Mailbag: Tanaka, Price, All-Stars, McCann, Dugas

Got eight questions for you this week — one long one and seven short-ish ones. If you want to send us questions or comments or anything else throughout the week, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if we don’t answer yours.

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

Jeb asks: It’ll never happen, but what do you think Masahiro Tanaka would net in a trade?

Oh man. Ace-caliber pitchers almost never get traded, especially not 25-year-old ace-caliber pitchers signed for another three and a half years (I think you have to assume Tanaka will use the opt-out in his contract). Cliff Lee was 30 and he had a year and a half left on his deal when he went from the Indians to the Phillies. Roy Halladay was 32 with a year left on his deal when he went from the Blue Jays to the Phillies. Those are the most recent examples of ace trades.

You have to go back a few years, but I think there are three comparable trades we can reference when talking about a potential Tanaka trade. Allow me to reiterate this is all hypothetical and for fun. The Yankees aren’t trading Tanaka. Even if they did decide to sell, he’s someone they could keep and rebuild around. Here are those three comparable deals:

  • Josh Beckett (Marlins to Red Sox): Beckett was 25 at the time of the trade and had three years of arbitration remaining. He landed the Fish two high-end, MLB ready prospects in Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, plus two throw-ins. The Red Sox had to take Mike Lowell (77 OPS+ in 2014) and the $18M left on his contract to make it happen.
  • Dan Haren (Athletics to Diamondbacks): Haren was 27 at the time of the trade and had two years plus an option left on his contract. He was dealt for six young players, most notably Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, and Chris Carter. Anderson and Carter were both very good prospects in High-A. CarGo was in Triple-A.
  • Gio Gonzalez (Athletics to Nationals): Like Beckett, Gio was 25 at the time of the trade. Unlike Beckett, he was four years away from free agency. Washington gave up two good but not great MLB ready arms (Brad Peacock and Tom Milone), a top Single-A pitching prospect (A.J. Cole), and a good Triple-A catching prospect (Derek Norris) to get the lefty.

Based on these deals, any package for Tanaka would have to start with two very good prospects, including one who could step right onto the MLB roster in an everyday capacity like Hanley, CarGo, or Norris. There would also have to be two or three other lesser pieces involved, MLB ready or otherwise. Tanaka is far more expensive than those three at the time of their trades, which is an issue. Few teams can actually afford his contract. Let’s assume the Yankees will eat some money just to make life easy.

Okay, so let’s rosterbate. The Cubs had interest in signing Tanaka and could offer a top position player prospect like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, or Albert Almora as package headliner. (I assume Kris Bryant is off limits.). The Dodgers are always looking to add and Joc Pederson is a natural fit as a center piece. The Tigers as protection if Scherzer leaves? Unless they offer Nick Castellanos, I’m not sure there’s a fit. The Cardinals have a bunch of outfielders to offer, including Stephen Piscotty if they don’t want to move Oscar Taveras. A trade with the Red Sox would never happen but Mookie Betts would definitely make sense.

Keep in mind I mentioned those prospects as the start of a trade package. The Yankees would need to get one of those guys plus another very good piece (Zach Lee or Julio Urias from the Dodgers? Arismendy Alcantara from the Cubs?) and a few secondary pieces. If they aren’t going to get at least one potential star player plus several other young high-upside players close to the show, it’s not worth it. A Hanley/Anibal package would be the best case scenario given what we know about how things worked out for the Marlins.

Paul asks: Assuming #HIROK retires or otherwise leaves the Yankees after this year, do you think #TANAK will take number 18?

I think so. It seems likely Hiroki Kuroda will be gone after the season, either due to retirement or simply letting him walk, right? I guess he could come back at a discounted salary if he finishes strong. Anyway, the No. 18 is a big deal in Japan, it’s the ace number. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kuroda both wear it (Yu Darvish wears No. 11) and Tanaka wore it in Japan. It’s a very symbolic thing to them and I think Tanaka will jump at the chance to wear that number again.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)
(Brian Kersey/Getty)

Mike asks: For the last two months Justin Verlander has not been vintage Verlander. Is this a case of just plain old struggling or are the innings catching up to him?

