place for next year–Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Dellin Betances, Brian McCann, (a hopefully healthy) Greg Bird, Brett Gardner–a high draft pick and some prospect rewards for tradeable assets could go a long way in securing the team’s future just a little bit more.

The McCannibal

Speaking of Brian McCann, he represents a bit of a contradiction in my mind. I generally disliked the post-2013 spending spree that brought in McCann and his free agent classmates Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. But that dislike has a lot more to do with Taco and Carlos than it does with McCann. McCann has been quietly very good with the Yankees. Since joining the team, he leads all catchers in home runs with 53. He’s also fourth in fWAR (6.0), behind leader Buster Posey (12.2); Jonathan Lucroy (8.2); and Russell Martin (7.8). The team may have been disappointing in that stretch, but McCann is not among the reasons for disappointment.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Gary Sanchez Thing

Obviously, Gary Sanchez was sent back down thanks to the roster crunch created by Luis Severino‘s sudden injury. It seemed he was only going to be up for two days to face Chris Sale and Jose Quintana anyway, but it still felt like a tease. And isn’t that so fitting for Gary Sanchez’s career? This has nothing to do with Sanchez’s personality or even his performance, which has always been good. I remember reading about him on this very site way back when; he’s 23, but it seems like he’s been around forever–because he has. When is his time finally going to come? Will it be next year? The year after? I still have faith that this guy can and will contribute to the Yankees, but I’m finding it so hard to see a spot for him unless the Yankees really commit to platooning him and McCann next year. That could actually be a good way to ease him in. Then, if/when Alex Rodriguez retires, Sanchez can take the lion’s share of the catching duties while McCann sees more time at DH, and maybe even first.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Speaking of prospects…

I’m a fan of Brian Cashman‘s. I think he’s done a really great job in running this team; it’s hard to argue with about 20 straight winning seasons and only two non-playoff seasons, three if you don’t like to count the play-in game. But where do we draw his line of responsibility, so to speak, for the Yankees’ general failure with regards to developing players? No, that’s not all in his hands, but he’s still in charge. This isn’t to say the Yankees have been a total bust with regards to prospects–just look at the Chicago White Sox’s roster for proof of that. But the lack of big-time contributions from homegrown players is shocking. Of course, a team shouldn’t have homegrown players simply for the sake of having them, but something more than Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances would be nice, no?

Caught In Between

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

In the outfield on a fly ball or line drive, in the infield on a hop, or at the plate anticipating a pitch, being caught in between rarely yields positive results. Sure, you can make a recovery from a bad read, make a diving stop on a grounder, or foul off what you thought was a breaking ball but was really a fastball, but those are the exceptions to the rule; nine times out of ten, the ball will sail over your head, skip over your shoulder, or be strike three, sending you back to the dugout looking just as foolish as if you misplayed a ball or got a bad hop. Being caught in between during the course of a game is bad; being caught in between in the roster-building process is even worse.

Whether on here through the offseason or on Twitter during April’s struggles for the Yankees, I’ve maintained a fairly positive view of the team. And in general, I still hold to that; I think they’ll wind up in the wildcard game again, though that’s getting harder and harder to justify as the team continues to not score at a prolific pace. But given the way this team is built right now, where they are now–right in between–is just about where they should be.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Is it possible that 2015 was the one out of ten I referred before? Is that season the diving catch? The lucky grab? The desperate foul-off? Since 2013, the Yankees have been attempting a rebuild-while-still-competing thing that has gone better than most teams’ attempts at that have, as they’ve managed to win 80something games each time and generally avoid being a complete embarrassment. That’s good enough for mediocrity, but it’s not good enough for future strength and it’s not good enough for present results.

The rebuild has been caught in between, despite the ostensibly admirable goal of looking to get younger and more flexible. After 2013, the Yankees could’ve kept to that and their goal of spending less money, but they went out and signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran instead of retaining their own player in Robinson Cano. Not wanting to sign Cano to a ten-year contract is completely defensible and I understand why the Yankees didn’t, especially in a post-Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols deals world. But to follow that up with signing three expensive players–one of whom has been borderline disastrous thus far–is the height of cognitive dissonance and a sign of a lack of commitment to a plan. If you’re going to spend, spend wisely. If you’re not going to spend, just don’t spend.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two of the last three years, the Yankees have surprisingly little to show for it. They haven’t drafted high. They don’t have a stocked farm system with prospects ready to make an impact with a reasonable chance of sustaining that impact, though, in fairness, that stems from their years of legitimate contention between 2009-2012. But at the same time, their Major League team isn’t quite good enough to compete for a championship. I’m not saying championship or bust; hat mindset led to a completely barren farm system and a fanbase that’s seemingly unwilling to sit through a rebuild. However, what satisfaction is there in being perpetually just good enough to compete for the wildcard?