Verlander has been terrible — 7.83 ERA and 5.56 FIP in his last seven starts and 43.2 innings — but he isn’t the only former ace to fall off a cliff recently. Obviously the Yankees have CC Sabathia going through the same thing, and the Giants have seen both Tim Lincecum and now Matt Cain slip in recent years. It happened to Haren not too long ago as well. These guys aren’t breaking down like Josh Johnson, they just stink all of a sudden. It’s kinda scary, no? I don’t know what’s wrong with Verlander and neither do the Tigers fans who have been trying to figure it out like we’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with Sabathia. I recommend this Grant Brisbee post for coping with Ace Sucking Syndrome (ASS).

A different Mike asks: Jim Bowden claims that the Rays may be willing to trade Price within the division. He thinks the trade could get done if the Yankees “overpay” by including Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Peter O’Brien in the package. Do you a) think the Rays would accept this offer and b) think this is an overpay?

No, I don’t think the Rays would accept that offer and no, I don’t think it’s an overpay. That’d be a steal for the Yankees. We’re talking about getting a legitimate, AL East proven left-handed ace in exchange for a Single-A pitching prospect, a power prospect without a position, and a catching prospect who hasn’t hit much in Double-A and is being benched for disciplinary reasons. You have to give up something to get something, and Sanchez and O’Brien are among the team’s most expendable prospects. Dealing Severino would sting, but again, he’s in A-ball. You deal him for a guy like Price every day of the week.

Austin asks: Are Derek Jeter and Tanaka the only Yankees All-Stars? I think Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances should be added to the team, but will Farrell add them?

At this point I think Jeter and Tanaka will be the only Yankees elected to the All-Star Game. Jeter is still leading the fan voting at shortstop and Tanaka has been awesome. He’s a candidate to start the game. Keep in mind that Brian McCann is second in the catcher voting behind Matt Wieters, who is done for the season following elbow surgery. McCann might start at catcher by default. I think Betances deserves to go because he’s been one of the five best relievers in baseball this season, but deserving to go and actually going are two different things. Gardner’s been awesome (so have Jacoby Ellsbury for that matter) but I can’t see him going to the All-Star Game. There are too many great/more popular outfielders in the AL.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Ghost of Horace Clarke asks: Better manager, Joe Girardi or Joe Torre?

On the field, Girardi is clearly the better manager. He’s better with the bullpen and more open-minded to platoons and shifts and stuff like that. Torre was very old school and straight forward. We have no way of knowing who is better in the clubhouse, but Torre was a master at dealing with the media and that counts for something. It’s easy to drum up controversy in New York and that very rarely happened under his watch. Girardi has improved in that department but he’s no Torre. There’s no debate who the better on-field tactician is, however.

Ron asks: OK. Am I the only one who notices that whenever McCann has an at-bat, he squints so much that you can barely see his eyes. Does this not beg to ask if he has a vision problem?????

McCann’s facial expresses are pretty funny. They’re definitely one of my favorite sidebars of the season. Anyway, McCann has actually had vision problems in the past. He had LASIK surgery in 2007 but was dealing with blurred vision in 2009, so he wore custom-made prescription glasses for the remainder of the season. McCann has another LASIK procedure the following winter and has had no trouble since. I think the squinting and funny faces are just quirky mannerisms, but I suppose he could be having eye problems again. I think he would speak up if that were the case given his history though.

Yet another Mike asks: Taylor Dugas — How come nobody talks about this kid? He’s 24 and is stuck in Trenton. He has decent numbers especially his .422 OBP.

Dugas was just promoted to Triple-A Scranton yesterday, so he isn’t stuck in Double-A any longer. The Yankees selected him in the eighth round of the 2012 draft out of Alabama and he’s hit .293/.422/.368 (~138 wRC+) with more walks (138) than strikeouts (103) in 226 minor league games, including .294/.403/.424 (134 wRC+) in 54 games with Trenton.

Dugas is a left-handed hitter with no power and only okay defense, so his usefulness is limited. Keith Law (subs. req’d) said “he squares up all kinds of pitching and I would be very surprised if he didn’t hit his way to some kind of major league role, maybe even as the heavy side of a platoon” following the draft that year, though Baseball America (subs. req’d) basically said Dugas is Sam Fuld without the defense. Dugas obviously can control the strike zone, his performance has been great, and he is on the right side of the platoon. He doesn’t have the sexiest tools but he is putting himself in position to have some kind of big league role for the Yankees, maybe even as Ichiro Suzuki‘s replacement next year.

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Monday Links: All-Star Game, Shifts, Teixeira

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Got some stray links to pass along before the Yankees wrap up their four-game series with the Royals in Kansas City later tonight.

Jeter Remains Atop AL All-Star Voting At Shortstop

MLB released the updated voting results for the All-Star Game starting lineup yesterday, and Derek Jeter remains the leading vote-getter at shortstop. He’s about 160,000 votes ahead of Alexei Ramirez and is the sixth highest vote-getter in the league overall. There’s no way Jeter belongs in the Midsummer Classic based on his performance, but he’s a megastar and the face of baseball. People want to see him in his final year and that’s what the All-Star Game should be all about.

No other Yankees are leading their respective positions in the voting, though Brian McCann does rank second behind Matt Wieters at catcher. Wieters is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury and is not close to returning. McCann may end up starting the game in his place. Mark Teixeira ranks fifth at first base while Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brett Gardner rank fifth, eighth, and 13th in the outfield, respectively. The full voting results are right here. Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Mike Trout, and Melky Cabrera are in position to start the game alongside Jeter and potentially McCann.

Bad Without Shifts, Sightly Less Bad With Shifts

The Yankees have been using infield shifts to the extreme this season, at least in part due to their range-challenged infield. It’s not just Jeter either. Yangervis Solarte and Brian Roberts aren’t the rangiest of players either. And yet, every game we see balls get by the shift, though that is unavoidable. Balls are always going to get through any defensive formation.

According to Ken Davidoff, the Yankees rate as the worst defense in baseball at -16 runs saved when not using the shift. When they do use the shift, they’re at -4 runs saved, which also rates as the worst in baseball. Compared to the rest of the league, the Yankees are terrible defensively. Compared to themselves, the Yankees with the shift are less terrible than the Yankees without the shift.

“If they weren’t shifting as much as they have been, things would look even worse. So, it’s not that the shift itself has been ineffective, but the Yankees’ infield defense overall that has been ineffective, with or without the shift,” said Joe Rosales, a researcher at Baseball Info Solutions, to Davidoff. Watching a ball get through the shift is frustrating, but without them, there would be far more balls sneaking through the infield.

The Story Behind Teixeira’s Fake Talk Show

I mentioned this in the open thread last night, but, in case you missed it, Mark Teixeira has a fake talk show on YES called Foul Territory. It’s actually pretty funny and the clips came out of nowhere. I’m not sure anyone thought Teixeira is capable of doing something funny. I know I didn’t. He’s always come off as rather business-like and uninteresting, to be honest.

Dan Barbarisi dug into the story behind Foul Territory, which was Teixeira’s idea and a way to help new Yankees feel welcome. It’s not a coincidence the only player interviews are McCann, Ellsbury, and Masahiro Tanaka (one with Roberts is forthcoming). The shows have a general framework but otherwise do not have a script and are ad-libbed. It’s pretty amazing, really. There are two more clips coming (Roberts and Jeter) and Teixeira is open to recording more if the demand is there.

“I wanted a way for the new guys to get broken in, in kind of a funny way—not necessarily hazing, because I’m hazing myself more than anything,” said Teixeira to Barbarisi. “If the fans want (more episodes), we’ll have to give it to them.”

The Wrong End Of The Hard-Hot Spectrum

And finally, ESPN stats guru Mark Simon posted some data on hard-hit balls this morning. Long story short, the Yankees don’t rank very well. They rank 23rd in the league with a .145 HHAV (hard hit average, or hard-hit balls per at-bat) offensively and 26th in the league with a .165 HHAV on the pitching side. The hitters aren’t hitting the ball hard and the pitching staff is allowing a lot of hard-hit balls. That … is a pretty bad combination. Throw in a generally bad team defense and it’s a minor miracle this club is 31-31 after 62 games. It could be much, much worse.

Teixeira’s lingering wrist soreness increases need for a real backup first baseman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees signed Brian McCann over the winter, I’m pretty sure they knew he would have to move to first base eventually. He turned 30 just as Spring Training started and he’s been an everyday catcher for a long, long time. McCann caught almost 9,000 innings with the Braves in the regular season alone. Eventually he’ll have to move out from behind the plate. That’s just the way it goes.