It’s time for the Yankees to move out of being caught in between. Either flex the financial muscle that is so much stronger than any other team’s and be that behemoth of the past, or commit to an actual rebuild. No more half measures.

Some calm and collected thoughts about the struggling Yankees’ offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games last night, and in all six losses, the team scored no more than two runs. They again blew scoring opportunities and went 1-for-whatever with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. The Yankees are struggling in a bad way right now. It would be easy to go on a bumbling tirade against the offense — I’ve done my fair share of that over the years — but let’s not do that. Let’s talk about this offensive malaise in a calm and rational way, because we’re adults. (Well, most of you are.)

1. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who stands up for his players through thick and thin, but even he had to call out Didi Gregorius for his base-running blunder in the seventh inning last night. It was that egregious. “It’s bad base-running. You’ve got to understand what your run means … That’s a blunder we have to take care of,” said Girardi after the game. Gregorius had the entire play in front of him and he still didn’t stop to make sure he wasn’t tagged out. That’s Baseball 101. Every team is going to go into an offensive funk at some point(s) throughout the season, that’s just the way the games goes. But when you start adding bad mental mistakes on top of it, things get ugly. That was a bad, bad play by Gregorius. It’s the kind of play that earns someone a spot on the bench for a day or two.

2. Given the way the Yankees are built — and the way every team is built, really — their offense starts at the top of the lineup, and right now Jacoby Ellsbury is hurting the club. He did have the double and yet another catcher’s interference last night, but through 51 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury is hitting .220/.264/.320 (63 wRC+) with three walks. He’s currently in a 1-for-15 slump. The Yankees are going to give Ellsbury an awfully long leash thanks to his contract, so I don’t expect him to be moved down in the lineup anytime soon. Maybe Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will flip flop and in the one-two spots or something, but hitting Ellsbury seventh or eighth? Not happening. Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt in a way that impacts his performance for weeks or months — that’s exactly what happened with last year’s knee injury — so I can’t help but think back to that pitch he took to the wrist in Spring Training. Either way, Ellsbury is part of the problem right now. A big part of it.

3. This to me is the is the single biggest reason the offense has sputtered so much recently. Here are numbers since the start of the homestand:

Mark Teixeira: 1-for-15 (.067)
Brian McCann: 1-for-16 (.063)

Teixeira’s slump actually dates back to the Detroit series (3-for-30), though, to be fair, he is still drawing a ton of walks and providing value that way. Teixeira and McCann are not high average hitters, but they do hit the ball out of the park, and right now they’re not doing that. They’re not hitting much of anything. Gardner and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ two hottest hitters — they have a combined .463 OBP on the homestand — so they’re putting the team in position to score. The two guys hitting behind them are slumping bad and those opportunities created by Gardner and Beltran are being wasted. That’s why those two have scored six total runs on the homestand despite that .463 OBP, and three of those six runs have come on their own home runs. Getting Teixeira and McCann going is Priority No. 1 in my opinion. They are the keys to turning this mess around.

4. The Aaron Hicks Hate Train seems to be up and running already. The guy has 21 plate appearances in 13 games and eight of them have come the last two nights. The Yankees took a player who is used to playing every day and made him into a bench player, and that can be a tough adjustment. It looks to me like Hicks is pressing and trying to do anything he can to impress during his limited playing time. He saw four pitches in three at-bats last night. This is a guy with a 10.0% walk rate in the big leagues and a 14.4% career walk rate in the minors. Hicks is making more of an effort to be aggressive and swing at pitches in the strike zone, but I doubt he wants to be this aggressive. He’s jumping at everything. That’s not his game. The Yankees are going to see a lot of left-handed starters over the next week — my guess is either Gardner sits against Rich Hill tonight if his neck is still stiff, or Alex Rodriguez sits and Beltran slots in at DH — and hopefully that allows Hicks to settle in and feel more comfortable. He has a new role with a new team in a new city. No wonder why he’s started slow.

5. The bottom of the lineup has been pretty abysmal of late. Chase Headley has had a rotten start to the season with the bat — he’s one of only five players with at least 40 plate appearances and zero extra base hits — and his only saving grace right now is his batting eye. He’s drawn eight walks and has a .333 OBP — he didn’t draw his eighth walk until Game 32 last year — which is fourth highest on the team, believe it or not. But still, walking only gets you so far. Eventually Headley is going to have to do something more than push a ground ball single through the infield. Gregorius had two hits including a homer last night to snap a 3-for-25 (.150) slide and Starlin Castro has quietly gone 7-for-38 (.184) since the end of the Astros series. That’s not a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup. No one expects those guys to carry the team offensively, but they do have to provide support, and it’s hasn’t happened of late. When your fourth and fifth hitters slump like Teixeira and McCann have, you look for others to pick up the slack, and the bottom third of the lineup ain’t doing it.