Now, that said, I don’t think the Yankees expected to start McCann at first base 52 games into his five-year contract. He had never played first base before this season, but Joe Girardi used him there for four innings (spread across three games) earlier this year in blowout games. Nothing crazy. Jorge Posada did that a bunch of times too. But starting a game at first, like he did last night? That was not the plan coming into the season.

“I was a little hesitant to do it,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings before last night’s game. “I saw him over there those couple of times and I’m a little more open to it, just because of some of the injuries. You know, there are a lot of things you don’t plan on doing during the course of the season that kind of go awry when some things happen. I never planned on playing Vernon Wells at third base last year. Never in my wildest dreams, but it happened. That’s where you have to be sometimes a little creative.”

First, shout-out to Girardi for reminding me Wells played third base last year. I completely forgot about that (even though I GIF’d it). He played second base at one point too. So did Mark Reynolds. Now let’s wipe that from our memories forever.

Anyway, the Yankees have essentially been forced to play McCann at first base on occasion because they never bothered to pick up a real backup first baseman over the winter. The backup first baseman was Kelly Johnson by default — “We felt that Kelly’d be able to handle it, and I still think that Kelly can handle it,” added Girardi — and he had 18 career innings at the position coming into the season. McCann, Johnson, Frankie Cervelli, and Scott Sizemore all started games at first this year. Brendan Ryan and Carlos Beltran have played there as well. Seven different players already.

Mark Teixeira will visit the doctor to have his surgically repaired right wrist examined at some point today. He missed the Cardinals series due to lingering soreness and inflammation, something that will apparently be the norm going forward. It’s going to act up from time to time — “[The doctor] was surprised I haven’t had more flare ups,” said Teixeira to Jennings — and they’ll have to manage it somehow. More days off, more time at DH, more treatment, whatever it takes. They don’t have much of a choice.

Because Teixeira’s wrist will continue to be an issue, the Yankees will have to keep forcing round pegs into the square hole at first base. McCann was fine last night but he wasn’t tested with any particularly tough plays. Johnson has been a mess over there recently — is it just me, or did he look much more comfortable over there while Teixeira was on the DL in April? what happened? — and that’s to be expected given his inexperience. Same goes with McCann, Ryan, Sizemore, and whoever else they throw over there.

The Yankees had the ideal backup first baseman in Nick Swisher a few years ago. A productive player who could play another position everyday and step right in at first base if need be. It was awesome. That’s much more preferable to a pure backup first baseman like, say, Lyle Overbay. Players who can play another position and slide over to first seamlessly are hard to find though. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned but he barely qualifies as a first baseman at this point of his career (59 games at first since destroying his ankle in 2010). Maybe Mitch Moreland becomes available if the Rangers continue to fall out of it. Who do you drop from the roster to make room for this player though? It’s tricky.

Looking back — and really, we don’t even need hindsight to say this — it was pretty silly to come into the season with no really backup plan at first base after Teixeira missed all of last season with a wrist injury, especially since he was told it would flare up during the season. Yeah, they did bring in Russ Canzler on a minor league contract, but that’s it. Keeping Mark Reynolds as a part-time corner infielder/DH would have been awesome, but it’s pretty clear he signed with the Brewers because they gave him a greater opportunity for playing time. Hopefully Teixeira’s soreness this week nudges the Yankees towards finding a suitable backup and soon.

Brian McCann and trying to beat the shift

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Through the first month or so of the season, I’m not sure anyone on the roster has been more disappointing than Brian McCann. The backstop has started his Yankees career with a 56 wRC+ in the first five-ish weeks, which ranks 177th out of 188 qualified hitters and dead last out of 15 qualified catchers. Chris Stewart had a 58 wRC+ last season, remember. The Yankees basically swapped Stewart for a balder, more expensive version in McCann. He’s been that bad so far.

As the fine broadcasters at the YES Network are wont to remind us day after day, inning after inning, the infield shift is widespread throughout baseball these days and McCann is one of its most popular targets. He was one of the most shifted against hitters in baseball last season and the same is true again so far this year. That was to be expected. Other teams weren’t going to stop shifting against McCann just because he was wearing a new uniform.

The shift has taken more than a few hits away from McCann this season and again, that is expected. Teams wouldn’t shift if they didn’t work. His .204 BABIP is a career low, especially when compared to his other healthy seasons (.234 before shoulder surgery in 2012), and down quite a bit from last season’s .261 BABIP. This isn’t all because of the shift — 8.3% of his plate appearances have ended with an infield pop-up this year, the fifth highest rate in baseball. Infield pop-ups are pretty much automatic outs and death to BABIP. His career pop-up rate prior to 2014 was only 4.0%, so this is way out of the norm.

Between the increased pop-up rate, the career low (by far) 3.5% walk rate, the career high (by far) 34.8% swing rate on pitches out of the zone*, and the ol’ eye test, I’m pretty comfortable saying McCann is pressing like hell at the plate. He’s trying to squeeze sap out of the bat. It happens. New team, new city, fat new contract, no beard, it’s understandable. Players press. McCann isn’t the first and he sure as hell won’t be the last. We’ve seen flashes of the productive power-hitting catcher the Yankees signed, but he hasn’t shown up consistently yet. It’ll happen, hopefully very soon.

* McCann’s strikeout rate (11.3%) is far below the league average and his best since 2008, so it’s not like he’s having trouble putting the ball in play.

Getting back on track, other clubs have been shifting against McCann quite a bit this season and lately it seems like he’s making an effort to go the other way. He’s always been a dead pull power hitter and that’s a big reason why he was so attractive to the Yankees, but lately I feel like we’ve seen more attempts to go to the opposite field. It doesn’t always work, but the attempt is there. Remember this?

McCann had three hits in that game and all three were to left field. I remember he ripped a line drive foul ball in that direction as well. Obviously a double to the wall is an extreme example of beating the shift by going the other way, but McCann did attempt a simple bunt towards third base to beat the shift on Monday. Here’s the play if you didn’t stay up late for the West Coast game:


The bunt went foul — it’s not easy to bunt Major League pitching, you know — but McCann made the attempt. He tried to beat the shift in the most basic way possible: by rolling the ball to where the defenders aren’t standing. That’s all a bunt is.

I didn’t watch enough of McCann during his time with the Braves to know whether these attempts to beat the shift are new or something he’s been trying for years. I would greatly prefer the former and hope this is a new development. Thankfully, we can check that. With an assist to the intimidatingly great Baseball Savant, here are some numbers on McCann’s tendencies to pull the ball or hit it the other way over the last few seasons. The table doesn’t include last night’s game because stupid West Coast:

Total Pitches Pulled Away Pitches Pulled Total Pitches Other Way Away Pitches Other Way
2014 7.7% 5.6% 7.3% 8.5%
2013 9.6% 8.4% 4.7% 4.4%
2012 9.7% 8.6% 5.0% 4.5%
2011 8.9% 7.3% 4.5% 4.7%

First, some explanations are in order:

  • Total Pitches Pulled: Percentage of all pitches pulled to the right side of the infield or to right field. McCann saw 452 pitches prior to last night and he pulled 35 of them to the right side of the field, or 7.7%.
  • Away Pitches Pulled: Percentage of pitches on the outer third or off the plate away that were pulled to the right side. McCann saw 270 pitches in those locations and pulled 15 of them to the right side, or 5.6%.
  • Total Pitches Other Way and Away Pitches Other Way are the same thing, only with pitches that were hit towards the left side of the infield or left field. Got it? Easy enough.

This season, either consciously or through the mirage of small sample size, McCann has been pulling fewer pitches to the right side of the field. He’s going the other way more often and that is especially true with pitches away from him, the ones you’re supposed to serve to the opposite field for a Nice Piece of Hitting. More than a few players (coughMarkTeixeiracough) will still try to pull those pitches and wind up rolling over on them, hitting a weak grounder right into the teeth of the shift.

We’ve seen McCann roll over on outside pitches this year, everyone does it, but he is doing it less often than he had the last few years. He’s taking those pitches to left field nearly twice as often as he had from 2011-12. I’m not going to bother looking at inside pitches because inside pitches are supposed to be pulled and pulled for power. Not everyone is Derek Jeter, who is going to the Hall of Fame because of his ability to pull his hands in and drive those pitches the other way. You want McCann to pull inside pitches because that’s how he can do some real damage.