6. I don’t see any potential quick fix for the offense. I suppose Girardi could shake up the lineup, but even if he does that, what lineup should he use? Bat Gardner and Beltran first and second, then make them go up to the plate in the three through nine spots wearing everyone else’s jersey? The Yankees are not a true talent .189 hitting team with runners in scoring position because I don’t think any lineup in baseball history is a true talent .189 hitting team in any situation. At some point Ellsbury will go on one of his insane hot streaks, and at some point Teixeira and McCann will hit a baseball out of the park. It’s going to happen. How soon? Soon, hopefully. Right now the best (only?) thing the Yankees can do is stay the course, clean up the sloppy mistakes like Didi’s base-running blunder last night, and wait for their good at baseball players to start being good at baseball again.

Yankeemetrics: Oh (no), Canada [April 12-14]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Blast + bloop = win
The Yankees struck first in their 19-game battle with the Blue Jays, grinding out a 3-2 win on Tuesday night. It also was their best run prevention game of the young season as it marked the first time in 2016 they held their opponent under four runs. The only other seasons in the last 65 years that the Yankees allowed four-or-more runs in each of their first five games were 1998 and 2007.

Brian McCann‘s hot bat fueled the come-from-behind win with a game-tying homer in the sixth inning. That was the 10th run he scored this season, joining Yogi Berra (1950) as the only Yankee catchers with than many runs scored through the team’s first six games.

Jacoby Ellsbury delivered the game-winner with an RBI bloop single in the seventh frame. He’s now already matched the number of go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later that he had in the entire 2015 season. The last Yankee centerfielder with a tie-breaking hit in the seventh inning or later in Toronto was Bernie Williams on the final day of the 2004 season.

Masahiro Tanaka battled through five innings, and was dominant at times (six strikeouts) while also struggling to command his pitches (four walks).

tanaka vs blue jays

Despite his inefficiency, that effort continued a string of solid starts at the Rogers Centre for Tanaka. He’s now allowed no more than two earned runs and struck out at least six batters in three straight road outings against the Blue Jays. Just two other Yankee pitchers have done that: David Cone (1997-99) and Andy Pettitte (1996-98).

Super-Nova meltdown
Based on his implosion in Wednesday’s 7-2 loss, it seems like Ivan Nova is still trying to figure out this whole bullpen thing. After throwing four scoreless innings in his first relief appearance last week, Nova did a complete-180 and suffered through a disaster outing in his second try.

This was the damage: five hits, four runs, one wild pitch, one hit batter. Seems hard to cram all of that in one inning pitched, eh? Yup. Nova became the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to plunk a guy, throw a wild pitch and give up at least five base-hits while getting three outs or fewer in a game.

Pineda’s results – three runs allowed (two earned) in six innings – were good, not great, but the most troubling takeaway was his three walks. The 27-year-old had never walked more than two batters in a Yankee uniform and his last appearance with three-plus walks was August 15, 2011 with the Seattle Mariners.

His streak of 41 straight starts with the Yankees allowing two walks or fewer was the longest by any pitcher in franchise history over the last 100 seasons. And his streak of 46 straight starts overall with no more than two walks was the seventh-longest by any major-league pitcher in that span.

A-Rod wasn’t the only Yankee to go hitless on the night, but his 0-fer performance might be the most notable — though it should have hardly been surprising given who was on the mound for Toronto. He is now 0-for-12 against Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, his most at-bats (12) and plate appearances (15) without a hit against any pitcher he’s faced in his career.

Nate the Not-So-Great
So maybe the Yankees left their bats at border control. For the third time in this three-game series, the Yankees offense went into hibernation as they were held to two runs on three hits in the 4-2 loss. They are now 4-4 this season, and have scored a total of seven runs in their four losses compared to 35 runs in their four wins.

Nathan Eovaldi started strong, allowing just two hits and no runs the first two times through the Blue Jays order. Then it all fell apart. Five of the final 11 batters he faced reached base, tagging him for four runs on five hits (three doubles, two homers) before he was pulled in the seventh inning.

On the other hand, Eo-nigma (?) did strike out eight batters, his sixth straight start with seven-or-more punch outs dating back to August of last year. The only longer streaks in franchise history are by CC Sabathia (twice, in 2011 and 2009), Mike Mussina (2003) and Ron Guidry (1978).

Blue Jays designated hitter (and Yankee killer) Edwin Encarnacion also etched his name in the pinstriped record books. He’s now reached base safely in 26 straight games versus the Yankees, tied with Alex Rios (2006-08) for the best such mark by any Blue Jays hitter ever against the team.