Anyway, this is good! I think. We still need to wait a few more weeks to make sure this newfound tendency to go the other way is not just sample size noise, which is always possible. The data matches what my eyes were telling me though. McCann is indeed trying to hit the ball the other way more often. That could absolutely be contributing to his early season slump too. It’s a change in approach and sometimes those changes take time. McCann’s been hitting one way his entire life and now he appears to be changing it up. Of course there are going to be some bumps in the road.

Are teams going to stop shifting McCann because he’s hitting the ball the other way more often? Nope. Here are his spray charts. He still a pull-first hitter who yanks a ton of ground balls and line drives to the right side of the field and teams will stack their defense accordingly. McCann does appear to be making an attempt to go the other way more, particularly with pitches on the outer third of the plate. That will change how teams pitch him more than the defensive alignment. The most important thing is that he is hitting more balls away from the shift. The first few weeks of McCann’s tenure in New York have been ugly, no doubt about it, but there seems to be some serious work going on behind the scenes, and that could have positive results in time.

Francisco Cervelli has Grade II hamstring strain; Shane Greene to Triple-A

The MRI on Frankie Cervelli‘s hamstring revealed a Grade II strain, the Yankees announced. He will be placed on the DL. CC Sabathia suffered a Grade II hamstring strain last September and he had to wait eight weeks before he could resume baseball workouts, so Cervelli probably isn’t coming back anytime soon.

The Yankees also announced that right-hander Shane Greene has been sent to Triple-A Scranton, so two players will be called up before tomorrow’s game. Obviously one will be a catcher. With Derek Jeter (quad) and Brian Roberts (back) banged up, it’s a safe bet the other player will be an infielder. And, just in case you were wondering, the Yankees say the x-rays on Brian McCann‘s hand were negative after he took that deflected pitch off the barehand last night.

2014 Season Preview: Back To Offensive Basics

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Over the last few years, as sabermetrics and all that stuff has become more popular, batting average has become underrated. It used to be overrated — not making outs and having a high on-base percentage is still the single most important aspect of hitting — but the art of getting a base hit is definitely underappreciated these days. There is more to life than that of course, but getting a hit is a big piece of the offensive pie.

Last season, the Yankees hit a collective .242 with a team .285 BABIP, rates that ranked 24th and 26th among the 30 teams, respectively. Injuries have a little something to do with the team’s low average, but remember, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira aren’t exactly high-average hitters. Derek Jeter and the out of sight, out of mind Alex Rodriguez are, however. Well, kinda. A perfectly healthy Yankees squad might have hit a few points higher as a team, but not much. The team’s .307 OBP (23rd overall) would have quite a bit higher with good health, I’m sure of that.

The Yankees rebuilt their offense over the winter and back in January I explained how the new-look lineup will bring more a patient approach and, theoretically, a higher team OBP. That’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t just make too many outs last season, they made too many quick outs. It’s not much of a coincidence that two pitchers (Derek Holland and Chris Archer) threw sub-100 pitch nine-inning complete games against New York last season after only one pitcher (Roy Halladay, surprise surprise) did in the previous ten seasons. The makeshift offense was an impatient lot last summer.

Along with a more patient and disciplined offense should come a group that hits for a higher average. How much higher? I don’t think we could say with any degree of certainty. As underrated as batting average has become, it is still tough to predict because it fluctuates so much from year to year. Robinson Cano is my go-to example: he’s a career .309 hitter who hit .342 in 2006 and .271 in 2008. Did his talent level change in those years? No, it’s just baseball. Weird stuff happens in a game built around hitting a round ball with a cylindrical bat onto a 2+ acre swath of grass. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ lineup and its batting average potential.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Likely to hit .290+
With Cano gone, I don’t think the Yankees have a single player you can comfortably expect to hit .300 or better in 2014. I mean, how many players around the entire league would you safely expect to hit .300+ this year? Cano, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto … that’s probably it. Hitting .300 is hard and few guys can do it year after year, especially in age of declining offense. That’s not to say others won’t hit .300, we all know those guys won’t be alone. Like I said before, weird stuff happens.

The Yankees have two players who are safe bets for a .290+ average this summer and both were acquired in the offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .298 last season (.341 BABIP) and is a career .297 hitter (.326 BABIP) , so he seems to be the team’s best hope for a .300+ hitter. I do think Yankee Stadium will work against him though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to hit, but Yankee Stadium is a homerun park. Fenway Park is more conducive to a high batting average with the Green Monster and weird angles. The park factors at FanGraphs bear that out.

Carlos Beltran hit .296 (.314 BABIP) last season and .288 (.313 BABIP) over the last three years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hit .300 or better this summer. Derek Jeter hit .316 (.347 BABIP) in his last healthy season and the guy used to fall out of bed and hit .300, but he’s coming off a series of leg injuries and a lost season at age 40. He hasn’t looked particularly good in camp either, though I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt after missing almost all of last season. So much rust to shake off. Tough to know what to expect from him, but I don’t think many would be surprised if the Cap’n had a big going away year.

As for an out of nowhere .290+ hitter, I’d put my money on Eduardo Nunez, who seems like a lock to make the roster and play more than expected at this point. Nunez makes a ton of contact (career 92.8% contact rate) and he’s fast, two skills that lend themselves to hitting for average, especially in small-ish (~300 plate appearances) samples. I’m not saying he’ll do it, but if you’re looking for a Yankee to come out of nowhere to hit for a high average, Nunez is a good guess. For now, I’ll take Ellsbury and Beltran as the team’s best chances for a .290+ hitter with Jeter an honorable mention.

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Likely to hit sub-.250
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few Yankees we can count on for a low-ish batting average. Kelly Johnson hit .235 (.276 BABIP) last season and .226 (.284 BABIP) over the last three seasons. He’s the safe bet to finish with the lowest average among the regulars. Johnson’s offensive game is built around hitting for power, stealing bases, and drawing walks. I have no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.

Alfonso Soriano hit .255 (.289 BABIP) last season, including .256 (.286 BABIP) with the Yankees. Over the last three seasons it’s a .254 average (.289 BABIP). He’s right on that .250 bubble at age 38. Brian McCann (.256 AVG/.251 BABIP in 2013 and .252/.263 from 2011-12) and Mark Teixeira (.251/.250 in 2012 and .252/.258 from 2010-12) are right there with Soriano. Brian Roberts managed to hit .249 (.267 BABIP) in 296 plate appearances last season and has a .246 average (.275 BABIP) while batting injuries over the last four years. He’s probably the second safest bet for a sub-.250 average this season behind Johnson.

Likely to hit somewhere in the middle
This is a bit of a cop-out, because the vast majority of players hit somewhere in that .251-.289 range. Or at least most regulars do. Bench players and pitchers are another matter entirely. Soriano, McCann, and Teixeira will probably be on the low-end of this range, Ellsbury and Beltran will probably be at the high-end (if not over), and Brett Gardner (.273/.342 in 2013 and .268/.325 career) will be right smack in the middle somewhere. There’s really nothing sexy about hitting somewhere in the .251-.289 neighborhood. The extremes are far more interesting.

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Last season, American League non-pitchers hit .256 with a .298 BABIP as the league average continues to drop. It was as high as .275 (.305 BABIP) as recently as 2006 and .267 (.300 BABIP) as recently as 2009, but down it goes. Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner give the team three regulars who you can pencil in for a better than average batting average with Jeter a possibility for a fourth. Others like McCann, Teixeira, and Soriano will be right around the average. Batting average is tough to predict, but based on their current talent levels and the last few seasons, the Yankees have six and possibly seven regulars likely to match or exceed the league average. Compared to last year, that’s pretty darn good.

2014 Season Preview: Defensive Liabilities

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I suppose the silver lining of last season’s terrible offense was a strong team defense. The Yankees employed guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Reid Brignac, and Brendan Ryan as regulars at various points of the year, guys who can’t hit but can play some solid defense. The club sported a collective +12.5 UZR and +21 DRS in 2013, rates that are only slightly above-average (13th and 10th in MLB, respectively) on a team-wide scale.

The roster has turned over substantially this past offseason, especially on the position player side. That should greatly improve the lineup, but it will also impact the team defense. Some of the players the Yankees acquired over the winter are very good defenders but others simply are not. Not every player the team added is a two-way threat. Far from it. Let’s look at where the Yankees are vulnerable in the field thanks to subpar defenders.

The Infield
Last month I detailed how the team’s ground ball heavy pitching staff is not a good mix for their generally shaky infield defense, particularly at the non-first base spots. Mark Teixeira is a stud in the field and I have no reason to think a wrist injury will severely compromise his glovework. Maybe he’ll lose a step or two or some hand-eye coordination with age, but I don’t think the injury will have a huge factor on his defense.