Game Eight: Rubber Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The six-game turned five-game road trip ends tonight with the rubber game against the Blue Jays. A win to clinch the series victory would be awfully sweet. A 3-2 road trip is always better than a 2-3 road trip, especially when you get that last win over a division rival.

Nathan Eovaldi is on the mound and he did something in his last start he usually doesn’t do a whole lot: give up homers. He gave up two of them in five innings after allowing ten homers in 154.1 innings last year. Hopefully Eovaldi fares a little better tonight with the game inside and not in the freezing cold. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s another really cold day in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof will be closed. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: McCann (toe) is back in the lineup, obviously. He is wearing some sort of extra padding to protect his toe after taking that foul tip the other night.

Update: Fluoroscope on McCann’s toe comes back negative

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:43pm: A fluoroscope at Rogers Centre came back negative, the Yankees say. It’s being called a bruise and McCann is day-to-day. He will not go for any additional tests unless the injury lingers. Exhale.

10:24pm: Brian McCann is going for an x-ray on his toe, Joe Girardi told reporters following tonight’s game. He took a foul pitch off his foot early in the game but did stay in, and he even hit a home run in the sixth inning. Girardi said McCann will not play tomorrow regardless of the x-ray results.

McCann was limping noticeably during his home run trot and was also seen rubbing his foot during the at-bat. He even called the trainer out at one point during the game, but stayed in. Austin Romine replaced McCann behind the plate in the ninth inning.

Following tonight’s 2-for-4 effort, McCann is now hitting .500/.591/.889 (323 wRC+) this season. Yes, it’s super duper early. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been outstanding so far. Everyone loves Gary Sanchez, but man, losing McCann for any length of time would be a big blow.

Yankeemetrics: Frozen in Motown (April 8-9)

No. 688 (Rick Osentoski | USA Today Sports)
No. 688 (Rick Osentoski|USA Today Sports)

Chill out
The Yankees’ first road trip of the season got off to a historically terrible start, as their bats were put on ice in a 4-0 loss to the Tigers on Friday afternoon at Comerica Park. They were held to just three singles and got only one runner in scoring position against starter Jordan Zimmermann and the Detroit bullpen.

THE GOOD: The game lasted just 2 hours and 44 minutes!
THE BAD: It was the first time since 1980 that the Yankees were shut out in their road opener.
THE UGLY: The last time they were held scoreless and had three hits or fewer in their first road game of the season was 1915 against the Senators. Walter Johnson tossed a two-hit shutout in Washington’s 7-0 win; the lone Yankee hits were by Wally Pipp and Jeff Sweeney.

Zimmermann, who gave up two of the three hits, joined Mike Maroth (2004) as the only Tigers pitchers in the last 25 years to allow two hits or fewer in an outing of at least seven innings against the Yankees.

Luis Severino, the youngest pitcher to start a game in the majors this season, got tagged for a career-high 10 hits and allowed three runs in five innings. He really struggled to command his slider and the Tigers took advantage of those hanging pitches in the zone. Severino threw 28 sliders, Detroit batters swung at 13 of them, put six in play and all six went for hits.

Luis Severino2

Return of the Bats
Playing in even colder temps on Saturday, the Yankee bats warmed up quickly and delivered a nice bounceback win over the Tigers. With a game time temperature of 31 degrees, it was the coldest game the Yankees have played in baseball-reference.com’s database (which has near-100 percent weather data coverage since 1988).

The three veterans that sat out Friday’s game shined on this frigid afternoon: Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered, while Brian McCann went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored three runs in the Yankees 8-4 victory.

A-Rod‘s homer gave them a 1-0 lead in the first inning; it was his team-leading 15th go-ahead home run since the start of last season, four more than any other Yankee. Beltran’s blast was his 394th career homer, breaking a tie with Jim Edmonds for sole possession of 59th place on the all-time list. McCann’s second-inning single made him 20-of-43 (.465) in his career vs. Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey, his highest batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 25 times.

CC Sabathia, the first Yankee with a quality start this season, threw six innings of three-run ball as he improved to 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA versus the Tigers since the start of 2012. That’s the sixth-best ERA and third-best record by any pitcher with at least five starts against Detroit over the last five seasons.

Starlin Castro made sure the young guys also got some headlines. He notched another multi-hit game to give him 1,000 career hits at the age of 26 years and 16 days. Derek Jeter, who reached that milestone on Sept. 25, 2000, joined the 1,000th hit club at the age of 26 years and 94 days.

He’s also in select company with his ability to hit for average and extra bases as a young up-the-middle infielder. He’s just the seventh second baseman and/or shortstop to compile at least 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.