Derek Jeter has moved around well in the field and on the bases this spring following all the leg injuries, but he’s still a negative on defense. We all know that. Brian Roberts has looked surprisingly agile during Grapefruit League play, so maybe he’ll be a positive in the field, at least while he’s healthy. Kelly Johnson comes into the season with only 118 career innings at third base and only 18 innings at first base, where he’s expected to be the starter and backup, respectively. He’s muffed a few hard-hit balls in camp so far, the kind that earned the position the nickname the “hot corner.”

The backup plans aren’t much better. Eduardo Nunez is inconsistent at best and an unmitigated disaster at worst defensively, and Scott Sizemore is coming off back-to-back left ACL surgeries. He hasn’t played enough in camp for us to get an idea of how he’s moving in the field. The various scouting reports indicate Dean Anna is an adequate to solid defender. Teixeira should be fine at first but all of the other infield spots come with defensive questions. I think the Yankees would be pretty happy if the infield graded out as a league average unit come the end of the season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Right Field
As of right now, it seems like the plan is to have Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran split right field and DH duties most of the time in 2014. There have been some rumblings Brett Gardner could wind up in right with Soriano in left, but that seems unlikely to happen. The Soriano/Beltran timeshare in right field appears to be the way things are heading.

Aside from one defensive inning in right field during Game Five of the 2003 World Series, Soriano has never played the position. Moving over there at 38 years old may not be an easy transition, and that doesn’t even consider his weak throwing arm. Runners will be going first-to-third on him all day. Beltran was once a top flight defender but he has slowed down considerably with age and injury, to the point where he’s graded out as a below-average defender over the last few years by the various defensive stats. Regardless of whether Soriano or Beltran starts, the Yankees will have a subpar gloveman in right.

It’s not all bad though. First and foremost, right field in Yankee Stadium is pretty small, so there’s isn’t much ground to cover in the first place. Two, with Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center, Ellsbury figures to shade towards right to help cover the gaps. Three, Ichiro will almost certainly come off the bench as a defensive replacement for right field whenever the game is close. Even if Ichiro is traded or released or whatever, Zoilo Almonte can do the same job. Whenever they’re in right though, both Soriano and Beltran will be liabilities.

Outfield Arms
I mentioned this with Soriano in right, but it’s worth pointing out the Yankees have some weak outfield arms in general. Beltran’s is by far the best and might be the team’s best right field arm since Raul Mondesi way back in the day. Ellsbury’s arm is laughably weak and downright Damon-esque while Gardner’s is solid at best. Not particularly strong but accurate. Soriano’s arm is both weak and not accurate while Ichiro’s strong arm plays down because he takes forever to get rid of the ball. Gardner and Ellsbury more than make up for their arms with their range, but don’t expect to see many plays at the plate this summer. Beltran’s the only regular with a quality arm.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Brian McCann‘s Arm
McCann does a lot of things well, specifically hit and frame pitches. He is also said to be very good at blocking balls in the dirt and working with pitchers. The one thing McCann does not do well is throw. Last season he threw out only 24 of 100 attempted base-stealers, below the 27% league average. The year before it was 22%, and in case you’re thinking this might be related to his October 2012 labrum surgery, McCann threw out only 24% of base-stealers from 2006-11. He’s simply not good at shutting down the running game.

In order to compensate for McCann’s arm, the pitcher will have to make sure to pay attention to runners on first base. CC Sabathia should have it the easiest as a left-hander, but runners have been successful in 70% of their stolen base attempts the last three years. Hiroki Kuroda has held runners to a 62% success rate since coming to New York and Ivan Nova has held them to a 63% success rate in his relatively short big league career. Masahiro Tanaka … who in the world knows. Frankie Cervelli has an excellent arm (after some mechanical tinkering last spring) but McCann is going to be the starter because he does so many things well. One of those things is not throwing and it’s something the Yankees will have to deal with this summer. It’s the essence of taking the bad with the good.

* * *

The Yankees have premium defenders at first base and in both left and center fields. The rest of the team will probably be net negative in the field, which is not ideal in an offensive ballpark in a tough division with a sketchy middle relief crew. This club is going to have to out-hit and out-pitch their defensive shortcomings in 2014.